I spent the first eight years of my marriage as a strong Complementarian woman. I have always deeply loved and respected my husband, believed in the infalliblity and inerrancy of scripture, and knew that God’s ways were not my ways. I saw nothing but good intentions in my leaders, and saw nothing but good fruit in my marriage.
Then slowly, over time, that fruit turned sour, then rotten, and then died altogether. I went to the Egalitarian side of theology kicking and screaming, terrified that I was abandoning the Bible, abandoning God’s best plan for my life, and throwing my own will in the face of the One who created me, died for me, and rose from the dead.
Now, as an Egalitarian, I see a sad trend among my fellow bloggers and writers: they assume that Complementarian women are either complicit in their own bondage, completely fine with cognitive dissonance/contradictions in scripture, ignorant, or too lazy to fight for their freedom. NONE of this is true, and believing these lies about these sisters in Christ does nothing but hinder their journey towards freedom.
As a recovering Complementarian, let me walk you through the thought processes of someone who had to live this theology, day-in and day-out.
1) Egalitarian theology is seen as playing fast-and-loose with Scripture.
Complementarian thought is held up as being the most faithful to Scripture, even when it hurts. We were never promised an easy Christian life, right? A woman who willingly embraces Complementarianism does so from a deep love of the written word of God.
2) Submission is framed as suffering for Christ.
Remember, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and ran a good race. Is it really so hard to submit to your husband when he asks you to have the dishes done by the time he gets home? In light of what Christ suffered, isn’t our difficulty with our husband’s decisions a minor thing? And think of the reward in heaven that awaits you!
3) The loss of agency and decision-making power is seen as “dying to self.”
I loved Oswald Chambers all through my teenage years, and even have a tattoo based on one of his devotionals. “Willingly giving up my right to my self” was a strong theme that was preached to our entire youth group, heck, our entire church. Any loss of “self” in our marriage, such as a pregnancy I wasn’t ready for, being unable to work, not being allowed to have childcare (because in his mind, it would ruin our children!) or not having any say in how we spent “his” money, barely even registered as a loss. I wasn’t supposed to have a self—it was supposed to die with Jesus, and be resurrected in the form of a Godly Woman™ .
I don’t blame Oswald Chambers for this, and I truly believe that he’s helped a lot of people become more devoted to Jesus. I’m just showing how a Complementarian woman isn’t seeing a lack of decision making capability as a loss. Christians in general, male and female, are not encouraged to make decisions; they’re encouraged to “seek God’s will.”
If “God’s will” is for me to submit to my husband, then I’ve obeyed God, even if I don’t agree with my husband’s decision.
4) On a daily basis, a Complementarian Christian woman will submit to, agree with, and devote herself to her husband, as an act of worship.
Submitting, supporting, and subscribing to these ideals is incredibly difficult, and when it becomes too much to bear, she will never think “There’s something wrong with the ideal.” Instead, she’ll console herself with 1 Corinthians 10:13, and remind herself that no temptation (to complain, to whine, to refuse to submit, or to play fast-and-loose w/ scripture) has overtaken her except what is common to all women. God won’t give her more than she can bear! She’ll even find creative ways that “God” provided to help her out with the burden: she’ll work at home, she’ll develop a great blog, she’ll become an expert in thrifty shopping and cooking and saving money. She may do all of this without her husband knowing that it’s a struggle. He may think she wants to do all of this, because she’s been told to do everything without arguing or complaining, and so shine like a star in the universe. Why would she do all of this? Because she loves Jesus, and puts Him and His desires first.
5) When things go horribly, terribly wrong—as a result of a husband’s bad decisions, or the cumulative effect of stress on the family, or poverty, etc—she will trust in God’s sovereignty.
She will take comfort in the fact that God will work all things together for the good of those who love him. She will remember that she and her family are called according to his purposes. She will weep, but very rarely would she blame the system of Complementarian thought that bound up her family’s choices in a single direction. To do so would be questioning God. To leave the Complementarian system would be sinful. That’s not acceptable. She just needs to try harder, be content with what she has, and trust that God will make a way.
So, to call Complementarian women lazy, or ignorant, or accepting of cognitive dissonance—to call them anything but brave, strong, loving, and innovative—is truly misunderstanding their beliefs at a fundamental level.
They resist Egalitarian thought with the same fervor that alcoholics resist the first drink, because they believe that giving in on even one little point is to throw the Bible, the Atonement, and the Church out the window. They embrace suffering inside the system like a martyr going to the Colosseum—denying Complementarianism is the same as denying Christ, and denying Christ is not an option.
And yet, Egalitarian bloggers truly don’t know about these struggles.
Let’s all remember this, and show love with our words and actions in all of our discussions with women inside this system.