5 biblical reasons I became an egalitarian

Around the beginning of the summer, I suddenly found myself putting a theological name to a lot of the issues I’ve had with church, both in the past few years and historically. The personal interactions I’ve had that felt off suddenly made a lot more sense. I found myself reading post after post, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, written by men and women who interpret the Bible differently than the churches I’ve attended. And these were not people who just wanted to believe something and did so at the expense of the Bible–these different beliefs were concluded after rigorous study of the same beloved and respected text. The weight lifted off my shoulders was immense, but the fear that followed was almost tangible. What does this mean for me now? How do I process my past in light of this? Where do I fit?

I don’t really know the answers to those questions, but I’m sure I’ll share more of the process here. I do want to share a couple of reasons why I would now likely classify myself as an egalitarian. This might not be your cup of tea. You might not think it is very important to hash this out, that functionally everything is working just fine in your marriage and in your church. If it’s not your thing, you don’t need to read, but I encourage you to. There are lots of us sitting in the pews, men and women, who feel the weight and confusion of the teachings on gender, who are inwardly crying out for relief. At the very least, even if you don’t have the same sense of urgency, knowing that there are different ways of respectfully interpreting this sacred text may help you be more empathetic to people struggling.

So here are five scriptural reasons I’m an egalitarian:

  1. I believe that God made men and women as equals, to rule over creation and care for it together, with no hierarchy between them. See Genesis 1:26-28.

    Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

        So God created human beings in his own image.
        In the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them.

    Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

    The only authority mentioned is that which humanity is given over creation. The loving and caring leadership and rule which is often described as God’s plan for men and women I only see given by God to humanity over the earth. I simply don’t see any evidence of God giving authority to man over woman before the fall. If it were as big a deal as complementarians make it, I think it would have been a clearly stated call given to the man, just like the one God gave to men and women regarding their role in the world. Instead, I see man and woman called to work together to sustain God’s good creation, while walking with him.

  2. I believe patriarchy is a product of the fall, not God’s design. Genesis 3:16 outlines this consequence of the fall very sparsely:

    You will desire to control your husband, and he will rule over you.

    Where once we worked together in harmony, obeying God and in relationship with him, we now have power struggles between men and women and are out of relationship with God. Jesus came to break the curse, and we can fight it, too. The complementarian explanation of the curse takes for granted that complementary roles in a hierarchical marriage are God’s design, which he gave us before the fall and are now skewed. I even see that taken for granted in my ESV commentary which states that woman will try to dominate her husband, and her husband will “abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve.” As I outlined above, I don’t agree with that interpretation.

    Jesus reversed the curse, freeing us from the rule of sin and death and serpent, inviting us back into God’s family. As such, we are freed from the power struggle of patriarchy. Any call to hearken back to some archaic form of dominion in gender roles is perverse and fear-based, and only breeds death and dysfunction, I believe.

  3. I believe that new testament verses forbidding women’s involvement in leadership roles have been applied in broader contexts than they were written to address.

    Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.

    For example, that doozy in 1 Timothy 2. Basically every church I’ve ever gone to accepts that this means that women can’t be pastors, or elders. They find ways of still involving women, but the leadership of the church is left to the men.

    In my researching I’ve found so much written about this 1 Timothy example, but there’s a really concise post that is helpful on the Junia Project blog you can read here. The gist is that these particular women were dominating the men, using their leadership to spread false doctrine that was common in Ephesus in the ritual worship of other gods. Basically, these women were not trained in the teaching of the gospel and were spreading lies, some of which condoned actual ritual violence against men, so Paul was like, sit down for a sec.

    More on the ways our translations have changed to subjugate women can be found here. It’s really disconcerting, because like I mentioned before with my tongue-in-cheek “sit down a sec”, Paul may actually have said something more along the lines of “I am not permitting women to teach men…let them listen quietly” due to the context outlined earlier, but now almost every translation reads “I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men…let them listen quietly”. Paul wanted these particular women to learn more before they taught, so that they led people in the right way, but now many churches believe that all women everywhere should be taught by men.

    This makes a huge difference–all the difference in the world.

  4. I believe that the verses about headship in marriage do not mean what we’ve been taught they mean.

    For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

    Once again, context, interpretation, culture, etc. have all played a role in how we have applied these verses. But I’ll just say that any verse about a wife submitting to a husband is always found in the larger context of people submitting to one another, and the verses about husbands leading wives were wildly counter-cultural given the oppressive patriarchy of the times.

    One leads in her areas of strength, the other in his. We submit to one each other. We obey God.

  5. Jesus used women to be the first to tell the news (preach?) about his resurrection. I know this in itself is not a reason to move from the complementarian camp to the egalitarian one, but I cannot stress enough how beautiful this fact is to me.

    There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    In Jesus, all of the barriers between us, all of the power structures and the abuse and use of the other for our own gain, they’re all thrown out. Looking back on history, we would to our shame say that we should not have fought against slavery because there were verses about slaves obeying their masters. There has always been a way for the Christ follower to live out the faith even under extreme oppression, that’s the far reach of the good news! And how beautiful that our Scriptures speak to that truth. But it should never mean that we don’t seek to see the kingdom of God restored in every facet of life, and I strongly believe that includes the way that we relate to each other as men and women.

So there you have it: five of the scriptural reasons I would now classify myself as an egalitarian. I’m still stuck on the “what now” question, because I do not yet know what this means for me practically. I don’t quite know how to live out this truth in the church context where I find myself, but I take comfort in the verse in Philippians that talks about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. It might be best, from one perspective, to attend a church that fully espouses these truths, just like it might have been best, from the Philippians’ perspective, for Paul to always be with them. But even while I’m figuring all this out, there is still much work I can do in the absence of some perfect scenario in which I am fully affirmed by all outside sources. And honestly, egalitarian or not, I will not ever be fully affirmed by all people, nor does the lack of affirmation change anything at the truest level of my identity:

I am a daughter of God, fully equipped and fully called, able to enter into all levels of the Christian life. There is nothing he withholds from me.

reset.

Some days are harder than others. Some days I feel like I am connecting with my kids and guiding them well(ish) and like things are getting better. And then some days, like today, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve yelled, I feel completely isolated and yet always harrassed, and I would give anything for a week long vacation, even just at my house, with no. kids.

On some days like today, I’m better at recognizing what’s going on and can remember more quickly to engage rather than avoid. Sometimes I can correct our course in a way that feels good and almost seamless. Other days, like today, I cry from wanting a reset button, for our entire life. Can we just start over, with a clean slate and no baggage?

That’d be a big fat nope.

So a little while ago I tried to move this fight-fest outside and build a fort in the backyard. It didn’t really work. But then I remembered how tough yesterday was for me, for trigger-y reasons I won’t go into. So now we’re working with my limitations a little better and eating french fries and ice cream while watching Trolls (I don’t know, somehow filling my kids with junk food felt like a better alternative to crushing their spirits with my screeching). But instead of hiding in another room like I did this morning while the tv was on, I’m sitting on the couch, reading my book, being available.

I always want forming new relational habits to be as easy as recognizing what you don’t want to do anymore and then just not doing it and it paying off so we’re all happy and healthy and connected.  But again, big fat nope. Instead, it looks a lot like making the same mistakes, just a little less and a little less, with the turnaround time hopefully becoming a little better each time.

Ugh. Growth.

cognitive dissonance and complementarianism

Cognitive Dissonance: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously, according to Merriam Webster

When I was in college, I consciously let my relationship with God slide for one reason. Okay, there were multiple reasons, but most of the other ones were subconsciously processed–like the fact that I needed space after leaving the church I grew up in, or the fact that I didn’t know how introverted I was and didn’t know how to carve out alone time without a protected, private space to be alone to read, write and play my guitar (which is how I pray). Those reasons factored in, but the conscious driving force behind loosening my grip on my own faith was that I was meeting all of these guys, most of whom I loved deeply and respected for who they were in all their quirks, but none of whom would be able to lead me in the way that I had been taught a man should lead his wife and family. So what’s a girl to do? I shouldn’t know more than somebody who was supposed to lead me, so maybe I could make it so we’d be on the same level.

My own very conservative mother cautioned me over the years against this narrow view of leadership, a fact which, in a time of lists of character qualities for future husbands to measure up to, astounds me. To greatly condense what she said, if I found a good man who loved Jesus and who I liked as a person it would all be okay, and that nobody starts out in marriage the way they grow up to be. Wise words, which I took to heart. I married a good, good man, one of the best I’ve ever met, whom I love deeply and respect greatly, and it really has ended up okay. We have grown so much together, and this year promises to bring even more growth as I come out of my long-time fog.

But nonetheless, the cognitive dissonance I felt over my reality versus my theology led me to take extreme measures to cope, as it has tended to over the course of my life. This changing of myself at my core in regards to my womanhood and my faith did not start in college, although that was the first major and conscious moment of confrontation, and it didn’t end there either. I’ve spent years speaking with a smile, not speaking at all, agonizing over my clothing, laughing and giggling to appear less threatening or assertive. I’ve let a voracious love of scripture and the subsequent knowledge gained which I let flourish in high school (thanks to the loving guidance of youth group leaders on both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian debate) lie dormant. I’ve lost who I was meant to be. Not entirely–because this is not the end–but much has been lost.

I’ve thought a lot over these last months about how anxiety, or at least the sensitivity that comes with it, can be a gift to the world as much as it can be a curse to the one who bears it. When things are wrong, when others might be able to rationalize it away, I can’t. I’ve made myself ill trying. The world needs people who can’t rationalize it away, who can see the source of the cognitive dissonance and say, I don’t think this is right.

So this is me, tentatively and fearfully saying: I don’t think this is right. I think we have gotten it so very wrong in the church when it comes to women, and I am trying to regain what I lost. Lots of smart people who love Jesus have come up with rationalizations for complementarian theology and come up with explanations as to how it doesn’t make women less-than. Obviously, from my history, I can’t rationalize it, and based on the research I’m doing into folks who rigorously study scripture, it is one source of psychological distress I can throw away. There will be cognitive dissonance enough for me to deal with as a person with anxiety living in a broken world, that’s unavoidable. I simply intend, going forward, to let go of that which can faithfully be discarded.

 

a day’s portion every day: growth in relationship.

I have a note card taped on the window frame by my kitchen sink that reads “A day’s portion every day.”  It’s taken from the story outlined in Exodus 16–God has delivered his people, they’re in the wilderness and they’re hungry, they moan that it would have been better to stay in Egypt if they’re just going to die here and so God provides miraculous food from heaven that falls to the ground every day. God tells the people to gather up just enough for each day and use it all up, except on the sixth day when they’re supposed to gather enough for the next day too, since it’s the Sabbath and they won’t work that day. Simple enough, right? Except the people try to take more and stockpile it. Just in case. So the manna rots and gets all wormy and stinky.

Motherhood has always been my crucible. I’ve always believed that long term relationships are the place where growth happens–we simply can’t experience the same level of change all by ourselves. Sometimes marriage is the crucible, or that one friendship, or our relationship with our parents. Every single one of our long term relationships force us to mature, all the time, but in my experience there’s usually one that is at the forefront leading that charge toward higher ground. Motherhood is that for me.

I’ve been parenting from a deficit the entire time I’ve been a mom. That deficit got bigger over time as my mental health deteriorated, but it’s been true since the beginning. But even though my deficit might have been bigger or more preventable or categorically different than yours, we all enter our relationships with some kind of deficit and that deficit is what forces us to grow. The problem with those opportunities for growth is how much they look like hardship or failure, right? So we shy away from them.

I spend a lot of time holding onto what I think I need as a mom. I jealously ration my attention, my emotion, my time. I grasp it all and hold it so tightly because for a long time I was afraid of what would happen when it ran out, and that habit of fearful living is hard to break. It never works out the way I hope, though, because when you hold onto your resources instead of using them, you don’t end up with more of what you need, you end up with a moldy, rotten mess.

These days I’m trying to use a day’s portion every day. I set aside my book to look babies in the eye, when I remember to (it’s still a learning process for me). I do what I can to prioritize connection over the to-do list. When I am getting panicky, I try to lean toward my kids instead of away from them, because it’s mostly true* that the healing is found in close proximity to not in space from the people I love. I still very much prioritize the things I want to do for me, like reading and writing and playing my guitar, but I speak that truth into my heart the entire time, especially when things inevitably fall apart: A day’s portion every day. I have what I need. Tomorrow I will have what I need. God’s grace and provision are not going to run out, and here–with my people–is where I will grow.

 

 

 

 

*I say it’s mostly true because there are certainly long term relationships in which space is needed, perhaps permanently. These truths about growing in the context of relationship apply to the healthy, normal hardships that occur whenever we live for a long time with people (in our homes or otherwise), not the destructive, aberrant evil of abuse.

when everything needs to change.

I spent the last ten years of my life, maybe even a little longer, spiraling downward so slowly and gradually that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. After each major life change—marriage, moving to Indianapolis, having kids—I got worse, but couldn’t put the pieces together. Eventually my body began to deteriorate because it couldn’t handle the load my mind was putting on it. My husband thought that I had become a completely different person, and honestly, so did I. I couldn’t recognize the person I saw in pictures from happier times. I kind of hated her. Then, two years ago this summer, I experienced a personal crisis so debilitating in my already compromised state that I spent months practically catatonic. With counseling, meds, removal from toxic situations, the grace of God and good old fashioned grit, I’m on the path toward health. But it’s a long road. That crisis began two years ago, and I sometimes feel like I’m not in all that different a place, in any easily quantified way. The wisdom and growth gained are easier to see, the mental health and the practical life changes are a little more difficult to pin down. Because life doesn’t just take it easy on you so you can catch your breath and assess things. At least, that has not been my experience.

Which has had me wondering how to prioritize. What do you change first, when you want to change everything? How do you know what is most important? Over the last six months, the answer I’ve arrived at is that you can’t actually know what’s most important, not at first. Especially when your struggle is mixed with mental health factors. But I have come to some conclusions that have helped me a little, and they might help you too. So, here goes.

  1. You have to start with the life you have right now, not the one that you wish you had. I really want to wake up early in the mornings, read my Bible and write for a good little chunk of time and drink some tea in the peace and quiet. But we have things scheduled every early morning: I work most mornings and on the ones I don’t, we have meetings with friends to read the Bible and pray together. My dreamy picture of how I want reading my Bible and prioritizing writing to look is not compatible with the life I have right now. So, when I get home from opening the coffeehouse, I drink my tea and read my Bible and get sucked into researching Nephilim or patriarchy before the fall or the sacrificial system for an hour while my kids watch tv or ride their bikes outside. I write in little spurts during the time I find at home, or take the kids to the Y and instead of exercising I work on my various projects. It’s not “ideal” but life isn’t going to just give you an ideal opportunity to pursue wholeness. Don’t wait for things to change so you can fit the things you want into your day. It’ll never happen.
  2. Work with your challenges, not against them. As one example, for me this means I acknowledge that I am not all the other moms or homemakers I know. I am getting rid of so so much of our stuff because I simply cannot manage it. My life is better without all the junk, and yours probably would be too, but I can’t actually function the way things are now, while you maybe can. I truly, deeply believe that we use way too many resources and are drowning our one precious planet in humanity’s trash, but my slow pursuit of minimalism has less to do with that principle and more to do with the fact that I personally am drowning in our family’s junk. So, instead of figuring out a complex laundry schedule, I’m getting rid of most of our clothes. Instead of trying to find ways to organize our stuff, I’m donating it. It’s a process. Nothing happens all at once, but it goes a lot faster once you stop pretending to be somebody you’re not.
  3. Remember that each small thing makes a difference. I can’t have a perfectly neat and visually peaceful house right now. But I can sweep the floor, or clear my kitchen counters. Even if I can only do one thing, that one thing makes a big difference. I don’t know why this is true, because to me it is not logical–one tiny thing in the face of all the vastness of change that is required does not really equal a change in circumstance. Empirically though, that one small thing makes a bigger difference than it should. So the small thing I can do now is what I will do. Then in a little while, I’ll be able to do something else. Pretty soon everything will be perfect! Just kidding. Life is growth and change. It’ll never be perfect. I hate this truth the most, that I have to do one thing at a time, because I’m impatient and can see everything I want to change. I just can’t do it all at once.
  4. Remember that you can’t have everything. Anything you choose to prioritize means another thing you neglect. It might not be a one-to-one ratio, but something always gets set aside. This doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, it just means that you are a person. Right now, writing is more important to me than exercising. It feels like a fundamental piece of me that has been missing for years that I’m just getting back. So I use my childcare hours at the Y to pursue my writing, not my weight loss goals—which honestly are really just wishes at this point, since I’m writing instead of exercising. I expect that sometime down the road I will be able to prioritize a few more things, but the truth remains that I will never have it all. But when I know the thing I’m choosing, and I do it with intent, it is much easier to say no to the guilt that is always telling us that we should be doing all of the good things.

These are the few truths I have been repeating over and over to myself during this season. Hopefully they will encourage you on your own painstaking journey towards change. There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” It’s so easy for us to be really hard on ourselves, especially if we’re Christians. We’re supposed to be like Jesus, so it’s easy to think that perfection is our goal. But we’re never actually going to become like God, and when you get right down to it, that was our first sin. Accept your humanity and your limitations. Let them point you to the things that you should really be focusing on right now. And remember that if God delights in the process, you’re allowed to find happiness in it as well.