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.