Guys, I love you. But even those of you who are deeply aware of women’s issues in the wider culture (and my friends all are, they have hearts the size of a whole continent), sometimes seem to be unaware of what it’s like to be a woman in a conservative Bible-believing faith community.
Which is as it should be, to some extent, I suppose, since you’re men.
But, my beloved friends, you have a charge to keep. I hope you’ll bear with me, and find some encouragement for your great responsibilities, and hold me accountable without dismissing my thoughts, and listen deeply.
Being the Majority
When I’m the white North American woman at the evangelical publishing conference, I’m oblivious to the challenges being experienced by the male minority. I’m oblivious to the challenges being experienced by the black and Asian female minority. I have only the slightest understanding, as a Canadian, of the challenges being experienced by the attendees from overseas cultures that operate very differently than the American business culture.
I have become aware of them because these people have spoken about it and written about it. But, left to myself, I look around and automatically just see people, all on an apparently level footing. I assume that since I see them as people like myself, the system which runs so smoothly for those of us fitting the majority mold must be comfortable for them too.
The men I love and respect most are not blind, they are seeing women as people, integrated into the social system just as they are.
But culture doesn’t work that way.
Function and Demographic Assumptions
One doesn’t run up against the functional problems of the cultural system in the same way when it’s optimized for who and what one is. The systematic assumptions have other obvious problems, of course. But the perspective is simply different.
I learned to listen and to speak of those invisible stumbling blocks at a very young age, because I had to. I was about 3 or 4 years old. The first time I ever picked up a pair of scissors — the child’s ultimate craft tool — they didn’t work for me. I’m left-handed.
Tying shoelaces is backward. Crocheting and running a sewing machine are backward. Handwriting is backward. Knife grips. Computer mouses. The direction of turn on a bottle cap. I am wired differently than the world around me.
We, as complementarian women, are wired differently than the defaults of the religious world around us, because it is built and run by men. This is why someone like Nancy DeMoss, whatever her mistakes and errors, can speak with such authenticity about the intense struggle to find a place as a strong-minded, publicly gifted female.
Now, let me be clear. One of the greatest gifts to me as a woman is this:
Opening my home to men of God’s Word. (Yes, they have some very serious faces on, don’t they? I believe Carl’s skeptical face was aimed at Dave. ) That afternoon, the day after the Bible conference, these two hooligans tag-team preached in my home church, and then came here for lunch.
Submit Yourselves One to Another in Love
I don’t even hardly need to be part of the conversation at these times. It’s enough to sit there and listen, because they’ve stirred each other to thought and action. I love them, and the great thing is to feel their strength of mind and heart and know that they’re to rights with God in these moments. There is something wonderful about the strength of Godly men when they’re working together for the gospel.
These are my brothers. Because of the love of the brethren, I’m more honoured to bring them a glass of water while they preach than I would be to take a pulpit before them. Fellowship in Christ, serving God together, is a far greater thing than I myself am.
To me, the real power of complementarianism is not authority or submission. It’s giving according to the unique needs of the receiver, through the unique powers of the giver. Because I’ve seen it both ways, I don’t question that there’s a strength in the preaching and leading of men that’s simply different than a woman’s way. (The egalitarians can all be disgusted with me now. )
And, yes, I lead in other ways. In fact, sometimes I lead these very men, in non-ecclesiastical matters, but with Christian principles and doctrine at the forefront of our activities as writers and people of an evangelistic mindset. They treat me as an equal and a trusted advisor. (The hard complementarians can all be disgusted with me now. )
The fact is, there are times when the men that I love and respect, the men of my community, feel invisible and powerless before the world and the religious culture too. I stand in favour of a place God has given to them in the church out of sheer, pure grace and love for them.
Neither Jew Nor Greek
So, when we consider this great “culture war,” we must consider that God has called us to peace with each other as Christians.
When women are taught an unbiblical degree of submission, or when it’s enforced upon them, the autonomous right of free association with good men is taken from them in the name of God. An unbiblical environment does not make men good. But, neither does a biblical one. Only God Himself does that.
When women are abused, and the congregation’s trust is misplaced in a manipulative church member who is one of the male peer group — we can’t forget the law is made for transgressors. And we cannot argue “no true Scotsman.” There but for the grace of God go any one of our men.
The People are Not the System
When women question complementarianism, they’re questioning a community system that’s so often blind and deaf to the very nature of complementarity — the fact that people are different. They’re questioning why they’re unheard when they speak of the stumbling blocks in everyday theological discourse, in community interactions, in invisible doors that close in their faces. I am not even talking about pulpits here. Just everyday Christian life as I myself have lived it! Systems have no grace. Therefore, we must.
We must be wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves. We must cling to the repulsive truth of the Gospel – Christ crucified for our depravity, and the reality that not every man among us may be transformed by that truth, no matter how well he cloaks himself in light. A biblical environment does not make men good. Only God does.
We must remember that social systems are inflexible. The rules of conduct and the prescribed channels we create for our convenience, the shorthands facilitating smooth community interaction, are insufficient for the full spectrum of darkness in this world — the darkness in us.
Principle is Not Personhood
The problem of suffragism was that good men could not believe anyone would abuse a system that didn’t harm their own way of life (insofar as they could see). What man would go adultering and sell the house his neglected wife worked to pay for, knowing she had no property rights? What man would leave his whole estate to his son and not a penny of cash in support of his widow, though she worked the farm or the store alongside him as his equal?
These things, and subtler, more pervasive ones like full participation in society, went unseen because good men were decent and upright — not because they weren’t. A comfortable sense of our own benevolent principle can blind us.
So, we — both you and I — must vigilantly remember that we are not here in service to the social order. Not its complementarian conception, nor its egalitarian one. We are here in service to Christ.
Serve the True Master
I ask this of you: Don’t let the good Christian system be the primary guide of your thinking on any topic, for it is not truly good. Let your guide be Scripture.
Don’t let the abstractions of our theological systems achieve a supremacy that disconnects them from human realities, for they can’t truly be separated, except in our own half-dark minds.
I beseech you, my brothers, because you have a heart of love — I beseech you as the weaker vessel in a world built backwards to the natural turn of my hand — remember me.