Ousting Myself on Gender Roles
Burying the lede to make you read the whole thing
One of the reasons I wanted to share a new/different space with some of you is because a few years back I had a conversation with a dear co-laborer and friend, Seth Haines. I was processing a small shift in my theology with him and, more specifically, asking the questions around how we as writers and public thinkers, don’t create jarring experiences for our readers.
We’ve been at this long enough to see men and women canceled when out of nowhere they announce they are no longer XYZ but now believe ABC. How do we, I asked Seth, bear the consequences of what it means to put our thoughts out in public while at the same time bear the weight readers who we love and who love us? “Bring them along with you,” he said. “Take them on the journey with you as you shift.”
I have never pretended to believe that faith is stationary. The object of our faith is immoveable, unshakeable, unchangeable, but the substance of our faith is constantly in flux. As we experience joy and suffering, our faith is informed just as much by that as it is by the word of God. The more of life we live, the more our faith is filled out, buoyed, flattened, or curved around the character of God. I am suspect of people (theologians and ordinary Christians) whose faith never seems to growth, change, dissipate, falter, expand, or envelope.
I want a faith that moves.
Our faith is informed by life, experiences, personality, church, community, and the version of scripture we read, but many of us deny that. We act surprised when we see that informed faith enacted by others with different experiences, but don’t admit freely that our faith is being informed by all of that for us too.
I read a tweet yesterday from someone who said, “I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but some of the stuff you are absolutely certain about is wrong.” What a relief, I thought as I retweeted it. What a blessed relief. To know with certainty that some of what I believe with certainty is wrong is a relief to me because it reminds me I am not God. I need and want that reminder often.
Fluid faith, that is a changeable and moveable faith (again, not in the object, just in its substance), is a gift to a Christ follower because by definition, it means we’re walking, following, moving, journeying behind Christ. We, like Jesus, are “doing what we see our Father doing,” not just what he has already done. Christ didn’t leave a roadmap for his people, he left his Holy Spirit, who, he said, “would teach you all things.”
Okay, now we’re going to pivot.
I married an egalitarian.
When he told me he was an egalitarian before we got married, reader, I didn’t care.
Here’s what I knew about my husband to be: he was faithful, he was kind, he was the most servant-hearted person I’d ever met. He was gentle. He was a great listener. He was humble and forthcoming about his own sin. He was quick to confess and easy to confess to. He led men with gentleness and groundedness. He was a friend to my female friends. He was self-controlled, honorable and honoring. He was and is saturated in the word of God. He’s smarter than almost anyone I know and most people will never know that about him because he doesn’t flaunt what he knows or try to impress anyone with it.
When we married, we were a part of a church that held complementarian (C) theology as one of its secondary doctrines (that is, not central to the gospel, but related) and was very much in the process (publicly) of trying to figure out what that would look like in practice. The Lord saved me at this church and I love and respect so many people there. It never occurred to me—not once—that there might be grounds for faithful disagreement over the verses that divided egalitarianism from complementarianism. I had a myopic view of egalitarians and I didn’t give it enough personal study of my own to change that view.
Honestly, reader, it didn’t matter that much to me. At that point in my life, there were a lot of open doors for me and I didn’t feel the limitations many women feel in C spaces. Because I didn’t experience it, I assumed others didn’t either. My faith hadn’t yet been informed by more of life, and as such, hadn’t had the necessary pressure yet to drive me to study this doctrine with more depth.
Some of our faith is informed by what’s passed down to us, what seems right as we look to around us, what seems beautiful in practice, or harmful in experience, and some is informed by Scripture. No one, not one single person, can deny this reality. If someone says all their faith is informed by Scripture and not any of the former, practice awareness and curiosity about that because a self-aware person (an emotionally and spiritually healthy person) will readily admit their faith is a mix.
So then I marry an egalitarian, immediately after which I join the staff of a complementarian church. Newly married, the only female on the leadership team of a C church who is about to undergo a leadership crisis, and I am suddenly aware that my theology is about to bang right up against my experiences in an egalitarian marriage and complementarian church. I now had a husband who in every way (grounded in Scripture) viewed me as co-laborer, equal, better than him in some aspects of leadership, gifted in writing and teaching, who never exerted pressure of any kind over me, who never made the final decision on anything in our marriage (we don’t make decisions unless we agree), and who 100% of the time encourages me to listen to the Spirit/Word more than I listen to him.
Within our marriage, I was faced with the opportunity and space to explore aspects of the doctrine around gender roles in a way I hadn’t been before. I mean that to say, there was a lot of safety and security for me in simply adopting the theology my church held and I don’t actually think that’s wrong. And I think that’s actually really common. When we, as experiential people, experience the good side of a particular doctrine and it offers security to us to adopt that goodness for our own, it’s easy to go along with it for a time. I’ve seen this play out in anything from the way we vote to the way we plan our families, to the way we seek a career to where we live or what we eat or who we hang with or don’t. This is all orthopraxy, the way we practice our doctrine, but for many of us, we’re more drawn in by the practice than by the doctrine. It’s behavioral change instead of heart change.
It’s not all bad. Don’t get me wrong. But without a recognition of it after a while, it can become moralism—which definitely is bad. We can begin to believe the way we practice our faith is the way to practice faith. And because it’s always been safe for us to practice our faith that way, we can assume it’s safe for everyone. What changes that? An experience. It could be an experience in our life or an experience in studying scripture, but it’s something and it’s not usually something we expect or could repeat. It’s, well, it’s the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to do: teach us all things.
So six years ago I married an egalitarian (I keep saying that, I know), and that new experience, over a long time helped me realize I hadn’t brought a generosity to the way I studied gender roles. I came in with a practice and read Scripture through that lens (for example: my practice in studying was to use the translation my church used, which was the ESV, which translates some of Paul’s words on gender roles conservatively—therefore my “study” was limited because of my practice. I hope you’re still with me…). But when I began to experience a more generous, open-handed, exploratory curiosity about Paul, scripture, translations, women, and history, I found my position pretty insular. I found it wanting.
Either I am the worst writer ever for burying the lede this deep in this piece or (hopefully) I’ve done my work, which is to bring you along on my journey: I am not a complementarian, not even a soft one. I’m not a hard egalitarian either though. I actually don’t find either of those terms super helpful for me or you or the church. I am in flux on these things. I do not believe one size fits all or that Paul is perfectly clear or the translators made decisions without bias or biblical womanhood or manhood is a thing.
I am not going to try to convince you of how I arrived where I am theologically because (and please don’t miss this), I’m actually disinterested in you reading something I write and thinking, “That makes sense, I’m going to believe that too.” That’s part of the problem. I want something in your own life to bear on you so hard, you can’t ignore it, and it sends you to years of studying, reading, listening, and discerning, so you can decide for your own self where you land.
And, just in case I’m not clear, I believe there’s room in the kingdom of God for people to fall all over the spectrum on this one doctrine and to live out their faith in beautiful God-honoring, Scripture-soaked ways. But as for me, I’m not on one end or the other of that spectrum any longer.
Do you want to read more? (Note, I also read books by men but I’m specifically sharing works by women because I think experientially they embody some of what I’m talking about above.)