egali-comple-what?: a post on mutuality.

most of the time, reading rachel held evans‘s blog frustrates me.

it has nothing to do with rachel herself. i may not agree with everything she says, but that doesn’t upset me.

actually, what frustrates me about rachel’s blog is that i find out about divisions and arguments i would rather not know about, like the one i discovered last week.

rachel titled this past week a week of mutuality, & spent it writing posts arguing toward an egalitarian view of men and women in the bible, as opposed to a complementarian (or patriarchal) view of men and women.

i didn’t even realize this was an issue.

okay, actually: i did. i did in that way you know something but can’t place your finger on it. i knew it in that way i knew singles are often misunderstood, misrepresented, or flat out ignored by the church, even though i couldn’t actually name a specific instance i’d seen it done. and i know it in the same way my professor informed me that my journal entries for her class (entitled trauma, culture, memory) were filled with largely feminist rhetoric except for one entry which somewhat offended her own feminist sensibilities. (& she did say offend, although when i spoke to her she did not seem personally affronted.)

& i knew it in the way i went on and on to this professor in a way even i can’t unravel or even understand about the subjects of equality and submission and women and marriage and what?

so i’ve been reading posts on this egalitarian/complementarian debate, even though i wanted to throw my hands up about the whole thing and ignore it, which i very well could have done. but i stuck it out anyway, because i did want to learn more about it, and decide for myself what i believed.

you know, the whole always having an answer thing, or something like that.

well, to be honest with you, i still don’t have an answer. but i did learn one thing: that i am a feminist.

BEFORE {some of} YOU LOSE YOUR MIND: i don’t mean the radical type of feminist.

i do mean that i staunchly believe women are equal to men, that they are equally equipped in terms of function and intelligence. after all, i have spent my entire life trying to prove – and perhaps more importantly, succeeded in proving – i can do just about everything as well as, if not better and faster than, my male counterparts, and in high heels to boot {pun not intended}. i believe one of the biggest myths women buy into is that they need a man to complete them or tell them what to do. & i believe if we tell women their highest calling is wife- and motherhood, we inevitably tell every woman who has been, is, and will be single that they did, do, or will lack for the opportunity to serve God at their highest potential all the days of their lives.

let me tell you something else. i have taken multiple quizzes on spiritual gifts, and my two highest ranked, always, are teaching and discernment.

you know where those gifts work well? pastorship.

not that i have really ever wanted to be a pastor.

but i would be remiss if i didn’t tell you a quick story about a girl who went a christian camp in southern ohio, where they hold competitions for best (short) sermon and best sunday school lesson. & that girl sat in the bowling alley where these competitions were held, even though she never entered herself, watching her friends give sunday school lessons, knowing the boys were waiting to give their sermons. and she reflected sadly that she was never going to be able to give anyone a sermon, for a competition or otherwise, because she was a girl. she didn’t want to teach bible stories; she wanted to dig deeper, into the theology, into the mystery.

but southern baptist sunday school teachers don’t do that, so she couldn’t either.

i’ll be honest: i don’t know how i feel about women pastoring. i am realizing, the older i get, how deeply my southern baptist sensibilities go, how difficult is to tear away from some of them. & i will have to do far more research before i agree to anything about women in high leadership positions in the church, but i do have to say this: being a woman has never stopped me from doing anything to which God called me, and i am not going to tell any other woman that their sex should stop them from doing anything to which God has called them, either.

in that vein, i know this, too: i have maintained for a while now that the church generally doesn’t know what to do with singles, but i think it sometimes just doesn’t know what to do with women in general.

and i get that the church is made of imperfect people, so it’s not going to be perfect this side of heaven. and i get, too, and believe firmly that the community of believers we call church is part of God’s plan, and i believe strongly that He’s working through it powerfully.

so let me tell you the only thing i know right now about being a woman amidst this debate: do what God has called you to do in His strength and with His grace. “if your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (romans 12:6-8). “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 corinthians 12:4).

& i don’t see any codicils telling women any differently.

postscript: even before i heard of this series, i had thoughts on singleness wandering around my mind, seeking cohesion. look out for me bringing those to you soon. in the meantime, what do you think about this issue? do you agree or disagree? i’m all up for discussion, but keep it respectful and polite!


  1. says

    I really like the point you bring up about how when the focus is on motherhood and being a wife, it leaves out singles or pushes them to pursue those things instead of the Lord. The focus should always be that all women do need a man to complete them, just not a husband. Instead they all need Jesus!!

    I’m like you, sorta. I believe that like men, we as women are made in the image of God. We are equal to men in value and purpose. But that doesn’t mean that we are made to do the same things, to fill the same roles. Of course, God gives spiritual gifts to all of us. Like you, my gifts are teaching and leadership. I LOVE theology and study. But I don’t believe that women should be leading men. But there is nothing wrong with leading women and children.

    I think all of this comes down, most of the time, to how the church addresses the issue. While I love many aspects of the S Baptist church, I do feel that they hold to conservative traditions more often than not. And traditions are not always biblical. With anything, we need to always refer back to the scriptures. The answers will always be there, but not always in the debates of man.

    ps- I think many forget that the command to “submit to your husband” was a command to submit just to your husband. Women are not called to be submissive to men. I feel like so often people thing the church is archaic because we think men aren’t worth what men are because we think women are to be servants. But you and I both know that isn’t even close to the truth!!

    I look forward to reading more from you on this topics and others :) I love you heart!

  2. says

    It’s really interesting to hear your views on women leadership as I go to a church of england church (in the UK) and my mother is a vicar (a pastor) and I know that she has been called by God into leadership. She was first called into this role at 16 years old but at the point she was not able to be a vicar because she was a woman. So she waited. And in the mean time became a teacher, met my father and had three children. So when C of E started allowing females into leadership roles, my mother finally had the chance to live out what God had always called her to do. And there are many people in opposition to her, bishops who wont speak to her because they feel that she shouldn’t be a vicar. But leadership was a gift that God gave her, and she does amazingly and preaches beautifully.

    This isn’t trying to start a debate or anything, I just thought you might be interested to hear of someone who is in leadership.

    I think you write very well and this definitely made me think about attitudes to singles :)

    Say x

  3. says

    First – LOVE the new blog design & name!! :)

    Love this post. so, so true.

    I’m always trying to figure out how to define myself. I’m a feminist in the exact same way you are: I strongly believe in, and will stand up for, the equality and intelligence of women. That doesn’t meant that I don’t believe that, in general, God may have equipped men and women to be better at some different tasks. But we are still equal. And have rights. And I believe in championing those rights whenever they are missing, whether that’s in America or a third world country. In those instances, it’s a way of standing up for the weak and defenseless. And also, by standing up for the women, we are standing up for the children and protecting and empowering them, too.

    But I don’t believe this view at all counters the Biblical theology of equal but different, complementarian, or any of that. I think they work together rather well, just with a nice dash of Isaiah 58 tossed in :)


  4. says

    I love this post and I think it’s very well-articulated!

    Of course, feminism can mean so many different things, but the way you’re using it here is a beautiful example of how a Christian woman can live a full and Christ-honoring life. I, too, feel that there is not enough emphasis placed on women’s ability to step into roles of leadership and teaching, and we can play huge roles in society, other than being wives and mothers!

    Growing up in a home school world definitely gave me the idea that the biggest “goal” for a woman is to get married and raise children. But as many girls in my church got married at 20 or 21, I grew to realize that it may not be the life for everyone!

    • says

      Yes! I agree with you, Kelsey. We’re meant to serve Christ in a variety of ways, not just in marrying and procreating. And I agree: if I had married early, or even, I think, if I married now, it wouldn’t honor Christ and be as fulfilling and fruitful as it could be if I, as I am, waiting for Him to lead me in that regard. I think putting so much pressure on women to get married makes them feel as though they have to jump at the first available opportunity to do so, and that’s not the case.

      Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate your thoughts. :]

  5. says

    I agree with you that most churches don’t know what to do with single people. Almost every event we have is catered to married people. It’s hard to feel like you are doing anything significant in the church when you are 26 and single. Everybody is raising Godly families and working on thier marriages. :( I just always try to remember that God is using my single days for something… I just don’t know what for yet. Good post though! I really liked it!

  6. says

    Thank you for writing this, Annie. I read Rachel’s blog off and on (I stopped reading regularly simply because — and this may be weak of me, who knows — ignorance is bliss, and I don’t always like knowing the “controversy” that sometimes simmers below the surface in Christendom). That being said, her posts last week on mutuality were well-written and — rare in the blog world — thoughtful. I appreciated her words, and I’ve only refused to write my own post because, like you, my thoughts are a tad muddled, and they’re not ready for the world just yet.

    I appreciate, though, your decision to post your own response. Like you, I describe myself as a feminist. (It’s a label I gave myself while reading the “great books” in college.) I’ve always, though, preceded that noun with the “Christian” adjective; I still get weird looks, and that’s okay. I believe I am a feminist because I believe God created me as a daughter of the King, as a child of His. That designation gives me great power, and it reminds me that, as a member of His kingdom, we are all One in Christ Jesus, male and female (Gal. 3:28).

    Like you, I have been given spiritual gifts that have long been traditionally identified in the church as male, and that has often, for me, resulted in hurt and frustration and misunderstanding. It has resulted, sometimes, in an “unsubmissive” label (which is a shame, since I firmly believe in submission and humility as something all believers are called to… male or female).

    I’m not sure where I stand on the “role” of women in the church, except to say I’ve begun to explore and to think and to read, and there is a really big part of me that wishes I could use my spiritual gifts in more ways than I am currently able. Like you, I had a fairly conservative spiritual upbringing (combined with parents and teachers who encouraged me to seek and ask questions, something I’ll be eternally grateful for), and I attend a fairly conservative church. I’m not sure what being a Christian feminist means for me there.

    I am sure, though, that God is okay with me being a leader. He created me this way. He gave me these gifts. I am confident that my husband and I are a team, and that we function as such. Sometimes that means compromise; it often means conversation and prayer; it always means love and humility. I believe marriage is give and take, and while I firmly trust in Jordan to lead our home, I also know there are areas in which I am better equipped to do that. So we trade. We balance. We complement one another, and I am more than okay with that.

    As a Christian feminist, I want to see women empowered and encouraged. I want them to be told that they are more than enough, that they are capable of greatness, that they are more than qualified to serve — in multiple capacities — in the kingdom and in the world. I want women to know these things because I believe God would want them to know these things. I believe God would want them to know they are loved, they are treasured, and they are capable and appreciated. I believe firmly in the analogy of the body Paul gives us, believe we were all created so uniquely, so spectacularly, and that we desperately need each other. We were made for each other, just like the parts of the body were made for one another, made to function better as a unified whole than to function apart.

    That’s all I know, but I think, for now, it’s enough.

    Thanks again, Annie, for this thought-provoking and well-written post.

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