Coming Out Egalitarian: Responding to Personal Criticism

criticism

Last week, I received several emails and messages from people concerned for my salvation, spiritual life, and marriage, all more or less stemming from my newly-professed egalitarianism. I was getting around to writing a series on coming out as egalitarian, so now seems as good a time as ever to start.

Coming out as egalitarian, a no-no belief in much of conservative Christianity, often paints you with a big red target that just begs for unsolicited alarm. It ranges from uncomfortable, qualified support to “Please tell me your backstory so I can assure myself you’re not going to hell.” Also, they all conclude with “I’m praying you.”

Side note: When you come out as egalitarian in a conservative community, by golly, woman, you will have so many people praying for you that you’ll be unstoppable.

If all the concern came as blog comments, it’d be easy to cheerfully say, “Thanks for your concern, but I promise I’m doing great!” But many times, these people who genuinely care want to enter into your personal life story and hold a conversation about their judgment of your dangerous beliefs, putting the pressure on you to prove egalitarianism doesn’t stem from your lack of faith, emotions, or impending apostasy. They tell you you’re wrong; that the truth is obvious; that they don’t agree with anything you say; that they’re genuinely worried about your soul — and then they expect you to spill your guts out to them about everything.

And of course, you feel awful, because you know they care and don’t mean to be condescending and because their caring condescension doesn’t make it feel any less like the Great White Throne Judgment: Show me the fruit of your faith now, or egalitarianism shall be the shackles that drag you to eternal suffering.

One of the worst feelings in the world is being on the defensive after someone says, “I doubt your faith.”

Another is, “Tell me all the personal reasons you believe egalitarianism. I feel called to correct you under the guise of pretending I won’t lecture you after you bare your soul.”

And it’s always the people who don’t know you well, isn’t it?

In light of this sort of personal, judgmental, but kindly meant criticism, I’ve developed two rules. The first is this: Never engage in a conversation that puts you on the defensive about your own spiritual journey or personal beliefs.

It’s a psychological nightmare. Your first reaction to such criticism is, “Actually, I’m not in danger of hellfire?” But then you question that, because of course you would say that if you’re not actually following God’s will. If you act confident about your beliefs, it just proves their point that you’re not open to hearing the truth. If you don’t act confident, you practically send an open invitation for further preaching. You lose either way.

It struck me that I didn’t need to prove to anyone that I was saved, sane, or anything else. I didn’t need to give strangers and acquaintances assurance that I was not walking off the deep end or slipping down a slope. I didn’t owe it to anybody to share my feelings, life story, or convictions unless I wanted to. I didn’t even need to engage in a conversation if I felt like it’d be unproductive or harmful.

Ten times out of ten, a conversation that starts like, “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and you need to convince me otherwise” is not going to be productive. The same goes for the opening line of, “I’m concerned about your salvation. Maybe you’re not actually a Christian?”

To such conversations, I have the freedom to politely say no, thanks, and go on my worry-free way.

The second rule is, Don’t put yourself on the defensive. And by that I mean, don’t play the victim. Don’t shut down valid criticism or questions. Don’t develop stereotypes out of the people who hurt you. Don’t give yourself an excuse to mock, assume, or dehumanize. Don’t become hardened. Stay soft, humble, and open to healthy dialogue. Be the bigger person. Experience the grief of being misunderstood, falsely accused, and patronized…and then let it go.

I’m terrible at this.

I try to remember that even in closing an unhelpful conversation, I can still model gracious dialogue and a humble spirit. As much as I hate hearing “I’m praying for you,” I try to sincerely say thanks. As much as it kills me to hear condescending words phrased as care, I try to genuinely appreciate their concern. I try to keep the door open for a better conversation in the future: “We can talk about this if you acknowledge that my viewpoint is valid too” or “I’m happy to discuss specific questions if we drop the subject of my personal salvation” or my favorite, “I’d be glad to hear your story.” And I remind myself that this sort of humility is good and needed.

During your coming out period, as you experience unsolicited personal criticism about your faith and your beliefs, join with me in praying this brave and humble prayer. We’ll need it.

Bless those who hurt me, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Those who hurt me have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth; those who hurt me have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Those who hurt me have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless those who hurt me, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless those who hurt me, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, those who hurt me have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless those who hurt me, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Those who hurt me have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses those who hurt her, for she does not understand.

But a daughter blesses them, for she understands. For a daughter knows that her enemies cannot touch her life. Therefore she freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless those who hurt me, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Amen.

— St. Nikolai of Ochrid, “Lord, Bless My Enemies” (modified)

What has been your experience with coming out as egalitarian? How do you respond to this sort of personal criticism?

// An important thing to know about complementarian women and why I became egalitarian

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8 thoughts on “Coming Out Egalitarian: Responding to Personal Criticism

  1. Daniel Abbott

    I never thought false accusations and misunderstandings were similar to patronizing. We patronize saints, the arts and places we like to hangout. How that equates to the other concepts, I haven’t an inkling.

    The idea that stating what I believe is not “soliciting” all manner of rejoining is a strange and alien perspective. If I don’t want others to tell me what they think, I don’t tell them what I think. Why else tell people what I think, but to get their responses? A response is an opening of a door, or a dislodging of a deadbolt, in a person’s openness to what is being said. No response is a bad sign indicating a closed mind.

    Of course, I am always a bit nervous, when everybody agrees on something. As a boy, and now as an older boy, when my pals and I all agree on a course of action without dispute, it is generally sheer stupidity.

    As far as praying for me, almost no one ever says that to me. I think it would be comforting to know that. (I don’t know that, it is merely speculation.) I figure if someone were to pray for me after a “misunderstanding,” they’d be talking to God about what I had said. The only person, I can think of,* more able than myself to correct their misunderstandings, if they actually are “misunderstandings.”

    * I’m sure more will come to me later.

    Like

  2. Korie

    “Coming out” really tests our confidence in the things we believe. Sometimes (sometimes!) I think the response and criticism we have a result of insecurity on the beliefs of the critic. They crave the affirmation of others sharing the same beliefs.

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