Coming Out Egalitarian: Reconsidering Complementarian Arguments

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This is the second in a series about my questions, fears, and experiences when coming out as egalitarian.

In my years of blogging, I’ve been developing a thicker skin. I’m a sensitive, thoughtful person dedicated to pursuing truth and expressing it clearly. Whenever someone questioned my beliefs, even if it was the same, old, worn out counterargument, I felt compelled to engage with their beliefs and reevaluate mine — all in the name of intellectual honesty. How could I expect my readers to consider my arguments and change their minds if I didn’t do the same?

This was exhausting. When I finally found something true, good, and beautiful to share, the critics forced me back to the drawing table, back to the confusion, doubt, and discouragement. I never felt like I could live my beliefs. I was always being asked to reconsider.

The egalitarian/complementarian controversy caused the most angst. Such conversations were always framed as the Biblical, black-and-white, literal interpretation vs. womanmade, squishy, hermeneutical gymnastics. There could be only one valid, sensible interpretation of passages on gender, and it wasn’t egalitarianism.

Those terms for conversation kills all interest in talking right there for me, but I felt guilty closing the conversation. I was 99.999% sure egalitarianism was the way to go, but what if I failed to consider that 0.001% — and what if that 0.001% was crucial to know the truth?

I’ve tried to find the balance between confidently living my beliefs without second thoughts but also being willing to admit when an opposing belief is right — and then I realized that I already knew how to do that.

For the majority of my life, I researched, believed, and promoted complementarian theology without hearing the egalitarian side. And then, after years of thinking complementarianism explained everything, it started making no sense within itself, with the nature of God, and with the women I knew. When I first Googled egalitarianism, I feared falling into false teaching, but I Googled it out of desperation, and I considered it out of intellectual honesty. Its interpretation of Scripture, understanding of the gospel, and affirmation of women seemed more good, true, and beautiful than complementarianism, so I switched allegiances — in a painful, messy, but good way.

Even in my close-minded ignorance, I could see holes in an argument. I started investigating those holes. I realized the argument was inadequate. I looked for another argument that satisfied the questions and emptiness in the first argument. And that led me to greater truth.

I’m comfortable not reconsidering complementarianism because I’ve asked hard questions before. I’ve walked hard paths alone for the sake of truth. If egalitarianism has holes (and I’m sure it does), I’ll find them and question them with the same intensity I questioned complementarianism, the belief system I initially didn’t want to give up.

I’m comfortable not reconsidering complementarianism because I took more than enough time to understand it. Check the archives of my old blog if you don’t believe me: I swallowed complementarianism hook, line, and sinker. From the ages of 11-19, I studied it, implemented it, and saw the world through it. I can still argue from the complementarian position just fine. That was my childhood, as a nerdy, theologically-inclined kid desperate to live a pleasing Christian life. Not only did I study complementarianism, I lived it and observed it and found it wanting.

I’m comfortable not reconsidering complementarianism because I haven’t been convinced by any of its arguments since coming out as egalitarian. I’m a pretty fair-minded, tolerant person who doesn’t mind conceding a good point, but complementarian arguments coming from someone else don’t look any more convincing to me than they did coming from my own mouth.

But most of all, I’m comfortable not reconsidering complementarianism because I find egalitarianism to be more true, good, and beautiful. Why would I reconsider something I found inadequate when I’ve found something fulfilling?

It seems pretty straightforward, but there were mental blocks that held me back. With my passion for egalitarianism, I didn’t want people to say, “I’ll never become egalitarian” with the same fervor I said, “I’ll never go back to complementarianism.” (I recently encountered somebody who was allegedly egalitarian and then switched to complementarianism. Awkward.)

Then I realized that I couldn’t change people’s minds, and that when I was a complementarian, I swore up and down I would never join the dark side too. Sometimes, life, time, other people, and the Holy Spirit are better persuaders than I. Currently, I have no problem telling content complementarians, “I’m not interested in arguing, but I’m happy to explain my viewpoint.” I like conversations and discussions, not debates and accusations.

Then there’s this other thing, so sneaky and subtle that it took me several years to uncover: Complementarians tend to assert that theirs is the default position, and egalitarianism is the aberration; that complementarianism is as old as the gospel, and egalitarianism is as new as third-wave feminism; that complementarianism is rooted in obvious gender differences, and egalitarianism is rooted in overreaction and rebellion.

To be honest, deep down, I still believed complementarianism was the default position too. It’s hard to think otherwise. My church supported it. My family practiced it. Newlyweds, older women, best friends, random Christian people all believed it. I let their assertions that complementarianism was the Biblical, natural, sensible position get to me. I was told I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater and swinging the pendulum the opposite direction (classic metaphors people love to use on anybody who questions their beliefs). I absorbed this insinuation that I was the outlier, the rebel, and the liberal for going against the complementarian interpretation of Scripture.

But actually, I’m not any of those things. I simply disagree with complementarianism. I’m carrying out the gospel to its logical conclusion in reference to women. I’m interpreting Scripture in its historical and literary context. I didn’t need to feel on the defensive, bowing down to an “older,” “less emotional” teaching. My view was valid, Biblical, and sensible too — even moreso.

All of this freed me to say, “I’m an egalitarian, and I’m not reconsidering or apologizing. I’ve found something good, and I’m holding onto it.” I’m not saying I won’t listen to alternative viewpoints. (I still follow complementarian personalities I respect on social media and RSS feed.)

I’m not even saying I’m right. I’m merely saying, I don’t see a need to reconsider right now, and until I have a reason to reconsider, I’m not reconsidering. I will write about and advocate for the full inclusion and equality of women in the home, church, and society without reserve; I will live out my marriage and womanhood with confidence; I will convince those who will be convinced and not be upset by those who aren’t; I will stay friends with complementarians and be frank and gracious about our differences; I will concede good points and ignore bad ones.

There’s a time to consider, and there’s a time to live a life already. And now I’m living.

As an egalitarian, would you or have you reconsidered complementarianism? I would love to hear your thoughts!

// The first article in this series, on getting out of awkward, unhelpful conversations, and why I submit in my egalitarian marriage

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12 thoughts on “Coming Out Egalitarian: Reconsidering Complementarian Arguments

  1. Korie

    I appreciate your insight on this topic, especially your discernment that complementarianism is seen by many as the “default.” Being egalitarian
    isnt a deviation from “normal” as much as it is an embracing of what should have been normal all along.. I do have a question about complementarianism, since you seem to be an expert. Do you think the goal of complementarianism (or the driving force) is the pursuit holiness?

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    • Bailey Steger

      That’s a good question. If my answer misses your question entirely, feel free to ask again. :) What I’ve seen and what I’ve said when I was complementarian is this: its driving force behind complementarianism is being faithful to the Word of God, and the driving force of being faithful to the Word of God is wanting to live a life pleasing to God. I’ve heard complementarians say over and over that they cannot and will not accept egalitarianism, even as a valid interpretation of Scripture with which they disagree, because it rejects the clear Word of God. They staunchly defend (their interpretation of) Scripture as the source of right living, no matter what the ramifications are in their lives. That seems to be the number 1 thing on complementarians’ minds. Did that answer your question? Do you have other observations that might challenge my answer? I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

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      • Korie

        Thank you for your reply! That does answer my question. I’ve only brush shoulders with the world of patriarchy; I’ve never been immersed in it myself, so I like to check before jumping to conclusions. The following story may reflect my lack of understanding of this subject.

        This is what sparked my question. I have a 6 month old baby whom I breastfeed 6-8 times per day. The other evening, a screaming, hungry baby has d me stuck to the couch while I was in the midst of making dinner. I called my husband over and asked if he would finish dinner. He hates cooking and never does it, but he loves me. He began working on it as I called out from the couch, “Ok, so, I didn’t really follow a recipe. Make sure that you cut the carrots smaller than you cut the potatoes. Oh, the vegetable peeler. Well, I broke the vegetable peeler the other day, but if you look in the drawer… No… Not that drawer…. No, go below that. Yeah, that drawer, find the thing with the green handle… No, that’s a spatula, find the green handle thing that looks like a knife… Yeah, that’s it. Okay, well, if you hold it upside down, you can kind of use it like a vegetable peeler… No, not like that, do it the other way. There ya go…”

        And I thought to myself, “Wow, this would be so much easier if my husband were just in charge of it.”

        And then I thought, “DO I BELIEVE HUSBANDS SHOULD BE IN CHARGE OF EVERYTHING?!” Well, no, I don’t, but the thought made me pause.

        Women are biologically responsible for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. While none of those things will require 100% of a woman’s attention for an extended period of time, they all require the woman’s physical body and have a real physical effect on what a woman is able to do/commit to.

        So this idea of allowing men to be leaders and be in charge of more things and wives submitting to that (because really, our dinner would have turned out just fine had I not micromanaged the way my husband peeled the potatoes), has a tangible practical benefit. I understand tradional complementarian roles, especially in a society in which women were having many children.

        But I don’t think that the theology behind it is better reflected in the Word of God and I don’t think that viewpoint makes one more Holy.

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      • Bailey Steger

        You are a courageous mama! In early philosophy, women’s bodies were the basis for their societal roles. It makes sense that a breastfeeding, childrearing mother would keep to the home…which led to people saying she OUGHT to stay home.

        I think that complementarianism is attractive for women who feel frazzled about trying to “have it all.” They just want to focus on being mothers. This means their husbands need to the breadwinners. Being able to use the Bible to encourage/pressure their husbands to pick up the slack and validate their desire to just be a mom is a huge incentive for many complementarian women.

        Of course, were you in a complementarian circle, you might feel pressured to have dinner on the table for your hubby *no matter what,* since the kitchen and the home is YOUR domain as a woman. ;)

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  2. Daniel Abbott

    Do you view me as a complementarian? If you do, should I be offended?

    I was offended, when you accused me of being a “hyper-Calvinist.” I am not a Calvinist, at all. (Out of the five, I think I believe three.) But I do believe in predestination, a biblical concept. Should I have been offended? Did you know I was offended?

    Most of the time, I am convinced Egalitarian and Complementarian, like Calvinism are too broad in scope to discuss or consider as a whole, and must be considered in smaller portions. Just like most people aren’t strict Calvinist, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, I am guessing most people are not strict Patriarchal, Complementarian, Egalitarian, or Matriarchal.

    I do want to know what you have me labeled as, just for future reference.

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  3. heather

    I followed along on your old blog because I could see you starting to wrestle with these concepts and it was interesting to watch your journey. One thing I realized when I was moving away from fundamentalism was that it was everything they said it was going to be. They told me that it would feel like I was learning something new and important but I was being deceived. It would seem like this was truth but it was Satan’s lies. I think embedding the fear of backsliding is a brilliant way to stop people from questioning what they have been told. I had a few moments of confusion over that. I’m glad you are working your way through this. I tell people that I left my religion because I learned too much and studied my way out.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Yes! I agree. It’s impossible to pursue the truth above all else when you’re taught that there are certain things that cannot be true and thus cannot even be considered. Kudos to you for asking hard questions and working through the psychological warfare. Do you mind my asking where your questions led you? Did you stay Christian and follow another church denomination/tradition, or did your journey lead you elsewhere? No judgment here — I’m just curious about what other ex-fundamentalists are going!

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  4. Ruxee

    I’ve been following your posts on Egalitarianism with interest and then I followed the link to Ashley Easter’s blog and it was quite a challenge to define my own beliefs.
    For the past two years I have attended a small home-church and quite a few times I have found myself wondering why women and “marriage patterns” – if there are such things – are different. And today I realised for the first time that most women (and men) in the church I attend now are (maybe even without knowing the term) egalitarians whereas the church I grew up in and attended for 18 years is the typical traditional protestant church – and strongly promoting Complementarianism. It’s quite hard and honestly at times painful to find and define my own convictions, but I am glad there are people who have walked the path before me. So thank you for challenging me to ask questions!

    And maybe this is a bit off-topic, but as I saw you kind of shifted from Protestantism to Catholicism (so many -“ism”s here) and then considering Orthodoxy … What was it that made you do this and how did it impact your views upon women in church?

    Ruxee

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    • Bailey Steger

      Best wishes to you as you wrestle with those questions! That’s so interesting how you noticed a difference among egal/comp churches without anyone labeling themselves.

      My goodness…the Orthodoxy question is so long and complicated! Feel free to email me if you want specifics. The short answer is that I felt Orthodoxy and its apophatic theology allowed me to be intellectually honest and open in a way Western Christianity cannot. Western Christianity is more dogmatic; Orthodoxy is more focused on aligning one’s personal life with the mystery and paradox of a transcendent, loving, good God. Those are the main reasons, and there are many smaller doctrinal, philosophical, and practical reasons why I love Orthodoxy.

      I dislike the Orthodox Church’s stance on women, to be honest. It’s been a negative impact in that regard. I struggled a lot with considering joining a church that forbade female priests, upheld complementarian marriage, and sometimes fell into blaming the fall on Eve and women in general (not official teaching, of course, but it’s sometimes popular). I really love the Orthodox feminists I know, though, and there are many Orthodox saints who are amazing women, Christians, and leaders. :)

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  5. Karen

    I cant ever see myself being in a complementarian relationship due to my personality. That said, my younger sister is in a marriage that might be percieved as complementarian but she is very happy, personally fulfilled as a wife/mama who treats her husband as the leader of the family, and their relationship is great. not at al minimizing to her and they are great friends to each other. i think this is due to the fact that they dont see gender roles as a pathway to salvation, its just how things were modeled to them as kids so its how its sone. and my brother in law is a very selfless, non alpha male with very little in the way of personal agenda. Feom my end, i dont see my own egalitarian beliefs as gospel truth, and i think thats key. I want to be in an egalitarian marriage someday because i am fairly intellectual and independent. I want to be with a guy that loves me for who i am as a person, not for who i am as an “other”. But do i try to convert everyone to my way of doing relationships? No of course not. In my opinion, if you are truly happy and feel like you have a choice in how you are living your life (important!) there arent as many wrong answers and lots of different right ones.

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