There’s quite the egalitarian outcry against Always Learning‘s Facebook posts, particularly this one. I’m equally appalled by the Facebook posts and the vicious and/or ignorant ad hominem attacks against the author. Even some of the more tempered rebuttals failed to understand the extreme complementarian position the author takes.
This ignorance frustrates me to no end, because angry feminist rhetoric is probably the biggest reason complementarians refuse to consider any alternative interpretations of Scripture or ways of viewing the world. In my days as a stay-at-home daughter blogger, I don’t recall ever getting constructive, reasoned comments rebutting my patriarchal views (with one big exception — and she ended up uprooting my patriarchal views, God bless her). My only experience with non-complementarians was a message board dedicated to tearing apart conservative Christians — me included.
I get the anger. These Facebook posts and these beliefs in general anger me. I get the bizarreness of these beliefs — even though, as an ex-complementarian who once promoted these beliefs, my incredulity is overlaid with horror and grief at my own ignorance and false teaching.
But I’m not angry because somebody’s wrong on the internet. I’m angry because people buy into these oppressive, Biblically illiterate teachings and suffer because of it — and some egalitarians are leaving unhelpful comments, at best, and inflammatory turn-offs at worst.
Consider this interchange:
Our family has recently started this journey, where my husband is our provider & I stay at home. I am also learning to submit to his decisions regarding our family. This is not easy people. Not by a long shot. I have my own battles, I still get angry, just the other night we had a discussion about a family topic, husband flat out said no & for me to be submitting, I had to accept that. Yes I was angry, yes it hurt & yes I had a cry about it. Does it stop me loving him, or doing what I do every single day? No. I think the reason why being a stay-at-home wife isn’t looked upon favourably is because society has taken it’s value away & it isn’t seen as being worthy of our attention. I feel like a champion when my home is beautiful, the washing is done & I have enough time to sit down & do some of my hobbies before the kids get home & I have our afternoon routine to start. Why would I want to change that for an office, wearing someone else’s uniform, answering endless telephones, obnoxious customers and snarky colleagues……….
Crying over big decisions she was not allowed to make, her husband flat out telling her “No” and, “Be submissive to me”? Not okay by any stretch of the imagination. This is a prime example of complementarianism gone very, very wrong — a dangerous position for a woman’s soul and potentially her emotional and physical safety, depending on the husband.
The Christian egalitarian community had a great opportunity to affirm her desire to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker who submits to her husband while pointing her to a healthier mindset of mutual submission and respect, individual value, and self-worth.
And to be fair, some tried: “What if I told you that you can be a stay at home mom and not be that ridiculously ignored and pushed over?”
But then, some didn’t: “You know what century it is, right? You’re also aware you’re an adult, not a child, correct?” “That’s pathetic.” “I hope he doesn’t get violent or threatening with you. Honestly you described an abusive relationship.”
The OP was not persuaded. She was offended:
ok so everyone who commented on this thinking I didn’t know my worth or was a pushover, or heaven above thought my husband was in anyway abusive. STOP right there. I am more woman then I have ever been. I am the leader when it comes to this home. Most of the rules laid down in this home are mine. 90% of the ‘family discussions’ held in this house, go in my favour, because my husband see’s the wisdom of my council. I make daily decisions that affect our family. My husband would lie down in dirt & let me walk on him if I asked. If my husband ever laid a finger on me or our boys in aggression, I would walk away! I do not even tolerate aggression in my boys. None of you knew what ‘family matter’ we were discussing, I kept it private, because it’s none of your business. So how can you comment on my submission to him regarding it? What’s the best way to keep a husband, by making him want to come home, If I was a nagging harpy, and made him come home & do chores after his work day would he really want to? Don’t get me wrong, there are chores I refuse to do, like the car maintenance, lawns & some house maintenance. That’s not my job in my eyes. But do I have a slaves life? Not by a long shot.
he does make the decisions. I just put my 2 cents in all the time. At the end, he makes the choice on what we are going to do. If it goes in my favour, yahoo, if not, then I have to to accept. The ones I don’t consult him on are what groceries I buy, what we are having for dinner, where I go thought the day. If I decide to go down to a cafe for lunch with my toddler, then I go. Do I ring him and ask permission. Stoke me dead before I do.
Our home wasn’t always like this. I did work full time when I was younger. I was an employee in a resort. I ended up being at work 90% of my waking hours. Barely saw my husband, let alone my kids. How was our home back then? On the brink of divorce, the kids didn’t respect me, or the rules, there was fighting & then some. I was the dictator wife back then. It was my way or there’s the door. No one wanted to be around me.
I think all of you hung up on ‘submission’ have not been taught the biblical understanding of submission & are automatically thinking in terms of it being a negative implication. Lacey Nicole Buchanan we both know the proper answer for that & if your asking me to say that I am wrong after all. Sorry. My role is not limited to housework people. I use my free time to volunteer with elderly, teach in the community garden & just plain be nice. I don’t need to ‘have a paying job’ to contribute to society.
These responses are typical and cover most of the core beliefs of extreme complementarianism. (Note: Many complementarians are horrified by extreme complementarianism, and it isn’t fair to lump them all together. For the purpose of this post, “complementarianism” refers to extreme complementarianism.) From this example, egalitarians can learn the do’s and don’t’s of engaging in constructive conversation with complementarian women.
DON’T assume she has no say or authority. Complementarianism still gives lip service to women’s full equality and value, after all — separate but equal. To egalitarians, “no say” means “no final say” in a decision-making process. To them, “no say” would mean a husband never takes his wife’s opinions into consideration, which violates their Biblical mandate of husbands loving their wives. Because complementarian women stick to their defined roles, they do not consciously desire any more authority, and in fact, may enjoy that their husbands make the hard decisions and do the dirty work for the family. They take great pride and joy in being the queens of their homes and are often given free-reign over homemaking matters.
DON’T assume she did not choose this life. All the complementarian women I know willingly and eagerly chose the complementarian lifestyle for various reasons: it fits their quieter, more submissive personalities; it fits their husbands’ more assertive, leader-like personalities; it seems Biblical; it affirms their desire to be stay-at-home moms, wives, and homemakers; and it seems like a better alternative than secular feminism. In fact, some complementarian women will manipulate or pressure their husbands into fitting the mold of a complementarian “head of the household.”
DO affirm her desire to be a stay-at-home wife, mother, and homemaker. Complementarians are often unaware that Biblical egalitarianism exists, and believe there are only two options: secular feminism or complementarianism. They feel that secular feminism threatens femininity and looks down on their desire to be wives, mothers, and homemakers. Failing to validate and encourage those values is an immediate turnoff and offense. In their mind, it puts you squarely in the secular feminist camp.
DON’T assume there is no value in complementarian teaching. Complementarian women will often point to how complementarian teaching saved their marriages and strengthened their sense of self and their relationship with God. Since so many women embrace the complementarian lifestyle, there must be some strong draw for each woman. Find out what that is.
DON’T assume she’s questioning things deep down. Many complementarian women, even in the most extreme cases, feel content with their lives and see nothing wrong with their beliefs. Even if she is questioning, she might not be conscious of it. Calling out complementarianism as disgusting, wrong, unjust — any moral judgment — will rarely be considered as anything but persecution. Complementarians do not evaluate beliefs based on their goodness; they evaluate them based on their “Biblical correctness.” They do not know how to evaluate their beliefs in light of morality, justice, and sexism, so don’t ask them to.
DON’T assume her husband is abusive. Complementarianism entraps men just as much women. Good, conscientious men follow along with complementarian beliefs because they believe it’s right, true, and Biblical, while still loving and serving their wives.
DON’T suggest her husband is abusive. Complementarian women are charged with upholding their husbands’ name, and will backpedal on any complaints about their husbands’ actions when cornered with an accusation of abuse. Plus, many women in general, regardless of gender equality beliefs, are unaware of what constitutes abuse and will not recognize it. An accusation of abuse is offensive and an immediate shutdown to the conversation.
DO affirm her desire to submit to her husband. I love emphasizing that Biblical egalitarianism involves the wife’s radical submission to her husband…it just involves the husband’s radical submission too! That would have blown my complementarian mind. Secular feminists don’t argue for the wife’s submission, so affirming her desire to submit to her husband introduces her to an alternative theory: Biblical egalitarianism.
DON’T assume she’s uneducated or unintelligent. Complementarian women earn degrees (or rather, have earned degrees before becoming complementarian), love learning, and are often eloquent teachers. They often care deeply about Scripture, culture, and theology.
DO ask questions. They know all the talking points. They are unable to see the injustice of a “separate but equal” stance on gender. They can’t see the limitations and abuses of their own ideology, even when it hurts them. Since they think they’re unequivocally right, they will put you on the offensive, almost always assuming that you just don’t understand them or Scripture, even if you’re a former complementarian. Complementarians are also discouraged from considering any other viewpoint. If you try advancing an egalitarian argument, no matter how solid or convincing, it will most likely fall on deaf ears. Rather than arguing, respectfully poke holes in complementarian inconsistencies. (There are plenty of them.) It feels less threatening and requires more thought to answer specific questions than to rattle off the talking points.
DO affirm her desire to uphold Scripture. Complementarians are 100% convinced Scripture supports complementarianism and nothing else. Anything else is liberal, heretical, and worldly. If they suspect you of any of those three, they will shut down. It’s important to emphasize the Biblical part of Biblical egalitarianism.
DON’T expect anything to change from your conversation. Complementarianism controls everything about a woman — her future, her wardrobe, her relationships, her sex life, her spirituality, her sense of self, and everything else. Even considering egalitarianism requires a massive overhaul of her entire life. It’s a scary, messy process fraught with much heartache and rejection.
Remember: person over ideas. Don’t drag a woman down because you want to take a pot shot at a hurtful ideology. It’s more important that she achieve wholeness than that you make your point. Seek to understand her on her own grounds, with her own terminology, and from her own perspective. While there are many similarities among extreme complementarian women, each woman has her own story and her own explanations, and she deserves a fair hearing before you even consider criticizing.
What are some ways of creating better dialogue with extreme complementarians and complementarians in general? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!