I said this in Understanding Complementarian Women:
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.
I got several requests for a post explaining what “poking holes” looks like.
Like I said above and elsewhere, complementarianism from the outside is an airtight argument, a closed circle, as solid as a fundamentalist’s belief in sola Scriptura. Don’t try arguing against complementarianism. You’ll fail.
Instead, make the complementarian argue against complementarianism, even after you exit the conversation.
Feeling backed into a corner, misunderstood, and attacked triggers walls and distracts from the real issue. It’s so easy for a complementarian to dismiss an emotional, rude egalitarian or the same-old, same-old argument against complementarianism. In fact, these sorts of ineffective tactics increase complementarians’ convictions in their beliefs. Persecution, defending the homefront, going off on pet peeve rabbit trails — all of these encourages talking points rather than genuine conversation.
We’re human. We save face. We defend the homefront at all costs against the enemy, even if we doubt the homefront altogether. In other words: No matter how much a complementarian privately doubts complementarianism, she will publicly defend it. That’s just what humans do.
The key, then, is avoiding those triggers that result only in talking points and defensiveness.
When I wrote a letter to a previously-attended church about allowing women more roles in the Sunday service, I framed it in two contexts: (1) Hi, guys, I’m Bailey, your Bailey, your sweet, smart, talented Bailey with sisters (females) who sing and read aloud better than most of the token male worship leaders. You all know me. You all love me. You’ve all respected me before. Listen up! Forbidding me from using my gifts hurts me, Bailey, your Bailey. (2) Our church has a shortage of qualified members. We have sub-par worship and ministry, and we know it. Let’s actually utilize our female members’ gifts, yeah? If we limit 70% of the members, we’re not only hurting me as a talented, stifled female member, we’re hurting our entire congregation. We’re hurting you.
I could have said, “Good morning, gentlemen of the deacon board. Let’s talk about the history and theology of women’s issues, shall we?”
But that wouldn’t have been at all effective. That would have immediately triggered the walls and the defenses. That would make it an “issue” requiring the regular talking points and put downs. Instead, I framed it in the context of a relationship between me and them and women and the church, and in the context of my life and my spirituality.
Of course, ironically, the man in charge of the meeting failed to mention anyone had written a letter, much less attached my name to it, and just announced at the next deacon board, “Let’s talk about women’s issues.”
Guess what? Anger and talking points ensued. By the time my letter and my name came up, they only saw me and my points through the lens of their personal feelings — and nothing changed.
Poking holes avoids that situation.
Poking holes produces what Peter Enns calls “uh-oh moments” — moments when those tough doubts sucker-punch you in the gut, and your talking points can’t save you now.
Uh-oh moments linger on in our conscious and sub-conscious. They connect to those deep-down, scary heresies we all have caged under our talking points and happy Christian smiles. They cause our spiritual crises.
Poking holes triggers the crises rather than the talking points.
Poking holes avoids using words, arguments, and approaches typical in an egalitarian/complementarian brawl. It demotes complementarianism from “the Biblical worldview” to “an interesting thought you personally have.” It engages the person, feeling, and opinions of the complementarian, rather than the complementarian talking points.
Poking holes is all about planting questions or comments of doubt, leaven that works through the whole lump until the entire ideology feels contaminated. Those questions or comments need to be kind, subtle, and blunt — kind, because nobody likes a know-it-all; subtle, because mounting a full-frontal argument results in walls and talking points; blunt, because they need to be noticeable and unnerving.
Exhibit A: I came across this bright, well-written woman who, in “celebration” of International Women’s Month, listed a depressing “8 Reasons Why Women Are Weaker Than Men.”
I wrote in response,
This breaks my heart, love. I’m heartbroken for you and for all the other women who believe this. All of these are lies that you have been told, and they fly in the face of reality and in the face of who YOU are as a woman. I used to believe many of these lies too, but thankfully, God freed me from the bondage of thinking I am weaker than and unequal to men. If you’d like to hear the alternative arguments to each of these points, I’d love to chat with you! My email address is linked in my profile. May God bless you richly, sister.
She said in reply,
Thank you for the feedback dear but I’m very convinced I’m in the right path. May the Lord bless you too and thank you for reading.
In retrospect, I wish I would have used 99% less pity and nixed the bondage/freedom metaphor to say this:
I can think of so many women, including you, who are exceptions to every single one of these reasons. Don’t you see the irony of an intelligent, well-spoken woman like you claiming to be weaker than all men? Other women may be weaker than some men, certainly, but from what I’ve read, you aren’t. Don’t sell yourself short, friend!
Kind, blunt, and subtle.
Poking holes takes friendliness, a willingness to engage with the individual instead of hurling a one-line zinger, and razor-sharp, uncomfortable comments, like these:
Using your familiarity or relationship with the person
Other Person: Oh, feminists. *eyeroll*
Me: *smiles* I’m a feminist, just so you know.
Making a moral appeal
It’s disturbing to me that the words “exclude” and “prohibit” are still used in normal church vocabulary against women only.
If a woman applied to be CEO at a company and the company said, “Your application is not even being considered because you’re a woman,” is that not sexist and discriminatory? How then is it NOT sexist to tell a woman, “Your application for worship leader or head pastor or Sunday school teacher is not even being considered because you’re a woman”?
Pointing out bias
OP: In terms of women speaking, reading, and praying in church, I think that is a grey [sic] area that should be decided by each denomination or church. My conscience is such that I would take issue with a woman as the lead singer and one who prays to lead worship in a service.
Me: This might be a gray area for you, a man, who will never be told you can’t exercise your God-given spiritual gifts just because you’re male. But I can assure you it’s quite a big deal for us with female anatomy. ;)
Questioning the need for complementarianism
If complementarianism essentially boils down to the husband lays down his life for the wife and the wife submits to the husband, both seeking the best interests of the other, why is male authority in marriage even necessary?
What is one, non-biological trait men have that women don’t, without exception?
Why would God use gender, rather than gifting, to determine leadership?
Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen if a qualified, gifted woman stood up and offered a prayer over the offering?
Why did God pick men over women? No, seriously?
Exposing silly contradictions
So, it’s more preferable for a man, any man, to teach adult Sunday school than for a woman with a PhD in the topic on hand?
So, a mom can instruct her teenage boys during homeschool hours, but they magically become “too male” for her to instruct them and their friends at 9:30 AM on Sunday?
So, you’re encouraging men, who already suffer from the temptation of ruling over their wives, to take even more authority over their wives, who suffer from the curse of being ruled over? That sounds like an awful idea.
So, at what point do men stop laying down their lives for their wives, decide their opinion is better than their wives’, and make the ultimate decision? Are men just intuitively capable of knowing when they’re more right?
Why is it that women can be whatever they want to be everywhere except in the church?
Asking self-reflective statements
Are you happy?
Do you think, deep down, that God wants this?
Really? You really believe that about yourself? About me?
What drew you to complementarianism?
Why do you think women get turned off from complementarianism?
Why is this such a big deal to you?
Doesn’t it bother you that [blank]?
If you’re crying over it, doesn’t that mean something’s wrong with that idea?
I just can’t believe God is like that.
This just doesn’t make sense with the God I know/the gospel/who you are/who I am.
Hmm. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem to jive with reality.
That all sounds good, but it seems to be missing the heart of the gospel.
The most compelling hole an egalitarian can poke is being kind, thoughtful, and firm — no hysterics, no Bible verses, no smiling and nodding. That shatters negative egalitarian stereotypes and makes the question or comment more pointed.
Don’t argue, don’t preach, don’t implore, and for heaven’s sake, don’t be rude. Just poke your hole and pray the Spirit works.
Let’s recap: A kind, thoughtful, firm egalitarian asks questions out of curiosity with no ulterior motive; she appreciates the other person for sharing her perspective; and she genuinely, respectfully states her opinion in return:
You seem like a thoughtful person, and I appreciate hearing your opinion. Your argument sounds good, but I must say, it doesn’t seem attractive to anyone except a middle class American woman. Doesn’t it bother you that your “Biblical view” doesn’t include more real life women in different countries, cultures, and historical periods?
As a former hardcore complementarian, I can assure you: I would have thought about that question for years.