Coming Out Egalitarian: When Relationships Change

civil-war

I married a somewhat Catholic man. By “somewhat,” I mean that he no longer receives communion at Catholic churches. By “Catholic,” I mean that he still values his Catholic background (as do I, now that I’ve gotten over my prejudice). We navigated our relationship from my anti-Catholic Calvinism to our mutual love of Orthodoxy. We married in a Baptist church without a Catholic dispensation and without Erich formally renouncing the Catholic Church. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, that makes our marriage invalid.

We’ve had quite the ride with Catholicism, and I occasionally get asked for Catholic/Protestant relationship advice. I got asked, once, how to build relationships with Catholic in-laws who were upset their son left the Catholic Church.

I shared a general truth that I think underlies almost all relationship tiffs regarding religious beliefs: do your best to affirm their lives and choices, because they’re afraid of your rejection and judgment.

It’s a hard thing to see someone you used to agree with take a turn she swore against taking, especially if she joins forces with the opposite “side” like Catholicism — or egalitarianism.

Things get awkward. Words no longer have the same connotations, so “feminism,” “trigger,” and “rape culture” are now legitimate concepts rather than the butt end of jokes. You can’t rant about the same things in the same way without one of you feeling a little uncomfortable. You now avoid topics you once spoke about solely with that other person. You rack your brain to remember if complementarians agree with the side comment that almost came out of your mouth. Your heart-to-hearts sometimes sound like polite discourse between two strangers sharing “interesting opinions.” You find yourself saying, “Well, kind of” rather than, “Exactly!“, and you get familiar with that frustrating phrase, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

You don’t want it to, but sometimes, when issues and positions are so polarized, it feels like a Yankee and a Confederate soldier meeting over the river at Christmas to share a cigarette. You’re both Christians. You both ought to feel like you’re on the same side, but there’s that obvious egalitarian/complementarian battle between you, and your camps lie on opposite banks of the river.

I wish I could say that was hyperbole, but in my experience, it isn’t.

It breaks my heart when complementarians begin, “I’m complementarian (please don’t shoot me).” They feel the need to apologize or go into a submissive posture so they don’t get gunned down by angry feminist rhetoric. They’re used to hearing how sexist, oppressive, and unjust complementarianism is, without hearing a calm, reasoned explanation from Scripture. They worry if egalitarians view them as less-than women, as illogical, as stupid, as whatever negative stereotype operates behind egalitarian lines, these days.

Because of this, some complementarians walk on eggshells. But some of them come at you with both barrels blasting.

They call you “liberal.” They insinuate you’re going to hell. They bully, name-call, and manipulate. They question your motives. They see you only as an egalitarian stereotype instead of their friend, sister, daughter, and fellow Christian.

I’ve seen that same thing over and over again with women who leave hyper-complementarian and patriarchal families and churches.

And I want to tell them, to tell any woman who’s coming out egalitarian, that it’s not you. It’s them. Particularly, it’s their fear of rejection. They’re afraid you see them as misguided and un-Christian. They’re afraid you’ll call them “fundie” and “judgmental.” They’re afraid they, their convictions, their beliefs, and their relationship with you will be lumped in with what you feel oppressed you,* that you’ll begin to fire away at them in your war on patriarchy.

So they shoot first.

That’s what I told the girl who asked me about her Catholic in-laws: above all else, demonstrate understanding and respect, and make it clear that your husband’s rejection of Catholicism is not a rejection of his family.

The dynamics will shift a bit, yes. There’s definitely isolation and awkwardness when you part ways with, much less oppose, something fundamental to your family or social group.

But personally, I’ve found that grace, openness, and respect go a long way to maintain and even deepen relationships with people who no longer share all my convictions. You start to build a new, better foundation — one built on your commitment to each other and to those fundamentals, whether human or Christian, that will always unite you.

*Obviously, many women have experienced oppression from their families and churches and must make the hard decision to walk away from the people as well as the ideology. That’s an issue I’ve never personally faced, but my heart goes out to those women. I hope this post doesn’t seem simplistic or discouraging in light of their more difficult situation. 

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2 thoughts on “Coming Out Egalitarian: When Relationships Change

  1. Ruxee

    Hi, Bailey.

    You know, I am a bit struggling now in the fog as I try to define my beliefs on complementarianism/ egalitarianism and I feel like I am navigating towards the latter. And it is strange and hard for my husband, who completely supports me defining my own beliefs, to see me shifting from what used to be our point of view. I can see it hurts him when I say things like “i can’t see anything unbiblical for a woman speaking in church” – when that is so opposite to what he believes. So … I wonder how to handle this properly and lovingly. Our church is kind of half/half, so he can find a place, and I find my place, and we’re both comfortable, but inside our marriage I really don’t want this to draw us apart in any way. How is the best way to approach topics like these?

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    • Bailey Steger

      I’m no expert on being an egalitarian-leaning woman married to a complementarian-leaning man, but I suppose I would just continue having gracious conversations that seek understanding. I would push for it on two fronts: the Biblical front, obviously, graciously sharing how you now interpret those verses, but also personally, graciously sharing how it makes YOU as a woman feel to be told women can’t speak in church or whatnot. Your perspective should matter just as much as your beliefs when it comes to finding common ground with your husband, I think!

      I don’t know if you’re familiar with making huge ideological changes in a relationship, but Erich and I just talked and talked and argued and poked fun and loved and talked some more about our Catholic/Protestant differences. Hurtful words were said. Tears were shed. Misunderstandings ran rampant. And we (I) apologized a lot. But from sheer tenacity to keep talking about it, to keep trying to understand the other person’s point of view, we eventually came out united. I certainly don’t want to promise that your husband will change his mind, but I think keeping it an open issue that you’re both allowed to comment on, joke about, and talk about helps find unity in spirit even if not in doctrine.

      In other words, I’d just be yourself. Tell your husband frankly when something comp-y annoys you: “You know, so-and-so’s comment about women speaking in church was so offensive to me.” And if your husband says, “Well, I believe that too,” then ask why, and really listen, and then keep having a conversation. That’s the key, I think: aiming at *understanding* rather than at *changing his mind.*

      I rant about egalitarian things to some of my comp friends and family all the time. We just came to this understanding that it’s important to *me* to talk about these things, even if they disagree with those beliefs. That also shows that the egalitarian/complementarian divide can’t actually divide us — by pretending it doesn’t exist. :)

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