One of my biggest problems when I really started finding my identity in Christ was what to do with my former identity. How could I reconcile my complementarian church’s views with my feminist inclinations? Is God a feminist? Or was I worshiping my own crafted false god of feminism?
I grew up with an egalitarian perspective. Whatever men can do, I can do too! Probably better! Of course, I was just being w d. I was coming from a place with very little scriptural knowledge and frankly, in high school I wasn’t all that concerned with why God made two genders. It wasn’t on my radar. I had bigger fish to fry. Honestly, I think to be in high school with this view did me a lot of good. I’m a highly motivated and sometimes competitive individual, and this outlook made me feel good about myself and motivated to accomplish whatever I wanted to do. I would have agreed at this time that of course men and women are different, but there were little theological implications for me.
Coming to college in the heart of the South, God came into the picture. Big time. I came from hanging with the liberal arty kids in high school to diving right into a Southern Baptist church in Alabama, with peers that could have been getting their degrees in professional church kids for all I was concerned. Let me tell you… I think if you look up culture shock, my experience would be a perfect illustration. My feminism no longer made me feel capable. My feminism was frowned upon, and made me feel like I must be missing something that everyone else just understood. I felt less mature and like an outsider due to my egalitarian viewpoint. After all, God made TWO genders. There must be a reason for that, right? Right? Hey God? Are you even listening, here?
My feminism was a huge point of anxiety for me. Would I have to release all I had known and believe for my God? Of course, everyone has to do that to an extent. But this one felt different for some reason. This one didn’t seem to lead me away from God. This one was stuck in that frustratingly large grey area. It got to the point where I was skipping church, in many ways due to feeling out of place. I started feeling like I was a broken person for having “male” traits. I was lacking in the nurturing, emotional department. I was already much more interested (and naturally more skilled) at discussing tenants of theology than organizing children’s choirs or potlucks. I felt clunky. I felt wrong.
As a podcast nerd and lover of media/information, I decided to try to find fellowship and comfort outside of the religiously conservative Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I stumbled upon The Christian Feminist Network, and boy was that a game changer. Even from the start, I disagreed with some of their theology. They can go too far for even my taste at times. But to feel loved, to feel supported, to feel whole as a woman in the body of Christ… I really believe that was a work of God. I started going back to church. I fully opened the door for Christ at this point. I felt that these women showed me that God had a place for me, no matter what my characteristics were. Between getting myself used to my Alabama church and comforting myself with the conversations of these women, I began to finally see that in the eyes of God, I wasn’t broken. My gifts are from him, and he makes no mistake.
After much study and reflection, my viewpoints shifted. All of the sudden, complementarianism theory starting resonating more as truth. Frankly, I had a lot of catching up on years on Sunday school that I was absent from. I figured these people in my complementarian church just knew more than me. And in some ways, I’m glad I shifted viewpoints. It made me reconsider and really pray about a lot of things. With study in God’s word, it made sense that men hold servant leadership. That’s different from blind submission on my part. I could swallow that. After all, what happens if two people feel equally strong about a topic and simply disagree? It made sense to me that God would make a default- not for everyday use, but for those head butting moments where there is no clear cut answer. It made sense for God to make a default to reduce conflict between two people who have committed to each other. That sits okay with me.
Fast forward to being engaged… We both approached marriage and life with an attitude of complementarism. Slowly but surely, problems began to surface for both of us. BIG problems. We don’t match the ideal for the typical complementarian outlook. There is a huge misconception in complementarian circles that genders differences mean different gender roles, and that bred a steady feeling of we’re not doing this right and we can’t seem to fix it. We’re broken. We’ failing. I understand that this is not what complementarianism means, but I found it near impossible to separate the ideas in my mind. In my experience, many people have had this issue. And it was hard. I’m naturally more competitive and motivated. Caleb is naturally more in tune to emotional support and just overall enjoying life. There were several instances where both of us, in puddles of tears, wondered: God, why didn’t you just switch our genders? Why do I have to be a female? Why does he have to be the man? I’m failing at this, and it feels all wrong and fake when we try to change it. It got to the point where I started digging and realized that I had once never wanted children or even to be married (a feeling that felt intensely confusing to then flip and be so sure about Caleb) because I felt marrying and having a family would mean giving up all of the things I was naturally good at. I wanted to work, and I didn’t want to be left at home to do all the raising. I felt like having kids would mean losing my God-given gifts to take up a job of raising kids, while a husband would leave to go work and do all of the things I was naturally good at. I didn’t want that. I wanted to live life as a team and I didn’t know how to do that from a Christian outlook. I was confusing gender roles for life purpose.
So, is it possible (or dare I say ideal?) to retain feminist roots and dive into egalitarianism in a faithful way? Or am I putting my own pride and agenda in front of me and trying to make it mesh with the creation of my God? Would God be a feminist? I feel if I asked 10 different people this, I’d get 10 different answers. And in those answers, I’d get 10 very different nuggets of truth. My short view: I don’t think God is a feminist because God doesn’t need feminism. He is a just God, and a God of love. Without the fall, men and women would have found their places naturally and without pain. But the fall happened. We’ve mucked it up. And because of that, I think the world does need feminism. We should be spreading Christ and his love first, THEN we can open the door for feminism. A world without the love of Christ is scary. And feminism can at least protect the world’s women in a largely Godless population. I digress there, but back to the topic at hand: is it possible to be Christian and feminist? The short answer in my eyes… yes. Yes, so long as following Christ is your identity first. Feminism can be a false god, but it doesn’t have to be if done right. I have a hard time believing something that led me back to God and the church is a false truth, as so many people do.
Now, I think both egalitarian and complementarian theory have flaws. I’m not picking a team, and for me, I feel that picking either side and trying to fit in it does nothing but harm to both myself and my relationship with Caleb. I think this is one of those fluid outlooks that may move more to one side or the other depending on stage of life, and it’s okay to feel a little out of place in that. I have found enormous peace in finding truth with both of them. For me, it’s easier to begin with a largely egalitarian basis and mix in the parts of complementarian theory that I feel are important to keep. That feels much more inclusive and overall better to mental well-being. To start with a complementarian basis but throw it but whatever gender you are, just be the best person you can be for Christ! is much harder for me.
I’m not saying this is truth. I’ve just had a much healthier life outlook on gender and my life as a whole after realizing that trying to shove myself into a traditional box of Christian womanhood wasn’t working. Yes, Caleb is responsible for me… as I am responsible for him. Our “nontraditional” diversification of skills work for us, and that’s such a beautiful thing! Pure complementarian and egalitarian views work for some people, and that’s honestly great. You may entirely disagree with my outlooks, and that’s okay. This is the grey area: so long as we’re living our lives focused on Christ, I don’t think God is going to get upset over something so silly as a label.
I’ve found such peace in removing the labels and adding a label of just love. I feel that as a whole, that’s much more indicative of Christ’s stance anyway.