I haven’t talked much about it here on my blog, but I am [very, very slowly] writing a book. It is a book that God has placed on my heart to write. It will help pastors understand the importance of including women in church leadership and practical help in how to do it. This is a little excerpt from the first chapter. Hope you enjoy it! -Kristi
I was raised in the church my whole life under what I would call complementarian theology, but truthfully that wasn’t even a term I’d heard used until I was into my thirties. I have been active in the church for most of my life. The relationship between men and women and what that looks like in a marriage and in context of the church was not something I ever remember talking about. My family life growing up was better than most I would say, and both my parents did the best they could, but wasn’t a prime example of a healthy marriage. (Is anyone’s really?)
My implicit theology would always have been that as a woman, God loves me equally to any man, but my explicit theology, what I actually experienced and felt as a result, would have been that men are more valuable to God than women. I don’t believe that this was a result of any particular thing that was said or done to me over the years, I think it was more about what I observed (or didn’t!) and what wasn’t said. I don’t remember anyone ever really talking much about how God feels about women specifically and the result was, I filled in a lot of the blanks myself.
Because of this belief I subsequently did not have a proper or healthy understanding of submission, or what to do with the fact that, while much smaller in stature, I am much louder than my husband and my skill set and gifting is much different than his- I tend towards truth speaking and teaching and his tend towards empathy and loyalty. For years, I lived with the belief that the way I was made was WRONG and I must work hard to TONE IT DOWN in order to be submissive to my husband, or my church. I also believed that it was wrong on some level to disagree with my husband (because he was “superior” which would automatically put me in the “wrong” category) or God forbid EVER disagree with a pastor.
For years I wrestled with this tension of desiring to be a Godly woman and thinking that the only way I could do that was to squelch who I was, but also hating that I had to work so hard to be someone that I was not created to be.
As I began to learn more and more about what submission actually is, I began to realize that there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to what a marriage and family structure should look like or how they should work functionally. The ultimate judge of health in a marriage I believe is if the wife feels loved and is flourishing and allowed to grow to become the woman God created her to be, and when the husband feels respected, honored, encouraged and supported by his wife to become the man God intended for him to be. Learning what this looks like in the practical everyday-ness of our marriage has helped tremendously in the context of marriage, but theologically, I still felt lesser-than as a woman.
When I first heard the word ‘complementarianism’ it was defined as, ‘The belief that God created both male and female with equal value and worth, but with different complementary roles.’ This made a ton of sense to me. I rejoiced in the fact that God created women equal to men, but with a different role to fill. I remember diving into the study of what it means to be a wife and mother- with fervor as is generally my style (because that’s pretty much the extent of what I was doing at the time) and learned just how much God honors the role of motherhood! It’s all over the Bible. It is a high calling! This, I thought, is what it means to be a woman.. the most important thing we can do for God is to raise our children and make disciples. Which of course means being a stay-at-home mom.. Who else can you trust to teach your children about Jesus? It is definitely the BEST, most Godly way…
Except, it isn’t. One of the great lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if your theology doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work. And my theology at that time was more along the lines of, women are of equal value and worth and have a different role to fill [motherhood]. And the best way to fill the role of motherhood is to; stay at home with your kids, homeschool your kids, cook dinner every night, keep up with the laundry, keep a tidy home, etc into infinity of whatever your personal values were. You could certainly build an out-of-context scriptural basis for all of those things, but then what do you tell the single woman with no kids? What do you tell the single mom who has to go to work to provide for her family? What do you tell the mom whose husband is un/under employed who has to go to work in order to put food on the table? Do you tell them that they are not fulfilling their God-given role? Do you tell them that they have inherently less value in the sight of God because they’re not doing it right? Do we really want to tell women that their value in the kingdom of God comes primarily marrying and having a functioning uterus?
That’s not good news. My theology did not work.
A few years later, I was called to a leadership position within my church. Over the course of the two years of my position there was good, bad, beautiful, ugly, painful and redemptive. I have wished many times that I had not served in the capacity that I had. But with hindsight now, I am glad for it. It was immensely painful in ways that I am still healing from.. but it also caused me to seek answers in scripture, and learn and grow and fall more in love with Jesus in ways that I would not have without this experience. And for that, I am grateful.
During my time serving at my church what I personally experienced was an IMPLICIT (inside, theoretical) theology of women are equal to men, and can do anything short of being a pastor within the church. Unfortunately, there was an EXPLICIT (exterior, practical, what actually was practiced) theology that communicated that women were of less value than men, were less capable than men, were not able to lead in the church, and in fact were, in some ways, quite dangerous to the men in leadership and should be held at arms length most of the time. AND- if you came across a woman who was capable and gifted, one just didn’t know quite how to handle that.
This explicit theology was hurtful to me, and other women in the church and I needed to understand the truth. I needed to understand God’s heart.. I wrestled with the scripture. I studied scripture and asked Jesus to show me his heart for women. Why were we made, what was our role, how do we best reflect Him, and most importantly, how does He feel about us.
To my great delight, He answered me… Sort of. In a way that I didn’t expect, as is usually the case. There are some theological ideas that I will never know the “right” answer to. For example, Paul’s admonition about not allowing women to teach or have authority over a man. If you read it literally, it seems like it’s straightforward, but it isn’t. I have read and studied both sides of this issue and both sides present a clear, convincing, historical and Biblical argument to support their side. The more I study about it, the less I’m confident in the answer, which, if I’m honest is super irritating.
But perhaps that is what God intended. Perhaps He has intentionally put things in the Bible with no clear answer, so that we are forced to lean into Him, build our relationship with him, get to know Him and His heart better. Maybe there is no right answer because there is no one right answer, and He has given us freedom to make the decisions we feel are best for our specific churches. And maybe there is no right answer because if we study and study and study and have less answers than we did when we started, maybe then it’s easier to have grace for someone who comes to a different conclusion than us. Maybe it’s more about trusting the Holy Spirit and building unity and learning from one another, than it is about being right.