Dear God, What if Complementarians are Right? (Guest Post by Erin Ortega)

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Dear God,

I feel insignificant when I hear there are things you want men to do but not me.

You don’t want me making any final decisions for my family. You don’t mind me “suggesting,” but you really want my father or my husband to make the final call. If there is a situation where my decision is final, I have been told that in your eyes it is sad that there was no man there willing to step up and decide.

Does the man’s decision to pursue you bring you so much more joy than the woman’s? Why would this arrangement be “disappointing” in your eyes, or “less than ideal”? Why is it so important to you that the man make that decision before or instead of me?

When it comes to discerning how our family should walk, I have been taught that you want his vision to prevail over mine, regardless of how inspired by you my vision may be. I should only implement my way under his approval, or not at all if he rejects it. Why should his vision never be implemented under my approval? Why have you given him the “keys to the kingdom” so to speak, wherein he holds all the power to say yes or no about EVERYTHING, but you have not given me the same freedom?

Is my vision always less reflective of your will than his is?

Is there no possibility that in a given situation I may hear better from you about what you want, and that even if I bring it up to him he may not recognize that? I hear that you will “bless me” for following his way regardless, but wouldn’t you instead rather bless me for following your voice? It seems if I were to go with my husband’s way, that I am actually placing my husband’s voice on a greater level of importance than yours, since that is the voice I act on rather than standing on whatever you’ve told me.

I am also taught that you want him to be the driving force for spiritually teaching the children, and in fact, for spiritually leading the family. Why should either of those jobs not be mine? Why am I in a secondary, “support” position automatically, even though your Word says that you give us all different gifts and callings? What if these areas of “leadership” are not his gifts? And isn’t a leader one who knows more about and/or has more experience with a given topic, one who can guide newer ones through difficulties so they can arrive at the level of knowledge or expertise of the leader?

Is it generally a good leadership strategy to put someone in such a capacity if they don’t have the qualifications, experience, wisdom, or familiarity with the topic?

Now, I’m not talking about the reality here, for we both know that there are many people put into positions in the business world that they should not be in, and there are only too many disgruntled employees working under inadequate bosses. But your word teaches the ideal, so I’m not concerned with what the world does, but with what you say the ideal is.

So, is it really your ideal that across the board, completely irrespective of gifts and abilities, you have demanded that one gender make all the final calls and direct all the “action,” especially the most important type, the “spiritual” action of moving towards you?

I have been taught that, in church, you don’t want me to speak your word in any official way, and if I do, you won’t back me up as much as you would a brother – you will only use me “in spite” of who I am.

I have been told that my speaking your word doesn’t glorify you as much as a man’s doing it.  I have been told that in a mixed-gender setting, you would rather hear from a man than from me. How am I not to think that you value me less than a man, because you want all of the important things in Your Kingdom – preaching, teaching, and guiding a family – done by a man?

Lest I be told “supportive roles are just as important”, is Christianity not the religion that preaches not settling for less than what we could do? For getting past the limits we set for ourselves, getting out of the pews, believing you can do even more with us than we ever thought? And yet here you are telling me of my limits.

This isn’t the same as different individuals having different callings. This is you saying, “You will never be called to x, y, or z, because you are female.”

Why did you not tell us before we read the Bible chapters on spiritual gifts, that some of the gifts would not apply to us, or be limited for us? We women are not truly free in our spirits to discern what you are calling us to do, because you have already told us what we can’t do.

Why have you chosen to put no such limits on your sons? What is it about women that has made you decide we need “limits”? Are we inherently more likely to harm society than our brothers? Especially in light of all the hurt that has been wrought in our world at the hands of male leaders – are we really so dangerous that even these are preferable to letting us have a “turn at bat”? 

If you really do have plans for all men that you don’t have for me, how can I believe that you see me as equal? If leadership is based on gifts, then I have to believe that you are saying you will never give a woman leadership gifts, and if, as many assert, it is irrespective of gifts, then I would have to believe that you have given many women such gifts for essentially no reason.

Neither conclusion points to a God who is purposeful and intentional with his creation, nor equally loving and fully just, with “no partiality.” Help me to understand this.

I don’t want to continue to feel as if I am your second-rate, second-choice creation.

And yet, dear Jesus, I believe you ARE those things – purposeful, intentional, loving, and just – based on what I’ve seen from you in Scripture and in my life. My musings are a product of nights upon nights of struggling with these doctrines, and the unfairness in your character they seemed to present to me.

Show me a better way. The way of love. The way of freedom. The way of power and strength, tendered with love but uninhibited in ferocity. These things are the very makeup of your character, and I don’t believe you will hesitate to give them also to me just because I am female. Help me to understand.

erin

Erin Ortega lives in Southern California with her husband, Erick. She is passionate about academia, egalitarianism, cross-cultural work, teaching, emotional health and worship ministries. Erin strives to make love the guiding principle of her life. Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thoughtsonegalitarianism.

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31 Comments

  • I love the way you put this all together. They were all the questions I was asking God for years, and I found the answers studying the Bible with help from concordances and lexicons and most importantly, as you referenced, knowing God’s character and seeing how it just doesn’t fit complemenism.

    • Thanks Patti, Isn’t it amazing how the study of God’s Word is truly the antidote to doctrines supposedly “rooted in the Word”? 🙂

  • You have done a great job expressing the very same thoughts I have had for the past 40 years. I always wondered why we would teach our kids in Sunday school that they should dare to be a Daniel, but when the girls hit their teen-age years we were told we could only do that if there was a man leading the way. I remember telling my pastor that I believed God was calling me to the ministry, only to be told that I must be mistaken. And if I didn’t accept my role as a woman, I was questioning God.

    I once was a member of a church that would not allow women to read the Scriptures on Sunday morning. Except on Father’s Day when they were giving the men a break. They found it more acceptable to allow a man, who stumbled over the words, to read the Scriptures than to have a woman read them. Female missionaries were not allowed to speak from the pulpit during the morning worship service. And when the did speak they were only allowed to share about the work they did.

    We left that church and, with encouragement from some wonderful pastors and my husband, I am now an ordained minister. While the denomination I am affiliated with, and all the leaders of the denomination support women in ministry, many of the local churches do not. Some churches will not allow a woman to fill in while their pastor is on vacation. Some will allow a woman to fill in, but she must speak from a lectern, in the aisle, not the pulpit. Some will allow a woman to speak from the pulpit, but only if there are men sitting behind her to “cover her.” A pastor friend of mine was called to a church, and several families left the church before she even got there because they believe the Bible teaches it is wrong for women to be in that position.

    As you can probably tell, this is a topic that is very important to me. I could go on, but I won’t. Thank you for your post. I am looking forward to reading more.

    • Thanks Beverly! And congratulations on the ordination! Yes, some of that is legalism at its peak, isn’t it?! And can you imagine what would have happened to that one town if the woman at the well had said, I will not go tell the town about Jesus because there is no man “leading” me? Or, I will only tell the women, and they will be “good little women” and not “teach” it to the men.

  • I always shake my head when I read some of the experiences some people have gone through under complementarism because for sure, I never experienced these feelings of being sub-par, second class, not wanted, etc. I realize how truly blessed I was to have a father and mother who validated their daughters in such a way we would never feel second rate in God’s eyes. I’m starting to think we were more egalitarian than I thought but I don’t know.

    That being said, I’m glad this blog has challenged some of my thinking on some issues. I admit still being on the fence on some issues but in other areas I find myself going. “Hmmmm, that makes an awful lot of sense.”

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Parker! Did you ever feel that you were “not allowed” to be the final voice in an important decision? I’m just wondering how that whole thing played out in your household and if it ever bothered you. I am truly interested to learn why some people are not offended by it. I appreciate your supportive readership:)

  • LOVED this post! I have always wondered how women don’t feel “less than” under complementarian doctrine. I think they combat those potential feelings and plummeting self worth by saying over and over and over “We are equal in being, just unequal in role!!” Like if you say something enough times it will make logical sense and magically erase all feelings of inferiority! I wrote a blog about this and the message that male headship spreads: That God chooses MEN. That God prefers MEN. That God may love women but he actually likes MEN. It leads women to feel like second-class image bearers. And that’s just not right. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I hate complementarian doctrine and my heart aches for every wife married to a complementarian husband and every daughter born to a complementarian father. God, set your daughters free! Set us ALL free, men and women, from these lies.

    • Thanks Krista, I totally agree. I’ve always been irritated about the whole “equal in being, unequal in role” thing. If we are so equal than why won’t God trust us with certain things? It is terribly inconsistent. Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve started studying this topic is that a lot of the things they say are the man’s “role” are things they can choose to do, and a lot of the things they say are the woman’s “role” (i.e. having babies) are things rooted in biology that you can’t really control or have a choice in. It’s a “doing” versus “being” dilemma. Everything that you can choose to do, the men get to do, and we only get to do the stuff related to our biology that we can’t control.

      • And don’t get me wrong- I am sure motherhood is a great honor! I’m just saying it’s strange that we can’t be vision-casters in ministry just because we might be mothers someday or were a mother in the past.

          • For sure! I’m flattered. 😀 Also have you ever read Discovering Biblical Equality edited by Ron Pierce? It’s got an amazing chapter in there called, “Equal in being, Unequal in Role” by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and it’s pure genius! It’s available online here: http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2834-18.pdf Check it out!

        • Yes! Absolutely! And their counter argument is “Well women get to have babies! I was not created that way!”. Blah. It exactly what you said: “doing” vs “being”! Don’t even get me started haha!

  • Thisexactly puts into words my journey out of complementarianism. In the end I could not reconcile the God that I knew with the god there would have to be if complementarianism were true. Thanks for this!

    • Thanks Kristen. What really drives me crazy is that it’s often presented as the only viable interpretation of these verses. :/

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is entirely my thoughts and confusion on the subject. I’m so glad to know that others feel the same, and I’m thankful that we, as women, can work through this tough doctrine together with our God who loves us so much. I love everything about this post.

    • Thanks Mikayla. I, too, am encouraged when I hear of others who feel as I do. I meet a lot of women in churches and different ministry organizations who seem to be totally content with all of this, and it really makes me wonder why they don’t feel this way… I greatly appreciate your support:)

  • Reading this made me uncomfortable because it sounds to me as if you are telling God that you envision an alternative to His way that is not only different but also better. I was raised to believe that doing so is disrespectful of His sovereignty. We cannot pick and choose what we believe in the Bible; disagreeing with His word is a flashing neon arrow pointing to sin in our lives. His ways are not our ways. We have to trust Him in full or not at all.

    • Kat, this is writer’s license. Erin is not actually writing this to God but writing an ironic letter to those who have not thought through the issues of the Bible which clearly mentions women leaders, never saying that they became leaders because no man would step up to the plate. It’s a way of helping people look at their own need to reexamine all scripture rather than two specific verses, and a lot of teaching by people who want to make those two verses more important than all the other places where women leaders are clearly being used by God. I hope this helps.

    • Hi Kat & Blessings to you and yours! I see your reply and I further note a big issue in comp theology. Why is it a sin to wrestle with God and ask Him honest questions? Jacob did and Job did, and as a result they grew closer to God. Their relationship with God became authentic and their very own. Read Jobs response after God answers him. He proclaims that now he actually sees God for himself. Who said that complementarianism IS God’s way? Who ever said that the author was throwing parts of the Bible out? It is a mistake for complementarians to assume the intentions of one’s heart and to judge someone’s theological integrity. I’d say the problem with comp theology is its built-in assumptions of the Bible and those who dare to question.

      • Leah, I personally do not believe it is a sin to wrestle with God and ask Him questions. I went through a season of that myself after a serious illness. Counsel with my pastor eased my fears because I was concerned I was sinning by doubting God’s plan. That being said, I do believe it is a sin to pick and choose from the Bible; that was what I was trying to say in my comment, perhaps I wasn’t clear. I think, more than anything, my comments arose out of conviction I felt as I was reading, as I realize I am far too inclined to concentrate on the parts of scripture that are easy to follow as opposed to those that expose sin in my life and cause me to examine areas of my heart not completely surrendered to God. I am undecided regarding complementarianism; this is a subject that needs further study and prayer.

        • Kat, to me these are the questions that logically arise from the doctrine of female subordination. They show how this doctrine, this way of reading certain specific texts of scripture, actually logically contradicts other scriptures about the character of the God we worship– that He is not a respecter of persons, that He created both men and women in His image, that He doesn’t make unfair and arbitrary rules that violate the foundational commands “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Once this becomes clear, it also becomes clear that there MUST be some other explanation of those certain verses than the complementarian one. That’s all.

        • Hi Kat:) I believe we are all on a Faith journey and none of us have all the answers. I am thankful we can wrestle together and grow and learn. I grew up in an environment where asking questions was sinful. I learned later on that God could handle my questions. Let’s pray for each other as we strive to be more like Christ. Merry Christmas

    • Hi Kat, thanks for commenting. I’m not sure if it came across on the post, but what I am questioning are people’s interpretations of Scripture resulting on the doctrine of complementarianism. I am not questioning the actual Scriptures being of God nor the lessons they teach us, but I do challenge those who say the Bible says women should be subordinate to men (and never vice-versa) in the church and the home. I see many verses referring to mutual submission and putting the interests of others before your own, and so those verses coupled with the ones often used to subordinate women speak to me of an overall message of mutual servanthood as well as mutual responsibility among the body.

    • It looks to me like you’ve missed the point of the post. She’s being honest about how this makes any sane person feel, to be told over and over that the essential jobs are not for you, and, if I’ve understood correctly, that the impression she’s left with can’t really be an accurate picture of God. And then she asks for help to understand what she hopes it is that she’s missed. Trusting God “in full” certainly doesn’t mean suppressing our thoughts and fears if that’s honestly how we feel. You can fool yourself at times, but you can’t fool God. So if this how women like Erin and myself feel about how we’ve been treated by the patriarchy, if we can’t talk to God about it, then who can we talk to? In the spirit in which I think the post was intended, I don’t think it was disrespectful. She articulated perfectly the hurt that so many women feel in the church, and it needs to be addressed. But it won’t be, unless more women articulate it in a way that people can really understand, as this post does. You might find it beneficial to do the same. I find it hard to believe that deep down, even the staunchest complementarian woman doesn’t feel at least some of this. At the very least, it will be profitable to empathize with those who do.

  • Hey Erin,

    VEry well said, thanks. I loved it all, but especially the bit that asks why we weren’t told before we read about spiritual gifts, that they are not meant for us. Because of course, how ridiculous that doctrine might say they’re not for us, when the Bible makes it clear by NOT saying they’re just for men, that His spiritual gifts are for all of us.

    I love it.

  • That post made me very sad for the writer. I am a male and I am saddened by that. As a male I don’t have this bias against me like this women does. I pray God gives her the answers to her thought questions

  • One of the best guest posts yet! This was so raw and real. While many times we drag out the Greek words and spar with our different doctrines and verses, sometimes we just have to sit back and say “But why, God?”

  • When anyone, male or female, comes between you and God this is not ‘of God’. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and it His voice that we are to listen too. A Bible verse that was being ‘Tweeted’ on Christmas Eve/Day is Psalm 68:11 ESV which says: ‘The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host’; not all translations say ‘women’. However the ESV seems to be the preferred translation of many complementarians. This contradicts their command that women are to remain silent. If they say we are taking this verse out of context we can always say ‘what is wrong with that’ because that is what you do.

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