To My Black Complementarian Family (by Leah Ross)

blacklady

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus! I warmly embrace you as my family in Christ. I realize that He who unites us is greater than he who would aim to divide us. Therefore, as your sister, I wanted to share some concerns with you in regard to your complementarian understanding of the Bible from the perspective of a black Christian woman.

You prescribe to what you call “biblical manhood and womanhood.” You believe that men are the leaders in God’s kingdom, while women are called to respond and support men’s leadership. I know that, for you, this belief is closely linked to the Gospel. However, as a black egalitarian woman, I find your theology concerning; not only from a biblical standpoint, but also from the historical stance of many black Christian women.

The catalyst that moved me to contemplate all of this is Harriet Tubman. She was recently chosen to be the new face of the $20 bill, and I rejoiced that a woman would be so honored, let alone a black Christian woman! Then it dawned on me that if Harriet had followed your theology, she would have spent her life trying to be a “biblical woman.” You possibly would have labeled her unfeminine.

The world would have missed out on her awesome testimony and the power of God. Considering Harriet Tubman’s testimony alone, I am mystified that complementarian theology is being pushed in the black Christian community by certain leaders and church planters, and that it is being combined with the Gospel message. Complementarianism would have stopped God’s plan for Harriet’s life.

Allow me to explain.

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland somewhere between 1819 and 1822. Great records weren’t kept of slaves’ birthdates. After all, the purpose of a slave was to breed and make their master rich. Harriet had a hard life under her master, who regularly rented her out to others. She was frequently beaten, hungry, and sick. At a young age, she suffered a severe head trauma from her master that left her narcoleptic. Some of her family members were sold, and she never saw them again. She said, “Slavery is the next thing to hell.”

Remarkably, Harriet was still a devout Christian. In fact, she claimed to have had visions and dreams directly from God. She said that God told her to escape slavery and head to the free North.

In 1849, Harriet got word that her family’s master might begin selling off more of them. She knew it was time to escape. She urged her husband to go with her, but he, being a free man, refused. Regardless, she decided to go. She escaped one night with her brothers, Ben and Henry; however, during the journey her brothers became afraid and went back.

Faced with the dilemma of following her brothers or continuing on alone, she chose freedom. Following the North Star, she crossed over into Pennsylvania and became a free woman.

Amazingly, the dreams and visions never stopped. God led her to make 19 trips back into slave territory, helping over 300 slaves escape. She also served during the Civil War as a soldier. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. In all, she helped to free thousands of enslaved Africans. She became known as the Moses of her people.

Although she was illiterate, she was a dynamic public speaker. She spoke about Christianity, freedom, women’s rights, and the needs of the elderly. To top it off, she helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

My Complementarian family, I have some legitimate questions: How does your theology fit into the life of Harriet Tubman? Would you consider her unfeminine, being that she didn’t follow the lead of the men in her life? Did she fail at being a “biblical woman”? Would you encourage women to follow her example? I notice that you often link your theology to the Gospel. Did her life help or harm the cause of Christ?

My concern is that you would cast her aside as some special exception to “God’s norm” and continue to enforce strict rules against women fully participating in God’s work. There are many “Harriets” among my people and the world, of whom history simply forgot.

Harriet is not an exception, but an example of what God does with a woman who is sold out for Him. God gives her dreams and visions. He empowers her to do His work. She doesn’t sit around waiting to be directed by a man because she has already been called by God. As Harriet said, “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.”

In love, I say that Complementarianism is a detriment not only to the women of the world, but also to the world that Jesus longs to reach through them. I am so thankful that Harriet Tubman listened to God and fulfilled His mission for her life.

As a black woman, I take this very personally because the same Bible verses that were used to enslave my ancestors are now being used to make me a mere breeder in the family of God, responsible for producing “leading men” and “acquiescent women.” Jesus came to set the captives free, not set up a gentler hierarchy. This is the Gospel we should be preaching.

A final thought, Harriet Tubman’s face won’t be the only face on the $20 bill. The face of Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president, will still appear on the back. He was a white Christian man. He owned hundreds of slaves. He signed the Indian Removal Act that forced the Cherokee people to give up their land and migrate to what is present day Oklahoma.

Their heartbreaking journey is called the “Trail of Tears.” Ironically, it would be more probable for President Jackson than Harriet Tubman to be able to attend your conferences where you talk about leadership and “sanctified testosterone”. He, perhaps, could preach at your services and sit on your elder boards and be considered a leader. Harriet Tubman would not be so privileged.

When the bills are circulated, I hope that you will look at both of their faces, and think about your theology. When you pull out your $20 bills in the future, I pray that you will look at it, and make some change.

Your co-laborer and sister,
Leah

leahross

Leah Ross, wife and mother of 4, loves volunteering and everything health related. You can find her running in a race or in the organic section. Before she was an outspoken women’s rights advocate, Leah was a little girl whose only dream was to hear Jesus say, “Well done!”. That hasn’t changed.

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39 Comments

  • The argument some would use is this, “Harriet Tubman wasn’t a preacher.” It seems lame in response to this fantastic post but that was the first thing that came to mind being an African American female with somewhat complementarian/egalitarian/don’tknowwhatreally roots.

    Great post!

  • You delivered this very well, I glad Harriet follow God instructions which brought freedom to people of our race. I really love the point you made “God gives her dreams and visions. He empowers her to do His work. She doesn’t sit around waiting to be directed by a man because she has already been called by God.” This so true we shouldn’t look for the approval of mankind to God what God told us to do.

  • What a powerfully challenging post! Thank you for writing it and for your boldness in claiming that Harriet is not an exception, but an example. Blessings dear sister and co-laborer.

    • Thanks Deanna! When I was in college, a professor began speaking poorly about the kids from my high school. She talked about their poor education and their inability to communicate and speak proper English. I went to an inner city predominately Black school. So, it was a very racist statement. And everybody in the class understood what she was saying. By the way, I was the only Black person taking the class; everyone else was white. My professor then looked at me and said, “Oh, you went to that high school; well, you’re an exception.” When I returned home that day, I was really hurt and embarrassed. My brother looked at me and said, “You are not the exception; you are the example!” His words were profound and they never left me. Blessings to you!

  • If they want to argue that she wasn’t a preacher they can do so but I don’t think it makes them look very smart. But in any case, Harriett urged ehr husband to go, and his “leading” was for everybody to stay put. Had she obeyed her husband, we’d have never heard of Harriett Tubman. And you know her brothers told her to go back with them too.

    • Isn’t that stunning Greg!!! If God says go we should go. I am thankful for every believer who has ever said yes to God’s call.

  • Preach it sister! This hits the nail on the head and exposes in a powerful personal voice the inconsistency of this warped bro-patriarchal theology/ideology which is on the rise throughout the evangelical world yet which is so contrary to the larger movement of justice that most Americans and global citizens hold dear. Keep speaking out on this! (If it’s ok, can I suggest that a symptom of this same hierarchical view of human gender is a masculinization of God that so many egalitarians perpetuate in the overuse of male pronouns and names for God. It’s not hard to switch to more gender neutral and varied pronounce and names to elevate the imago Dei in female humans. Thx for letting me share this.)

    • Thanks Emily! You get it. You perfectly stated what I was aiming to do. I hope that others can capture God’s heart for global justice and understand what that entails. As for God & masculinity, I believe we cannot adequately verbalize the awesomeness and grandeur of God. He’s greater than masculinity and femininity. Our metaphors fail.

  • Holy Jamoley! This is awesome and I’m reposting to Kyria and my own page. I love how you’ve put this together, Leah. Fantastic. I can hear the brave and bold coming right out of every word. Love it.

  • “Jesus came to set the captives free, not set up a gentler hierarchy. This is the Gospel we should be preaching.”

    Amen! So glad that you are setting such a powerful example!

  • This is awesome! The strength that comes through from the Holy Spirit when anyone is surrendered to God and setting His people free. Harriet preached it and walked it! God bless you for sharing this.
    Blessings from an inspired sister in Him!

  • Leah you ask:
    “My Complementarian family, I have some legitimate questions: How does your theology fit into the life of Harriet Tubman? ”

    Knowing Complementarians like the back of my hand, I know what each of them is thinking as they read this sentence…”our theology doesn’t have to fit into anyone’s life…their life is to fit into our theology and the Bible”.

    Fortunately Harriet Tubman’s life did fit the Bible’s theology, just not theirs. She did as any God-fearing woman has always done…like Deborah and all the females who are called exceptions (there are so many of them as to beg the question)…they followed the lead of God faithfully and thoroughly…and are a credit to His leadership…after all is God not our only Master?…”Ye have ONE Master, even Christ, and ALL ye are brethren”…I’m not sure Complementarians know this verse?

  • Leah: Wow! I shared this on my facebook page and all I could think to write for a response heading is Yes!

  • “Harriet is not an exception, but an example of what God does with a woman who is sold out for Him. God gives her dreams and visions. He empowers her to do His work. She doesn’t sit around waiting to be directed by a man because she has already been called by God. As Harriet said, “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.”

    In love, I say that Complementarianism is a detriment not only to the women of the world, but also to the world that Jesus longs to reach through them. I am so thankful that Harriet Tubman listened to God and fulfilled His mission for her life.”

    Awesome post, Leah! Thank you so much for your very thoughtful considerations.

    I didn’t know that the President Jackson’s face would be on the flip side of the $20 bill. However, like you said, I am going to hope and believe it will cause many in our African communities to ponder and rethink their position on female leadership.
    Thanks for a wonderful post, Sister! <3

  • Amazing post! As a Christian feminist (who also happens to be white), I have found that I am met with some of the most vehement and outright resistance from black men and women when I speak about gender equality. I’m always disappointed when I find out a person subscribes to complementarianism, but somehow it’s always a different level of disappointment when that person is black. I guess I expect to find some sort of common ground in our appeal for equality. Obviously gender oppression and racial oppression are very different things that manifest in different ways according to a lot of factors, but they are often interconnected. But I have found that black complementarians especially are more receptive to arguments for gender equality on the basis of a common history of suppression by dominant powers. We’re all just striving to do the most we can for God’s Kingdom here!

  • Dear Leah, I can hear you preach. Have you considered pastoring?
    I ask because I was ordained in a black PC(USA) church, and the sense of freedom and hope that I experienced week after week led me eventually to pastor a black Presbtyerian Church in NYC where women pastors, elders and members were affirmed up, down and side ways. But this was not so in the churches that I grew up in, where women served in every capacity except as a pastor. I actually never saw a woman minister until I went off to college. Then I read your piece and I’m infused with hope again that God is turning the tide so that more and more of us can see the matchless truth that God has come to set us all free. Together let’s fulfill our God-given dreams and use our gifts to help others taste that freedom in all of its fullness and glory. May the Lord’s anointing on you increase as you continue to do all that the Lord has put in your heart to do.

    • Hi Grace! I am sorry for the delayed response (My sister told me to check my post again). Thank you so much for the prayer and encouragement. Right now God has laid it on my heart to be a voice. I am moved to write and do spoken word. I love to teach and have Christian conversations. I am opened for wherever God may lead. God bless you & YES God is putting the message of equality on the hearts of many.

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