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Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Thing That Made Patriarchy Difficult to Question

Note: This post entails a personal sharing, namely, a small part of my experience with female rank-subordination. I say this to forewarn readers that my experience is predominantly from a "hyper"-patriarchal perspective, though CBMW played a role as well. It is important to note that I am not suggesting that my experience is shared by all complementarian women--many of them would not agree with the interpretations we had concerning what Scripture said about a woman's place. I share the following simply to help explain *some* of the reasons why it is so hard for women to evaluate the Biblical validity of patriarchy when they are fully enmeshed within it.


All good detectives go back to the crime scene before going further, which is exactly what a gender study requires. Only, in this case, it’s not a crime scene because (despite what some Church leaders have taught) the making of woman wasn’t a failure on God’s part but a purposeful and powerful choice—an action that solved a problem, no less, not caused one.

I have gone through an interesting volley of conclusions from Genesis myself. There was a time when I felt that being a woman was shameful—that something was inherently wrong with me for being one, a deep failure that I could never erase because the failure was who I was as a female, not something I actually did. (It's fair to say my relationship with my father played a big role in this, a man who was very scary and domineering in my early years, though he would later meet Yahweh and begin to change).

It was God who helped me see otherwise. In fact, I would say that (providentially) reading Elisabeth Elliot’s, “Let Me Be A Woman,” in my tiny dorm room in Bible College changed my life fundamentally. For the first time in my post-pubescent existence, I realized that my femaleness was something God did on purpose. It wasn’t a cosmic accident or a cruel joke—it was a deliberate action on the part of the Creator.

And yet what did being a woman mean? Did it mean I ought to naturally be drawn to Victorian style furniture, lace and jewelry? Did it mean I was purposely created to be in a support role as opposed to a leadership position, permenantly second-place in a God-ordained gender hierarchy? I exulted in my newly discovered femininity (though still eschewing Victorian d├ęcor), yet still did not understand what exactly it meant to be a woman.

Being fairly literal in my approach to the Bible, I considered it to be speaking point-blank when it came to gender. Suspect were those who would look at cultural background instead of taking the “plain meaning” (er, as it appeared translated into English for a 21st century mind, of course). And because that "plain meaning" appeared to be speaking boldly for the superiority of males over females, I came to believe that my purpose for living was to assist a husband—my husband, to be exact.

The way I read 1 Corinthians 11, it appeared to be saying that my husband reflected God’s glory, whereas I, a woman, was a reflection of my husband’s glory. (Books we read on the subject tended to completely agree). Another way to put it was that women only reflect the glory of God second-hand, but I didn’t think about it that way, or if I did, didn’t dwell long on the ramifications of such a statement. I was too busy trying to figure out the puzzle of a woman’s place, and the literal rendering of a few key passages helped me understand that my place was behind-the-scenes, that my purpose in life was not to have my own vision but to trust and obey my husband’s. Which might have even gone okay, since my husband is a good man and worth commanding a following, if only I’d been a natural follower. But, I wasn’t.

Though follow is what I did—and with passion that can only come from delighting in obeying a much-loved God, so it’s not that I was rebellious. It was more that I had to stuff down part of who I was in order to take on the role of a permanent subordinate. Let’s just be honest—permanent subordinates do not lead. They take orders and execute them—they follow another’s plan, not sit and think of their own, and when they do operate in authority, it is only because they’ve been given permission to do so.

That is all well and good, if you’re a soldier in an army, or if one doesn’t have a vision of their own (and/or a desire to ever have one), but what if one was born a leader, born full of ideas and the spunk to see them carried out? I had taken the role of a permanent subordinate—my femaleness deciding my lower rank for me—and yet trail-blazing was in my blood, passion found in leading charges, being on stage or behind a lectern, forging new roads in minds and hearts. Unfortunately for this Lewis-and-Clark-wannabe, my definition of womanhood said that trail-blazing was only acceptable in womanly fields (which were valuable fields, to be sure, but limited—learning new dinner recipes, coming up with home-schooling ideas, or rearranging furniture, for example, instead of those things that made my heart beat with passion).

Without taking away from the beauty of a good meal or a great educational discovery, those trails only go so deep into the woods, and it goes without saying that I soon felt like an absolute failure as a woman. My ideal was the Hidden Woman, but my experience was a slow-growing deep depression, hidden under smiling enthusiasm, and it was eating out the core of me. I lived the outward rule of godly femininity—a supportive helpmate, a stay-home homeschooling mother of many, a silent participant in church meetings (usually volunteering in the nursery), active in a home business, yet at my deepest level, I felt entirely unfulfilled and confused, and as such, was drowning in condemnation. How could I not love these things that were supposed to give me my greatest joy? How could I not be fulfilled when I was doing everything in the Proverbs 31 mandate? What was so terribly wrong with me for not finding great depths of satisfaction there?

Deep down, I would quietly admit that I hated this “role” my womanhood forced on me, and yet that role was given me by God, right, so essentially, I was hating what God wanted for me—and isn’t that what Lucifer did, and what caused him to become Satan? I chastised myself for such rebellious considerations and gave myself a quick inward lecture of what dangerous ground I was treading on. I put on my smiley face and continued to act the part, hoping that eventually the activity would fix the obviously sinful thoughts I was having. No small wonder that I hardly ever allowed myself to consider what my heart was saying. It was too frightening a place. Better to just concentrate on what to fix for dinner.