My Transformation from Complementarianism to Egalitarianism
Transformations are a part of the human experience. If we live long enough on this planet, we will eventually recognize that we are no longer who we were and we no longer believe what we believed. The same applies to our understanding of God. For me, some of these spiritual transformations were sudden, such as the moment that a missionary friend’s baby was killed in a car accident, and I realized that I could no longer believe that my obedience to God obligates him to protect the ones I love the most from harm. Other transformations took years to be planted, germinate, and bear fruit. My transformation as a complementarian to an egalitarian took most of my life.
You could say I was born a complementarian. Certainly it was the theology of my family and the denomination that I grew up in. My missionary parents (fortunately) walked away from fundamentalism in my early childhood and settled into a fairly standard evangelical, conservative Baptist worldview, and I (a homeschooled kid) simply did not realize there was any other way to believe. Anything I heard related to feminism was discarded as immoral and selfish, and anyone who tried to connect it with Christianity obviously was choosing culture over the plain reading of Scripture.
But at age 14, a seed was planted. I had been leading the youth group in my parent’s church plant, and one afternoon was in my room getting ready for the youth meeting. My mom walked in and asked what I was up to, and I casually replied, “Getting my sermon ready to preach this afternoon.” In a word, she freaked. She told me with great passion that I was preparing a lesson that I would be sharing. Sermons and preaching were for men alone, and it would be categorically rebellious for me to preach to boys because I could not lead or have authority over them. When she left my room, a thought formed that grew in my heart for the following decade:
If God has made me a female with the desire and ability to lead and teach both men and women, and yet requires me not to do so precisely because I am a woman, He is cruel.
Fourteen years later, I had graduated from a complementarian Bible school, married a complementarian man, birthed 4 sons, and joined a complementarian church. However, in my late 20s I began discovering what I love (theology and social justice) and what I am good at (launching and leading pioneering ministries). I realized that I was “unwomanly” authoritative in speech and fearless in risk-taking… and these things were clearly rejected in the church, at least for women. It struck me that I could walk away from the church and give my very best self to the secular world. I could lead with confidence and blaze a trail for women AND men there, and I would be respected and useful to my field. But I could not do the same in God’s family. This left me unsettled with a second thought:
If God has given women natural spiritual gifts and acquired life skills, but would rather put a less capable and qualified man into authoritative positions, simply because he is male, God is foolish.
These two thoughts began to be watered by my sudden first encounter with egalitarian theology. For the first time, I heard an alternative point of view that at least seemed to be using Scripture as a basis for its claims. I decided to take a look. For two years, I read the entire Bible, studying each passage related to gender in context and in isolation. I read the arguments on both sides about the “problem” passages, and I studied the ontological issues, the criticisms each side had for the other, as well as the fruit that seemed to come from each perspective.
In the end, it was women themselves who brought my transformation to its conclusion. Women like Deborah who led in military over men. Women like Huldah whose prophecy led the king and all of Israel in repentance. Women like Mary who asked no man’s permission before she said yes to bearing the Gospel in her very womb. Women like Priscilla who taught with authority over men. Women like Phoebe who was called a deacon, and women like Junia who was called an apostle. As I studied the plethora of women in Scripture, I was left with a final thought:
If God’s desire is that men lead unilaterally over women, yet over and over in Scripture there are situations in which women are in authority over men, God is incompetent… or else this is how God wants it to be.
With that, the floodgate was opened. I knew more than I knew anything else that my God is far from incompetent. He is omnipotent, so if he wanted men to lead alone, Scripture would be a testimony to that. It isn’t. Furthermore, my God is no fool. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that we are to employ all the gifts that we are given for the good of the Church, and 1 Corinthians 14:12 goes even further and tells believers to excel in their gifts. The talents and gifts of women are not supposed to be buried, and the very best that women have to offer is most certainly not to be a given only to the secular world.
I remember the moment in February 2014 when I realized that I simply no longer believed what I had once believed. Alone in my room, I said out loud, “God, I believe that you see me as an equal to my brothers in my being and in my function in your Kingdom,” and all of a sudden I was sobbing on the floor as God himself began erasing my unrecognized fear and belief that he is a cruel God. I knew beyond all doubt that he had created me precisely as he had intended, and that he wanted all of me, not just the parts that complementarianism told me were good. As his creation, I was declared very good even the parts that speak authoritatively and lead fearlessly. Now that I actually believed this, my transformation was complete.
(This post first appeared on jorymicah.com.)
4 thoughts on “My Transformation from Complementarianism to Egalitarianism”
Thank you for this post. I’m going through a similar journey right now. Resonating so much with your words. How are you using your gifts today?
Hi Iris! It’s a tough journey, but so so worth it!
To answer your question, this journey for me coincided with the discovery of the modern day slavery problem around the world. It captured my heart, and I ended up in Indonesia for the last four years working alongside some amazing Indonesian colleagues in anti-trafficking there. I started a non-profit called Dark Bali, and I am still running that. It’s an organization that serves a lot of small Indonesian grassroots NGOs increasing their capacities and abilities and serving as a bridge between them an Western resources. Just a few months ago, my family moved back to California, and I am also working in an anti-trafficking non-profit as a program director as my “day job.” I really love both, and one of the unexpected gifts has been working in a field that is populated especially by females in top leadership. It’s been a beautiful experience working under and alongside incredible women and also finding my own gifts and voice to contribute. I have to say that a big part of the reason that I have been able to dig deep into this issue and contribute the ways that I have is because of my husband Dan’s belief in my leadership and how important my work in Dark Bali really is. He has done a lot of thankless labor helping it get off the ground, and it has been a joy to work with him as an equal partner on it.
Other than that, I find a lot of satisfaction in raising my four egalitarian sons with my (recently) egalitarian husband. It takes a lot of creativity and intentionality to raise boys this way in American culture that says aggression and violence are the marks of masculinity!
Thank you for asking, and I wish you courage and joy as you continue your own journey and discover how it impacts the other parts of your life.
This truly a great testimony and please thank you so much for your family and minustry. Surely, things do change. I remember before my transformation, I used to preach and lead sermons based on popular male dominance culture. I continue to regret for the harm I caused the church of Christ.
Now I use all spaces available in my pastoral care and ministry to preach equality, justice, peace and reconciliation.
Thank you so much and be blessed.
Awesome story. Thank you for listening to God’s voice, for sharing how you felt about God in each stage of life. It is affirming and encouraging.