My explicit confession

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My name is Fabienne.  I’m a woman.  And I’m complementarian.

I’ve been complementarian for about six years now.

There.  I said it.

Being a complementarian means that I believe men and women are made differently. I think we are designed for different roles to reflect different parts of the character of God.Confession

As I shared on Friday, I think it’s time to speak up.  Because despite what people may think, this belief hasn’t played out in my life in being chained to the kitchen sink or pushed to the corner.  I’ve seen it play out in an empowerment and valuing of women.

When I first heard the theology that I now embrace I’m pretty sure I wanted to throw up.  And whenever the nausea passed, I was left with a nagging sense of embarrassment.

I believed the common misconception that to be complementarian meant embracing a destiny of sitting in the corner being docile and quiet.  And I was embarrassed because I’m just not the quiet and docile type and I couldn’t help but notice that teaching, prophecy and knowledge aren’t always the most beneficial skills during the Church bake sale.

Thank the Lord that I work for a church that demolished those misconceptions for me.

I work for a plurality of male leadership inside a complementarian church and every single day I come to work in one of the most intellectually challenging jobs I’ve ever had. I am given entire areas in which to manage strategic leadership, I am frequently asked for wisdom & counsel (which is crazy if you know me) and my teaching gift was not only identified by my male elders, it was developed and continues to be championed by them.

If not for their complementarian intervention, I wouldn’t be close to the woman I was made to be.

If my complementarian male co-worker hadn’t challenged me to go deep in theology and deeper in the Word I would still be shallow in my faith.  If my complementarian male boss hadn’t empowered me to make a difference in our staff, Church and nation, I wouldn’t have got in the fight, found a voice and – God forbid – I might have wasted my life.

My leadership doesn’t ask me to sit down because I’m a woman.  They ask me to embrace my design because they believe the Kingdom of God needs all types of image bearers.

I’ll be honest: when I first heard the invitation to lead in a ‘female’ role, I heard a call to be junior varsity.

When my pastors would ask me to dream about the training we need for the women in our church, I would hear them telling me to focus on the secondary crowd while they lead the real folks.  They weren’t delegating that task out because it was less important; they delegated it out because they believe that men and women are different and therefore, my voice might have something to add to the conversation because of the way I’m made.

Women under my leadership struggled for a long time – not because the men in the church didn’t value them – but because I didn’t value them.  I was too busy wanting to play in the male sandbox to see that there were women right in front of me who desperately needed the very gifts and design that God placed in me.

I honestly think I fought for the right to do everything the guys did because in dark and deep places in my heart I believed that what they did was more valuable.  I didn’t believe that a stay at home mom was as valuable as a CEO.  I didn’t believe that emotional sensitivity was as valuable as an ability to direct and lead others.

Gosh, what if part of the clamor to have access to male roles exists because deep down in our hearts we’re the ones who don’t think men and women are equal. What if we’re the ones who think that male roles are more valuable than female roles?  What if we’re the ones who believe the lie that if we get ‘stuck’ doing ministry with women we won’t have the power to influence or change the church?

As I’ve focused on developing women in our Church I’ve learned a couple of things:

  • women aren’t dumber than men
  • Women can go as deep theologically as men
  • Women can be a part of changing the world
  • women are hungry for women to start taking them seriously
  • My male complementarian leadership never thought otherwise.  I did.
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Comments

  1. First, thank you for this follow up to your last post. I could have called it but am glad you came out and said it.

    Second, as I’m sorting out paradigms for ‘biblical womanhood’ (there are a lot of voices at the table right now), I sincerely appreciate your thoughts, your heart and your perspective. I worked with a complementarian ministry for a few years and am now digging deep into the egalitarian point of view. But sometimes I think it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the online buzz instead of looking at the real face-to-face encounters I’ve had with people in both camps. And if I’m honest, the complementarian men in my life have looked a lot like yours. They’ve cultivated deep faith and deep passion, drawing me out and advocating for my gifts, for my voice and for my insight. I am so grateful for them.

    As a side note, I think true complementarians and true egalitarians disagree less than they think they do. I believe they’re both right and not necessarily mutually exclusive. But that’s my mediator heart speaking. Another conversation for another time. =)

    Thanks for speaking into the matter with so much humility and so much brave.

    • Hi Jacqueline!
      I don’t know you but I agree with your statement that true complementarians and true eqalitarians disagree less than they think they do. I am perhaps also a mediator, but I feel this way about a lot of things in the church that cause deep divisions. That to say – I think it’s important when we see what may be false or exaggerated dichotomies causing division in the church to have that conversation! I think a lot of times it’s an emphasis disagreement rather than a theological one, if that makes sense. I’d love to hear more about what you think about this conversation if you decide to post on it at some point.

  2. Fabienne, I am so glad that God has raised you to speak up to women. I am so thrilled that this generation has someone like you to learn from! As I have said before, don’t give up. Keep fighting the good fight of faith. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that women are going to come up to you in Heaven just to say they have converted through your blog. How awesome would that be?!?! You are fabulous, Fabs!

  3. Honestly, reading this article helps me to realize things about my thought patterns that I didn’t even see before. Thank you for being a part of discussing deeper issues with women in your church and here on your blog. You make me think – and I’m grateful. :)

  4. I’ve been complementarian since before it was a word. Funny how things we used to do so easily have become so complicated now. (And have new words to describe them!) All the words, arguments, new explanations of Scripture have made it more difficult to find the truth of God’s Word. Thank you for a well-written, thoughtful, and discerning post. I greatly appreciate when young women show such wisdom. It gives me hope.

  5. I’m glad you’re going with your convictions – and you have a platform! I grew up in a church that was “complementarian.” Never heard the term until last year, and I’m 26! I’ve never ONCE felt that I was to be docile, passive, unused by God, etc. My father and other men at church always encouraged me to explore my gifts, to learn as much theology as the men and to be active. I love what you say about PEOPLE thinking that certain roles are more valuable to God when they’re not. I’m so grateful for the WOMAN God created me to be — and we’ve all got to submit sometime, regardless of gender.

  6. I just finished reading this post and your previous one calling women to speak up–I am right with you. I consider myself conservative, but sometimes find it difficult to use the word complementarian for all the assumptions that come with it. I so long to see the conversation move past the current false paradigms and dichotomies that have come epitomize the debate.

    As women, we are called to rise up and be the mothers of the church–to be strong, passionate, articulate, graceful mothers who teach and lead others alongside our male counterparts; and yet, we are not called to be fathers, not called to be men,nor could we ever be. I am so excited about the potential to inspire women to embrace their full humanity as women, to respond to God’s call in robustly, biblical ways that reflect the beauty and wonder of who He is through our womanhood. Thank you for speaking up.

    • @Hannah,

      I am complementarian without hierarchy which is what I believe Christian egalitarians claim. Those of us who do not believe in hierarchy in our most intimate of relationships i.e. husband and wife do not believe women are called to be fathers or husbands, nor do we believe men are called to be mothers or wives. Non-hierarchical complementarians believe there are differences between men and women. Like you, we believe men only are called to be fathers and husbands and women only are called to be mothers and wives. The difference is non-hierarchical complementarians do not believe husbands have an authority as the word is naturally used and understood over their wives or believe in a hierarchical ranking in marriage in contrast to hierarchical-complementarians.

      @Fabienne,

      I really appreciate the honesty of your post. I find too often women (and men) do not fully grasp the status of females as ezer kenegedo, and we can too easily slip into that wrong thinking. We have been influenced by culture, our own experiences, poor interpretations of scripture, etc. These have consequences for how we think about ourselves and other women and our place as co-vice regents of God’s good creation.

      Also, if females are to reflect a certain character of God and men are to reflect a different certain character of God, then neither seeking to reflect fully the character of God. I believe God calls us all, male and female, “to be conformed [fully] to the image of his Son” (Ro 8:29), to have Christ [fully] “formed” in us (Gal 4:19), to have our minds [fully] renewed and transformed (Ro 12:1), to have the mind of Christ [fully] (Ph 2:5), to put on the new self which is being renewed in the image of the Creator as we come to know him (not partial image for male and a distinct partial image for female) (Co 3:10), and many more.

      • Angie,

        Truthfully I don’t think we’d be too far apart in practice except that I do believe in headship. I agree that we often wrongfully use the terminology of authority and carry into our hierarchical structures a false understanding of leadership and submission. For me though, headship primarily embodies the way that a man will sacrifice and serve his wife and family that is distinct from the way that a woman will sacrifice and serve her family–thus, by extension, the distinction between fathers and mothers in the church. How would you view these differences?

        I guess I suppose that I don’t believe that hierarchy is essentially a threat to equality. So much of our lives exist in hierarchy–from government to business to parenting–that it is not strange to me to find it in gender relationships. Certainly there is a Christ-like way to exist in hierarchy–which fundamentally means seeking the well-being of those entrusted to you–but this does not obviate structure.

        I appreciated you last paragraph that both men and women are to be transformed into the image of the Creator and that both men and women reflect full-humanity. Completely agree. Also agree that Christian virtue is not gender-based. And yet, I do believe that virtue will express itself distinctly in differing contexts and differing callings, that things like our gender and our age and even our profession will necessitate that these virtues be embodied in distinct ways.

        • As to how I view “these differences”, I suppose you are referring to headship and submission as exercised by husband and wife, respectively. Frankly, in our our almost 25 year conventional marriage of two very conservative individuals, we have never functioned in a male only headship (i.e. service and sacrifice with or without male authority) and female only submission (arranging under or subordinating) paradigm.

          From what I have heard and read of hierarchical-complementarian teaching, headship embodied will look different from couple to couple based on circumstances, seasons, needs, personalities, etc. though headship always grants the husband authority and a tie-breaking vote. Also, sacrifice and service, headship embodied, will look different by the same husband as seasons, circumstances and needs change within his own marriage. Does a wife not sacrifice and serve? Indeed, she does, though the same would likely not be called “headship embodied” and does not confer authority or some type of privilege or rank or something lest you would not have used “headship *primarily* embodies the way a man…” To me, this wording seems to reserve something. The common thread is the requirement to die to self, to crucify selfishness, to serve, to love (agape) like Christ and to take on responsibility for each other and the family. This will look different at times for each spouse depending on the circumstances, needs, gifts, talents, energies, etc. of the husband and wife, and sometimes it may look the same. My husband nor I believe his sacrifices or his contributions or responsibilities for the good of our family grant him any authority or position over me. Both of our sacrifices when they are different and when they are the same are necessary in order for the needs or the desires of the family to be met. If headship is sacrifice and service and nothing more, then we would affirm that we both have or exercise headship in this marriage because we both feel God is honored when we are both sacrificing and serving each other and our family well.

          Now, to submission…we do not believe the Christian virtue of yielding or preferring our brother or sister is distinctly feminine but is required of all Christ-followers. There are times and occasions where he yields to or prefers me and there are times and occasions in which I yield to or prefer him.

          Who leads? We both do. I am using lead in the sense of influence, to guide, or direct. We each influence, guide, or direct according to our strengths. This requires humility and maturity to recognize the strengths of our spouse and the virtue of submission to allow ourselves to be guided or directed based on the wisdom, knowledge, experience, and strength of our mate or to be influenced by the character embodied better in our mate.

          I don’t believe hierarchy is a threat to equality (as in value of essential personhood) before God, but if a hierarchy grants greater power and authority to a higher ranking individual there is an unequal distribution of power, and in a hierarchical-complementarian marriage, this is based solely on maleness. Now, I do agree those that live within a hierarchy can exercise their authority and rule or fulfill the requirement of submission and subordination in a Christ-honoring way. In Ephesians and elsewhere, Paul (and Peter) were giving a Christian ethic to the Aristotelian household codes for those who lived within a shame-based, state-sanctioned hierarchy with an immense power differential benefiting the paterfamilias. However, Paul, and more importantly, Jesus Christ never sanctioned or endorsed the hierarchy but gave a Christ-centered ethic for functioning within the shame-based, hierarchy-based Ancient Roman culture so the word of God not be maligned. A hierarchical structure is not essential for a God-glorying marriage, any more than a monarchy is the only Christ-honoring way to govern a nation.

          Finally, is there *any* virtue that will always be embodied exactly the same way in all males distinct from the way the same virtue will consistently be embodied in all females? Sure, virtue embodied looks different based on context, age, profession, etc. but I can’t think of a virtue that is consistently embodied in all males contra to females and vice-versa. How anyone embodies a virtue will vary depending on the context, spiritual maturity, age, calling, etc. For example, the sacrifice required at one time in one context will likely look different by the same person in the same context at another time. I am saying it is the call of every believer, male and female, to be fully human, to grow in the likeness of Christ, and to pray for wisdom to rightly reflect Christ in their varying contexts.

          I hope I have helped you understand. Thank you for asking.

          • This is probably a less than ideal place to engage this at length although I appreciate your thorough response. Please know that the fundamental values that you express are not intrinsically at odds with a comp paradigm. Comps value and pursue these same things–full maturity for men and women, the call to be spiritually influential in each other’s lives, etc. I suppose I should also clarify that my question about the how you would understand the differences between fathers and mothers in the church was less about headship and submission (for my part, I see this as a false paradigm–as you have rightly said, we are all called to submit and we are all called to influence, albeit in varying ways and contexts) and more about exploring what it is that men uniquely contribute that women do not and what women uniquely contribute that men do not–how does mutuality between the genders play out in very real, substantive ways? I believe egals embrace those differences, but given the nature of the discussion, I rarely hear them articulated.

            I suppose in the end I also understand headship in respect to its larger philosophical context– the significance of headship lies predominantly in representation not simply authority. (The authority is secondary and derived from the responsibility to represent .) There’s elements of the concept in the way that Adam represents the human race in the fall and Christ represents humanity in redemption–no, a husband does not stand between his wife and God, but headship is a valid theological concept and one that (I believe) plays into marriage in some way. We acknowledge this in practice, perhaps without even realizing it–most egal women I know still take their husbands’ last names and children are generally called by their father’s name (although of course there are exceptions). There’s something going on that can’t be explained simply by an ancient cultural context or present-day chauvinism. (Of which I’ll quickly agree with you–there is far too much of that in the world today.)

  7. I was in your Satisfied class last Spring and loved it. I didn’t find out you were a blogger until later on in the year. One thing I appreciated so much about the class was that you modeled complementarianism without espousing chauvinism or complacency. Thank you for being a fresh voice.

  8. I am just now discovering your voice. And I like it. I have been so down about all the recent “loud” voices in the blogosphere who are championing the freedom of women in the churches. It’s so discouraging at times and I often despair that there are not as equally loud voices out there fighting for the authority of Scripture and the complementarian view. But today, I am cheering! I am grateful to TGC for posting your blog and for my husband in directing me to your suite. So, thank you for this. Keep writing. I will too.

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