I Tried To Be A Good Complementarian…

A few years ago, my husband and I went to visit a seminary to get some information on their graduate programs.  We spoke with a woman who worked in the front office and informed her we were interested in getting our master’s degrees.  We had pulled some pamphlets and were discussing some of our interests.

I tell her I am interested in any degree that has an emphasis in the Greek and Hebrew languages.  I ask if the school offers reading courses in Greek and Hebrew.

“Oh, well, those classes are hard,” she says.

Yeah, Greek and Hebrew are hard.  I already knew this because I had received my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Languages three years prior to this conversation.  And I had done really well.

I wasn’t the only one taken aback by her response.  My husband, too, is certain that if he had asked about Greek and Hebrew classes he would not have gotten the same response…. because he’s a man, and I’m a woman.

This moment will stick with me forever–a moment when a judgment was made about my abilities and intellectual aptitude and academic pursuits based on the fact that I am a woman.  Even worse, the assumption was made by a fellow female.

I have since started (and nearly completed) my Master of Arts in Biblical Languages degree at the university where I originally got my bachelor’s.

I am a student at Houston  Baptist University and I am incredibly proud to be a Husky.  I have been taught, discipled, and encouraged by some of the most amazing men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have met and studied along side some of the most amazing women and men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have never once felt like I didn’t belong when I was among them.  I have found the world of academia to be a safer (and less exhausting) place for women like me.

But I have been studying Greek and Hebrew for almost eight years now, and I have faced some internal struggles and some outward opposition.

Right about the time I started Greek and Hebrew, I joined a wonderful church that held to a complementarian position and so I had to grapple with what I was going to be able to do with my degree.  I have always been a feminist, came to faith in the Methodist tradition, preached my first sermon at sixteen, and knew early on I was headed for full-time ministry. 

My gifts and calling were never in question until I had to face complementarianism head-on.  I loved that church, and the one that followed, and having always held a high view of Scripture, I desperately wanted to obey, to be in the right.  And so, I struggled during my college years, up until fairly recently, with who I was supposed to be in light of this view.  I spent hours with professors, pouring over the texts, begging for their help in understanding.  I dialogued with pastors and pushed back as much as I could.**  I prayed that God would change my heart, my mind, and take away these desires that were “unfit” for my gender.  I tried to be a good complementarian.  I promise you, I tried.

But I am left with questions.  There are holes and gaps and often “well, in this case it’s acceptable” arguments.  I am left wanting.

And worst of all, complementarianism has left me feeling like God made me wrong.  Surely I should have been born a man.

Because I, too, know what it feels like to have fire shut up in your bones!  I, too, feel that unquenchable desire to stand before the Body you love and hold up the precious jewel of Scripture and share the beauty that God has shown you through hours of study, prayer, and doing the difficult dance of interpretation.

Why let me get this far, Lord?  Why have me learn Greek and Hebrew at all?

But Jesus doesn’t make me feel like a mistake.  When I read the Scriptures, I don’t feel like a mistake.  I search the texts and I realize there are difficult passages and questions that are raised.  But I’m convinced that the Spirit gifts all the members of the Body, regardless of gender, race, or position. 

I just don’t look like the “biblical woman” that complementarianism says I should be.  And honestly, I don’t want to model myself after her.  I want to conform to the image of Christ.  I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Ruth insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Sarah insomuch as she is like Christ.

And I hear the voices of my sisters… Phoebe… Junia… Priscilla… Thecla… Amma Theodora… Dr. Karen Jobes… Rev. Dr. Katie Hayes… Rev. Dell Tamblyn… saying, “Look and see how God is using me for his kingdom.”

I’m going to be a professor. I’ll teach men and women Greek, Hebrew, and Theology, and hopefully how to read their Bibles better than they did before.  And maybe some day I’ll be a pastor.

Either way, I’ll be preaching and teaching about this Jesus who I so want to be like.  In the classroom.  Behind the pulpit.  On my couch.  In Africa.  Whoever wants to listen, I’m excited about what I’ve got to share.

**I dearly love my complementarian brothers and sisters.  I have great respect for them and I am thankful that they dare not go against their consciences and their understanding of Scripture.  Nor do I dare go against my own conscience and convictions, and I hope that is apparent in what I have written.  I want to follow Jesus and I am doing that the best I know how.

2 thoughts on “I Tried To Be A Good Complementarian…

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I’ve struggled with many of the same things–studying theology at the university level and then not being taken seriously by pastors and elders (many of whom have never formally studied religion!). I am so thankful that Christian academia has become a safe place for women to work and study and explore their callings…even if ministers and congregants are a little farther behind in that regard. Keep at it, sister!

  2. Great post. It is so hard when we feel that who God has made us doesn’t fit with the “conventions” around us. But you’re right: God did not create you a mistake. So blessings on your ministry.

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