A complementarian where you least expect her
Editor’s Note: This blog post by Courtney Reissig is sponsored by the Driven by Truth Worldview Conference, coming to Southern Seminary on March 18 – 19, where Courtney will be leading a breakout session, “Feminist Myths and a God Who is True.” Register today at sbts.edu/events.
I don’t remember when I first heard the word complementarian, but I’m sure it was at some point in my early years as a Christian. God saved me a couple of months before my 21st birthday, and like many new Christians who are eager to learn about their newfound faith, I devoured everything offered to me. Most days, I felt like I was standing in front of a fire hydrant as I read my Bible, listened to sermons on Sunday mornings, read books by authors I had never heard of before, and talked to my parents and new friends about things I didn’t understand in Scripture. I had a lot to learn—and still do.
God saved me out of a lifestyle not uncommon for your average college student. And like many young women in my generation, feminism was very much part of my ideology. While not all Millennial women claim to be feminist—and some may even reject the label—you would be hard-pressed to find a woman under 40 who doesn’t have some form of feminism living inside of her. I was no different.
What is Feminism?
Feminism takes on many definitions—most notably that men and women are created equal in every way and every respect. But that definition can be a little misleading, especially when you listen to the conversations of some modern-day feminists who see men as a punch line. For our purposes, I’m defining feminism as “equality equals sameness,” meaning that men and women not only are created equal in personhood, but also equal in role and function. This is seen most evidently in the competitive spirit that marks so much of the gendered conflict in our culture, but because we live in a post-modern culture, feminism can actually mean many things to many people, and is fairly hard to pin down.
“Like Eve before me, I questioned every form of authority, especially God’s.”
While I grew up in a Christian home, and even had complementarian parents, my independent spirit won out, leading me to believe that I was the one who would call the shots for my life. I devoured feminist theory in my college classes, fully believing that every great work of literature had in it a hidden message about the oppression of women. Like Eve before me, I questioned every form of authority, especially God’s. “Has God really said?” became the motto of my life—that is, until that cold December morning when the Holy Spirit broke through my cold heart, and I felt guilt for the first time in a long time. In that moment, I knew I could never go back to the life I once lived. I was a new creation.
Learning to Walk
In the early days of my walk with Christ I stumbled like a toddler learning to walk. I would see fruit, only to be met with a harsh fall as I got my bearings in this new world of faith. I was seeing so many things for the very first time, including what it meant to be a woman in God’s economy.
As a self-proclaimed feminist I had no problems with being a woman. I just wanted to call the shots. As a Christian woman, however, I learned that the only one who calls the shots for us is the one in whose image we were made—God. As I grew in my walk with Christ, renouncing the feminism of my past was not hard intellectually. I was every much a third-wave feminist as the next Millennial woman, so much of what I believed I knew was incompatible with following Christ. What I didn’t expect was how the roots of feminism still lingered in my heart long after Christ redeemed it.
“I had no problems with being a woman. I just wanted to call the shots. . . I learned that the only one who calls the shots for us is the one in whose image we were made.”
I may have turned from my more overt man-hating days, but I wasn’t above a good boy-bashing session in my dorm room after my roommate (or I) had been spurned by a guy again. I liked the idea of marriage and children, yet secretly judged all the girls who proudly displayed their “ring by spring,” while I sat alone again another Friday night. I was going to do something with my life, like serve on the mission field or write for a living. What I failed to recognize was that my disdain for my friends and siblings who married much younger than I did was actually disappointment in disguise. Rather than admit I wanted that life, or could even see myself married with children, I scoffed at people who succumbed to such seemingly insignificant things like being tied down to a family. And in God’s kindness (and humor), here I am nearly six years of marriage and two (about to be three) kids later. Even recovering feminists need a good humbling.
Not a Unique Story
I suspect my story is not unique, though.
What feminism did for women was give us options and opportunity. Not all of this is a bad thing, of course. I’m glad I can vote. I’m glad I can own property. I’m glad I get paid the same rate as a man for the same work. As a writer, I’m glad I can publish under my own name and not a man’s in order to be recognized.
But what I didn’t understand in my pre-conversion days, and what I’ve struggled to come to terms with post-conversion, is that feminism is not the answer to the inequality women have faced and sometimes still do face. Feminism claims to promote equality among the sexes, but God has done that since the beginning of time. It is God who gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and it is his Word that, at creation, established men and women as those created equal because they both bear the image of our Creator (Gen 1:26-28). We don’t need a modern movement to tell us what has been in existence from the beginning.
“Feminism claims to promote equality among the sexes, but God has done that since the beginning of time.”
But feminism also failed to answer the problem that has plagued us since we fell from perfection that fateful day in the garden. Feminism promised a new identity for us as women, one that was no longer defined by a man or society, but by our newly unfettered selves. I clung to this idea like a starved infant. However, as I grew in my understanding of Scripture, I began to see that the only one who has the right to define our identity is God and his Word. Because of this, our identity shouldn’t be found in “ourselves” any more than it should be found in a man or society.
As women who have grown up in a post-women’s movement society, it’s hard to see how this ideology influences us. But it does in more ways than we probably even recognize. Maybe you embrace the truth that God created men and women equal in dignity, value, and worth, but with differing roles. But do you feel resentment rise up in you when a man offers to help you with something that you feel completely capable of handling yourself? Do you value God’s good design for marriage and children, but think those things can wait while you establish your career for a few years? Do you believe that modesty and purity matter but bristle when confronted with your own wardrobe?
God’s Word is Good
Feminism is not relegated to women in corner offices, man-haters, and television pundits. It’s staring at us every morning when we put on our make-up. Feminism, while birthed as an ideology with the suffragists, is actually an idea of the oldest kind, an idea that reared its head when Eve believed the lie of Satan that God’s Word really wasn’t good, and especially not for her.
My journey toward complementarianism started when God invaded my dark soul and showed me my need for him. Since then, I’ve given myself to understanding who I am in light of his image and how this has implications for every facet of my Christian life. including my understanding of Christ’s glorious work of redeeming his Bride, the church. I wish I could say that I’ve got this whole complementarian thing down, but that would be a lie. The truth is I still see the old seeds of feminism rise up in me, from how I listen to my husband when he leads us to how I view the authority of my pastors. Like Eve before me, I want to be the master of my own destiny. But like Eve, there is hope for this accidental feminist. The promised seed, Christ, crushes every sin that so easily entangles—including feminism. And while I won’t fully be free from my anti-authoritarian heart until that final day, I take great hope in the fact that the God who shined light into my darkened life that December day will bring me all the way home until I’m finally and completely made new.
Courtney Reissig is a wife, mom, and writer. She is the author of the book, The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Crossway). She and her husband live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and are members of Midtown Baptist Church. You can find her on Twitter @courtneyreissig. This article was originally published in the 9Marks Journal.
Hear Courtney speak at the upcoming Driven by Truth Worldview Conference at Southern Seminary, March 18 – 19.