Susan McGeown

Author, Speaker, & Teacher

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How I Came To Believe What I Believe: Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism

Posted by Susan McGeown on January 4, 2018 at 4:20 PM

Do you know what “complementarian” vs. “egalitarianism” means within the faith based community?


You can search the Internet and find all manner of articles and opinions about both of these – and depending on which way you might ‘lean’ (I’m talking the “L” for liberal or “C” for conservative) the definition that you might settle on for both of these words might be significantly different than what I’ve come up with. As I do, however, I’ve done my own research and come up with my own personal definition of each of these words and I thought I’d share my findings with you.


My Faith Background

First, need to know some of my faith background. I was raised in a conservative Baptist church and made a profession of faith and experienced full immersion baptism at the age of eight. (Hi, First Baptist Church of Union, NJ!) Until my mid-30’s I was a Baptist girl through and through attending either conservative or southern Baptist churches. My husband came to know the Lord in a southern Baptist church and even once we began attending a Dutch Reformed church (Hi, North Branch Reformed Church of Bridgewater, NJ!), our children were all baptized the “Baptist” way being allowed to make a personal profession of faith rather than undergoing infant baptism. But that’s just data facts, really. What you really need to know about me (and what is The Most Important Influence in my life) was The Christian Women Who Were My Role Models.


I grew up in a 50’s kind of June Cleaver household with a Mom who stayed home and did all the traditional things you’d imagine an “old-style” housewife to do. Dad went off to work each morning, came home to a prepared dinner and sat and read the paper while watching the evening news. We attended church Sunday mornings and evenings and prayer meeting on Wednesdays. I did pot luck suppers, sung in the choir, participated in youth group, and loved summer Vacation Bible School. Are you getting the whole picture?


I remember asking Mom when I was reading the Bible one time (King James, of course), “How come it almost always says ‘he’?” Her immediate answer, which is the essence of who I am today was, “Oh, it really means ‘he and she’. It was just easier to write just ‘he’.” To my young, preteen mind, it was a perfect, obvious explanation. Aside from Mom, who was a role model of strength, faith, and love at home, there was the (very formidable) Mrs. Walter, the pastor’s wife, who ruled youth group and Sunday school and Vacation Bible School (she wrote her own curriculum!!!) at the Baptist church we attended during my teens. Between Mom’s and Mrs. Walter’s example of commitment, determination, faith and their insistence that we listen to our call and use our gifts to God’s greater glory, this insecure, shy, anxiety-ridden girl into the formidable force I am today.


Despite the culture of the times, despite the stand of the Baptist faith at the time, both of these phenomenal Christian women never uttered the word “can’t” or “don’t” or “forbidden” or “submit”. I grew up thinking I should be whatever God called me to be and there were no boundaries or limitations to this call.


My Faith Walk

God called me to be a teacher first and then a writer and I thrived in both of those arenas. Almost nothing is a greater blessing than being able to do the things you love to do and make a living at it. But notice I said ‘almost nothing’ in that preceding sentence. That’s because once you begin your faith journey, there’s never an end or a stopping point. God keeps pushing you and, if you’re obedient, He pushes you higher and farther than you ever dreamed (or wanted) – and that’s where the greatest blessings show up. While I was content teaching nine and ten year olds, I had no wish to ever speak in public. Once the babies began to come along, I was content to live my insular life in my cuddly house with my children and my computer banging out stories as they came to me in the wee hours of the morning.


But then I started to get requests to speak: as a church deacon, at local book clubs that had read one of my stories, conducting an in-home Bible study, to say the prayer at the annual Christmas breakfast, to lead the upcoming women’s conference, to become Vice President of Consistory and preach an honest to goodness sermon, to fly to California and be the keynote speaker in their four-day long women’s retreat… Each one of these requests was greeted with abject terror and the overwhelming urge to go into witness protection. God must have chuckled over my fleeting hope to break a leg, catch laryngitis, or come down with the flu. Yet each time, there I stood in front of those groups of people and something amazing happened: I LOVED IT. Not so much the nerve-racking, gut-clenching, insomnia causing fear that preceded each of these events, but the unbelievable rush, the empowerment, the high, afterwards having felt the Spirit (I call him Ruach) work in and through me. It was so great each time, that I actually wanted that wonderful feeling again. God’s tricky like that.


Surprisingly, it was in the midst of a particularly difficult period at one of my past churches, that my opinion on egalitarian vs. complementarianism first began to gel (but no way did I call it that). It is important for you to know that I did not seek positions of authority at any time in my early spiritual path. I had no agenda to rewrite, no wrong to correct; I didn’t even have a particular awareness of the concept of equality vs. submission. I was just a faithful person who happened to be (I want to put, in jest, ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ but I won’t) the one God chose to work with. It was during that difficult time as Chair of the Deacons, that I was repeatedly put in a position of authority over men (GASP! E-GAD!). Whether I was conducting a deacon’s meeting, reporting at a church business meeting, overseeing a review with staff, or meeting with Southern Baptist authorities, each situation caused the same gut-wrenching fear and the same feeling of joy and empowerment afterwards. I remember sitting in my car after a particularly difficult meeting in tears; I was crying with overwhelming joy because I could not believe what I had managed to do, say, advise, and admonish as the Spirit worked in and through me. Who was this woman?!


The spiritual growth, empowerment, confidence, and clarity I received as a result of this difficult time is one of my greatest periods of spiritual transformation. Leaving that church, I became adamant that I could never attend a church that would have prevented me from that experience due to gender bias. Furthermore, I never wanted my daughter or my sons to attend a church that would prevent them from that opportunity as well. I so desperately wanted to become a woman after God’s own heart (or a WAGOH as my kids liked to call it).(I Samuel 13:14)


On Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism

I’m a conundrum I suppose. Quiet, shy, and anxious by nature, I’m incredibly outspoken, opinionated, and passionate on issues close to my heart. Raised religiously conservative for a majority of my formative life, many would classify me as surprisingly liberal in my spiritual stand. My favorite time spent is alone, quiet, lost in my private writings yet I regular search out opportunities for public speaking engagements – in fact I crave them. But isn’t that the whole Christian agenda? “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person… ”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) Why, I most certainly better be different after over five decades of walking this spiritual path with Jesus Christ! I like to describe the core tenets of the Christian faith as the necessary ingredients to make The Christian Cake; all the rest is just flavor and decoration.


Complementarianism, to me, says that male and female are different and, consequently called to and purposed for specific roles within God’s plan. Some of these things can be shared by both genders but some of these things most definitely cannot. Complementarianism:

• has hard and fast Rules that must be reinforced by humans who have been given authority to do so.

• can stop a person from becoming something they may feel called by God to do if it is against the hard and fast Rules.

• gives one imperfect individual authority over another imperfect individual based wholly on gender and no other qualification can override that.

• gives authority to humanity over the interpretation of whether someone is God-sent or God-called.

• would (apparently) have issue with some of the actions, behaviors, and admonitions made by Jesus Christ (John 4) , the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:17) , Timothy (Acts 16:1-2), the biblical Judge Deborah (Judges 4-5) , Huldah the Prophet 2 Kings 22 , (to name just a few…;)

.

Egalitarianism, to me, says that male and female while different, can each be called to any purpose or role in God’s plan. Egalitarianism:

• is reflective of God’s style of consistently going outside the lines of worldly borders and rules.

• places the onus of a call or not a call on the individual and his/her spiritual relationship with God.

• equalizes all humanity creating an atmosphere of like-minded believers who are all responsible for encouragement and admonition of each other.

• gives authority specifically to God as to who He calls and who He sends.

• is exemplified in God’s original plan in the Garden (Genesis 5:2) , by Old Testament examples such as Abigail, the Wise Woman of Abel, and Judah’s Tamar etc (I Samuel 25, 2 Samuel 20:14-22, Genesis 38:26). , by Jesus’ repeated examples and actions towards Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, women disciples, the women he healed, (John 4, Luke 13:16, Luke 13:12, John 8:3-11, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:1-3) etc. to name but a few.


A Final, Important Thought

The smile of God is the goal of my life. My theme Bible verse is Philippians 1:20-21 which says, “I earnestly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my life. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I have sisters and brothers in Christ who are both egalitarian as well as complementarian. I can learn and grow from both and would be so much lesser for not having them in my life. God doesn’t need like minded individuals to accomplish His purpose; we need to remember that. He can work with and bless us through anyone regardless of where they are on their faith journey! I think the greatest failure in this life is the divisive, superior, combative attitude that believers sometimes adopt toward others of different opinions. God can use us and bless others regardless of our opinion on spiritual equality. Conversation, sharing, and prayer are always the best ways to share the truth.


Wonderful Articles To Help Add To Your Knowledge On This Subject

4 Common Misconceptions About Egalitarianism By Rachel Held Evans 

Complementarian Versus Egalitarian By Kelli B. Trujillo (Today’s Christian Woman) 

My Perspective of Christian Egalitarianism By Marg Mowczko 

49 Seriously Good Blogs For Christian Egalitarians By Gail Wallace (The Junia Project) 

Biblical Basis for Women's Service In the Church By N. T. Wright 

Categories: Empowerment, Spiritual Tidbits, On Women

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