For years, I attended complementarian churches.
I kept telling myself that maybe things would change. I kept telling myself that I, as a woman who taught and had a career, set a positive example. I kept telling myself that complementarianism wasn’t misogyny. I kept telling myself that no church was perfect. I kept telling myself that the best way to change a system (complementarianism) was by working from within.
So I stayed. And I stayed silent.
I stayed silent when a female staff member in seminary, working on her MDiv, got paid less because she wasn’t ordained. This was a Southern Baptist church, and they wouldn’t ordain women. I stayed silent.
I stayed silent when a newly married woman whose job carried the family insurance quit that job after attending a retreat with women from our church that featured Donna Otto. Her decision, from what I heard, caused tension within the family, including financial. They soon stopped attending church. I have no idea what happened to her. I stayed silent.
I stayed silent when, after a sermon on Ephesians, a married couple gave their testimony. The wife encouraged women to just verbally agree to what their husbands suggested—even when they really disagreed. God would honor their submission. I stayed silent.
I stayed silent when I wasn’t allowed to teach youth Sunday School because it included teenage boys. I ‘led discussions’ with special permission when no one else was available. I stayed silent.
When we finally decided that enough was enough (in our final complementarian church), my husband, a pastor on staff, tried to address the gender hierarchy and authoritarian structure with the elders. He was promptly fired….. Thankfully I have gained some perspective since that happened. I have realized that by staying silent for so long, I had become complicit in a system that used the name of Jesus to oppress and harm women.
I realize that I bear even greater responsibility because I knew complementarian theology was wrong. As I have been writing for several weeks now, complementarian theology is based on a handful of verses which have become a lens for understanding all of the Bible. There is so much textual and historical evidence that counters complementarian theology. Sometimes I am dumbfounded that this is a battle women are still fighting. But then I remember that we live in a sinful world and women have been fighting against patriarchy and misogyny from literally the beginning of civilization. Just read some of the ancient texts I regularly use in my World History courses—like the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Ramayana—and you will immediately see what I mean. As Christians we are called to be different from the world. Yet we are so much like the world in which we live, including our treatment of women. Ironically, complementarian theology claims it is defending a plain and natural interpretation of the Bible. Really it is defending an interpretation of the Bible that has been corrupted by our sinful human drive to dominate others and build hierarchies of power and oppression. I can’t think of anything less Christ-like than power hierarchies……
So why did I stay in complementarian churches for so long? Because I was comfortable there. I really thought I could make a difference. I feared my husband losing his job. I loved (and still love) the youth we served. So for the sake of the youth, for the sake of the difference my husband made in his job, for the sake of financial security, for the sake of our friends whom we had loved, laughed, and lived life together, for the sake of our comfort, for the sake of protecting others, I chose to stay silent.
And when I got so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stand it, I just did something else. When I realized I couldn’t sit through any more women-are-ordained-in-creation-to-be-stay-at-home-moms retreat sessions, I skipped out on the next session. I went running in the woods and talked myself out of vocally objecting. Afterall, if I spoke up, my husband would lose his job. If I spoke up, I couldn’t be an example to the teenage girls in the church. When I realized I couldn’t listen to anymore sermons about submission, hierarchy, and leadership that sounded more like a CEO-run corporation then the body of Christ, I tuned out and used my iPad to outline ideas for articles speaking against complementarianism that I never published. Afterall, if I did publish them, my husband would lose his job. If I spoke up publicly, I would be banned from leadership and could no longer have influence.
I stayed silent for very good reasons. But I was still wrong.
I had become just like those who silently witnessed the abuse exercised by Paige Patterson and allowed him to continue to harass women and even allowed him the power to keep sexual predators at his seminary (see the story at #SBCToo). I had become like the members of Mark Driscoll’s church who allowed him to proclaim abuse and misogyny from the pulpit. I had become like so many well-meaning church members who have counseled women to forgive their rapists while simultaneously teaching female culpability in rape (what were they wearing?). Silent Christians just like me have allowed misogyny and abuse to run rampant in the church. We have allowed teachings that oppress women and stand absolutely contrary to everything Jesus did and taught to remain intact. We have stayed silent.
This past weekend my husband (he is now a preaching pastor at a Baptist church that supports women in ministry) preached on integrity. He used an example from a movie I have seen several times—Quiz Show. The main character in the show, Charles Van Doren, allowed himself to be corrupted by fame and success. He cheated to win the quiz show, week after week. When his deception was finally exposed and he had to confess what he had done, his father, a respected professor at Columbia University, confronted him with these powerful words: “Your name is mine!” By allowing himself to be complicit in a corrupt system, Charles Van Doren had shamed not only himself but also his father.
“Your name is mine!”
I am a Christian. I carry the name of Christ. His name is my name. Paige Patterson is guilty for what he has done. But because Patterson did it in the name of Jesus, and because we as Christians stayed silent, his guilt is my guilt too.