Rachel Held Evans wrote an interesting post yesterday, “Will the real complementarian please stand up?” In it she points out how the folks from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—and people with similar views like Mark Driscoll and John Piper—can’t seem to get their stories straight. She writes:
“One thing that frustrates me about complementarianism, as it is often expressed, is that it teaches men and women that God has specific expectations regarding gender roles but then fails to consistently or clearly explain exactly what those expectations are.”
The post was thoughtful and chock full of specific questions directed to complementarian “leaders.” Good questions. And Rachel Held Evans and others have been asking good questions all along, and nobody is providing any answers. Instead the complementarian leaders have been, at times, patronizing and dismissive. More from her post:
“For folks who claim to have the corner of the market on ‘biblical womanhood,’ complementarians have been surprisingly unwilling to engage in conversation with me on what the Bible actually says. Instead, I’ve been dismissed as a silly girl out to ‘confuse’ other silly women with a silly blog and book.”
I get how she must be feeling. She’s trying to make sense. She’s trying to foster considerate engagement. She’s trying to communicate. And I get the importance too, of what’s at stake here, which is no less than the potential futures of untold women across the globe.
I get it.
But I also get something else, something that I hesitate to even mention, because I know how it’s gonna sound. But I have this annoying compulsion to say the stuff I see, even though it doesn’t always make me the most popular person in the room.
I’ve been reading the work of the younger generation of Christian feminists for a while. And look, I love so much of what I’m reading. I love the bare-to-the-bone truth telling. I love the fearlessness they exhibit by revealing their own blind spots and weaknesses. I love how they bring it all down to their own lives. But there seems to be a big blind spot, and I’m worried about it.
The fact is that there have been people doing this work for more than 40 years. And the people doing it so many years ago were doing it pretty damn well. And of course I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like most of the younger Christian feminists are really aware of the movement’s history.
So why is this important? Because all this stuff the younger Christian feminists are dealing with, all the being patted on the head, all the ignoring good, reasonable questions, all the accusations of not respecting the Bible—even heresy, all that happened before. Same old stuff, different day.
Maybe if the younger generation of Christian feminists were more familiar with those who came before them, maybe they would be starting to recognize a pattern here. And seeing the pattern, perhaps expectations could be adjusted, frustrations would not have the power that they do, and a new and different strategy could be mapped out.
‘Cause see, this head patting, this dismissal, this “silly woman” crap, it’s happened before, only there was a lot more anger in the mix back then. And I bet it’s still going be happening a hundred years from now.
From what I’ve observed, here in the middle, looking at the work of both generations, I have a suspicion that engagement with those who hold opposing views, at this point, does very little to move our cause forward. The biblical arguments put forth forty years ago are the same ones we are advancing today. We believe them. They don’t. All our critique doesn’t mean a thing to anyone. And who cares that they can’t get their story straight? Clearly Biblical inerrancy or authority hinges on who is doing the talking.
So I’d like to describe what I see as our opportunity to stop the loop and try something else. It’s something the most connected and promising of the younger Christian feminists have already figured out.
We need to tell stories.
I see the hermeneutical principles advanced by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty back in the 1960s and 70s being reiterated and repackaged decade by decade. These are the bones of Christian feminism. The skeleton is there, and pretty much anyone who wants to feel the bone structure of Christian feminism and has access to a library or the internet can do so.
I think what our job now becomes is fleshing out those bones with our own bodies and souls, with our stories.
Engaging with Christian patriarchy in the style of debate, argument, and critique is such a, well, patriarchal way of going about things! And I would propose that it is no longer necessary. Let’s get down to what we really care about, the flesh, the blood, the milk, the tears, the love, the fear, and the grace, that can only be heard in and learned from the stories of our lives, told from our hearts, and animated by our souls.