On Being Christian, Complementarian, and Feminist

There, I finally said it. I’m a feminist. It held such a sour connotation in my mind for so long. Then I met an actual feminist–and she was a Christian.

For so long, I held a vision of feminists as men-hating, arrogant, hairy-legged bra burners. I thought I saw the effects of feminist thought on sitcoms where the mother was a domineering inappropriate-word-for-female-dog, the father was a buffoon, and the children were wild (think of shows like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, etc). Feminism was a bad word my mind; democrat was a bad word too, but more on that later.

The Cosby Show was different, though. Look at Claire Huxtable: she is intelligent, educated, independent, has a successful career, is a good mom, and is a loving wife. Now, I see her as the epitome of feminism. She was a feminist who didn’t think she had to fight for her position. She was a feminist who was still feminine. She was equal to her husband but did not try to act like a man.

I want a wife like Claire Huxtable.

My feminist leanings began in college. Hermeneutics class was where I took my place among complementarians, but only marginally. I’m only a complementarian because of sin. Adam and Eve were equal until Genesis 3, until God cursed Eve to be ruled by her husband. Before that, both were to subdue and rule the earth. Now, man ruled woman–because of sin.

And it is only because of sin that I remain complementarian–the view that men and women complement each other’s roles. For instance, I do not think women should be allowed combat roles in the military. Not that women aren’t strong or fast enough. On the contrary, there are women who can run faster and lift heavier weights than me. I don’t think women should be in combat roles because they can get pregnant if raped in a POW situation. Looking at this situation from a medical point of view, the difficulty of an already desperate situation is exponentially exacerbated by pregnancy. There is more to go wrong during extraction if the woman is pregnant. A woman in combat is not tactically feasible.

But I only have to look at situations of war and rape because of sin.

Situations like this are why I remain complementarian. It’s not that women aren’t equal with men. It’s not a question of if a woman could do a man’s job. It is a question of if a woman should do a man’s job. It’s just not always practical.

But when it comes to traditional gender roles, I hardly fall into line. I don’t know how to change the oil in my car, but I can crochet an afghan; I don’t know how to hunt, but I can cook a gourmet meal; I don’t know how to hold a baseball, but I can hold a baby. Even the “manly” things I do aren’t what you would expect. I don’t read sports illustrated, play beer-pong, or dip tobacco; I read classic literature, sip Irish whisky, and smoke a pipe. Probably the “manliest” thing I do is carry a pocket knife.

But I don’t really care about things like that. My masculinity and your femininity  is not about what we do or don’t do. True masculinity is to be loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful, gentle, and sober. True femininity is to be loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful, gentle, and sober. To be masculine or feminine is to be like God. Man and woman were created equal and in the image of God.

This is my post for #FemFest–a synchroblog about feminism. The following explanation is copied from Preston Yancey’s blog:

This post is part of a series J.R. Goudeau, Danielle Vermeer, and I [Preston Yancey) are thrilled to be hosting: a three-day synchroblog devoted to exploring feminism and its importance—and we’re inviting you to join in!

You’ll be able to hop between our three spaces this week to encounter different voices, perspectives, and stories. When you’re tweeting, use the hashtag #femfest. We want to open a large conversation here and see what each of us has to offer and offer well.

Prompts and links:

  • {Day 1} Feminism and Me: On Tuesday, February 26, link up at J.R. Goudeau’s blog, loveiswhatyoudo.com, and write about these questions: What is your experience with feminism? What’s a story or a memory or a person that you associate with that word? Why does it have negative or positive connotations for you? How do you define the term, either academically or personally? What writers have you read whose definitions you want to bring out? Or, if you don’t have a definition, what are some big questions you have?
  • {Day 2} Why It Matters: On Wednesday, February 27, link up at Danielle Vermeer’s blog, fromtwotoone.com, and write about these questions: What is at stake in this discussion? Why is feminism important to you? Are you thinking about your children or your sisters or the people that have come before you? Or, why do you not like the term? What are you concerned we’re not focusing on or we’re losing sight of when we talk about feminism? Why do you feel passionately about this topic?
  • {Day 3} What You Learned: On Thursday, February 28, link up at Preston Yancey’s blog, seeprestonblog.om, and write about these questions: What surprised you this week? What did you take away from the discussion? What blog posts did you find particularly helpful? What questions do you still have?

- See more at: http://seeprestonblog.com/blog/2013/02/when-i-am-a-christian-feminist-in-retrospect#sthash.ZVKwJEUa.dpuf


  1. suzannah | the smitten word

    i find your perspective on sin perplexing. if God’s intent was equality, why would christians order themselves under hierarchy, inequality, and *sin* instead of God’s good design? jesus is making all things new, setting right what sin derailed in the garden.

  2. Dianna Anderson (@diannaeanderson)

    Where’s the cross and resurrrection in this theology? if complementarianism is the consequence of sin and the cross and resurrection free us from those consequences, why, then, should we continue to live in a pre-resurrection world?

    I’m not comfortable with shrugging my shoulders and saying “eh, it’s because of sin” as you do.

    Also: the show within the show is Tool Time. The show itself is Home Improvement. And Jill was hardly a bitch.

  3. Danielle | from two to one

    I echo the thoughts of those above. If you acknowledge it as sin, isn’t that the equivalent of condoning Christians who are living in the bondage of sin rather than the freedom of Christ’s forgiveness and grace? The curse was a consequence, not a *command.*

  4. Elijah

    Absolutely. I pray “on earth as it is in heaven” because that is the aim of redemption. It is a holistic renewal of all creation (I’m working on a post with this theme for a later date). Revelation 20-22 is a complete reversal of the curse.

    Suzannah, Dianna, and Danielle,
    It is not the same. For instance, divorce is nowhere mentioned in Genesis 1-3, However, after the fall it is tolerated in certain circumstances. I do not advocate divorce. But in the context of abuse, I will advise against staying in that marriage. I should have been more clear in that paragraph. I’m not complementarian because God “commanded” it in the curse. I’m complementarian because of the sin of war/rape/abuse/etc. War was not God’s intent in Genesis 1-2. It is a result of Genesis 3. As such, men and women are equal in Christ (because of the cross, resurrection, and redemption), but there are instances where we must function as complementarian, such as the example of pregnancy as a POW above. Redemption is a process. It takes time. Post-resurrection life is not a nice, clean, happy little place. It is a messy, difficult life filled with war, rape, incest, and abuse where we must look at the practicality of our actions.
    When Christ comes back to complete the process of redemption, men and women will finally be able to function as God intended. Until then, we must groan with the rest of creation as we await redemption. Until there is no war, we have to operate with the reality that it is impractical to have women in combat.
    As for hierarchy, it is not ideal. The only hierarchy should be Christ as my Lord. However, because of sin, I must operate under institutions such as employment, government, etc. The hierarchy of the church should be pastor/priest over the congregation, but also held accountable by the congregation. It is a mutual submission.

    Thank you for the correction. I’m changing the text to Home Improvement. And Jill was not the most pleasant person. She really annoyed me in the show.

  5. Emily Joy Allison

    Hey Eli,

    So you know I’ve appreciated your positive contributions to my blog conversations lately and harbor no ill will towards you, but I have to say. I disagree fundamentally with your premise. Laying aside the issue of women in combat (because I know with your military background and participation you have strong feelings about this, and that’s ok), I agree with Preston, Suzannah, Dianna and Danielle that as Christians, the OPPOSITE of what we want to do is perpetuate the consequences of the curse. Your theology leaves no room for healing, resurrection, redemption. I mean if Jesus is the “second Adam” as Paul says, he put right what was made wrong in the fall and opened up a new way of living, a new mode of being even. Your position seems to lack reflection of the HOPE that Jesus gives us, the message that you don’t have to live like this, that there is a different way.

    Also, and this is just my opinion, but I find it a little impossible to be both complementarian and feminist, if you look at what complementarianism actually means and entails. There are certainly ways to phrase complementarian ideology to make it sound like it values women and considers them equal to men… but at bottom, when taken to its logical ends, it simply doesn’t; and because of that I think you’ll eventually have to choose one.

  6. Esther Emery (@EstherEmery)

    I feel some familiarity towards this definition of feminism. It’s like “I’m a feminist because I like women.” No, maybe that isn’t quite it. But it isn’t so much about changing things, as it is about keeping things the way they are, but at the same time being modern and open minded. (Cool.) I used to get really upset when people used the word feminism this way. Honestly, maybe I still do…but I’m chill, I’m chill.

    I think this blog carnival is a perfect opportunity to clarify these distinctions. When I use the word feminist, I am thinking of somebody who wants to live out a vision of God’s love for God’s people. I’m thinking of somebody who is willing to rise up for justice, to be a soldier for the oppressed, to live into the vision of the kingdom (here and not yet). And that isn’t the same thing as saying, well, this is our curse, so I guess the people who are cursed are just going to have to deal.

    Thanks for speaking your truth as it is, Elijah. We all get to learn from each other, and we also get to change our minds, whenever we want.

  7. Ariel Price

    Hi, Elijah. Thank you for your honesty and voicing what might be an unpopular opinion. I appreciate meeting complimentarians who are willing to be part of this conversation! Although I side with those above, I understand your position. I know many Christians who, like you, have a hard time seeing how egalitarianism works out practically in this world. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for.

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