From Complementarian to Egalitarian: When God’s Call Inspires Change

Several years ago when we first began looking for a family vehicle, I fell in love with Mercedes Sprinter vans and suddenly, I couldn’t escape being inundated with Sprinters. UPS drivers sported fancy brown Sprinters. Fed-Ex drivers delivered packages in Sprinters. Hotel shuttle drivers drove Sprinters. Everywhere I turned, I saw a Sprinter, or so it seemed.

Similarly when I applied for a Fellowship focused on the Holocaust and its pastoral lessons in regards to ethics, faith and our image of God, I experienced a heightened awareness and exposure to the Holocaust. My seminary class reading discussed it. I read articles online about it. I saw video clips about it. The implications and challenges of the Holocaust lurked on every corner.

Our lives are so filled with images, sounds, experiences, information, and opportunities that we can scarcely take them all in. We naturally apply blinders and filters as we engage with the world, limiting what we notice, acknowledge and interact with. As new realities come to play in our lives, our filters shift, allowing in new stimuli – hence the explanation for my seeing Sprinters on every corner, and the Holocaust on every page.

Sometimes too, as we engage with the world in new ways, we become exposed to realities we wouldn’t have before noticed. Shortly after our adopted Haitian daughters arrived home, we were at the local community college gym helping with concessions for a youth basketball tournament. While I worked at the concession stand, my younger five daughters played with other kids in the gym. After a short time, my daughters returned to the concession stand, despondent and angry. Upon seeing my Haitian daughters, the girls’ playmates had declared, “We don’t play with people like THAT!” For the first time, our children faced the ugly realities of racism. It wasn’t that racism hadn’t existed before that day, but it was the first time they had faced it.

The same may be true for the potentially contentious issue of women in ministry. If you had asked me four years ago about whether women could serve in ministry, I would have likely responded from my unexamined assumption built upon the patriarchal hierarchy I grew up around. It isn’t that my family was particularly sexist or adherent to stereotypical gender roles; in fact, I grew up being told men can be nurses and women make great doctors. But in the church, outside of a plethora of women Sunday School teachers, including my mom, I saw only men in church leadership.

So when God called me into ministry, I suddenly was thrust into discussions and reflections about scriptural tensions regarding women in ministry. Did women have to be silent in church? Was there indeed no difference between male and female in Christ Jesus? Could women teach adult men? Could they teach teenage boys in Sunday School (and where was the distinction)? Were women truly made in the image of God, or primarily just susceptible to deception? I wrestled with complementarian views which held women are subservient to, and helpers for men, only allowed to serve designated roles, none of which include anything in church leadership.

My eyes were opened, and I began to ponder questions of justice, equality and oppression. Had God’s original design been so fully overcome by sin that it was unable to be redeemed and restored? As my filters and blinders shifted, I began to ask questions I had never before considered. And the questions couldn’t remain generic and hypothetical, as somehow I had to also wrestle with how my gifts, talents and calling fit with my developing understanding. Would God call me to a ministry forbidden by His word? Had I completely missed the path He was leading me on? And what to think of women who intelligently and willingly held to complementation views?

I recently realized that perhaps women’s complementarian views completely fit within their current perspective. The understanding they bring to scripture fits where they find themselves. Just like our family not directly experiencing racism when we all were caucasian, perhaps none of them had a sense of call to ministry not allowed in their preferred model.

Admittedly, this may be an obvious answer too easily overlooked. But if I experience no personal call to ministry beyond what is allowable in complementarian ways, why would I question or feel uncomfortable with a system which affords me no opportunity beyond where I am comfortable, called and content? Indeed there are women who are called by the Lord to serve Him in ways that are perfectly fitting within the complementarian view, and if they are never exposed to women who are called differently by the Lord, perhaps it isn’t something they must truly, intellectually wrestle with in a personal way. After all, I may not be the only one whose views changed only when faced with a new reality.

Isn’t that, after all, how change happens? Our blinders and filters shift, and we are faced with resolving the tension between our current reality and our faith. I’m reminded of Proverbs 24:12, “Once our eyes are opened, we can’t pretend we don’t know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know, and holds us responsible to act.”

Change happens. We grow. We understand new things. God calls us to new places. God calls us to greater understanding. Our faith does not stagnate. And perhaps, we begin to see Sprinters on every corner, the Holocaust on every page, and our complementarian views of women in ministry challenged.