Recovering (From) Faith: Complementarianism as Comfort


So, in retrospect, one of the stranger things that I embraced for a while was the view of complementarianism. For those of you who don’t know, complementarianism is a Christian viewpoint that is all about the biblical roles of men and women. It holds that men and women were essentially created separate but equal. While we are all equal in the eyes of God, we are given different gifts and talents. Men are created to be leaders, fighters, to be strong and courageous. They are to provide for their families and take responsibility for them spiritually, financially, and in pretty much every other way. Women are created to be man’s “helpmeet” which basically means they exist to support the man. They were created to nurture and love, to make babies and raise them, to stay at home and make the home a safe and calming place where the man can rest after his long days of working and leading the family. They are to be submissive to their husbands in all things, to be guided by him. It is the husband’s responsibility to not abuse this… but you can see how sometimes things just could get out of hand. I sound like I’m being facetious and I am a bit, but it’s also true. Women are not meant to be leaders over men. This is a violation of the created order of things. That does get a little tricky when reading the Bible if you look at stories about like Deborah the Prophetess, for example, but trust me. They have explanations. This goes beyond just roles in the home; this is about every aspect of life. Women should not be in charge of companies, women should not lead in the military. Women are not suited for these roles and the rise of the evil beast known as feminism which has taught women they should do these things is responsible for all manner of sins. I’d like to say that this is a fringe element, but it’s really not. Google Mark Driscoll and you’ll find all manner of things. Perhaps less well known but equally verbal and with a large congregation all his own is John Piper. He was/is Driscoll’s mentor.

I spent about 3 years, maybe more, listening to Mark Driscoll sermons. I wouldn’t call myself a totally blind follower but I was invested. I have listened to literally hundreds of hours of the man at this point. And for a good part of that time, I jumped on the bandwagon in regards to the whole place of men and women thing. This is weird for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that I am not suited for that role, so I am not sure what I thought I was setting myself up for. In no universe am I ever going to be an awesome housewife and I have never, ever wanted children.  But, you know. Driscoll allows a tiny bit of leeway in that it was possible to adopt or foster and I did think that I might be okay with that so maybe God would let me get by with other people’s kids. The primary way I’m suited for submissiveness is… well. Not the way Mark Driscoll means it, let’s put it that way. The other reason that this has always seemed a bit odd to me is that it really is not what I grew up with. My family is primarily a matriarchy if it’s anything. The men have power of a sort in that the women are kind-of nuts and the men handle them when necessary but everyone knows it’s the women who make the rules. All of us kids knew it was mom who really made final decisions, my brothers knew that if there was a chance of getting something from dad, I was the best one to attempt it. It was kind-of manipulative, it involved going through certain expectations and steps but the girls pretty much always got their way.

The tragic thing, when I really think about it, is I think that is exactly why I spent a few years pursuing this idea. I thought maybe that’s what was wrong. My ever passive and unresponsive father, maybe if he had taken up his mantle of leadership like he was supposed to, like God intended him to, maybe then things would have been better. Mark Driscoll is many things and at this point he makes me twitch but he is a compelling speaker. And he gets angry. He gets furious at the idea of men who beat their wives, of abuse happening to children. I may believe now that some of what he teaches encourages certain kinds of abuse but I believe he is sincere and at the time it was so… it sounded so much better. I spent my whole life wishing my father cared enough to get that angry, even once. Wishing he had a line where he would put his foot down, threaten a guy I was with. I didn’t want to believe that he would ever actually kill someone who had hurt me but it would have comforted me more than I can express to believe that even for half a second he wanted to. I think that this idea of roles offered me that, it offered me something to blame. A reason why my father was the way he was, something less complicated and less messy than the realities. Something less hurtful than what I was most deeply afraid of – maybe he just didn’t care that much. Not that he didn’t want to; my father loves me as much as he is able to love anything. It’s just that it wasn’t enough and that’s not fair. When someone loves you as much as they can, it should be enough. None of it’s fair and I wanted something that would make it fair. For a few years, it almost seemed like this was an answer.

It wasn’t an answer. There was no answer. People don’t wrap up in a bow and a box. Predefined roles aren’t enough to explain our lives. Eventually I had to accept something much more complicated – my father is a man who doesn’t understand how to love me. There are reasons, of course. There are always reasons. But it’s more than growing up with an absent father himself, more than his strange relationship with his mother, more than his fear of women and emotions and his distance from the world in general. I’ve spent my life gathering pieces to make a complete picture, to make an individual box for him and for me but the truth is that people are more even than the sum of their parts. There is no magic piece that makes my father make sense. There’s nothing to blame. More importantly, there’s no mirror of truth I could ever hold up to him to make him love me like I wanted or needed and no special secret I could discover that would make that hurt less. It’s not fair. That was the answer the whole time. It’s unfair and unjust and he loves me and I love him and now we have to do it from separate lives because sometimes the world is a very unkind place and it turns out the amount of strength I have for coping with that is limited. It’s not the answer I wanted, but at least now I know the hand I’ve got. And that’s better than nothing.


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