About a year and a half ago, I was talking about feminism with a very intellectual cousin of mine and he asked me whether I was egalitarian or complementarian. While I had heard these terms tossed around before, I actually had very little knowledge as to what they referred to and their implications. So I bumbled through my answer steering clear of big terms and explained how I saw marriage as a partnership between two people. And by partnership, I mean equal sharing of everything from tasks around the house, parenting, future planning, etc. and supporting each other towards our hopes and dreams. I also happen to think that fathers need to be just as present in terms of primary caregiving and childrearing as mothers (even the research supports this!). I am generally squeamish about the “homemaker/helper/helpmeet” ideal set forth by an alarming number of traditional Christians. And I sure as hell don’t think that motherhood is my highest calling. No offence to those of you who do.
And then I forgot about that whole discussion…until the beginning of this year when Nick and I decided to get back together (that’s another story) and get married. So it all started when one of his close friends and mentors started asking questions and wanted to provide him/us with premarital counselling. In this process, I got asked a lot of questions along the lines of how I can support him as a wife in the work that he is engaged in, what submission means to me, who had the final say in decision making, and discussions around how this mentor would raise girls a certain way and boys (a very different) certain way, etc. These questions and ensuing discussions came from a book on marriage by John Piper. I had alarm bells going off in my head but I did not have the words to describe my panic nor the language to hold my own in the discussion.
A couple months later, I discovered that the mentor had provided Nick with a copy of the book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood” also by John Piper. If the title of that book isn’t enough to raise your eyebrows, I will take a moment to explain that John Piper is of the Reformed branch of theology handed down from the teachings of John Calvin from which we have Calvinism and the TULIP five points. Feel free to look it up. This book with its ideas and imaginings of biblical manhood and womanhood is the manual for what they call complementarianism, which is basically patriarchy repackaged for the Christian world. (For the record, Nick does not subscribe to this theology and we’ve had multiple discussions around us being a partnership and will continue to have discussions as and when these issues come up. Also, the mentor that I refer to is someone I have a lot of respect for, so we agree to disagree on these matters.)
Complementarianism purports the view that men have primary leadership roles and functions while women are limited to supportive roles and functions. Men are to “lead, provide for, and protect women” while women are to “affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership” from men. Piper even goes so far as to provide a list of ministry positions that are appropriate for men versus those that are appropriate for women. Piper says in Chapter 1, “To the degree that a women’s influence over man is personal and directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s given order.” He goes on to use the example of a female drill sergeant who couldn’t possibly have male subordinates without “violating their sense of masculinity and her sense of femininity”. Are you effing kidding me?! I wonder what Piper would say to me if he ever found out that I discuss men’s sex lives with them, challenge their cognitive distortions, and give directives on a regular basis, for a living! It doesn’t get much more personal and directive than that. Based on this convoluted notion, I have been violating my sense of femininity for the past five years. Clearly, I fail at complementarianism.
In the preface of the book, Piper suggests that there are some people who call themselves “evangelical feminists” who would disagree with his ideals but that his way is the biblical way. On feminism, he laments that it is “a controversy of major proportions [that] has spread through the church”. Oh please! Let me just say, I am one of those “feminists” and I outright reject Piper’s propositions. Additionally, while his ideas may have been taken from a literal reading of Scripture, I do not believe that they reflect the overarching theme of Scripture and God at work in the lives of His children. In fact, when we trace history, we see the God of the Bible at the leading bleeding edge of social progress. Even those Old Testament passages that cause us to wince at their mention were advocating for justice that was ahead of its time. Hence, it is rather disturbing and disheartening that Christians in the 21st Century seem to be caught in a backwards spiral and are no longer the frontrunners in the movement towards social justice and progress. I would argue that it is precisely worldviews such as those of Piper around this so-called biblical manhood and biblical womanhood that have arrested the very developments that Christians have historically been known for.
Complementarianism is an idea so abrasive to me that if this misogyny is actually part and parcel of following Christ, then I want nothing to do with Christ. Thankfully, I don’t believe it is. And so, having lived my empowered feminist life as an independent woman in the big city, I would rather do a thousand other things than submit myself to such a backwards notion—biblical or otherwise. And so, needless to say, I’m a tad apprehensive of the world I’m about to step into. Many of the Christians I have met in India seem to be Piper fans, and if they haven’t heard of Piper, their cultural leanings are dangerously patriarchal. Does that scare me? Sure it does. But fear is not a good enough reason to steer clear of adventure. Never has been, never will be. My answer to the call of adventure is and always will be a clear and resolute yes! And so, it is likely that my way of being in the world will have to adjust slightly, but who I am fundamentally is not going to change. This may result in a tornado of sorts as pressure systems collide and cultures clash, but at least when the dust settles, I will know that I have been true to who I am as a woman, as a child of God, and as a wife and partner.