The Theological Is Personal

St. Junia, far right.

I’ve been trying to think and put together a post for Rachel Held Evans’ “Mutuality 2012” week, and everything I keep thinking of is either too heady (an explication of a Baptist understanding of the Trinity), or redundant (repeating arguments Rachel is already making). And then it hit me: why am I so concerned with Mutuality? I’m single! I have zero personal experience for how a marriage would work. I’ve never been married, and I’ve watched as many marriages succeed as I have watched fall apart – at last count, I have at least five friends who divorced within the last year.

But not being married doesn't mean that this issue doesn't matter to me.

You see, even though I’m not married and have no plans to be in the near future, the complementarian/egalitarian debate still concerns me on a deeply personal level.


Because if complementarian philosophy is correct, not a lot changes for the man in the scenario. But everything changes for me.

Back in August, I was having a discussion with a complementarian acquaintance during which I mentioned that I hadn’t heard good things from complementarians on the subject of spousal abuse. I referenced John Piper’s words that a woman should “endure abuse for a season” and attempt to bring her husband under church discipline before trying to leave the relationship. I also pointed out that complementarianism, as a system, leaves more room for abuse because it creates an uneven power dynamic within the relationship. I had a friend when I was younger who suffered extensive emotional abuse because her father bought into the rhetoric that “the man gets the final say!” and so on.

My friend replied with a long, confusing mess that essentially boiled down to “abused wives are martyrs for Christ, like missionaries in China.”

I stood up and walked out.

He got upset at me, saying he was just “having a fun discussion,” was “disappointed that I took things so personally,” and that he hoped I would examine what he said, free of personal bias, and come back to The Truth (TM).

We no longer speak.

Here’s the thing we need to always remember in the discussion of complementarian theology: women cannot NOT take such a discussion personally. It affects everything about how we are to behave, how we see ourselves, how we interact in our relationships, how we manage our careers, our children, and our lives. Even for single women, I have to continue to fight the perception that I am “outside of God’s will” by delaying marriage and children, perhaps refusing them altogether. If complementarians are right, my world falls apart.

How can I not take that personally?

And this is what is so often missing in the discussion of these competing theologies: the human factor.

For men, it’s very easy to forget that this complementarian theology affects women much more so than it does them. For men, it’s very easy to discuss abuse within the system as an abstract, as it does not impact them as frequently as it does women. For men, it’s very easy to discuss the exegesis, and “what this verse really means” without any personal feeling attached because, if they’re right, they maintain a position of power, and if they’re wrong, all they lose is that power.

If I’m wrong about mutuality, however, my life would look completely different. I get subsumed into a system that has major potential for abuse, without the guarantee of a safety net if abuse develops. I would not have my career. I have to change my personality to be less stubborn and outspoken. I have to suddenly look to someone else for all my big decisions.

For me, the discussion can never be abstract. The potential for abuse is far too real and far too ripe for me to see the debate as a mere “fun discussion between friends.”

Because for me, it’s not just for funsies. It never will be. It is too real, and too personal for me to discuss it “for fun.”

So, guys, keep in mind when you’re discussing it this week, no matter which side of the fence you’re on: it impacts the women you’re talking to far more than it will ever impact you. And if you say upsetting things, you can’t expect us not to get upset. It just doesn’t work that way.