I used to pretend that complementarianism and biblical interpretation weren’t that complex. When I was on the complementarian side of things, I spent my time highlighting certain passages like 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14:34 and Eph. 5. In my mind, those texts were black-and-white, and clearly meant exactly what they said. Those were my offensive (opposite of defensive) texts.
I was very literal (except when I wasn’t, but that’s coming), even to the point of never talking or expressing my point of view in front of a man in a “church setting.” It said for women to be silent right there in 1 Cor. 14:34:
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
Bam! I even thought it was wrong for women to lead in any secular setting, such as being a CEO of a business, a governor, a manager, or a college professor, because 1 Tim. 2:12 plainly said a woman shouldn’t teach or have authority over a man. Period.
On the other hand, I’d have to play defense when it came to texts like:
Gal. 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Cor. 14:26: Brothers and sisters, when you come together, each of you has a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
or 1 Cor. 11: 5, where women are prophesying, a gift given for edification of the church according to 1 Cor. 14:1-5.
I would have to explain subtle, not-so-obvious reasons as to why those texts DIDN’T mean exactly what they seemed to mean on the surface. And Deborah and Huldah, of course, were just anomalies in a long line of God’s eternal plan of patriarchy.
What was really going on, though, was that I had certain verses that were “trumping” what others had to say. I was looking at Gal. 3:28, “no male and female, slave or free, Jew or Greek,” through the lens of my go-to complementarian verses, trying to make it fit, because if the Bible contradicted itself in any way, in my mind I might as well become an atheist. 1 Cor. 11 COULDN’T mean that women were praying and prophesying in public assemblies, because….. 1 Cor. 14:34. 1 Corinthians 14:26 was, of course, only talking about men because….1 Cor. 14:34. The logic was impeccable.
Except it wasn’t. I started questioning why. Why would God want to preserve an ultimately oppressive law which has made it easier for the stronger to prey on the weaker for several millenniums? Why was one gender’s voice considered “shameful” solely on the basis of not possessing a Y chromosome? Why did some scriptures seem to say one thing and some seemed to say the opposite re: gender? Why were all women punished for all-time because of what Eve did (while her husband was WITH her)? What if every single talent and calling I seemed to have pointed toward a career in higher education? Why did my entire identity have to be wrapped up in my gender instead of my basic humanity?
Still I kept quiet. Maybe I was the only one who felt a bit second-class. Maybe I was just thinking too hard about it. Did nobody else have these questions? Was I the only one?
Fortunately, I found out that far from being the only one, I was actually one of a rising number in the church who questioned the validity of our theories and practices when it came to gender.
And it all started by reading the Bible from the beginning all the way to the end, where prophecies about God’s future kingdom talk about a time when wrongs will be made right, tears will be wiped away, and sin and the curse lose all their power.
And that’s where I’ll pick up next time: right at the beginning.