Earlier this year, when I listened to John Piper address pastors and argue for Christianity's "masculine feel," I was outraged.
Weeks later, when I picked up the book Junia Is Not Alone, in which Scot McKnight reclaims the story of Junia and other lost historical Christian women, I sobbed.
So it may come as a surprise that I am a complementarian. I believe that men—not women—are commissioned by God to lead churches and families. Raised Southern Baptist, I learned that women should submit to their husbands. My childhood home hummed with the principles of submission, although if Dad were to ask how much Mom had spent on the new drapes, I was not to tell.
I was first exposed to the diversity of Christian opinion about gender roles while in Christian college. I heard credible, convincing egalitarian interpretations of Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2. Soon, I enthusiastically abandoned my (albeit confused) models of male headship. And so did my fiancé.
Egalitarianism "worked" for us in the early years of our marriage. But we eventually returned to complementarianism, and not for the reasons you might think. We did not return because we had trouble resolving arguments in the egalitarian mode. Instead, we read Scripture, and theological convictions took shape. We found ourselves asking whether we had rejected complementarian theology in order to accommodate our preferences.
It is this same suspicion of bias that Rachel Held Evans brings to her yearlong experiment in biblical literalism. In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans intends to expose the exegetical gymnastics we all use to contort the Bible. "We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it," writes the popular blogger.
It's with great interest that I've been reading Evans's recently released book. My interest is twofold: I share some of her suspicions about modern hermeneutics, and as a wife, mother, and theological writer, I have a genuine stake in the "biblical womanhood" debate. I do not, however, intend to review the book here. Rather, I'd like to address the misconceptions about complementarians that emerge around the book and because of it.
A recent Facebook comment drew my attention to these misconceptions. "Do you think the absence of a more substantive type of Christian female blogger like Evans is due in part to the complementarian position that women shouldn't be teaching men?" the commenter asked. "In other words, [are] complementarian women being told that godly women should be blogging about parenting and homemaking and loving their husbands and not worrying so much about theology?"
The comment revealed a false dichotomy between "serious" theology and "non-substantive" topics like parenting, homemaking, and relationships. And it's false because complementarian women I know treat the latter topics with serious theology.
Even if all complementarian women did prefer cookbooks to systematic theologies—and they don't—theological seriousness is not qualified by content but method. And it is just as theologically substantive to talk about homemaking from a biblical perspective as it is to discuss scientific theory or any other feature of contemporary life. Both could be approached in theologically credible ways—and both could be mishandled. To reduce what is theologically serious and substantive to a narrow band of topics is to forget that all of life belongs to God.
Moreover, the impulse to designate "domestic" topics as theological provincialism keeps us from noticing how very domestic our theology is. As Christians, we remember the work and welcome the return of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of a meal. In her essay "The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work," Kathleen Norris makes the theological case for the value of domestic work, reminding us that cooking and cleaning invite us into the realm of an embodied faith that prays for daily bread. Mealtimes are a humble liturgy we perform every day with our friends and families: they bring God as close as the kitchen.
I have desperately needed this kind of theological thinking about kitchen work. More than five years ago, as the mother of three young children, I had planned to return to graduate school for a theological degree. But a week after meeting with one of the program's professors, I discovered I was pregnant. A month later, I learned I was carrying twins.
As the mother of five children with a fair amount of domestic work, I owe a debt of gratitude to those who have written convincingly about the beauty and spiritual value of domestic life, whose theological seriousness has helped me find more than drudgery at the bottom of my laundry pile. Many of them have been committed complementarians—women like Edith Schaeffer, men like John Stott. Because of the inherent value they placed on domestic roles and responsibilities, they have been best suited to show that my everyday cycle of rinse and repeat mattered to God.
Unfortunately, these and other credible complementarians and their theologically serious arguments are absent from Evans's book. Instead, readers walk away from A Year of Biblical Womanhood thinking that all complementarians pine for the era of Mad Men, worship at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and take our submission cues from Debi Pearl.
One of the most important points that Evans makes is that biblical womanhood isn't uniform. I wish she had acknowledged this diversity among complementarian women, which she caricatured too frequently to be helpful. Inadvertently, Evans may have succeeded in driving deeper the perceived divide between the woman who is theologically serious, and the housewife.
And like many other women, I might just be both.