Twice my husband left me. The first time, he moved months ahead of our family to attend Chicago's most prestigious business school. I was pregnant with our third child. The second time, he moved months ahead of us to Toronto, accepting what we both considered an irresistible career opportunity. I stayed behind with the five little ones—and the responsibilities.

Our arrangement could illustrate the burden of complementarian theology. Men are imagined leading in their marriages and churches, fleet-footed after their dreams. Women are pictured trailing behind, bedraggled with the demands of self-sacrifice. I sometimes can't help wondering if the stereotypes are true.

Yet they aren't the full truth, and misunderstandings about complementarians abound. At a recent women's conference, I heard a speaker describe her egalitarian upbringing, saying it wasn't until college that she recognized the breadth of theological difference on this issue.

"I was shocked. And to be honest, I was heartbroken. It had never occurred to me that in this day and age, so many people just like me were being sidelined," she said. Her implication? Complementarianism was theology that should have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Like me, the closet complementarians in the room may have sensed the muting of their voices in a circle designed to celebrate them.

When my husband and I graduated from Wheaton College, we married as committed egalitarians. I did not vow to submit on our wedding day. My husband and I both believed that male headship was a sign of the curse (Gen. 3:16).

But somewhere over the years, our ideas changed. Maybe our egalitarian confidence eroded, slowly and imperceptibly, in our complementarian pews. However, if only to myself, I must insist that my theology has not formed exclusively through passive absorption.

From my earliest days of faith, I accepted the Scriptures' right to speak. I also owned my deaf ear. When it comes to reading and interpreting God's Word, the only real confidence I've maintained is in my own sinful hostility. Perhaps holiness was nearer in the answers I would rather refuse.

With this approach, many years into marriage, I—a headstrong, egalitarian woman—embraced a complementarian reading of 1 Corinthians 11:3: "But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." I sought the truth—and made an interpretive decision.

I knew from classes at Wheaton that head could be interpreted as "source," not "authority." Still, I couldn't deny the plain truth that while on earth, Jesus Christ deferred to his Father's authority.

I found a defense for the holy beauty of submission when I hadn't gone looking for it. Jesus Christ, obedient to his Father, went willingly to his death—for me. Was I to argue against the disposition that saved me? Running, I was caught.

Being a complementarian woman in an egalitarian world is wildly unpopular; it can also be perceived as decidedly ignorant. Some readers may sympathize with my hope for reprieve. And while the word has fallen out of favor with some, I know no other way to decide the contentions of my own heart than biblically. That verse continues to hold me in its grasp.

Recently, I returned to a commentary by New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays. I found hermeneutical candor from the strong egalitarian. Hays affirms that Paul is preaching male authority in this passage:

Any honest appraisal of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 will require both teacher and students to confront the patriarchal implications of verses 3 and 7–9. Such implications cannot be explained away by some technical move, such as translating kephalÄ“ as "source," rather than "head," because the patriarchal assumptions are imbedded in the structure of Paul's argument.

Hays posits this reading as a "problem" and suggests that we "consider other readings that might stand alongside Paul's and provide a challenge to it." But if disagreeing with Paul is the leap I must make to egalitarian theology, I remain reluctantly caught, even in this day and age.

Jen is a complementarian, we nod. I am described by the convenience of a category. One word makes me a friend or foe.

As generalizations generally go, the move to reduce complexity is unsatisfactory. In this debate, as in others, we cannot cram the wholeness of faith and praxis into the corset of a single word. And if we are frank, we could all admit to failing the standard of systematic.

I am a complementarian. But as is also true for my egalitarian sisters in Christ, that isn't all there is to know.

Jen Pollock Michel is a mother of five, speaker, and author of the forthcoming Teach Us to Want (IVP Crescendo).

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