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Meeting Complementarian Women Where They're At

On May 03, 2016

In January, Kristin Rosser wrote an excellent article entitled "The Consequences of Complementarianism for Men." It began with an imaginary conversation between a complementarian husband and wife. The wife expresses frustration that her husband has not prioritized finding a solution to a broken dishwasher, because the burden of hand washing dishes has fallen on her. Specifically, we learn that he does not wash dishes and has been absent at dish time. When the husband perceives that his wife is undermining his decision to purchase a new dishwasher instead of fixing their current one, he ends the conversation by saying that she must support his choice, and she agrees.

While this certainly reflects the dynamic in some households who practice one-way submission, it does not reflect all of them. I hesitated over whether to write anything in response, but after much reflection, I have decided to do so. It is important to hear alternative voices and consider other viewpoints. 

I was raised in a modestly complementary household, so I decided to share my experience.

I have written about my mother on this platform before. She was unable to finish her college degree until my father retired from ministry. I do not want to, in any way, minimize her pain in making that sacrifice for him.

However, I also want to balance the narrative by saying that I do not believe my mother would have seen herself as oppressed. She chose to marry my father and leave college. She wrestled with a call to missions at the time, and admits that she might have put her fear of remaining unmarried above her obedience to God.

My mom’s family did not pressure their daughters into marrying. She and her older sister were the first people in their family to attend college, and my grandparents were immensely proud of them. They were disappointed when my mother didn’t complete her degree.

Growing up, it seemed that Mom was the head of our household, not Dad. While he buried himself in his church study, she kept our house running. She signed our report cards and made my sisters and I do our homework. She made our clothes and our meals.

If we needed disciplining, she was the one who did it, calling on my dad for support only if it was a serious matter. She made sure our bills got paid and balanced the checkbook every month. And she did all this while fulfilling the traditional “role” of a minister’s wife.

We may be tempted to downplay her life, saying that she “only” performed the duties of wife and mother.

I heard Mom say over the years that she sometimes wished her duties as a minister’s wife didn’t take up so much of her time. She loved sewing and cooking. Indeed, some of my most cherished memories with her were spent bending over the sewing machine or rolling out bread dough on our kitchen table. 

When she did eventually finish college, she pursued a degree in education. And now, she is preparing to retire so she can spend more time with her grandchildren.

When my mother told me that she believed in headship and submission a few years ago, I was utterly astonished. I had always regarded my parents as equals because they treated each other that way. I never saw them make a major decision without praying together and then moving forward in what they both agreed was God's path.  

They served together in ministry. And when my mother finished her degree and continued on to get her master's, my father encouraged her and did everything he could to support her.

It never occurred to me that my mother might regard herself as inferior to my father in any sense, or that he would think of her that way.

In terms of ministry, yes, it is true that she felt subordinate.

She felt that her role was to support my father, and she did not approve of women serving as ordained ministers. 

However, God worked on both of my parents over the years. Now, they have changed their minds.

Their prejudice against women in ministry came from their upbringing. After their marriage, God led my father into serving with a denomination that supported women ministers. Gradually, as my parents saw that God used both men and women leaders for his service, their conviction softened.

God also used me in this process. When I went to live in England and became a lay minister, they saw God using me and realized that God had called me to preach.

Fighting the oppression of patriarchy, named or not, is essential. I also think it's important for egalitarians to avoid generalizing about the experiences of complementarians.

If anyone had told my mother and me that we were oppressed those many years ago, we would not have understood. Oppression of women happened in other countries, where women could not vote or attend school, or were under the absolute rule of their husbands and fathers.

Some women are ready to embrace freedom right now, but others have yet to recognize that there might be a better way. Like missionaries, egalitarians today must meet complementarian women where they are at in their journeys. This might entail simply living an egalitarian life and being ready to explain when the chance arises.

However God uses you, whether as a bold defender of egalitarianism, a trailblazer in your church, or a faithful friend ready to lovingly defend your convictions when needed, I pray that God will bless you in your efforts to change hearts. 


This is a forum for conversation and learning. Please keep dialogue constructive and engage respectfully with those who have different perspectives. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or attacking. We also encourage you to share our articles on Facebook and Twitter. We need your help to spread the message of gender equality. 

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