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Published Date: October 12, 2022

Published Date: October 12, 2022

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Cover of "Created to Thrive".

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The Scrupulous Pursuit of Biblical Womanhood

Editor’s note: This is a CBE 2022 Writing Contest Top 5 Winner!

My knees crumpled to the floor of the bathroom as I sobbed, grappling with an indescribable pain. Like so many times before, I desperately prayed something along these lines:

Lord, please change my heart to let me accept your good design for men and women. If you made it such that I should be under the unilateral authority of my husband or shouldn’t teach men, please change my stubborn heart to embrace my subordinate role. Please help me enjoy being a woman if it means a life of subordination.

I was in my final year of undergraduate studies. Somehow, I found the time to devour piles of books and articles on complementarianism and egalitarianism while also completing my circuit design projects and time-consuming computer programming homework. My heart and theology gravitated more and more toward egalitarianism, but I was stressed because it seemed to be the minority view in the church.

I was so afraid of offending God by rejecting his complementarian design for men and women, if complementarianism was indeed the answer.

An Avalanche of Questions

For me, I feel a missionary calling on my life, and complementarian theology stressed me out considerably as I wondered what limitations applied to me as a woman. Would I be allowed to teach the gospel to men as well as women? If not, it was already too late for me, as I had shared the gospel with some male friends before. Did that mean I should repent of that? I’d also corrected the flawed theology of a male church attendee (who thought he could get to heaven by his good works) during a one-on-one meeting. Should I repent of that?

Was I taking unjustified authority over these men?

I also had (and still have) a strong desire to be a wife one day. Would I have the honor of loving my husband sacrificially and laying my life down for him as Christ did for his church, or is that not my role to play? Would my future marriage be guided by mutual love and the submission that naturally flows from that, or rather by trying to perform gender roles correctly?

These questions and more regularly flooded my brain and demanded answers.

Discovering Scrupulosity OCD

Around one year ago, I learned that I have a condition called scrupulosity obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is a flavor of OCD that plagues religious and moral convictions. I had discovered that I have symptoms of OCD during college, and had worked with my college therapist to stop repeatedly checking that the faucet is off, my phone battery isn’t overcharging, etc.

Learning how OCD has also affected my walk with Christ, which means everything to me, opened a new world of healing and compassion for me. I still have a long way to go in my journey toward wholeness but am so grateful for how far I’ve come.

Obsessively learning about God’s design for women and men was one of the biggest manifestations of scrupulosity that I’ve had to navigate. OCD often sticks to your greatest values and introduces intrusive fears in those areas.

I look back on these obsessive fears, along with my compulsive research and prayers, as clear indicators of OCD torment. But by God’s grace, I see many redemptive aspects to my scrupulous pursuit of what it means to be a woman and wife in the kingdom of God. Here are some key points that I’ve learned and applied to my walk with Christ.

1. I can disagree with complementarianism and speak against it while loving and respecting those who profess it.

I spent a season of my life mourning that many well-known and beloved pastors insist on a gender theology that used to bring me to the point of gushing tears and OCD compulsions of praying in distress for God to align my heart if I was denying the truth.

Since then, the Holy Spirit has amazed me by working in my heart to help me stand firm on the egalitarian principles and interpretations that I believe are true while also joyfully serving and fellowshipping with my complementarian brothers and sisters. Even when they are explaining the same complementarian concepts that used to trigger my compulsions, I am now able to disagree with a sense of tranquil assurance in my heart. Additionally, there is still much that I have to learn from them about our shared faith in Christ. Mutual respect is the starting point for fruitful theological deliberation.

2. God cares more about my heart attitude than my being right or wrong about gender theology.

One of my friends once wisely said that, when we get to heaven, we will all realize we were wrong about something. Let me amplify that point: we will get to heaven and realize we were wrong about many things! Even though my OCD would constantly demand that I get my gender theology straight (which is certainly extremely important to do), what is all the more important is continuing to cultivate a genuine and humble love of God and people by submitting to the Spirit’s lead and allowing biblical principles to inform (and reform!) our relationship with God and others.

This perspective helps me rest in the midst of theological uncertainty, ignoring OCD’s demand for perfect theology. God set me free of my paralyzing fear of accidental rebellion if I embraced gender theology that is actually incorrect. I trust the Spirit of God to lead me into all truth (as Jesus promised in John 16:13), and I trust the grace of God to catch me in all the places where I fall short. As I continue to study egalitarianism (no longer compulsively, but joyfully!), I find more and more reason to celebrate the freedom that it brings to God’s people.

3. The work of biblical scholars and translators is of paramount importance in understanding the Word of God.

Over the course of my intense exegetical study, I’ve been upset to find less-than-ideal translations (such as “helpmeet” for the powerful Hebrew term ezer kenegdo in Gen. 2:18) and also blatant interference with the text (such as inserting the words “a symbol of” before “authority” in 1 Cor. 11:10 and changing Junia’s name to the masculine Junias in Rom. 16:7). Such translation decisions have significantly informed the church’s centuries-long stance of female inferiority as well as the current teaching of complementarianism. How many women have been hindered in their life calling due to these teachings built on a shaky foundation?

We need to lament and learn from these incorrect translations and their far-reaching ramifications. Oftentimes, during my OCD-fueled quest for certainty, I buried myself in different scholarly works examining Greek and Hebrew word roots. Reading different interpretations of the Greek word kephale, translated to “head” and used heavily in the theology of male headship, was practically an established hobby of mine for at least a year. Since I have let go of that controlling and torturous drive for a perfect theology of gender, I have been able to more joyfully explore the world of exegesis and Bible translations.

When it comes to gender theology, which has myriad lifestyle implications, we cannot overstate the importance of having a strong understanding of the cultural context of Bible passages and their meaning to the original audience. After all, as the adage goes, any text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text!

4. God loves women deeply and will continue empowering them for the generations to come!

I’ve been blessed to grow up in a family that loves the Great Commission. Countless missionaries, pastors, and ministers from many nations have come to our family’s home for dinner to share their stories. I myself have also been honored to partake in mission work in various countries.

Everywhere I go, I see evidence of the prophet Joel’s beautiful and powerful prophecy coming true, which Peter echoed in Acts 2:17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” I deeply admire the women in my life who have brought the power of the gospel and Christ’s love to different nations, where so many men, women, and children have responded joyfully and had their lives changed, for their good and God’s glory. God is actively changing the world by partnering with his daughters to pour out the Holy Spirit on all people. Many women have paved the way in various ministries as wise, compassionate, and God-fearing leaders.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the church could fully embrace this truth and encourage women to live out their God-sized dreams? How many more people would come to realize the depths of Christ’s love if we empowered women as leaders just as we do men? I can only imagine!

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash.

Related Reading

Pastors, Please Stop Preaching A Narrow “Biblical Womanhood”
Does Scripture Subjugate Women Or Do We?
On Being a Woman After God’s Own Heart: Biblical Womanhood, or Cultural Womanhood?