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The Fear Factor

Recently I read on another blog that the writer had not read anything about helping people face the fear of moving from a complementarian position to that of an egalitarian. Maybe this is true for many of our readers so we would like to give opportunity for folks to write here of their struggle and fear while considering what would happen should they embrace a new way of looking at how God loves us all equally and shows no partiality for people of  particular gender, race or class.

There is the major fear of going against what is perceived and taught as God’s plan for women and men. God-fearing women and men don’t want to cross the line into ‘liberalism’ which entails ignoring what are seen as obvious commands and ideals for how we should live in the home and church community.

There is also the fear of being ostracised by people which in some circles can mean not only loneliness but a cutting off from all forms of support – monetary, emotional, social and family ties. To embark on a journey into a belief in what can be termed ‘heresy’ is a great step of faith and takes enormous courage.

For those of you who have made the step across this ‘great divide’, you might have some encouragement of how it was for you and some suggestions about how it can be less fearful.

For those who are still weighing up whether equality is really biblical and/or whether you are ready to count the cost of ‘changing your mind’, please feel welcome to share your doubts, questions and hesitations.


  1. Kathy
    Comment #96172 posted April 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I recently dumped all my RSS feeds of male-written blogs and discovered a whole new world of female bloggers! “Egalitarian” is still a new word in my vocabulary, but it resonates deeply in my soul. I haven’t told my patriarchal church about my enlightenment yet, and I don’t know what repercussions I will experience when I do. I look forward to reading the comments here.

  2. Michelle
    Comment #96173 posted April 17, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I have been a feminist for many years, certainly longer than I have been christian. I attended a relatively egalitarian church in a complementarian denomination for a number of years, because long story short, I felt as though it was where God was leading me (though I stayed 2-3 years too long by my count: but that’s a different story altogether).

    I never really bought into the idea that God placed men in charge of women, and women were created to follow men *and* to enjoy doing so or they were sinful and broken because of not being happy about their subordination to roughly half of the human race. Yet.

    The arguments I heard from scripture seemed, if not iron-clad, wrapped up and tied with a floppy pink bow. And they seemed unquestioned in the church culture, if not typically addressed from the pulpit: No one talked about it, discussed it, questioned it. It was okay in this church in a Calvinistic denomination to question Calvinism and discuss Arminianism, but even my keeping my own last name got push-back from some folks, and it was hyphenated on the church rolls for years before I found someone who cared enough to take the time to correct it.

    So I was afraid to speak up. I certainly couldn’t ask my main question there–”Are there any intellectually sound alternatives to understanding scripture in a way that limits women (and men as well, so long as we’re being honest, but of course in different ways)?”

    I was afraid that I would hear the same interpretations I always had, with perhaps a slightly different spin or angle, explained to me as though I just hadn’t *understood* it properly the first time.

    I was afraid that people around me: in the church as well as some extended family members, would start talking about how I’m “not really a Christian”.

    I was afraid it would mean that I was such a bad person that I would deserve the way that I had been treated by my church.

    Many others have/have had a lot more to lose. I want to hear your stories. I want to try to better understand your perspectives as I try to minister to women who are more invested in the complementarian understanding of scripture: particularly those who have lived within complementarianism for decades. I cannot imagine the complexity of emotions that even considering that there might, *might* be a biblical alternative to complementarianism could bring rise to.
    Thank you.

  3. Comment #96174 posted April 18, 2012 at 5:33 am

    Thanks for this post Liz. Fear loses some power when it is exposed and I hope many will share. Sometimes I wonder if I have completely moved from one camp to the other over the fear of ‘getting it wrong.’ Then a situation or a post arises that makes my blood boil and I know which camp I am in, Egalitarian. The same church culture which ties things up with a pink bow and no one questions, is the same one that denies acknowledging our passions, or that there are any good ones.

    The dominating fear for me was fear of loss. That list is a long one headed by loss of my comfort zone and all the conflict that would enter my life with the change. Again the process of healing from a church culture that says, there should be no conflict between believers, continues to grow me up.

    I am so grateful for CBE and the Scroll. God blesses me through every reading.

  4. Don
    Comment #96175 posted April 18, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Being a male, I was in the group that got the “advantages” of the comp way of reading Scripture. And it was taught that it was an extra burden to carry, the need to make a final decision (whenever I decided a final decision needed to be made) and the supposed realization that even when I might make a bad decision, supposedly God would work things out, since we were doing things God’s way.

    The problem with that paradigm in my life is that I KNEW I had weak spots and blind spots and that those could carry over even into the decision of when a final decision needed to be made, that is, when I got to use my supposed God-given husbandly trump card.

    So I would screw up, sometimes royally, to where I learned that I might go slightly wrong when it was in the discussion stage, but I could go big time wrong when I played the trump card. So I learned to fear using my “trump card”.

    And I also knew that just the potential for using my “trump card” could distort the discussion phase, so I backed off there as well, since I could always override. This turned out to be a big mistake and was a personality flaw on my part, but I was just trying to juggle things so I did not dominate.

    Another way to put it is that I was just too immature in Christ to make the comp paradigm work. This is one of the main advantages I see to the egal paradigm, it is inherently safer. It does not guarantee successful outcomes, anyone can sin in either model, but it does not rely so heavily on the maturity of the husband to avoid abuse.

  5. Suzanne T
    Comment #96176 posted April 18, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Moving from a complementarian to an egalitarian mindset was not difficult for me. When I understood the truth in scripture, I was free to live by that truth. No fear. Although, to be candid, I never fully embraced that whole husband-as-master stuff.

    However,I have had difficulty finding my place in the “Egalitarian Community,” if such a thing exists. In addition to my understanding of my value as a Woman to God, I am unapologetically conservative and have strong opinions regarding treating people with respect and protecting families as special and sacred. In other words, I have firm boundaries regarding behavior, both in real life and online. Finding a community where that combination is accepted has been as elusive to me as finding a herd of unicorns or the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

    I think a large part of the problem is that most of the first wave of people who turned away from this complementarian movement are ground breakers. They are the ones who see an injustice and wage a protest. They are brave, passionate people. Many of them have been hurt by churches much more deeply than I will ever be able to understand. As a result, they have an extreme response to those who would disagree with even the smallest detail of how they are living out their belief system now. I may not fully understand it, but I get it.

    Since I have not experienced such extreme hurt, I sometimes say something I think is simply a mild disagreement with something and they go to war. Such a reaction is jarring and hurtful to me, so I choose to stay away. It would be nice for me to have a place to chew this over with others, but I can’t walk in lockstep with these beautiful but hurt people any more than I can with people I love in my local church. I am, for now, better off attending my local church where complementarianism rules the day.

    I know who I am. I am a warrior. I have real value. I am so much more than, “the little woman.” My relationship with God and my husband are enriched and blessed by my understanding of who I am. As I am moved to serve people in my community (in ways I can’t in my church), my identity continues to take on more depth and meaning. I may never find a place where I can be all that I am -and be accepted- this side of Heaven. But that’s OK. This world is not my home.

  6. Comment #96177 posted April 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Hi Suzanne. The Scroll aims to be just the sort of place you long for. If you read the
    “About the Scroll’ and ‘Comment Guidelines’ on the home page, you will see the intentions. It is true that many who have been liberated from huge oppression can be a bit too strong or not compassionate with others but we trust that in the Scroll community we can all learn more of how to disagree in love and understanding.

    Since you haven’t had such extreme hurt (to use your expression) you are in a good position to help others grow through their hurt and learn a better way to express the liberating truth of biblical equality.

  7. Suzanne T
    Comment #96178 posted April 18, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Liz, thank you for that! I’ve been lurking here for awhile, but have been hesitant to dip my toes into the water based on past experiences elsewhere. I’ll make an effort to contribute here in the future. I appreciate your kindness.

    Also, Don; preach it, brother! Looking at my 28-year marriage from this side it is obvious that the years I spent begging my husband to take on his “Biblical” role as Spiritual Head of the Household were some of the ugliest times in our relationship. My husband had no desire to rule over me. I even questioned his salvation over the issue once! Bless him, he’s since forgiven me.

    I have dear friends who spent years in submission to husbands who claimed to be “Godly Leaders,” only to discover affairs and other types of betrayal. These women are now without companionship, without education and without marketable skills. Living a complementarian lifestyle is risky business.

    God bless husbands who question their right to be Masters over their wives.

  8. Comment #96179 posted April 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I see it as an issue of justice and helping to set the oppressed free. What has been helping me to become bolder and braver in my egalitarian stance is to look at the examples others have set before me in standing up for what is right: The devoted love for Christ that Christian martyrs displayed even when facing death for their faith. The inspiring accounts of Christians who aided Jews during the Nazi reign even with the risk of being sent to concentration camps. Peaceful protestors (blacks & whites) boldly standing up for justice during the Civil Rights movement even though they might be beaten, imprisoned or ostracized. Watching the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” and witnessing the hardships the suffragettes endured for the sake of justice and gaining women the right to vote.

    I’ve often wondered, if I had been in any of those situations, what would I have done? Would I have let fear prevent me from standing up for what is right? I’d like to think that I would have been one of the risk-takers, too… but I don’t know.

    Yet here, with the current issue of gender equality, I see an opportunity set before me to stand up for what I believe the Bible teaches is right and just. I see a correlation between the belief and practice of gender hierarchy, when taken to an extreme, with many of today’s evils: domestic abuse in the home, the sex-trade (slave) industry and gendercide. Even in its milder forms within the church, women are being held back from experiencing freedom in Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 TNIV).

    As I began to take a bolder stand, I wondered if I would lose my friends who believe in complementarianism with hierarchy. So far, none have ostracized or rejected me. Maybe it’s because these friends are in the “soft comp” camp. I eventually did leave the church I had been attending during my own “awakening” from hierarchy to true equality. Now I’m plugged in at another church, which is a much better fit anyways. I’ve made new egalitarian friends both online and in person whose words have been encouraging me to grow much deeper in my faith and to continue to stand up for justice. I thought I might lose a lot, but I actually ended up gaining far more.

  9. Comment #96182 posted April 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    It has been my experience that searching deeply and intelligently into Scriptures is the best way to be sure we are standing rightly. It is unfortunate that the modern ways of exegesis are lacking in proper exegesis procedures. Instead of trying to truly understand what was happening in the apostles’ times, what the authors of the NT were speaking into and intending to bring to the believers, today’s readers often just cut and paste passages with the same word into a grouping. They snip passages out of their contextual homes and regroup them into a new doctrine, most often having little if anything to do with what the original authors were saying.

    Discussing interpretations with some comps is worse than pulling teeth. They refuse to hear that they might have made a mistake. They refuse to hear the fact that their interpretation is lacking because they left the context behind, or that the context of the Scripture they are using is in the previous chapter and can mean anything under the sun without the proper contextual foundation.

    Because I’ve spent so many years researching and re-researching and digging digging digging into Scriptures regarding these topics, with much prayer, I feel safe discussing and am no longer afraid of those who don’t know how to read Scriptures accurately. I know that I know that I know. This frees me to be gracious. It frees me to not have to answer at that time, but to wait for a better time. It frees me to say no when needful and not to feel ire. They are the ones with the problems. NOW, I am safe in Christ.

  10. Rosalind
    Comment #96183 posted April 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Firstly, this is a great discussion. I really like hearing all of your stories.

    In my own case, I do tend to be a fearful person sometimes, and if I’m honest I’m always a little bit doubtful about most things in my faith – questions like ‘is there really a God?’ crop up semi-regularly. And I’m very fearful that we’ve got it all wrong in regards to egalitarianism. I worry sometimes (and I’ve been accused of this by people at church) that this is some kind of idolatry, that I’m letting ‘worldly thinking’ trump what the Bible says. Even though I may know something intellectually, if I read the difficult passages or talk to a complementarian (who are always so very sure about what they believe) I end up feeling all sorts of unhappy.

    But then I think of Jesus and the way he treated women – such as the woman at the well, Mary and Martha etc and how loving and gracious and gentle He was with them. How he didn’t confine them, or his relating to them, by what was culturally expected. And that helps dispel the darkness of fear.

  11. Comment #96184 posted April 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Rosalind…thanks for sharing your fears. This is exactly why this post was written.

    Searching these things out tests our relationship with Christ and if we truly want to know God’s ways, he will reveal things to us as we wait. At the end of the day, we all have to stand before God on our own so it’s good to develop our trust in his goodness and know that ‘peace of God which passes all understanding’. Eventually, this will stay even when all around us people are telling us so many different things.

    We all need encouragement at times, however ‘experienced’ we are in knowing God. That’s why God has given us each other even though imperfect and still learning.

  12. Sue
    Comment #96199 posted April 23, 2012 at 9:10 am

    My journey on this issue was at the instigation of the Holy Spirit – quite uncomfortably-so! But now I see the whole thing as being based in fear, and that fear is the main problem. It was the Pharisees who, probably out of a great deal of piety, taught people that there was much to fear about God, that if they didn’t keep the law in all its minutiae, God would get them – and not just them, but all the people. This is the very main thing Jesus continually was up against and taught an alternative vision about. It’s why he kept healing on the Sabbath, even though there were six other days! What changed me was learning to read the scriptures through the lens of Jesus. This is the very meaning of “perfect love casts out fear” from Colossians: that when we understand the perfect love of God for us in Christ, we no longer have to be afraid he is going to get us for this or that thing – we are set free and empowered to act boldly as Jesus-followers (even if we make mistakes). The very paradigm that there is ONE model of being a woman or a man as a follower of Jesus misses the point – that’s what it means that in Christ there is no male or female (or ethnic division, or economic division) to which we are bound. So this egalitarian thing is about far, far more than what women are allowed to do. It is a fearful thing if we are still operating out of a gospel of fear! Sadly, the church I used to go to is not a warm place for me anymore – there are people there who will not speak to me (I am a pastor now, and they don’t think that’s kosher), and others who are visibly uncomfortable if I speak to them. There are also many wonderful people who love me even if they think I am wrong, but it’s hard to worship there. So, there have been losses, but above all there is the great gain of a much more alive relationship with God in Christ, as I learn more and more how to follow him in freedom and grace.

  13. Donald Guffey
    Comment #96200 posted April 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    My story into the Egalitarian way is simple – I was born. I have always been a believer in biblical equality although it wasn’t until I discovered CBE that I had the proper terms to explain my views. That being said it is so hard for me to remember that most people did not come to the egal way of thinking like I did and that indeed it was a decision that created a lot of fear and anxiety as well as great freedom and liberation. A friend of mine told me not too long ago about some research he had found on a particular part of the brain. This was fascinating to me because I have long been wondering why people get so worked up and “go to war” over issues as another person on this blog put it. Anyway the research showed that when a person’s worldview was called into question there is a part of the brain that reacts in the same way as if you were about to be killed by a predator! In other words if your world view is questioned by someone your brain will literally react as if that person were trying to kill you. I heard this and was like wow! no wonder. So it is hardwired in us I guess to be afraid of changing our minds. Of course this comes easier to some than to others (in other research it showed that the aforementioned part of the brain is less active in a person like me who has ADHD hence why changing my beliefs about anything has never really been hard). Anyhow just some random thoughts from your friendly Appalachian egal ;)

  14. Comment #96202 posted April 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Some of you are already aware that I have had something of the opposite experience. When I embraced religious feminism (Egalitarianism), I suffered no loss of friendships Oh, some questioned my zeal for this new way of seeing men and women, but none of my friends shunned me or severed relationship with me. I gained a few new friends, Doug and Rebecca Groothuis, Ron Pierce, Mimi Haddad and once attended Cathie Kroeger’s church and the SS class taught by her husband, Dick. I even became acquainted with some of the chief “Complementarians” who consistently engaged me, firmly and directly, but never shut me out, never blocked me.

    One of those men later told me there was something different about my questions – I had a way of zinging to the heart of “complementarian” weaknesses. And I never settled for the easy answers.

    Gradually, I realized that I had to let God be God, even though I didn’t understand how things were supposed to be. One day, I just sat down and told God, “Even if you *did* make me to be less than a male, I know I have to serve you.”

    Eventually, I happily and willingly embraced what is sometimes called sexual orthodoxy – not the half-measure of Complementarianism, but a full-blooded patriarchalism. I couldn’t believe the feminist/Egalitarian lie any longer. There was just too much — not prooftexts, but deeply woven into the very fabric of Sripture.

    Adam was created first. The woman Eve was made from the man, for the man and presented by God to the man. It continues from there, including God’s sovereign choice to establish His people, Israel, as a patriarchy, the overwhelming images of marriage through the Old and New Testaments, down to Christ as the Bridegroom coming to claim the Church, his Bride at the wedding feast to end all weddings. Christian marriage is to mirror this relationship with the husband standing as Christ to the wife as Bride. And the priest or pastor, who presides at the Eucharistic feast who stands in persona Christi. It all fits together or it falls apart. I also believe Steve Hutchens is right when he calls religious feminism a heresy — for if it does not deal directly with first order matters, because of the nature of Christ’s incarnation, it will surely ramify to matters of first importance, such as Christology. This is seen in some of CBEs own bloggers, speakers and leaders when folks like Don Johnson refuse to ascribe to any orthodox statement on the Trinity or Vaun Swanson denies Christ is now and forever the God-Man, that he no longer possesses a body of flesh. These are things things which must necessarily follow from religious feminism’s tenets and which will surely condemn those who hold them sincerely and knowingly. And, for the few who claim Christ had to be a male because of the culture of the time — they would do well to remember that God is in charge of the timing and Christ took flesh when the time was full, when it was right.

    What saddened me most in my embrace of patriarchalism was the complete loss (save one person) of my friends from CBE circles. Some of this even occurred when I began to ask uncomfortable questions, long before I “came out” as a patriarchalist. But the utter joy of serving God faithfully no matter the cost, more than made up for that. It was an unlooked for bonus, a completely unexpected joy that God, in his providence, has provided me with friends that love no matter what I believe. I have never known this depth of love, generosity and affection before. It is truly God’s gracious gift to me.

    I wish it were so for everyone. I don’t mean to imply the costs were minimal, but the joy of serving my Lord is immeasurable sweetness in comparison to the costs. His discipline is a grace.

  15. Comment #96203 posted April 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    And, yes, I did find that God hadn’t made me *less* because I am a woman Different – teleologically distinct — yet ontologically equal. It’s one of those paradoxes that lie at the heart of Christian orthodoxy.

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