As complementarians by large majorities have pointed out in past surveys administered by the blog, the multi-author blog entitled complegalitarian is not a safe place for complementarians.
It is not surprising that few comps are regular contributors. Any complementarian who contributes to the blog’s threads has to be prepared to face a chorus of authors and commenters who never cease belittling complementarianism and never rest until they contradict, not once but over and over again, the emphases, teaching, and exegesis of every non-CBE-style egalitarian whose arguments and conclusions come up for discussion.
I am not a complementarian. I am a (non-CBE-style) egalitarian. I have been accused of all kinds of things by egals on complegal's threads for not toeing the party line as they understand it. I can handle it. I have never toed a party line in my life. I’m not going to start now. I really am a famous bonehead. In my case at least, some things are not likely to change in life this side of death.
In the months in which I commented on complegal on a regular basis, I found the discussion on complegal to be poisonous whenever traditionals and complementarians were described as people who subscribe to a framework which is – no ifs, ands, or buts about it - demeaning to women and entitling to men. Unqualified assertions of this kind, no matter how obviously true they sound to some egals, demean the many women and men who have lived out and continue to live their married lives within a traditional framework or a complementarian framework in full obedience to the full counsel of God as they understand it. The assertions imply that something is fundamentally wrong with the women and men who so live and believe.
Assertions of this kind fail to make the most basic distinctions, such as the distinction between consensual and non-consensual hierarchical arrangements, and the distinction between authority exercised for self-serving ends and authority exercised to the advantage of another person. Consensual authority exercised to the advantage of other persons is a characteristic of all healthy marriages, traditional, comp, and egal, though "responsibility" and not "authority" is the word most often used today for that which is symbolized, in a traditional Eastern Orthodox wedding, by king and queen's crowns on the head of groom and bride.
Finally, assertions of this kind also fail to notice that in all frameworks, including an egalitarian framework, the husband is not and cannot be obligated to yield to his wife in details large or small. That being the case, the only reality that has a chance of making for a healthy marriage is that modeled for us, to use the classical example beloved by traditionals, in Joseph and Mary, both of whom had “submissive and obedient hearts,” before God above all, toward each other, and toward their fellow human beings.
I know traditionals, complementarians, and non-egals whose marriages benefit from the strengths of the framework they have chosen or accept as a given, the quality of whose married life outshines that of many egals. On the other hand, I know egals whose marriages benefit from the strengths of their framework of choice, the quality of whose married life is superior to that of many comps.
That is basic, baseline information as far as I’m concerned. Nonetheless, the implications of this information are often ignored by authors and commenters on complegal. The result is very troubling in my eyes. Conversion – the only kind that matters, repentance and commitment to love as defined for example in 1 Corinthians 13 – is possible within a patriarchal framework, a traditional framework, a comp framework, or an egal framework. If we think not, we have inadvertently made a marriage framework into the gospel and have begun to preach a false gospel.
Surfing the web, I have sometimes landed on blogs by complementarian authors who make sweeping and unqualified statements vis-à-vis egals of the same kind egals often do vis-à-vis complementarians on complegal threads. These same comps seem incapable of identifying the particular risks to which their framework is subject. But then, there are egals on complegal threads who are just as incapable of identifying the particular risks to which their framework is subject.
Since I am egal, I expected better from my fellow egals. I was far more impressed by the graciousness and balance of comps on complegal threads – David Lang and Marilyn Johnson in particular, both of whom have left complegal just as I am doing – than I was by the slash-and-burn style of many of the egals who dominate those threads.
Despite all this, I stuck with complegal for a long time, out of commitment to two kinds of people.
I feel I have a lot to learn from people who self-consciously seek common ground in the middle of the comp-egal spectrum. There are people who comment or used to comment on complegal who have a heart for this. I have learned much from those committed to dialogue and “middle-of-the-roaders” on complegal, and am thankful for complegal and to Wayne and Molly for making those discussions possible.
I expect to continue to benefit from the wisdom of people who are committed to learning from those whose paradigm choice is at odds with their own choice in venues outside of complegal, venues in which such discussion is not undermined by those who see the identification of strengths in a framework they have rejected and risks of the framework they have chosen as threatening to themselves and people they hold dear.
The second class of people I feel committed to are those who have experienced an abusive marriage and/or are in the midst of a marriage in which their spouse is not good-willed and may not even be a believer. Complegal has become a gathering place for a number of women who have been dehumanized by their husbands (mostly comp, sometimes egal). I have been blessed by the experience of friendship with people who are in this situation. I admire their tenacity and commitment to be well and serve God and share their witness.
On other hand, precisely because I care about the people concerned, the question must be asked: is complegal a place of healing for those coming out of, or still in, an abusive relationship?
I would love to say with a clear conscience that it is. But I do not see the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – in enough evidence in conversation to affirm that. Please note: this is also a self-criticism on my part.
In addition, many of the emphases I bring to the conversation are not going to bring healing to someone whose life has been taken away from them by a determined abuser.
On the contrary, many of the emphases I know to be helpful to other men and women trigger distress and reawaken trauma in those who have suffered and/or continue to suffer on account of an abusive spouse. Unwittingly then, by contributing to complegal, I enable works of the flesh, in others and myself, as I respond to responses by bringing up subjects which, by their very nature, pour salt into wounds.
The works of the flesh include: quarrels, fits of rage, antagonisms, and a judgmental spirit.
“Wrong” subjects include things like the topic of mutual abuse, a frequent reality but apt to be misused whenever a victim is at the mercy of a resourceful and determined abuser.
Another example: sin-issues, which regard us all, a topic subject to the same abuse the friends of Job put it to. We all have sin-issues. Job did, too. They were irrelevant however to his predicament.
In practice, that means it is wrong to bring up the topic of anger-management with someone who, if she became less angry, would only be that much more vulnerable to her abusive husband’s will.
I know this well as a pastor, but what does that mean in an online setting? That I should not bring up the subject of anger management at all, because, if applied by someone to the wrong situation, it would only make matters worse? Regardless, that is the structure of many of the conversations on complegal. Such conversations are pre-announced train wrecks.
It also isn’t possible to talk about exegetical questions in the way I was trained to do. My teachers include quite a few flaming feminists, but they are also uncompromising historical exegetes. Faithfulness to the text takes a back seat if the goal is to avoid the possibility that a particular abuse to which the text has been subject will occur in the future. If that is the goal, willy-nilly the exegesis becomes ideologically driven. Willy-nilly we should choose the exegesis which is subject to the least practical risks.
I understand. People who have been deeply wounded by abuse of the text’s apparent plain sense naturally seek out alternative ways of understanding the text. There isn’t much point to arguing the details. Whoever has the gall to suggest that the text probably means what people have usually thought it means is treated as a spoil-sport or a traitor to the cause.
It is no different with respect to books about what makes for an excellent marriage. Advice designed for couples who share a commitment to work together on their relationship will make matters worse if applied by one person, wife or husband, to a relationship in which her or his counterpart is determined to use good-will offers to his or her perverse advantage.
It was Eclexia, an egal who suffered abuse from an egal husband, who commented a couple of times on complegal, who drove this point home to me.
It makes no difference if the teaching is submission/submission (CBE-type egalitarianism) or love/respect (complementarian author and practical theologian Emerson Eggerichs). The probability remains that the abuser will take whatever submission/respect is offered and not submit/love in return.
If that is the case, one and the same blog cannot be a place of healing for those whose lives have been taken away from them by abusive spouses, and a place of bridge-building among those who wish to discuss strengths and weaknesses of complementarianism and egalitarianism and of comp and non-comp authors who teach about marriage for general audiences.
What is helpful and appropriate to one group will be, in more ways than one, unhelpful and inappropriate to the other.
In summary, I do not see complegal as a place in which healing for victims of abuse or bridge-building for people with that focus are in sufficient evidence to justify my participation in it. In my view, the two needs are different to the point of being impossible to satisfy in one and the same conversation.
If complegal should ever commit to bridge-building between traditionals, comps, and egals, and hold those who contribute as authors and commenters to contributing in that spirit, I would rejoin it willingly and in a heartbeat. If that were the true focus of complegal, however, a number of the blog’s current authors and regular commenters, I’m convinced, would walk away from it.
Bridge-building and bridge-burning are in
fact two very different activities. Both have their place in the grand scheme
of things, but one precludes the other in a conversational project which has a
minimum of coherency.