Egalitarian Beliefs: Addressing the Sense of Inferiority Among Women

Dealing with the Sense of Inferiority

As I mentioned before, egalitarians could also be using this emphasis on public recognition in Application #2 to address a different issue: the sense of inferiority that some women have for being females. Now, I do think that this is a serious problem for some women, and let’s consider the Danvers Statement again to see if complementarians have addressed this, especially Affirmations #1, 2, 5, and 6.

Looking at these affirmations from the Danvers Statement, it is safe to conclude that complementarians do believe that women are 1) created in God’s image, 2) equal before God as persons, 3) distinct in their womanhood and 4) of equal high value and dignity as men. Moreover, complementarians do acknowledge that there were serious distortions introduced by the Fall that redemption in Christ aims to remove. In case of any confusion, the Danvers Statement defines the distortions in Affirmation #4.

The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.

-In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.

-In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.

It is these distortions that complementarians believe that redemption in Christ aims to address and remove, and this work is prayerfully going forth in the Church. Now, I do understand that there are still some complementarians who believe that the ideal Christian wife is the ‘doormat’ type who just looks cute, says nothing, and does whatever she is told. Personally, I would not call those people complementarians at all, but there are some who claim the title for themselves. And it may be that people who hold these views are promoting a sense of ‘inferiority’ among women, but I would at least like to set the record straight that Biblically-sound complementarians do NOT believe that women are inferior in the least bit. They recognize that women serve different God-ordained functions, but a difference in function does not mean that a woman is different in value, especially before God. And they also recognize and appreciate the hard work that their fellow sisters in Christ do for the kingdom of God, whether it is in their own homes, in the church, in the community, or in the world, and encourage them all the more to be faithful and diligent in their labors until that final day.

Circling the Wagons back to the Doormat

Before, I end this blog, I feel like it is necessary to come back to this sense of inferiority that women oftentimes feel. To speak frankly, I’ve often wrestled with feeling inferior as a married woman. No, my husband never told me anything crazy to make me feel that way, but I began to wrestle with those feelings once I left my job and found myself at home with a newborn and nothing to do any more. Then, once I began to experience small moments of joy doing some housekeeping tasks or assisting in a church ministry, I got hit again with ‘You had so much potential. You’re just wasting it being at home like this. Surely the Lord wouldn’t want you to waste your education, skills, and talent to just be at home.’ After having those words marinate in my mind for a while, I became despondent and depressed all over again and found myself struggling with my own sense of worth.

At this point in my life, almost 3 full years of being at home, I have come to recognize that we are fighting a war, dear sisters, and it behooves us not to forget that. We are fighting a spiritual war, and we have a formidable foe that is extremely clever and employs many schemes intended to ultimately cause us to fall away from the faith. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 tells us:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

This verse tells us that a good deal of our spiritual battle will be fought against thoughts, opinions, and arguments that go against the knowledge of God, the same knowledge we find in the Word of God. Dear sisters (and brothers), Satan will twist the Word of God any way he can to cause us to not understand it properly, to focus on the wrong things, and to ultimately get so frustrated with it, that we walk away from it, and away from God. Consider this passage from Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura:

Satan can try to persuade us to misapply and misunderstand the Word, and so inoculate people against its proper meaning…The devil twists the Word of God in innumerable ways, and he does this ultimately to get people to reject it. If he can get people to reject the Word outright, he has then made an effective attack on God. But, more often, he twists the Scripture so that God’s character is maligned, the person and work of Christ are distorted, God’s grace is perverted, and man’s sin is misrepresented. Satan also tries to disfigure the Word through false doctrine…Satan’s principal weapon is falsehood…The devil knows how to lie in ways that appeal to our sense of deserving, our sense of worth or lack of worth, and our sense of rights and wrongs. You name it – Satan can lie about it (p. 27-28)

As women, when we’re struggling with those thoughts and feelings of inferiority, not having much value, and uselessness, we must keep in mind that we are fighting a spiritual battle, and we must be clothed with the whole armor of God. We cannot expect to fight and win in these battles with such things like a little public recognition, a few likes on Facebook, a couple of more followers to our blog, and other petty things that merely gloss over the bigger fact that we are at war against thoughts and ideologies that are directly opposed to God.

Now, I do not want to say this to the complete disregard of many who have grossly misunderstood and misapplied the Scripture, causing much harm to many, but every single Christian must realize that we are each called to stand, to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Women are not going to be standing in the shadows of men here, and wives will not be behind the shields of their husbands. No woman will ever hear the Lord say that she is too weak to pick up the sword and fight. But we each have to put on our belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, readying our feet with the gospel of peace, taking up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (that is, the word of God), and be diligent in prayer. Everyone of us has to do this because we will be engaged in battle until our dying breath. And when we fail to do this, we will succumb to believing lies, being swayed by erroneous arguments, being led astray by clever ideas, and even falling prey to the deceitfulness of our own hearts.

The egalitarian belief that public recognition will help women not feel inferior and help to keep them within the faith and the church is an optimistic idea and approach, but unfortunately, it does not get to the root of the problem. The complementarian belief that it is redemption in Christ that will remove the distortions introduced by the curse after the Fall is the solid bedrock that all Christians, men and women, should be standing on. Our identity must be found in Christ alone. We must heed the exhortation of Paul found in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Complementarians, appealing to the effects of the redemptive work of Christ, recognize that we must all be transformed by the renewal of our minds to remove the distortions of the roles and functions of men and women in the home and in the church. This renewal will continue throughout our Christian lives as we come to study and understand the Word of God more clearly and as the Spirit applies the Word to our lives. As we are continually renewed, we will grow stronger so that we are able to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy and fight in this war, whether it comes through false doctrine or the overwhelming feelings of inferiority and uselessness.

Special Note: Being transformed by the renewal of our minds is accomplished primarily through the hearing, reading, and studying of the Word of God. But we must also believe that the Word of God is literally the Word of God, from God. When we hold views that the entire Bible is not inspired by God, or that people wrote in their own personal views or preferences, or that the whole Bible is not authoritative to the Christian, then the promise that the Spirit of God will renew our minds is null and void. We cannot be equipped for battle nor can we stand firm and be victorious when these attacks come because we will be lacking in our faith because we failed to believe the truth, that is God’s Word. “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:35-39)

Egalitarian Beliefs: Public Recognition

You can check out my previous blog here, but I want to pick up quickly where I last left off with Christians for Biblical Equality’s (CBE) Application #2.

In the church, public recognition is to be given to both women and men who exercise ministries of service and leadership.

In so doing, the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers. In a world fractured by discrimination and segregation, the church will dissociate itself from worldly or pagan devices designed to make women feel inferior for being female. It will help prevent their departure from the church or their rejection of the Christian faith.

In their second application, CBE highlights the need that all members of the church should be publicly recognized for the work that they do in the ministry. They believe that by doing so, “the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers.” This would also cause the church to distance itself from the ways that the world currently uses to make women feel inferior for being women, and it would help to secure the faith and commitment to the church of these women.

I personally find that this application causes a lot of questions to arise in the mind of the reader. For instance, does public recognition really promote and model unity and harmony? Will public recognition cause a woman to feel better about herself? What are the ‘worldly or pagan devices’ that they have in mind here? Is the church obligated to publicly recognize the work of all of its members? And will receiving public recognition really cause some women to remain in a church or not leave the faith if they are intent on leaving? I am sure that my complementarian brothers and sisters would ask more penetrating questions, but the point is to see if complementarians have formally addressed this issue or not. However, I am not sure if the emphasis is actually on addressing an overall lack of public recognition or if it is attempting to address and remedy the sense of inferiority that a lot of Christian women feel with public recognition. So, I’m going to address public recognition in this blog and take a look at the Danvers Statement again.

Public Recognition

Looking through the Danvers Statement, I actually did not find any statement addressing the need for the public recognition of the work of men and women in the church. However, to offer some sort of examination of practices that may be found in complementarian churches, I will refer back to my former church homes since I’ve been married.

In our church in Louisiana, I do believe that there was a level of public acknowledgement of the work of women and men in the church; however, this acknowledgement did not come in the middle of the church service or from the pulpit. Oftentimes, if the women and men serving on various ministries needed more help or volunteers, our pastor would stop Sunday school early to make a mention of the important work of the ministries, thank those who already participate and contribute, and encourage others to sign up and help fulfill the needs. In our church in Colorado, women and men served in various capacities throughout the church. Soon after I arrived, the women serving in the kitchen for lunch preparation (and there was lunch every Sunday) began to feel pretty rushed because as soon as church would end, people would come rushing downstairs to eat, and they had not finished with their preparations. So, they appealed to the elders to get people to wait at least 10 more minutes to give them time to finish and breath before the rush. Our elders were highly responsive to their needs, and they made mention of the need before the congregation at the end of service and made everyone wait at least 15 extra minutes just to make sure the women had enough time. Obviously, the women felt appreciated, and we did not have any subsequent problems.

I give these two examples as evidence that there are complementarian church pastors and elders that do recognize the work of women and men in the church and appreciate them for it. No, there were no elaborate announcements of recognition or any special ceremonies, but people were not acting like work got done by itself. Moreover, in these churches, people were individually appreciative for the work of other people. So, it was not surprising to hear about a member sending another member a little note of appreciation, or dropping by a basket of goodies to say thanks. People didn’t mind meeting up with each other to treat one another to coffee or call someone up to just say thank you. Thus, it appears to me that there was a lot of recognition going on, but the recognition was largely personal and private.

That being said, complementarians should look at this application and examine themselves individually to make sure that they are showing appreciation to others for their hard work and also recognizing that it takes committed members to get things done each week. This appreciation and recognition can be displayed genuinely in a multitude of ways, and we should all be striving to heed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Here, we have a series of explicit commands that our love for our fellow brothers and sisters should be genuine and our Christian walk ought to be real. Now, I do understand that some people may take this verse to be a basis for why we should have public recognition in the church, but I believe that the context of this verse is for the individual Christian in his or her life. Paul is always very clear about what should take place in the church throughout all of his epistles, and he did not make any indication here that this “showing honor” should take place in a corporate setting.

What of recognition that is actually public?

Now, remembering my egalitarian upbringing in the Black Baptist church, public recognition for the work of men and women in the church was fairly non-stop. Just to give you an idea, I remember attending these services multiple times through the years: Pastor’s Appreciation, First Lady (the Pastor’s wife) Appreciation, Usher’s Day, Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Youth Day, Church Choir Appreciation, Deacons and Deaconesses Day, and Founder’s Day (which could also be called Church Anniversary or Homecoming Service). Not only that, we had church-wide birthday celebrations for the pastor, for his wife, for the ordained ministers in the church, for the minister of music, and whoever else someone thought was important enough to make an event out of it. But not only that, we also attended the same celebration days at other churches in our county, and we were expected to serve in those other churches for those celebration and appreciation services. Now, this may seem a little extreme to you, but we believed in public recognition for EVERYBODY’s work in our church. And yes, I did spend a lot of time at church each year going to these events.

Being older and considerably more mature, I think that these events were well-intentioned, but considerably over the top. Not only that, it greatly took away the reason why we come to church in the first place! Instead of focusing on the worship of our God and Savior, we were extolling the praises of our fellow brothers and sisters and holding actual church services to honor men.

Final Thoughts on the Complementarian Position

Considering the complementarian emphasis on being grounded in Biblical doctrine and faithfully consistent to it, I believe that the main reason there is no statement on showing public recognition to women and men who serve in ministries in the church is because there is no explicit Biblical basis for that practice (at least I have not come across one yet). Now, there is an explicit command found in 1 Timothy 5:17, and even the context of this verse is largely about making sure that good elders are taken care of as they do their work in the church, aside from receiving respect. But outside of that, the Bible actually charges us not to seek public recognition or praise when we perform good deeds or labor diligently for the Lord. Please consider Colossians 3:17 and verses 23-24 when you get a chance.

Finally, one last important passage that should be considered is 1 Corinthians 12:21-26. I believe that it is this text that mentions the overall harmony and unity that should be present in the church and the attitude that we ought to have for one another. We are told that our weaker parts (or members) are indispensable and that we bestow greater honor on those parts that we think are less honorable because God has composed the church in such a way that greater honor is given to the part that lacks it and for no division to occur. Clearly, this is the manifold wisdom of God on display that the things no one really wants to do in the church (i.e. vacuuming, picking up trash, set up, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) are actually indispensable to the church, whereas the things that people generally want to do (i.e. head up a new ministry, be a small group leader, be an advisory board member, etc.) are really the things that no church absolutely needs to be a good church. Not only that, God Himself gives honor to the less honorable parts, and He does this so that we have a balanced appreciation and high respect for all of the work that our fellow brothers and sisters do within the church, from the pastor to the janitorial staff.

The honor we receive from the Lord should not be expected in this life, although it may at times occur. But, we know with absolute certainty that the honor we will receive from the Lord will come when we behold Him face to face. We are responsible as members of the body of Christ to honor and respect every person within the body and appreciate their contributions to the church, and we need to carefully examine ourselves to make sure that we are being obedient to God’s Word in this area. However, personal appreciation and honor does not necessitate public recognition.

In my next blog, I would like to jump back and deal with the sense of inferiority that this application mentioned.