What does it mean for men and women to be “one in Christ”?
My small contribution to Rachel Held Evans' One in Christ: Week of Mutuality series.
My conversion from a complementarian to an egalitarian did not begin with exegesis or my marriage. It began because of an ongoing close friendship I had with a single woman. I know that’s an unusual, out-of-the-box, way to a paradigm change but that’s how it all started for me.
I know for some it is shocking. My shift started not with Bible study but with intimacy and an outworking of mutuality with my friend. I saw strong leadership gifts in my friend, and I wanted to call them out. But I was a complementarian. What was I going to do?
Liz Carmichael, in her book Friendship, suggests that the “deep meaning of society is that people should ‘live as friends with one another.’”
Mutuality. Love. Friendship. Intimacy. No matter where one turns when one explores the flourishing of women in marriage, church, and society, the themes of love, friendship, and intimacy are all connected to mutuality.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to a robust mutuality between men and women - after we get beyond the proof-texts - is intimacy between men and women.
One night you come to understand that a complementarian reading of the Bible is wrong.
What happens when you rise the next morning?
Your first step in walking out mutuality and intimacy.
Wait a second. What does intimacy have to do with the egalitarian-complementarian debate?
The next step forward as an egalitarian is deconstructing patriarchal structures of gendered intimacy and power in marriage, friendship, church, and world.
It is a resistance to the ethos of control. As a complementarian I encountered a challenge as I came to know my friend. As I came to know her I could see she had leadership gifts and potential. In my love for her I wanted to be free to explore the most promising possibility for her—including the possibility of ordained pastor.
Of course, there was one problem. As a complementarian, my gendered structure of intimacy prohibited that. At first, I settled for what I could within the paradigm of masculine oneness where overt and covert sexism reigns. I said to myself there are many possibilities available for her through the lens of my complementarian structure.
But there was still an ongoing challenge. As our friendship grew, my desire for her to have the most promising possibility to flourish in this life also grew.
Would I be a voice in her life for deepening freedom to explore not just immediately available opportunities within a limited complementarian paradigm or search for the most promising possibility?
Then it came to be a question of risk, vulnerability, mutuality and intimacy. Was I going to let our growing connection and my desire for her to explore the fullness of what God could do in her story open the door for me to rethink the complementarian paradigm?
I could not escape the fact that although she might never be ordained I wanted her to be free to experience the most promising possibility for her voice, her passions, her uniqueness.
It was in this ongoing developing process that I became aware of what it means to be committed as a friend to her particular goodness and beauty. Her best interests opened the door for an uncomfortable place of vulnerability for me. I knew she was affecting me. Yet, complementarian exegesis required that I distance myself from that and control the deepening intimacy I was experiencing.
This put me in an uneasy position of questioning God’s authority (i.e. the “clear” reading of the proof-texts) versus acting on my friend’s behalf as an advocate for her most promising possibility. This had me questioning the moral possibilities for my friend.
I could avoid this vulnerability to a particular person that I was experiencing in our deepening intimacy. Or, I could think about this as an opportunity for even greater intimacy and oneness with her and become vulnerable to a larger story of freedom and intimacy between men and women in Christ.
I said yes to that first step of rethinking intimacy between men and women in Christ. I did not come to mutuality through conventional evangelical means. Evangelicals are so frightened to allow a dyadic friendship to open the door for richer hermeneutics between men and women. In so doing, though, I believe I stepped into an even greater story of oneness between men and women: the beauty of a mutual world through friendship.