“Remember, a dragon will always, always go for the kill,” instructs Gobber the Belch in the movie How to Train Your Dragon. Young Hiccup hears this statement, and suddenly a lightbulb comes on. Only a day or so before, Hiccup had cut loose the young dragon – later named Toothless – which was tangled in a net. The dragon’s reaction was instantaneous – he pounced on Hiccup, pinned him to the ground, gave a blood-chilling roar…and left.
In that one moment, the beliefs of the entire tribe collided with Hiccup’s personal experience. The dragon had had every opportunity to kill, but it chose not to. The experience and the belief were mutually exclusive – but only one could be true. Hiccup’s eyes widened, and all he had previously believed he knew about dragons began to unravel. A world of new possibilities opened up to him in an instant, with the result that he learned to fly on the back of a dragon, rather than dedicating himself to killing the creatures.
Life is sometimes like this – we receive a certain message all our lives, and one experience can forever change it.
Many of us have belonged to churches which have given a particular message to us about men and women – women can’t lead or preach, husbands must be the leaders in marriage, men want respect but women want love, and so on. Then one day, we have a “Hiccup moment,” and this paradigm begins to unravel.
Today’s post explores the stories of the “Hiccup moments” experienced by a number of men and women who had believed that the Bible restricted women to a secondary role in marriage and the church, while leadership positions were reserved for men (this position is known as “complementarianism”), and of the moments which changed their view to one which embraces mutuality in marriage and believes that all ministry roles are open to both men and women (“egalitarianism”). Sometimes, the actual journey is long, but somewhere in there is that one “a-ha!” moment where old beliefs suddenly cease to make sense.
“I had been taught that the husband was the benign leader in marriage by people I respected and the Scriptures seemed obvious. However, someone I knew did not think this idea was correct. I was going to a Christian counsellor at that time and he suggested that I read a book on it. I thought it would be easy to dismiss any arguments and at first I did.
“But I kept reading and found some (questions) that I had to ‘put on the shelf’ for later deeper thought. Eventually I finished the book and I had about a handful of things on the shelf. These were puzzling and I did not see an obvious way to solve these puzzles.
“But I was a math major and I knew that one way to prove things in math is to assume the opposite of what you wanted to prove and then show a contradiction. So I decided to temporarily ‘put on the egalitarian hat.’ This was my moment of conversion, as I saw that the puzzles went away and that the benign leader idea was actually keeping half the body of Christ in bondage. Gack! So I repented. I then continued to study to make sure. I find I sometimes agree with an argument raised by a complementarian and sometimes disagree with an argument raised by an egalitarian, but overall the egalitarian position is much stronger and more aligned with Scripture.”
“My ‘aha’ moment came years ago just reading the Bible for myself and I came upon Genesis 3:16. I had read that passage dozens of times, but that morning it popped out at me. ‘AHA!!!! It came from the Fall!!!’ It would be years later when I’d follow up on that and reconcile the apparent discrepancies I had seen elsewhere, but from that moment on it was obvious to me that patriarchy was representative of a fallen world and not God’s best for humanity.”
Ashley’s friend John asked her some questions about women’s roles which caused her to go home and search the Scriptures on this issue.
“I’m going to be completely honest with you: my intention of studying was to find the right complementarian answers so I could come back to our next discussion and completely blow him out of the water. I knew I was right, that he was confused and that I should be the one to set him straight.
“So this is what I did: I studied what the complementarians believed and said about themselves and what they thought about the egalitarian view. Then, for the first time, I studied what the egalitarians said about their themselves and their beliefs and what concerns they had with the complementarian view.
“Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Egalitarians were not at all who I thought they were. They were not mainly women with an ‘ain’t-no-man-gonna-tell-me-what-to-do’ attitude (in fact, most of the egalitarians I know are men). They had a high view of Scripture, they were not ‘loose’ with hermeneutics and they were actually digging into the original language and culture, not basing their views off of current culture. They treated the Bible as God’s Word but also as a historical document that needs to be understood in its original context.
“I also began to find that those questions John had asked me birthed more questions that weren’t sufficiently answered for me by complementarian sources or arguments. The individual egalitarian arguments and the overall theme of their beliefs were answering my questions though and seemed to fit better with the main threads of the Bible.
“This scared the heck out of me. I did not want to consider that I could have been wrong about what I had always believed. If I was wrong this would change my life forever. I had a choice. I could stop looking for answers and keep going in the same direction where I had very little opposition or I could keep searching for Truth.
“I cried a lot those days and struggled with fear. If I found out that I was wrong what would happen to me? What would my family think? In Jerry Falwell town, would I ever find a man who would love me and was ok with mutual leadership too? What about the internet people? How would they respond when I came out about my theology change?
“My heart knew two things: First, finding Truth was more important than anything I feared and second, I could hear God’s voice calling me to trust Him.
“To make a long story short, I kept asking questions and studying the Word for hours upon hours. As of now I have avidly studied the egalitarian/complementarian debate for a year and a half. I have spent hours every week devoted to this subject, reading the Bible, looking up the original language, reading up on biblical culture, listening to arguments on both sides, studying commentaries, hearing personal stories and considering the fruit of the two doctrines. The answers I found led me on a completely new path. And this is how I came to accept egalitarianism.”
“I had lots of little moments. It built on itself over time. My 2 biggest ones – the nails in the coffin if you will – were 1) studying Deborah. She had the most authoritative position on the planet, and not just politically but spiritually as well. My thought was either God was incompetent to raise up a man among all those men or he was perfectly happy to have a woman do it. Since I know my God is omnipotent, it had to be the second option. 2) I sat in a theology of missions class at seminary and my professor said, ‘There are only 4 chapters of the Bible in which we see humans in a state of perfection. The first two and the last two. And everything in between is getting us back to that perfection. So everything we do should be in line with that trajectory of what was and what will be.’ Immediately (because I had been doing so much studying) I knew that meant spiritual equality for women because they were equal in the beginning and they will be equal in the end. At that moment, I tipped over the edge of never-going-back.”
“Mine was the realisation that Jesus totally turned the idea of leadership upside down. I saw leaders claiming their authority and rights as decision makers, and I saw what Jesus said about leaders in the Church actually being those who give up authority and rights. Jesus saw the Church as a body of equals that functioned as family, and humanity turned it into a hierarchical business. Once I saw this I could no longer have anything that functioned with this kind of hierarchy, whether or not they allowed women into higher levels, because any form of Christianity with levels attached just seems opposed to Christ.”
“I was raised with a Pentecostal background so women were allowed to preach but somewhere along the way I had internalised that only wives submit since the husband is the head. My twin sister called me out on it over the phone when she asked, ” You know that’s not biblical right? Matt’s not the head like you think he is.” I freaked out internally, since I had believed those lies for years and now was finally married to a wonderful man and I just wanted to do it all right. She directed me to Christians for Biblical Equality. That was almost 2 years ago and I have found incredible freedom in egalitarianism! The Bible has come alive like never before and God’s love for me has healed me and encountered me in life changing ways!”
I was introduced theologically to egalitarianism through Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James. I was healing after the end of my abusive complementarian marriage, trying to untangle what was true Scripture and what was manipulated to control me. So I scrapped everything that that I thought I knew about God and started from the beginning. In rebuilding my faith, I realized that ALL complementarian doctrine is taking Scripture out of context with so-called ‘proof texts.’ A fuller understanding of scripture led me to egalitarianism: that is the conclusion that I came to when taking ALL of scripture into consideration for creating doctrine.”
“I was fortunate to have a father who encouraged my sisters and I in any pursuit. I don’t remember discussing the complementarian view or seeing it at home, but have lived in it at church all my life.
“Born and raised a Christian, I always believed the Bible – that it was inerrant and without contradiction. But it seemed contradictory to say I had to submit to a man’s decisions but could ‘boldly go before the throne of grace.’ Many other ‘non-complementarian’ verses like this stumped me as genuine contradictions.
“My world changed when I picked up Discovering Biblical Equality, edited by Ron Pierce (and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis). Having attended Biola University, I knew him to be a trusted source. I can’t tell you how it felt like a blindfold was lifted – the Bible in its whole finally fit together perfectly for me.”
Have you experienced a “Hiccup moment,” when your old beliefs about men and women in God’s kingdom turned upside down? I’d love to hear your story, either in the comments section below, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to extend a very sincere “thank you” to all who trusted me with their stories and graciously gave permission for me to publish them.
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