[Today's guest post at the Bookshelf is from Mikaela Bell. Mikeala's analogy on the trouble with complementarianism and the attitudes that most generally develop as a result of this teaching helps all of us connect with the pain and emotion of the issue and should give us a greater understanding of why this teaching is harmful to the body of Christ. Thank you, Mikaela.]
Let’s play a little game.
Imagine that you are a small child, completely dependent on your mother for everything. You have the best mother imaginable, and you and she are very close. She works hard for you, provides for all your needs and many of your wants, loves you, encourages you, occasionally reproves you, helps you grow, tells how she can’t wait to see you grow up and do great things one day. You share your concerns, your hopes, your dreams with her, and she shares hers with you.
But everywhere you go, everyone else is always telling you about the terrible things your mother says about you. Your siblings, your teachers, your relatives, your neighbors—all of them are more or less in agreement about what your mother thinks of you. Their messages go something like this:
Your mother says you’re too emotional.
Your mother says you’re her weakest child.
Your mother says you’re gullible.
Your mother says you always get your siblings into trouble. That time you and your big brother stole the cookies, was mostly your fault.
Your mother says you take too much initiative. You should learn to sit on your hands more.
Your older brother was the child your mother really wanted—she just had you so someone could help him with his chores. You only exist for your brother’s sake. She totally loves you both equally, though.
Your mother wants you and your brother to have an equal partnership—that’s why whenever you can’t agree on what to play together, your brother gets to decide. You may be smarter and more practical than your brother, which is fine, but it doesn’t change anything. Your brother may not like always having to decide what to play, but it doesn’t change anything. Your mother made those rules because she loves you and knows you can’t take care of yourself.
In fact, your mother says you’ll never really grow up—your older brother will always need to be responsible for you. It’s just part of your nature.
And on and on these messages go. They vary sometimes in specifics—not everyone is in agreement, for instance, that your mother doesn’t want you to have your own allowance. (You can just ask your brother to share his with you, say the dissenters. You're only doing his chores, anyway--it's not like you have your own!) They may not always agree about the “taking initiative” bit. Why shouldn’t you take initiative, as long as your brother doesn’t mind? And of course, people generally agree that your brother should be nice to you. Of course, if he’s not, don’t come crying to them about it. What are you complaining about? Your mother even let you pick which older brother would be the one to make all the rules for you. How can you say that isn’t freedom?
Your mother never says any of this to you directly. Nobody can understand why the things they say should be negatively impacting your relationship with her.
Are you enjoying this game?
Time for the bonus round: your mother is invisible. And her voice is very still and small. And whenever you try to ask her about the things the rest of your family says, they start shouting. In the end, you really only have two options: either take the rest of them at their word, or run away from home.
And hope your mother comes with you.
"Mikaela Bell was born in Arizona and grew up in a complementarian church which taught marital hierarchy and allowed women to do virtually any job as long as she wasn't getting paid for it or addressed as "pastor." In her early years of college, taking complementarian theology to its logical conclusion led to a case of severe depression, at which time she began researching alternatives and, eventually, writing about the problems inherent in the mindset. She and her husband currently live in France, where they strive to honor and serve each other without hierarchy or spiritual distinction."