The indoctrination of complementarianism is sometimes eerily subtle. As I’ve shared before, the damage of my experience prior is hard to address. Deconstructing that upbringing, evaluating how it impacted me as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, as a new bride, as a mother is challenging and often painful. The day before, after researching some local churches and writing an email draft, my husband suggested that though the ideas I was presenting were correct, was I sure I wanted to engage? Almost instantly, I found my fingers moving to delete my entire reply, despite having spent time looking for data to support why I felt the way I did and carefully developing an informed response. Ironically, one of the churches I had just been investigating reveals why I reacted this way on its “beliefs” page stating this:
“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
This church does include that a husband is to love his wife, but there are no words like “submit” and “respect” in the husband’s role, nor is he reduced to a “helper”. With this spiritual schema as the foundation for my understanding of myself in relationship to my husband, it’s no wonder that I immediately began to acquiesce, even though he hadn’t actually suggested I shouldn’t engage, only that I should think about it before clicking send. I perceived his suggestion as a “no, you’re wrong, don’t do that.” What further exemplifies the depth of this complementarian instruction is that I am an elder in our church, yet I felt compelled to accept his suggestion as if his spiritual wisdom was somehow superior to mine or that he somehow had more knowledge of the situation at hand. The patterns of submission I was trained to exhibit are as ingrained in my brain as turning the blinker on to signal for a turn, putting my napkin in my lap before a meal, and locking the door when I leave. It takes work to undo what I don’t even realize I’m doing. This mental muscle memory may take the rest of my life to recalibrate.