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Fighting Words

On June 17, 2014

As we think about the goal of gender equality for all, it's easy to get caught up in competitive terminology. We may think that we are engaged in a "battle" (yep, there's a competitive term) and we have to tip the balance of power (oops, more battlefield thinking) so that egalitarians win (dang! there it is again) over complementarians.

Unfortunately, "war" terminology, which is dominant in our culture, also permeates our Christian culture. But perhaps using metaphors related to war, power, battle, and competition is antithetical to the cause of gender equality, subverting our very goals. Consider why these terms hurt, rather than help.

  1. Somebody has to lose. In a "competitive" arena, there's a winner and a loser. And while it may be tempting to think that we want egalitarians to "win" and those who embrace patriarchy to lose, that's not really what's at stake here. That's not really the goal. Our goal is for equality for both genders and for all people. Equality includes freedom from cultural norms and expectations and an openness to God's call and gifting—for ourselves and others, men and women. And, in peace we share that gift of equality with those who are caught in patriarchal systems.
  2. Competition is not a biblical value. Many engaged in the discussion about women's roles in the church and the home, no matter what their beliefs, are passionately committed to the authority of Scripture. So, the one thing we can agree on is that competition is not a biblical value. Competition is a destructive dynamic that is in direct opposition to biblical teachings about self-sacrifice (Phil. 2:3), servant leadership (Mark 10:42–45), turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:5,9). The goal of egalitarians is to reach the kingdom ideal here on earth where each individual is loved equally, valued equally, and included equally.
  3. Comparison is deadly. Equality will thrive when we can stop comparing female preachers to male preachers; female pastors to other female pastors; and even making cross-generational comparisons of what Millennials do better than Boomers (Gal. 3:28). Labels are inherent in the deadly act of comparison: without labels, our comparisons wither. Seeing people as people, and not part of a labeled group, illuminates the truth of each individual and their God-given uniqueness rather than smothering the truth with a label. As egalitarians, our goal is to see each person as an individual, to see each person's gifts, to see and believe God's call on each person's life. It is hard to see these kingdom realities if we are busy comparing, whether in our personal life or as we seek to support the cause of gender equality.
  4. Community is the goal. Community is the kingdom value that we are seeking, not to "win" the war against patriarchy. As we live to serve one another and to use the gifts with which God has blessed each individual (Eph. 1:3) we live out the kingdom reality of mutual submission, not competition.

In conclusion, eschewing the mindset and terminology of war, competition, and comparison can move us personally into a gentler mindset, which will lead us to live compellingly authentic egalitarian lives—lives that model love, peace, mutual submission, and equality for others. If our embrace of equality is real and honest in our own lives, we don't have to fight a battle. People will flock to the concept.

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CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

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