Critics have done a brilliant job of establishing all that complementarianism isn’t. I am grateful for their groundwork. But today, I want to explore what egalitarianism is. I want to move beyond a justified critique of complementarianism toward a strong egalitarian theology against abuse.
It is undeniable that women are negatively impacted by patriarchy. I can go round after round on how patriarchy teaches women that they are peripheral and secondary in the grand story of God’s relationship with humanity. I can argue for days that gender roles and sexism limit and oppress women. I can write about femicide and gender-based violence, rape culture, female identity, female giftedness, mutuality in relationships, and the consequences of purity/modesty culture on women.
I recently spoke with a mental health case manager about the importance of male vulnerability. He shared with me that most of the men who use his services do so because they never learned how to process and express emotion beyond two extremes: happiness and anger. I was unsurprised by his admission, because I have long observed and grieved the intense cultural pressure on men to suppress their emotions and by extension, their humanity.
In my last article, "4 Sexist Myths That The Church Should Reject," I did my best to dismantle four sexist myths that have caused significant pain and division in the church. I wasn’t going to add to my list, but after many of you responded with sexist cultural myths of your own, I could see that another list was in the works—with me or without me. So, here goes, people.
We’ve all heard them. Stupid jokes and thoughtless comments. Sexist sayings and caricatures. From the pulpit, at the altar, in school, from boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, parents, and friends. People pass off myths as facts and case-by-case examples as universal truth. Women are like this and men are like that. Women are obnoxious. Men are arrogant. Women are needy and men are emotionally unavailable. These statements are infused with cultural and gendered assumptions. They have no basis in the gospel and what’s more—they are rooted heavily in socialization. And yet, despite Christians’ pledge to reject unhealthy and sinful cultural messages, these painful and divisive gender jokes and ideologies have infiltrated the church. And it’s not no big deal, people. It’s a really big deal. Here’s why.
Many complementarians want to respect women’s needs and stories and benefit more concretely from their insights, but are not sure how to begin moving in that direction. I used to leave church in frustration every week because of the implicit marginalization on display in services. A childhood, or lifetime, of watching women pushed further to the edges of leadership and visibility has an immense impact on a woman’s self-worth.
Egalitarians believe the Bible promotes two senses of equality: equality of nature and equality of opportunity. Neither requires or even hints that women and men are or should be identical. Egalitarians don’t deny difference, we deny that difference is destiny.
Studying hierarchical complementarians seemed a good choice for the project. A colleague, Patti, and I approached three of them, and they agreed to interviews. We invited them to study us in return, and they were surprisingly enthusiastic.