My friend confided in me because she was “tired — no, exhausted — of being single.” She had prayed for a spouse, but worried that because God had not answered her prayer yet, maybe she was not meant to be married — an idea that deeply saddened her. Or worse, she feared that because of sins she had committed in past relationships, maybe she was not worthy or capable of being in a strong Christian marriage. As I listened, I prayed that God would give me encouraging words to offer. I wanted to affirm her in her singleness, in her value as a person, and in the powerful forgiveness Jesus had offered her for her past mistakes. But before I said much of anything, she sighed and shared, “I just want to serve God with a husband — a husband who will be my spiritual covering.” And then, in an effort to rally herself, she said, “But at least I know that until this happens, I have my father to fulfill that leadership role in my life.”
Warning bells went off immediately in my head, as they do each time I am chatting with a friend and it turns to the subject of gender and authority. I wanted to interrupt her and passionately proclaim that what she was saying had no biblical basis, rattling off all I had learned about Greek terms, first century Greco-Roman culture, and Bible interpretation. But instead, as I watched my friend in her brokenness, I found myself without words. I realized that this wasn’t simply about winning a Bible debate, or “setting her straight,” or finding the right argument to finally convince her to embrace egalitarian convictions. What my friend needed in that moment was comfort and hope — reassurance that Jesus was near and that he cared. Yet at the same time, I truly believed that as long as she continued to view herself and understand her situation through this complementarian lens, the deeper her wound would grow. Because I knew her well and loved her dearly, I desperately wanted her to understand that she didn’t need a male intercessor in her life in order to serve God. I wanted this not so she would join my particular “theological camp,” but so she might be able to fully embrace the freedom and purpose we find in Jesus alone.
I think of this conversation often. At the time, I didn’t know how, or even if I should try, to separate my egalitarian convictions from the words of encouragement I wanted to offer her. But I knew her history. I knew her struggles and her pain, and I knew how much she loved God and wanted to live honestly and completely for him. I also knew, from previous conversations, that we disagreed on how to interpret the biblical texts on gender. So I felt uncertain. Should I push the subject? Should I stay silent? It was a situation I believe many egalitarians have found themselves in, because sharing our beliefs — especially with those who are closest to us — can be daunting.
How can we best share our egalitarian beliefs with our friends? As I continue to explore this challenge, I have found these biblical principles to be particularly helpful:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Col. 4:2).
Pray before you speak. Pray with your friend. And pray for them much more than you debate with them. Ask that God would give you insight into how and when to introduce biblical equality. Ask for the Holy Spirit to use you, and then listen closely for the Spirit’s prompting. Trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and rely on the power of prayer more than on your own words.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jam. 1:19).
Carefully assess the situation and “emotional climate” before sharing your beliefs. Be aware of your motivation before speaking up; ask yourself, “Who will benefit from this conversation?” If you cannot honestly say that your friend’s wellbeing is at stake more than your own pride, then choose another time for the discussion. Recognize that conversations about gender and authority often reach to the core of what we believe about ourselves and God, and, as such, can be emotionally charged. Be gracious and patient with your friend, and resist the temptation to speak out of anger or frustration.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of Christ (Eph. 4:3).
When two people are particularly passionate about an issue and disagree, it is easy to succumb to the belief that there can be no common ground. But do not lose perspective. Remember that all Christians have the goal to be closer to, and more like, Jesus. We are on “the same team.” If a discussion turns too heated, step back and focus on what you hold in common. Take a deliberate break from debating, if needed. Stop and pray together often, asking God to foster unity amidst your differing viewpoints.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col. 4:6).
Study the Bible and read all you can about biblical equality, so that you can respond to your friend’s questions as they arise. At the same time, however, do not shy away from discussing if you do not feel you have the “answers.” Be humble in your responses, and freely admit when you are unsure.
Recommend and give egalitarian resources to your friend, such as Janet George’s Still Side by Side: A Concise Explanation of Biblical Equality (available at equalitydepot.com). And if your friend is willing, read relevant books and listen to recordings together. Be eager to read complementarian literature and engage it thoughtfully and graciously. Be open to learning from one another, and from others. Show great respect for your friend and for all authors you engage, as brothers and sisters in Christ and made in God’s image.
Speak truthfully to your neighbor (Eph. 4:25).
Cultivate an authentic relationship with your friend — be vulnerable and honest. Share your struggles and pain. The more your friend understands where you are coming from, the more they can empathize with why you hold your egalitarian convictions. Explain how biblical equality has made a positive impact in your life, and why you believe it is crucial for the body of Christ. Resist any temptations to allow fear to be the reason you do not share your passion and your struggles.
Live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Eph. 4:1).
Be “above reproach.” Live what you say. Through your actions, show your friends that it is possible, and preferable, to live as an egalitarian. Do not shy away from sharing your confidence in the truth of biblical equality — just ensure you are demonstrating your passion with actions as well as words. Model mutual submission in your friendship; find ways to serve your friend and put their needs above your own.