Feminism is supposed to be good news for women; but does that mean it is automatically bad news for men? Many people assume that it is. What is given to women must necessarily be taken away from men. This is the old “slice of the pie” or “limited good” theory. There are only so many pieces in a pie and therefore a limited number of people may be served. And when people believe that theory, battle lines are drawn. In this case, if women are to get more of whatever share of the pie men have traditionally been given, men will lose something.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, is about unlimited good. It is true that it involves sacrifice, but paradoxically the sacrifice only brings about great good. Those who lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel will find them. The seed analogy makes the same point. When a seed falls into the ground it dies, but fruit is the end result. Jesus taught that the servant attitude makes one great in the kingdom of God.
Then how could Christians have fallen for the old pagan idea that having authority and power all to themselves is the right of men in human society? Or that having to share these things with women somehow diminishes their manhood?
The reason is that in a sinful world what is really unnatural according to the plan of God, has become natural. For example, Gordon Houser attended the conference on “Men Working to End Men’s Violence Against Women” in Colorado last winter. He writes that there he began to understand that the system which was as natural to him as walking, was in fact an oppressive system. As with so much that is considered “natural” in human nature, it takes a conversion experience to turn away from it and begin to live like a child of the kingdom of God.
In the kingdom of God, there is unlimited good, and mutuality between women and men expresses the true nature of humanity. So men are not losers when they take the egalitarian position. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Men have much to gain by following the example of Jesus who emptied himself of divine power, took on himself a slave-like role, and allowed himself to be executed like a common criminal. But the example of Jesus does not end there. Because he gave up everything, God has “highly exalted him” (Phil 2:9, Hebrews 12:2). No human, of course, can expect the same exaltation as Jesus Christ, but the principle of sacrifice yielding greater good is still true. And men who follow the example of Jesus will never be diminished by emptying themselves of power over women.
In fact, men are diminished and oppressed when they accept the pagan view of male domination. Back to the seed analogy — if the seed does not die, it remains alone (John 12:24). Surely alienation and aloneness is the lot of those who rule over others. And surely the modern Western male, so well characterized in the gospel of Woody Allen, is one of the most alienated and lonely creatures of all time. Because God created all human beings, male and female, as equal and responsible primarily to God, anyone who dominates another person is trying to take the place of God in that person’s life. That burden of Godhood not only diminishes but deforms with terrible perversions those who try to assume it. The false god tries to assume the characteristics of God. He must be all-powerful (never fail at anything), all-knowing (make all the final decisions), and present at all times (involved in everything). No human can fill that order. And when men try to be God to women, they can only fail miserably. The perversions occur when they try to prove their false identity and cover the failure which they know in their hearts to be true. Only God can be God to any human being.
What biblical feminism has to offer a new little person coming into the world who happens to be male is much greater freedom to become all that he is meant by God to be. He will be free to give an authentic emotional response — to laugh or cry. He will be free to think creatively and intuitively, rather than only analytically. He will be free to develop deep personal relationships rather than pretend that people need him but he needs no one. He will not be alone in the dark that comes from the sinful human condition. Everyone needs someone who cares enough to tell them when they are about to stumble and fall, and everyone needs someone to rejoice with them when they succeed. Mutual submission and support in a marriage allow this give and take to serve its purpose.
It is one thing to preach that equality in male-female relationships is also good news for men; it is another to hear from people who have experienced its benefits. The writers on this issue who are experienced in working toward equal relationships and have graciously agreed to share their stories come from different occupations and professions. I am grateful for their commitment to the egalitarian way of life and their honesty about the rewards as well as the difficulties of putting it into practice.1
We hope that hearing these voices will be a step in the direction indicated by Anglican Bishop Edmond L. Browning when he said, “We must begin to work together, with one accord, to change the structures of alienation to structures of grace.”
- The stories referred to are found in Women’s Concerns Report No. 106, Mennonite Central Committee, 21 South 12th Street, PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500.