Few Christians can say that their church has handled abuse, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence against women properly. Likely even fewer can say that their church has acknowledged male victims of abuse/violence. Patriarchy is bad for women. But honestly, it’s bad for men too.
Egalitarian theology is good for both. I was introduced to egalitarianism, the radical notion that women are equal to men and Scripture supports that conclusion, by a former professor. It convinced me that God didn’t make a mistake when he called me, a woman, to be a pastor. I am qualified to preach—not because of my gender but because of my God.
But, egalitarianism doesn’t just uplift women. It shows men who don’t fit stereotypes that they don’t have to break themselves into pieces to fit into the “biblical manhood” mold.
According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men experience some form of domestic abuse: physical, sexual, or mental. These numbers are extremely high for both genders. Women are certainly the majority of victims of violence, and we have a lot of work to do in that area. But let’s take a look at male victims of violence for a moment.
Nearly 25% of men suffer from domestic violence, so why are we not discussing this issue as a community? I believe it’s because the majority of churches don’t have a category for male victims of violence and abuse. And that’s a gender equality issue.
Men are unlikely to discuss or report abuse in a church setting due to the intense social stigma of being a male victim of abuse and the pressure to appear strong. Men are forced into the role of leader, protector, and provider and there is little space for failure or weakness. When men do not assume this role in the church, they are considered “feminine” and less than other male congregants.
I have seen the painful effects of gender prejudice in the lives of the two men I cherish most. My father retired from the stereotypical role of “provider” to care for my mother, who was paralyzed by a brain aneurysm. I quickly began to see how sexism affected his fellowship with the rest of the men in the church. He was told to “be a real man and get a job” when finances got tight and to “put your wife in a home or pay someone to care for her” so that he could provide better for his family.
Instead of reaching out to provide assistance, the church blamed our circumstances on my father’s willingness to stray from Christian gender norms. He went from strong provider to concerned homemaker, and our community was uncomfortable with that shift. Men’s ministry meetings became uncomfortable for him. He was unable to connect with other men and fit in during meetings, and he wasn’t seen as a “man” because he deviated from the strict confines of Christian gender roles.
I have written on my own personal experiences with sexism in the church as a female pastor. I have also held discussions on sexism in academic, community, and personal settings. Often, the voices of male victims of violence and abuse are missing from these conversations.
My fiancé is a survivor of abuse, including domestic violence. There was no support for him in any church setting and in fact, he was looked down upon for seeking either divorce or help. Like many female survivors of abuse, he was told that it was his fault. He was also told that “if a woman hits a man, it’s not a big deal because men are supposed to be stronger.”
He was told to withstand the abuse in order to sanctify his wife and that he would be angering God if he left her. This is very similar to what many women in the church are told when they seek sanctuary from abuse. To this day, he struggles with his masculinity, self-image, and the scars that have been left by both his abuse and the church.
Egalitarianism is, simply, the notion that all people, created by and in the image of God, should be free of the bondage of racism, sexism, social inequality, and sin. Under egalitarian theology, both men and women can cry out if they are being abused and be heard and taken seriously. And both men and women are free to be themselves and use the gifts God gave them—whether or not those gifts conform to rigid Christian gender roles.
I’ve seen the positive impact of egalitarian theology in the lives of the two men I value most, both of whom previously held complementarian/patriarchal beliefs. They have not only supported my ministry wholeheartedly, but they’ve also been empowered by egalitarianism themselves. They don’t have to strive to fit the church’s arbitrary standards for what’s “masculine” anymore. Instead, they can live their lives as the unique people Christ has called them to be.
Egalitarianism is for all people, men included. We need egalitarian theology in the church, for the good of the body. We need to acknowledge that men can be victims of violence too and that the stigma they face is a gender equality issue. We need to make it clear that being abused does not make them weak. Nor does the fact that some men are victims of violence undermine the fight to end violence against women. The wonderful thing about egalitarian theology is that it sets men free too.