It would seem that my wife and I have come from a vastly different background to modern-day egalitarians who have grown up in a more secular egalitarian culture. What I mean by that is that we arrived at a stance of biblical equality after having been deeply enculturated in evangelical conservatism. While the church in general has been slow to come to terms with the acceptance of women in leadership positions and marriage equality this is generally accepted as a norm throughout the civilised world. It was not so when we began our journey.
While it is understood that women in executive positions, who arrived there on the basis of merit, still struggle to overcome the entrenched male domination that exists in these corporate sectors, great advances are being made and the more commonly accepted rule of equal opportunity either prevails or can be called upon. In the secular world, equal opportunity at its worst, has given rise to the modern-day cult of individualism. So much so that many modern marriages are affected by this trend as each partner opts for their own personal space, separate banking accounts, ‘individual’ hobby pursuits and circle of friends.
This poses a real problem for the 21st century Christian world because people coming into the life of the church are so deeply influenced by the host culture.
When my wife and I discovered biblical equality it arose out of the recognition that we were spiritual equals who could express our equality through mutuality. By mutuality I mean shared responsibility and shared accountability. We could do marriage together, without one person being expected to take the lead. We could parent together, without one person being expected to be the one acting in the best interests of the family, both physically and spiritually. We could be considerate of one another, listening, sharing, caring. Putting the needs of the other before our own and thus benefiting together with this new found sense of interdependence. Equality gave rise to a greater expression of mutuality.
I’m concerned that this aspect of equality could be lost on our modern churchgoers and marriages. How so? Because I sense that people who have grown up in a secularised, ‘me first’, environment may have only perceived egalitarianism as an opportunity to claim their individual ‘rights’, not only in the workplace, but in the home and church as well. In this respect Christianity is a paradox. While advocating for the well-being and rights of others Christians are expected to be following in the footsteps of their master Jesus and lay down their lives to benefit others. Philippians 2 is a classic passage of Scripture in this respect.
Is this only something that I am imagining might happen, or is it becoming a reality? Our present experience with couples in modern marriages has brought us to this conclusion. We are seeing Christian marriages that are foundering as each marriage partner pursues an individualised spirituality without journeying patiently with their partner. We are seeing situations where one partner is acting inconsiderately and unkindly towards the other partner while believing they are walking closely with God. We are seeing young couples consumed by their busyness for God while neglecting the obvious needs of their marriage mate. At one time we might have said that only males could indulge this passion but in an age of equality women have far more freedoms to also neglect their partners.
When we talk to some of these younger married couples about the need to listen to the felt needs and expressions of concern from their partners they often respond by saying they are tired of being the person who must take the initiative. They want the other person to simply get with the program and shape up to their new found expectations without any sense of mutuality, kindness or gentleness. This is a very disturbing trend that manifests itself in the impatient way others are dealt with in both church life and leadership.
I for one do not want to go back to gender hierarchy but I can readily understand it if my complementarian friends are quick to say that this ‘individualism’ is where egalitarianism takes us and is the very reason why they are so against it. Egalitarianism is not meant to manifest itself in rampant individualism. In fact it is meant to do the opposite, that is to work against individualism, especially as it related to a male privileged environment. It would be a tragedy if the empowering of women led to the neglect of the men in their lives.
This is where mutuality comes in with each marriage partner working toward a oneness in their relationship. If there is a failure to identify the benefits of mutuality within both our marriages and church life, and seeing it as a biblical imperative, there will not be a striving to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into this kind of experience. This will do biblical equality much harm.
I’m interested to know how these observations may resonate with others out there.