Egalitarians and complementarians share much in common. We adore Jesus and serve him passionately. We are committed to justice as a biblical ideal. And, we’re both devoted to Scripture as God-inspired. Though we both long to see the world embrace the gospel, we promote two distinct worldviews. What is our difference? Male-only authority. Is it God’s design or is it a result of sin? We are divided by worldviews that we believe reflect the moral teachings of God and our purposes in this world. And, our differing views have enormous consequences. Sadly, believers have encountered this problem before.
Christians in the US divided over slavery embraced the gospel but expressed their faith through distinct worldviews—one that supported slavery and one that did not—each with its own biblical ethic and understanding of the nature, value, and purpose of humanity, all based on skin color. The horrific suffering caused by slavery was a sign to many that the worldview underpinning it was flawed. Ultimately, slavery was dismantled as Christians challenged the pro-slavery worldview.
Christians today are divided over patriarchy like they once were over slavery. We celebrate one gospel, but through different worldviews, each corresponding to differing beliefs concerning the Bible’s teachings on the nature, purpose, and value of humanity, all based on gender.
The image on the right shows how the four assumptions of worldview—knowledge, the nature and purpose of humanity, and ethics or social justice—interact. Consider the similar assumptions of the worldviews sustaining slavery and patriarchy.
A Pro-Slavery Worldview
- Knowledge: Because slavery is unopposed in Scripture, God must not oppose it.
- Nature: Enslaved Africans are inferior by nature, suited to hard work but not to ruling themselves or others.
- Purpose: God’s purpose for Africans must be servitude, while God’s purpose for Europeans, who are naturally inclined to ruling, is to rule themselves and others.
- Ethics: Social structures that uphold slavery foster God’s justice since Scripture, nature, and God’s purposes endorse it.
But did slavery lead to justice? No. Slave marriages were ignored and family members separated. Sexual abuse, beatings, maiming, and murder were common. What about a patriarchal worldview? Note the common features.
A Patriarchal Worldview
- Knowledge: Since patriarchy is part of the biblical narrative, God must not oppose it.
- Nature: Eve sinned by disobeying Adam, showing that the nature of females is not suited for ruling or authority.
- Purpose: God’s purpose for females is obedience to males, who are created to lead.
- Ethics: Social structures that support patriarchy advance God’s justice, since Scripture, nature, and God’s purposes endorse patriarchy.
If male authority is part of God’s design, we would expect to see society flourish where patriarchy holds sway. Is this the case?
Not at all. In what constitutes the largest human holocaust in history, two hundred million girls are missing from the world, primarily in places where patriarchy is most rampant. The face of poverty, abuse, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, and hunger is mostly female. Not surprisingly, the international think tank, The Millennium Project, which tackles humanity’s most challenging problems, recognizes gender equality and empowering women (in other words, dismantling patriarchy) as “essential for addressing the global challenges facing humanity.”1 Patriarchy does not advance God’s justice, but is an injustice that must be overcome.
Dismantling patriarchy will require a worldview that perceives male rule as a result of sin; it distorts the nature of men and women as equals and their intended purpose to use their gifts with shared authority. Justice and the gospel are furthered when superiority and dominance are challenged by human equality—a biblical ideal.
1. “How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?” at millennium-project.org/millennium/Global_Challenges/chall-11.html.