Kate Wallace is a co-founder of the Junia Project (juniaproject.com), an adjunct professor in political science, a fellow at the Humanitarian Intervention Centre, and Coordinator of the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium’s anti-trafficking network. She holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts from Azusa Pacific University. This post originally appeared on The Junia Project on October 4, 2013: juniaproject.com/feminist-and-egalitarian-not-the-same.
The results of patriarchy are seen outside the Church and they are seen inside of it. It looks different in both places of course, but it is still there. Some Christians have wrapped patriarchy up in a pretty little package and labeled it “complementarianism,” but that doesn’t mean that the effects are any less devastating. Nice patriarchy is still patriarchy; both advocate for male-only leadership and both rely on female subordination. Prominent Christian voices are frequently quoted making claims like:
“God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”(1)
“…there are women who are discontent with their God-given role and they seek to reach a place of prominence of teaching and to take authority over the men…No where in the New Testament is any woman ever presented in any such office or role as teacher in the Church.”(2)
“If you are a wife, you were created…a helper suited to the needs of a man… it is your purpose for existing…You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.”(3)
“We are called as women to affirm and encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and church.“(4)
Some people do not believe that this patriarchal gospel is harmful. They do not see any sexist behavior in their churches or in any Christian communities they are involved in. (For rebuttals of these teachings see posts by Rachel Stone, The Junia Project, God’s Word to Women, Rachel Held Evans one & two, and NewLife.)
But women see it. Women experience it. I call it “sanctuary harassment”. It happens when a church or Christian community (a sanctuary), turns into a hostile environment due to sexism. Need an example? I met a woman last week who told me that, because of her church’s complementarian understanding of scripture, the women in her church have to sit at the back.
Let me make this clearer: in her church people are segregated based on their gender.
These messages preach a system that is antithetical to Christ’s own teaching that there will be no hierarchy among His people (Matt. 20:20-28). We need egalitarianism because the Church was never meant to be patriarchal.
The “Egalitarian Muscle”
Last week I volunteered at The American Association of Christian Counselors conference in Nashville. It was impressive to see so many Christian counselors in one place. I am not a counselor, but I went to help an author sell his most recent book. As I was standing at the table selling these books, a man came up to me. He handed me his money and I handed him his book. He didn’t leave right away so I looked up at him and thanked him for buying it.
Then he said it.
“You know, my daughter keeps telling me I need to find a new Christian wife. Are you selling anything else tonight?”
I thought about ignoring the question. If I laughed it off it would all go away without a scene, right? Then my “egalitarian muscle” kicked in. “I know you are not trying to be disrespectful,” I said, “but that is incredibly inappropriate.” He laughed like it was no big deal and said it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t funny. When he continued to ask me what I was doing after the conference, I asked him to leave.
Living Out The Kingdom of Heaven
We must challenge patriarchal messages, like those pointed out above. They are a result of misunderstood theology, and not a reflection of God’s design for His people. They are dangerous because they support a mindset that men are dominant and women are passive; that men are leaders and women are followers; that men are substantive and women are decorative; that men are consumers and women are commodities.
I am both a feminist and an egalitarian, but I am a temporary feminist and an eternal egalitarian.
I am a feminist today because I believe we need to fight for the rights of Saudi Women, speak out against the killing of baby girls, advocate for the safety of women in the DRC, and continue to strive for equality of women around the world. But as a Christian I know that when Christ comes back, there will be no need for feminism, because in His Kingdom all are equal at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28).
I am enduringly egalitarian because I strive to live out the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven, and as it will be in eternity. Let us all strive to restore God’s original design for humanity.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
What do you think? What patriarchal messages have you heard coming from the Church? How do these messages affect the way people interact with one another? Are you an egalitarian or a feminist, or both?