Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Summary of Biblical Equality (Part One)

Plenty of lengthy explanations for a biblical understanding of gender equality exist, on the web and in print. I would still like to offer what I hope will be a brief summary of my own framework for a scriptural understanding of equality. Let’s start with some myth-busting.

Myth: Egalitarians believe “equality” means “same.”
Of course men and women are different - in significant, and not-so-significant ways. Women carry babies. Men have more upper body strength. (I’m already thinking of exceptions.) There are differences in brain development, in hormone excretion, and in socialization. Christian egalitarians are not interested in obliterating the genuine differences between women and men. We are concerned with, to quote Rebecca Grouthuis, “what difference the differences make.” Broad generalizations about what men are like or what women are like usually aren’t helpful. They don’t fit very well. They don’t account for personality type differences or cultural differences. They reinforce stereotypes. They marginalize the exceptions. And they erode the foundation for unity, reconciliation, and intimacy that women and men need with one another. An extreme emphasis on difference (like my classmate’s declaration that we are “100% different”) erodes mutual understanding. Historically it has been a foundation for misogyny. Considering the biblical emphasis on unity, the practice of emphasizing our common humanity as a basis for relationship seems like a pretty sound starting point.

Myth: Equality means the woman is in charge instead of the man. I’ve spoken with many people who believe that one person in a marriage must be in charge, and if it’s not the man then the woman takes over. Equality is about a partnership of equals who share power and mutually submit to one another. It’s not a cover for male subordination by women. (Ironically, if you look more closely at some of these male headship marriages, the person who is really in charge isn’t the man. Power will try to balance itself out, in subversive or manipulative ways if more direct ways are not available.) Incidentally, egalitarians don’t think it’s any better for the wife to be in charge of the husband. We really believe in equality.

Myth: The husband must be the final decision-maker and this is biblical. This is bunk. It’s not biblical and even really literal approaches to interpretation can’t reasonably substantiate this claim from scripture. And in practice, two loving adults who are equally vested in the outcome of a decision can share that decision and reach consensus. One person having the power to trump all decisions is not healthy. Once I had a conversation with a man who felt really strongly about being the “final decision maker.” I asked him why, if there must be one, it should be him. Is he smarter than his wife? Is he better at solving problems than his wife? Is he more important than his wife? No. no. no. “It’s because I’m the MAN.” But what about being the man makes you more qualified to make decisions? Is there a special decision-making device in your, um, male accessories? No. I asked him to tell me about some decisions he had made to trump his wife when they couldn’t agree. He hemmed and hawed, but couldn’t come up with any. In desperation he said, “Doesn’t the bible say the man is supposed to be the decision maker?” He doesn’t have any respect for the bible, but knows I’m a Christian, so he tries to use scripture to justify his fragile male authority. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” is a great starting place for making tough decisions together in a marriage. And that IS biblical.

Okay – that’s more than enough for now. Stay tuned for more on equality and the scriptures.


Natalie S Johnson said...

K-This was incredibly articulate and I am so thankful you've posted it! I love where you are coming from and agree with you 100%. I think the "male-dominate" Christian perspective on interpretation is really sad, and shows how much we've reverted to "old ways." It's funny to me that so many denominations have rejected women in ministry (of course, outside of women's and children's ministries), and yet those same denoms were started by women or at least had a strong female presence in leadership at their beginnings. I don't know...I guess it's just ironic to me.

At any rate, thanks for posting! I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

Karlene Clark said...

Hey Natalie - thanks for reading! It is kind of strange how, at least in a few denoms, there was more freedom for women in ministry 100 years ago than today. I'd like to think that the tide is turning again, but when I see some of the "emerging" churches still tightly controlling women's activities in ministry I'm not so sure. Some progress, some decline I think.

Candice said...

thank you, from a gal in Arkansas who is about to begin to broach this subject with her own congregation. Have you noticed that alot of the "emerging" workshops feature a full male panel, without even considering women who are such a vocal part of this movement. It is so frustrating!my church hasn't dealt with this yet, b/c it hasn't yet come up. It is so weirdly ingrainede in so many people from their upbringings.
Anyway, thanks for keeping the torch! I need this blog!
Candice H

Karlene Clark said...

Candice - thanks for your comments! I agree with your frustration about the visible lack of women leaders in the emerging church. I've been having some conversations with friends about why that's the case. I think there may be multiple reasons. But regardless, I'd like to see it change too.Best of luck to you as you bring this up in your church!

By the way, my blog has moved and you can find me at www.karleneclark.com.