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.