Around the beginning of the summer, I suddenly found myself putting a theological name to a lot of the issues I’ve had with church, both in the past few years and historically. The personal interactions I’ve had that felt off suddenly made a lot more sense. I found myself reading post after post, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, written by men and women who interpret the Bible differently than the churches I’ve attended. And these were not people who just wanted to believe something and did so at the expense of the Bible–these different beliefs were concluded after rigorous study of the same beloved and respected text. The weight lifted off my shoulders was immense, but the fear that followed was almost tangible. What does this mean for me now? How do I process my past in light of this? Where do I fit?
I don’t really know the answers to those questions, but I’m sure I’ll share more of the process here. I do want to share a couple of reasons why I would now likely classify myself as an egalitarian. This might not be your cup of tea. You might not think it is very important to hash this out, that functionally everything is working just fine in your marriage and in your church. If it’s not your thing, you don’t need to read, but I encourage you to. There are lots of us sitting in the pews, men and women, who feel the weight and confusion of the teachings on gender, who are inwardly crying out for relief. At the very least, even if you don’t have the same sense of urgency, knowing that there are different ways of respectfully interpreting this sacred text may help you be more empathetic to people struggling.
So here are five scriptural reasons I’m an egalitarian:
- I believe that God made men and women as equals, to rule over creation and care for it together, with no hierarchy between them. See Genesis 1:26-28.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
The only authority mentioned is that which humanity is given over creation. The loving and caring leadership and rule which is often described as God’s plan for men and women I only see given by God to humanity over the earth. I simply don’t see any evidence of God giving authority to man over woman before the fall. If it were as big a deal as complementarians make it, I think it would have been a clearly stated call given to the man, just like the one God gave to men and women regarding their role in the world. Instead, I see man and woman called to work together to sustain God’s good creation, while walking with him.
- I believe patriarchy is a product of the fall, not God’s design. Genesis 3:16 outlines this consequence of the fall very sparsely:
You will desire to control your husband, and he will rule over you.
Where once we worked together in harmony, obeying God and in relationship with him, we now have power struggles between men and women and are out of relationship with God. Jesus came to break the curse, and we can fight it, too. The complementarian explanation of the curse takes for granted that complementary roles in a hierarchical marriage are God’s design, which he gave us before the fall and are now skewed. I even see that taken for granted in my ESV commentary which states that woman will try to dominate her husband, and her husband will “abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve.” As I outlined above, I don’t agree with that interpretation.
Jesus reversed the curse, freeing us from the rule of sin and death and serpent, inviting us back into God’s family. As such, we are freed from the power struggle of patriarchy. Any call to hearken back to some archaic form of dominion in gender roles is perverse and fear-based, and only breeds death and dysfunction, I believe.
- I believe that new testament verses forbidding women’s involvement in leadership roles have been applied in broader contexts than they were written to address.
Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.
For example, that doozy in 1 Timothy 2. Basically every church I’ve ever gone to accepts that this means that women can’t be pastors, or elders. They find ways of still involving women, but the leadership of the church is left to the men.
In my researching I’ve found so much written about this 1 Timothy example, but there’s a really concise post that is helpful on the Junia Project blog you can read here. The gist is that these particular women were dominating the men, using their leadership to spread false doctrine that was common in Ephesus in the ritual worship of other gods. Basically, these women were not trained in the teaching of the gospel and were spreading lies, some of which condoned actual ritual violence against men, so Paul was like, sit down for a sec.
More on the ways our translations have changed to subjugate women can be found here. It’s really disconcerting, because like I mentioned before with my tongue-in-cheek “sit down a sec”, Paul may actually have said something more along the lines of “I am not permitting women to teach men…let them listen quietly” due to the context outlined earlier, but now almost every translation reads “I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men…let them listen quietly”. Paul wanted these particular women to learn more before they taught, so that they led people in the right way, but now many churches believe that all women everywhere should be taught by men.
This makes a huge difference–all the difference in the world.
- I believe that the verses about headship in marriage do not mean what we’ve been taught they mean.
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
Once again, context, interpretation, culture, etc. have all played a role in how we have applied these verses. But I’ll just say that any verse about a wife submitting to a husband is always found in the larger context of people submitting to one another, and the verses about husbands leading wives were wildly counter-cultural given the oppressive patriarchy of the times.
One leads in her areas of strength, the other in his. We submit to one each other. We obey God.
- Jesus used women to be the first to tell the news (preach?) about his resurrection. I know this in itself is not a reason to move from the complementarian camp to the egalitarian one, but I cannot stress enough how beautiful this fact is to me.
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Jesus, all of the barriers between us, all of the power structures and the abuse and use of the other for our own gain, they’re all thrown out. Looking back on history, we would to our shame say that we should not have fought against slavery because there were verses about slaves obeying their masters. There has always been a way for the Christ follower to live out the faith even under extreme oppression, that’s the far reach of the good news! And how beautiful that our Scriptures speak to that truth. But it should never mean that we don’t seek to see the kingdom of God restored in every facet of life, and I strongly believe that includes the way that we relate to each other as men and women.
So there you have it: five of the scriptural reasons I would now classify myself as an egalitarian. I’m still stuck on the “what now” question, because I do not yet know what this means for me practically. I don’t quite know how to live out this truth in the church context where I find myself, but I take comfort in the verse in Philippians that talks about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. It might be best, from one perspective, to attend a church that fully espouses these truths, just like it might have been best, from the Philippians’ perspective, for Paul to always be with them. But even while I’m figuring all this out, there is still much work I can do in the absence of some perfect scenario in which I am fully affirmed by all outside sources. And honestly, egalitarian or not, I will not ever be fully affirmed by all people, nor does the lack of affirmation change anything at the truest level of my identity:
I am a daughter of God, fully equipped and fully called, able to enter into all levels of the Christian life. There is nothing he withholds from me.