A Case for Egalitarian Christianity
Jordan Ryner, April 2014

“Feminism. We don’t like that team.” These are the immortalized words of Dr. Thomas White, uttered just before proclaiming that feminists oppose marriage and therefore are not on the team of the Bible. I remember sitting in my living room with a friend just after Dr. White said this. While his oversimplification of an ideology and damnation of anyone who disagrees with him was initially humorous, his juvenile approach to theology saddened me. What’s worse is that, if Drs. Gredy, Cornman, and company have their way, complementarianism (a soft form of patriarchy) will become an official part of Cedarville’s doctrinal statement. Since our leaders are so adamant about making this change, I feel it necessary to make a case against their narrow interpretation of Scripture and consider the possibility that literal interpretation does not mean male headship is the only “Biblical” model for male-female relationships.

Like many of you, I grew up in a conservative Baptist family, attending a conservative Baptist church. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that I never heard that the man was the head of the household (or if I did, I never saw it lived out). My father wasn’t the head of the household so much as he was my mother’s soul mate- her other half. They both earned an income, paid the bills together, cleaned the house and yard together, and went to church together. Whenever I needed advice I knew that I could go to either of them. I never once thought that my mother was submissive or that there was any difference in their roles as husband and wife. They were two people, made in the image of God, brought together in union.

When I arrived at Cedarville in 2010, I quickly realized that this school thought differently. Things became worse after Dr. White became president. I thought to myself, “How is the church representative of God’s Kingdom if half of its members are second-class citizens?” Are we all not equally made in God’s image? The hardest part about believing these things is that it is nearly impossible to start a conversation on this at Cedarville University without being shamed, ridiculed, or declared a heretic. A heretic. Even though I’m only espousing what my Christian elders taught me at my home church.

While many Christians agree with Cedarville’s complementarian views, I have found that there are many who do not. One prevailing view is that male headship is the result of the fall. In Scripture, we see no declaration by God that man is the head of the woman until Genesis 3:16. To interpret this verse as Scriptural support for male headship would require that we take Scripture out of context. Genesis 3 is a curse. It is a list of horrible, terrible things that will befall humanity as a result of sin. Male headship will exist because of sin. In other words, men will sin by trying to obstruct women’s attempts at freedom and independence. Women will, in turn, sin by submitting to men in hopes of maintaining a peaceful equilibrium in their relationships. This is because women often have a maternal instinct that makes them more relationship-focused while men are frequently more action-focused. The sin is not to resist these natures, but rather to give in to them to the point that it hurts yourself and/or others.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, we see a largely egalitarian Yahweh who tries to steer a patriarchal society of sinners away from sin. He calls prophets and prophetesses, kings and queens alike to serve His divine purposes. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches to men and women alike. Christ’s first act post-resurrection is commissioning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome to spread the word of His resurrection. This makes these three women the first preachers of the gospel, the first heralds of God’s Kingdom. This is made possible because we are all equal in God’s Kingdom. Male headship has been erased along with sin and it is possible for us to return to the benefits our race enjoyed in the garden. True equality is possible because of the ministry of Christ.

After this, the majority of Scripture is a collection of letters by Paul. Occasionally, Paul revisits the gender issues in his letters to Greco-Roman cities. First of all, it is important to remember the context of his writing. He was addressing patriarchal societies that would not comprehend the possibility of egalitarianism; remember that this is before free thinking and access to libraries or Google, so the only knowledge of culture these people had was that of their own. Second, Paul, unlike Jesus, the judges, and the prophets, never claimed to speak on behalf of God. Rather, it seems that he was called by God to give his opinions to churches who needed an elder’s comfort. It’s important that we take Paul’s literature as opinion, not doctrine, or else we fall into the trap of rewriting the Biblical narrative. The reintroduction of rigid gender roles, like Paul’s advocacy for slavery in Philemon, would break from the Creation-Fall-Redemption model that God gives in the rest of Scripture and break apart the other literary structures such as forgiveness, redemption, and the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s Kingdom. In other words, I would argue that a complementarian interpretation would compromise the integrity of all Scripture. Today we as Americans live in an advanced society that provides a great number of freedoms that few humans before us have enjoyed. Women, minorities, and children have rights and are no longer considered property. Due to the influence of feminism, women have thrived in the workplace, in the home, and in the church leadership (when they are allowed to). This proves that there is no physical or mental difference in women that makes them inferior leaders to men.

The final argument for egalitarianism is the constructed nature of gender. In other words, gender is more of a psychological label than physical. This isn’t to say that there are no physical differences between men and women. However, the personality traits that we recognize as “boyish” or “girly” are cultural constructs. Boys in the USA are taught at an early age to do certain things such as playing with trucks, wearing blue, and looking up to muscular heroes. Girls are taught to do things such as wear dresses, play with dolls, and dream about marriage. It’s not that doing any of these things is bad, but when we try to teach young people that they have to choose between one or the other, then we have a problem. For example, what if a 2-year-old boy likes to play house or dream about marriage? Is he bad? Many readers might say that’s fine. But when that child goes to school, he will be bullied physically and called derogatory and misogynistic names. What if a 2-year-old girl wants to play with trucks? Her parents will probably laugh, call it cute, and declare her a “tomboy”. But when she’s 18 and wants to drive construction vehicles for a living, her parents, who are proponents of male headship, would panic because “What guy would ever want to marry such a ‘manly’ woman?” The problem isn’t that the boy who plays house or the girl who plays with trucks are bad. Rather, the problem is that everyone wants these two children to conform to their expectations. This is oppression by definition. Everyone around these children wants to dictate who they are and what they can do in their careers and their social and romantic lives.

On the other hand, Christian egalitarians don’t mind “manly” women or “girly” boys. Rather, they are unconcerned with “gender-inappropriate” attitudes or careers and proud of the child for being true to the person that God made them. The Christian egalitarian does not fear the prospect of women becoming preachers, because gender should be an irrelevant factor in most theological discussions. For the same reasons, Christian egalitarians don’t mind if a male person wants to be a fashion designer or home decorator. Living in a Christ-centered community requires us to treat people equally, just as Christ treated them. Our greatest concern should be whether the boy who plays house or the girl who plays with trucks grows up to be a person who is true to themselves and true to God. If Cedarville wants to make complementarianism their policy, then there’s nothing we can do about it. However, we all need to recognize that this may not actually be the “correct” interpretation of Scripture, and in embracing this mentality, the university is hurting women because it is in their opinion a “Godly” action. This is not “Godly” or “Biblical”, but very much the opposite.

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