Driving my husband to work, I heard something on a Christian radio station that he had set the car radio to. There’s a reason why I don’t listen to Christian radio (apart from my Pandora Waterdeep station), and what I heard this morning reinforced my desire NOT to listen to Christian radio. The statement was one of those statements that made me simultaneously deeply embarrassed and deeply angry; I slunk down in the driver’s seat a little bit and growled. Grrrr…
The nice thing was that my husband was as baffled and put-off by the statement as I was; solidarity in unity.
In a discussion of some books from the 60’s that were being considered as reasons why we are in the current cultural climate we are in terms of gender and gender relations and feminism, one of the personalities said: Look, in Galatians 3 we read there is neither Jew or Gentile man or woman; this here is speaking to complimentarianism, men and women are equal in image, dignity, worth, value but have different functions…
My husband and I looked at each other, “What did he just say?!”
We didn’t have an issue with the whole “equal but different”; I advocate for the same thing. While we both knew where he was going with his thoughts on “equal but different”, that wasn’t the idea that that made our jaws drop. What made our jaws drop was this: Galatians 3 is about complimentarianism. My husband’s astute response was: if anything, that passage lends itself more toward “egalitarianism” than “complimentarianism”. He’s right (my husband’s very smart). The passage in Galatians 3 where Paul says, “ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” certainly does lend itself more to “egalitarianism” than “complementarianism” in that that portion of scripture is part of the unity out of plurality, all one, heirs of Christ, discussion. No where there does Paul discuss the equal-but-differentness of the couplings. The radio personality was just wrong. Out of all the passages of scripture one could pick from to argue _for_ “complimentarianism”, that IS NOT one of them; it’s not even close to being one of them. The breaking down of the barriers between segregated classes, races, genders, is gone, according to Paul: in Christ all are ONE.
So why did my feather’s ruffle so much at the comment? Because of both what my husband pointed out and this: both the terms “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” are recent man made terms often imposed on the the bible to try to make sense of things, to group like to like, to make a statement. “I’m an egalitarian” should tell you, in short, that I hold certain things to be true about gender and the distinction and likeness therein; “I’m a complimentarian” tells you the something similar about the person: what they hold to be true about gender and gender relations. They are terms to deal with the radical freedom the Gospel brings to human beings and all of their relationships. To say, “I’m an egalitarian” says: men and women are equal ontologically speaking; “I’m a complimentarian” says: men and women are compliments ontologically speaking. But the terms are so ambiguous that you have radically different shades of each. For instance, take my own marriage: we are very progressive when it comes to women and men and the relationship between the two: we don’t believe that men are better leaders than women, we don’t believe that substantially speaking there’s a secret authority gene given to men, we don’t believe in gender stereo-types, we affirm strong women _and_ strong men, we affirm the good that the feminist movement brought, etc. But, I stay home with the kids and he goes to work; I take care of the house and meals, and he brings home the “bacon”; i love making our home a sanctuary for him and my children to come home to and he makes that possible. Using my own marriage as an example, you can see that our life disturbs the neat and clean lines a term like “egalitarian” would like to create. I’ve also seen “complimentarian” relationships look _just_ like mine. In my immediate circle of friends who claim “complimentarian” status, I’ve never seen the husband assert his “authority” over his wife; they always come to decisions the same way we do: by the power of the holy spirit, bringing unity where there is division. In my immediate circle of friends who claim “egalitarian” status, I’ve never seen a confusion of gender or a rejection of proper orientation of man toward woman and woman toward man. So, I’m left to ask:
Is there actually such a things as “complimentarian” and “egalitarian”?
And to ask further:
Is it even helpful to bifurcate Christianity with these terms?
My answers to both: no. In order for “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” to be true and real, something has to be asserted that just won’t ever be asserted between two people who _just_ love each other. And, when we are fighting on so many grounds to maintain the truth of the Gospel, do we need the minutia of “in-fighting” and trying to uphold man-made, ambiguous, and unhelpful terminology? I’d say we don’t.
Here’s how I see it, and I’ll end with this: the terminology is wrought with problems and should be dismissed completely. Rather than defining our marriages as “complimentarian” or “egalitarian”, why not: Christian? Gospel centered? Or, better yet, “I’m married to an amazing man/woman and I can’t believe they love me.” We don’t need more boxes to fill and lines delineated; the body of Christ is unique in that it is unity OUT OF diversity, this applies to marriages, too. There are no two marriages that look the same, not all men like _one_ type of woman, and vice versa. Marriages, like the people that inhabit them, will look different and will sound different, but it will be the presence of the Holy Spirit, the tangible brokenness of each member, their individual and mutual need for Christ that will be the beautiful and pleasing aroma of unity and similarity.