Random Thoughts on Egalitarianism and Justification

A while back, I received an email from a Twend (Twitter+Friend=Twend) about egalitarianism within the marriage and male/female relationships. My husband and I are “egalitarian” in our approach to our marriage and relationship with each other, and I passionately welcomed this email. I don’t make a huge deal about our “egalitarianism” because I find it more divisive than helpful in social media contexts. I love talking about it; i don’t love tweeting about it because, in my opinion 140 characters in an environment that is consistently devoid of the I/Thou relationship is a recipe for disaster.
While this email exchange took place a few months ago, I’m posting it now because I find myself in the midst of a pretty radical and awesome and huge project on gender and the gospel. So, why not just put this email in to a post and put it on my blog. I’m passionate (VERY) about gender and gender relations; this isn’t some fleeting fancy. The bulk of my research is aimed in the direction of gender and gender relations. I think about this topic daily, examining all the different facets for all the different angles.
So here is my response (slightly cleaned up) to my twend about “egalitarianism” and all the “rights and privledges therein” 😉

I’ve done a lot of study on the creation of woman and through all of it I just don’t see any reason for an emphasis on one gender having authority over another–it’s pointless and causes more turmoil than it’s worth. My husband agrees and he finds it ludicrous. you should hear how he talks to our daughter about being equal with men: she’s not “eye-candy” or, his favorite phrase, she’s not to be “subjected to the male gaze and can wear whatever she wants!” (She often has pants tucked into socks and strips going all different directions from head to toe!) He’s even on me when I wear make up. I tell him: IT’S FUN! And he says: you wear it because you’ve been raised to do it by our culture. I typically just roll my eyes… my shoes and makeup are fun to wear/put-on…i love me some sexy boots and smokey eyes! #ohhedoestoo 😉

This is how we view our relationship: in light of the two great commandments. These commandments are: Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself. In my opinion, my husband and my children are my CLOSEST neighbors. I don’t then need a another commandment or “law” to come in and tell me that my role as a woman is to be at home and in submission to my husband. If the gospel is the thing by which order or, what I prefer to say, orientation occurs between me and God and me and my neighbor, then the gospel rightly orients me toward my husband because it rightly orients me toward God through the Son by the power of the Spirit. My husband and I think “roles” are pointless, and that, truly, we in merely loving each other serve and mutually submit to each other. If i love you, then why wouldn’t I put you first? For all intents and purposes, if you were to look at my life and how we run our family, we look very traditional: I stay home, he goes to work (etc). But it’s less because I should or because he can’t and more because we wanted to run our family in this way (again, laying down our lives for our neighbors, our spouse, our children, putting our desires on hold until later)–it also helped that he made enough to see that it happened.

Some have argued (and have said this too me) that egalitarianism (again, a pointless word) leads directly to androgyny–as in you can’t avoid it. This is stupid. This is like me saying that “complimentarianism” (another pointless word) always leads to domestic violence. It doesn’t. Do i find it a dangerous concept? YES; in the hands of the wrong man, yes, it will lead to violence and oppression.  I’ll always err on the side of more liberty than less because I know the law is impotent to do what it desires (orient rightly). Androgyny only occurs if we begin to think that men and women are equal AND interchangeable (rather than: equal BUT NOT interchangeable). But if we adhere to equality and difference then it opens up a beautiful relationshiop between the two. Now, the accusation that egalitarianism leads to androgyny came to me from a student in a class who is a  confirmed “complimentarian”: the husband has authority over the wife. Now his accusation came after a discussion that one gender doesn’t have authority over another. So his point: without some authority over the woman the man’s role is now no longer defined and out of the window goes masculinity. Thus, masculinity and “decision making” and “authority” are inherently linked and femininity linked with it’s compliimentary features: “non-decision making” and “subjection.” Here’s the problem I see in that line of logic: 1) he is linking masculinity to a “work” which is a huge problem considering that in heaven while there will be no marriage or giving of marriage there will still be “gender” and “masculinity” (keeping in mind that the image of God isn’t erased in heaven but made glorified by his creation man and woman) and 2) what happens to said man when he loses his mind? Does he ALSO lose his masculinity? No, that’s stupid. He’s STILL masculine, he’s still a man even when she has to decide on his behalf.

The problem lies in the inability to go into the abstract and the deep desire of limited humanity to always want to figure out everything down to the tiniest molecule and have an answer: if a then b! But I love the abstract. What if, Twend, what if masculinity and femininity are defined by each other…what if just my presence as a woman (i.e. not man) is enough to emphasize, draw out, point to my husband’s masculinity. Boobs and hips aside: I’m NOT him; if we allow this to be true, and if we allow our nakedness with each other to be the deciding factor about who is feminine and who is masculine, then a whole new world opens up to us. Things that are classically “masculine” and “feminine” are now more appropriately considered human. My husband can cry and I can be a hard-ass, neither one acting like the other gender. In this light, we see how the doctrine of justification penetrates even the most intimate human relationships: no longer defined by works but by God’s declaration to us: forgiven sinners, forgiven men AND women. In how I understand the totality of the event of justification, i believe that works can no longer define me WHATSOEVER. And thus I’m free to be fully woman in right relationship to my husband, a man.

So, while there are things on this earth that still define me as a woman–things that I feel obligated to do or chose to do because I’m a woman–these works do not define me as a woman in Christ (not even birth or the act of sex, because women who don’t have either are still fully women).

Let’s also consider Ephesians 5. In v. 21 we have the verb translated as “submitting” and I know that this is the verb that is pulled into the subsequent verse (v.22) when Paul turns his attention to wives: submit to your husbands. Then, after only three short thoughts, he turns to the husbands and addresses them in a rather lengthy discourse starting with an exhortation to lay down their lives for their wives. Now, what I’ve heard from a number of people (both professors and lay people alike) is this: women only have to submit, but men have to lay down their lives! I find this statement ridiculous and irritating. I find submission to be a form of laying down yourself for another (it’s not subjection considering that the verb is a deponent with an active meaning: submit yourselves); in order for me to submit, let’s say, to the will of my husband, I have to put myself aside, sort of like an act of oblation; this, to me, thematically jives with 5.21: “Submitting therefore one to the other.” Submission is loving your neighbor as yourself and incorporates laying yourself (‘your life’) down (‘dying’). In this light, submission/submitting yourself = laying down your life.  Thus, Paul isn’t totally saying something new as in “subject” to the husbands, but rather explaining in clearer language what it means to live out “submitting therefore one to the other” (toward their wives). And if he is using different language to say something similar to the husbands as he did to the wives, then my next question is why? Why change the language?

The thought I’ve been having lately about the “why” is this: Paul speaks to the women in terminology they would’ve existentially understood–the language they would’ve been familiar with but also because of the woman’s ability (and in the case of Paul’s age) one of her primary functions in bringing forth life into the world: a woman, having gone through the experience of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and caring for a helpless child, would have been well acquainted with the event of submission as a laying down of their life, of loving something/someone form the inside out that can give nothing back in return (agape). I’m not saying that Paul had this later aspect on the forefront of his mind, but it’s intriguing to me that he speaks nearly in shorthand to the wives. Thus, what he says to the women, is not radical: it’s nearly status quo; they would’ve nodded ” oh yes, we understand.” But what’s radical is what follows with his discussion to the men. The feeling in the transition from talking to the wives to the husbands is as if he paused and said to the husbands: all y’all best sit down for this; i’m about to blow your minds. And thus enters into a longer explanation of how the husbands are to love (agape) their wives and live out the “submitting one to another” aspect of 5.21. Both the act and the concept would have been so radical to the husbands, that Paul essentially has to spell it out for them and even then Paul loses his own mind and gets caught up–nearly raptured–in the mysteries he can’t even explain well enough. So, in short, my thoughts have been that Paul had to explain in detail (agape worked out in submission to another (the wife)) to the husbands because it was radical and foreign, and he could speak plainly and briefly to the women, because they would’ve understood (per the reasons mentioned above).

another thing to think about (and I’ll end with this) is: whenever Paul seems to be correcting the women in his churches it’s nearly always because their pendulum has swung too far. Thus, while they are trying to flaunt their freedom, they are really just a law to themselves and others. Don’t dominate men, women, because that’s not freedom nor is it the proper correction to Gen 3. No gender is to dominate the other gender; don’t abandon your children and husband because now you’re “free”; that’s not freedom. Freedom is being able to say: this might suck and i might want to be devoting my life to the Lord (PhD, Career, etc), but I can’t because I have these lives, these others that need me. That’s freedom. That’s Gal 3. The law has been abrogated, the prison warden has been silenced and unemployed, and I am no longer defined by my deeds (“there is therefore no…”) but I am still here and there are things I must still do. Paul is always hyper concerned to protect the gospel from slander: if having a woman publicly teaching men was considered offensive to OUTSIDERS in his day and age, then he would encourage abstaining from the practice. From the commentaries I’ve read, it seems that Paul is not universally making a claim about women but, rather, talking about how things should proceed in order to move the gospel forward. (Cf. 1 and 2 Tim, Titus, Ephesians, Corinthians…etc).