The other side of Complementarianism is not a ‘liberal’ side…or a ‘liberal’ theology. It is called Egalitarianism, and it is just simply a theology based around a different way of interpreting scripture. It, in general, 1) looks at scriptures as they were taught along with why they were being taught that way…taking a look at culture and what kinds of things were actually going on during those times in those places, and 2) looks at the Bible as a whole, and focuses on the theme throughout and what lines up with that.
It’s been called a ‘new’ theology by some. But it is, in fact, as old as the Garden.
Adam and Eve were created to be equal partners. Co-laborers. As Sarah Bessey (a wife, mom, writer, and egalitarian) shares in one of her books: Ezer (the name God gave Eve…a name He actually uses for Himself many times in scripture…means strong ally/warrior) is coupled with kenegdo, and is typically translated into ‘helpmeet.’ Ezer kenegdo actually means man’s perfect match…two parts of equal weight leaning against one another. One biblical scholar and theologian, Victor P. Hamilton, says this about it: “Kenegdo suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity, and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole. She will be his strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes and his first roadblock when he veers off course.”
God didn’t set up a masculine rule as His standard and plan for humanity. No…it was masculine and feminine together, bearing the image of God. New Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary, J.R. Daniel Kirk says, “Only this kind of shared participation in representing God’s reign to the world is capable of doing justice to the God whose image we bear.”
If a woman is held back, minimized, pushed down, downplayed…or simply is ‘under' her husband…she is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as His image bearer, as His Ezer warrior. Also, if a husband is walking in an authority ‘over’ his wife…he is also not walking in the fullness God intended for him as His image bearer. He is walking along without a part in the correct place…the part that is supposed to be corresponding to him…the equal pull…the North Pole to his South Pole.
When the fall happened, sin entered…along came power and hierarchy and inequality and mistreatment and abuse and all kinds of other horrible things.
But, then Jesus came…to break us free from all sin. To return us to what God intended from the start. Which, among other things, includes equality.
Not ‘equal, but different’…but just equal.
Not ‘equal as in same’…but just equal.
Equal worth, equal value, equal authority (as much authority as humans have anyway).
Callings based on giftings, not gender.
Roles based on gifts and callings, not gender.
A stroll through the New Testament reveals that this was the way it was done with Jesus and His church.
What about those scriptures in the New Testament that “clearly say” certain things about roles of men and women? The phrase ‘lost in translation’ exists because it really happens. Often. Having learned another language now, I know this well. There are certain things you can as-closely-as-possible translate from one language to another…and it still just completely loses its real/full meaning. This is so very true of the Bible as well…because if you haven’t researched and don’t understand the culture of the day and what was happening in those times, it just doesn’t mean the same.
When I first saw this in a practical way concerning the Bible, I was part of a study going through the book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Great book…I highly recommend it! But I was floored by how much we miss simply because we are going by what the Bible “clearly says” as translated in the King James Version, or any of the other English translations…instead of going back to the original language. And because we have no idea about the culture and norms of everyday life there...really learning about the culture and what this phrase or that would have actually meant back then in that context completely revolutionizes what English translations “clearly say." It was amazing the difference and how much more meaning was there when you actually learned those things.
It’s kind of like the video here on this page, talking about 1 Timothy 2:9-15. It's a little heady (for me anyway), but stick with it and you will see an example of what great insight is gained once you really study the culture, original text, and history of that time! (video actually posted here for your convenience...)
Of course, you have to be able to heed the words of a wise friend of mine from college (a Baptist college)…an Egalitarian now, married to an Egalitarian distinguished New Testament scholar: "One of the problems with Christians who hold the Bible in such high regards is that we can sometimes get mixed up and hold our interpretation of the Bible as high as Scripture itself. So when someone comes along and challenges that interpretation, they don't see it as a personal challenge but a challenge against God's word! And those are fighting words!”
We have to be willing to go back to the original language, and consider the culture and happenings of the time.
Again, a paraphrased excerpt from Sarah Bessey: Marriage within the Kingdom isn’t an exercise in authority and headship…or a list of roles and rules and responsibilities. Marriage is a beautiful example of oneness and cooperation, an image of the dance of the Trinity in perfect unity. When Paul likened marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church, it wasn’t an exhortation to hierarchy. Christ’s relationship with us as the church is characterized by His crazy love and sacrificial giving, not power grabbing. Paul’s words remind us that Christ gave Himself up for the Church, cleansed her, and loved her.
Since Jesus had arrived on the scene, many things were different. He met with and talked to (even alone) women. He lifted them up…constantly. He gave them important roles…and his followers after Him did as well. Paul and others didn’t necessarily fight against cultural norms. Cultural norms, at that time, did see men as the patriarch, but that was, more often than not, not so within the church at that time. Paul wasn’t fighting cultural norms…but he did provide counsel as to how a Christian marriage could work within those cultural norms…and it was to look very different. Why? Because those cultural norms (of man being the ruler or in authority) were never God’s ideal.
Husbands’ imitation of this picture of Christ would not involve holding onto their society-given rights and powers, but emptying themselves of them. And that is what that passage is about. The marriage relationship is not like Christ’s relationship with the church in every sense. And the sense that is given by this particular passage is not authority and subordination, but oneness. Marriage typifies Christ and the church because both relationships become “one flesh” relationships. Complementarianism does not teach true 'one flesh’…because part of your flesh can’t be in authority over another part of your flesh. See that? Complementarianism doesn’t teach partnership. It teaches hierarchy. (you can read more about that passage here, and on other countless websites...not written by the blog owner, but by a guest writer in this particular post)
Of course there is so much more I could say. I should be able to…I’ve researched and studied these two theologies for a few years now.
I don’t even touch on my own personal experience with Complementarianism here. Or the fact that any time you teach that one person has authority over the other, there is a huge risk for abuse.
“Not if the husband is truly loving his wife” some might say. But, that is false. Because Complementarianism teaches very specifically that if the man perceives the woman to have lost her way, the loving and sacrificing (just like Christ) thing to do is to do whatever it takes to help her find her way again. And it employs some pretty harsh and abusive ways…treating her as though she is sinful, as though she is a child...‘rising up’ and taking charge in trying to get her ‘help,’ even if that includes talking about her to others behind her back…accusing her of being unholy…playing the victim and turning others against her…deeming everything he does himself acceptable, even though he would never do those things to a business partner, but his life partner he will…all in the name of love. Truly. And all counsel and mentors steering him in this direction. I could go on and on here too. I could also point you to soooo many other stories…all very similar. All done in love as taught by Complementarianism. Man is the head, man is responsible for his family, man must take charge in these dizzying moments when nothing makes sense. And Complementarianism teaches that woman is easily deceived and the weaker vessel (I've heard waaaay more sermons that talked about Delilah than I ever have about Deborah; when I did hear about Deborah, she was only put in power because no men were stepping up to the job, not because God put her there). No wonder men and their counselors and mentors go about things the way they do.
One of my favorite quotes…because it’s just so based in common sense:
~If a husband tells a wife that she is "equal in worth," but demands that he has the final say on important matters and claims that his opinion/authority holds heavier weight than hers in the family unit, then is she really equal in worth?~ -Jory Micah
But…more important than our common sense is what God says. And you can’t know that simply by reading what english translations “clearly say.” Because what they “clearly say” is most often about as clear as mud (and inaccurate or even just straight up false) when given the original language, the culture of the day, and the history of the time.
Egalitarianism is much more common than I ever knew having grown up with only complementarian teaching. Methodist, Vineyard Churches, Nazarene, Lutheran, Episcopal, Free Methodist, Assembly of God, and even some Southern Baptist congregations…these are all Egalitarian denominations, although not an exhaustive list. Some of the most famous and celebrated Christian men and women have been/are egalitarian…Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade), Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM), Greg Boyd, Clay and Sally Clarkson, Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, etc. Even many of the people who settle into ‘traditional’ roles are Egalitarian. I wrote about one such couple, a friend of mine, here. I didn’t know she was Egalitarian until she recently wrote me. It’s a great account! As I said there: Deeply devout and conservative Christians who are opposed to patriarchy of any sort do exist...and they are much more plentiful than anyone raised in Patriarchy and Complementarianism know.
So much more I could say, but I will end. Feel free, whoever might see this, to ask me questions and discuss this further…or even debate, although I prefer no rudeness or snark. :)
Also, there are a couple of really great websites full of great resources (articles, books, teachings, etc.) that I want to share:
The Junia Project
Oh, how I wish I had been given this information as I grew up...information on both sides...so that I could make an informed decision myself. My prayer is that you are able to get a little glimpse into what Egalitarianism is here...and that you will continue to research until you can make an informed choice, whatever choice that may be.
This isn’t something that makes or breaks our salvation. But, it is a pretty important issue. It can definitely make or break our marriages, as I know full well (and I’m definitely not the only one).
Thank you for letting me present the other side. And I look forward to discussing it with you.