Don’t you sometimes wish you could help people understand you better? Or at least, when disagreeing with you, engage your actual arguments and not straw man versions of them? Today, I want to draw little pictures to help with understanding a much-misunderstood point about egalitarians. Please share these pictures with those who misunderstand.
1) A common misperception of egalitarians
Rebekah Hargraves demonstrates this incorrect idea when she writes “Why I’m Neither an Egalitarian nor a Complementarian”(May 18, 2018):
“I am not an egalitarian because egalitarians are of the belief that there are no inherent differences between the genders in how they are to operate … An egalitarian believes that men and women are, more or less, interchangeable in regards to roles and functions in the home and church.”
Similarly, in “a marriage made in hell” (October 15, 2018, on the “Desiring God” website), Greg Morse writes:
“[H]omofunctional marriage” consists of two different sexes that function identically… [They become] interchangeable…”
This is not what egalitarianism means! To explain where this perception comes from, we first need to remember what complementarians say.
Complementarians believe in gender “roles” and hierarchy: They see one slot that all women should fit into, then another slot which all men should fit into. My diagram below has the male slot somewhat bigger because the “role” of leader and decision maker offers a lot more wriggle room. Referring back to the first diagram, we could say that complementarians see the group of women on the left of the picture, and then assert “They are interchangeable, I see no difference.” They then look right and see the men, and say: “They are interchangeable, I see no difference.”
Egalitarians tear down and throw away the molds with slots. We do not force people to fit through one-size-fits-all-women and one-size-fits-all-men slots. Those who think of life as fitting into a slot are horrified when they hear this: “No more separate slots for men and women? Wait, should we all fit into one slot, then?”
But egalitarians do not erect a new mold at the spot where the other two was torn down – we encourage everyone to live out their own gifts.
We want to break down gender roles exactly because men and women are not interchangeable:
When things are interchangeable, nobody agonizes over which one is chosen: It doesn’t matter at all which teaspoon in the set of six is used most often, and which one found its way to the back of the cutlery drawer.
* If there were no inherent differences between husband Peter and wife Pamela, it would really not matter if he is the final decision maker on everything. His decisions on everything would be from the same perspective as hers, equally wise and equally right for her too. But a marriage could use two capable decision makers because each has its own strengths and knowledge.
* If there were no inherent differences between Rob and Rita’s parenting, it would not matter if their children spent 100% of the time with Rita and none with Rob. Rita would have been everything to them Rob could be. Still, it is preferable for both parents to be involved in child raising, because the father has qualities the mother does not.
* If your congregation has two people called by God to preach, Jill and Josh, silencing Jill would hardly be an issue if Jill and Josh were interchangeable. You would hear all the sermons from Josh you could possibly hear from Jill. But because Jill is not Josh, because she hears from God in other ways and is interested in other areas of scripture, you may miss out.