What makes a man turn egalitarian? What’s in it for us? What lead me to change and flip from a doctrine which is widely-held, and “biblically faithful”? Normally I’d look to the past, and list the people who challenged me, the pivotal moments or epiphanies that turned me in this direction. I believe experience is important – if God is at work at all, then the things that happen to us, consequences for things we do, and the effects of our beliefs should be open to evaluation. We should be able to see if our beliefs “work”. I may do that another time. But it can be a sort of “resting on laurels” for me, where the work was all done in the past, and now I’ve arrived. I also don’t feel the need to dive into scholarly reasonings for changing my mind about *those* (you know the ones I mean) Bible passages – if you really want to know, the information is out there, thanks to some excellent scholarly work being done even now. There’s no excuse for anyone to default to “egalitarians play fast and loose with Scripture” arguments, so I’m not going to waste my words on that account, where others have poured so much time and expertise into scholarly conclusions on this topic.
I want to look forward here – why am I where I am, with my eyes on what it means for who I should be as a person and specifically as a man. As I said, it’s easy to live in the past, and live on the high of self-discovery and change and going against the flow, and putting yourself out there as a voice comes with heat but also reward – a chance for ego-inflation. But the work of living out the beliefs myself is hard. I think a man who wants to live as a true equal with everyone around him, and specifically other women including his wife (if he has one) is not common at all, and I can understand the commendation, but I’d hope that eventually giving out points for living up to this basic virtue becomes superfluous. So I want to write this with these ideas in mind.
Before I go further, a word about the terms. I reject complementarianism not on the basis of what it aspires to be – I feel like the points I’ll bring up are things we can all agree on. I reject it because of what I believe it in fact is, and for the culture that inevitably seems to spring up around it, and what it has then come to mean – especially in my home country. The term in the past has not carried that baggage I believe it does now.
I want to focus on a question: What exactly does “head” mean? A lot seems to hinge on this question, this word. Scholars differ on what exactly it was intended to mean in Paul’s exhortation in Eph 5 and other places, but I want to take a step back and look at the big picture. I very much needed a reset on what my faith in general means, coming out of fundamentalism, and I’m sure others may feel that need as well. Our example is Jesus, right? We’re pointed to Him in the passage for context. Being a “head” of anyone or anything should have a different meaning to the Christian, almost to the point where it might just be unhelpful to even use the word in our society, where it’s inextricably tied to authority over inferiors of some kind. What did Jesus do? He left His place of perfection to be one with a fallen, chaotic creation.
Scripture tells us “he went unto his own…”. That’s amazing enough right there, that He counted us as family–his “mother, and sister, and brother”—not in terms of ownership (although He could, as creator), but in unity as a part of His identity. He chose to identify with us in that way. That is our example. Whatever “head” means, I believe ownership or authority is not a part of it because Jesus Himself chose to leave it behind when He came to us.
So what do I take out of this? I see “head” then as a fluid identity, and hopefully becoming an obsolete one, as we are Jesus’ body on this earth and live out His redemption in us. I believe the world in general defaults to a curse we see outlined in Genesis 3, notably, in the passage, male domination. But we also see a continual pattern of injustice throughout history: oppression of the poor, cruelty to the weak, hatred of Other, mistreatment of the stranger. Our penultimate statement was the public execution of God With Us, the one who entered Jerusalem not as a conqueror but peacefully riding a donkey, the one who called us his mother and sister and brother, the one whose human judge declared he could find no fault with him, yet He was executed all the same.
How do we subvert this narrative? How do we break this cycle, this pattern of abuse, uprising, revenge, and abuse again? Those who have power and privilege use it: We use our power and privilege to elevate the oppressed. We center the voices of the unheard and plead with others to listen to them as they would listen to ourselves. We, like the Samaritan, bind the wounds of the broken stranger. We don’t treat power and privilege as a right to be held onto, but like a fountain that must flow outward and nourish or become stagnant. We don’t treat our race and culture as the normal that others must conform to in order to receive our validation and love.
As a man today, as in Paul’s day, it means I don’t shrug my shoulders and accept this world for what it is and what it tends to give me as a man, and go on with life. When I read that I should honor my wife “as the weaker vessel”, I don’t treat it as a statement of her essential nature – a limiting definition – but a call to use my strengths to raise a fellow image-bearer to her potential where others may wish to limit her, to not stand in the way of her gifts and God’s purpose for her in the name of “protection” or roles, to center her voice both in my life and for others who may look down on her as a woman. It means when I see Jesus show his disciples a child, and tell them to look after the least of these like they would look after Him, it’s as much a statement of challenge to any notions of worth we may tend to have as it is a challenge that we care for everyone. It means that as a white person, I must reset my lens so that white voices do not carry more weight than those of minorities simply because they’re different from us, or there are less of them. It means that circumstances – birth, nationality, race, sex, age, abilities, illnesses, etc – do not color our perception of our neighbor negatively, as if we are the normal and they must conform.
This is where it should be apparent how “headship” is not a male-exclusive burden, or even a burden for all men. The white woman (and white man, of course) in our nation has a similar responsibility to center the voice of the minorities and “outsiders” among us. The adults have a responsibility to not lord over children with their head-start in physical maturity, experience, wealth, etc, but to use what they have to nurture and provide for them so that one day they can stand on their own. The wealthy have a Christian responsibility to use their wealth compassionately, and with an eye for the well-being of their community or those under them. We work to make our privilege obsolete, so injustice and power imbalance and abuse is a thing of the past. If we look at ourselves and listen to those around us, we can find some way we’ve been given a privilege that can be used for the benefit of others. That’s not to level all injustice as the same, but merely to make the point that we are not called to perpetuate a caste system in our homes, churches, or communities, but to use what we have for the benefit of others. The point is not to hold onto privilege as God’s order, or glory in it and take a condescending stance, but take what we have and let it serve others.
As a white man in a country where persons of color are still too often discriminated against to the point it claims their lives, where a gender wage gap still too often exists, and many other injustices occur here and worldwide, I want to live so that for those around me, my status as a white man becomes inconsequential – not *their* status as minorities or victims of oppression, but mine as the privileged. I want to encourage my peers to live the same. I believe in so doing we follow Christ. He did not cling to His status as Lord and creator, but chose to identify as one of us. I believe He also wants to see His status as ruler and Lord obsolete with us, His creation, so we can truly be His “friends”, His mother and sister and brother, one with Him as we were created to be. He was willing to die to accomplish this goal. How far are we willing to go for those around us?
Bringing this to a close, this is what it means to be egalitarian for me. With this lens, questions like “can women preach?” become anomalies to me, even absurdities, in God’s narrative of redemption. Of course they can. They do, don’t they? God uses them in that capacity whether anyone affirms them or not. It’s my duty to support the work and fruits of His Spirit wherever I see them, as they set captives free, give sight to the blind, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and bind up the broken. In doing so, I am a part of His redemptive work. I think that’s a worthy cause, don’t you?
Daniel Roueche is an introvert, husband, elevator tech, sci-fi lover, sometimes-writer, spiritual abuse survivor, and advocate. He’s trying to make sense of it all and break the cycle of abuse and dysfunction along with his wife, Veritie. You can follow him on Twitter @Dandroid16.