Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

Christian Egalitarians, Biblical Equality

Equal and Different

There is a common misunderstanding about what Christian egalitarians believe, and it concerns the words “equal” and “equality”. When egalitarians use the word “equal” it does not mean that we think people are, or should be, all exactly the same or identical. We can see that men and women have some differences, and that men and women complement each other. Egalitarians are not about ignoring or erasing the differences between men and women. Rather we are about valuing the talents, gifts, and capabilities of individuals, most of which are not tied to gender.

Equal, Level, Even

The English word for “equal” comes from the Latin word aequalis which, as well as meaning “equal”, also means “level” and “even”. Christian egalitarians use the word “equal” because we see that there is a “level playing field” in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus taught that in his kingdom, the humble are exalted (i.e. lifted up), the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. In other words, there is a levelling: we each have the same status, the same rights, and, ideally, the same opportunities.

How Christian Egalitarians understand "Equality”

This “level playing field” is free from hierarchies, castes, cliques, and other artificial social distinctions which favour some and discriminate against others, distinctions brought about by various prejudices such as snobbery, misogyny, racism, and various personal preferences. This “level playing field” in the kingdom of Jesus is open to anyone and everyone who decides to follow Jesus, join in, and use their abilities to worship God and serve people. Ideally this “level playing field”, as well as being evident in the church, also applies in marriage.

Biblical Equality, Christian Egalitarianism, Equality, mutuality

“There is no definition of equality that does not at the same time grant equal rights and opportunities.”
~ Ruth Tucker in Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife (Zondervan, 2016), 46.
Photo taken by Kelly Ladd Bishop who has written a brief review of Ruth Tucker’s book here.
Scot McKnight comments on the book, here.

Paul and Equality

The apostle Paul alluded to a “level playing field” when he wrote Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Some Christians think Paul’s statement here is simply a theological statement that has no bearing on present society or on relationships within the community of God’s people. They believe this despite the fact that Paul listed social categories in Galatians 3:28 that encompassed the society of his day.

Paul tells his audience in Galatians 3:26-28 that when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ they take on a new identity: they become a son of God. And when that person is clothed with Jesus Christ in baptism, their new identity overrides the social distinctions that pigeon-hole and divide sectors of society. It is our new identity in Christ that unites us. So it is difficult to see how some Christians honestly believe that our new identity has no bearing on relationships and society (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-17). It does.

Sameness and Gender Roles

While egalitarians are sometimes wrongly accused of ignoring the differences between women and men, there are Christians who ignore the differences among women and the differences among men. These Christians prescribe fixed gender roles that do not take into account the diversity and complexity seen among individuals of both sexes.

Not all women are the same. Not all men are the same. Prescribing rigid gender roles by saying that all men are leaders and all women are submissive followers, a view held by many hierarchical complementarians, is surely ignoring the fact that some men have little to no leadership ability and some women are excellent leaders.

The view of hierarchical complementarians also ignores the fact that, as Dale Fincher has put it, “Leadership is a fluid and seasonal role you play depending on your responsibility in the moment and the larger task at hand.” Furthermore, complementarianism largely ignores Paul’s directive that Christians are to be mutually submissive to one another (Eph. 5:21).

Conclusion

Christian egalitarians do not advocate for sameness and we do not ignore difference. Rather, we are about allowing and encouraging individuals to use their different abilities to resource and further the church’s mission. We believe that our God-given gifts and abilities trump the social distinctions of race, gender, and class when it comes to working out who does what in marriage, in the church, and in broader society, at any given point in time.

While men and women have many more similarities than differences, Christian egalitarians simply do not think all people are the same or should be the same.

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Related Articles

My Perspective of Christian Egalitarianism
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Fluid Leadership vs Rigid Gender Roles
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
The Status of Christian Women, in a Nutshell
Unity and Equality in Ministry (1 Corinthians 12)
Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or our Similarities?

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

25 thoughts on “How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

  1. God decides who will lead or impact others. To limit God’s sovereignty by prescribing which Christians are allowed to influence others is an almost fatal blow to church growth. Just as the Bishops prohibited Wesley from preaching outdoors, trying to prohibit females from rightly wielding the word of God is futile. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.

    1. I agree. 1 Corinthians 12, which is all about ministry, never mentions gender (cf. Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor 14:26; Col. 3:16). But it does mention that it is God who equips his people for various ministries.

    2. I like that in today’s world, both male and female hands rock that cradle.

      1. Me too.

        My husband is, without a doubt, the best grandfather “cradle-rocker” in the world. 😉

        He is so gentle and playful with our grandkidlets and they adore him. He does everything necessary when we babysit, without the slightest qualm.
        He has unending patience, strength and energy with them.

        We have the joy of seeing our grandchildren every day. 🙂

  2. Good post Marg! Very well put.

    Where God says “is not My way equal” in Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33, I believe He is meaning ‘righteous’…balanced…fair, just as well. Is this also a way of putting the idea of maintaining differences among people while retaining equality?

    The way God seems to deal with differences is to tell us “to whom much is given, much is required”…in other words, yes, some of you are different, in fact even very different and I have even made you very different…but to whom I have given much I also require much…so that is how I deal with you humans.

    When put this way, one wonders who will be responsible for women to whom God gave much who have been stifled at every turn and prevented from doing as God required?

    1. Since the New Testament indicates that we will all have to give an account of how we have used our abilities and opportunities, I guess that means some Christians will have to explain why they’ve hindered women from using their gifts. And some women will have to explain why they buried their talent(s).

  3. Egalitarians do not seek to put others down, nor do we claim to have authority over anybody. It is not hurtful to claim to be equal, but it is hurtful to claim complementarianism because in that case, males are given authority roles, while females are given submissive, or lesser, roles.

    1. I agree, Shirley. Egalitarianism hurts no one.

      1. Except maybe those who are determined to hold onto power. But that’s hardly a Christlike characteristic.

  4. This is good post and thank you so much! I think, many christians around the world confuse social gender roles as God given roles. We also need to learn and isolate God’s words and will in both Hebrew and Greek cultures. Many a times, we confuse Jewish cultural life and God’s life. I need God and Jesus and not human cultures….

    1. Hi Domnic,

      So true. It can be difficult to distinguish the timeless principles from the cultural situation. But it is a task interpreters must take.

      On the other hand, I know Christians who think it is necessary to try and follow all the instructions in the Bible irrespective of who they were originally given to and why.

  5. Someone on Facebook had a problem with my article. I’ve copy and pasted my response here in case others had a similar concern.

    My post is not about leadership. Egalitarianism is about being able to use your gift(s) without artificial restrictions. Leadership ability is just one of numerous gifts within the body of believers. And I agree with you that not everyone is a leader on a regular basis. Nevertheless, in real life, a capable person does lead in some capacity every now and then.

    Generally speaking, we need to value other ministries within the body, and give them greater honour than we sometimes do. And we need to be careful that we don’t overdo the honour shown to just a few ministries (1 Cor. 12:22-25)

    Hierarchical complementarians, on the other hand, have made leadership the issue. John Piper, and too many others, believe that leadership is what defines manhood, and that submission to male leadership is what defines womanhood. I completely disagree with their definitions of “biblical manhood and womanhood”. In fact, I do not see that the biblical authors make any attempt at defining manhood and womanhood. Instead we see men and women in the Bible involved in all kinds of activities and situations.

    I think you may be reading more into the article than intended. I do not think I have burned anyone or misrepresented anyone, or that I have said that everyone is a leader. My main points are that egalitarianism is not about regarding every as the same, and that in the body of Christ there should be no discrimination, or curtailing of ministry, on the basis of race, gender, class, etc.

  6. Excellent. I mentioned before I don’t like to place myself in either egal or comp camp but I your post is spot on on the word equality especially in God’s Kingdom. I don’t like it when people confuse the word equal with identical and try to downplay some of the differences or others who misuse the word to justify their own agenda. However, on the other side, I don’t like when those use the gender differences to justify restrictive different roles for men and women. Sometimes they even overestimate the differences to hold on to rigid gender stereotypes as you mentioned. I accept that men and women some differences that include unique strengths, weaknesses and some abilities(only women can have babies), but there are also unique individual differences among all of us regardless of gender. Thanks for another great post. God Bless.

    1. Thanks CT.

      Some people definitely overemphasise the differences between men and women. Adam didn’t do that. When he saw Eve he exclaimed how similar they were. The similarity and compatibility of man and woman seems to be the chief message of the creation of Eve narrative (Gen. 2:21-25).

      Generally speaking there are some differences between men and women, but we cause division when we polarise the sexes.

    2. Amen! You’ve articulated exactly what is on my heart. I grow weary of trying to fit myself into a prescribed gender role, rather than allowing myself to be the person God created me to be.

  7. Interesting how we concern ourselves with gender when discussing Egalitarianism but we ignore the other restrictions that come when we discuss clericalism and laity. Why are these ‘unequal’ relationships not included in Egalitarian thought? Is there a reason only one person in a congregation is permitted to speak while the rest are silenced for sometimes over an hour? What about the stifling effect of this on large numbers of people? How can their gifts be used, and when?

    I am considering leaving another congregation since, having attended for two years, I find that my 35 years of study are not needed by most people because I do not have a theology ‘degree’ or a ‘title’. When we sit down to talk it is difficult to turn the conversation to spiritual matters, as the general feeling seems to be that the “sermon” was for that spiritual ‘food’ and the social time after seems to be for the ‘secular’. I would rather stay home then and invite a few spiritually minded friends over than sit in silence, gazing at the backs of a large number of people or keeping my back to a large number behind me, then having coffee with small talk and going home.

    1. Hi Judy,

      The unequal clergy-laity and one-man-show paradigms are unbiblical and concern me. I know egalitarians who focus on these kinds of issues (e.g. Richard Jacobson, Kremina Kreminski, James Paul and Kathleen Ward).

      I have several articles about authority in the church on this website. Here’s just one of them. I also have a few articles about the fallacious idea of a male-only priesthood here.

      I have often thought that some of my conversations with friends are much more edifying and worshipful than sitting silently and passively in a church service.

      1. Thank you for the references, Marg…they are very helpful.

        I have wondered about ‘organic’ churches and wonder how it is possible to find such a beast…or to start one…knowing that there is no perfect solution except to wait on the Lord to lead and guide…asking Him for both.

  8. What is fascinating to me as I walk on my Jesus jounrey learning to love, that when geniune love is present, it seeks after the other at its own expense. Love cannot help that. As a result, the societal distinctions fade away as far as who is in charge, who can do what….for so many people, “service” has really become a code word for “power.” It is a peculiar observation to me as I walk through life that humans will find something and then concentrate it into a centralized power. So Christians glorify service….from there, serving people is concentrated in a few hands…the powerful….for instance…men in leadership…pastors and a flock….etc. the position changes in our minds to one that brings us glory. Service…an under lift call becomes an “authority over submit” call that is unilateral and based on being told what to do and how to do it. I have found, love doesnt even come close to thinking that way. The theological arguments, imortant as they may be, indicate to me that the church has lost sight of her first love. Looking at Jesus, these arguments vanish. Perhaps unrealistic but it has definitely shown up in my life that way….I dont need to control…We have so much religion masquerading as love we are pretty confused about what God love looks and feels like. I appreciate theology, but too often I think it misses the point. Thanks Marge for clarifying!

  9. Thanks so much for this, Marg! One question – since men and women are not the same, what are our differences? I have never seen a clear run down of our differences from an egalitarian voice. Comp voices ‘differences’ just devolve into gender roles and male unilateral authority/female unilateral submission.

    1. Hi SRB,

      Apart from biological differences, which are sometimes ambiguous, I don’t think it is possible to draw up a list of solely male attributes and qualities and a list of solely female attributes and qualities. As one trivial example, I have a great sense of direction. Yet it is generally thought that women have a worse sense of direction than men.

      It is possible to draw up lists of male and female tendencies, but there will be many exceptions to these tendencies. And I can’t see that such male-female lists will be helpful in day to day life.

      For people who love certainty and precision, not having two neat categories can be a problem. But I don’t have a problem with it. I am a woman. I know what it is like to be a woman, even I can’t articulate what it is, apart from biology, that makes me a woman.

      One thing is certain, leadership and submission are not tied to one gender or the other.

      I discuss this a little more here: https://margmowczko.com/gender-emphasizing-our-differences-or-similarities/

  10. It’s really more about shared authority and shared leadership than it is about no differences between men and women or, as you wrote, between men and between women. It’s not about eliminating differences and everything about shared leadership and authority I think…

    1. Hi Brian, egalitarianism includes the sharing of authority and leadership. Though in my mind, there’s much more to egalitarianism than authority and leadership.

      I live with an egalitarian ethos, but mostly it has nothing to do with leadership. Rather, it has to do with mutual submission and giving space for people and encouraging them to use their gifts.

  11. I was looking at early religious efforts to discount and discredit and mislabel the women that followed Jesus. It led me to Rahab and then to Mary M and how they had been labelled prostitutes, even though that is not scriptural. I then looked at adultery and in the Old Testament the women fault which then led me to how Jesus treated the women in John 8. Anyway, it is a very interesting topic, anytime we say one person is greater than the other, we really open the door to victimization. How did Jesus treat people, we need to ask ourselves that.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Several Bible women have been misjudged and mislabelled. Eve, Delilah, and Bathsheba have been unfairly portrayed as seductresses. Mary Magdalene has been wrongly labelled as a prostitute, and the Samaritan woman has been regarded as a loose woman.

      Jesus, on the other hand, did not discredit and diminish women. 🙂 I’ve written about Jesus and women here: https://margmowczko.com/jesus-and-women/

      As for Rahab: In both the Old Testament (Josh. 2:1; 6:17, 22, 25) and the New Testament (Heb. 11:31; Jas 2:25), she is referred to as a “prostitute” (Hebrew: zanah; Greek: pornē). Yet Rahab is highly respected by the Jews, and she is my favourite Old Testament woman. More about Rahab here: https://margmowczko.com/rahab-and-lydia-faith-filled-bible-women/

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