Because We’re All Equal, Doesn’t Mean We’re All The Same – Why Egalitarianism Is Not A Dirty Word

When it comes to Christian marriage, apparently you can only belong to one of two camps these days – egalitarian, or complementarian. An egalitarian marriage is loosely defined as one one where both parties share equal rights and responsibilities, have equal say on decision making and perhaps even equally divide time and energy given to paid or domestic work. A complementarian marriage is the more traditional model, where a man is considered the “leader” by virtue of his gender and the woman is subject to his overarching authority by virtue of hers, which could mean all kinds of things domestically and politically.

Debate amongst Christians about which model more accurately reflects Biblical principles for married men and women is active again thanks to books such as Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll’s recently released handbook on how to wrangle yourself a good, charismatic, churchy-type marriage. Ideas such as Driscoll’s seem to spring from the hope that if women in church would just sit down, shut up and stop trying to be the boss of everything, the planets would align, Christian couples would stop divorcing and giving God a bad reputation, and everyone in Christendom would prosper and be happy. Misogynist Bible teachers throughout the ages would certainly be ratified in their particular Bible interpretations. If only we would do it – we meaning the rascally, rebellious women, and it meaning submit to the gender-assigned, irrevocable authority over us of all the ones with the penises.

Why won’t we do it?

Now, I think it’s safe to say we all want the same thing, but the we I’m talking about now is all the married men and women in church. We all want to stay married. We all want the church to prosper and remain relevant in our communities, and in our present society and culture. We all also want to have enough money to pay our bills and all be great parents to our kids. We do all want this, and we all are going to do whatever we have to do to make it all work out.

So we’ve established that we’re on the same page where what we want is concerned, however the scope and variance of the individuals included in this sociological vision are as many as the stars in the sky. It’s not just generic men and generic women. It’s strong men. Strong women. Deep thinking men. Passive women. Contentious, bossy men. Abused, cowering women. Nurturing, pastoral men. Nurturing, pastoral women. Single, ambitious men. Single, ambitious women. Fatherly, steadfast men. Motherly, faithful women. And the list goes on.

So given this diversity, why is there such a cookie-cutter approach to marriage and family in the contemporary church?

I think one reason we are seeing such a polarisation between egalitarianism and complementarianism is that, in search of the marriage that will please God the most, people have stopped listening to the people they are married to and started listening to their church leaders. And strangely despite this diversity amongst people generally, it seems that when it comes to the most vocal, complementarianistic church leaders, we often end up with just one particular type of person in charge, just one kind of person telling is how it all ought be be in a perfect, Christian world.

The strong, charismatic, opinionated, white, middle-aged, heterosexual male.

The strong, charismatic, opinionated male who needs to be that way because he is leading a congregation of several/several hundred/several thousand people. The white, middle-aged, heterosexual male who, in order to do his job well, needs to be supported and complemented by a certain kind of supporter. So he marries one. Or else the person he happens to be married to cleverly works out what is required for this particular marriage to succeed, for the mortgage to keep being paid, the children to be nurtured, the needs to be met and the ordination to be fulfilled, so she gets busy and makes it happen. Sometimes the it she makes happen is falling in behind his personality, ministry and leadership. And good for them both, I say.

Because these particularly leadery church men are called to lead, and become successful doing so, they somehow come to believe that all men are called to lead. They then teach all the men they come across that all men must lead, and they also teach that all men need little micro-congregations, so it follows that reasonably, it must be everyone else other than the men who will do the following.

Girls, that only leaves us.

These pastors will spend a lot of time and energy berating men, some of whom who are not natural leaders, and those who are but who are not yet leaders, to become leaders, and berating all women who are not following all men merely by default of their gender to start doing so. They say we will get everything that they have managed to achieve by such methods if we do so. Success, influence, lots of sex, maybe a book deal, certainly marital harmony.

Problem is as I see it, you don’t get to raise a big old field of corn when you’ve actually got pumpkin seeds to work with in the first place.

The 1% of men in the church who have big, fat personalities like Driscoll, and the 1% of very adaptable, well-resourced and downright clever women they’re possibly married to will probably manage to achieve the stunning results the methods promise. Complimentarianism at its best works when a man who is driven to succeed is supported by a woman who is likewise driven to succeed, and they agree on what it is they both want and are prepared to do. Man goes up – woman comes down. However, put simply, not all people are built – or indeed capable – of traditional, complementary marriages.

I really wish church leaders would stop idealising marriage generally. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian marriage. All human relations are complex, messy, organic and negotiable, or at least I think they should be. Marriages seem to break up largely because of unfulfilled expectations, and while complementarianism works for a good many married people, for others it is merely one more set of hoops they must install and then insist the other jump through. Complementarianism teachers and pastors need to understand that their perfectly round hoops are not shaped like people. It’s not the people that are the problem. It’s your hoops. Some of us have actually tried in the past to jump through the hoops of complementarianism and gotten ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

It’s just not working for all of us, folks.

Complementarian teachers seem to have an abject fear of egalitarianism. I think it’s because they believe that equality in marriage means no hoops at all, and no hoops means the Bible is being disobeyed or God is being mocked. But egalitarianism is not no hoops – it’s simply another set of hoops altogether.

What are those hoops? Mutual submission, and mutual authority. Mutual work and domestic responsibilities. Equal opportunities for ministry and career pursuit. Mutual support in financial and practical issues. Shared responsibility where children are concerned. Mutual deference to strengths and weaknesses, capacity and incapacity. It’s less I do for you and more we do for us. I love it because there is far less opportunity for either of us to martyr ourselves in self-sacrifice for the other, which means less unrequited expectations, and less taking advantage of the other, less pride, and far less self-pity. It doesn’t mean what many complementarianists think it means. It doesn’t mean my husband is emasculated, or I am a feminist. It means we share the responsibility for the way this thing goes, and accountability for it’s success and failure.

Egalitarianism in marriage has become a dirty word of late. Well, you go ahead and swear all you like, but egalitarianism is working out great for us. I would like to speak for the 99% of Christians who are not – or are not married to – a contemporary charismatic mega-church pastor and just say buddy, you go ahead and do whatever works for you, and we’ll just keep doing what we know for sure works for us.

*****

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She Won’t Let Me Wear The Pants Or Stick My Thingy In Her, And Other Pressing Problems Facing The Church Today

Okay, so as a middle-aged Christian woman, in light of the recent rash of Driscollisms doing the rounds, I feel at this point I need to stand up say something. Someone certainly needs to tell these Bible-college educated boofheads a few home truths about marriage, leadership and sex. I’ve been hearing this same inane, misogynist drivel preached from church pulpits for about three decades now, and I’m so bloody tired of it, I just can’t tell you.

I wish everything they keep telling us to do actually worked, really I do. I wish all gender issues in the church and the larger problems of the world could be cured if I as a Christian woman agreed to never write essays or read books or rise above the creche roster at church, and promised to wear a french maids outfit while I dusted and baked. But this largely sexist idea that you guys – and it is the guys for the most part – seem to have about how all Christian men and all Christian women are wired – or ought to be wired –  just doesn’t work in the real world. And believe it or not, Mr. Anti-Women-In-Leadership, your church is in the real world.retro-couple

And, about that leadership thing. Let’s get this straight. You should stop telling men they ought to want to be leaders all the time, and telling women they ought to want to not be. Not all men want to be leaders, and not all men can be leaders, good or otherwise. And not all men want to live in a system of marriage or church or community where the kind of leaders you and your ilk advocate they become are even necessary. I mean, just listen to the way you talk to people, for crying out loud. Not all men are averse to the leadership of women, and many resent the fact you’re always telling them they ought to be. As hard as it is to believe, many men actually like women as fellow human beings, and don’t think women are just for marrying, or leading around, or sticking their willies in. I put it to you that an awful lot of men – more than you probably think – don’t want to be leaders, of their wives or anyone else. And these are not broken men that need fixing.

Another thing. Despite all that weaker vessel stuff, not all women are weaker than men, physically, mentally or spiritually. Some women are naturally very strong, and many have had to learn to be, and that is not an anomaly that needs solving or correcting. Little Man, not all women who are strong want to emasculate you. I am a strong woman, however, when I come into the presence of others, I do not assume because I am strong I am the boss of everyone else, and therefore all those present must defer to my strengths because there can be only one. I am happy to work with and appreciate the strengths – and the weaknesses – of other people, and give credit and respect where due. Regardless of what the misogynist men church teachers say, neither men nor women should assume their strengths are God’s gift to others, and that others must therefore submit and make way for them. My husband and I work together. He knows what my strengths are, and he is happy to use that to his advantage. He’s a smart guy. We try to let the other one do what they are good at and naturally enjoy, and we work hard not to dominate, but to compliment each other.

I tried downplaying my strengths once to allow my husband to rise up and be more like the strong Christian man the church said he was supposed to be in every area of our marriage (because he had the penis) but that was a disaster. He didn’t want to ‘lead me’ – he married me because he liked me and thought I was attractive and interesting, not because he thought I was weak and stupid and needed him or I would die alone in the woods. We figure God knew just what he was doing when he put us together, and when we both use our powers for good and not evil, everything works just fine. When things go wrong, it won’t work to blame someone else for being weak or a usurper. We just get onto the problem and sort it out.

Let’s just call this need some Christian men have to dominate and control others exactly what it is – basic emotional insecurity. If a man is intimidated by and feels he needs to dominate another person, and this is further compounded by the fact she is a woman, he is insecure first, a bully second, and a silly misogynist third. Buddy, your problem isn’t that your wife won’t follow your leadership, its that you’re trying to create an autonomous dictatorship in what is meant to be a democracy. Ironically, I have met a lot of incredibly strong women who got that way after surviving their stupid, despotic husband who used spiritual, emotional and physical rape as a “Biblical” leadership strategy. If you try to break your wife by demanding she follow your leadership because God said she has to, she may get strong in a whole bunch of ways you didn’t count on, with Gods help…and I will promise to help her do it.

Now, the sex thing. Pay close attention, because this is very important. Regardless of what they preach in church and write in their preachy marriage books, not all women have naturally low sex drives. A lot of women have naturally high sex drives, higher than their husbands do, higher than most men do in fact. Many men have naturally low sex drives, and it’s perfectly normal, i.e.: not a problem that needs fixing. If your wife doesn’t want to have sex with you, that is YOUR problem, not hers. You’re the one with the erection – sort yourself out, for goodness sake, and leave her alone. You do realise her part of the equation bleeds for a week every month, yeah? And besides, maybe your breath stinks. Maybe you stink. Maybe she really is tired or has a headache because of all the other problems she has to take care of as a result of the other times you put your thingy in her – i.e.: your children.  Your dick is your priority, not hers.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that if a woman has a low desire for sex she’s called “frigid”, but there is no derogatory name for a man with a low sex drive. As if it were impossible for a man to have a low sex drive, or for a woman to be sexually frustrated. Hello. There’s no name for a man with a low sex drive, because we don’t presume that everyone with a penis will just instantly feel like sticking it into us when we snap our fingers, and – funnily enough – your puerile name calling didn’t make us horny when you did it to us. Neither did those sermons you wrote telling us we need to deal with our sexual “problems”. The fact that you wouldn’t even know a sexually frustrated woman if you fell over her – and yet a sexually frustrated man doesn’t seem capable of thinking or talking about anything else – says a lot about our genders ability to take care of our business, don’t you think?

Mr Sex-Obsessed, Misogynist, Power-hungry Pastor-man, every time you talk at people about what is normal and what is not when it comes to sex, family and relationships you effectively cause 99% of your congregation to become just a little bit more neurotic. I don’t care to read your book and find out if God gets mad when we put that into there. If you’d stop banging on about it – no pun intended – many people would not ever presume their sex life was broken and needed fixing in the first place. And this is the real problem, isn’t it? The church stopped talking a long time ago about how great and amazing and awesome people are and all the things they are capable of and can aspire to and create together, and instead started repressing everyone and bitching about them, while at the same time complaining about being repressed. I’ll come back to church when you guys start healing and uniting all people, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, celebrating their humanity and diversity, and just stop with the generalisations, the misogyny, and the micro-managing sin via behaviour modification. It’s just boring.

 

 

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