I have had many conversations about the egalitarian perspective of marriage with friends, family, and others. Some have been great discussions where, even with differing views, there is genuine understanding and receptivity on both sides. In others, this has not been the case.
I become discouraged when what I share is met by preconceived ideas and the things I say hit the anti-heresy wall and slide to the ground without consideration. I want to clear the air for conversations to come for both others and myself.
1. Egalitarian Marriage Is Not Unbiblical
To provide context for one of the primary passages on this topic, consider the culture in which Ephesians 5 was written. The Greco-Roman context was very oppressive to women. There was not an equal or matriarchal system for marriage to which Paul was establishing a patriarchal correction. Rather, Paul’s statements would have been contrary to culture and incredibly empowering to married women.
- “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
Men were certainly not subject to women in Paul’s time. It was a given that women were to be subject to men. Paul shakes up the social system of the day.
- “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28 (see also 1 Corinthians 7)
This was absolutely crazy for that time. Women were used for the pleasure of men, both socially and physically. The service of men was priority. Loving one’s wife as their own body was not likely on the grid for men in this setting.
- “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:31
Here Paul does an interesting thing! He quotes Genesis 2:24, a verse that says it is the man who is to leave his father and mother to be joined to his wife.
This passage in Ephesians was written to encourage married couples to see one another as equally valued persons. It was empowering to wives and challenging to husbands, an encouragement of Kingdom nature. It is unfortunate that words meant for liberation have often been used for subjugation.
2. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the End of Chivalry
Often the idea of egalitarianism gets mixed with experiences of radical feminism. While the actual definition of feminism is merely that women are considered equal to men, feminism is not egalitarianism.
Feminism is a tough pill for some to swallow because of perceptions that feminism pushes back against male chivalry and good ol’ fashioned manners. But egalitarianism does not mean that men no longer hold open doors, pull out chairs, or treat a woman “like a lady”.
It means that wives are considered equal partners with their husbands, capable of making decisions, collaborating, and using their God-given talents and gifting. None of this negates the kindness that is extended by holding open a door.
It is a reflection of Jesus to act out of servant-heartedness and consideration for others.
3. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Removal of a “Covering”
Another pushback I hear is the concern for women to have a “spiritual covering”. When I started to look into where this phrase came from, I struggled to find a source. The best I could come up with was either Ephesians 5, where the head-body metaphor might have been transferred into a spiritual covering concept; or 1 Corinthians 11, where women are told they need head coverings and men do not. (A great exegesis on 1 Corinthians 11 can be found here.)
Outside of these passages, I cannot find a passage that eliminates of the role of Jesus in a believer’s life. The Protestant Reformation fought for the necessity of a priest to be eliminated from doctrine, as a means to be in relationship with God. How is it that once a woman is married she is moved under a new covering? If a woman never marries; is she forever without the covering she is required to be in true relationship with God?
Egalitarian marriage is not the removal of a covering, but the affirmation of Jesus Christ as the “covering” and the Lord of all those who have chosen to follow Him.
4. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Neglect of Children and Household
In some conversations, there seems to be a concern that egalitarianism means that the mother pursues a career at the expense of care for children or matters of the home. This perspective minimizes the role and ability of fathers. Egalitarianism holds that there is mutual responsibility shared in all aspects of marriage and family.
Egalitarian marriage is not the neglect of the household or parenting. It is the stance that both mothers and fathers are necessary in the lives of their children and that both parents are responsible for their home. How this plays out in terms of which parent works, where they work, and for how many hours is subjective to each family and how they feel led to bring forth the Kingdom as a family.
5. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Diminishment of Differences
There is no denying that there are scientifically-proven differences between men and women physically, emotionally, and socially. Being different is good; it’s what makes each person unique. These differences exist in both generalizations and specifications. Not all men are natural born leaders, some women are. Not all mothers are best suited to be stay at home parents, some fathers are.
The reality is that personal differences should not be ignored. It is within our differences that we function as the varying parts of the body of Christ. Each of us has unique gifts and talents. Egalitarianism embraces the unique differences that exist within each marriage, and pursues equal empowerment, support, and collaboration.
6. Egalitarian Marriage is Not Something to be Feared
As Christians, we are called to become like Christ. We are all children of God, we all share in the grace and love of God, and we can all partner for the good of the Kingdom. Marriage provides a perpetual opportunity for both husbands and wives to grow in the characteristics of Christ through sacrifice, service, encouragement, and love.
This is egalitarian marriage. There is no hierarchy and no greater role given to one spouse over the other because of their sex.
All are one in Christ Jesus. There is no priority greater than for every person, male and female, to be empowered to pursue Christ and the calling He places on each life.
Equality and collaboration allow each spouse to fully function within their God given gifts, talents, and abilities to love their spouse, to serve their family, and to demonstrate God’s heart to the world.
Egalitarian marriage is not a way of living that’s meant to be feared. It is a way to live that is meant for the Kingdom.
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