Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

***Working to be a safe place for all sides to share.***


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Fundamental Irony of Egalitarianism?

In yesterday's post, Peter accused complementarians of dishonesty when they make statements to the effect that leadership roles are not intrinsically "better" than roles which are characterized primarily by submission. Basically, Peter said that we know instinctively that leadership roles are of higher status than others. What's more, he argued that this is a cultural assumption which is supported by the Bible. Therefore, when complementarians assert that there is as much glory in quietly serving others as there is in speaking before thousands, it's nothing more than propaganda designed to mollify those masses foolish enough to follow.

This line of reasoning reveals what I see as the fundamental irony of egalitarianism: in trying to establish "equality" among the sexes, it unwittingly reinforces a hierarchical ranking of careers and callings. Clergy clearly get more "glory" in the church than "laypeople," so we should all aspire to be clergy. Leaders clearly have more "status" than non-leaders, so we should all aspire to be leaders. Quarterbacks clearly get more attention than offensive linemen, so every football player should fight over who gets to throw the ball.

In a sport like American football, where division of labor is necessary and every member of the team serves an equally vital (if not equally glamorous) role, it is easy to see that one role is not intrinsically "better" than another. This notion that all roles are necessary and valuable is certainly supported in the Bible (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). Yet somehow, when it comes to husbands and wives or men and women in the church, any assertion that there is an appropriate division of labor immediately gets shouted down as sexist and dishonest. "There those men go again, keeping the good jobs for themselves while trying to convince the women that they are better suited for the drudgery of housework!"

If you want to say, "Yes, there is an appropriate division of labor within the body of Christ, but gender should not be the basis for the division," that's fair enough. That's a question we can debate. But if you imply that we should all desire to become church leaders because there's more glory and status in such roles, you end up throwing out the cherished Reformation (and Biblical) doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers." You imply that the Christian who chooses to "lead a quiet life" and "work with [his or her] hands" (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13) is somehow choosing a second-class Christianity. In short, you throw out one form of egalitarianism in your pursuit of another.

The fundamental irony of secular feminism was that it denigrated the uniquely feminine roles of wifehood and motherhood in its pursuit of equal status for women in the marketplace. Women who didn't have any interest in "breaking through the glass ceiling" were subtly and not-so-subtly told that they were less ambitious, less intelligent, and less significant than women who were pursuing careers. Egalitarians need to be careful that they don't unwittingly communicate the same message to women who don't have any interest in breaking through the stained-glass ceiling. When a complementarian minister asserts that his stay-at-home wife is just as important to the Body of Christ as he is, he is not necessarily "lying" in order to protect his position. Strange as it might seem, he may actually admire her for the nobility and importance of her service. And who knows? In God's economy, her unseen work may have more of an impact on eternity than his more visible work ever could.