My comp background had painted a different picture of egalitarianism (which is not to say that all complementarians paint this picture, but more to say that this was the impression that my own unique experience caused me to have). I pictured the "me-first" attitude I saw on television, a home where chaos reigned, absence of structure and routine pre-eminent, loud and angry power struggles... I couldn't have been more wrong. As I studied Christian egalitarian writings, I saw a strong message of respect promoted throughout---a respect based on humanity, not on gender.
As a result, when I ceased to believe that my husband was my leader, I did not cease to respect him. In fact, I sought to understand better what respect meant and what it might look like in my difficult marriage. The following are some excerpts and musings from egalitarian sources (some Christian, some not) on the absolute importance of respect in marriage and other relationships.
From Discovering Biblical Equality (the response manual to CBMW's handbook), on the very first page of the Introduction, we are reminded that egalitarianism is not in opposition to the concepts of authority and respect.
"Egalitarianism recognizes patterns of authority in the family, church, and
society---it is not anarchistic---but rejects the notion that any office,
ministry, or opportunity should be denied anyone on the grounds of gender
On this website helping young women make wise choices about relationships, readers are taught that one necessary component of a healthy relationship is,
"Respect and Trust: In healthy relationships, you learn to respect and trust
important people in your life. Disagreements may still happen, but you learn to
stay calm and talk about how you feel. Talking calmly helps you to understand
the real reason for not getting along, and it's much easier to figure out how to
fix it. In healthy relationships, working through disagreements often makes the
relationship stronger. In healthy relationships, people respect each other for
who they are. This includes respecting and listening to yourself and your
feelings so you can set boundaries and feel comfortable. You will find that you
learn to understand experiences and feelings of others as well as having them
understand your experiences and feelings."
One non-complementarian professer speaks openly about the need for respect in marriage, explaining that,
"Respect can sometimes be an old-fashioned word, at times it can be
downright annoying because it seems to be the one ingredient that’s been minced,
sliced, grated and chopped many times over, especially in relationship and
marriage manuals and how-to books. There’s respect for one’s parents, for
society’s traditions, for your neighbor, for other races. And then there’s
respect at the workplace, respect for the opinions of your co-workers and
respect for a particular culture’s system of values, no matter how these values
seem so alien from our own. The frequency with which we talk and analyze respect
shows that while it may be an old-fashioned virtue, it still lies at the core of
our ability to achieve success and happiness. Not to mention our acceptance,
social or otherwise, by others.
Respect begets respect. Respect in marriage is the key to fulfilling
relationships and well-bred, considerate children. It may sound rather
repetitious and stale, but when there’s respect in a marriage, the integrity of
marriage as an institution remains intact. What society needs is the dignity of
every man and woman and child multiplied a million times over. If people
respected each other and the property of their neighbors, there wouldn’t be any
crime. And we would even dare say that if there was respect in marriage, there
probably wouldn’t be any divorce.
Oops…maybe we’re stretching that a little, but if we can detect the lack of respect during the courtship stage, we would certainly not commit to a lifetime commitment of married life. So if we refrain
from getting into a marriage where you suspect the respect ingredient will be
blatantly missing, then there wouldn’t be a compelling need to talk about
avoiding divorce since there won’t be a marriage devoid of respect in the first
He then goes on to give a checklist for couples thinking about marriage, warning them that if disrespect is alive and well in their relationship, their would-be marriage is likely to fail.
"Here’s a possible checklist of things your antenna should be catching. And
if you’re honest with yourself and want true happiness, you won’t make excuses
for your beloved’s transgressions, even if he or she is the greatest-looking gal
or lad around. Being beautiful does not give anyone the right to be
disrespectful of others:
Here goes –
When talking about family, do you feel your partner
deeply respects them and thinks the world of them? Or does your partner tend to
air dirty linen much too frequently, revealing intimate details about family
members that ought not to be revealed?
Does your partner arrive punctually for dates and appointments with
you, or is there a habitual tardiness accompanied by lame excuses?
Does your partner make fun of you in public, disregards your opinion
and dismisses you as though you were not around when he/she is with friends?
Does your partner make all decisions on his own without asking you for
yours, especially in matters that involve the two of you?
Does your partner go out of his/her way to please you and say things
that make you feel good?
Does your partner remember birthdays, special occasions, and does
something special for you?
Does your partner recognize your strengths and limitations and
offers encouragement instead of belittling you?
Does your partner show respect for your parents and family?
Does your partner pry into your personal life too much and asks you
embarrassing questions that you’d rather not answer?
No doubt there are a host of other signs (or omens) that will tell you
whether you’re going to be enjoying respect or craving for it. You don’t want to
have to ask for it, respect is something that should come naturally.
If you feel you don’t get enough of it, and you still go ahead with the
marriage, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Many people think marriage would
correct a person’s faults. Marriage, being a noble state to be in, unfortunately
is not a rehabilitation center. Neither is it a correctional facility. If your
partner says things or engages in behavior that puts a big question mark in your
mind, don’t expect marriage to relieve the symptoms. It is not a cure for
diseases like disrespect." [full
The theme of this advice is that respect is absolutely vital to a relationship, and that respect is not something that is a male thing, but rather a gift that both men and women are to recieve---as well as give. Respect is something we give to humans made in God's image, the gift of being treated with dignity, as a seperate and unique individual. For egalitarians, respect is not a gender thing, it's a human thing.
Doctor's Cloud and Townsend of the famous Boundaries series explain that,
"Boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, or
shows you where you begin and end... We need to respect the boundaries of
others in order to command respect for our own."
Dr. Bellows says respecting your spouse is vital in order to have good communication, explaining,
"We often immediately reject another’s perceptions, especially when our
views differ. This rejection may even be unconscious. We find ourselves ready to
dispute the things our spouse has to say, to challenge them, or to hear them as
threats. Obviously, such an attitude interferes with two-way communication. The
first step to improved dialogues is to respect your partner.
you to accept another person’s point of view whole-heartedly. Consider and value
your spouse’s perspectives or suggestions. Let your partner know that your
respect and value for him or her supersedes the specific issue you are
Respect is not optional for the egalitarian Christian, because respect is not optional for the Christian. We are called to treat others as we would treat ourselves---and what human being does not desire to be offered dignity? We may differ from some complementarians, in that we do not believe that respect is dependant on gender, but rather on humanity. We also may differ from some complementarians because we do not believe that respecting males means to defer to their opinions or to give them authority over us (in fact, sometimes respecting the image of God in a person requires us to refuse to do what they are demanding!). For example, it is not disrespectful to disagree with someone, or to have your own opinion. It is disrespectful, however, to belittle their opinion.
Wikipedia defines respect as being,
"esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal
quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal
quality or ability."
We believe that all created in God's image have great worth. Because we are followers of a Savior who treated society's "scum" with respect, who suffered and died so that those who beat Him might have hope, and who calls us to follow in His footsteps, we can embrace the idea of treating others with respect and we seek to grow in our understanding of what respect means and looks like in our every day interactions.