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How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

How Christian Egalitarians Understand Equality

Equal and Different

A common misunderstanding about what Christian egalitarians believe 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, the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. In other words, there is a levelling where we each have the same status, the same rights, and, potentially, 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 even personal preferences. The “level playing field” of the kingdom of Jesus it 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.

How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

“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 new 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 that Paul’s statement here is simply a theological statement that has no bearing on our present society or relationships within the community of God’s people. Yet 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 have occasionally been 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 which 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, and saying that all men are leaders and all women are submissive followers—a view held by 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 ).


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 help 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.

Scot McKnight comments on Ruth Tucker’s new book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, here.
Nate Sparks reviews it here.

Related Articles

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?

Posted March 3rd, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

27 comments on “How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

  1. Gary Sweeten says:

    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.

    • Marg says:

      I agree. 1 Corinthians 12, which is all about ministry, never mentions gender. But it does mention that it is God who equips his people for various ministries.

    • Cassandra Wright says:

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

      • Marg says:

        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. judy says:

    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?

    • Marg says:

      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.

  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….

    • Marg says:

      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. Marg says:

    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.

    • Marg says:

      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.

    • Gary Sweeten says:

      Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a ______ what others think. Get involved with like minded people and follow God in freedom.

      Those who must live with a hierarchy are unable to change it, and those in the hierarchy have no reason to change. All the perks go to the bosses not the bees. I set up a ministry in Russia in 1992 and the recently converted and liberated Christians begged me to dictate what they should do. When I refused, some of them wept openly. They had never been free to decide before, but I refused to be their dictator. Putin agreed to be their dictator and many Russians love it. My mature people hate his leadership. Only a mature person can accept freedom.

      • Marg says:

        “All the perks go to the bosses and not to the bees.” Love how you’ve expresses this.

        And “Only a mature person can accept freedom.” I’ll really have to think about that!

    • Erin says:

      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. judy says:

    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.

    • Marg says:

      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.

      • judy says:

        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. Gary Sweeten says:

    The single greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel is the notion of a top down, clergy laity division. There are about 700,000 people over 50 in Greater Cincinnati. Many are longing to use their time, talents and money to serve the Lord. No one asks them to do anything but pew sit and donate.

    That is a crime.

    • judy says:

      Right on, Gary! It is just not the correct direction, I believe. But if those 700,000 were to ask the Lord to lead them in ways to serve Him and just watch for His leading, rather than pew sitting perhaps God would ask them for more?

      My days of pew sitting and donating are over. I am looking for direction from God…We need to be the church wherever we are…at least the internet blogs like this one help us to focus and consider other options…Thank you Marg again for your blog and for helping to make that possible!

      Where else can 700,000,here and there, connect to find a way out of such futility?

      • Gary Sweeten says:

        Start a fellowship for mature believers and do what you want. I tried to recruit pastors to help me but they refused because “Those people will not do what I tell them to do”.

        Nope. Those days ended at age 12.

  9. […] Why I am a feminist and an egalitarian (and why they aren’t the same thing) by Kate Wallace; How Christian egalitarians understand equality by Marg […]

  10. […] How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality” […]

  11. […] This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here. […]

  12. judy says:

    Marg says “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.”

    Exactly…so I have begun a sporadic ‘event’ at my home where I invite women to come and SPEAK, SHARE, HELP LEAD…and give them a reading to do before we come together. They are expected to take part and so this is limited to a fairly small number of people. It has been very unexpected in its results, but fruitful and each person leaves feeling as if they have learned something about themselves as well as about each other and the idea that this is to lead us to a better understanding of Christ is at the heart of the meetings. It is a celebration of some aspect of Christ and who He is and what that means for us. So far, so good.

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