Egalitarianism Has Become Complementarianism-Lite
What do you think of when you think of Christian Egalitarianism? If you’re like me, then you think about flexible gender roles and full equality for women within the church.
These are important things, but Christian Egalitarians have defined their mission too narrowly. They have set their sights too low and have become content with equality for some rather than equality for all.
Let’s start with some definitions.
The word egalitarian means “relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that egalitarianism is the belief that “people should be treated as equals, should treat one another as equals, should relate as equals, or enjoy an equality of social status of some sort. Egalitarian doctrines tend to rest on a background idea that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.”
Christian Egalitarians have pursued these values when it comes to straight men and women, but they have stopped short and refuse to go any further.
Christian Egalitarians are willing to talk about how flexible gender roles can be within straight marriages and relationships, but they are unwilling to include LGBTQ people.
If you take a look at some of the prominent Christian Egalitarian organizations such as CBE International and The Junia Project, you will notice that they have done a wonderful job at branding Christian Egalitarianism as *just* full equality for women within the church.
For instance, here is the description of The Junia Project: “The Junia Project advocates for the equality of women in the church, home, and society (also known as biblical egalitarianism).”
CBE International conveniently omits any mention of sexuality within their mission statement:
“CBE International (CBE) is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV 2011).
CBE affirms and promotes the biblical truth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal.”
As I have dialogued with Christian Egalitarians over the years, I have met many who seem to think that equality for women within the church is more important than equality for LGBTQ people. I have heard some Christian Egalitarians say outright that if they were to start fighting for LGBTQ equality, it would make their fight for women’s equality harder because more people would discredit their theology.
In short, many Christian Egalitarians see LGBTQ equality as a stumbling block on the path to women’s equality. It’s a liability.
And so, great effort as been made to brand Christian Egalitarianism as women’s equality and women’s equality alone.
In doing this, Christian Egalitarians have redefined what being a true egalitarian means. They have successfully made people believe that Christian Egalitarianism is women’s equality. But it’s not. It includes women’s equality, but only because egalitarianism is about equality for all.
By narrowly defining their mission and excluding people, Christian Egalitarians have made themselves into what I call Complementarianism-lite.
I tweeted about this a few weeks ago, and I received some pushback for daring to compare Christian Egalitarians to Christian Complementarians.
After all, Complementarianism is the arch-nemesis of Egalitarianism. Complementarianism is the belief that women cannot teach and preach and exercise authority over men within the church and the family. Complementarianism says that men and women must adhere to strict gender roles.
Christian Egalitarians have been spending all of their effort on attempting to debunk Complementarian theology, so it would make sense that they would be offended to be associated with their enemy.
The reason I say Christian Egalitarianism is Complementarianism-lite is because the only difference between the two is what they believe about straight men and women.
Christian Egalitarianism, like Complementarianism, cares solely about what straight people can and can't do within churches and relationships.
Christian Egalitarianism and Christian Complementarianism are two sides of the same coin.
I am writing about this today because for quite some time I have considered myself a Christian Egalitarian. I have greatly benefited from organizations such as CBE international, and I’m still thankful for the important work they are doing.
However, it is far past time that we call on all Christian Egalitarians to live up to the full meaning of the word “egalitarian”.
If an organization or a person claims to be a Christian Egalitarian but they don’t believe in equality for all, then we must respectfully explain that they are not what they claim to be.
Christian Egalitarians must rid their movement of hypocrisy, and the time for this to happen is now.