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Why I AM an egalitarian

Two men in blog land who I respect and appreciate have recently written about why they’re not egalitarian so I decided to post, as a woman in blog land, why I AM an egalitarian. I’ve had some strong words to say to both of those guys in the comment section and so far I’ve been impressed with the gracious responses…so, well done David and Bob (well, he hasn’t responded yet but I’m sure he’d be gracious *wink*)

One thing I have noticed when people from conservative evangelical camps start talking about the gender issue is their reluctance to “take up” with the groups who, in their traditions, are generally rejected as “liberal” in either a political, cultural or theological sense. In other words, men from a conservative evangelical background who no longer subscribe to a theology that subjugates women still will not call themselves egalitarians and still deny feminism much attention or respect because when they did subscribe to their previous theology, they were given misinformation about those groups.

Now, here’s the deal. I don’t care if you call yourself and egalitarian or not. But please, for the love of all that’s good, don’t give ill informed reasons for why you don’t like the term. Because some of us are working toward a more redeemed position on the gender issue and find it very counter productive and confusing when high profile people in the Christian world perpetuate misunderstandings about Christians and gender justice.

Let’s start with a working definition of egalitarianism courtesy of Wikipedia which has a pretty good section on the issue.

Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level) is the moral doctrine that people should be treated as equals, in some respect. Generally it applies to being held equal under the law, the church, and society at large. In actual practice, one may be considered an egalitarian in most areas listed above, even if not subscribing to equality in every possible area of individual difference. For example, one might support equal rights in race matters but not in gender issues, or vice versa.

Egalitarianism is essentially the philosophical position that all humans regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. deserve the same human rights while maintaining their distinct gender, race, ethnicity, etc. No person should have to become something else or give up what is inherently there’s in order to be treated with dignity and equality.

In regard to gender in the context of Christianity, this basically means that:

– women should not be denied ordination, theological education or be treated as “less than” in board meetings, conversations, etc. simply because they were born female.

– a woman should not be treated as an object or a novelty or a resource.

– a woman should be allowed to maintain her distinct gender identity (whatever that means for her) and should not be expected or required to sacrifice that in order to obtain a voice, role or position.

– a woman should not be required to bow to gender roles assigned by society and should not be castigated when she chooses a path that is seen as “male”

– a woman is a complete individual without a man and a man is a complete individual without a woman but as humanity, we are at our best when men and women are both encouraged to be fully who they are in community - men and women together with full equality in the eyes of each other and the community at large.

I am an egalitarian because I believe in equality of human rights and opportunity and there is nothing in the foundational principals and meaning of egalitarianism that I take issue with. I have an egalitarian marriage because neither David nor myself is “in charge” or has the final say in decisions. We lead in our strengths, always submitting to one another mutually. We strive both to love and to serve the other and in our weaknesses, we yield to the other. We need the other to experience the fullness of what we have together but we are also complete in our individual identity with God..which is also the mystery of the trinity so why we can’t accept this mystery in Christianity in regard to gender is beyond me. We don’t “owe” the other anything simply because of gender.

There are some who are egalitarian who hold ideas I do not agree with. There are some women who are feminists that I don’t agree with. But that does not take away, in any way, from the foundational tenets of egalitarianism or feminism.

Finally, a few things Egalitarianism isn’t:

– No where in egalitarianism is it stated that men and women aren’t different.

– No where is it stated that women should seek to battle men and win as the dominant gender (that would betray the very definition of egalitarian and therefore no longer be egalitarian)

– No where is it stated that women should be encouraged to “be like men” (whatever that means anyway)

– No where does it state that we are at war with complementarians.

So while I think that on the surface, Fitch and Hyatt make good points about maintaining an appreciation of the uniqueness of gender, I disagree with their assertions of what egalitarianism actually is, and in spite of their insistence that they’re not egalitarian, they actually ARE as far as I can tell ;)

I also agree with Helen who responded to Fitch’s post that I would like to see what he/they actually think makes the genders distinct. What does it mean to be a woman, to be feminine? What roles are we supposed to accept as “female”? Because I would argue that it is THOSE details that egalitarians find themselves diverging…and maybe it’s in those areas that we will end up requiring a “subset” of egalitarianism.

Another piece I wrote awhile back that is along these same lines is “In defense of feminism”. You might find that helpful in understanding my pov on these issues as well.

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  1. John Smulo — August 8, 2007 #


    Excellent, excellent, excellent :-)

    I really appreciate and agree with your thoughts.

  2. jovial_cynic — August 8, 2007 #

    If Christianity teaches that the relationship between husband and wife parallels that of the relationship between Christ and the Church, do you then suggest that there is a fully equal relationship between Christ and the Church?

    Paul does state that as Christ is the “head” of the Church, so is the man the head of the wife. How do you interpret that?

  3. John Smulo — August 8, 2007 #


    There’s more than one meaning of “head” (kephale) in Greek and English. It shouldn’t be assumed that head always means something akin to “leader” in passages such as Ephesians 5, etc.

  4. Mak — August 8, 2007 #

    jovial cynic - I think my answer to that would be far longer than I would like in the comments. John had a good response. I would refer you to this section on the CBE site as the articles here much speak my opinions on the issue.


    there are a few on the “headship” issue

    and here’s a section on the trinity issue related to gender and justice


  5. Pingback - Women in the church « Missio Dei - Exploring God’s Mission — August 8, 2007 #

    [...] Makeesha Fisher’s comments here. [...]

  6. myste — August 8, 2007 #

    wonderfully said Mak.

    I always found Ephesians 5 to be particularly enlightening when approaching love relationships. From the get go we (all Christians, regardless of gender) are told: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

    So, love as Christ loved, and live a life of that love, being willing to give yourself up for others.

    And concluded the address with this passage:
    “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

    When you really get down to it, the command is the same. We are told how to treat one another and given the true meaning of the words. What is love? It is sacrificing yourself for the good of someone else. What is submitting, it is sacrificing yourself for the good of someone else. And as Christians, we are called to do both.

    Further exhortations to husbands and wives must be seen in this context. Wives are told to sacrifice for their husbands the way the Church does for Christ and husbands are told to sacrifice for their wives the way Christ does for his Church. Though these commands seem gender specific, they are not gender exclusive. Wives are still expected to love and husbands are still expected to submit as can be gleaned from other parts of the Bible, so if two people are living for the betterment of each other, there is no need for a “final word” or “decision maker” as many complementarians believe the man’s role to be. There is no “leader” because neither needs to be led, both sacrifice for the sake of the other as to Christ.

    And in 1 Cor 11 we learn that “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” As the relationship between man and woman is paralleled to the relationship between Christ and God we can not infer that the relationship is meant to be read as one of rulership, for further down we read: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Man and woman are both dependent on one another who in turn must depend on God. In the creation order and the procreation order we see how both men and women have sacrificed (whether a rib or their womb) for one another and to bring the other about.

  7. Ariah Fine — August 8, 2007 #

    well said

  8. jovial_cynic — August 8, 2007 #

    Thanks for the links, Mak. The alternative view of ‘head’ makes a lot of sense.

  9. Paul — August 9, 2007 #

    Hi Mak, i took a helpful spin through the articles you linked with - my brain aches now :)

    I think i can see how people can project their own meaning/agenda on to equalitarianism, which ends up subverting it - afterall we don’t exist in a world of pure definitions but in a murky reality that is being permeated with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

    I’m also kicking myself that my stupid laptop packed up consigning my half written pieces on submission and equality to an early visit to cyber heaven. I’m not sure if i have the will power to resurect them just yet…

    Anywho i appreciated your comments both here and on the posts you link to - i think your cry of bringing this out of the theoretical and into the realities in which we find ourselves is a great one - too often i use my rights to limit the rights of others and my freedoms to limit the freedoms of others - whether that is social, economic, environmental or indeed as in this case, gender based…

    It’s one of the reasons that i love Paul’s definition of how Jesus views equality in Philipians - not as something to be used for our own advantage but so as to submit and serve others - hmmm, something that challenges me at every turn…

  10. Jamie Arpin-Ricci — August 9, 2007 #

    Well said, Mak! With this understanding of egalitarianism, I do not hesitate to identify as one myself. David F.’s post gave me pause only insofar as he connected some ideas with the term that I would not embrace, but I think what you present here clears that up nicely.

    The way you describe your marriage sounds so much like my own that it is comforting to hear about other couples our age who work towards this same ideal. Some of my more traditional friends tease me (or try) by calling me a feminist from time to time, but it usually backfires when I thank them for the compliment.

    Anyway, fantastic post. Thanks for writing this!


  11. Mak — August 9, 2007 #

    thanks everyone for the encouragement and contributions to the conversation. GREAT STUFF all the way around.

  12. dave — August 9, 2007 #

    Mak, well said, as always.

    And myste’s comment ain’t bad either!

  13. Mak — August 9, 2007 #

    “And myste’s comment ain’t bad either!”

    indeed :)

  14. Tim — August 9, 2007 #

    Hey, I’m a random… but I liked your topic!

    I always thought egalitarianism was somewhat self explanitory… a bit like the truths the american government held self evident (but forgot to live by until the abolution of slavery!).

    It’s not just women who suffer from missuse of heirarchy… men and espeially children suffer a great deal too. There are some interesting social and cultural assumptions assosciated with who is an ‘authority’ in the church… and I can’t help remembering the words of Jesus “Who would be greatest amongst you, let him be the servant of all.”

    We get so devoted to our structures, that we forget that the structures exist to serve a purpose, not the purpose to serve the structure. Look very carefully and ask: is the heirarchy of my church facilitating, or hindering the work of Christ? Don’t expect to be popular if you talk about what you see when you look closely.

    Being in ‘control’, and being responsible ARE NOT, and should never be allowed to become the same thing.

    I think this is much deeper than a gender issue, its an issue based around some ugly assumptions about the purpose and role of spiritual authority. Again from the scriptures “Do not lord it over one another as the gentiles do.” Possibly unfair on some of the gentiles, but makes an important point.

    Its imposible for any so called ‘authority’ to be in perfect control of anything… people in dialogical community can how ever respond adaptively and inclusively to any difficult circumstance. I believe in a world where everyone is, and must be, a leader, but where some leaders serve the community by facilitating collective process. Gender is irrelevant… and while specialisation defined by study is valueable… a pastor is almost never a factory worker, and a factory work is rarely an ordained minister. To reach the world, they need eachother, and they need dialogue. Each is the authority on their own environment.

    I believe especially strongly that the exclusion of women from social dialogue has been significant in the lack of environmental and social care, and empathy that has been evident both in government, and in church policy for hundreds of years. Many women who do make it to the top often do so because they have learned to be manlike… thus robbing them of their ability to represent other women, or to bring to humankind the ballance and diversity we desperately need. Gender traits are, I believe more spectrum than dichotomy… and a healthy is ballance not polarity.

    I am one man who is exceptionally angry about patriarchal heirarchies, and its high time it stopped being considered a women’s issue, and was seen for the PEOPLE’s issue that it really is. Weaker men, younger men and children suffer at the hands of the same institutionalised control. Arguably its men’s control and manipulation of men that has produced the kind of controlling and manipulative men who have in turn treated women badly.

    I think it says a lot that women are the ones who have the strength, courage, and resilliance to stand up and say no… while blokes bend over backwards to submit to systems that abuse and demean them, and lead them to abuse and demean others.


  15. Pernell — August 9, 2007 #

    Makeesha - I couldn’t agree more. Right on.

    I am a big fan of yours, by the way.

  16. Mike — August 9, 2007 #

    Well said indeed.

  17. Mak — August 9, 2007 #

    thank you pernell, that’s a very high compliment :) I’m a big fan of yours as well.

    Thanks Mike - indeed ;) I always think of SG-1 when I say or hear “indeed” (yeah, I’m a sci fi geek)

    Tim - really great comments. lots of rich, good stuff there, thank you :)

  18. Paul — August 9, 2007 #

    yeah, jamie, you and me both - but then again i like alan alda definition of a feminist - someone who likes women :)

  19. Beth — August 9, 2007 #

    Thanks for the clarification. I am just now learning that these stances even existed. I definately lean towards the egalitarian side and would agree wholeheartedly with the definition you provided. I guess I didn’t know I leaned this way until some complementarian friends tried to put me in my place and I was confused. I agree with some of the comments mentioned earlier that many of our problems deal with spiritual authority, we struggle to submit to one another in love- and let Christ be the Head of the church not a man or a woman. Leadership in the Christian Culture is very messed up- and adds to the baggage as we call women leaders etc….. I guess I am a bit radical because I don’t see Senior Pastor anywhere in the scriptures so I definately don’t see a Female Senior Pastor in the scriptures. But I definately feel some women have a pastoral gifting. Are you confused yet?Still processing. Good comments. I wonder if we put our focus on being Female Kingdom Laborers ( a very unglamorous term) if we would have as many problems as we have with those trying to be Female leaders in the Kingdom. Christ raises up leaders as we live by example through humble service and a mutually submissive attitude focused on Christ and not our “position”. I guess I am saying I will serve Christ and try to please God rather than man despite a title, and encourage others to do the same.

  20. myste — August 9, 2007 #

    Tim, great comments, I really appreciate hearing your perspective, especially this part: “I think it says a lot that women are the ones who have the strength, courage, and resilliance to stand up and say no… while blokes bend over backwards to submit to systems that abuse and demean them, and lead them to abuse and demean others.”

    You hit the nail right on the head!

  21. Amie — August 10, 2007 #

    Thank you Mak for writing this!


  22. joe — August 10, 2007 #

    i have recently “jumped sides” on this issue. i appreciate this article so much. it was well written and thoughtful. and it helps me understand a little better on what it means to be ab egalitarian. thanks for the article.

  23. Mak — August 10, 2007 #

    Amie - you’re welcome :) thanks for visiting.

    joe - good for you! you’re welcome :)

    myste - I agree, that WAS really good. thanks again for visiting and sharing tim :)

    beth - I agree with you only in that the “greater of these” should be the “least of these”. I disagree though with the attitude of “I’ll just serve and be humble and contrite and everything will work itself out”. I have found that most women I know who have this attitude don’t necessarily care if they’re “in leadership” or not and don’t really care if they have a voice in the direction of the Church or local communities of faith. And that’s fine. Only a small percentage of men and women ARE wanting to be in those “roles”.

    Some of us do however. Some of us feel charged by God in those things and therefore feel it’s an affront to God himself to deny us that voice.

  24. Beth — August 11, 2007 #

    I would say I am one of those women who is involved in leadership- however, I minister outside the realms of traditional church structure. This helps relieve alot of the tensions right there. We minister with a grassroots house church network in raising up kingdom laborers. I see what you are saying… however function is still more important than role to me because where I serve. As long as I am released to minister and serve and lead, who cares what my title is….

  25. Mak — August 11, 2007 #

    that makes sense beth - I’m outside the “traditional” world as well - - which doesn’t stop me from being discounted in the broader church world but yes, leaving institutional church was a good thing for me.

  26. Lyn — August 15, 2007 #

    Amen sister! Excellent.

  27. Pingback - Cyberland : Beyond the 4 walls — August 15, 2007 #

    [...] Whilst going through my hundreds of blog posts on google reader earlier three really stood out to me.  The first post was “Why I AM an Egalitarian” by Makeesha.  This post is Mak’s response to a couple of people who blogged about why they were not egalitarian’s.  Mak has constructed and put forward a really good case as to why she is an egalitarian, and I have to say that I agree with her wholeheartedly - great stuff Mak!  The second post was “Being Brain McLaren” by Jamie Arpin-Ricci.  Jamie writes about how Brian is still seen by many as the litmus test for anything emergent/missional, and how many see him as the figurehead for the emerging movement.  In Jamie’s words: [...]

  28. Dianne — August 16, 2007 #

    Don’t you think that many women contribute to this mindset by wanting to stay where it is “safe” - i.e. within the commonly accepted (at least among conservative evangelicals). They are satisfied with their roles but sometimes I wonder if it’s because they know nothing else.

    I remember at college (ultra-conservative fundamental “bible” college) when I refused to go along with some of the reigning thinking there (disgusts me now to think about it). The more I began to think for myself, the more free I became. Some women just never get that taste of freedom, partly because they refuse to taste. It makes me sad for my friends who are still in bondage to that mindset and that’s exactly what it is - bondage.

  29. Mak — August 16, 2007 #

    thanks for stopping by dianne :)

    yes, I do think many women contribute to this - - and I think for a lot of women it’s complacency, they don’t care because it doesn’t really apply to them, it’s not relevant because they don’t want anything different than what they already have.

    I was talking to one of the “wives” of one of our pastors at our church left behind about this issue and how they were setting up the “elders”. The church was founded by 4 couples but as they were setting up the board, it was just men. So she explained to me that the women were involved just not officially. *raised eyebrow* I expressed my distaste with that and she said it didn’t really change anything for her in any practical sense so she didn’t mind.

    *another raised eyebrow*

    I immediately thought of her daughters - - yeah, you’re really creating a great world for them with that attitude. “I don’t really care so it’s fine” oye vey

  30. Christina — August 17, 2007 #

    As a new visitor to your blog, a quick point of reference, I am on the ministerial staff at a non-denominational church in a large Southern city. As I read Diane’s post I had to wonder if I am perceived as one of the “complacent” women. I have vocal egaliarian friends (not on a church staff) that have been vehement about their frustration with various church leadership - both at their church and the broader community. The women have have also questioned how I can serve at a church.

    My immediate reaction to my question regarding complacency was %#$$ no … for a couple reasons, I truly feel called to this role at this time (and in no way do I ever recommend serving at a church if you aren’t clearly called!). I also do not serve in (what I call) a traditional woman’s role. It is a humbling and difficult position to be in … knowing giftedness and yet seeing/hearing very real “ceilings”. I described it to my pastor in one instance as a dying to self … whether the correct use of the term or not, necessary or not, healthy … often not. However, it is something I am willing to step into and endure until I know my time is finished.

    I am hopeful that I am someone as Tim described, that I am a woman with strength and courage. That this will cause me to both speak and act in ways that move other leaders to re-evaluate their thinking/theology. I have a more subtle and diplomatic way of implementing change, yet no less important or valid that more radical or expressive forms of dissension. Just as the street-corner evangelist (though often ridiculed) can actually plant a seed that a one-on-one relationship will ultimately cultivate, so I count myself in the second group.

    I have often stated that as we seek to know and think “rightly” about God and His Word, the life and practice that results must also align with Scripture. Too often the pursuit of correct theology leads to a life and practice that doesn’t reflect the love and life of Christ. Culture, tradition, and fear are often the culprits … those are what I argue against, not the pursuit of Truth. However, as we seek change in this “issue”, may our eyes be opened to the hardness of our own heart in every area of theology, life, and Scripture.

    As a woman on staff at a church … as you discuss and debate these issues, please remember to pray for those who live the struggle/tension daily … for strength and perseverance but also Truth, grace, mercy, and love to guide our lives as we seek it for others.

  31. Mak — August 17, 2007 #

    thank you for visiting Christina and sharing your heart. I so strongly resonate with where you are and I absolutely appreciate you, and so many others like you - both women and men.

    I was where you are my whole life up until now. I was “called”/graced to do it and I actually enjoyed it believe it or not. It was frustrating but I enjoyed being able to work covertly in that manner.

    It takes a strong and gracious woman to work toward a more redeemed position in an existing system that is oppressive. God’s grace and blessings to you and I absolutely remember to pray for you all.

    I actually am not “on staff” and prefer it that way - I’ve removed myself form the system as that is where I believe God wants me and my husband - - frankly, I’m so free I don’t know what to do with myself half the time. But I wouldn’t want to be here instead of “there” unless I knew it was God leading me here.

    we all have hard hearts, we all are sick with sin and we all need grace, all the time every moment of every day. And God is so gracious :)

    Thank you again for fighting the good fight! Shine on :)

  32. Jennifer — August 18, 2007 #

    Well articulated and thorough! I was going to post this topic on my blog but I’ll link this page instead!
    Thanks for taking the time to write this all out and think it through.

  33. Pingback - Complementarian or Egalitarian | An Unfinished Soul — September 5, 2007 #

    [...] How many people in the emerging church conversation believe that the creation story is literal? Seems like, from what I’m reading around the blogosphere, (here, here and here for example- mostly in the comments) that it must be quite a few? [...]

  34. kay — September 5, 2007 #

    Sorry Makeesha, that paragraph didn’t come out very well (in the trackback above). I fixed it a little and added a new paragraph. :)

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