6 Things Egalitarian Marriage is Not

Robin Rhine McDonald

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I have had many conversations about the egalitarian perspective of marriage with friends, family, and others. Some have been great discussions where, even with differing views, there is genuine understanding and receptivity on both sides. In others, this has not been the case.

I become discouraged when what I share is met by preconceived ideas and the things I say hit the anti-heresy wall and slide to the ground without consideration. I want to clear the air for conversations to come for both others and myself.

1. Egalitarian Marriage Is Not Unbiblical

To provide context for one of the primary passages on this topic, consider the culture in which Ephesians 5 was written. The Greco-Roman context was very oppressive to women. There was not an equal or matriarchal system for marriage to which Paul was establishing a patriarchal correction. Rather, Paul’s statements would have been contrary to culture and incredibly empowering to married women.

  • “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21

Men were certainly not subject to women in Paul’s time. It was a given that women were to be subject to men. Paul shakes up the social system of the day.

  • “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28 (see also 1 Corinthians 7)

This was absolutely crazy for that time. Women were used for the pleasure of men, both socially and physically. The service of men was priority. Loving one’s wife as their own body was not likely on the grid for men in this setting.

  • “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Ephesians 5:31

Here Paul does an interesting thing! He quotes Genesis 2:24, a verse that says it is the man who is to leave his father and mother to be joined to his wife.

This passage in Ephesians was written to encourage married couples to see one another as equally valued persons. It was empowering to wives and challenging to husbands, an encouragement of Kingdom nature. It is unfortunate that words meant for liberation have often been used for subjugation.

2. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the End of Chivalry

Often the idea of egalitarianism gets mixed with experiences of radical feminism. While the actual definition of feminism is merely that women are considered equal to men, feminism is not egalitarianism.

Feminism is a tough pill for some to swallow because of perceptions that feminism pushes back against male chivalry and good ol’ fashioned manners.  But egalitarianism does not mean that men no longer hold open doors, pull out chairs, or treat a woman “like a lady”.

It means that wives are considered equal partners with their husbands, capable of making decisions, collaborating, and using their God-given talents and gifting. None of this negates the kindness that is extended by holding open a door.

It is a reflection of Jesus to act out of servant-heartedness and consideration for others.

3. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Removal of a “Covering”

Another pushback I hear is the concern for women to have a “spiritual covering”. When I started to look into where this phrase came from, I struggled to find a source. The best I could come up with was either Ephesians 5, where the head-body metaphor might have been transferred into a spiritual covering concept; or 1 Corinthians 11, where women are told they need head coverings and men do not. (A great exegesis on 1 Corinthians 11 can be found here.)

Outside of these passages, I cannot find a passage that eliminates of the role of Jesus in a believer’s life. The Protestant Reformation fought for the necessity of a priest to be eliminated from doctrine, as a means to be in relationship with God. How is it that once a woman is married she is moved under a new covering? If a woman never marries; is she forever without the covering she is required to be in true relationship with God?

Egalitarian marriage is not the removal of a covering, but the affirmation of Jesus Christ as the “covering” and the Lord of all those who have chosen to follow Him.

4. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Neglect of Children and Household

In some conversations, there seems to be a concern that egalitarianism means that the mother pursues a career at the expense of care for children or matters of the home. This perspective minimizes the role and ability of fathers. Egalitarianism holds that there is mutual responsibility shared in all aspects of marriage and family.

Egalitarian marriage is not the neglect of the household or parenting. It is the stance that both mothers and fathers are necessary in the lives of their children and that both parents are responsible for their home. How this plays out in terms of which parent works, where they work, and for how many hours is subjective to each family and how they feel led to bring forth the Kingdom as a family.

5. Egalitarian Marriage is Not the Diminishment of Differences

There is no denying that there are scientifically-proven differences between men and women physically, emotionally, and socially. Being different is good; it’s what makes each person unique. These differences exist in both generalizations and specifications. Not all men are natural born leaders, some women are. Not all mothers are best suited to be stay at home parents, some fathers are.

The reality is that personal differences should not be ignored. It is within our differences that we function as the varying parts of the body of Christ. Each of us has unique gifts and talents. Egalitarianism embraces the unique differences that exist within each marriage, and pursues equal empowerment, support, and collaboration.

6. Egalitarian Marriage is Not Something to be Feared

As Christians, we are called to become like Christ. We are all children of God, we all share in the grace and love of God, and we can all partner for the good of the Kingdom. Marriage provides a perpetual opportunity for both husbands and wives to grow in the characteristics of Christ through sacrifice, service, encouragement, and love.

This is egalitarian marriage. There is no hierarchy and no greater role given to one spouse over the other because of their sex.

All are one in Christ Jesus. There is no priority greater than for every person, male and female, to be empowered to pursue Christ and the calling He places on each life.

Equality and collaboration allow each spouse to fully function within their God given gifts, talents, and abilities to love their spouse, to serve their family, and to demonstrate God’s heart to the world.

Egalitarian marriage is not a way of living that’s meant to be feared. It is a way to live that is meant for the Kingdom.

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Click here for more resources on egalitarian marriage.

Robin Rhine McDonald

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27 Comments

  • Thanks for this. It's a powerful picture of a good marriage which can stand the test of time. It took us a while to work this out, but our marriage of 43 years is far more potent and peaceful because we did. I'm reposting..

  • Not arguing for or against, but I wanted to answer your question: “If a woman never marries; is she forever without the covering she is required to be in true relationship with God?” The one who told me about this perspective explained that prior to marriage a woman (of any age) is under the covering of her father.

    This woman wasn’t talking about a requirement for relationship with God though. She was talking about protection from making bad choices that a woman thought were good, but was deceived. (It comes from a passage in the New Testament where Paul writes of Adam and Eve that he sinned (knowingly), whereas she was deceived — which Paul is using in that passage to explain why men should have more authority. So the idea is to run major ideas by this protecting one, in case he recognizes it as dangerous (ie: a bad business deal.)

    I don’t remember where, but I recall also in the Old testament that supports this concept. It is an Old Testament law that said that a contract was legally binding if made by a man, but could be revoked by a husband, if made by his wife. I can’t remember if it was purchase of land, or what. This, too, I understand as being intended as a way for her to be protected in case it was a tricky deceptive business deal, rather than as a way for him to undermine her choices.

    • Zalushia:

      Your post is interesting because it seems to be about rules, laws, contracts, prescribed behavior, protection, etc. Is that what you’re indicating?

      As a grandmother I view this refreshing dialogue from an entirely different perspective than most of the younger and eager women (and men) who passionately engage the movement and believe human behavior can be changed.

      I humbly submit that women are not more susceptible to deception than men. That’s simply not reality that is confirmed by observable facts of life. Men and women are both vulnerable because deception is caused by the enemy —with the effect in each life being our response to his darts. Deception has equal opportunity potential.

      The sound of your name pleasantly flows. Can you share its meaning? In Bible times we know names were given to establish meaning beyond just identification.

      Blessings,
      M.J.Greene

    • So is a son under the father’s covering until marriage as well? If not, this is an example of patriarchy. As far as the Old Testament, there were a lot of negative consequences of “the fall” and the man desiring to rule over the woman, including the example you give about contracts. Your comments support the hierarchical view that women are more easily deceived than men and so I would suggest that you are reading your own perspective into the text here and making inferences that just aren’t there.

      • Thank you Gail for this example of reasoning to examine thinking. My response was more direct and visceral. But from your comment I see I am on track. It’s as if the discussion presents a court case, using legal argument to assess the evidence, exposing the weaknesses or poor reasoning in what either the prosecution or the defense is trying to prove. The issue is not as simple as reviewing theological and biblical doctrine, with those holding to Patriarchy focusing on Scriptures in Genesis and Paul’s words, and saying, “See, here it is in black and white. You can’t argue with the text.”

        God calls us to deal with the implications of our beliefs and assertions. Usually I do this well with other doctrinal topics such as salvation, prophecy, the Godhead, etc. But I have been too close to this issue to confidently ask the harder questions about what does it say about our valuation of men and women made in the image of God; what does it say about our understanding of the command to love selflessly and without ulterior motive —in regards to how some define women (Gen; see 5:2 in KJV) and to what some claim women are assigned (1 Tim, etc.)

        Over the years when I have been rhetorically asked, “Don’t you know a woman cannot teach a man?” I have paused, looked direct in their eyes, and asked another rhetorical question. “Let’s assume this is the case. Having said that, let me ask you, “Can a man learn from a woman?” No one ever gives an answer.

        Regarding your phrase, “…the man desiring to rule over the woman…” I can hear the response now. “No! The Bible does not say men will desire to rule over women! It’s the other way around.” But what you write is that as a consequence of the Fall, this is, in reality, exactly how Patriarchy functions. Lots to meditate on in my healing. Thank you.

  • A very well written article. I was somewhat saddened by #2 as it suggests/provokes a misunderstanding of feminism. Feminism doesn’t mean you can’t hold a door open for a woman. It just means that if you’d hold open a door for women but not for men you should think about the assumptions that underly that…

    • I agree with you. I will hold the door open for men, women, the young, the middle aged, and the elderly. I also get things from the top shelves for those who are too short to reach, and help someone pick up their belongings if they drop them. I never thought of any of this as feminism, because I’m a woman, I just call it good manners.

  • Robin:
    What a shot in the arm your post is for my understanding and research! (A year ago Paula Fether introduced me to how we should wisely, lovingly, specifically, and confidently challenge 6,000 years of error in human history,) I am a near 67 year old Gramma whose been slow to gain the confidence to speak up regarding the culture of oppression that is worldwide and historically entrenched.

    Clarity and credibility is what your essay brings to my understanding of the topic. David Leigh’s addition is essential. Who could possibly argue when submission is placed back into the equation the way he describes it? And Tim’s post is important for reminding we are all on the Org Chart directly under our Lord and Savior, not ‘covered’ in levels of authority. Anita’s post is evidence for naysayers that mutual submission is God’s first and best plan….therefore it works!

    Please all pray I can offer meaningful words in my seminary courses on this vital subject. I’ve just transferred to a more conservative institution that doesn’t include “no discrimination based on gender” in it’s regulatory compliance documents.

    Robin, please keep sharing and helping distill truths that shatter complexity the enemy has sown into what should be automatic and comfortable in interpersonal relations between men and women.

    M. J.Greene, Paraclete Press Research Service, Inc.

  • Equalitarianism is not keeping score. I knew of one young couple that tried to divide everything – equal hours of work, being at home, being with the kids. That is just as crazy as saying that only one goes to work and the other stays home. We think of it as being whoever can does the job, it doesn’t matter if we divide things 50/50. We are in for 100/100. And we don’t keep score. We look like we have a very “traditional” marriage because I love to be at home, but we are equal partners in every way. I do not need another mediator!

    • Well said. Marriage has been said to work best when it’s 100/100. When we were raising ours kids, it felt more like 110/110!

  • Wonderful article – well articulated – thank you! I shared it on my facebook wall. This is how my marriage functions in real life, though we weren’t specifically taught anything like this. In point number six I think the word “gender” might be more accurate over the word “sex”.

  • I would add it is not the elimination of submission. It restores the proper balance by practicing mutual submission. So instead of less submission there is more of it, since the missing part that was removed by hierarchic thinking has been restored.

    • That is a great point! Maybe Robin will want to amend the post to include it 🙂

      • Hi David!
        I love that. That’s such a great addition!!

  • I like all of your points, Robin, and I think #3 is the most important. Too much comp ink (but not all comp ink, of course) seems to be spent trying to say Jesus covers men and men in turn cover women. The practical problem with this is that not everyone is married, so how would that work? There is no one for an unmarried man to cover, and no one for an unmarried woman to be covered by. The extreme comps (the patriarchists) would say that all women are to be covered by all men, and marital status is irrelevant.

    The second problem with the covering issue is the doctrinal point you made. Jesus is our cover, and he covers women the same way he covers men. There is nothing in the Bible to support a position that says he does it otherwise.

    When comps try to make the covering shtick work, they do a grave injustice to women and men both, and they tromp all over 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.”

    “All one in Christ” are powerful and blessed words of equality. Jesus’ covering is all any woman (or man) needs.

    • Thank you! Yes, definitely. Jesus’ covering is sufficient. Amen!

  • Very well written and thought out! I hope it serves you and others (including me) well in future “discussions.”

  • I guess I don’t like boxes to check off about what to call or classify my marriage. When we were young Christians we bought into the whole “man over the woman” bit, but we soon learned that love builds up one another and blesses one another. We learned that we each have unique gifts and abilities and we worked great together as a team. My husband and I love the Lord, we love each other and respect one another. We bless each other in our unique gifts and talents, and because we love each other and treasure the relationship the Lord has given us, and we can live our lives serving the Lord, serving one another and others. 43 years of marriage, and I can say that life is good. *Don’t let others put you and your spouse in THEIR box.

  • Wonderful post. Thanks for clarifying the issue and explaining the distinctions between people’s perceptions of egalitarian marriage and the beautiful reality.

  • This is terrific in its content, clarity and tone. Thank you very much.

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