I google myself from time to time to keep track of what’s out there with my name on it. In searching the other day, I came across a post that I had written on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood discussion listserv back in college. I forget exactly why I had joined the group, I think because I was writing some sort of paper for doctrine on something related to submission and headship and wanted to be sure I understood the best version of the complementarian argument. I thought I’d repost part of what I wrote in that post back in 2001 because in reading it I can see the wheels turning in my head as I began to realize the whole thing was bunk.
I think that attempting to equate the equality of men and women with the mathematical concept of equality is missing the point. Up to the point that I subscribed to this list, I was under the impression that complementarians thought that men and women were equal. Not that they have the same roles, and not that it means that there is no one in authority, but that as human beings created in God’s image, they are equal. The example that I have always heard is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all equal in that they are all equally God, but that in position, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit submit to the will of God the Father. In the same way, men and women are created as equal in their essence, but positionally, the husband is in authority in the home, and the man is in authority in the church. It’s a question of position, not that they are created to be inherently unequal. It’s just like saying that my boss is in a position of authority over me, but that does not mean that we are not equal as human beings created in the image of God.
There are two kinds of equality. One is equality of essence–that we are all equal because we are created in God’s image. The other is equality of position or giftings. If you are looking at this sort of equality, it is true that not everyone is equal–some people have a higher position, and not everyone is equally gifted. However, just because there is not complete equality in position or giftings does not negate the fact that all humans, male or female, are equal in essence. That was what Teri and Jeannie meant when they said that men and women are equal but not interchangable. The question is how the two different equalities fit together in the context of home and church. Egalitarians would say that those areas are covered by the first kind of equality, complementarians would say that they go under the second kind.
It is very dangerous to go about insisting that men and women are not equal. In the past that idea led to women being treated as not quite as human as men, with no rights in society.
At that point in my life, you can see that I was still buying into the complementarian viewpoint, but it was beginning to dawn on me that as much as I’d been taught male headship while seeing something much more egalitarian modeled, the patriarchal complementarians really did not see women as equal in any way to men. Over a decade has passed since then, and by the time I graduated college I had thrown out the whole patriarchal view completely, in large part because of my time on the CBMW listserv. I thought that this was an interesting snapshot of a time in my life when I started questioning assumptions. And, while I know this isn’t what the denomination wanted, what I learned from my professors at Covenant definitely helped me along the way to formulating what I believe today. The last dozen years have been quite the ride, and while twenty year old me wouldn’t have anticipated where I’d finally end up, I can look at what I wrote and see how I got here.