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Gender and Theology: Egalitarianism or Separate but Equal

We continue with our series on Egalitarianism from a male’s perspective with our guest blogger, Tim.

Wow! What a significant word! My first thoughts when coming up to this word is from my own experiences as a missionary in Germany. One of the phrases that I said quite often was, “Das ist mir egal.” Loosely translated: “I don’t care.” In reality it means, “That is equal to me.”

The Germans borrowed that word from the French, who borrowed it from the Romans. Normally a German would say that if she or he were presented with two options and both options were equal in importance. After a while, it carried the connotation of the, “I don’t care” attitude, which is rather unfortunate.

My thoughts and ideas on this topic are many.

I come from a privileged position. I am white. I am male. In no sense of any perception have I ever been considered a minority in the United States. Even when I lived in Germany, I could pass for a German. It was only when I spoke that one noticed a slight accent that not everyone could place. My mother made certain to be at home whenever my siblings and I returned from school. I don’t ever recall my father greeting us home from school unless he happened to be home sick, which was very rare. Growing up, I remember that the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass and I thought my mother would be mad about that. As a child, I thought it was silly for people to pass a law to force everyone to treat everyone equally.

Perhaps it’s not so silly at all.

Since I do come from a position of majority, rather than minority, I approach this topic with a bit of trepidation, knowing that my own words and ideas are shaped through that lens of never having been discriminated against because of my race or gender.

Egalitarianism in Christianity can tend to conjure up frightening things for some Christians. I heard stories from some other friends of mine who told me legends of pastors going before an ordination board and asked that if he or she could pray, “Our Mother, who art in Heaven” instead of “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” I have no idea if that story is true or not, but I do know that in recent years, a new German translation of the Bible came out, entitled Die Bibel in gerechter Sprache (The Bible in Correct Speech). The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9 starts off, „Du, Gott, bist uns Vater und Mutter im Himmel.“ In English this translates as, “You, o God, are Father and Mother in Heaven to us.”

As a translator myself, this disturbs me because they were forcing the Bible to say something that it isn’t saying. There were other huge problems with this Bible (including saying that some of the Pharisees were female, when they were not). In college, I was told that there were some denominations that had started worshipping God as Sophia, which is Greek for wisdom. “Wisdom” in the book of Proverbs is portrayed as a woman, calling out to the people to listen to her voice and learn from her. There were some theologians who claimed that this figure of Wisdom is an incarnation of God.

People at my college did not like that. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t like it either.

I then recall what one of my professors said, “Gender is a created thing. God has no gender.”

End of story for me.

God is above gender. Therefore, it shouldn’t disturb us to realize that the term “mercy” in Hebrew, especially God’s mercy, refers to the womb. It shouldn’t bother us that the Church is described as the Bride of Christ, where we ourselves take a feminine persona, whether or not we are female. We shouldn’t think twice that in Hebrew, the term “spirit” is actually a feminine word, even when it refers to the Spirit of God.

U2 had no problem with this, either. Their song, “Mysterious Ways,” actually refers to the Holy Spirit. “She moves in mysterious ways.”

God is above gender and as such, we need to treat each other equally. It has been ingrained into our collective psyche that we (at best) should complement each other. The movement of “complementarianism,” where men and women have fundamental differences in religious life, but should both be treated with respect, reminds me of the “separate but equal” segregation that went on in the US South before the Civil Rights Act eliminated that.

And, just like the Civil Rights Act, I believe we need to take some Affirmative Action within the Body of Christ to right the wrongs that men have caused to women over the years. My own denomination, The Salvation Army, has tried very hard to be at the forefront of egalitarianism over the years, but sometimes we tend to have relapses. We need to be reminded that not only are women equal to men, but that they should be treated as such and given responsibility according to their talents and abilities and not by default.

In all this, I am reminded of what Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

If, in Christ, gender no longer matters, then I need to treat all people equally, looking past their gender, race, or status in life and seeing them for who they are: someone created in the image of God.

If you would like to read more of Tim’s writings, check out his blog, here.