Egalitarian Marriages

Andy suggested that I write an article about what constitutes an equal, or egalitarian marriage, so here goes:

Introduction

Before I went to university I was surrounded by people (Christian and non-Christian alike) who believed in (and, if they were actually married, lived out) an egalitarian relationship. Of course, I was aware that there were some Christians in the world who disagreed with the idea of gender equality, but it wasn’t until I began to attend my university’s Christian Union that I actually came across them.

Their attitudes towards women and their supposed inferiority frustrated and annoyed me exceedingly, and continue to do so.

While it might be possible to justify their arguments with a prejudiced, erroneous interpretation of the Bible (unfortunately one which still holds sway in many circles), it is not only impossible to justify their views by common sense, but also extremely difficult equate their notions with the teachings and character of Jesus Christ (who always treated women and men as equals).

What is an egalitarian marriage?

Well, I believe that marriage is basically an extension of a really good friendship. People don’t usually marry one another unless they’ve been very good friends first. This might seem obvious, but I think that the ‘friendship’ element is a very important feature of a marriage. A friendship is just about always regarded as an egalitarian relationship, so this egalitarianism should be brought into and maintained in marriage.

But what exactly do I mean by an equal relationship, or marriage?

An egalitarian marriage is one that is founded on mutual love and respect. In a marriage of equals, each spouse desires to see the other grow in their gifts and improve in their abilities; each spouse helps and encourages the other to realise their potential. The couple enjoy spending time together, talking, laughing and listening to one another. Each spouse provides comfort and support to the other when they are disheartened, and the couple remains honest with and faithful to each other. Neither spouse automatically assumes responsibility for anything, whether it be decision-making or child-rearing, because both members of the couple understand the value of the other’s opinions and thoughts.

If there is an important decision to be made and the couple disagree, then the opinion of (1) the spouse who will be more affected by the outcome of the decision and/or (2) the spouse who is more knowledgeable about the particular area of the decision should carry more weight. They should also pray about it (if they are Christians/believe in God).

So that is my definition of an egalitarian marriage. One in which the couple love, respect and submit to one another. Of course, things can go wrong – in any relationship there are going to be arguments and disgreements – but – I believe that if a couple truly love and respect one another, they will be able to work through these conflicts that arise.

Of course, in most relationships each spouse has their different talents and abilities. For example, let us say that in a certain relationship, the wife is considerably better at handling the finances. If the couple agree that she should therefore take control of handling the finances because of her obvious expertise in this area, then I see no problem in this. I do, however, see a problem and much injustice in someone imposing his will on his wife and family simply because he is a man (this is what characterises an unequal marriage). A man who does this does not really have any respect for his wife.

I also believe that even if one spouse is clearly more dominant and the other clearly more passive, although the dominant one will inevitably take more of a lead in the marriage, I think that they should attempt to make their relationship more evenly matched, because this will give the more passive spouse a chance to stand on their own feet. ‘Christians’ who maintain that the husband should always make the decisions and take control of the family are (1) placing an unneccessary burden on the husband and (2) by absolving the wife of responsibilities, they are denying her the opportunity to develop and grow in wisdom.

Conclusion

I believe that if two mature adults (whether they are Christian or not) who sincerely love and respect one another get married, neither spouse WILL WANT to dominate over the other. Each spouse WILL DESIRE to listen to the other. Egalitarian relationships are not only Biblical, but they also make perfect sense. It remains of great importance to understand the damage that can be caused by forcing people to assume roles based on gender rather than recognising each person as individual. For, as Sue Bridehead declares in ‘Jude the Obscure’

‘…the social moulds civilisation fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns.’

Well, hopefully it is understandable what I have been trying to say! If you wish to read more about gender equality in marriage and in the church (and written better and more clearly than I have done) then I recommend the website www.cbeinternational.org. In the Free Articles section there are some articles on equality in marriage.

10 Replies to “Egalitarian Marriages”

  1. I agree with much of this, especially the attitude that the marriage is for the benefit of both parties equally. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s worth saying.

    Comments about placing load on the husband and taking opportunities from wife are very insightful.

    However, I might want to add a further reason to choose who makes a particular decision: (3) the spouse who is more able to make quick decisions where needed should be given responsibility for those where a quick decision is needed. Similarly the spouse who is more able to give deep consideration to decisions should take more responsibility when there is time for this.

    Of course, C.S.Lewis argues (in Mere Christianity) that men are naturally better at taking quick decisions, and in fact that they are less `biased’ towards their children than women, whose natural abilities lie in the areas which require `bias’ towards their children. (Thus it is sensible to give the man the final say in controversial decisions)

    He might think that: I couldn’t possibly comment.

  2. I agree with what you have written. Thinking it through what is the influence of class in marriage or culture. If either class or culture dictates an alternative view is this wrong?? Watching married couples it is always interesting to see how different they are. ‘Good marriages’ seem to be based on respect and trust and not on roles and responsibilities.

  3. Thanks for your comments…I’m glad you agree!
    About what Andy said about C.S. Lewis though: I think that yes, of course, there are differences between men and women. However, I believe that many of these supposed differences are completely society-genenrated, in that they have been believed for so many centuries that people don’t realise that they are wrong. For example, 100 years ago it was thought that women were less intelligent than men. That was an accepted thought. Nowadays, we see that that thought was completely erroneous! I think that there are many other beliefs like that which sadly still exist today. Perhaps the idea of men being able to make decisions more quickly is one such belief. And certainly the ability to make decisions faster is not true of all men, just as the ability to look after children well is not true of all women, if you see what I mean. I dont want to sound agressive or anything when I say this, but there are many stereotypes in existence today, and I hate being stereotyped because of my sex, or indeed anything else!
    And for Anonymous’s comment about different cultures…well, it is my belief, like yours, that, for a relationship to work out well it should be founded on respect, love and trust. If another culture dictates that one spouse should dominate over the other…well, then it’s not a relationship founded on the aforementioned things, so I do not think that that culture is doing the right thing in that area.

  4. You may well be right about where some of the differences come from, and I think it’s good to question and test these things, but a marriage also needs to accept the characters of the two people involved, rather than pretending to be different from how you are, even if those characters have partly been formed due to wrong assumptions.

    So in practice things may be different from in theory?

  5. I agree with what you are saying when you say that marriage needs to accept the characters of the two people involved. Yes, it does, but surely that does not contradict what I have said in the article about mutual love and respect. But, let us take this case: if there is a man who is naturally dominating and abusive and a woman who is naturally passive and a bit of a doormat – surely you would not say that it is right for the man to dominate over his wife, just because his character dictates it? Do you see what I mean? Yes, in real life, he probably would abuse and torment her – but that would not be the right thing to do. I believe that if couples did love, submit, repsect each other etc, then their marriages would not only work out well in theory, but also in practice.

  6. “Dominating and abusive” isn’t what I’m talking about – how about “naturally taking the lead” ? This could apply to either partner, by the way.

  7. Yes, I agree, if ‘naturally taking the lead’ can apply to either partner. It’s what I mentioned before – each partner is inevitably going to have a different character & personality so there is nothing wrong with one of them taking a bit of a lead if the other one has no problem with it. However, as I have also said, I believe that it is better for the more dominant one to be especially encouraging to the more passive one in order to let him/her develop. The main gist of my argument is to try and make people realise the wrongness of one partner taking control purely because he is a man. I think that such a relationship would be a travesty of what God wants.

  8. I would certainly say that if your culture makes you a certain way you can resist it to a certain extent, but it would be very foolish to pretend to be different from what you are, even though culture has made you that way.

    Pretending to be something you are not is a sure-fire way of making a bad marriage, I reckon.

  9. Would any married or soon-to-be married people care to comment on how their relationships fit in with or differ from the description in the article?

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