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