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.

God’s Personality

We’re supposed to have a relationship with God, so he must have a personality, right? You can’t be friends with a force …

So what is he like?

I’ve been thinking about this. I know that for most of my life I don’t really operate as if God is a person, but he is, isn’t he?

I’m hoping others will come in with some ideas about what he’s like, and I’m going to set the ball rolling with something myself. Maybe:

God is Subtle

He doesn’t seem to like big miracles. Some examples are Jesus’ miracles, the manna in the desert, and in fact the resurrection. The moment of Jesus’ resurrection was not witnessed by anyone. They had to work it out from some fairly subtle signs left for them.

It just strikes me that God didn’t have to do it like this. Why did he?

There are a few examples of big, unsubtle miracles, especially the Red Sea. Why doesn’t God work like this all the time?

One slight answer might possibly be that God likes the way he’s made the world, and doesn’t like breaking the rules all the time.

What do you think?

Christians Only

In the UK, Christians are in a minority, and their numbers are decreasing. Often, it seems to me, we respond to this by becoming closed-off and turning in on ourselves.

This doesn’t just damage our chances of telling non-Christians about what we believe to be true, it also isolates Christians who feel outside – the kind of people I have in mind in setting up guiltyexpression.

What do I mean by turning in on ourselves? Well, here’s an example: Spring Harvest, the annual gathering of evangelical Christians from lots of different churches in the UK. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think this is a bad thing in itself – what I am worried about is the fact that events like this seem to become more and more important each year, as if gathering together were the most important part of our faith, rather than going outside and letting others know.

Some other examples of gatherings of Christians that often feel to me to be exclusive and inward-looking are university Christian Unions (in my experience very cliquey), youth camps (those that cater mainly for Christian kids and seem to me to offer an escape from the real world rather than a preparation for it) and church group gatherings like Spring Harvest.

I’ve been to Spring Harvest, and it was good. It was encouraging to meet other Christians, and to sing songs loudly, and to hear good teaching. However, I also noticed something about it, which is that everyone seemed very similar to each other.

This is the real problem with this phenomenon of gathering together to face the threat of a society that isn’t interested – we develop a culture that is completely separate from the rest of the country, and this culture involves a lot more stuff than just the fundamental Christian principles. For example, many Christian gatherings in the UK consist almost entirely of middle-class people, and there seems to be a feeling that middle-class-ness is essentially Christian – that somehow both involve something to do with being nice, and vaguely informed.

This is incredibly damaging. Let’s take 2 examples of friends of mine who are both middle-class and white, but have suffered from the uniformity of Christian culture, mainly because they couldn’t make their feelings about particular issues fit in with what they were being told. Both nearly lost touch with the church altogether, and jointly they are the inspiration for starting this site.

Cheesey I know, but what did Jesus do? He gathered people in, told them where they needed to change once they were part of the group, and allowed them to leave if they wanted to.

What should we be doing instead? Well, lots of traditional `churchy’ things are much more outward-looking, for example welcoming people to Christmas services and trying to make them enjoyable and inclusive, rather than seeing people that come as not proper members. What about school Christian Unions? They are inevitably more outward-looking because they’re bound to be pretty small, and school is a close-up place, where your notices about the next meeting are bound to be seen by lots of people.

I know I’m giving a very one-sided argument here, and there’s a lot wrong with it, but do you think I’ve got a point at all or am I talking rubbish?

The Last Congregation

There was a quiet muttering of renewed acquaintances subdued by the silence of the hall. Old alliances were acknowledged with a stern handshake and a muttered joke, but they all knew they were here for the last time.

There were two times twelve of them, one from each of the great states of Earth, the Elders of their lands selected for their wisdom and authority.

Most of them were tall, as befit this room with its overpowering arches and this great throne around which the empty half circle of chairs stood.

The arc of chairs was perfect, each fixed for centuries in its position and used once every decade for the Elders’ Congregation. It stuck one of these elders that the room was most unfamiliar with people, being empty for these ten year periods and occupied for a few short hours, a flash in time.

The character of the murmer changed and a drift towards the chairs began.

They settled, and there was silence.

One of the Elders rose to his feet. “Gentlemen, we have one item on our agenda. Would those in favour please stand.”

Those who had arrived with doubts had found them dispelled by the atmosphere of the place. They rose at their various speeds, according to their age and dignity, unanimous.

“Then do it.”

Each man removed his crown, the symbol of his power and the weight of his responsibility, and cast it down at the foot of the throne of the Lamb.

Each gathered his things and returned to his land, a lightness in his step.

Revelation 4:10

Someone explained to me this bit of Revelation recently, and I kind of liked this picture of the elders throwing down their crowns. I’m sure my version of it is completely wrong, but what I really got out of it was that all that they had done during their lives was important, but they could just be freed of the responsibility by submitting completely to God.

I think out of everything I need to learn, that’s the most important thing for me.

Are You In God’s Church?

Will any church help me get to heaven? Now there’s a question.

Paul’s prophecy warns Timothy that a time will come when people will teach whatever they want to (2 Tim 3v16-17). Peter agreed, saying some people would distort Paul’s teachings, and that it would result in their destruction (2 Peter 3v16b). Timothy was also challenged to watch his LIFE and DOCTRINE closely, then he would SAVE both himself and his hearers. Does that mean that if he DIDN’T live and teach correctly, he and his hearers would not be saved? A scary thought.

When I came to England I searched for a church that would help me to live out what the Bible teaches . . . but there were so many churches!!

Which one should I commit myself to?

GAV

One big happy family?

What do you think about church? I think it might be interesting to get a discussion started on this, as many of us find aspects of church difficult. A few questions to kick off:

  • How important would you personally say it is to be part of a church – essential, important, not particularly significant, very unimportant? What about going to services or other church meetings regularly? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being part of a church?
  • What is your reaction to people in church very unlike yourself? What can we do when we find ourselves responding badly to them?
  • How do you cope when your church (if you have one) has a style of worship that you find different from your ideal?
  • What would you say are the most important priorities in choosing a church?
  • How would you change your church, if you have one? Ideas for what we can practically do at the moment to change things would be great.
  • Do you think that being part of a group of Christian friends can take the place of church?

I find it very easy to be critical, so I want to add the following sort of questions to balance things:

  • What do you think your weaknesses are, that others in church could help you with?
  • What’s really great about your church, if you have one?
  • Hope that sets things off. I’ll rant about my own church situation in the discussion as it gets going.

Good things about how the world is changing

Everyone seems to acknowledge that the world around us is changing. People are embracing `postmodernism’ – everything is relative and nothing has any real meaning.

And I think Christians are mssing out on some good stuff…

Modern society is bad, right? We believe in Absolute Truth and we’re against Apathy and Individualism, yeah?

Well, I’ll leave you to make a list of things we don’t like about our society. I’m interested in stuff we’re scared of that is actually really cool.

Here’s my best example:

Lots of people now are happy with ambiguity – realising it could be one thing or another, or another maybe. In fact, when I talk to people about the meaning of life, people seem to be very comforted when they find uncertainties.

In contrast, we Christians are terrified of ambiguity. We write whole books on why things aren’t ambiguous. We join one camp or another to avoid having to hold two possibilities in our heads. Or we just say it’s too hard and ignore it, hoping someone else will figure it out.

But we should be happy with ambiguity too. Why?

  • God is incomprehensible. We are just too small.
  • The Bible is ambiguous on loads of stuff. Hebrew particularly is a very ambiguous language, I’m told.
  • Sometimes we just don’t know. This is even true of ministers. We should embrace the mysterious nature of God.

Actually, on this particular issue, the Catholic church has it down much better than us evangelicals. They have these things called Mysteries (for example Jesus is both God and man) that they basically say are beyond our understanding.

Here’s another example just to make the point:

People are genuinely looking for authentic spiritual experience. Personally, if I’m honest, I’m scared of authentic spiritual experience and relieved when it becomes a routine.

Modern culture is actually quite good for some stuff. Why are we so scared of it?

`In the world, not of it’ doesn’t mean it’s ok so long as we’re `of’ a world from 50 years ago.

What do you think?

Answers not Questions?

Reading through the site there seems to be too many answers and not enough questions. Sometimes people put an idea on which then gets a comment that seems to suggest the idea was a question that needs an answer. Bono from U2 once said that his faith gave him a whole lot more questions in life instead of answers. What do other people think?