003: What is Egalitarianism?

In today’s episode, we’ll be tackling the topic of Egalitarianism. We will provide a definition of Egalitarianism, contrast it with Complementarianism (the primary opposing view), and share some stories of how these two worldviews have impacted our lives.

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Truly Equal is a marriage podcast created by Kyle and Christi Playford. Our goal is to talk about marriage from a fresh perspective. We tell stories about our lives, talk about how marriage is like a love song, and give practical solutions to the problems we've encountered.

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Two Predominant Biblical Views of Marriage

The two predominant biblical views of marriage are called complementarianism and egalitarianism, respectively. Complementarians believe that the husband and wife are equal in essence, but have different roles to play. The man's role is to be head over his wife as the biblical leader, while the wife's role is to submit to her husband and defer to his leadership. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) defines complementarianism in this way:

"Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man."

On the flip side, egalitarians believe that both spouses are equal in essence and role. Neither person holds a leadership position over the other. Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) define egalitarianism this way:

"All people are equal before God and in Christ. All have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race."

Perhaps if you're coming at this from a complementarian point of view, you may be tempted to think that the egalitarian view is not a biblical viewpoint (we both used to think this way). However, egalitarians are not throwing out the Bible in coming to their conclusion. Christian egalitarians highly value the Bible, but simply come to a different interpretation of it than complementarians. Kyle will dive deeper into what the bible is saying and address specific scripture passages on our blog, so if you're interested in learning more you can read his thoughts here.


Our Experiences

We both grew up in complementarian homes, and attending complementarian churches. Neither of us were taught that there was another Biblical alternative to complementarianism. The church Kyle grew up going to didn't actually use the term "complementarian," but they taught that the man was the head of the household.

The household Kyle grew up in was a version of complementarianism gone wrong. Even complementarians wouldn't describe it as a good example of a complementarian relationship. We want to be clear that complementarians don't believe that the husband should be allowed to abuse his wife, or lord his headship over his wife. Instead, the husband is to be a servant leader. Within Kyle's church, there were both good complementarian relationships and bad ones. However, because Kyle's parents had a bad complementarian relationship, it made Kyle question what complementarianism was and search for another option. He knew that if he got married someday, he didn't want his marriage to be like his parents' marriage.

My family, on the other hand, was a good example of a complementarian relationship. Therefore, I never thought to research it or see if there were any other viewpoints out there. I grew up going to John Piper's church—Bethlehem Baptist—and Piper was a key leader on the committee that originally coined the term "complementarianism." Something that was important to me growing up, and something that I always looked for in a future spouse was a man who could lead me spiritually. I believed that my husband needed to be the spiritual leader in our home. I also associated making meals, taking care of children, and keeping the house clean as the woman's role, because that's what I observed my mother doing as I grew up. Likewise, I associated going to work, mowing the lawn, and changing the oil in the car as the man's role, because that's what I observed my father doing.


A Short Story

When Kyle and I first got married, he believed in egalitarianism and I still believed in complementarianism which created some issues for us at the beginning. When we first moved to Ohio, I didn't have a job right away so I assumed my primary responsibility was to be a good housewife. My goal was to make sure the house was always clean, to make delicious homemade meals, and to have dinner completely ready and on the table by the time he got home from work. If Kyle got home from work early, I would freak out at him and tell him he wasn't supposed to be home yet because dinner wasn't ready. I believed he wouldn't love me as much if I wasn't the perfect housewife, because I believed (since I was the woman) I was responsible for the home. However, as we talked through our differences of beliefs, Kyle helped me understand that he loved me no matter how good or bad of a housewife I was. In fact, he suggested that I wait to cook dinner until he got home so that we could cook together. This experience created a curiosity within me to begin exploring what I believed and why I believed it.


Additional Resources

Christian Egali-what? — an article written by Kyle taking an in-depth look at complementarianism and egalitarianism

How I Changed my Mind About Women in Leadership — a book Christi found helpful describing the experiences of why people moved from the complementarian position to the egalitarian position

Surprised by Scripture — a book by N.T. Wright that Christi found helpful when examining the biblical basis for egalitarianism

Women's Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis — an article by N.T. Wright that Kyle found helpful when looking for scripture from an egalitarian perspective

Complementarians are Selective Too — an article by Rachel Held Evans that Kyle found helpful when he was wrestling with the objection that egalitarians don't value the Bible

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) — the primary website for the egalitarian position

Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) — the primary website for the complementarian position

Dallas Willard — author

N.T. Wright — author

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