by Emily Cockran
As Christians, we often create more problems than we solve by arguing for gender equality. Before you craft a rebuttal, here’s a list of what that statement doesn’t mean:
-that men and women should not have same protections under the law.
-that women deserve lesser compensation for equal work, experience, rank, and education.
-that women should not be able to serve or participate in the civil realm.
-that medicine, technology and business would somehow be where they are today without the contributions of women.
-that men should treat women with anything less than respect.
This list could go on for pages upon pages, but hopefully that settles the score for now.
Back to my original statement: Gender equality has fueled debates, lawsuits and marches on Washington (complete with anatomically questionable costumes). Despite all of the attention it garners, gender equality should not be the goal of Christians. The terms we use in discussing gender issues matter; the word “equality” has certain connotations. Gender “equality” implies that both genders have the same capabilities and goals. Working for gender “equality” means that we work to ignore the differences between male and female in order to create total egalitarianism between the sexes.
I propose that we stop using the term “equality” with gender issues. Men and women are different, pure and simple. We’re built differently. We look different. We’re hormonally different. Women tend to be more nurturing, while men tend to be more protective. Of course, there are exceptions to these trends, but on the whole, men and women’s differences work together to form a harmonious body. In fact, our anatomical and biological dispositions create a “gender gap” that is anything but prejudiced.
What I propose we do as a society, then, is fight for gender complementarity. Sure, “complementarity” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “equality,” but, “ If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
Just as the body consists of complementary components, so too does humanity consist of complementary genders. Just as we would not condemn the left foot for being worse than the right foot, neither should anyone belittle women based upon their gender. Women have and will continue to make incredible contributions to society; men should not mistreat or underestimate women, but, rather, should honor and speak well of them. (Just ask Adam; when he first saw Eve in the perfection of Eden, he tossed all conventional notions of manliness aside and broke out in song!) More recently, though, Paul reminds men in Ephesians 5 that men are not to mistreat women but to love and give of themselves for their betterment. Women are called to submit to male headship in the same way the Church submits to Christ. Men, in turn, are called to sacrifice their wants, their desires, and even their lives for those of their wives as Christ laid Himself down for the Church. (Ladies, this system doesn’t sound half bad.)
In this time of endless social discussion and debate, the terms we use as Christians are important. Rather than communicating in terms of gender “equality,” I propose that the Christians promote our view of how genders complement one another. Instead of conservative Christians scrambling to explain to angry feminists why male headship doesn’t violate gender equality, I propose that we explain how it does promote complementarity. In a world where our culture forces us to “celebrate our differences,” society insists on ignoring the most fundamental difference among humans. We as the Church can use this inconsistency to our advantage. Constant use of “equality” in discussing the genders puts the Christians in a rhetorically compromised position (from the viewpoint of the feminist left, that is). Promoting complementarity rather than equality can demonstrate that men and women are not “a single member,” as Paul says, but complementary members of a body redeemed by Christ and living together as His Church.
Emily Cockran lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., and teaches philosophy and history for Wittenberg Academy.