Friday, March 14, 2014

When Differing Roles Become Inequality

There is an on-going difference of opinion between egalitarians and complementarians about the equality of men and women, or the lack thereof. Complementarians argue that men and women are equal, but have different roles.  Egalitarians argue that the differing roles ARE inequality.

Some questions for all to ponder: are slaves equal to their masters?  Are children equal to their fathers? 
What causes people to be equal or unequal?

We are told to not be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers," II Cor 6:14-18, so we know inequality is possible. In the case of unbeliever with a believer, the inequality is in the choices each would make. If Paul intended the will of the husband to be sovereign, why bother to tell Christians to avoid marrying unbelievers? "Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness? Can Christ agree with the devil? Can a believer share life with an unbeliever? Can God's temple contain false gods?" As long as the husband is a Christian, his wife would be obligated to obey her husband and these questions would not apply. The wife would have to agree with her husband whether she wanted to or not.

However, the above passage makes it clear that Paul expected wives to have choices, to be involved in decision-making. If it was only a token giving of her opinion and then the husband could make the final decision, this command would still not apply. Paul expects wives to have the freedom to choose for themselves, to have an equal say and to not continually set aside their own wishes to obey their husband instead. 

So what does make people equal? Is it merely stating that God says men and women are equal, therefore husbands and wives are equal, but husbands can still tell wives what to do and the wives must obey? Are nurses equal to doctors? Do patients believe the nurse is equal to the doctor? Do patients respect nurses as much as they respect doctors? Are employees equal to their employers? Are the poor equal to the rich? Are the poor respected as much as the rich are respected?

When do relationships become unequal?

Isn't it when one person or group is given more respect than another person or group? James 2:1-13 points out how sinful it is to respect the rich more than the poor. Yet complementarians respect and favor husbands more than they respect and favor wives. They assign husbands more influence and more respect than they assign to wives. They assign husbands and males more "rights" to have things their way than they assign to wives and females.  Complementarian pastors tell wives to have their say and then lay down their rights to cause their preferences or beliefs to come to pass. They also tell wives that if their husbands abuse them, it is because the wives did not submit sufficiently.  In other words, they accuse wives of not laying down their will so the husbands can have their will fulfilled. Is not that basic inequality and basic loss of respect? Are not men as well as women to follow Jesus's example of not grasping at equality and instead choosing to lay aside one's own will for the sake of another? When husbands also lay down their will for the sake of their wives, then the relationship is equal, with equal influence and equal respect.

In regard to equal but different roles, I keep seeing the picture from the movie "Ever After" where Cinderella went to rescue the slave that had been sold by her step mother. The step mother owner and the slave certainly had different roles, and the roles were quite similar to complementarian husband and wife roles, with the slave doing all the obeying and the step-mother/master doing all the commanding. The slave was penned up in a moving prison, that was on a cart pulled by horses.  He could see through the bars, but had no way of stopping the horror that was happening to him. That slave's plight is similar to the plight of married complementarian women. Is the person who has no freedom to choose where she will go or what she will do next, an equal of the person who makes the decisions for her?  Is a person who is an equal in the eyes of God, but an equal in name only in the eyes of humans truly an equal? And when a wife is denied the freedom to remove herself from mistreatment, is she his equal? Isn't she more an equal of animals who have no choice in their lives?  That is similar to the horse, Black Beauty, who had no choice over who bought him, or how he was treated.

Isn't a complementarian wife more of an equal to a child who has been beaten or verbally smeared by a bully, or who has been whipped and/or chewed out by his dad? The equality is in name only, like a dad is equal to his ten-year-old daughter whom he spanks and sexually abuses as often as he pleases.  The child's role is to obey and suffer abuse, but the child is still equal to her dad, according to complementarian insistence.  The dad's role is to have his way with the wife and child, and that is considered equality to complementarians.  Just like complementarian wives, the child can cry and complain all she wants, but it will make no difference, except perhaps that her dad/husband will use that as an excuse for being even more cruel.

Complementarians will claim this is a straw-man argument, that their roles do not include permission to abuse. Yet, until they stand firmly against husbands abusing their wives, punish and discipline the abusive husbands and offer protection and support without judgement to wives, they DO support domestic abuse. And their insistence that husband and wife are equal while they support the abuser, is equivalent to claiming that a sexually abused child is equal to her daddy/abuser. In both cases the abused is robbed of dignity and power, of respect and influence.

Equality is measured by the power one possesses to influence the outcome of what happens in life.  Complementarian wives, similar to nurses, children, and animals are commanded to turn their power over to another.  Some complementarian men give that power back and the result is equality. But many complementarian husbands do NOT give the power back and the relationship is one of master and slave, of upper caste vs lower caste. And the church has largely been siding against the slave, lower caste and supporting the power of the master and upper caste, even to the point of punishing the wife-slave for her master-husband's cruelty toward her and their children.

As Jane Doe has pointed out, when the church insists that wives give up their power and turn it over to their husbands, the wives become powerless like little girls, and the marriage bed like the relationship between a pedophile and a child.  The wife's role of giving up her power and the husband's role of taking his wife's power plus keeping his own, result in extreme inequality.  This is not mere difference of roles. This is a difference of respect and the difference of power to effect an outcome. 

When complementarians refuse to allow husbands any lattitude to use any form of abuse against their wives, whether verbal, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, psychological, social, or sexual, when they teach that husbands are sinning against their wives when they attempt to control them, school them, and take authority over them, then and only then can complementarian roles be anywhere close to equality.  

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.