This is a reflection and clarification of my thoughts on male headship, difference and equality based on some conversations I’ve had with people from church recently.
This started as a post about why I struggle with the concept of male headship. But I realized that wasn’t really what I was struggling with it – it was the ‘equal but different’ or ‘different but equal’ problem.
Let me explain. Complementarians often state that we are all equal, but we have different roles to carry out in the church based on gender. Egalitarians often state that though we are all different, we are made equal in Christ and therefore the differences don’t matter.
Both have flaws. Obviously, even though we are united in Christ, we are still different. Not just when it comes to gender – we all walk around bearing the image of God, our Creator, and we all bear his image in different ways, including how we express our gender identity. This difference isn’t something to push aside so we can be equal. Rather, a variety of different people from different backgrounds and genders telling the Gospel is how we show that we have been made one – and been made equal – through Christ. We celebrate that diversity, and show the world that this Gospel, this Good News is for them as well – the misfits, the outcasts, those who don’t fit into neat roles and genders and stereotypes.
God’s image is bigger than one person, or one ‘type’ of person can reflect. Men and women aren’t the same. No one is the same as anyone else. But we are all equal in Christ. We can acknowledge and appreciate our differences without it becoming about structures and hierarchies and who submits to who. We can be different and equal at the same time.
As I said, this post started because I can’t reconcile the idea of defined headship being given to anyone other than Jesus. We’ve been called to a priesthood of all believers with Jesus as our head. But how does that look when we need organisation and structures and leaders to be an effective church? Is a hierarchy based on arbitrary factors – like gender – the right way to do ministry?
The structures we use and how we organize ourselves communicate a lot. The tricky part is, they often communicate very different things to different people. No matter how much I think and read and hear, I can’t get past this fact – you can’t bar people from roles based on gender and say it’s equality.
I think our structures, how we set them up and how we use them, should reflect Jesus and what he has called us to do. We’ve been called to live out his image in the world so others may see it and join us. So, don’t we have a responsibility to God and to those who don’t know Jesus to do ministry in the best and most effective way?
It’s not about us or our gifts. It’s about Jesus. It’s about God working through us. But God gives us gifts to use to show other people his glory, and we have a responsibility to use them, in a way that humbly points back to Jesus.
So why do we put people in jobs they can’t do well, just because they are male, when there are capable females who are willing to serve? How do we better glorify God?
This is the paradox of mutual submission. We all have freedom and rights in God’s family – all of us. No one more so than anyone else. Yet we choose to submit to each other out of love for each other and Christ. This submission isn’t based on gifts, but on circumstances and needs. We all submit to each other in turn, at different times and in different ways, and ultimately we all submit to Christ, our only head. Sometimes we give up our rights for the sake of others. Sometimes others will submit to us. It’s not about us though. It’s about Jesus, and those who need to know him.
We are a priesthood of all believers. There’s no hierarchy or set, inflexible roles based on random, arbitrary features. We are equal. Equal and different. Different and equal. No ‘but’ about it.