The belief that God has created men and women equal in all things. Men and women are ontologically and functionally equal. The way the sexes function in the church, society, and the family is determined by individual giftedness, not role distinctions according to the sexes. Therefore, each person should be judged individually when being placed in a particular position. We should exemplify this reality by overcoming the stereotypical placement that has traditionally been a part of societies in human history, thereby giving freedom to individuals to follow the path that God has uniquely created them for, whatever that may be. In doing so, we should no longer educate or indoctrinate according to any of the former stereotypes, including those of basic masculinity and femininity.
The belief that men and women have God given differences that are essential to their sex. Men and women are ontologically (in their essential nature) equal, but often, functionally, take subordinate roles (like the Trinity). These differences complete or “complement” each other. Due to these differences, there will be some things that women are predisposed and purposed to do more than men. As well, there will be some things that men are predisposed and purposed to do more than women. Therefore, there are ideal roles for both men and women that should be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society. To deny these differences is to deny the design of God and thwart his purpose.
Here is how I normally proceed with any egalitarian in a conversation about this subject. I ask three questions:
Question #1: Do you believe that there are essential differences, created by God, between men and women?
Please note: these differences are not merely stereotypical or cultural. As well, these cannot be simply limited to physicality and reproduction. Sub-questions would include: Are their ways that a woman is better suited to be a mother than a man? Are there ways that a man is better suited to be a father than a woman?
I have found that about 50% of Egalitarians I talk to are willing to concede here. The other 50%, I believe, let their ideology create a worldview that, outside of the context of this debate, would never be entertained. I have found that most everyone, inductively and deductively, intuitively and empirically, when not discussing this issue, admits that there are differences between men and women that go beyond culture, reproduction, and physicality.
Question #2: If God-given differences exist, do these differences carry with them strengths and weaknesses for each sex?
In other words, does this normally predispose the member of one sex to perform certain tasks and exercise certain roles better than another? What does it mean to be better at being a mother? What does it mean to be better at being a father? Is there a way to train men to be better “men”? Is there a way to train women to be better “women”?
This is where the rest of the Egalitarians begin to depart. The problem here is not with the admittance of divine differences, but an unwillingness to say that these differences predispose one sex to be better at something than the other. However, this is hard to consistently maintain. Differences will produce inherent predispositions. For example a circle is different from a square. Among other things, this makes a circle better at fitting into a circular hole.
Differences are always going to bring with them strengths and weaknesses. However, some Egalitarians will admit this. Therefore we have the next question.
Question #3: Should these differences be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society?
This is the hardest hurdle for Egalitarians to overcome and often causes them to have to reevaluate their answers to the previous two questions in order to remain Egalitarians. The idea here is that if there are God-given differences, shouldn’t we celebrate and promote these differences. What does this celebration and promotion look like? This is the essence of complementarianism. This means that we educate the sexes to function to their maximum potential. We do not naturally kick back and hope that they fit into their “grooves”, whatever they may be, but we “train a child the way they should go.” The “way” they should go is based on divine design, not an assumption of neutrality. Men should be trained to be men and women should be trained to be women. If we don’t we passively attempt to neuter God’s design through non-recognition.
It is my opinion that Egalitarians cannot pass this point without becoming Complementarians to some degree. Of course they may be “Non-Hierarchal” Complementarians, (as some like to be called now) but, in my opinion, this position is not very consistent. Here is the issue: If we have already admitted that men and women are different by design, and this difference predisposes one sex to be better at certain things than the other, and that these predispositions should be actively promoted, could it be that these “differences” make one sex better at leading in certain situations than the other? Could it be that men are predisposed to be better leaders in certain roles and women are predisposed to be better leaders in certain roles? If so, then these leadership roles are godly and need to be celebrated, exemplified, typified, and promoted in the church, family, and society.
You would think that I would have one more question that shows how the man is predisposed to be the leader in the church and family. I don’t. Not right now. The reason for this is that the true issue is spoiled once an agenda is smelled. These three questions are the heart of the matter. If done intentionally, you will find that people don’t mind concluding that one sex is better disposed toward certain roles (even leadership roles) than another. What gets people upset is when you present this case in such a way where one sex (normally always women) is discriminated against due to these assumptions of divine differences.
Because of this, I have found that consistent Egalitarians must backtrack and deny the validity of all three of the points here. First, the celebration and promotion of these differences gets eliminated (since this is the heart of the matter). Once this happens, it is not long before the concession of strengths and weaknesses gets rescinded. One does not want to be found admitting that they believe that God designed the sexes with strengths and weaknesses, but unwilling to concede that this is a good thing for the church, family, and society. Finally, it is necessary to rescind the first. If there are not inherent strengths and weaknesses to each sex, then there cannot be differences at all. Differences will always imply a primacy in functionality of one sort of another.
So, you see how it works in my mind.
However, as always, I do feel it is necessary to say that there are many godly men (and women!) who do not agree with me here. This, to me, while an important issue, is certainly not a cardinal issue. In other words, we need to approach this with great humility, sensitivity, and respect for those with whom there is disagreement.