Clarifying Thoughts on Why I Don’t Believe in Equality (But Why I’m a Feminist)

March 4, 2013

In addition to today’s post, I’m guest posting for my buddy, Ken Hagerman today about avoiding spiritual abuse.  He has a blog and a beard, both of which are impressive.  Go check that out.

Last Friday, I made the little statement that I don’t believe in equality.  In fact, I listed six reasons I don’t believe in equality.  If you missed it, you should go read that one first.

As I predicted, people were divided.  A lot of people seemed to understand what I was getting at.  But through some perhaps ambiguous language, I was misunderstood by many others.

So it just seems like a good chance to flesh out and clarify some thoughts.  I stand by everything I said on Friday.  I’m not taking anything back.

But today, we’re going to talk equality, the gospel, throw in some feminism, and hopefully come out the other side in one piece.

Beating Plowshares Into Spears

My six reasons for inequality were scripture verses, verses that command us to be servants to all, to humble ourselves and consider ourselves less important than others, to become like children or slaves.  These verses were intended to upend the way people thought about power and authority in the Kingdom of God.

One of the most oft-repeated criticisms I received on Friday was how Bible verses like these are so often used to keep the powerless out of power, to maintain the status quo power structure that divides us into haves and have-nots.

It does sadden and sicken me how much the Bible is warped, abused and twisted into a tool of power and control, especially since it’s message is the opposite.  But the fact that the Bible is abused by many does not not change its message for you and me.  You and I are to become servants, not lords.  I do not believe I “proof-texted” Paul’s words when he says “Consider others better than yourself.”

Yes, I am Privileged.  That’s the Point.

Another critique I took to heart was that my words seemed to come from a position of “privilege.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I am a middle-class, white, American male.  I am privileged.  No one is keeping me down.  No one is oppressing or abusing me.

And my words last Friday were directed most especially, to myself.  The gospel that Jesus speaks to me is “Defend the powerless, the unprivileged, the weak, the orphans, the abused, the forgotten.”  The gospel is precisely all about the privilege I have and what others don’t have.  My job is not to look out for myself first, but to look out for others first.

This brings up a point of frustration in me, because my social media feeds are often littered with Christians complaining about the government, the “1%” or Sasquatch chipping away at their rights.  I know, you’re pissed off about taxes, guns, soda sizes in New York, whatever.  But complaining about your own rights being infringed on while millions of people survive in slums under tyrannical dictators, that is what strikes me as coming from an egregiously oblivious position of “privilege.”

Stay-at-Home Feminist

I think a good deal of the “equality” conversation is naturally colored by our conversation about feminism.

I’m not going to define feminism for everyone, because everyone will have a different definition.  I will not speak to the role women should have in the church in this space today, so let’s please try to leave that out.  But in my house, by my definition, I’m a feminist.

How? Because the gospel compels me, as Cheri’s husband, to put her interests and priorities ahead of my own.  If my ambitions harm her, then my ambitions have to be altered.  Whatever control I could exercise over her, I am called to relinquish and empower her.  It is not enough that my wife is merely my “equal.”  I am called to lay down my freaking life for her, to love her more than myself, as Christ loved all of us by going to the cross.  And none of it is conditional on how she treats me.

I don’t know if that makes me a feminist by anyone’s standards, but it fits my humble definition.  The manliest men, at home at least, have to be “feminists” if they are going to love their wives more than themselves.

The Backwards Kingdom

As I read the gospel, it strikes me how few times Jesus talks about equality and power the way we do.

According to Jesus, when you come up with some scrap of power, you use it to empower others.  You don’t aspire to be equal with others.  Instead, you aspire to put others first.  You don’t stand up for your rights, you stand up for the rights of others, laying down your life and taking up your cross.  The gospel is radical, confusing, and completely backward to how we think things should be.

I think many of you have come to know me pretty well and you know I’m not an aspiring tyrant.  I hope this has been helpful for you.  So what do you think now?  Is the popular message of equality really the gospel?

26 responses to Clarifying Thoughts on Why I Don’t Believe in Equality (But Why I’m a Feminist)

  1. First of all, I’ve read enough of your blog to get the idea that you have the best of intentions. I don’t think you’re anywhere near being a whackjob.

    I also think I have a better idea of what you were getting at last week.

    However, on occasion you’ve had some statements that have been sticking points–maybe you’re making too many vague generalities, or perhaps you’re assuming that everybody knows who you’re preaching to, when they actually don’t.

    See, today you say this (which is kind of similar to what you said last week)–

    “This brings up a point of frustration in me, because my social media feeds are often littered with Christians complaining about the government, the “1%” or Sasquatch chipping away at their rights. I know, you’re pissed off about taxes, guns, soda sizes in New York, whatever. But complaining about your own rights being infringed on while millions of people survive in slums under tyrannical dictators, that is what strikes me as coming from an egregiously oblivious position of “privilege.””

    So, who ARE these people? What rights are they freaking out about losing? Is it just folks that gripe about trivial stuff, or are you saying that *no one* in your news feed–conservative, progressive, whoever–has a legitimate complaint? I get that maybe you’re being intentionally vague here because you don’t want to sound like you’re coming down too hard on one side politically, but it seems to be distracting from the other points you want to make.

    And as to the last part of that statement, why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Just because there’s injustice in other parts of the world doesn’t mean it never happens here.

    And then you finish off with:

    “Is the popular message of equality really the gospel?”

    Again, what is “the popular message of equality” you’re referring to? You’ve given the impression in previous posts that you have problems with “political correctness” and the sort of hippy-dippy/all-the-kids-get-a-trophy stuff that gets lampooned by the right–is that what you’re talking about here? Are you talking about equality before the law? On the job? Economically?

    Like I said, I think you mean well. Your attempts to generate talking points can just sometimes be…well, I’m going to say “awkward.”

    • Fair enough, Abby. I always welcome your pushback because you’ve been commenting here long enough that I know you have the best of intentions too. :)

      The space of a blog post does limit the nuance we can get into, so sometimes generalities are made. The fact is that I follow people on social media of all stripes, but I’m not going to name who they are, at the cost of sounding general. They know who they are.

      Maybe you and I just follow different people, but I see equality issues discussed online at least weekly. So in my perspective, it’s a hot topic.

  2. Matt: I do think that I get you. Having taught Sunday School for years , I often said some things to arouse thought and get us out of our comfort zone. I appreciate your fresh thoughts and clever use of words. Yes, I do believe in the servant approach to Christian living but then there is always the,` other side`, for instance where Jesus said, to as many as believe on Him, gave He power to become the son of God. Somewhere in the mix there is the need for power, for influence and for force, against force.
    Years ago I visited the Billy Graham, headquarters in Minneapolis and learned that 400 people worked there full time, for two days I traveled with one of his fund raisers, who over time raised millions of dollars. So money is power and 400 people working, toward a common goal is power.
    My ancestors came to this country as indentured servants and while they are good folk, yet still have the DNA of servants and never have got to the place where there is power and influence to bring about a greater good.
    So the discussion goes on.

    • Absolutely. How can we do mercy and justice if we sit around, weak-kneed all the time? But we fall into an equal trap by being so self focused that the only “justice” we are concerned about is getting what we “deserve.”

  3. I get what you’re saying. I read the original post as a message to me. I’m the first one I need to preach to, otherwise I have no call to say anything to anyone else. I can pray that giving up my “rights” for the sake of others will lead them to follow Jesus, but I am called to do that regardless.

  4. Suffering elsewhere in the world does not negate suffering here, nor does it invalidate our discussion of our rights. Privilege in one area doesn’t negate lack of privilege in another, and “people are suffering in the developing world” creates a false dichotomy what we can and cannot put our time and efforts into. Social justice and equality are not necessarily limited resources where you can only pay attention to one thing at a time. And the only reason you’ll able to say such a thing is because the struggle does not affect YOU, as a white man who likely won’t ever have to worry about being believed about his rape, or have to worry that complaining to HR about your boss’ sexual harassment will get you painted as an uppity b-word, or have to clench your keys between your knuckles when you walk to your car at night because you might get attacked. Something not mattering to you personally doesn’t mean you get to dictate how everyone else handles it.
    ….
    Equality is an issue of JUSTICE. People being treated unjustly in other areas does not negate the injustice right here in our immediate sociopolitical environments. Educate yourself.

    • What Dianna said.

      I’ve seen other articles on this blog that have the disturbing angle of “people in [insert “developing” country here] have it worse so we should stop complaining.” I was almost murdered by an exboyfriend in the United States. About 4 women a day in the United States actually ARE murdered by their partners. 1 in 6 are raped. I mean, you really need to look at these facts, because maybe, just maybe it’s not only the folks in the slums under tyrannical dictators who are suffering. Maybe those of us going on social media fighting for our rights (and, by the way, when I fight for MY rights as a woman, I am also fighting for the rights of half the population) do know what it’s like to fight for survival. Maybe we don’t need someone like you telling us to stop trying to be equal or telling us that there is no war on women, or that we need to go back to the pre-feminist days of REAL marriage. We were created equal and we ARE equal, and if we can’t get society to acknowledge that, the murders and the violence and the rape will continue. These posts that you write out of ignorance and privilege are hurting people in the United States who have fought and who continue to fight for survival.

      • Sarah. I am trying to make clear that I am preaching to myself more than anyone else. It is precisely because I come from a position of privilege that I have to put others first.

        It wouldn’t make sense for me to tell a person who is already powerless, oppressed and destitute that they have to give up their power, control and wealth, would it?

        I suggest you re-read what I actually said, without putting a bunch of crazy words in my mouth as you do so. Did you read at all what I said about how I treat my wife? This “people like you” stuff is nonsense.

        • The problem is I’m not “putting crazy words in your mouth” and I did re-read what you actually said–several times. You talk in your first post about “perceived” oppression based on race or sex. About people who “feel” abused. About the stream of social media and blog posts talking about equality and standing up for their rights. You did not say “*I* do not need to fight for equality because I already had rights.” Your words were directed at others–at those who blog about equality, racism, sexism, classism, etc. You also equated complaining about soda sizes to class struggle and the struggle for equality. Whether or not you meant it, your words obviously came across as saying “hey you people who think you’re oppressed because of your race or sex? You’re not! I mean, it’s not like you’re under a tyrannical dictatorship. Stop complaining and be more like Jesus.” I am not the only person who got this perspective from your piece (and in context with other pieces you’ve written it only affirms reasons why I’ve felt uncomfortable about this blog). You come across as privileged and not willing to educate yourself on the issues that people in this country who are not straight white men face. If you are willing, you need to show that in your writing. Telling us you love your wife is not really enough.

    • Dianna – that is what I am saying. As a privileged middle class white guy, I’ve got it pretty easy. So what “right” do I have to spend all my energy feeling sorry for myself?

      Equality and justice are not limited resources, but human attention and energy are.

      • Holy cow…. people can be very mean online :-(

        • You’re calling THIS stuff mean?

          Have you read, like, anything else on the internet?

          No one has invoked Hitler or resorted to all caps. I call that a pretty healthy conversation.

  5. Matt, I thought you brought up a good perspective; that of looking at the log in our own eyes first. The concept of “rights”, I think, is a difficult one because while I do think that we are created equal and are equal in God’s eyes, I also think we tend to use our American idea of rights as ideal. While they are a great thing, and I am thankful for those who fought early on so that I enjoy the rights I now have, I think you are right in bringing up humility and asking if we are fighting for ourselves as individuals or for others. I personally have to ask myself that type of question as I am in a church that is just starting to step into the idea of women in leadership. I don’t want to encourage and pursue it just for *myself*, although that is tempting, but for the other women in this church who have been there much longer than me and for the women who will be coming later, long after I am gone from there. I think your posts encourage introspection and looking at the motives of one’s heart. At least, that’s what *I* gleaned from them.

  6. Matt, I understood you just fine the first time, and this post confirms that.
    If all of us were more concerned with the rights of others and less concerned with our own rights, the world would be a much better place. We do well to point out injustice wherever we find it, and work to right whatever wrongs God places in front of us.

    As to being a feminist–you sound just like my incredible husband! 8-)

  7. I get what you’re saying but it took me two days to understand it.

    I think a world of equality is indeed gospel. But this is an equality that is “equal in the eyes of the law. No rule shall be made that gives credit to creed, race, orientation, gender, etc.” In that way, I believe in equality.

    Yet I think you’re going after “we shouldn’t deny our differences.” Men and women are different. Different ethnicity and races value different things. Used in this way, “equality” is a colonial one that white washes history and tries to say “everyone’s the same.” And that’s not true. In that way, I don’t believe in equality and seek to serve.

    Unless I read ya wrong.

  8. “But complaining about your own rights being infringed on while millions of people survive in slums under tyrannical dictators, that is what strikes me as coming from an egregiously oblivious position of ‘privilege.'”

    Nope. If I lose my perspective on what my rights are, I cannot presume to help others recognize when they are being oppressed and/or help them. I shouldn’t give in to even just *some* of my freedoms being taken away because some other people have difficulty using their freedom wisely. And the fact that other people have it worse than me doesn’t mean I need to shut up when the government crosses the line. I think that because we see how much worse things can get, we need to slap that sort of power grab back as far as possible. (That or I’m just carnal and want my Biggie Soda. But that’s between me and God, k?)

    As you know, many of my children are disabled. I want them treated as equally human, but I don’t want them treated equally. One is really going to need some special education, and another if he goes to school will need a super-advanced maths class. They are both equally human and wonderful, but a “free and appropriate public education” is going to look different for each child. :)

  9. I appreciated your 2 posts on this subject Matt. I think you made yourself very clear.

  10. Matt–

    I’m going to comment here about your “spiritual abuse” article over at Ken Hageman’s site because it won’t let me log in over there.

    I read it and I think your use of the word “abuse” was a bit of a stretch.

    Here’s how I see it–what you describe sounds like when I get a patient that smokes, does drugs, generally abuses their body, doesn’t do what I tell them, and then gets pissy with me because they still feel like crap and I haven’t “fixed” them. This happens to me all the time.

    I don’t think of it as “abuse”, though. I think of it as an occupational hazard. It’s frustrating, yes, but I’m only left with two options–either suck it up and move on, or tell them that they’d be better off with a different doctor. If I thought of every difficult patient encounter as “abuse”, I’d probably never come to work again.

    What you’re calling “spiritual abuse”, I call “jerks being jerks.” I think there’s a difference.

    • Matt, I’m also looking forward to discussing this terminology with you (and potentially Preston, too). As I wrote the other day, loaded terms that relate to abuse (victim, survivor, etc.) need to be used with utmost care. I believe that it is not only inappropriate to use “spiritual abuse” in the way you did in your post on pastors, but it also waters down the term that actual abuse survivors use to name, process, and heal from their traumatic experiences. Again, looking forward to talking about this further.

  11. Matt, I commented on Dianna E Anderson’s blog that pastors get a really tough time and it was great to try to raise awareness of that (I also made an ungracious joke at the expense of your blog title, for which I will sincerely apologise and add that I didn’t really mean it at all, it was just too obvious to miss). I really believe that you are right that people ought to take care of their pastors better, and that some of th treatment they receive can be considered abuse. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but there’s a list of stats here you might find interesting: http://www.pastorburnout.com/pastor-burnout-statistics.html …pastor burnout is an epidemic and the church ought to be doing something.

    I think you’re a good person with good interests at heart. But this post and the one that it is trying to clarify are both a little frustrating, depressing and even distressing.

    I get the feeling you don’t believe in female leadership in the church (if you did, you’d have said so in this post instead of asking us not to consider it). Unless you believe that your wife should have equal access to leadership positions within the church and at all levels of society, along with all other women, based on their talents and giftings rather than being blocked from any roles due to the absence of a penis, you are not by anyone’s definition a feminist.

    This post still reads as ‘Ladies: Quit whining!’ except that now you’ve added ‘If your husband is nice to you, what else could you possibly want?’. You need to know that even Stalin loved his first wife very dearly, but that didn’t stop him oppressing everyone in Russia, male or female. Loving and serving one’s wife is noble but cannot be confused with feminism. You don’t get to co-opt a word’s meaning and twist it out of recognition, draining it of its ability to express anything at all in the process. If every man who believes in restrictine women yet loves his wife calls himself a feminist and uses the language of feminism, how are feminists going to be able to express what they believe and address the injustices they see? Think about language and its role in Orwell’s 1984 and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t get to say ‘I’m a pacifist by my own definition: I only punch guys who look at me funny in bars, never my own husband!’. It looks like you are taking a word and trying to empty it of all meaning to make yourself acceptable to your critics and to get all those agitating, whining women to shhhh. You are adding to the arsenal of those who would like women to be quiet about their treatment in churches.

    There are men who call themselves Christian who believe in domestic ‘discipline’ (spanking their wives). But they’ll claim they do it out of love for their wives, to purify her for Christ as per Ephesians 5. By your anything-goes, words-don’t-mean-anything logic, they could also call themselves feminists.

    People who believe that women should have equal access to leadership positions in the church are often told that they should stop ‘grasping’ for their rights, that they should follow the example in the verses about Jesus taking on servanthood, that it should be enough for them that their husbands are tol to be sacrificial towards them. You’re adding to the voices. I’d like to ask you to consider this blog post: http://krwordgazer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/are-women-seeking-ministry-demanding.html

    Following the teaching to serve and lay down one’s life does not in any way negate the teaching to love justice. Justice may mean a gifted, godly woman in the pulpit on Sunday. You have to want to see that happen is you’re going to call yourself a feminist.

    I hope you take some time to further research the issues you raised here.