Equality is not the issue

Posted by Karen Soole Karen Soole
(part 4 of a series in response to the renewed interest in feminism in the UK)

‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’.[1]

Young women growing up in the UK thought that equality was theirs: equal voting rights, freedom of speech, property rights, access to education and health care all are provided and enshrined in our law but they are discovering that life is much more messy. Stories in the press from ‘the inappropriate invasion of women’s personal space’ by a senior figure in the House of Lords to the Premier League chief executive’s misogynistic language in an email to a friend are just some of the recent exposures that reveal the murky waters that lie behind our principled surface.

In previous blogs I have written about the rise of activism among young women so what do these vocal young women want? More than the opportunity to do the same as men: the heartfelt cry of young women isn’t about the right to be a doctor, a plumber or mechanic it is much deeper and more significant than surface equality - at its core it is a desire for respect, dignity and worth. The earlier generation of women involved in feminism made a mistake. They wanted what men had but being the same does not bring equality, being the same is not what matters.

What I love about the gospel is that it explains all the mess that we struggle with and it does it in the most beautiful of ways. Equality and difference are just one example of this.
Just take a look at Jesus – he came as a man, fully human and fully God. He did not consider equality with God something to grasped but made himself nothing. The Son of God, loved by his Father, one with the Father, exalted by the Father became lower than even the angels because he loved both his Father and those he came to save. Jesus is described as God, equal with him but prepared to be different for the sake of obedience to his Father and for the sake of those he later calls brothers. You would be hard pushed to read John 1:3, ‘Through him all things were made', or Hebrews 1:3,‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ and conclude that Jesus was not equal with God. Yet read Philippians 2:5-8 and you see that being equal was never the issue:

‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being found in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross.’

Being the same was not what mattered to Christ. He was equal with God but he had a unique task. Men and women are equal - we are equally made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This does not mean we are the same but it does mean we have equal value and worth. Jesus died for both men and women so that in him both are brought into his family and both can be called sons of God (Galatians 3:26-28, Hebrews 2:10-12).

What incredible worth Jesus gives to people! Men and women made in the image of God rescued to become part of His family. To know that my value comes from Christ is truly liberating! He says of his family:

‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers’.[2]

The contrast is stark - Jesus the greatest man treats men and women equally and has given himself so that we may be brought into his family. What honour he bestows on us. Christian women know that their dignity and worth comes from their Creator and rescuer. We do not need to strive to be the same as men in order to achieve this. We are the same as men – equal in status, equally in need of being rescued with the equal offer of a relationship with God as our Father because Jesus gave up his rights for us.

So if this is true what does it mean to live as a woman amongst many who ignore God? It means that sexism, misogyny and abuse are realities that will keep emerging –patriarchy is abused. This reality is something God hates; it is part of what the bible calls ‘sin’. The conflict between men and women first emerged in Genesis 3:16 as a result of people’s rebellion against God’s rule:

‘Your ‘desire’ will be for your husband and he will rule over you.’[3]

This also explains why some women in their pursuit of equality end up diminishing men. It is not all one-way traffic, women can have negative and critical attitudes towards men and recently it has become socially acceptable for women to objectify male bodies – this is not equality either! Our pursuit for perfect equality outside of the gospel is doomed to fail.

This is part of why Jesus had to come to rescue us. We should address cruelty towards one another whenever we can but not be surprised that our laws fail to prevent it. Law does not change people’s hearts and even education is an ineffective tool. The good news is that the gospel is able to bring a radical transformation to us all.

[1] George Orwell Animal Farm

[2] Hebrews 2:11-12

[3] ‘The word translated as ‘desire’ is an unusual Hebrew word – in this context it probably implies an aggressive desire, perhaps a desire to conquer, rule over or oppose’ Wayne Gruden Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, 37-38.