The Problem with Equality

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March 12, 2022

1 Peter 3:1-7 NIV

1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

CONSIDER THIS

(O.K., let me warn you up front. This one is going to be a thinker. Refill your coffee.)

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands

Why do people struggle with this text and others like it?

Let me chance a working conclusion. Because we read it through the lens of power and power differentials.

So why do we tend to read texts like these through the lens of power and power differentials? Because we tend to read the Bible more as American Christians than as Christian Americans. An American Christian is going to approach Scripture with the foundational assumption that all people are created equal. A Christian American is going to approach Scripture with the foundational assumption that all people are created in the image of God. I don’t mean to eschew equality as somehow wrong or bad. It’s just not the primary value set in the Kingdom of Jesus.  

Equality is a social construct of comparison and ultimately of power, inevitably pitting human beings against one another. It is often the domain of the elite, whose interest tends to be either the maintenance of power or its redistribution. How does Jesus deal with power imbalances? In a word, submission. In two words: cross-bearing. 

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Is “equality” a feature of the “image of God?” I would say that the pursuit of equality is actually a feature of the fallenness of human beings. Isn’t this precisely where the original image bearers of God first went off the rails—when they grasped for equality with God in the Garden of Eden? Isn’t there a tower somewhere out there on the ancient plains of Shinar, a tribute to equality, resting in the rubble of Babel, “a tower with its top in the heavens?” (Genesis 11) Is this not precisely the response and remedy of Jesus, the “Image of God” himself, to the failed start of the original image bearers, “who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.” (Philippians 2)

What if being created in the image of God has little to do with equality and everything to do with holy love, with profound submission to one another, with mutual deference, with regarding others as better than ourselves, with becoming last instead of first, least instead of greatest, even with  laying down our lives for one another in love? (see 1 John 3:16) 

I am not saying that equality among human beings is not a noble and grand aspiration for the unbelieving world to strive after, even America. I’m just saying it is a painful and pitifully low bar for the Church Jesus is building and a foreign language to the Kingdom of on Earth as it is in Heaven. The agenda of the Word of God is not fighting power imbalances but subverting them through the counterintuitive strategy of cross bearing. 

The world is filled with despotic men and tyrannical women—always has been. The Church Jesus is building in the Kingdom of on earth as it is in heaven is not of this world. We are not called to operate from the social justice engineers playbook. They will forever be locked in a zero sum stale-mated quest for power in the name of equality (the latest frameworks center around privilege and equity). Social engineers have become so prominent in our time because the institution posing as the church has been so anemically weak. We have even allowed the world to define the framework of the church in the terms of equality, pitting the egalitarians against the complementarians. Friends of Jesus, we are witnessing, in our time and on our watch, the triumph of modern sociology and post-modern social theory over biblical theology and Kingdom of God realism. 

So what does any of this have to do with these words from Peter about wives submitting to their husbands? And thank you for bearing with the long setup today. People tend to at best critique today’s text and others like it and at worst reject them altogether. On the one hand some dismiss them as the benign value set of an ancient near eastern culture with no present day application. On the other hand, some brand them as the dangerous ideology of an oppressive patriarchy.

Friends, these are the revealed words of God. We do not sift them. They sift us. Peter is not writing from a worldly point of view but a Divine vantage point. We must labor to join his vantage point—which is in the company of Jesus, at the foot of the Cross, within earshot of the empty tomb. We must labor to leave behind the distorted vantage point of the mind of Adam, which is the decided pattern of this world, and read through the lens of the prismatic brilliance of the Mind of Christ, which is given to us by the Holy Spirit. From this vantage point, I suggest to you that “Wives submit to your husbands and husbands respect your wives,” means something quite different than what our predisposed, power saturated, world shaped notions would lead us to think it means. 

Jesus is after something so categorically beyond equality that it doesn’t even live on the same spectrum. He is the one who said if you want to be first you must become the last, and if you want to become the greatest you must become the servant of all. He is the one who being in very nature God made himself nothing and took on the nature of a slave. He is the one who said if someone sues you for your shirt give them your coat too, if some one forces you to go with them one mile go with them two. He is the one who looked straight in the face of the man who would pronounce his death sentence and said, “My Kingdom is not from this world.” 

(And just so you know I know, if you are a battered spouse in some kind of abusive relationship don’t walk—run. All bets are off.) 

THE PRAYER

Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. We have learned a lot from this world and accepted so much of it uncritically. Teach us about your Kingdom. We want our values to be sifted by the Word of God and sorted by the Kingdom. Forgive us for getting that backwards. Holy Spirit, fill us with the mind of Christ that we might value what you value and think like you think. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

Are you tracking with me here? Do you see how equality is not wrong– just perhaps not the right approach? I welcome push back on this. Remember the relationship between our convictions and our working conclusions. 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

4 COMMENTS

  1. J D, this is not a push-back, but rather a different perspective. I can’t help but see that these inspired words of Peter are really a restatement of what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. ( He then goes on to instruct the proper relationship between husbands and wives) then ends these instructions with these words: This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33). This in my opinion is why it is so important that we, the church, should display a much higher and committed portrayal of marriage than we do. Those two relationships are closely linked.

  2. It’s human nature to embrace pride and a sense of superiority over some people, but Jesus calls us to go against human nature and to cultivate and demonstrate humility in our relationships with all who bear God’s image. We’re told not to “lord it over” people, but to “consider others better than yourself.” Equality tries to find a middle ground, but free will makes equality impossible. If you give 10 people a thousand dollars, they will get unequal results from your gift. The only way to keep them equal is to force them all to do the same thing with their gift. Communism demonstrated to the world that equality doesn’t happens without people being forced into it, and even then, the people who are in control forcibly amass wealth and power that the so-called “equal” people aren’t allowed. Democracy says that the majority rules, thus making people in the minority unequal to people in the majority and subject to their insults and abuse. “The institution posing as the church has been so anemically weak” at training Christians to embrace humility, honesty, and justice, that it has opened the door for “social engineers” to try to fix the wrongs that churches have ignored and even supported (greed, hardheartedness, racism, bullying, poverty, self-righteousness, etc. ).

  3. One more perspective:

    We may have lost sight of what it means when the Declaration of Independence declares “… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

    In monitoring the state of the political landscape, I read an interesting essay about the difference between equality and equity. Currently, there are those that are pursuing equity–and that is the term they use– for everybody which means everybody deserves to have the same footing. This is a belief that is central to communism and socialism.

    In contrast, equality, as it was used in the Declaration of Independence, means everybody in America has an equal chance, regardless of who they are, and it is up to them how they use that opportunity. A lofty goal that has yet to come to its full fruition.

    Christianity proclaims that we are all equal in the sight of God, but that does not mean we have equity in this world. And since the Declaration of Independence acknowledges there is a Creator, I believe that is the perspective that was meant.

  4. God’s morning JD!
    What Daily Text, in the 1&2 Peter series, did you begin to explore our conviction (Word of God) and our working conclusions? My heart seems to want to beat this has a lot to do with {all y’all] “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house ….” “Behold, I am making all things new…. It is done.”

    Thank you for (And just so you know I know, if you are a battered spouse in some kind of abusive relationship don’t walk—run. All bets are off.)

    Finally, Remember the Sabbath Day.

    Brother DAle

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