“Strategic Advice for Egalitarians”, or “On Showing Up”

Otherworldly visions of sexual indiscretions aside, this was easily the most bizarre passage from the first chapter of ]]’s new book “]]”:

“In this season we shifted into ministry-and-family mode, neglecting our intimacy and failing to work through our issues. This became apparent to me when my pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair (which I loved) chopped off and replaced with a short, mommish haircut. She asked what I thought, and could tell from the look on my face. She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept.”

I haven’t read the entire book, just the introduction and first chapter. Honestly the chapter as a whole was disappointingly tame, although I didn’t skip ahead to any of the particularly lascivious chapters. As a soon-to-be-married this passage struck me as mildly sick. But I present this quote for two reasons: 1) It’s always fun to point out the weird and morbidly curious things Mark Driscoll writes/says and 2) Books like these are why the egalitarian movement is losing the battle for evangelical hearts and minds.

The first reason is self-evident and needs no commentary. The second point can be clarified: Complementarians can write bizarre, offensive, mind-blowingly tone-deaf books on gender, marriage and family…but they’re writing them.

My fiancee and I, despite having all the foibles of being young dumb and in love, have been trying to be responsible about this whole getting hitched business. Most of our friends suggested books to read to prepare us for marriage. Most of our friends are complementarian; wonderful, kind and generous Christians, but complementarian all the same. My fiancee and I are more of the egalitarian strain, so we took the general advice of reading marriage books and pursued some that would fit more in line with our beliefs concerning gender and marriage. We immediately ran into a problem. Namely, they don’t exist.

Well, at least as far as we can tell. Compare the bookstores of the leading evangelical organizations committed to views on gender: Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), egalitarian, and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), complementarian. For couples committed to the latter view of gender there are numerous resources available in what would be considered the “Christian living” genre that detail marriage and family ideologies from a complementarian perspective. Similar books from an egalitarian perspective are thin on the ground. Simply put, egalitarian resources for marriages and families are vastly outnumbered by the resources published by complementarians.

My impression is that egalitarian literature tends to be more academic or rhetorical in nature. These resources are valuable, and necessary to meet comparable literature from the complementarian party. The problem is that this is not where the real battle for evangelical gender ideology is being fought.

Stanford sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway, in her book “Framed by Gender”, argues persuasively (and I think correctly) that gender ideology is learned in and perpetuated at the level of the family. Children learn about gender statuses and roles from what they observe in the house. Who earns the money, how the power hierarchy is established, how domestic responsibilities are divided among the parents…the gender ideology of individuals are largely shaped by what they observe as children growing up in a household where gender is a salient concept in the role dynamics of their parents. The implication of this line of reasoning is simple: win the family, win the gender ideology debate.

Egalitarians have not made inroads on winning the family. They’re not even showing up on the battlefield where these conflicts of ideology are fought. The egalitarian offensive is made in books that may change minds, sometimes, but efforts are not being made in explicating the egalitarian vision of gender relations in marriages and families. Complementarians, whether consciously or unconsciously, direct their resources where it counts. Its no surprise that the side of the debate that has made a thriving market on Christian living resources for marriages and families is by and large giving up no ground despite a consistent loosening of gender ideology within evangelicalism over the past several decades.

The message here for egalitarians is simple, and like any good point can be expressed as  a sports cliche: you lose 100% of the games you don’t show up for. Mark Driscoll and company can write books and we can mock them in a neverending, self-satisfying dance of moral and intellectual superiority, but the books we mock are the books that are winning the war.


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16 Replies to ““Strategic Advice for Egalitarians”, or “On Showing Up””

  1. Isn’t that true for most of us? That traditional Christianity is losing because we stopped playing the game? I look at the UMC and honestly, we aren’t really showing up any more to the game, which seems, much like the Alabama V LSU game last night, only one team showing up and taking dominance. Good point.

    1. The decline of the UMC is one of the case studies for the rational choice paradigm in sociology of religion, I should do a little write up sometime. But yes, I think you’re right, it does come down to not showing up

  2. What are you trying to say Josh? that egalitarians write books on gender for laypeople!?!?


    I would. If I was married.

    1. Pssh being married is not a prerequisite. I’m thinking of writing a book just to get into the market. The comps have a thriving industry built on this stuff, we could get in on the ground floor 🙂

  3. Here is what I do as an egal. I will use the book “Love and Respect” by Eggerichs. Much of the material has no gender skew and so needs no changes. I think 2 of the recommendations by gender turned out to be the same, except they used different wording. And I think 2 or 3 of the guidelines were obviously biased by gender, so just delete the gender bias, as the counsel is fine, except for the gender bias. For example, the name of the book came from the idea that in Eph 5 a husband is called to love his wife and a wife is called to respect her husband. These are both good and fine ideas, but are half truths, a wife should also love her husband and a husband should also respect his wife, so make them symmetric.

    1. That’s how we approach most marriage literature as well. Most complementarian stuff is chock-full of good wisdom, but there’s just enough gender-ideology junk to make us tiptoe at times. It’d just be nice if there were more resources available so we wouldn’t have to skim through the objectionable bits.

  4. Hi Josh.

    Thanks for bringing up this issue. I think Charis has already mentioned Pat Gundry’s book “Heirs Together” which is so practical and spiritual – we give it to all couples as they approach marriage. Another book we recommend and which we got from CBE is”Before the Ring” by William L Coleman. Don’t know if CBE still sell it, but it is published by Discovery House Publishers. “The Family” A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home is another great book written by Jack & Judith Balswick. This is published by Baker Book House and we originally got it through CBE. Also, another great book is “As for Me and My House” Walter Wangerin, Jr and published by Thomas Nelson (this has a study guide as well. Lastly, there is a good book written by Bill & Lynne Hybels “Fit to be Tied” which also has a discussion guide and is a Zondervan book.
    These are all ones on our bookshelf and which we can recommend but there are so many more which have the complementarian slant and make them unpalatable, even though there;s lots of wisdom in them.

    1. My fiancee and I went through “Before the Ring” and found it to be a terrific book for where we were at. I will definitely check out “Heirs Together”; from your and Charis’s recommendation I have high expectations 🙂 Are all the resources you mention gathered in one place anywhere? It was difficult to find things on the CBE website that weren’t rhetorical or academic books, and something as simple as a single site devoted to collecting egalitarian marriage books would be a great blessing to the church.

  5. Josh I think that this issue is a little more complex in that while egalitarian books on marriage may be more thin on the ground, they are being written, as Liz has alluded to above. The ones that she cites are only the ones that we have in our own limited library. Yes, we did find it frustrating when in ministry ourselves, to find something egalitarian that we could recommend to couples approaching marriage. I think that is changing. But…and more to your point, I think that publishers and promoters of books must be held to account here. We have found, in Australia, that it is a pretty closed and controlled market. Years ago we attended a bookseller’s convention with the express intention of making booksellers aware of the range of egalitarian books available. We were told point blank that we would find it impossible to break into the market. The reason being that big publishers have extensive promotions of the books of popular authors. People like Mark Driscoll and John Eldridge. It is a business after all and the authors are contracted to come up with offerings that will capture the imagination of the reading audience. Or, tragically, the publishers have an agenda and provide extensive, attractive and compelling publicity to promote their favoured authors. Here in Australia we spoke with representatives of our leading Christian bookstore and their response was that they follow the American lead and promote books that come with a solid advertising package. Of course the complementarian camp are much more familiar with the process and I’m sure that they will have some behind the scenes push when it comes to promoting materials that benefit their cause. Which is why we have such a plethora of books to choose from, because they are so in your face, of this persuasion.

    What immediately comes to mind as an example of what I’m saying here is Bill and Lynne Hybel’s book of some years back titled, “Fit to be Tied.” It’s a great little book that is very practical as they are each very honest about the hiccups of their early married life and how they have matured together. Bill and the Willow Creek organisation are well known but unless you had some way of knowing that they had written such a book it would never come to your notice. How to break into that market with an equally aggressive advertising campaign and promotion materials is the issue here. The only other option is that we source organisations such as CBE to familiarise ourselves with the full range of egalitarian books that are available on the subjects of our special interest. New egalitarian books are emerging all the time and they are often reviewed within the CBE publications, like Priscilla Papers or Mutuality. This seems, at present, to be the best way of making people aware of what is out there from an egalitarian perspective. As you are probably aware Josh, the egalitarian position has been sidelined and denigrated by populist complementarian critics and it is very hard to reach the ordinary person through ordinary means with this message.

    1. Yes, I imagine it would be difficult for egalitarian books to “break into” the market. What kind of efforts are being made towards that end? If I had to hazard a guess on how this would happen, there would need to be a popular, charismatic figure (a famous pastor, basically) publishing a book from the egal perspective.

      Evangelical views on gender have liberalized for years now, so I think we can hope that there’s some more fertile ground in the near future for egalitarian literature to take root. That’s the optimistic view though; it’s probably equally likely that complementarianism will adopt to changing social norms while retaining its hierarchical nature, as it has for years.

  6. I can recommend several books on marriage written by egalitarians:
    Marriage Made in Eden: A Pre-Modern Perspective in a Post-Christian World by Alice P. Mathews and M. Gay Hubbard
    Partners in Marriage and Ministry: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality by Ronald W. Pierce
    Heirs Together: Applying the Biblical Principle of Mutual Submission in Your Marriage by Patricia Gundry
    Marriage: Building Real Intimacy by Bill Hybels
    Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation About Discipleship, Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy by Aida Besancon Spencer, William D. Spencer, Celestia Tracy, and Steven R. Tracy
    Model for Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment and Intimacy by Jack O. and Judith K. Balswick
    Not Your Parents’ Marriage: Bold Partnership for a New Generation by Jerome and Kellie Daley
    Ordinary People, ExtraOrdinary Marriages: Reclaiming God’s Design for Oneness by Brian Nystrom
    Real Life Marriage: It’s Not About Me by Tim and Anne Evans

    The reason it looks as though egalitarians don’t publish books on marriage is that most Christian bookstores will not carry them, BECAUSE they are egalitarian. You can find most of these at equalitydepot.com.

    1. Thanks for the info Liz, I hadn’t considered the unwillingness of Christian bookstores to carry egal books. It’s an obvious hurdle and I feel quite silly for not having thought of it.

  7. I appreciate this information; I, too, have been wondering why there are no egalitarian books in the local Christian bookstore. Next time I’m in I will ask specifically that they be carried. Maybe I can talk to the manager and remind him or her that this is still considered a secondary doctrinal issue, so there is no reason why they should be unwilling to carry books that don’t reflect their own position.

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