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Egalitarian Marriage and Parenting. Making it Work Part 3: The myth of the zero sum game

One of the most crippling and intractable of human beliefs is that human flourishing is a zero-sum game. We believe that another person’s flourishing somehow leaves less for us. That their success limits us. That their gain must equal our loss.

Not so. Rather, Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 12 that we are a body. And in a body, when one part is strengthened, the whole is strengthened. As members of one body, one person’s gain is everyone’s gain.

So much of what limits us when it comes to gender roles and scripts is fear. Fear of what we’ll lose. Fear of what we’ll have to give up. Fear of losing whatever power we think we have. But if we’re wrong about the ‘zero sum game’, then even when we ‘win,’ we lose. The gender power game limits all players, and so diminishes us all.

Yes, oftentimes, pursuing a spouse’s flourishing, or empowering a colleague at work will cost us something. It may come at financial cost, limit career opportunities, cause you to ‘fall behind’ your childless peers, require some difficult juggling. In many cases, these are costs women have been bearing for years. But what are these things in the bigger scheme of God’s redemptive plans, in the scheme of things? What will it profit you to gain the whole world, at the cost of another’s life? What a small price to pay to be part of subverting the gender imbalance and conflict that sin brought into the world! And how much more might we gain when we give up these things for the sake of others (especially our spouses)?

Speaking of this in the context of women in church leadership, Esther Emery writes:

‘It is counter-cultural to believe that freedom of a certain kind – freedom to preach, freedom to prophesy, freedom to gather many hands and set them to task in the name of Jesus Christ – is infinite. According to the zero sum game, there are only a certain number of spots for success, and taking one removes the chance for someone else.

Women of the church, don’t buy the lie of darkness that your win is going to be my loss. Where Christ is King, our accomplishments are added to one another. They lift us all up. We are big together. Grow tall and take up space. Show me the kingdom value of multiplying loaves and never ending fishes. Show me and others that there is room.’[1]


Hannah Craven is an Anglican minister in a church in North Carlton - on the fringe of Melbourne city. Wife to Tom & mother to Liam & Amber.


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