Egalitarian Marriage and Parenting. Making it Work Part 4: A Christian approach to achieving gender
So what does this understanding – that gender inequality is directly rooted in sin – offer to couples who are seeking to live out egalitarian ideals?
It tells us that Gender gender inequality is not just a practical problem, but a spiritual problem one. So here are three spiritual resources, tools the bible gives us for addressing sin in all parts of our lives, that we ought to pay more attention to when working for gender equality:
1. Transformation, not conformation (Romans 12:2)
Gender inequality persists in part because it serves our worship of power, authority, money, success, work, and reputation. If we (and especially men) live by for these things, there is no doubt that there is much to be gained from a traditional marriage. As Annabel Crabb states, a ‘wife’ (by which she means a spouse to stay home to care for the children) is an economic advantage. But what if we reject the zero sum game? What if we reject the unspoken maxim that ‘financial sense’ is the only kind of sense that matters? What if we were not conformed to the pattern of this world but were transformed by the Holy Spirit? What if we rejected these values, these idols? What if we placed a higher value on seeing the other flourish and succeed? What we if thought it better to give up power and advantage for the sake of another than to receive it? How might we live then? Moving to a more equal family arrangement may cost you some of what you desire. Perhaps you will have to give up the esteem of others. Perhaps you may need to change or delay your financial goals. Perhaps you will have to give up the esteem of others. Refuse a promotion. Men – perhaps you will have to accept that ‘dint’ in your career. Ask yourself – what does how I live say about what I really value? Have those values been transformed by Christ? Are the barriers you face to living up to your egalitarian ideals really so insurmountable? Or are you just being asked to make a hard choice, that reveals where your treasure really is? 2. Repentance, not rationalising (1 John 1:9) Learn to recognise and repent of your own sinfulness, rather than rationalising or justifying your failure to live up to your values. It’s not too late to start now. Be prepared to examine your past and present decisions in regard to work and family life. Have you, like so many others, performed a ‘values stretch’ in order to rationalise your failings? ‘Stretching’ your ideals to accommodate your failures rather than repenting of them? Learn to recognise and acknowledge when you fail. Learn to repent, and to be forgiven, by your spouse and by God. As Christians we don’t need to be afraid to acknowledge our failings. We don’t need to stretch, or hide, or ignore them. We can acknowledge them, because we know that our failings do not condemn nor define us. We can be confident of forgiveness, and we can be empowered to change. Be free and confident to critically assess how you're living your life and marriage. Create an environment of repentance and forgiveness - not hiding from your sinful desires and ambitions, but working to overcome them. 3. Mutual empowerment, not self-promotion (Ephesians 5:21) Approach your marriage with an attitude of service, and of grace, not as a negotiator or law enforcer. I hear too many stories about couples who ‘trade’ favours, or ‘earn’ points. Who ‘exchange’ kindnesses as though they have some kind of ledger. You can do X (go out on Thursday), because I’m doing Y (going out on Wednesday). He had N (a boys weekend), so I deserve M (this spa treatment). I do S (work too much), but I make up for it by T (buying her jewellery). The biblical vision of marriage is not just passively yielding your wishes for another, or putting up with however much imposition you can bear. A marriage of mutual empowerment is an active, intentional process of envisioning and encouraging another to be everything that God created them to be. For men: this means that we should not wait for women to demand their place, voice or opportunity. We should be envisioning how the churches, workplaces and marriages we are a part of could better empower women, release their gifts, and promote their flourishing. Don't assume your wife is happy to perform the role your mother did, or for you to be the parent your father was. Actively think, strive and work for ways in which your marriage could better enable the flourishing of your partner. Be a competent parent: know how to pack the nappy bag, cook meals and organise a play date; take time off or work part-time. Conclusion A wise man once said: “There’s a simple answer to every complex question… and it’s wrong!” The simple answer to the complex problem of work-family arrangements in Australia continues to be the ‘traditional’ household model. True gender equality in our marriages and parenting, for most of us, will not come easily. It is not the default of your workplace. It is not the default of our culture. It is not the default of your boss or your manager. It is not the default of your peers or your friends. And it is not the default of your heart. True gender equality in our marriages and parenting will take effort, initiative, and sacrifice. It is harder and more complex. But it is a powerful work of redemption in our world – a sign of God’s grace and the freedom of the gospel. It might require giving up a few things. But what truly valuable thing doesn’t? Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:24-26) Questions for reflection/discussion: 1. In what ways does your workplace make going against gender norms difficult? 2. What might be the cost to you of doing things differently? 3. What cultural influences/stereotypes/role prescriptions have you found most challenging, influential, or hard to shake? Friends, Family, Media, Church….? 4. What evidence do you find within yourself of desires that are destructive to a real partnership in marriage? 5. Where have you settled for something ‘easier’?
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.
 Crabb, The Wife Drought, loc 136 of 3865.