Gender Justice and the Christ/Church Dichotomy

Gender Justice and the Christ/Church Dichotomy November 25, 2013

Last week I spent way too much of my time reading through and thinking over the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. It wasn’t exactly a thrill of a read, but the concepts in this book have helped me think more deeply about the theologies related to complementarianism.

I don’t think I like them much.

The author of Love and Respect bases his entire book off of the favorite passage of complementarians: Ephesians 5:23. He claims that men and women are equal…but completely different, and one must rule over the other. I mean, the man is Jesus and the woman is the Church (relationships outside of monogamous, heterosexual relationships between binary cis people don’t exist in this world)! It says so right there in Ephesians!

Now, I’m not going to argue that they’re just reading this passage entirely wrong and that Paul (if he even wrote Ephesians) was secretly a feminist or something. Other more educated people are out there making cases for why this verse doesn’t justify even benevolent sexism. I’m just not interested in delving into that at the moment.

What I’m more interested in is a different understanding of Christ and the Church.

Complementarians like to argue that complementarianism doesn’t support inequality. “Men and women ARE equal,” they’ll say. “They just have different roles that they must stick to.”

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism pointed out awhile back that this is all kinds of bullshit:

This comparison makes every assertion that husbands and wives are equal, and simply have different roles, into a lie. That’s right, a lie. See, Jesus and the church are not equal. There is no frame in which you can make them equal. After all, as the story goes, Christ created humankind, Christ is infallible and perfect while humankind is wicked and deserving of eternal torture, and Christ now requires mankind’s obedience to his every word.

According to the theology that most complementarians hold, there is no equality whatsoever between Christ and the church. So why do they continue to use Ephesians 5 to argue that men and women are “equal but different?” Would they say that the church is “equal but different” with Christ? Nope.

I’m glad Libby Anne points this out. It tears down the benevolent curtains that complementarians try to put up in order to hide the inherent dehumanization that their theology causes for women.

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VII, “Of the Church” by Wenceslas Hollar (click for source)


I wonder, though, are Christ and the Church really all that different? Do we have to view Christ and the church as totally separate entities?

My understanding is that the member of the Trinity that is Christ is more than simply the historical person of Jesus. Christ is God in history, the wisdom of God in human flesh. That wisdom of God is not only manifest in the person of Jesus:

The Christ is not exclusively the glorified Jesus, but the glorified Jesus animating his body, which is the Church…the Christ is composed of all the baptized. This means that Christ, in contrast to Jesus, is not male, or more exactly not exclusively male. Christ is quite accurately portrayed as black, old, Gentile, female, Asian or Polish. Christ is inclusively all the baptized. (Sandra Schneiders, as quoted in She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson)

As Johnson says in She Who Is, “The beloved community shares in the living and dying and rising of Christ.” Anyone who does the work of Christ, following after the example of Jesus, is part of the body of Christ.

And what is this work? Do Christ and the Church really have different roles?

We are to be working for a renewed world, affirming the full humanity of others, healing, listening, speaking truth to power, speaking of peace, having compassion, being willing to die and live for justice.

Christ and the Church are not two independent, completely different entities. They intersect. Sometimes they are indistinguishable. The Church IS Christ. We are all Christ’s body and we ought to do Christ’s work. 

One verse of the Bible saying that men = Christ and women = the Church does not justify this male/female dichotomy. The line between Christ and the Church is not so clear cut.

There is diversity within Christ’s body, just as there is diversity among gender expressions, and that is a wonderful thing to be celebrated. The male/female dichotomy  limits, rather than celebrates, that diversity. It forces everyone into one of two tiny, tiny boxes.

Maybe Christ and the Church can be a liberating metaphor for the relationship between people of different genders. No tiny boxes. No clearly drawn lines. No forced dichotomies.


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