Fatherhood vs. Egalitarianism

Douglas Wilson’s second chapter in Father Hunger takes on the task of debunking egalitarianism, explaining masculinity as an objective concept, and then proposing that fathers are to lead their families with an eye towards the distant future.  This is a foundational vision which will shape the thesis of the entire book, and it is likely one of the areas that will be most in dispute.  It will be in dispute by many Christians as well as non-Christians, and so it will require the right mixture of intellectual power and a good sense of humor.  Wilson gives us both.   For now we’ll just look at his treatment of egalitarianism.

Anticipating the philosophical suppositions, he writes:

Much of what will be argued throughout the course of this book will not seem very enlightened or progressive to today’s average reader, and so we must begin by addressing the problems created by something called egalitarianism.  We shouldn’t be put off by this elongated word– we all know plenty of other big words that don’t bother us, like delicatessen or basketball.  Egalitarianism simply means “equalism,” and like a number of other similar words, the poison in that word is found in the ism. (15)

Egalitarianism is the thought that we’re all equal, and so we should all be treated equal in every way.  When taken to its fullest extreme, egalitarianism says that everything is equal, replacing what old folks used to call “morals” with the more subjective and “personal” concept of “value.”  There’s no right or wrong, good or bad, just what each of us “value,” and of course, since we’re all equal, our values are also basically equal.  They’re like flavors– you’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.

This is the American philosophy in a nutshell, and it does have a foothold in our semi-sacred history.  We hold these truths to be self-evident and all.  And so all men are created equal, all men were eventually freed, men and women were granted voting rights, religious discrimination was outlawed, and now sexuality and gender roles have been essentially equalized as well.  Everything is equal.

Many conservatives are familiar with this situation.  And many of their religious and political leaders blame it on hippies, commies, and the French Revolution.  And they’re more than about half-right.  But the problem is for most average American Christians, they’ve been taught that this is what the Bible is all about as well.  Jesus came to save the poor and lowly: the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles.  In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28).  Wilson is aware of this challenge, and he seeks to explain it right away.

Now of course we know and agree that there is an important sense in which we are all supposed to be treated as equals.  In a court of law, for example… And in the same way, but on the flip side, the salvation that is offered in Christ knows no rank or station… There is obviously an important kind of “equality” here as well, and no truhearted Christian should ever be suspicious of it.  (15-16)

Wilson asks then, “So in what sense can ‘equality’ ever be bad?”  His answer is that when we equate equal value with equal purpose we have made a grave error.

When two things are the same we tend to treat them the same.  But if we treat two things the same, it does not follow that they are the same.  If we found two hammers on the workbench, we wouldn’t have any trouble picking up either one of them to do the job– because we intend to treat them exactly the same.  But it does not follow from this that if we should treat something the same (in a legal setting) that they must therefore be the same.  A man might be called up to take care of all his tools, treating them all with the same kind of respect.  But treating a hammer with respect and a screwdriver with respect means treating them differently– you don’t twist screws with a hammer, and you don’t try to drive nails with the handle of the screwdriver.  (17)

Obviously both a hammer and a screwdriver are tools and both should be taken care of.  You’ll even need both to get most jobs done.  But they are still different tools, and therefore they have different uses.  To use a hammer when you need a screwdriver wouldn’t get you very far, and to use a screwdriver when you need a hammer will likely break the screwdriver.  Wilson says that people are like this as well, particularly men and women and therefore fathers and mothers.  Both are equal as regards to their worth, but they have different functions.  And in order for things to work correctly, men and women need to perform their proper functions.  This will begin by understanding what those are, which leads Wilson to his next point about the creational design of men and fathers.

But before we get to that, I’d like to field this question of egalitarianism from a slightly different angle.  Wilson is calling us to a reasonable evaluation of equality and diversity, and this is necessary.  For Christians, however, there will be undoubtedly a need to address the redemptive argument as well.  Few of our insiders have bought into the full-blown rejection of gender binaries (though I’m sure there are a few).  Rather, most of our folks have rather bought into a sort of redemptive egalitarianism based on their particular reading of the Scriptures.  As we pointed out, there are places where ethnicity and gender are said to be of no importance, but rather what matters is being a new creation in Christ.

This is where a certain sort of uncareful Biblicism actually dovetails with Liberalism.  Some readers might be familiar with Eric Voeglin’s description of progressive liberalism, more widely popularized by William F. Buckley and National Review, which said that liberals want to “immanentize the eschaton.”  They take a utopian vision of the after-life and attempt to implement it in the present through law.  Unfortunately some Christians also try to do this, only through pious exhortation and ecclesiastical polity.  The social gospel comes to mind, but even some less-suspecting “conservative” Evangelicals can fall into this mistake.

So let’s just say it: Not every “in Christ” reality needs to be literally and physically implemented, neither in church nor state.

Now, some of you might be saying– Hey wait just a minute?!!  Aren’t we supposed to transform society?  Aren’t we suppose to be light to the world?  Are you advocating some sort of pious but stagnant quietism?

No.  Or, I guess it depends on what you mean.  But mostly no.  Here’s the deal, when Paul and the New Testament speak about “in Christ” realities, they are talking about the spiritual kingdom, the condition and state of your heart and soul.  They are not necessarily talking about the temporal kingdom.

We know this from a few obvious points.  There’s no male nor female in Christ (Gal. 3:28).  But there is obviously male and female in the Church because Paul says that only men can teach in the Church (1 Tim. 2:12).  Further, the New Testament continues to oppose homosexuality, stating that it is unnatural.  It can only do this if sex has an abiding significance and reality in the world.

Also, Jesus says that we will not be given in marriage in the new creation (Matt. 22:30, Mark 12:25).  But we don’t require Christians to dissolve their marriages, nor do we even ask them to act like they’re single in the Church.  Nope.  That’s clearly a “not-yet” issue.

This is the old distinction between the two kingdoms as taught by the Reformers.  It is not a separation of Church and State, but rather of body and soul.  There is a separation of Church and State, of course, but that’s a different conversation.  For this one, the two kingdoms cut across both Church and State equally.

In the spiritual kingdom there is a total equality.  Our identities are totally taken up into Christ, and we are all considered to be as Him.  Yet in the temporal kingdom there is not total equality but rather several levels of distinction, even admitting of superiors and inferiors.  That’s not superior or inferior according to “worth,” of course, but it is according to rank and authority.  There are leaders in the Church, and there are leaders in the State.  And there are appropriate gender roles in the Church, and, I would argue, though no doubt against the majority sentiment today, there are also appropriate gender roles in the rest of society.

These various roles are sometimes outlined explicitly by the Bible, but more often that not, they are informed by reason.  That presupposes that there is such a thing as reason and that it is a competent and trustworthy guide.  And that will bring us to our next discussion, that of gender roles as a creation ordinance.  We’ll take that up next time.

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2 thoughts on “Fatherhood vs. Egalitarianism

  1. I kinda agree, but worry that the arguments about total equality in soul, but not in body is what people would have said about slavery and apartheid, and segregation. “yes, I believe in equality in soul, but its within christian liberty to favor segregation, since that’s the temporal kingdom” I’m not sure I trust the argument.

    I mean we can make the distinction between race and lady pastors because we have so much forbidding lady pastors. but still

  2. Paul,

    It is definitely what they said. I won’t argue with you there. And of course, some of those controversies were much more complicated at the time than they appear to us in hindsight. I’m not defending any of them at all, and I’m quite happy that those institutions were defeated, however, I’m not confident that the solutions actually solved all the problems nor that they avoided certain other mistakes in their reasoning. After all, the homosexual rights movement loves to connect itself to civil rights. Yet, as Christians, we would defend civil rights and still argue against homosexuality’s civic acceptance. So we have to be careful and make the appropriate distinctions.

    I think that sexuality is quite different from race because of creational ordinances. The various “races” do eventually all go back to a unified ancestry. Any hostility of subordination along racial lines would have to be due to sin and the curse of Babel. Sexuality and gender roles, however, were in place from the beginning, and that will be part of the next post.

    With regard to slavery and redemptive ethics, though, I think that the Epistle to Philemon is very helpful. The Apostle does not resort to coercion or commands, but rather seeks to persuade Philemon based upon the logic of freedom. He does, however, explicitly say, “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” I take that “both in the flesh and in the Lord” to be Paul’s rhetorical way of connecting two things that would otherwise be able to remain distinct.

    Also, the two kingdoms aren’t totally sealed off and locked away from each other. We have to use reason to see which aspects can connect, and which, though connected logically, might look differently in external action. So my post here doesn’t give us positive law, but rather starting principles from which to draw out the specifics.

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