JAC Online

Egalitarian Relationships
by Colonel Richard Munn



1 egalitarianA truly distinctive feature of The Salvation Army is our commitment to egalitarian leadership.  It is the freedom of thought characterized by William and Catherine Booth and other pioneers of our movement who actively encouraged the deployment of women and men – even during the patriarchal Victorian era.


The boldness and freshness of this value is as relevant today as ever. 


More than tradition and history, however – is there a biblical basis for egalitarian male-female relationships?



The order established at the dawn of creation speaks to our day. 

Genesis One – Man and Woman: The Pinnacle of Creation

The significance of the relationship between a man and a woman is such that it forms a central part of the opening pages of scripture.  The very pinnacle of creation.


Genesis 1:26 ‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule… ‘

 2 creation male female


God determines to make ‘man’ (singular), but refers to ‘man’ as ‘them’ (plural).  ‘Man’ is a generic term for ‘human beings’ and encompasses both male and female.  Both man and woman are God’s image-bearers.

Joint Leadership

Genesis 1:28 ‘God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’


In this idyllic relationship man and woman are also together commanded by God to subdue the earth and rule over all other living creatures.  The emphasis is joint leadership.  Just as man and woman jointly share in the image of God, they also jointly rule the over the earth.


Genesis Two – Reinforces teachings of Chapter One and provides some new insights.


Genesis 2:18 (NIV) - ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’



With God’s provision of Adam’s ‘helper’ there is again an emphasis on the man and the woman as social beings.  The word 'helper' (NIV) or 'helpmeet' (KJV) consists of two ideas - 'help' meaning 'share the same tasks' and 'meet' meaning 'do it as equals.' 


Far from inferring helper as a term of subjugation the concept rather describes a mutually beneficial relationship, with the concept of ‘counter-part,’ one who completes, ‘rescuer’ even.  The literal translation suggests ‘his counterpart, corresponding to him.’ 


Genesis Three – The sin of Adam and Eve catastrophically breaks the ideal relationship. 


Genesis 3:16 ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing, in pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’



The woman will yearn for the ‘one flesh’ union that defined the family prior to the fall (2:24). Her desire will be for her husband, and yet instead of meeting her desire and providing a mutually supportive and nurturing family environment, he will rule over her.


4 rulership




Just as death and the toil of the earth – absent in Eden to this point – result from sin, so too is the pain of childbirth and the dominance of man over woman. 


‘The ‘he shall rule over you’ should not be viewed as prescribing God’s will any more than death may be regarded as God’s will for humans.’

Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles


New Testament
In the NT we see numerous examples where Jesus restores human dignity to women, that experienced by Eve before the fall.

6 female ordination 

-       Mary, posture of a disciple – LK 10

-       Samaritan woman at the well – JN 4

-       Woman anointing with perfume – LK 7

-       The woman caught in adultery – JN 8

-     Mary, commissioned with the news of the resurrection – MT 28

The ‘meta-narrative’ of the salvation story, the arc of scripture, is that that God intends redemption to restore gender equality, beginning with the community of faith, the church.
2 passages illustrate this well:
Church Relationships – Mutual Identity in Christ – Galatians 3:28

‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’


Marital Relationships – Mutual Submission in Christ – Ephesians 5:21

‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’



7 Ours


It is expressing the original biblical egalitarian relationship between men and women that makes Salvation Army use of shared ministry especially dynamic. 



A healthy male/female relationship represents the original and full image of God to people and can model restoration in the broken relationship between men and women as a result of the fall


Biblical Principles for Today

Implementing egalitarian relationships takes forthright thinking from both men and women, requires consistent dialogue over role-expectations and a willingness to face the backlash from challenging old patriarchal wineskins. 


Sociologists refer to the ‘competition’ that can emerge between male and female in egalitarian role relationships.  We might say a more redemptive description would be ‘iron sharpening iron,’ ‘spurring one another to love and good works’ and ‘in honor preferring one another.’


8 rosie rivetCultural Dynamics – Yesterday and Today

Broadly speaking, the empowerment of women during WW2 while men were away in large numbers continued momentum through the 1950’s and blossomed as a genuine cultural movement in the 1960’s and 70’s.  This critical mass shows no sign of abating.  Women now consistently lead in politics, education, law, medicine and business. 


The world of free enterprise is catching hold of this with the ‘collaborative couple’ emerging as a competitive force, especially for small business operations.  The flexibility, creativity and trust of the healthy husband-wife team has a ‘competitive advantage’ over a more conventional ‘business-associate’ arrangement.


The army was ostensibly way ahead of all this, and even today still holds distinction with comparatively more ordained and commissioned women per capita than any other denomination.  This is especially true for the husband and wife corps officer team.


We can think of egalitarian values as holding a ‘sanctified missional advantage.’



9 partnership



Tony Campolo says that in addition to loss of power, some men have other fears about women leaders:


-       Loss of status in the eyes of other men

-       Loss of masculinity


William David Spencer, husband of teacher Aida Besancon Spencer - both clergy - speaks eloquently to these misconceptions. 


‘Far better for males to serve our wives as Christ did the church.... enabling her to become that lovely polished jewel glorious with lustrous good works in the human bracelet that adorns the hand of God.  And women.... will turn back a great appreciation on their husbands, who will live a life a sultan would envy. 


The crucial difference between being 'macho' and being 'masculine' is what distinguishes males who are secure enough to liberate women for leadership. 



9a FemininityFemale leadership should not deny femininity, just as it should not deny masculinity for male leaders.  For a woman to function as a leader must not mean that she become ‘like a man.’


While being astute and vigilant – shrewd even – are helpful leadership attributes, such qualities should not negate femininity for women leaders.


An authentic egalitarian leadership model would seem to lessen the pressure on a woman leader to function in such a way.  That is why it is so important to have men and women on committees and boards.  One bereft of the other leaves an imbalanced committee.


Marriage Types

Canada's Faith Alive magazine found that 'shared leadership' marriages ranked higher on the satisfaction scale than 'husband-led' marriages.’ The conclusion of the survey is important regarding husband and wife leaders:


‘Those who claim a shared spiritual leadership or mission seem to be happiest and most fulfilled in life.’

10 Choice

The Future

Western culture increasingly provides a smorgasbord of options, with no reduction in sight.  Today people can choose from a wide array of possibilities, and in so doing, they are empowered.  People can affect outcome, and they are used to it.  We are part of a world where empowered choice and variety are the norm. 


Insert into such a world an educated, creative, self-actualised woman where the only option is to contribute in a subordinated role, and we have a recipe for unhappiness. 


This is especially so for younger woman leaders. 


Raised with increasingly egalitarian values women expect that the army will affirm their gifts, education and aptitudes, and deploy them for mission.  Would we want it any other way? 


Embrace this as a Biblical model and God’s unique desire for The Salvation Army.  The outcome has the potential to multiply mission effectiveness well into the future, and rightfully position the army at the vanguard of women leader deployment. 


May our ‘espoused theory’ match our ‘theory-in-use.' 


-       Encourage and empower women for leadership and influence

-       Appoint women in leadership roles

-       Defer when a capable woman can contribute, or take the lead


-       Assert yourselves, deliberately, into leadership roles

-       Don’t let the men get away with being the dominant alpha male all the time 

-       Don’t let the women get away with habitually being side-lined as lesser leaders


-       12 SharingShare household and family duties

-      Share decision-making

-     Share days of recreation

-     When one has a guest, the other serves

- When one works all day, the other prepares the meal

-       When one has a project of significance, the other assists

Earnestly, forthrightly, playfully talk this through – today, and for a lifetime to come. 


The heart of the matter is that when men and women empower each other to reach full leadership potential they will be helped to reach their own also. 


We can be secure in the knowledge that this is both scripturally sound and psychologically healthy. 



General Gowans described egalitarian convictions as ‘clearly God’s intention for us to follow.’ 


It is the broad-based, year-in-year-out implementation of true egalitarian leadership across the army world that will likely magnify the impact of our mission.


The current generation of men leaders are surely up to the challenge; the women leaders most certainly are.


14 sa future












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