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
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
– 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
very pinnacle of creation.
‘Then God said, ‘Let
us make man in
our image, in
our likeness, and
them rule… ‘
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.
‘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
Genesis 2:18 (NIV) -
‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make
a helper suitable
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,
The literal translation suggests ‘his counterpart,
corresponding to him.’
Genesis Three –
The sin of Adam and Eve catastrophically breaks the
‘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.
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.’
Beyond Sex Roles
In the NT we see numerous examples where
Jesus restores human dignity to women,
that experienced by Eve before the fall.
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
Marital Relationships – Mutual Submission in Christ –
‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’
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
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
preferring one another.’
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
We can think of egalitarian values as holding a ‘sanctified
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
‘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.
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.
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.’
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
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
household and family duties
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.