Language: Labels & Longing

Musings on why I do not love the label egalitarian

I don’t love the label egalitarian. I claim it, but labels are tricky things. Though often necessary to quickly capture complex subjects in easy, accessible language, the very act of simplifying people and ideas into labels obliterates nuance and oversimplifies complexity.

I am fascinated by language. Three verses into the Bible, the reader encounters,

And God said…” (Gen 1:3)

The apostle John opens his epistle,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)

In Revelation, a redeemed community

from every nation, tribe, people and language” (7:9)

gathers to sing God’s praises. We will only begin to truly glimpse the full glory of God when all humanity is gathered together, in all their diversity, with all of the nuances of every language, to worship God. Part of being human, of being made in the “image of God,” encompasses the ability to communicate.

The wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes observes,

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9)

The experiences of humanity are finite and capable of being categorized. Yet several stanzas later, the writer expounds,

[God] has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (3:11)

The human longing for eternity can never fully be expressed in words, for how can one perfectly articulate the attributes of an infinite God?

It is in this tension of labels and longing that I choose to identify as egalitarian. I find it to be a necessary and useful label to quickly communicate complex ideas, while also mourning all the nuance that is lost in the mystery of relationship by use of a simple word. I claim egalitarian, but listed below are some of the reasons I might never fully love the label.

  • The terms complementarian and egalitarian were created in white theological spaces. Using these terms centers straight white theology. It’s not that BIPOC churches don’t have varying levels of mutuality and patriarchy within their traditions, but it is often more nuanced and not the stark dividing force that it is within white church spaces.
  • Labels can be helpful, but they also tend to erase the beauty, mystery, and complexity of God.
  • Using the terms egalitarian and complementarian centers both as morally equivalent theological positions. They are not.
  • The term egalitarian carries baggage. Even though the egalitarian position does not posit that men and women are identical in every way, this idea is often mistakenly associated with the word. I myself made this mistake before I read more widely.
  • Complementary is a beautiful word, and “men and women complement each other” is not an untrue statement. It’s a shame it has been ruined by the patriarchal community to mean roles, hierarchy, and power dynamics.
  • The average layperson is not familiar with these terms. Seriously. I didn’t learn them until post-college when I served as a campus minister. I am a nerd. Most of my friends and family in church spaces (let alone, outside of church) have no idea what I’m talking about when I say complementarian or egalitarian.
  • Just because a church claims they are egalitarian does not mean they aren’t misogynistic. I absolutely believe patriarchal theology is more dangerous because biblical authority and language are used to justify misogyny, but I recognize misogyny is deeply embedded within our culture. Unfortunately, even many egalitarian churches are not completely free of its rot.

While I don’t love the word egalitarian, it is the most commonly used word I have to describe the journey I’m on, but to more clearly describe complementarian theology, I will use the more honest term patriarchy.

And I will continue to long for the day when I encounter Jesus face to face:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)


Title Image – Jesus and the Samaritan by Jean-François de Troy


When Adam and Eve chose the rule of humankind over the rule of God, they tragically ushered in the Age of Patriarchy. For more, see
Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man


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1 thought on “Language: Labels & Longing

  1. Bev Sterk

    One another… I love this concept bc it’s biblical language backed up with 59 commands in the NT … The concepts includes the good of both egal & compl… It is a healing mutuality that benefits and blesses everyone!

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    Reply

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