I’ve been thinking about how many distinct meanings these words have.
Same: identical, not different; not having changed, unchanged; used to emphasize that one is referring to a particular unique person or thing; referring to a person or thing just mentioned; of an identical type; exactly similar.
Different: not the same as another or each other, unlike in nature, form or quality; novel and unusual; distinct, separate.
Equal: being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value; (of people) having the same status, rights or opportunities; uniform in application or effect, without discrimination on any grounds; evenly or fairly balanced; having the ability or resources to meet (a challenge.)
Unequal: not equal in quantity, size, or value; not fair, evenly balanced, or having equal advantage, not having the ability or resources to meet a challenge.
Like: (of a person or thing) having similar qualities or characteristics to another person or thing.
If someone throws these words around without referring to what they mean by them – the conversation can confusing and difficult to follow. Like in “A Wrinkle in Time” where Charles claims that equality means that everyone is alike, Meg answers back by saying: “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” Like and equal are two entirely different things she realizes. When the book was written in the 1960s, segregation proved that “separate but equal” was an inherently unequal way to live because even though African-Americans had water fountains just like Caucasian Americans, the quality of those water fountains were often unequal.
By the early 1990s, The Giver had been written about a society that built on the principle of Sameness, where all differences that could be erased were and the ones that could not were just not discussed. It was a society that had erased war, genocide, hunger, disease, famine, but it had also erased color, emotion, music, memory, family, and homes. There wasn’t a policy or other issue that was going on at the time.
Both societies feature choice-less worlds, controlled by one intelligence or a group of elders, with most people being told where they will live, what they will do, when they can do what, who they will love, what they will eat, and what they will wear. According to The Giver: ““When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong, every single time.””
Perhaps it’s built into our very DNA, after all, the first two humans had a choice and they chose to sin. Ever since, we all choose sin. A choice-less society is an oppressive society. When Pleasantville was tasked with dealing with unpleasantness, they opted to create a series of rules to curb having so many choices and to try to separate the unpleasant from the pleasant.
We need to keep this in mind when we preach on the roles of men and women in Christianity. If we create a narrow list of acceptable choices, then we have to recognize that there is a much longer list of unacceptable choices that we are trying to discourage men and women from doing and being in an effort to create a more biblical society or a more biblical church. After all, the Bible was written to a fairly choice-less society, with the Romans in control of most of the world and different cultural expectations for each nation, there really wasn’t a precedent for people to exist outside of super narrow definitions of manhood and womanhood. They couldn’t have predicted a day where we might chose women to lead our nation on purpose as women leaders of the past were usually queens or queen regnant and not just any woman. They couldn’t have imagined that women would hold down jobs and be paid to do the same work as men or that men might be stay-at-home dads.
I guess because we’re talking about the Bible we tend to view it with special lenses, were we discussing Beowolfian Gender Roles or Gilgameshian Gender Roles we’d view them as just how people lived in a book written in another culture and not as guidelines for how all men and women are to live everywhere until the end of time. We would have the choice to just ignore gender implications from any other ancient book.
It probably doesn’t help that the words ‘same’ and ‘different’ and ‘equal’ and ‘unequal’ and ‘like’ are somewhat interchangeable depending on the context. After all, men and women are different but equal. Men and women are different, they’re just not alike. Then again, no two men are alike and no two women are alike. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all the same. Even identical twins are different. It makes me wonder if we, as humans, have the capacity to treat each other as equals despite our differences. Historically, it hasn’t been our strong suit. Every new wave of immigrants, for example, was met with opposition. Even today there’s a tendency to be mistrustful of those who are different. And there’s no getting around the differences between men and women, but does that mean that men and women are unequal? Sometimes things are the way they seem, and when it seems that men are more equal than women it can be difficult to find enough evidence to refute it. (“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” – Animal Farm.)
Imagine for a moment that you’re in a world that has never heard of Christianity. You’re zapped into our reality and you see a church service for the first time. You watch as men speak on behalf of God, men teach on behalf of God, men make decisions on behalf of God, and women seem to sit still and watch or cook something or clean something or watch children. If a woman wants to teach and the church permits it, she has to do so under the authority of her husband’s spiritual headship over her and she has to speak from a music stand – and not the pastor’s pulpit. Would you conclude that you are seeing the essence of equality? That men and women are the same in God’s eyes?
In recent years, the differences of men and women have been advertised as if it’s some sort of chasm – “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” they forget that both planets originate in the same stellar dust that formed earth. Or “Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti” they forget that both are made from flour. The fact that men and women do have so very many things in common, shows us that people often make a mountain out of the molehill that is our differences. Both men and women like football, basketball, racing, cars, etc. Both men and women like art, music, reading, cooking, etc. Both men and women (usually) have ten fingers and ten toes, two arms and two legs, two ears and one mouth. They’re destroying the truth of commonalities in order to emphasizes differences because only different things can have an argument for hierarchy or superiority or inequality. Whenever there is a difference, one part has to be greater and another part has to be lesser. That’s just mathematics for you: 7 (whole) – 4 (greater part) = 3 (lesser part); 4 < 3; the only time when it is not so is when both numbers are the same: 7 – 3.5 = 3.5; 3.5 = 3.5; but could the man expect to always have authority over, more responsibility than the woman if they are equal and not have the woman have the same authority over him without him having the greater part? So it is for us – not only are we prone to chose to sin, we are also prone to chose power and to perpetuate inequality by promoting advantageous differences.
As it is, we can say that men and women are different but equal, but we all know that we don’t really mean it. By putting our differences first we mean that our differences are more essential than our equality, then we will continue to chose sin – only we claim this is Biblical, so we say this is how God wants it until the end of time. We’re taking words that should mean one thing and twisting them to say things they can’t possibly mean. We create a choice-less religion with a narrow definitions of what’s acceptable and a wide margin of what’s unacceptable. We end up being oppressive in a backwards effort to liberate others – all this we do in the name of God and it’s no wonder the next generation wants nothing to do with us or God.