Gregg T. Lamm
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She knew it was going to be one of those days. The newspaper had a run-in with several thousand
raindrops, the cold cereal was stale, the car wouldn't start, and the bus was late. Yet in spite of all
the morning's mishaps, when Marilyn was finally seated on the bus, she was consoled by one fact
-- she looked marvelous in her new hat. Never in the history of mankind had five ounces of
feathers and felt lifted a low spirit like that hat! Nothing could ruin her say so long as she was
wearing that hat! Then it happened -- the bus jerked to a halt and woman boarded wearing the
same hat! The the woman was beautiful and looked equally smashing in her hat was completely
overshadowed by the fact that she was black. Marilyn discreetly reached up, took off her hat and
slipped it into her tote bag. Racial equality?
Regular church attenders avoided Bill. They never thought about how they'd smell or look if their
bathroom was a filling station and their bed was the back seat of a car. They were more concerned
with whether Bill was "contagious" than whether he knew Jesus Christ. It was much easier to
label him unlovely and unlovable than to get to know his needs and meet them. Social equality?
The ballots were counted and the decision in. The board couldn't let Margaret lead the sermon
discussion class. It would violate one of God's sovereign mandates! "Next item of business
please," said the chairman. After brief discussion Barbara's application for missionary work in
South America was enthusiastically endorsed. God's "mandate," earlier so crystal-clear, was now
strangely applicable only in the northern hemisphere. Gender equality?
Equality is a many-faceted stone. It's easy to focus on one of its planes and miss the
inter-relatedness of its sides. Let's examine racial, social, and gender equality as related to each
other and the Word of God.
Beginning in 1896, whites of the South kept blacks "in their place" by enforcing "Separate But
Equal" acts. The basic premise was that blacks and whites could be fairly segregated so long as
the respective facilities in restaurants, parks, beaches, buses, etc., and curriculum and faculty in
schools were of equal caliber. Bigotry had seldom seemed nobler. With the passage of time it
became clear that "Separate But Equal" acts were painfully shortsighted.
Around 1900 years earlier, around A.D. 53, near Antioch, and man named Paul penned the
"Equal But Equal" act. It is found in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor
free, male not female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
Paul teaches that all people are equal, Not -- equal but...Not -- equal if...Just equal but equal,
Equality had seldom seemed clearer. But with the passage of time Christians began squabbling
over the "true interpretation" of Paul's teaching. Soon Christians, too, became experts at
compartmentalizing people according to skin color, bank balance, or gender; as if equality were in
the eye of the beholder rather that in the eye of God.
How did the "Equal But Equal" act end up in the "debatable" category of Christian theology? The
main contributor was a shift in methods of biblical interpretation. The cultural and historical
dynamics in play at the time of Paul's writing were ignored. Christians no longer looked to the
general principles inherent in Scripture. They opted instead for "literalism." This approach focused
on isolated biblical statements and cases that accentuated the demands of the law in Scripture.
The "spirit of the law" was sacrificed for the "letter of the law" and believers became dogmatic in
their adherence to stands the Bible never intended to be of eternal consequence.
The time has come to return to what Paul had in mind when he drew up the "Equal But Equal"
act -- equality in three principle areas: race, social position, and gender. Let's turn out attention to
equality and race.
EQUALITY AND RACE
"There is neither Jew nor Greek..." For too long Christians have equated racism with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. We've soothed our consciences by criticizing blatant racism while ignoring hidden forms of it within ourselves.
There are no lynchings, tar and feathering, or segregated rest rooms. But there are racial jokes, derogatory comments, and name calling. These barbs of racism are more subtle in the method, but no less damaging to the Body of Christ. For where racism thrives, the Church, as God intended it to be, withers.
We grew up singing:
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.
But we act to the contrary: Since Jesus loves the red and yellow and black and white, we don't
have to! It's one thing to say we love, and it is another to show love in the form of acceptance.
Jesus' love went beyond toleration to the point of personal involvement in the lives of any who
came His way. If our mind-set is to be like Christ's, we must stop seeing others as "children of
other races" and begin seeing one another as we truly are -- children of God.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark
12:29-31). John says in 1 John 4:20, 21: If anyone says 'I love God,' but keeps on hating his
brother, he is a liar; for if he doesn't love his brother who is right there in front of him, how can he
love God whom he has never seen? And God Himself has said that one must love not only God,
but his brother too. (TLB)
Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered this question in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke
10:30-37). Who is my brother? Arthur Robers put it well when he said: "My brother is anyone
who comes down the pike." (1) We have a choice to make. We can be Christlike or we can be
racist, We can't be both any more than a doorknob can also be a bicycle.
But racial equality wasn't Paul's only concern when the wrote the "Equal But Equal" act. He also
addressed the issue of equality and social position.
EQUALITY AND SOCIAL POSITION.
"There is...neither slave nor free..." Education, wealth, success, looks, popularity, titles. These are
a few of the categories we use to separate people. In Paul's day there were two main social strata:
slaves and freemen. And so Paul contrasted these to show God is no respecter of social position.
Imagine being a slave in the days of Paul -- being bought, traded, killed like an animal, regarded as a "thing," not a person, with no rights or possessions. "There is no part of life, no moment of time, no activity which is your own." (2) Imagine being a freeman in the days of Paul. Tb be free was to be your own master, setting your own hours, and living a life of relative ease. In fact, as a freeman you probably owned at least one slave yourself. Any task you didn't want to do was simply assigned to your slave.
Paul says God views slaves and freemen as equals. A modern equivalent might be: "Bums and bank presidents are equal." No wonder Paul is the champion of the down-and-out as well as the nemesis of the up-and-in! James 2 describes the sin of "preferential treatment." Boiled down, James's thesis is "It is a sin to treat the rich with honor and the poor with disrespect -- so don't do it!" God overlooks titles, bank balances, criminal records, education, and appearance, he sees right to the heart.
Instead of pigeonholing and alienating people, let us love and accept them. Not for what they have and haven't. Just for one simple reason -- because Christ does.
When Paul wrote the "Equal But Equal" act, his concern went further than the equality or race
and social position. He also spoke to the issue of equality and gender.
EQUALITY AND GENDER
"There is neither...male nor female..." This radical declaration diametrically opposed the
contemporary belief of male superiority. Publicly saying men and women were equal on every
plane, not just spiritually, was unpopular. Until then, the subject had rarely been up for discussion.
Since then it has rarely been without it.
Tertullian, and early church father, saw women as second-class citizens and said they caused the
Fall. In the Middle Ages, Christian theologian Thomas Aquanis held a similar position saying,
"Woman is defective and misbegotten." (3) Today we are no less blessed with an abundance of
men who willingly relegate women to the back burner of God's stove.
Part of Quakerism's rich heritage is its recognition of the equality of women. Form Mary Dyer and
Elizabeth Fry to Charlotte Macy and Helen Cammack, Friends history is rich with women who
have heard God's call and answered it without reservation. As Jack Willlcuts said: "What can
women do? Femaleness does not determine that. God does." (4) It's not enough for the
contemporary Christian male simply to tolerate female equality. It's essential that he promote it.
Why have so many missed the mark on the subject of gender equality? First, many Christians have
chosen to interpret literally Paul's words that question male/female equality (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1
Tim. 2:9-15) and have then switched to a general, nonliteralistic approach when interpreting his
words that do teach male/female equality (Gal. 3:28). So 1 Timothy 2:9-15 is said to mean:
Women can't speak in church or exercise any kind of authority over men. And Galatians 3:28 is
said to men: Men and women are equal with regard to their salvation. Speaking of literally
interpreting the 1 Timothy passage and generally interpreting Galatians 3:28 William Barclay
All things in this chapter are mere temporary regulations to meet a given situation...we must look
for Paul's permanent views in the passage (Gal. 3:28) where he tells us the differences are wiped
out, and the men and women, slaves and free men, Jews and Gentiles, are all eligible to serve
Second, many Christians ignore scriptural context. What of Galatians 3:28's tension between Jew
and Gentile, between freeman and slave? Was Paul saying their equality was to be seen in only a
"spiritual sense"? No. He was stressing that if we are truly "one in Christ," we cannot carry over
into our Christianity any former prejudices with regard to race, social position, or gender.
Some label Paul a "chauvinist" and others label him a "feminist." I move for the abolition of both
these labels and the adoption of "equalist." Approved?
Is your life governed by "Separate by Equal" acts? Do you keep "certain kinds" of people at arm's
length? Are your lines of association drawn according to skin color, status, or gender? If so, you
have misunderstood the teachings of both Christ and Paul. Any person who receives the word or
reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19) and believe in Christ has free access to the Father -- because in God's
family, the stigmas the world attaches to racial, social, and gender differences are wiped out. The
Kingdom of God is a collage of people from many different backgrounds, places in life, and
interests, who are bound together by their common goal of seeing the KIngdom expanded. It's
made up of people who hold high the belief that all are equal before God. Not "Separate But
Equal" -- "Equal But Equal." There will always be slaves and freemen. There will always be male
and female. Christ does not call us to an abandonment or denial of these very real distinctions, but
rather, to an acceptance of love as the regulating principle of life between ourselves and those
"who come down the pike."
(1)Statement by Arthur O. Roberts, professor and pastor, in a sermon (The Inward Journey:
Love") at Reedwood Friends Church, Portland, Oregon, October 2, 1983.
(2) William Barclay, New Testament Word, The Daily Study Bible Series, revised edition
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: the Westminster Press, 1974), p. 120.
(3) Patricia Grundy, Woman, Be Free (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977), p.20
(4) Jack Willcuts, "A Quaker Word About Women," Evangelical Friend, July/August, 1980, p.
(5) William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, The Daily Study Bible, revised edition (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press, 1975), pp. 68-69.