Feminism: Setting aside privilege

As a Christian and a husband, I receive the following command from scripture: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NASB). In some ways this daunting command is an odd abstraction, for the church was not founded until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. So in what way did Christ love the church? What practices should I embrace in my love for my wife that might resemble the ways in which Christ loved the church?

I find a clue in the Gospel of John where the apostle recounts the washing of the feet of the disciples.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself” (John 13:3-4). Earlier in the chapter, we are told that Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world” now “loved them to the end,” that is, to the telos (13:1). Some translations write that Jesus here displays the full extent of his love. How did Christ love the church? If we can take his love for his disciples as an example, he loved them by setting aside his status and serving them. His garments were not the only thing Jesus laid aside—he laid aside privilege. In the language of Philippians, chapter two, he laid aside his right to claim equality with God. This then can provide a template not only for how I am to love my wife but my general stance toward all human beings.

We who live in Western Civilization live in a patriarchal society, a society where men have been granted—and continue to be granted—status and privileges not granted in equal measure to women. Examples both tangible and intangible abound. I’ll cite three. As a man, I have only on very rare occasions felt myself to be in danger in public; women often experience this sense of danger. As a man, I have rarely if ever experienced being viewed as merely a sexual object by others; women routinely experience this type of dehumanizing objectification. As a man, I have not grown up bombarded with media images telling me that in order to be an acceptable member of society I must look and dress in particular ways; women are consistently given this message from a variety of media sources. Together, the absence of these experiences, and countless others like them, amount to a kind of privilege, an exalted status that I have done nothing to earn or deserve.

I follow a Lord and Savior who had status that he actually deserved, who was in very nature God. His example tells me just what to do with my relatively minor social status—set it aside in service of others.

So when Emma Watson eloquently spoke to the United Nations and called upon men to join women in the He for She campaign and work for gender equality, I welcomed the message—not because she was Hermione—but because her call resonates with the call of my Lord and Savior.

Karl Martin, PhD
Professor of American Literature and
Chair of the Department of Literature, Journalism, and Modern Languages