The broadest meaning of egalitarianism is that all people are inherently equal and ought to be treated as such. When used as a doctrinal term within Christianity, egalitarianism has a narrower meaning, suggesting that God does not intend any distinctions between men and women in matters of spiritual leadership. Biblical Christianity is Western civilization’s basis for the former definition, but Scripture opposes the latter. All people are morally and spiritually equal, with identical value, and ought to be offered the same opportunities. However, in the explicit issue of spiritual authority, God has mandated different roles for the two equal genders, a concept known as complementarianism.
Those in favor of doctrinal egalitarianism focus on issues such as women in the pastorate. Their argument is that all Christians are equal in the eyes of Christ, regardless of race or gender (Galatians 3:28); therefore, God intends males and females to occupy the same positions in spiritual roles. It’s true that Scripture declares the inherent moral equality of all people; it also denounces favoritism (James 2:1, 9). While this makes males and females equal in their morality, spiritual value, and humanity (Genesis 1:27), it does not make them identical in every single way.
The ultimate example of this concept is the Trinity itself. All three Persons of the Godhead are equal: morally, spiritually, in power, in divinity, etc. And yet there is submission within that equality as each divine Person fulfills a different role. This does not imply one Person of the Trinity is more moral or more important than the others. It simply means each has a part to play. In the same sense, God intended the unique abilities of men and women to be used according to a mutually balanced design.
The debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism allows for broad interpretations of where the lines of that design are to be drawn. A biblical, complementarian view does not promote the stereotype that wives are to be homebound, barefoot, pregnant, powerless, and ignored. Nor does it mandate differences between men and women in arenas such as politics or the workplace. Scripture supports every social and economic aspect of egalitarianism, treating men and women as equally capable and valuable persons. Forms of egalitarianism that obliterate all distinctions between the sexes, however, are not biblical.