equality comes before mutuality.

A long while back a Christian blogger wrote a thoughtful response to something I had written about women’s equality in church leadership and said he’d like to hear more about “mutuality” and not just “equality.

I replied, “Me, too!”

I love absolutely everything about mutuality. In fact, it’s one of my highest values and deepest needs. It means mutual dependence, reciprocity.

To me, mutuality is the fullest expression of the kingdom of God. No one over or under another but alongside, mutually submitting to one another, sacrificing for each other, following and leading, honoring giftedness and wisdom of each other, bringing uniqueness to the relationship, giving and receiving, humility and respect.

I am so sad that the majority of churches start the teaching about submission at Ephesians 5:22 with wives submitting to husbands and completely forget that Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another.”

The biggest idea to me about relationship is mutuality, where we submit one to another out of reciprocity, mutual dependence, true interdependence.

However, one of the reasons I write more about equality than mutuality around here is quite simple–you have to have equality in order to have mutuality.

You have to have equality in order to have mutuality.


Not over, not under.

Next to each other as true equals.

When that happens, there is actually a foundation for mutuality.

Without equality, the expectation of mutuality is imbalanced. It means that someone (or groups of people) holds the most power and expects the other person (or groups of people) without as much power to submit and play by their rules.

Oh, I believe fully in the importance of compromise and laying down ourselves for each other and not getting what we want and everything in between. Of course that is the way of the cross that Jesus not only describes but embodies.

We must lay down our lives for each other.

But the cross was also about toppling the principalities of darkness that try to rule this world (and often our churches and systems). It was about breaking down walls that religion couldn’t crumble but the wild Holy Spirit flowing through God’s people could. It was about crushing all of the divides between us and them, between us and God and everything in between. It was about beginning to see things with Kingdom-eyes, “on earth as it is in heaven” and in heaven, there’s no over or under.

But saying we’re equal and being equal are two different things.

Unless there’s a deep and real sense of feeling full equality, the kind of deep mutuality I believe God is calling us to is not possible. I get that feelings aren’t reliable in every situation but when there’s a pervasive sense of not addressing power realities, of pretending we’re all equal when we’re really not, of story after story of people from the margins saying “this is how it actually feels” and no one really doing much beyond listening (if even that), something is gravely wrong.

I know this far too well in the women in leadership/patriarchy conversation. And people of color, the LGBQT community, and many others used to being on the underside of imbalanced power systems know this feeling much more strongly.

Equality is not supposed to be defined by how the people who hold the power feel about it!

This is why working for equality is critical and will be a rocky road, often feeling divisive. Those on the topside of power, typically those with white privilege or economic privilege or male privilege or straight privilege or religious privilege will be so frustrated with the way that those on the underside of power are responding and often say things like this:

Why are they so angry?

Why can’t they just _______?

We are doing the best we can, why is it never enough?

It’s not fair anymore.

Now they’ve got all the rights.

We’re tired of walking on eggshells!

I get it. I wrestle with it personally, too. I sometimes call some of my angst into question and wonder, “Am I asking too much?” or “If I just________ then maybe ________” but I always come back to the difficult reality that all the forces of the world are against equality. Most systems are built upon one over and one under another, upon hierarchy, upon privilege, upon tradition and efficiency.

I am glad that a rising group men and women are pushing against this so strongly right now in our culture, in the church. It’s happened throughout history but sometimes there are bigger bursts that push us forward in more pronounced ways. I think we’re experiencing one of those seasons right now. There’s a bubbling up, a tipping point, a we’re-not-going-to-keep-staying-underneath-anymore and it’s why we’re all so freaking uncomfortable.

The realities of building and cultivating and nurturing true equality in our relationships, groups, and systems is brutal (and why we need God’s help so desperately).

It means those in power will have to give some up to make room.

It means that those in power will have to listen (and act on what they hear) from those who are crying out from underneath these oppressive systems.

Mostly, it means that power will have to sacrifice more at first, give things up without getting anything back quickly. It won’t feel “fair” in the moment but we must remember it’s never been “fair” for anyone on the underside of power for generations upon generations.

At this current time in history, we are being stretched in ways we need to be stretched, and I am grateful. But I am scared, too. True equality is incredibly vulnerable for all sides and we all know how much people & groups & systems like to be vulnerable!

Mutuality, oh goodness gracious, it’s even more exposed!

But that’s the goal, the hope, the dream, the possibility, the thing I believe Jesus was always getting at.

May we bravely keep working toward it together. 


ps: Season 2, Episode 2 of Faith Circus is out. Evangelical Bashing: Getting Accused of Dualism in a Dualistic Way. If you want to join the conversation in a more closed environment vs. the public Facebook page, join Faith Circus-ing.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

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