equality & friendship changes everything.

equality and friendship changes everything

last week i was at an evening centered on rape & the old testament, and it was really powerful to look at the texts through a new lens.  the most interesting part to me was that in the conversation afterward somehow, some way, we ended up in the same place i always do when talking about almost any hard and systemic issue in the church–how friendship and equality between men & women changes everything.


and it’s one of those things that’s probably taught the least in church.

we are taught, subtly and directly, that life (especially the christian life) is like this:

photo 2-28

where people are over or under another. where we have align with certain roles based on a very narrow biblical interpretation. where power differentials are loudly reflected. where men are over women (or sometimes women are over men). where there’s a stronger and a weaker, a lesser and a more. a wiser and a more foolish.  a whole and a broken.

this is part of our genesis 3 humanness that desires order & systems & control.

it also perpetuates violence.

and disconnection.

and power differentials that strip dignity in all kinds of weird ways.

i get the practicalities of hierarchy. it makes things clearer. cleaner. easier on so many levels and i think it can be helpful in organizations trying to make money.

but i just don’t see how it is a reflection of the kingdom of God, the kind of “on earth as it is in heaven” that Jesus talks about, the new reality that entered the scene 2,000 years ago. the kind that reflects freedom for captives and love above all things.  the kind of culture that you’d think followers of Jesus would be known for cultivating in our own lives & in the communities that we live in.

i believe the hardest task for us as individuals, and as communities, is to learn how to live like this:

photo 1-28

alongside each other,

as friends.

as equals.

as brothers & sisters.  as brothers & brothers, as sisters & sisters.

as co-creators.

real equality is much more vulnerable, much riskier. i’m struck by this every day, how it’s so much more comfortable to live over or under each other. equality requires far more grace & patience & love & mercy & justice in relationship with each other than hierarchy ever does. but goodness gracious, isn’t that what Jesus was calling us to–bold and brave and world-changing relationship?  to freedom instead of fear, to love instead of disconnection, to wholeness instead of fracturedness?

equality & friendship changes everything.

it changes how we see ourselves, which is a pretty core problem for many of us as christians.  almost nothing grieves me more than so many people who have an image of God and a spiritual framework that causes us to believe we are unloved, unlovable, and unworthy. equality & friendship helps restore some of that brokenness and insecurity.

it changes how we see others. christian mission is pretty broken. it has a bad reputation for a reason, primarily because we have modeled so many of our methods on the top picture–where one knows more, has more, is more, than another. this disempowers instead of empowers, strips dignity instead of restoring it.  practicing friendship & equality & with-ness instead of to-and-for-ness is radically transforming. also, less-than, more-than thinking is what creates violence, abuse, and domination.

it changes systems that desperately need changing. systems do matter and they reflect the heartbeat of the people who live in them.  it’s also this is why it’s so important to remember that attempting to pour new wine into old wineskins will fail. putting a few women in the same old hierarchical systems won’t change anything although it will look like it is. the way to shift power & topple the stronghold of patriarchy is to bravely foster meaningful friendship between men & women so we learn how to live, work, love, learn, serve, and create together as equals.

this will take a lot of practice. this will take guts. this will take time (but remember, there’s never a “right time”). this will take God’s stirring. this will ruffle so many feathers who like the comfort of old ways where the lines are clear and the rules are black and white and one particular interpretation of “but the Bible says…” trumps change.

i believe so many people are leaving the church for this exact reason. we are tired of the lack of real equality and friendship between men & women. we are tired of the lip service or the biblical justification of oppression. we’re tired of sitting & listening to someone talk to us and want to begin to practice & try & learn & engage in brave ways. i’m so grateful there’s a huge and growing group of people across ages & shapes & sizes saying “this is not how it’s supposed to be.”

the image of God in us is crying out from beneath the rubble of generations-upon-generations of inequality and hierarchy.

and it’s getting louder. 

let’s listen to it.  let’s put our toe in the water or dive in the deep end. let’s have hard conversations that we need to have with leaders who are afraid of change.  let’s be willing to plant new trees.  let’s do anything we can to begin to model a different way so that it won’t feel so far away, so elusive, so much-bigger-and-harder-than-it-really-needs-to-be.

it’s really not that complicated in so many ways.  it’s just that we haven’t been taught how to.

we were meant for equality & friendship.

the image of God is deeply embedded in all of us, calling us to the way it could be.

yeah, it changes everything.

let’s be part of that change.


* ps:  i am so grateful for the humble & amazing men in my life who are dedicated to living this out–my crazy awesome husband, my noble & true teammates, and my dear-and-faithful-friends who are with me through thick and thin. these shifts have changed my life forever and i get a little taste of heaven every day.  this is also why i love the bold boundaries conversation and intentional work on how equality & friendship between men & women can change so much. i will be part of it this friday & saturday in chicago & would love to see you there!

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.


  • Oh my goodness, YES. Thank you for this powerful writing, Kathy. This is at the heart of so much pain in this world, I really do believe it. It is not about anybody being ‘on top.’ It’s about being in it together, working as partners with Christ as our head. The whole crazy world needs this truth. So glad it’s being lived out in places like your community and your blog.

  • It seems so simple when it’s redeemed…and sad that we ever let it get so complicated.

  • So good. I think that the part of equality in friendship that is so tricky, well at least for me, is when dun dun dun- *shame* enters. Four years, well I guess five years ago, i would have been able to be like “of *course* I feel on a level playing field with my friends, of course I don’t feel *less* then. Since I have been on an intentional healing path for 2 and a half years #feelslikeforever, so much has shifted in how I see the world, and myself in that world. i can say that my intention of being aware no us and them has for sure been essential in my work in community mental health.

    I was telling Joanna, this Sunday that the thing broken in me that i am working on is the I am not enough message. She said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, Stacy, the same thing that is broken in you is broken in *all* of us.” It literally brought tears to my eyes, because I don’t want to feel like I automatically am more screwed up than my friends. Also, maybe a 5 simple step program to how to feel equal would totally be awesome? Cricket? Cricket?

    I did read this Brene Brown quote in her new book (that is rocking my world :), for real ) that totally resonated with me. “I only accept and pay attention to feedback from people also in the arena. If, on the other hand, you are not helping, contributing, or wrestling with your own gremlins, I’m not at all interested in your commentary.” Love it. So much of my work in this lifetime season is working on what it means to be secure, on solid ground. I can only hope that it will directly translate into my relationships. Too much damn wasted energy in feeling small.

  • It’s a pretty hot topic Kathy, and one which if treated with care can perpetuate prejudice and oppression if not negotiated very carefully and sensitively.

    You mentioned “putting a few women in the same old hierarchical systems won’t change anything although it will look like it is. the way to shift power & topple the stronghold of patriarchy”. You have also shared publicly that when people would say to you that isn’t it good we had a female speaker when that had happened in the mega church you were in (if I remember that instance you talk of correctly) that, what was it, you were “incensed”?

    I recall you also saying that someone you spoke to about his actions said that he felt like he was just being one of the guys and that you said now more than ever you know that you don’t want to be “one of the guys”.

    So, as a guy I read such things in such a worldview and I think what am I to do? If I want to say something encouraging about a speaker that just so happens to be female, would that be taken as being patronising? If I enjoy fellowship and bonding with other men am I going to be perceived as patriarchal and oppressive? Seems to me I may be damned if I do and I am damned if I don’t just for the fact that I happen to have a Y chromosome at such times. The only way for me to be sure of not being misunderstood or falsely accused is to be silent, and a nice, well behaved boy.

    There is a double standard in society at times which is disadvantageous to women with positions that are more readily available to men. There is a double standard in society at times when a man raised an issue of ill treatment due to gender that would not be accepted if a woman were to act similarly.

    I experience frustration when I read or listen anything that is consistent to a patriarchal or feminist worldview that claims to know what to do to achieve justice and unity friendship etc while pointing to the other for any perceived evil whilst failing to apply a similar principle of healthy self-criticism to the worldview it espouses.

    A recent comment here showed a heartbreaking difficulty that occurred when someone with their friend experienced real difficulties because of ones adherence to patriarchy and anothers to feminism and the way that was handled causing real problems in the relationship. Only when we see past worldviews and make the embracement of out common humanity the priority will we be on the path healthy dialogue and unity. When we make dogma and tribalism priority over such things, then conflict and difficulty in relationships are inevitable.

    Not everything patriarchal is evil and not everything feminist is good. (I write that for balance with what you mention about patriarchy Kathy).

    I realise that such comments can engender strong emotions. I would request in any response to what has been written here that there be consideration given to the merit of what has been written. And that the responder consider their own assumptions and presuppositions, be as willing to be healthily self-critical as critical and be graceful in what is written in the interest of achieving what Kathy sets out to do with equality and friendship.

    • thanks adam, i think the reality is that there is no perfect response that will take care of all the ins and outs of people’s experiences. i don’t know how to say it more clear that i am for mutual submission and equality between men & women, that i don’t support women being “over” men any more than i support men being “over” women. i respect your sensitivity to it and we all just have to live in the tension of various perspectives.

  • PS – shame I can’t be with you in Chicago Kathy – but maybe one day!

  • One of the best things I’ve heard about the curse, i.e. women being under mens’ control is that it is “Descriptive” not “Prescriptive”… not the way that is prescribed and should be, but a sad description of what is because of the fall. Just like we pull weeds to work against the curse in farming in order to gain a harvest, we should work toward equality between men and women – it is the most productive and satisfying way to live in harmony and balance!

    • thank you for taking time to share, judy. yes, it’s wild to me how we lean into the fall’s realities instead of asking God to help us live into the new one. i sort of thought that was the idea 🙂 i’d love to hear more about what you are doing here in denver.

  • Even though equality and friendship have not yet been fully realized in all segments of our culture, the church is the place where the inequities often appear the greatest. As one friend said, the church seems to follow the culture by about fifty years. Seems to me the church should lead in these areas, but due to some arcane “interpretations” of Scripture, the church often brings up the rear.

    Kay and I do not participate in any group or organization that does not afford full equality to both genders (and gender-attractions). The idea of interpreting Scripture to make others “less than” does not work for us. If we want it to stop, we must all refuse to support any such organization with our presence, time or money. They will eventually get the message and will change or die.

  • Sooo good is right 🙂 Kathy please keep on writing and sharing this message. You do it with love and grace, and it is so refreshing. I love the pictures of the hands – this past year I have been doing that exact thing with my hands in the air with describing how most churches “brainwash” us into thinking a marriage is…a hierarchy. (the hogwash about the man is the head of the wife). And then I take my hands and bring them equal while quoting Jesus – “the two shall become one flesh.” ONE flesh is equal, signifies co-leaders, and is beautiful 🙂 Would you believe, though, how random family members and people in our small group look at me like I’m crazy? They say that phrase “but it’s in the Bible” and are so sure that’s the way it should be…for all time, for all people…and they don’t realize how they are truly fostering abuse and oppression…


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