On Christmas Eve, I received a comment on a post I wrote in 2015 responding to the Girl Defined article, “Why Christianity and Feminism Can’t Mix,” and I noticed this morning that I had received another comment on the same post that I promised to respond to and never did. So I will post these two comments, my replies, and links to more resources. I am very grateful for this opportunity to engage with women who come from different perspectives and want to say first of all, thank you, Nancy and Cassidy, for reading my original post and for taking the time to ask your questions!
The ending quote was: “My advice to Christian women is to marry a man who will be a friend, not a ruler.” Why must it be *either/or*? Why not marry a man who will be a friend AND a ruler. After all, earthly marriage is the very image of the ultimate marriage which is between God and His bride, the church. God is our ruler AND our friend. Works beautifully. He, laying down His life for His bride, edifying His bride, lifting her up, purifying her, etc. While ruling the union with love, truth, grace, and strength… while she sees Him worthy of her love, trust, respect, service (help) and submission. Why not allow the earthly image God created (human marriage) truly reflect the ultimate heavenly reality? That’s the way it was designed by Him after all.
Nancy is quoting a pastor’s wife, Andrea, who had commented on the Girl Defined article and then I pasted her words at the end of my post. After years of counseling Christian women in abusive marriages, she began to study the Bible to better understand God’s design for gender roles, and came to the conclusion that God designed men and women to be equals. My initial response to Nancy was to share a link to this excellent article by Bob Edwards to learn more about the origins of the headship/submission marriage model:
Seeing Male Authority as God’s Design: Where Did This Idea Come From?
Edwards shows us how Plato influenced Augustine, who influenced Calvin, who influences complementarian theologians today, like John Piper. The pipeline of patriarchy in Christian scholarship. Many are unaware of the Platonic lens that they are reading their Bible through, and the inferences these gender teachings come from rather than clear Biblical directives. I highly recommend reading more of Bob and his wife Helga’s work!
Egalitarians believe that husbands and wives are created equal and are both called to love and submit to their spouse. This involves treating each other respectfully, helping each other, trusting each other and all the other “one another” directives that Paul gives to all believers. In the Ephesians 5 passage that pastors often teach “Men need respect, women need love” from, it is all part of a larger section that involves instructions to love one another and submit to one another, “…wives to their husbands” (the verb “submit” does not occur in verse 22 as a directive to wives but the idea is linked from the earlier verse saying “submit to one another”).
In the creation narrative, God created mankind (both man and woman) in His image and gave both dominion and authority over creation. “Help” is an inadequate translation of the Hebrew word ezer, as it connotes a subordinate position in our English language but more literally means something like “counterpart” God is often referred to as Israel’s ezer throughout the Old Testament, and is clearly not a subordinate in relationship to His people. It is in the curse in Genesis 3 that the Bible says men will rule over their wives. As Carolyn Custis James says, “Patriarchy is the cultural backdrop of the Bible–not the message of the Bible.”
Another word that is misunderstood in English is kephale, translated “head.” The problem with this translation is that “head” has more than one meaning. In modern English, we hear “head” and immediately think “CEO,” “boss,” or “authority.” But in ancient Greek, kephale did not connote authority. On a body, the head did not appear to have any use except as the place where we put food, the source of life. In ancient Greek culture, husbands were the “head” in the sense that their households were completely dependent financially and socially on the patriarch, just as a body is dependent on the head to receive food. The body metaphor also teaches mutuality rather than authority/submission because every part of the body is dependent on each other, and directives come straight from the head, who is Christ, and is not channeled from one part to another. Jesus is our “umbrella” and women have direct communication and covering from our Messiah, not from any male human. Marriage is often elevated as the glue of the Church but in fact, Paul teaches us not to marry for the sake of the Gospel.
There is a great podcast on mutuality in marriage by Nick and Allison Quient that I recommend checking out:
Split/Frame of Reference Podcast: Episode 4: Ephesians 5:18-33, Mutual Submission, and the Mystery of Marriage
And an article by Egalitarian scholar Marg Mowczko that I link to all the time on women as ezers:
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
As Nancy points out, it is a common teaching in complementarian
churches that Christian marriage is meant to mirror a heavenly relationship between Christ and His Church, so that the world can better understand the Gospel with this tangible metaphor. We are taught by complementarian pastors that wives’ submission to their husband and to “Biblical gender roles” point the secular world to the Good News. But the early Church was striking to ancient secular society as counter-cultural by defying patriarchal gender roles. In a society where women were property, Christian husbands treated their wives as equals and loved their wives as their own bodies. Women were elevated to equality in the early Christian Church and ministered alongside the men. The modern conservative Christian Church has swung back to patriarchal teachings in reaction to the growing egalitarian values of our Western culture, who now look at the Church and do not see anything “good” in the way Christian women are subjugated.
Here are the “Biblical gender roles” for women that are actually in the Bible:
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women – Marg Mowczko
And an excellent article from Kristen Rosser:
Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ and the Church?
I must ask a question; you make an interesting statement at the beginning of the post:
“This is a testament to the diversity of thought within Christianity and how beliefs are shaped by personal experiences, relationships, community, cultures, socialization and more.”
Do you believe it is God’s will for the foundation of our lives to be built upon personal experiences, relationships, community, cultures, and more? I believe it is God’s intent for us to build our lives solely upon His word. If you are living and believing based on the whims and ideas of others opinions, then how are you distinguishing between right and wrong?
You stated in this post that you and the girls from Girl Defined are both followers of Jesus, but it is very clear that the core of feminism is self – not Jesus Christ. I really can’t see how someone can live a life that is both feministic and Christ-centered – because feminism is about the exaltation of the female (and not Jesus). The Christian life is all about Jesus, and no movement that works to defy His design will be able to stand before His word – the concept of feminism literally falls apart at the seems when our hearts are aligned with His word.
I would not be surprised at all if the “Christian” feminists one day wake up and decide that they no longer agree with anything the Bible says. Someday y’all may very well wake up and go pro-abortion, fight for gay rights, and leave your walk with Him behind. Of course, I pray so very much that such will not be the case for you girls, and that you will instead turn to Him in this area of your life.
First of all, I am not saying that it is God’s will that we base our beliefs on things like the cultural norms of our “tribe.” It is just a fact that this is how we come to most of our beliefs. I have heard Tim Keller say this same thing. The Bible is an ancient book that is not clearly and perfectly understood by any flawed human being. Scholars fluent in Hebrew and Greek who study the Bible faithfully have different opinions on doctrines and the meaning of difficult passages. I believe we should come to theological conversations with humility and grace for those who have different perspectives. I am not saying that all perspectives are correct. I am saying that your perspective and my perspective and our favorite pastor’s/theologian’s/author’s perspective is flawed in some way. And so beyond core doctrines (i.e. The Apostles Creed), we ought to be gracious in our discussions. Of course we should all seek faithfulness to orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But we should also bear in mind that in issues like gender roles, we have been socialized to infer certain beliefs into the text because of the culture of patriarchy that we live in. My biggest beef with the Girl Defined post (and honestly, your comment), is the demonization of Christian brothers and sisters who see things differently. I was attempting then and now to demonstrate that a Christian identifying as a feminist probably is doing so out of love for those who suffer the most under the darkness of patriarchy.
I have already linked to Bob Edwards in my reply to Nancy, but here is another link to a transcription I did of a video he shared, and an excerpt of his description of the process of socialization:
Bob Edwards’ Fascinating Discussion on the Origins of Male Authority in the Church
Bob discusses how gender socialization impacts our perception/understanding of the bible.
Socialization is a process that occurs throughout our lives. We are socialized by the cultural norms present in our environment.
People are socialized by three essential processes:
1. cultural norms are modeled for us
2. overt instruction
3. reinforcement – reward/withhold rewards, encourage/discourage behavior
Put these together, and people are socialized to make the norms of their environment their own internal norms.
Socialization takes place in regards to gender. We have role models that show us what it means to be a man/woman in a particular society (leadership may only include men). Often we are taught overtly (in Christianity, we are taught that men are leaders, protectors, providers, and that women are supposed to be helpers of men. Men have authority and women do not, and must submit themselves to male authority.) And there is reinforcement (if you don’t do what is expected of you in this environment, we’ll make that painful for you).
Socialization is sometimes affected by people who act as if certain things are simply true. People may act as if women are less capable of leadership and decision making. They act like that simply by not allowing women to make leadership decisions.
The end result of the socialization process is that the norms that exist in the culture around us become the norms that exist in our own minds. The external norms become internal norms.
Some researchers, particularly in the field of social sciences, cognitive psychology and the psychology of perception, talk about cognitive lenses by which we make sense of the world around us. If I’ve been socialized to believe that men lead, women follow/submit, if I’ve been socialized to believe that men are more fit for certain positions in the church and home, then I am going to internalize those norms and I will automatically assign certain meanings to the word “man” and to the word “woman.” And we do this by association. I may automatically think “leader” when I hear “man” and “helper” when I hear “woman.”
These associations we make take place in the brain (according to researcher Milo Fridga) in .00007 seconds. That’s fast. And so, we don’t always realize that socialization is at work when we’re looking at the world around us.
In fact, socialization affects how we see, how we perceive, and how we make sense of the Bible.
Secondly, I do not believe that Christianity and feminism have to be at odds. Certainly there are extremist feminists just as there are extremist Christians who I do not wish to be associated with. I do believe that I did a decent job explaining this in my post. Here are a couple pertinent quotes:
Christians can partner with environmentalists, humanitarians, economists, social workers, politicians, educators, health professionals, counselors, scientists, and even feminists, in the work of redeeming God’s creation to it’s pre-curse state. A feminist, atheist, Democrat, you-fill-in-the-blank is a person created in God’s image and loved dearly by God…I personally couldn’t call any imago Dei “devoid of God.” There is common grace among all of humankind. And has the Bible already solved all of the world’s problems and restored us to God’s design and will for humanity? Clearly there is much work to be done, and Christ has given us that work to do. Do I agree on all issues that all feminists tout? No. Do I agree that patriarchy is from the curse and has no place in Christ’s redeemed Kingdom? Yes.
I didn’t come to feminism through a desire to usurp the authority of men. I came to egalitarianism (I believe through God’s direction) and some of my conservative Christian friends began cautioning me about the slippery slope that I was on, and began jokingly referring to me as a feminist. Not because I was arguing for abortion rights or burning my bras, but because I was asking questions about gender roles in the Church. “Feminist” is a slur in the context of my upbringing. Looking back, I understand that this negative response can be a powerful deterrent to keep group members from challenging the status quo of patriarchy. It didn’t take me long to adopt the title feminist, as I couldn’t shake it and I was becoming more and more impassioned to see change in the world for women who are marginalized and abused by systems of patriarchy.
President Jimmy Carter says that gender inequality is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation. I am posting these two links again for more information on the desperate need of feminism to liberate women and girls around the globe from the worst forms of patriarchy. I would love to see Jesus’ followers at the forefront of this battle:
Christian Compassion or Complicity: The Abuse and Gendercide of God’s Daughters – Dr. Mimi Hadad
We Need Feminism – Rachel Held Evans
Thirdly, is Christian feminism about elevating women? Certainly. Because women have been down-trodden and denied equality, justice involves elevating them to their dignified and rightful place alongside their brothers in Christ. Is Christian feminism anti-male? Certainly not. God made men and women for dignity and dominion. We bear His image as His representatives on earth, ushering His Kingdom in by shining a light in the darkness. Not as “girls” and “boys” but as Beautiful Kingdom Warriors.
I thank you for your prayers and leave off with a prayer for you as well:
Thanks for visiting us here at The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors! Check us out on Facebook too, where we share links from around the web pertaining to women in ministry, mutuality in marriage, the abuses experienced by disenfranchised women and girls, etc.
The way I was taught was that Jesus’ attitude and exemplary treatment of women was meant to guide us down the right road – he spoke to them, when his society forbid it. He listened to them and took their words seriously when his society would have ridiculed him for it. It wasn’t meant to be an anchor that marked the level of treatment that women should get, but as a starting point – like a trajectory, when carried out to it’s fullest conclusion tears down the gender segregation of Jesus’ day and age and builds a foundation of true equality. So many women became feminists not in an effort to one-up Jesus or to forget Jesus, but because of Jesus and to honor what he started. Sadly, many people are only willing to go so far as the Bible limits and no further; as if Jesus’ words and example cannot transcend the pages and passages of a book and his ideas and attitudes are not to be lived out outside of the framework of the Bible.
Beautifully said! Thank you!
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I came across your excellent article when I was looking for reasons for feminism today. My daughters are Bekievers and call themselves feminists. I am from an era where that is a negative title.
I just have a question: why feminism in the U.S.? Isn’t there equality here?
Sorry-they are BeLievers
Hi Allison!! I am so happy you found my article and enjoyed it. And I am happy that your daughters are believers! I can relate to your concern about the “f” word because I grew up the same way, with the same negative connotation. Feminism was painted as an evil influence driving our society towards man-hating anarchy. I grew up in a Conservative Baptist church that believed that pastors could only be male, that wives are to submit to their husbands (not mutual submission as I believe now), etc. When I was a young mother, I was called by God into ministry and began reading books about women in ministry, and then Egalitarian theology (the belief that gender roles are not God’s design for His Kingdom but are a result of the Fall), and when I would talk about what I was learning, I would be called a feminist. I wasn’t choosing the title for myself, I was branded. And this was a powerful tool of socialization, to keep me from pursuing this track of thought and thereby challenging the beliefs of my “tribe” or tradition. It was a form of punishment. I began to also learn about the ways that many women are subjugated, disenfranchised, unequal in our society even though we are told we have equality. Sexism and objectification, sexual violence is still rampant, women are caught in abusive relationships, women don’t receive equal pay or equal opportunities in leadership, etc. The dire circumstances of women worldwide is heartbreaking, and I strongly believe that pursuing full equality here will have ripple effects around the world. It is difficult to speak up about injustice though, because of the problem that you raise – you are punished socially for speaking up. You are branded in a negative way. But the truth is, feminism first began by Christian women and it is possible to be a faithful believer and also call yourself a feminist. Feminism is most simply the belief that women are people too.
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