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Why I’m Not an Evangelical Feminist

23 Jun

The semantics of this may be mostly relevant to me, but I think the principles are definitely worth some airtime on this blog.

When studying the topic of women in ministry, you instantly run into two big camps of thought. Complementarians believe that, although men and women are equal in their personhood, they are inequal (but complementary) as it pertains to their proper roles in life. Egalitarians believe that men and women are equal in their personhood and are not limited to specific roles/functions. Within these two broad categories, I would technically fall into the second, most particularly as it pertains to ministry.

If you’ve tracked with this blog very long at all, you’ll see that I’ve been doing a study on this subject lately. I’m still at it — albeit slowly — and currently I am studying through a particular complementarian book to try and see both sides of the argument. Now this particular book almost never refers to egalitarians as “egalitarians”. It prefers the term evangelical feminists.

I don’t want to read more into that term than was intended by the authors, but I have to admit it makes me squirm.

Feminism by itself — especially what feminism has become today — is not a good thing. I’m all for women being able to vote, get an education, get jobs that pay them in a consistent manner, etc. Some good things have happened because at one point in our nation’s history, a bunch of people (both men and women) rose up to say that “women are people, too”. And on the simple level, I agree with that statement.

However, feminism, “pro-femininity”, has a very critical flaw: women, apart from Christ, are fallen, depraved, unjust people. When Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…” (Rom 7:18), that’s just as applicable to any woman today as it was to him back then. Exalting femininity means idolizing sinful people, which is a bad idea on a whole host of levels. Neither men nor women “deserve” any kind of special rights, or even good treatment. We all deserved eternal punishment, and it is the sheer mercy of God that any of us don’t get it. Again, it’s very good for men and women to treat each other well. But it is ungodly to constantly be bitterly fighting for our own rights, our own respect, etc.

Even beyond this, though, feminism today takes a stand for many ungodly things. Many feminists are fiercely campaigning for gay rights. In fact, many feminists would be happy to do away with the whole institution of marriage. Most feminists are passionately pro-choice. God is adamantly against all three of those points.

I was prompted to write this post due to some internet research I was doing today. On the one hand, I found an egalitarian blog. I agreed with many of the articles. But I was rather troubled by some of the comments I read, which talked about everything from the supposed injustice of women being the ones to change their name in marriage (really? I think this sounds like fun), to the supposedly backwards-thinking misogynists who propagate complementarian theology (the majority of whom are actually sincere believers).   

On the other hand, I knew I had to write this post when I saw this feminist/egalitarian confusion brought to a horrifying head. On a visibly extremely complementarian blog, I stumbled across an advertisement for a conference, with one of the sessions titled: “Abortion: The Blood Sacrifice of Egalitarianism.”

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to cry or throw up. Maybe both. The idea of the legalized slaughter of babies is apalling to me. Accusing other believers of willfully spilling that blood through their theology is equally repugnant — especially when the main point of the theology is something as innocuous as women being allowed to preach.

Which is why I wanted to write and say as plainly as I can say: I am not a feminist — evangelical or otherwise.

I seem to be simultaneously introducing this post and getting ahead of myself in it, so let me get right to the point. There are a number of reasons I am not an evangelical feminist:

  1. Feminism is flawed because it is all about promoting the cause of a bunch of sinners (which is all of us). See above.
  2. Feminism, by extension, promotes a number of outright sinful practices such as sexual immorality and abortion. Again, see above.
  3. I do not want to take a position that necessitates my opposition to all complementarians on all points. Lots of awesome believers are complementarians, and most of them are correct regarding something I can learn from.
  4. The most important reason of all: Jesus is not a feminist.

That sounds funny to say, but it’s true. He’s not a feminist. He’s also not a misogynist. He’s not complementarian. He’s not egalitarian. He’s neither a democrat nor republican. He is not a revolutionary, a communist, a capitalist, an environmentalist, a humanist, or a philanthropist. Seriously. Pick any “-ism” that you like, you won’t find Jesus among their card-carrying members. Does Jesus care about the above political, economic, social, and environmental issues? You’d better believe it. He cares way more than any of us do. But He is not on their side.

Often times, when people get involved with any of the above causes, we try to pull Jesus into our camp. We pick a few verses in the Gospels, point to how they support our cause, and then say, “See? Jesus was liberal / conservative / egalitarian / complementarian / other”.  Or perhaps if someone hates Jesus, they might try to push Him into the other camp to try and discredit His name. Either way, we desperately want Him to belong to the camp that benefits us most. A few proof-texts and a lot of rhetoric can go a long way towards this end.

However, we need to all step back and take a cue from Joshua. Joshua was near the city of Jericho when he saw Someone standing across from him with a drawn sword. He then asked a very reasonable question, given the circumstances. “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (Josh 5:13)

The Lord’s reply? “No” (Josh 5:14).

Jesus doesn’t pick sides. Even when one of those sides are His own chosen people, as in this story, He doesn’t pick sides.  As He told Joshua, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (5:14). He is His own “side”.

Joshua’s response is definitely one we should model. “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant'” (5:14)?

Since Jesus is not on our side, wisdom says we need to stop our endless arguing and debating, do some carpet time, and wait to hear what He has to say. He can’t be rallied to our cause. We must hear His voice, know His heart, and rally to His.

This is where all of our -isms get radically off-track, losing sight of the Just One in the name of justice, and trying to buy off the God of Gods who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe (De 10:17). Humility and teachability are the first things to fall when we are convinced that God conforms to our convictions, rather than trying always to conform our convictions to God. We end up with an argumentative, confused, prayerless mess, with nobody actually benefitting from all our valiant efforts, and no justice actually being done.

Which is why I’m not an evangelical feminist. I hesitate to even call myself an egalitarian. While I am not so naive as to think that I can take a theological position without winding up classified under some sort of label, I am deeply interested in not joining a side that Jesus isn’t on. And Jesus isn’t a feminist. He definitely cares about women, and He definitely cares about how women are treated, but He’s not a feminist. He is the Commander of the army of the LORD. He is on His own side.

If we do this — if we humble ourselves, worship, and listen to Him — we will find ourselves caring about what He cares about, seeing clearly what is righteous versus what is wicked, praying more, and actually equipped to make an impact in the area. Bringing true justice starts with being a friend of the Judge. We can only be aligned with truth when we stop pleading our own cause and start pleading His. If we want to see the wrong things made right in the earth, we must stop trying to drag Jesus over to our side, and fall in line behind His.

By His grace, I am committing to reach for this as I continue in my study. Prayers to that end will be gladly received.

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12 responses to “Why I’m Not an Evangelical Feminist

  1. Norman Earhart

    June 23, 2009 at 9:39 am

    You made good point. Thank for being on God’s side. That is where I want to be.

     
  2. Tim Visher

    June 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Interesting post. I’ll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts as they develop through your studies.

    I felt like you started out very strong but then I got confused nearer to the end. I was trying to identify what you meant by Jesus not being in any camp; that he is _his own camp_. What confused me most was that you seemed to indicate that Jesus cannot be a part of a camp, no matter how correct it’s doctrine is.

    For instance, you correctly state that Jesus is _not_ a member of some camps. As an example, I have met and known many militant feminists in my life who would prefer that men be subjugated to some sort of vegetative state so that their sperm can be selectively harvested so that more women can be reproduced because ultimately the problem of the world is men. No one (well, at least not between the two of us) would argue that Jesus would be a part of that camp.

    However, despite that, recognize the reason that Jesus would not be a part of that camp. The reason he wouldn’t be is because of their doctrine. Specifically, because their doctrine does not agree with his doctrine. They teach and believe something that he doesn’t teach and believe, namely, that men are worthless and are the source of the problems of the world.

    But based on the same logic that leads Jesus to exclude himself from certain ideological groups, Jesus could just as easily include himself in others. For instance, trinitarians (trinitarian-ism, to reference your post) believe that God, being one, is also 3 persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who have eternally coexisted (simplistically, of course). There’s a broad swath of people (including me) who would happily call themselves trinitarians. What that does is attempt to distill into a direct and simple word a belief that we hold. The reason we identify by that would be that we believe God represented himself that way.

    Now, in that context, lets say I go to Jesus and ask him, ‘Are you a trinitarian?’, what would he say? I hope it wouldn’t be ‘no’, as you seem to indicate it would be, simply because he refuses to be part of any of our ‘camps’. He refuses to be part of our camps when our camps disagree with him. But if our camp agrees with him, then in fact we are going to Jesus’s side by being part of that camp.

    Of course, some camps are too big and attempt to claim too much to be fully agreed with. For instance, I am a member of the United Methodist Church. I do not agree with some of their doctrine, yet I’m comfortable still being a member. However, I tend not to identify myself as a United Methodist, but as a Christian. Why? Well, because the United Methodists claim things that I do not believe are scriptural. In that sense, Jesus wouldn’t be a United Methodist, although he could in theory be if the UMC got every point of their doctrine correct. In that case, the UMC, again, would have placed themselves in Jesus’s camp by believing correctly.

    But what about the Inerrancy camp? Here is a group that attempts to make a very specific claim, namely, that God’s word is not only infallible but also inerrant in that it cannot be found to be in error. That is a very specific claim. I believe that Jesus was an inerrantist, at least he seems to be that way in how he uses the Old Testament. Again, for the sake of remaining above our squabbles, would he deny membership in that camp, even though he agreed with every one of their doctrinal statements?

    I think then, that what this comes down to is what complementarianism or egalitarianism attempt to claim? I think both are quite simple at their core, and you do a good job of stating them at the beginning of your post. Then, it should be easily verifiable which one is actually purported in scripture. I know no one (including, I think, the authors of the book you’re perhaps working through) who treat complementarianism as a close-handed issue. It’s just not that important, and perhaps not clear enough in scripture. But I don’t agree with the second part. I think scripture (the whole testimony. I hope I’m not prooftexting but perhaps you could point out the verses you believe point firmly in the direction of egalitarianism?) clearly indicates a complementarian position. Despite it not being a close-handed issue, if the Bible as the revealed, inspired, and inerrant testimony of Jesus Christ, gives clear voice to an issue, and a word springs up that attempts to represent a thought on that issue, then I believe Jesus would use that word to describe himself, so long as the word gets the issue right.

    To be clear, I would also point out that agreeing with a position does not mean agreeing all of the claimed adherents to that position. For instance, their are scads of misogynists who would claim to hold a complementarian view of gender simply as a more politically correct way of expressing their hatred of women. There are also many misandrists who would claim to be part of the egalitarian view of gender simply as a stepping stone towards the subjugation of men. Does that inherently corrupt the term, simply because every claimed adherent is not necessarily someone we want to agree with? Should we eschew the use of Christian because Hitler designated himself as such? I think not. I think we can elevate a term and the idea it expresses above the people who claim to represent it. Jesus is in the pro-life camp and opposed to the pro-choice camp. He does not agree with every pro-lifer, but his is in the pro-life camp. Maybe a better way to say it would be that the pro-life camp is in Jesus?

    OK, I think I’ve nearly matched your original word count. Sorry! 🙂 It sparked my thoughts.

    God bless you.

     
  3. Amanda Beattie

    June 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Tim,

    I think your last sentence actually summarizes my point pretty nicely. We can’t drag Jesus into our camp–we must join His. I’m not so much even trying to eschew labels that clearly identify what our doctrinal stance is. I am mostly speaking about how we cannot set up our belief system and then proof-text our way into the claim that Jesus belongs to us. Our positions need to be drawn from Him and His Word, and we are all doing our best (although weak and sometimes misguided) effort to conform to Him.

    Firstly, most of what I was speaking about in the post has to do with more of the gray-area stuff. For instance, Democrat (caring for the poor = good; abortion = bad), Republican (pro-life = good; playing morality for political reasons = bad); environmentalism (stewarding the planet well = good; hating mankind = bad), etc. But these are all causes that people have tried to say Jesus belongs to–or perhaps more appropriately, WOULD have belonged to had it existed in His day. None of it is true.

    In my opinion, the complementarian view is right in a few areas and wrong in a few areas. Ditto with the egalitarian view. I believe women may lead and preach, even to mixed audiences (egalitarian). However, I don’t believe God created men and women the same in all ways at all levels (centrist). I do believe that a wife should submit to her own husband (more complementarian) although I don’t agree with the most common interpretation of what that looks like (more egalitarian). From what I’ve studied, both groups have some biblical points and some extra-biblical points–meaning that they continue the argument to “logical” conclusions that supercede the guidelines laid out in Scripture. It’s in the gray area for me. So I’m not about to stick Jesus in either camp, because I think both of them are off to a certain degree. Evangelical feminism, if it’s true to it’s title, is way off.

    Of course, we should be looking to Biblical doctrine to say, “This is what Jesus is like”. We can tell for sure, for instance, that He is opposed to the shedding of innocent blood. But I still would hesitate to say “Jesus is in the pro-life camp”, and much prefer to say, “To agree with Jesus’ heart, you must be pro-life”. Jesus did not look at the two camps and said, “Hey, I’m with those guys.” In that sense, He did not join the pro-life camp. People who want to join Him have to also love the unborn. We’ve created the “pro-life movement”–which, though mostly good, definitely has a few bizarre factions that aren’t in agreement with Him. But as many people in the pro-life movement who share Jesus’ heart have joined Jesus’ side. He didn’t sign up with them. They signed up with Him.

    At one level, it’s a small distinction, but at another, it’s a crucial one. The second we view our cause as the thing that’s so awesome, even Jesus wanted to join it, we make ourselves intensely more prone to pride and defensiveness. As we continue to relate mostly to the other side as us, the spiritual ones, vs. them, the deceived ones (even on clear issues like pro-life vs. pro-choice), we create reactionary arguments that get further and further from the simple truth of Scripture, and deeper into our own mindsets and logical circuits. The more we see our cause as the end in itself, the less we are inclined to remain teachable and submitted to Jesus’ true heart. He must remain the rallying point. He must remain the One we are all trying to join with. When that gets flipped, I think it opens the door for all kinds of weirdness to enter in.

    I hope that makes it more clear. I will be expounding a little bit more on my views on the egalitarian/complementarian doctrines later on (who knows how much later). But my main point is we need to look at our causes, no matter how good, as secondary to the One whose heart we are seeking to stand in agreement with.

    Does that help explain where I’m coming from?

     
  4. brianbeattie

    June 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Makes me think of Moses, inviting God to adopt a label, and God, in reply identifying himself as “I AM”. Period. Done. Could Jesus truthfully answer any differently?

    Amanda, you’ve hit several nails directly on the head. Good preaching!

     
  5. Tim Visher

    June 30, 2009 at 8:01 am

    @Amanda: That is a much clearer statement.

    I think perhaps what I was and am struggling with so much is the apparent difference between pure doctrinal statements and what they are attempting to do (namely, help to define key truths about Jesus so that we can verbally and mentally affirm and uphold them, much like our traditional creedal statements) and statements that a camp tends to make (which more often than not are logical conclusions, as you pointed out, that are extra biblical convictions about the real effect that a doctrinal statement has on our practices, but when stated correctly are still open handed issues). It seems that your interpretation of Egalitarianism/Complementarianism includes everything that the camp says instead of just what the doctrinal statement would include.

    Intriguingly, you include what is extra-biblical in your refutation of Complementarianism (at least, as a whole) but affirm its core doctrinal statement that men and women are equal image bearers of God but were created differently with different roles to display the glory of God together through their unique but complimentary offices whereas you take away from the core doctrinal statement of Egalitarianism, namely that men and women are equal image bearers of God and have no unique distinction before him or in creation based on their gender and thus can function indistinctively to display his glory, in order to affirm some of its practical applications, namely that women qualify for eldership.

    In that statement I try to define what I understand to be the core of Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. I believe that the Bible as a whole affirms the former and refutes the later. Now whether or not that means that women are allowed to teach men I think is a totally open handed issue. I even think that the whole debate is somewhat open handed. However, for certain offices and certain roles I think the Bible is quite clear. But when you hold a conviction, you always think the Bible quite clearly supports your view point so that doesn’t mean much.

    I think the core of any disagreement we might have really lies in how we are defining ‘camps’. I would define the camp as their core doctrinal statement, the definition of the word. It seems that you would include most of what the camp might generally say or do in the camp. Like I said in my earlier response, the bigger the camp wants to be (doctrinally) the harder time it will have of representing Jesus, because it’s just hard to have that much doctrine all perfectly correct.

    ——————————————————————————–

    I totally agree with your statement, though, that it is not only beneficial but essential to correctly identify that our camp is identifying with Jesus, not the other way around. That is a very good statement. 🙂

    ——————————————————————————–

    If I could make a request of sorts, I would especially love to see Biblically based arguments for egalitarianism that aren’t just appeals to God’s character but actually point to the Bible and say that this is where God identifies that there is not distinction of any sort between men and women in regards to the office of eldership/familial role/ministerial role/societal role/etc. etc. Like I said, I think the clear parts of the Bible, at least regarding eldership ([1 Tim. 3.1-7](http://bible.logos.com/passage/ESV/1Ti3.1-7), [Tit. 1.5-16](http://bible.logos.com/passage/ESV/Tit1.5-16)), cannot support the Egalitarian claim to that office while it clearly supports the core Complementarian doctrinal statement. I’d love a whole post that just goes through the passages of scripture that lead you to support the parts of Egalitarianism that you do.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Keep writing. Your thoughts are always intriguing.

    God bless you!

     
  6. Amanda Beattie

    June 30, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Tim: My understanding is that many (I think most, but I have not studied enough to say with confidence) egalitarians do not claim there is no unique distinction between men and women. Men and women are clearly wired differently mentally and emotionally. Our gender is not insignificant to who we are. In my mind, it is clearly out of balance to say that men and women are indistinguishable from each other in their essential make-up. Most of the egalitarian resources I’ve been studying so far openly acknowledge the inherent distinctions in men and women. They simply disagree that this difference is an instant scriptural disqualifier from leadership in ministry.

    So far, in my discussions of the concepts, I have not jumped into the specific scriptures yet. I have been doing this intentionally because I am deeply concerned with arriving at an honest exegesis, and not simply buying into the spin of one side or the other. I have tried to lay some biblical ground though, with issues like what leadership is and is not. I already have a lot of thoughts on the passages you listed above, but 1) I want to be sure I am extremely biblical in my assertions, and 2) I want to be sure I have it clear enough in my wording to accurately convey what I am and am not saying.

    I do hold to a much bigger definition of camp. At least for my own heart, this keeps me realistic about it, and prevents me from getting too militaristic about it. In this case, I would realistically fall into the category of “egalitarian”, but I am sensible of the abuses some people have gone to within that camp, and I can also gladly engage with complementarians without being defensive and making broadstroke judgments againt them (because the egalitarian camp is not 100% right, and the complementarian camp is not 100% wrong). It also, as I said above, helps me keep my theology straight as remembering that Jesus still stands on His own as the distinct supreme authority on whatever subect we’re debating. Thus, the point is not to make sure my side wins. The point is to make sure I discover His heart.

     
  7. Tim Visher

    July 7, 2009 at 7:14 am

    @Amanda: That’s interesting that the literature you’ve read doesn’t claim that there are no distinctions. I haven’t studied any egalitarian resources along the way, just encountered popular egalitarianism. Maybe this is something like the distinction between Philosophical Postmodernism and Postmodernity? I have never heard an argument for egalitarianism that doesn’t either argue from the character of God over scripture or from gender indistinction.

    Anyway, I really like your approach to the issue and as I said before I really look forward to hearing more about your interpretation of scripture on this.

     
  8. Amanda Beattie

    July 8, 2009 at 12:56 am

    If I had any sort of clue what the difference is between Philosophical Postmodernism and Postmodernity, I might be able to answer you on that point. 😀

    I have been intentionally seeking out egalitarian resources that draw their points as strictly from Scripture as possible. Especially considering that arguments from the character of God must start in Scripture, or we’re all sunk. And claiming gender indistinction is not just biblically unsupported, but also flies in the face of basic common sense. Emotional rants do not a doctrine make. 🙂

    Thanks for your comments, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the future.

     
  9. molleth

    July 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    What a great post and a great conversation!
    WOW. I have really enjoyed this… 🙂 I have done the same thing, carefully studied the scriptures and poured over various comp/egal books, trying to find my way.

    If you haven’t read, “Discovering Biblical Equality” (not for light reading), it was excellent and comes highly recommended. Since my background was comp and my Bible college training was comp and my bookshelf was full of comp books, I didn’t have to look far to find them, whereas it was hard to know which egal books were important to read and which ones weren’t. A scholar friend pointing me to DBE and I am thankful up to this very day. 🙂

     

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