CRITIQUE FROM AN EVANGELICAL POINT OF VIEW
Feminism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ At one level this is very simple, seeking equal and fair treatment for both men and women, not discriminating against either just because of their gender. it could be said that feminism aligns itself with the Biblical statement that we are all created in God’s image, both male and female (Genesis 1:27) and God’s image can’t be second-rate.
On the other hand feminism as a concept has become hugely loaded and divisive. So often it morphs into a form of identity politics where women’s rights become tied to a pro-choice, anti-marriage, secularist agenda supportive of LBGT rights and hostile towards perceived masculine privilege. To call yourself a feminist causes others to make assumptions about you that may or may not be true.
The following are a brief response to the common features of (non-evangelical) feminism
1 One God , the Creator – not ‘All is One’
Theism and monism are opposed. The Bible proclaims that God existed before the Creation, and cannot be identified with the Creation. He is ‘other’. God has named himself, and the name of God represents who he is. ‘To challenge or change the name of God as God has revealed it is a denial of God.’
2 Christ is the only way to God – all religions are not one
If there were any other way to be right with God, then Christ’s death on the Cross is the ultimate absurdity. The Bible proclaims that this is the only way to God.
3 The problem with the world is sin – not ‘making distinctions’
The evils noted by feminists, evils of oppression and misogyny, are caused by sin: ie. rebellion against God and his laws.
Christian feminists redefine sin, some saying that it is patriarchy. Those affirming goddess spirituality tend to adopt the monist view that ‘sin’ lies in making dualistic distinctions, for example between good and evil or between Creator and Created.
4 True religion based on revelation – not human experience
Much of Christian feminism is just the latest development in the progression of liberal theology, which takes its departure from human experience. Personal (female) experience is always the benchmark. But what when experiences diverge? I am a woman, and my experience is that of liberation and fulfillment within a conservative Christian context, but presumably my experience is invalid because Christian feminists would judge that I have been brainwashed. Is it only those women whose experience fits feminist pre-suppositions whose experience counts? We others are judged to need ‘re-education’ or ‘consciousness raising’ through a women’s studies course or similar. Christian feminist texts provide a bewildering smorgasbord of ideas, because each author is free to make up their theology as they go along. Liberated from an authoritative canon, theology becomes totally arbitrary.
5 Christian and post-Christian feminist theo/alogy is intolerant in the extreme
Orthodox Christianity is routinely denounced as demonic, toxic etc. All previous ‘patriarchal’ interpretations bear bitter fruit and the tree must be cut down: feminist interpreters are there with the axe. Indeed, it must be so, as for many ‘patriarchy’ is now defined as sin. There are astounding personal attacks on those who disagree: for example Rosemary Radford Ruether refers to women who are conservative as ignorant, unqualified, and usually dependent on their bread-winning husbands (only ‘one man away from benefits’). Much of the discussion is extremely patronising, for example Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza has decided that poor men are now to be called ‘subaltans’ and are to be regarded as wo/men.
6 Are Christianity and feminism compatible?
Evangelicals are divided on this. Evangelical feminists (‘egalitarians’) believe they are compatible. They believe that although the Bible was written within a patriarchal framework, the principles of freedom and equality are contained within it, and we can keep the principles and discard the cultural husk. They reject gender-based differentiation of roles within church and family. Others disagree. On the far right are those who are unashamedly chauvinistic, and use the Bible to endorse oppressive marriages and female passivity within the church.
Then there are those in the middle, evangelicals who abhor abuse of women, who do not believe women should be passive in the church (or in marriage) but who affirm the complementarity of men and women: that they are created ‘different by design’. This is referred to as the ‘complementarian’ perspective. For example, Mary Kassian argues that commitment to feminism ultimately leads one away from maintaining absolute confidence in the authority of Scripture. One has to choose an ultimate authority, the Bible or experience. She documents the journey of several Biblical feminists away from conservative Christianity towards radical feminism and pagan spirituality. (Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, pp. 225-240). Certainly post-Christian feminists such as Daphne Hampson would agree that the Bible and feminism are incompatible. You have to choose one authority or the other: Scripture or female experience.
It is possible to be fully committed to the dignity and equality of women and not be a feminist. The Bible teaches that men and women are of equal value in God’s sight, created equally in his image. But it also makes it clear that created beings do not have the right to name God. God has named himself, his creation, and he has named man and woman.
It is impossible to categorically condemn or affirm feminism based on the Bible. It has gone through too many stages and has now branched off into too many variations. As with many movements, the individual messages must be judged on their own merits. It was good for femininity to gain a value in society and for the needs of women to be addressed. It is fine for women to have reached a place of freedom within their culture. But many of the issues feminists have supported with that freedom have been unwise or sinful. As with anything, we should study the Scriptures and see what God says—and be willing to accept His Word on it. It may not be what we expect or would wish for, but it will be what’s best.
Ann Loades, ed. Feminist Theology: A Reader. SPCK, 1990
Melissa Raphael. Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess. Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.
Letty M. Russell, ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Westminster Press, 1985.
Mary Kassian. The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church. Crossway, 1992. (New edition now available, entitled The Feminist
Mistake: The Radical impact of Feminism on Church and Culture. Crossway, 2005).
Kimel, Alvin F. jr. Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism. Eerdmans, USA and Gracewing, UK. 1992. Kimel, Alvin F.jr. This is my Name Forever. IVP, US, 2001.
Critiques of evangelical feminism:
Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. IVP. 2005.
Sharon James, God’s Design for Women. Evangelical Press, 2002.