Alice C. Linsley
I have never been a fan of feminist ideology or feminist theology. I was one of the few at my liberal eastern university who thought that the Equal Rights Amendment was bad news and bad legislation.
My first venture in 1978 into the Feminist arena was not positive. I was living in Greece and was invited by a friend to attend a gathering where a prominent American feminist was speaking in Athens. After the speech, there were breakout groups. In my group there were about 15 women, mostly disgruntled Americans or Brits who were married to Greek or Middle Eastern men. I was happily married and felt fulfilled in my life, so I found it difficult to identify with these angry and hurting women. I also was uncomfortable with the Marxist-atheist tones of the speech. I knew enough history to recognize that wherever Marxism has taken root, it has meant trouble for committed followers of Jesus Christ.
In the most general sense, Feminism as a political ideology that sees the relationship between males and females as one of inequality, maintaining that there is universal oppression of females by the dominant males in society.
Feminism is a Marxist-socialist-atheist ideology which focuses on gender struggle. The Feminist concern is voiced in public about equal legal rights, equal pay for equal work, harassment in the workplace, abuse and trafficking of women and children, and global awareness of women's health needs.
As we consider the importance of these concerns, we are able to see why Feminism has advanced into all areas of our life. It speaks in the lexicon of fairness and justice and it is difficult for a Christian to speak against Feminism and not sound bigoted, reactionary, or dim-witted. If Christians lack understanding of the importance of male-female gender differences and are unskilled in our engagement of Feminist rhetoric, we are easily marginalized.
Marginalization is a political tactic that Feminists have employed successfully and which gay activists learned from feminists. This tactic is used by those who already have gained sufficient control to be able to marginalize those who don't agree with them. For example, gay activists have used marginalization in many states to silence opponents of gay marriage bills. Marginalization takes many forms, but one of the most common is to misrepresent your opponent as small-minded and backwards.
Feminism, as an ideological thread in the weave of 20th century American life, poses a significant challenge to Christianity. It influences our outlook on family, church, education and politics, and while politically vocal Feminists often succeed in marginalizing their opponents, the Feminist agenda clearly is not good for the Church.
While I have been asked to address Feminism in the context of today's society, I want to speak more directly to the challenges that Feminism poses to the Church as the Body of Christ. My thesis is this: What is good for the Church is good for society. What is bad for the Church is bad for society. Simply stated, I regard the Church's welfare and edification as a litmus test for the innovations that appear in society. To narrow the scope, I will speak primarily about western society, although many of the points I wish to make apply to all societies.
The paradox of Feminism
Before we consider the impact of Feminism on the Church, let us consider the paradox of Feminism itself.
Feminism is oppressive. This is seen in the way that Feminists attack those who do not agree with them. Feminists use the same methods of subordination, oppression and marginalization that they find so hateful when exercised by men in patriarchal societies. Also, were elective abortion the Feminists' single issue, the movement would never have gotten off the ground. No matter how polished the speech, it can never be "fair" to the unborn to be terminated. It is instead the most severe oppression.
Feminism is unnatural. This is seen in the way that Feminists push for elective abortion. It is unnatural for a woman to destroy the life that is developing within her. That which the Church judges to be unnatural is also judged to be sinful or evil. Thus, John Climacus states in Step 1 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent that "A lover of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless." Sodomy and lesbianism are evil because they are unnatural. It is evil when a Muslim father, out of anger at his daughter, arranges for her to be gang raped. It is evil when, out of selfish delusion, a mother drowns her children or a husband murders his pregnant wife. That the media lends great attention to such acts underscores that these are anomalous to what is natural. Most fathers are protective of their daughters, most mothers are protective of their children, and most husbands are protective of their pregnant wives.
Feminism is inherently illogical. One of the objectives of Feminists is to achieve harmony between the sexes by requiring equality. Yet Feminism is premised on an unswerving belief in universal inequality. To express this another way: Would Feminists be content were they to finally achieve universal equality between the sexes? Not likely. To exist, Feminism needs inequality and instances of unfairness to women. This goes back to the unnaturalness of Feminism. As the feminist psychology professor, Carol Gilligan, showed in her book In a Different Voice, females naturally desire unity and harmony within their social and familial circles. Yet Feminists' strident speeches about inequality, separation and injustice only exacerbate the conditions that they deplore.
Feminism does not align with the facts.
Fact #1: Males and females are different and their differences are "supplementary" (to use Jacques Derrida's term). Supplementary means that one cannot exist without the other, but it does not mean that the two share equal properties of strength and size or that their God-assigned roles are interchangeable. That being the case, the only basis of speaking ontologically about gender equality is the Bible and the Church Fathers' affirmation that both male and female are made in the divine image (Gen. 1;27) .
Fact #2: Patriarchy is the universal order. In advocating social reversal, Feminists often point to soft patriarchies as examples of matriarchies, but a true matriarchy requires the following conditions to exist in a society:
* line of descent must be traced through the mothers
* rights of inheritance must be figured through the mothers
* political power must be vested with ruling females
* females must have the final say in deciding matters for the community
It is a matter of fact that, after eighty-five years of ethnographic studies, no matriarchal society has ever been identified by cultural anthropologists.
Fact #3: History shows that wherever Christianity has spread, the treatment of women has improved. Allow me to cite but one example. My great grandfather was a pioneer missionary in India. He established a seminary there, but after time it became apparent that Christian men could not evangelize Indian women who lived sequestered lives. Therefore, my great grandfather decided to train women converts to be midwives and nurses so that they could minister to Indian women at a critical time. So he established a nurse training center and even today the majority of nurses in India are Christian females.
The Feminist grudge against Christianity
Feminists often use the Bible to illustrate the horrors of patriarchy. They call attention to the story of the Levite who cut his defiled concubine into pieces and sent her severed parts to the 12 tribes as a call to war (Judges 19). They want us to see how horrible patriarchy is that the Levite would surrender his concubine to the sodomites. Is this not misplaced judgment? Why not instead be critical of the evil sodomites who sought to defile the Levite and killed his concubine? After all, this is the point of the story!
Feminists despise St. Paul, who they consider to be the arch oppressors of women because he teaches that women should be submission to their husbands. Katherine M. Rodgers in The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature (1966) writes, "The foundations of early Christian misogyny - its guilt about sex, its insistence on female subjection, its dread of female seduction - are all in St. Paul's epistles. They provided a convenient supply of divinely inspired misogynistic texts for any Christian writer who chose to use them; his statements on female subjection were still being quoted in the twentieth century opponents of equality for women."
The Feminist approach to the Bible largely is imbalanced and intellectually dishonest. In this case, Paul's qualifying statement that husbands and wives are to be in submission to one another is ignored. Paul's exhortation that women in Corinth remain quiet in the service of worship is not balanced by his assent to women prophesying in the assembly on the condition that they wear a head covering as a sign of their submission to God. They accuse Paul of limiting women's opportunities in the Church and ignore the evidence that he opened opportunities for women, even assigning them risky duties, such as having Phoebe carry his epistle to the Romans, and the use of Lydia's home as a base for outreach in Philippi.
Feminist critique of the Bible focuses on the stories of abuse of females and paints the societies presented as evil patriarchies. They seem to be unaware of the anthropological studies which demonstrate that at least 80% of the women named in the Bible were the wives and daughter of high ranking priests and as such, they exercised considerable influence in their community. Today it is also known that the rulers among Abraham's people traced line of descent through the mothers. The Feminist critique fails to acknowledge the contribution of female leaders such as the Samaritan women, Photini, the first evangelist and a woman regarded in the Eastern Church as "equal to the Apostles." There is Huldah, to whom the king's advisers turned for counsel, Deborah who judged between Ramah and Bethel, and Priscilla who taught in the early church.
Feminist literature portrays the Church as an example of institutional oppression. They cast the lack of women's ordination in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as subordination and oppression by the Church. They actively seek to subvert the received tradition of the Church concerning the male priesthood.
Feminism has also pressed for reform of God language. Here are some Feminist proposals for speaking of the Trinity:
* Mother, Child, and Womb
* Lover, Beloved, Love
* Creator, Savior, Sanctifier
* Rock, Redeemer, Friend
* King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love
Note how the designation of Jesus as the "Son" of God has been excised. Children often understand complex matters better than adults. They understand that sons and daughters are different. Even in a society where children are exposed to gender confusion, they recognize that it is simply wrong to speak of Jesus as the “daughter of God.”
In excising "Son of God," revisionist language such as this distorts the Gospel. The long-awaited one was a son, the "Seed" of the Woman (Gen. 3:15); "for unto us a son is given" (Isaiah 9:6) "and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." It is the Son of God who is described here, and the Evangelists are in agreement that saving faith requires believing that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus said, "If you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins" (John 8:24). "God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
In regard to these proposed revisions, seminary professors Andrew Purves and Charles Partee have said, "We not only lose the ground for our language of God, we in fact lose the Trinity. We lose God. We do not need a diluted, metaphorical Trinity; rather, we need our confidence in the Christian doctrine of God to be restored." Feminists also attempt to conform the Church to their worldview through gender-neutral Bibles. One example is Today's New International Version. No less than sixty-two recognized Bible scholars have stated that this Bible distorts the meaning of the text. Here is their published statement: "In light of troubling translation inaccuracies - primarily (but not exclusively) in relation to gender language - that introduce distortions of the meanings that were conveyed better by the original NIV, we cannot endorse the 2005 TNIV translation as sufficiently accurate to commend to the church."
Is the Church misogynistic?
It is easy to test the Feminist thesis that the Church is an institution that enshrines "guilt about sex," "insistence on female subjection" and "dread of female seduction." If this is indeed the case, we should find evidence of misogyny at the time of Christianity's legal establishment under Emperor Justinian. Instead we find that the Justinian Law Code improved the condition of women, slaves and children. With the implementation of the Justinian Code the following practices quickly disappeared:
* Polygymy (the practice of maintaining multiple wives)
* Cultic prostitution
* The 3-tiered caste system that limited women's marriage options
* The practice of fathers selling their daughters into slavery.
The Code also made it legal for:
* Slave owners to grant liberty to as many slaves as they wanted.
* Families to retain the estate in cases where the father died intestate.
* Noble women to exercise political power.
While it is evident that Christianity has not solved all societal problems, it has largely improved the conditions of women. Where, then, is the evidence that women have been oppressed under Church rule? Not much of a case can be made based on historical evidence. Why do Feminists hold a grudge against the Church if the Church is not the voice of all this misogynist sentiment? The answer is found in the history of western philosophical thought. It is from mostly secular writers that Feminists have learned to hate the Church. Let us consider how this is so.
Misogynist voices in history
The most outspoken misogynists in history are western philosophers who had little understanding of Christianity and a great deal of animosity for the Church. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) wrote an essay "On Women" (Über die Weiber), in which he claimed that "woman is by nature meant to obey." He regards women as "decidedly more sober in their judgment than men", but he regards their sympathetic attendance to the suffering of others as weakness rather than a virtue. Schopenhauer's ideas influenced writings on psychology, aesthetics, ethics, and politics which, in turn, influenced Nietzsche, Wagner, Wittgenstein, and Freud. And none of these philosophers held women in high regard.
In his Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) maintained that higher forms of civilization require stricter controls on women. Nietzsche seemed to gain pleasure from insulting women. He was known for his statements such as these, "Women are less than shallow" and "Are you going to women? Do not forget the whip!" Perhaps his view of women is best summed in this statement: "And finally, woman! One-half of mankind is weak, chronically sick, changeable, shifty - woman requires . . . a religion of the weak which glorifies weakness, love and modesty as divine: or better still, she makes the strong weak - she succeeds in overcoming the strong. Woman has always conspired with decadent types - the priests, for instance - against the "mighty," against the "strong," against men. Women avail themselves of children for the cult of piety.."
In his book Sex and Character, written shortly before he killed himself, the philosopher Otto Weininger (1880-1903) wrote, "No men who really think deeply about women retain a high opinion of them; men either despise women or they have never thought seriously about them."
What Feminists Fear
The evidence of history exposes the lies that the Church is misogynist and Christianity contributes to the oppression of women. Instead, we find that Feminist political ideology oppresses, is un-natural, inherently illogical, and contrary to the facts. The Feminist grudge against the Church is irrational and subjective. So what is it about the Church that most profoundly troubles Feminists?
In part, it is the message that some church people send that females, as a class, are subservient to males as a class. Dorothy L. Sayers said it so well: "What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person." (Unpopular Opinions: Twenty-One Essays)
Another explanation is fear of divine love. The most adamant Feminists are women who have known only the lower expressions of love and this "love" has caused them pain and suffering. They are rightfully angry about the failings of love. We all live with the expectation that love will satisfy our deepest longings, and we have had to learn that no human can fulfill this expectation. Every failure of love brings disillusionment and anger. In this, we find the most important contribution of Feminism to the Church: the criticism that, all too often, the Church has failed in Love. When the Church fails in love, it fails in every way. As Christians we have a long way to go to embody the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love, and St. Paul reminds us that the greatest of these habits is love.
Related reading: Rethinking "Biblical Equality";Blood and Gender Distinctions; Why Women Were Never Priests; The Feminization of Anglican Orders; The Virgin Mary's Ancestry