I recently scrolled through Twitter and saw a lot of disturbing tweets about a Clubhouse conversation titled “#CanChristiansBeFeminist”. As you can imagine, this stirred up much debate and frustration from people within the Christian community. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I saw many people afterwards questioning why it’s even debatable. Surely every Christian should be a feminist? Doesn’t every Christian want equality for women? Given there are so many kinds of feminism (I am no expert, but I am aware of at least Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism, Marxist and Socialist Feminism, Cultural Feminism, Eco-Feminism, Womanism, I-Feminism, Equality Feminism and Difference Feminism) we should be careful to rush to add “Christian feminist” to our bios. I’m not settled on my thoughts about Feminism, but I want to give at least 3 reasons why for Christians, the question isn’t as simple as it seems.
Not all equality is the same
The most widely accepted definition of feminism that I have come across would be:
“the belief in full social, economic, and political equality of women and men.”
In a sense, very few people would say that this is a bad idea. The problem that arises, though, is how you define equality. If equality is defined the way God defines equality in scripture, then there’s no issue. But that isn’t always the case. When it comes to manhood and womanhood, biblical equality can be summed up by the cliché: the same in value, but not the same in roles. I hold a complementarian view of gender, where essentially men and women have been created to complement one another. A brief biblical survey will show this. And after this, we’ll take a look at what some notable feminists say which are at odds with God’s word.
In Genesis 1:27, we see that God created male and female equally in his Image. Imago Dei. Equal in creation. We also see in Galatians 3:28 that men and women are valued equally in salvation through Jesus Christ. This means that a man and a woman have the same inherent worth. God does not rejoice any more when a man turns to him than he does when a woman turns to him. A male life is not worth more than a female life, and both are to be protected, respected and celebrated. At the same time, the Bible also tells us that men and women are given different responsibilities, especially in the home and in the Church. Qualified, loving and responsible men are called to lead and protect in the home, and in the church. Women are called to be birth givers (though not every single woman will) and willingly submit to and help the leadership of qualified men in the home and the church (Gen 2:16, Eph 5:22-23, 1 Tim 2:12; 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Jesus doesn’t consider it sexist to suggest different people play different roles. Would we say that Jesus was sexist because his 12 disciples were all men? In the same way that churches are called to submit to pastors, that doesn’t make pastors any more valuable in God’s kingdom (Hebrews 13:17).
One important note is that the leadership God has called men to is not the same as domination. Men do not have the authority to treat women as slaves or maids, rather men have the responsibility to care for, protect and provide for women, and God will hold men accountable to whether they do or fail to do that (Ephesians 5:22-25). Jesus shows us that true biblical leadership is summarised in sacrifice, provision and service, not domination and abuse (Mark 10:42-45). If this was stressed more, we would see much healthier relationships between the sexes, and much less abuse taking place.
Although this is the biblical model given, many feminists hold opposing views, putting them at odds with God.
Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms Foundation, says:
As long as we stay and assign task and duty, responsibility and opportunity to a particular gender, then we are not actually striving for true feminism.
Betty Dodson, the late American sex educator said:
In order for women to progress, we must question all authority, be willing to challenge any rule aimed at controlling our sexual behaviour, and avoid doing business as usual, thereby maintaining the status quo.
Clearly, when the bible talks about equality, this is different from what many feminists think of when using the same word. In God’s eyes, sexual promiscuity and rejecting every authority is not equality – that is rebellion. This may not be the opinion of every woman, but the fact that many professing feminists hold views of equality that reject God’s means that we should be careful to hold such close associations.
Feminist Extremes Reject the Bible
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is God’s word, given by God for us to know him and know how to follow him. Manhood and womanhood were designed by God, which means the Bible is sufficient to teach us about good gender relations. Now, there are movements of Christians who try to reconcile feminism with a trust in the Authority of Scripture, but there are also movements of feminists rejecting the Bible based on their feminist values. A true reading of the Bible (and not just picking a few verses out of context to prove an already set-in-stone agenda) will teach men not to rape, to love women, to care for them, to protect them and teach women to love men, care for them and respect them. Even still, several feminists outright reject the authority of the Bible.
Rosemary Radford Ruether, American Feminist Scholar, said:
“Feminist theology must create a new textual base, a new canon. . . . Feminist theology cannot be done from the existing base of the Christian Bible.”
A leader of the US Women’s Rights Movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote:
“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.”
Emma Green of The Atlantic says:
“Self-identifying feminists who don’t believe in God might be hostile to any kind of Bible-driven sexual ethics”
I know that there are plenty of Christian feminists who affirm the Bible. But we can’t overlook the fact that many (and I suspect the overwhelming majority) would either reject the Bible as God’s authoritative word or would see the scriptures as a misogynistic and barbaric collection of books. Instead of blurring the lines, we should aim to stand on the word of God and show people how following Jesus leads to radically different and beautiful pictures of equality between men and women.
Jesus is for Jesus
“Would Jesus support Black Lives Matter?”
“Is Jesus a feminist?”
“Would Jesus be a conservative or liberal?”
We’ve seen over recent months how divisive things can become when we turn Jesus into the face of our movement. The question we really should be asking is “what did Jesus come to do?” One great answer can be found in John’s gospel.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him”
Ultimately, Jesus came to save sinners from judgement and bring us back to God. He then calls us to follow him. Of course, following him has implications for how we treat men and women, different colours of people and what we support, but fundamentally Jesus is for Jesus and his glory. Jesus himself treated women with the utmost dignity, denied social norms to speak with women and taught his disciples to see women as equal (but different) partners in the Kingdom of God. As his disciples, we should do the same. But Jesus did not come to be a figurehead for any movement other than bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth (Mark 1:15). Many times, the Jews wanted to make Jesus the King of Israel because they thought he would overthrow the Roman Empire on their behalf. But Jesus would often withdraw because he will only be King on his terms, not on ours (John 6:15).
Before we are recognised as a Christian feminist or a Christian anything, we should be recognised as Christians. I’m sure many of you reading this will disagree on certain points, think that I was soft on other points or have a range of other opinions. All I ask is that Christians remember to be first known for our love for Christ, which flows into our love for people and ultimately brings the glory back to him. Whether you choose to identify as a feminist or not, let your understanding of equality and your fight for justice be rooted in a love for God, and hope in his word.