Christian Feminism? (I)
Those “silly savages,” David and Tim Bayly, over at the BaylyBlog (http://timbayly.worldmagblog.com/timbayly/) recently got things heated up by re-hashing the issues of egalitarianism vs. complementarianism. I haven’t seen such a firestorm since Dr. Roy Taylor wrote his article for ByFaith magazine. It seemed pretty clear that some in the “blog-o-sphere” that wrote in were not “Presbos,” but for whatever reason, they also believed that they had a dog in this fight. Without question, the issues of women’s ordination—either as Elder or Deacon—and the place/use of women in the local church are interesting and very emotive discussions. In fact, the issue of women’s ordination kept many of us from being ordained in the PCUSA after seminary in 1975. (What a blessing!) We held debates at Gordon-Conwell with R.C. Sproul and Andrew Lincoln (back in his conservative days) squaring off against David Scholer and Gordon Fee in a public forum on the divisive issue. We also had Lisa Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty come and address our student body on the “women’s issue” my senior year at GCTS.
So here we are in 2007 and we are still discussing these issues with a relatively high degree of intensity. One of the coming battles (the proverbial camel already has his nose well under the tent flap) is to supplant the PCA Women in the Church organization and to ordain “deaconesses.” Even though it’s not explicitly stated, the attitude seems to be that WIC is a dinosaur and is not attractive to the modern, hip, and professional working woman. How can those who are “professional” women (yes, I believe that’s the adjective that’s used. It is definitely not to be confused with the “professional” women that can be found on the street. These “professional” women have corner offices with prestigious firms and are important. They are not to be confused—at any time—with the tawdry, boring stay-at-home-mom, who doesn’t do much important) be expected to be attracted to something that is so ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Old school; old hat.
So what we are witnessing in the PCA is a kind of “paradigm shift” that’s been brought about by cultural contextualization away from WIC and towards the more cutting edge “Deaconness.” What seems to be missing in this all is that Deacons, who are truly performing their calling, do—quite often—have to address members of the congregation in an authoritative manner. But that’s probably just me. Right.
This is almost as bad of an indictment as the length of time it took the PCA finally to make a pronouncement about women in combat. But both the issue of the place/use of women in the church as well as the matter of women in combat are still very much alive and kicking in the PCA. I was shocked at last year’s PCA General Assembly to be sitting in an area where a number of my colleagues dissented from the NAPARC’s denial of combat roles to women. If those brothers had served in the military then I thank them for their service, but cannot see any biblical wisdom in their vote in favor of putting women into combat. Such a move is definitely PC, but certainly not biblical. If those brothers have not served then they should have abstained for they have little knowledge of a combat zone and what occurs in the “fog of battle.” The battlefield is definitely no place for women, but that’s a subject that I intend to address in detail in different issues of Ethos.
The Look of the Sensitive Complementarian
So as I begin this series on “evangelical feminism,” let me lay my cards on the table from the outset. I am a complementarian, but a very sensitive one. A couple of examples will have to suffice. Recently, when my wife, Sally, was having trouble washing my car because the grass got too wet and she starting slipping—and actually fell a couple of times—so I went out to Big 5 sporting goods and bought her a pair of football shoes with deep cleats. She doesn’t slip or fall anymore. One more example: three weeks ago Sally came down with a pernicious bronchitis that hit her really hard and caused her to run a very high fever. I sacrificed going shooting with the guys and took time out from my schedule to hold her up at the sink every night for a week so that she could wash the dinner dishes. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to discuss what is dreadfully wrong with the time-worn(out) phrase “evangelical feminism.”
In a book released in 2006, Wayne Grudem asks if what has come to be known as “evangelical feminism” might be, in actuality, a new path to liberalism. He is not accusatory, but does ask if the Church’s acceptance of the terminology might have caused it to suffer from the problem of unintended consequences. I intend to argue that it did and, in fact, still does. For those of us who engaged and were engaged by the movement known as feminism, the books that appeared from Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and others had to be digested. As for as “Hanoi” Jane Fonda (who has now morphed into “Jihad” Jane), we just knew that she was a disgrace to the country, so we neglected her and concentrated on the “heavy guns.” Now more than thirty years down the road some seem intent on hanging on to a name that has all types of negative baggage, but also then attaching it to the gospel; hence evangelical feminism, but the emphasis must still be placed on both words. What is evangelical feminism (how does it differ from its secular, non-Christian counterpart?) and what is evangelical feminism?
What I want to do in this introductory installment is to go back in time and allow some of the founding “sisters” of feminism pass in review. I want to do this because there are some evangelicals who, as I mentioned, are insisting on holding on to the word “feminism” to describe what they are saying. I found the following comment by R.C. Sproul to be both helpful and instructive when we’re dealing with any –ism, but particularly with “evangelical feminism.” Here is Sproul’s disclaimer: “Ism is a suffix added to the root of a word. These three letters, when added to a root word, change the meaning dramatically.” Sproul proceeds: “As soon as we put the suffix on the word it changes the word into a system of thought, a way of looking at things, a world view. Philosophers use the German word Weltanschauung to describe it. A Weltanschauung is a systematic way of looking at the world. It conditions how we interpret the meaning of daily life.”
Before we move on, however, I want to issue my own kind of disclaimer. When I read some of the blog answers to Dr. Taylor’s afore-mentioned article in ByFaith, I concluded that I must be living in some kind of parallel universe. Since a great deal of the PCA is concentrated in the Southeast of the United States, I was forced to surmise that the wheels must have come off the South after I left. I was born in Charlotte, NC, attended university in Charleston, SC, and served as a tank commander and instructor of tank gunnery at Ft. Knox, KY. Listening to the rantings of the bloggers, it seems as if all chivalry and decorum departed the area when I left. Men must have turned into ogres and PCA men, in particular, must have grown hair on their teeth and become Neo-Neanderthals. It sounded like PCA women were being beaten, beaten down, abused, undervalued, and treated like second or third-class citizens, not to mention Christians. Although I would not be totally surprised that things went downhill after I left the South, I still find it a little hard to believe that PCA men are so boorish; so un-chivalrous; so un-Christian. Were matters being exaggerated in those blogs? Was there some agenda at play? I read words on the ByFaith and Bayly brothers’ blogs like “tyranny,” “tyrannical,” “patriarchy,” and “patriarchal”—all of which seemed to have some connection with feminism in its various forms and variations.
It was, therefore, more than a little surprising to me to find such words cropping up in a PCA dialogue. Now maybe I live in a bubble—(I really don’t believe this; it’s just a literary thing), but I’ve been around a lot of Christian men as a pastor of three different churches in three different countries (trying to keep one step ahead of the creditors) and even though I’ve encountered men who did not exercise biblical headship perfectly—myself included—I have not run into men that were as bad as those described by some of the bloggers. I came away with some preliminary conclusions. First, I am convinced that some of the accusations are exaggerations and/or straw men. While I understand that there may be some men who misuse the biblical admonition to exercise biblical headship/leadership, I am not convinced that anywhere near the majority of PCA men, husbands, and fathers are anywhere near these alleged travesties. Hear me well: I am not saying that there are no offenders. I am saying, however, that I am convinced by experience that there is both a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference in the “stats,” numbers put forward.
Second, I’m also convinced that a number of the angry bloggers are college and university students, with a smattering of seminary students thrown into the mix. Now anyone with a brain knows once these dauntless defenders of things intellectual enter the fray we can expect a high degree of rationality. It’s a given that college or university students have solved most of the world’s and Church’s problems over a designer coffee at Starbucks. What they missed was solved by seminary students who are at least in their “middler” year.
Third, there are some in the PCA who are more PC than they are PCA. I mentioned the matter of women in combat above, which is a very good example of what I mean. Of all these three, I consider this group—young and/or old—the most cantankerous and most dangerous to healthy spiritual growth, nurture, and communication. I say that because for them the biblical message always has to pass through the secularist filter before it’s acceptable. These are the people who see a one-to-one relationship between the ways of the world and God’s plan for his Church. For example, some people in the PCA cannot understand why a woman can be a CEO and cannot be an ordained Elder or Deacon or a woman who teaches men on a regular basis. This is one of the reasons, I’m convinced, that a number of PCA people find no problem with Beth Moore, even though she teaches Scripture—in an authoritative fashion—to men on a regular basis. Another mantra that many are chanting—rather unreflectively—is “women should be able to do anything an un-ordained man can do.” Really? Do role distinctions and differences simply disappear for un-ordained men and women? How might that occur? Are there no gender-related distinctions in the local church after the offices of Elder and Deacon?
In the book that Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt co-authored we read the following: “The crisis of womanhood is too critical for the church to be passive. Scores of evangelical women are functional feminists because the world’s paradigm for womanhood is the only one they have heard.” I would alter that slightly and apply it to some PCA women as well. But who are the feminists that have shaped what we have come to know as feminism and why is it highly dangerous and questionable to follow them? Obviously, I cannot discuss every feminist that has come down the pike, but I do want to take a few moments—and issues—to discuss what were and still are part of their “agenda.” It is a very detrimental agenda and rather than delivering the promised liberation it is really a movement that will enslave its adherents. To parody of the words of a once-popular song: As it pulls you closer you can feel its disease. I’m convinced that what we need now in the PCA—more than ever—is a biblical balance between scriptural doctrine and scriptural ethics. To paraphrase Jochem Douma, “Doctrine without ethics is empty; ethics without doctrine is blind.”
That being the case, why is it that there is such intense discussion in the PCA about an issue that formed one of the reasons why the PCA left the PCUSA and PCUS? Is it because this type of thing has to be discussed by every new generation? It is because a number of men and women have bought into some of the notions of feminism and are now attempting to import them into the local church? Is it really the case that PCA men are, by and large, tyrannical, patriarchal (in the negative, unbiblical sense), and people who want only to squash women?
I believe that we need very much to reflect on these questions in a biblical fashion. That is why I was surprised to read blogs where the words “patriarchal” or “tyrannical” appeared. Granting that the word “patriarchal” can have various meanings (biblical or unbiblical), my concern was more that the tone sounded vaguely—or clearly—like that of feminism. When feminists use the term, it is not in a positive vein. And that is precisely why I believe we should leave off taking about evangelical feminism.
Each variant of feminism—and it is certainly not a monolithic entity—has some very negative baggage that has slipped into the church and is closely related to any number of unbiblical comparisons about men and women, too. As we close off this installment I want to take just a few moments and remind you who the leading figures were at the advent of full-orbed feminism as it came down to us in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of this will be fairly blunt, so be forewarned. But if you have no stomach for the truth, but are more concerned about your squeamishness then we’ve got another set of problems. I’m going to be very dependent on Kate O’Bierne’s research for what you’re about to read.
The author of the popular The Feminine Mystique was/is one of the gurus of modern feminism. In her own words, Friedan’s mother had “a complete inability to nurture” and reportedly made her feel unwanted and ugly. Friedan entered psychoanalysis to address and attempt to control her rage at her mother. She is also the guru babe who “told American women there was only one way to avoid being a nonentity when she wrote, ‘But even if a woman does not have to work to eat, she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society—work for which, usually our society pays.’”
In her memoir, published in 2000, she charged her husband of over twenty years with abuse. Obviously, to her mind he was both patriarchal and tyrannical. She claims that Carl “smacked her around.” In her own words, “It seemed as though I never went on a television show in those day without a black eye I had to cover with makeup.” Well, who wouldn’t feel sorry for some poor woman—even if she were a rabid feminist—getting slapped around by some thug-like husband?
The eighty-year-old kick boxer Carl had had enough and set up a web site to defend himself against these accusations. He wrote, “I have not lived 80 years of an honorable life to have it trashed by a mad woman…. I’ve been divorced from her for 30 years and still she haunts me and disrupts my life.” When the web site went up, Friedan’s accusations went south. Her recantation reads this way: “My husband was no wife beater and I was no passive victim of a wife beater. We fought a lot, and he was bigger than me.”
In short, Betty Friedan lied. But, of course, it was for the cause so therefore it was okay. Isn’t it nice to know that one of the founding “sisters” of feminism was a bald-faced liar and would even falsely implicate her “patriarchal, tyrannical” husband, who was, by the way, also a feminist, if she thought it would help? If she would about her husband, what else do you think she might lie about? We’ll find out in subsequent issues.
Once Hanoi Jane Fonda; Now Jihad Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda is one arrogant piece of work. Some of us who are old enough remember her in the movie Barbarella wearing her shiny, fake leather Fredericks of Hollywood boots and top. O’Bierne reminds us that in Ms. Fonda’s—Ms. Traitor would be better—autobiography, “…we learned that the men in her life never failed to fail her.” Hold on to that thought. Here we have a woman who has been repeatedly disappointed with the men in her life—and their names are Legion for they are many—and she is a driving force behind the feminist movement.
Fonda laments that her father, Henry, was distant and cold. Her first husband, actor Roger Vadim, “demanded group sex with Jane and women she recruited to please him.” Very, very nice touch. Her second husband, left-winger Tom Hayden, announced to her on her fifty-first birthday that he was in love with another woman. Another nice touch from a very moral man. She really knows how to choose them, doesn’t she? No wonder she’s such a good advisor to those considering marriage or shacking up. Her third husband, Ted Turner, drove her to become an evangelical. She caught him cheating on her within a month of their wedding. Yep. Jihad Jane is certainly an authority on the subject of marriage—just not a good one. At least prostitutes get paid. Fonda is a despicable, immoral feminist activist. Did I mention that she was a traitor to her country?
The Australian author of The Female Eunuch—ouch!—described “her childhood as filled with pain and humiliation, with an abusive mother and father she later said she never really knew.” Apparently, her dad completely rejected her and almost categorically refused to touch her or be affectionate in a fatherly manner.
As sad as this is—and it is sad—can you imagine that she might have a bone to pick in her writings? In all likelihood, she combined ideology, venting/ranting, and her utter disdain for the traditional family in each book. She was, in fact, a bitter woman, which means that her books were not going to be balanced. In fact, as we shall see later, much of the feminist “research” qualifies at best as “junk science” and at worst as…well, you know.
Another matriarch of feminism is Gloria Steinem. In all of her earlier photographs it looked like she had swiped Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider sunglasses. But we would be wise to realize that Steinem, like many of her “sistas” was the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. What we didn’t realize at first about Steinem was that her “father abandoned the family, and she was left as a young girl to care for her mentally ill mother.” Her dysfunctional childhood eventually led her to conclude that if you get married you become a “non-person.” She is also famous for such quips as “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” As O’Bierne observes, “Thousands of her acolytes adopted the defiant slogan born of misery and abandonment.” True, and I would be willing to wager that some PCA and other evangelical women picked up on this theme directly or indirectly, not to mention the evangelical women who took courses in feminism in university. In 2000, at age sixty-six Steinem married an anti-apartheid activist in a Cherokee ceremony. “Him plenty hen-pecked, kemosabe.” By the way, the reason the Lone Ranger finally shot Tonto is because he found out what “kemosabe” really means.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
One of our illustrious Supreme Court judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is a consummate feminist. She explained to the uninitiated, “Differential treatment on the basis of sex was rationalized with a kind of romantic paternalism, which didn’t put women on a pedestal, but in a cage.” She has been indefatigable in her vigilance “to see the elimination of any and all sex differences in the law and culture…” David Wells asks—in a yet to be published article—the following question: “The only question we need to consider is really quite simply: will Christianity engage the culture or will it be engaged by the culture.” In terms of the condition of the modern Church I think the answer is clear and I furthermore believe that quite a bit of our current debates about men and women are more centered on secular ideology than on biblical truth.
Ms. Ensler is best known for her blatantly anti-male play The Vagina Dialogues. Those seeking roles in this grotesque, crass play include Susan Saradon, Melanie Griffith, Glenn Close, and—you guessed it—Jihad Jane have all “eagerly sought roles in the obscene performance.” Ms. Traitor apparently “swooned after she performed in the play.” Yeah, I’ll just bet she did. Who wouldn’t swoon when you’re cast typed as a human sexual organ? According to the geniuses behind and performing in this piece of rubbish believe that the female sex organ was “reduced from power to romance by centuries of male dominance.” Yep. Besides, isn’t far better to go from being a sex object to being a sex organ? You’d certainly think so!
Something to Ponder
In this first installment I simply wanted to bring some pertinent matters to the forefront. I really believe that these data give us something to think about; to ponder. It is more than quite possible that there is not a lot of direct influence among evangelical men and women by these feminists, but there is, no doubt, some indirect influence.
I challenge PCA men to reflect on their roles as biblical men and to do some soul-searching to see if there are not areas where we can improve and be more biblical men, husbands, and fathers—not to mention biblical role models for our covenant children in the local congregation.At the same time, I want to challenge women to perform an inventory of their “presuppositions” in the ongoing discussion and ask yourself if your views are derived from Scripture, from a combination of a little Scripture and a little of the world, or from the world.
 My position is clearly defined in: John Piper & Wayne Grudem (eds.), Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991); J. Ligon Duncan & Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006); Rebecca Jones, Does Christianity Squash Women? (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005; as well as the web site on the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (www.cbmw.org).
 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, A New Path to Liberalism? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006).
 R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews, Understanding the ideas that shape society today, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1986), p. 30. Emphasis mine—RG.
 Ibid., 31. Emphasis mine.
 Duncan & Hunt, WMLC, 42. Italics mine.
 Jochem Douma, Responsible Conduct, (Nelson Kloosterman, [trans.]), (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 41.
 Kate O’Bierne, Women Who Make the World Worse, (NY: Sentinel, 2006), p. xxii.
 Ibid., 24, quoting Friedan, Mystique, 346.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., xxii.
 Ibid., xxi.