Christian Feminism? (II)
I am arguing that it is both wrong and spiritually harmful for modern Christians to speak about “Christian Feminism” or being “Biblical Feminists.” As we progress I hope to make it abundantly clear why I’m taking the stance that I am. To gainsay these well-accepted mantras is tantamount to touching one of modern evangelicalism’s “sacred cows,” but it needs to be said and repeated. Fortunately, there are a number of conservative Christians who have not bowed the knee to this “Baal,” and we can all be thankful for their untiring efforts for the Church.
A couple of disclaimers are in order. First, I’m not saying that any and all who hold to Christian Feminism are not Christians. I do believe, however, that they are misguided and that their exegesis of the pertinent texts is not only inaccurate, but, more importantly, is often filled—consciously or unconsciously—by some of the major tenets of secular Feminism.
Second, no one is denying that abuses have and still do occur. In the history of the Church, up to and including our time, some men have misused or abused their God-ordained positions. Such is the nature of sin. Just to level the playing field a little I would hasten to add that some women also have abused their position and have demanded their “rights” based on the implicit or explicit influence of secular Feminism in their lives. Both are wrong; both are unbiblical. I am condoning neither of these practices.
As we progress, I will use examples of how men have misused their authority and abdicated their positions as male leaders in the home and in their local congregations. I will also point out that some of the tactics that women have used to seek to change a perceived “patriarchy” in the Church were fueled by secularism more than by the Bible. As we begin this installment, I would like for us to concentrate on two key isms that are the foundational pillars of Feminism: Existentialism and Marxism.
One of the early leaders of modern Feminism was the mistress (read: fornicator) of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone deBeauvoir. Her groundbreaking volumes The Second Sex (Le Deuxieme Sexe) appeared in French at the end of the 1940s and the translated editions arrived on American shores in 1953. DeBeauvoir’s many theses lay dormant until the United States rushed into the mania and irrationality of “Hippie Movement” and the anti-war sentiments surrounding U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
DeBeauvoir was a “smart cookie.” She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, where she met Sartre. (In one sense, she wasn’t all that smart, because if she were, she would not have become an unpaid prostitute, but of such stuff intelligentsia can be susceptible.) Their relationship was somewhat tempestuous, but their common ground was not merely philosophy but a particular brand of philosophy: existentialism. Perhaps Sartre summarized existentialism best when he reminded us that man is a useless passion. He worked that thesis out in many of his works and plays, but probably most completely in his book Being and Nothingness. One can only wonder why it took him 798 pages to explain his point! Existence, then, for Sartre—and deBeauvoir—is concrete, individual being here and now. Moreover, existence always possesses a subjective quality when applied to human reality.
R.C. Sproul explains existentialism this way: “In its most basic definition existentialism is a philosophy about human existence. It views man not so much in terms of his mind or his soul, but of his will, his feelings.” The paradigm shift brought to the life of 20th century man/woman by existentialism was a re-emphasis on feelings—in the first place. Again Sproul writes, “The accent has changed from thinking to feeling. Feelings have become the new standard of human ‘truth.’ Even our ethics are decided by the litmus test of passion.”
Granted, not everyone is going to slug or plough through Being and Nothingness Sartre had to come up with a way to get his thoughts to the popular culture. What made Sartre’s philosophy so palatable were his plays—the medium is the message. By means of this popular medium, Sartre could “spoon feed” an otherwise unknowing audience his philosophical ideas. After all, it’s just a play; it’s just entertainment. When the Baby Boomers who did not fry their brains on drugs during the 1960s and early 1970s reflect a little they’ll recall that one of the mottos that was heard everywhere was Sartre’s philosophy: If it feels good, do it!”
A major tenet of existentialism is therefore, “the individual is entirely free, and must therefore accept commitment and full responsibility for his acts and decisions in an uncertain and purposeless world.” But clearly there was a great deal more that deBeauvoir wanted to get across in her philosophy and worldview. Women needed to organize (get organized) and declare war on women being “the second sex.” How was this to be achieved? According to deBeauvoir a twofold plan of attack was necessary: First, to dismantle the notion of male superiority and second by refusing to succumb to the traditional roles that had been handed down to women.
Those traditional roles of wife, mother, and sweetheart were a prison for women rather than their liberation. Her solution was that what truly favors a woman’s liberation is comprised of “all forms of socialism” and “wresting woman away from the family.” What I just quoted needs our undivided attention. DeBeauvoir opted for a world in which the State “assumed responsibility for the maternal functions that burdened women and restricted their participation in the work force.” It is clearly evident that our modern society has echoed deBeauvoir’s words and has made good inroads in their implementation. Universal day care is a political bone of contention and by many is considered a “right.” A number of social engineers have created a mindset that there is nothing wrong and everything right with dropping your kid off at a State-controlled day care center while both parents merrily go off to work.
If you want to hear something chilling, listen to deBeauvoir’s words written in the late 1940s and ask yourself how they fit into our contemporary culture. She wrote, “A world where men and women would be equal is easy to visualize, for that precisely is what the Soviet Revolution promised: women raised and trained exactly like men were to work under the same conditions and for the same wages…maternity was to be voluntary, which meant that contraception and abortion be authorized and that, on the other hand, all mothers and their children were to have exactly the same rights, in or out of marriage; pregnancy leaves paid for by the state, which would assume charge of the children…” Eerie, eerie, eerie.
Mary Kassian says it so well: “DeBeauvoir viewed departure from the role of wife and mother and the establishment of economic and professional independence as the key to women’s equality with men. Her model was socialist. It demanded the revolt of the ‘bourgeoisie’ of women and encouraged state-regulated laws to overcome social mores and patterns of behavior.”  Even in some Christian circles today “professional” women, i.e., career-oriented women in the “work force” tend to get more kudos and are, by some, deemed more valuable than the “stay-at-home-mom.”
In 1971 the Roman Catholic theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez, wrote Teología de la liberación, Perspectivas. Gutiérrez desired to have the world re-think the relationship between theology and liberation. He traced the process from the critique of developmentalism to social revolution and included a section of material on man, the master of his own destiny. Gutiérrez concluded that liberation “expresses the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes, emphasizing the conflictual aspect of the economic, social, and political process which puts them at odds with wealthy nations and oppressive classes.” It does not take a rocket scientist to observe the Marxist leanings in Gutiérrez’s comments. He continues, “At a deeper level, liberation can be applied to an understanding of history. Man is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for his own destiny. This understanding provides a dynamic context and broadens the horizons of the desired social changes.”
It wasn’t long before Letty Russell (Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective: A theology ) and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power, ) took Gutiérrez’s concepts and tailored them to what at one time was called women’s liberation. A parallel was drawn between the plight of the Third World countries, especially the Latin American people, and the condition of women. It was a ridiculous parallel, but as we shall see, Feminism became the queen of the non sequitur. Kassian remarks that “Feminist scholars claimed the domination of women by men was ‘the most ancient and persistent form of the subjection of one human being to a permanent status of inferiority because of sex.’” These feminist scholars firmly believed, therefore, that sex discrimination was the root cause of all other forms of oppression. Even though the early feminist scholars borrowed rather heavily from Gutiérrez, they also modified his thinking in the sense that liberation meant so much more than “mere social and political change.”
Just to give you an idea of how far off these scholars were they actually believed that the liberation of women “would induce the end of poverty, racial discrimination, ecological destruction, and war.” It’s hard to imagine how burning your bra would be such a social panacea. At the same time, more than three decades down the road, with all the freedoms women now have, we’re still stuck with global warming (although in their day the main concern was global freezing. I’m not kidding. You can look it up.) unless you live in Chicago or Minnesota where the temperatures continue to plummet to thirty below zero!
Their arrogance is second only to their ideology. They were prepared to make these extravagant predictions if they helped the cause and if people were willing to embrace their outlandish, non-scientific claims. Apparently, a representative number of Americans were. It’s quite likely that the man or woman on the street has never even heard the names of Letty Russell or Rosemary Radford Ruether—probably a number of theologians have never heard of them either—but they certainly helped shape what has come to us at the front end of the twenty-first century in the name of Christian Feminism. They planted the seeds, helped sow the discord, and succeeded in pitting the sexes against each other. The late Francis Schaeffer once observed that whatever was happening in secular society would be within the walls of the Church in approximately seven years. He was correct.
The early feminist theologians borrowed from Gustavo Gutiérrez and modified his dualism between the wealthy and the poor and transposed it into a male-female one. In 1974, “a group of Biblical feminists founded the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC).” Around the same time (mid-1970s) the National Council of Churches U.S.A. established a task force on sexism in the Bible. As you can see, a number of forces and movements were beginning to converge—secular and ecclesiastical—that would lend themselves to a parallel growing disenchantment among women both in society as well as in the Church. New female scholars appeared on the scene such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Mary Daly.
As “consciousness raising” became vogue in secularism so did a movement within Christendom to eliminate “sexist” language from the Bible. If the 1950s were guilty of seeing a “commie” behind every tree, the 1970s were guilty of finding sexist language at every turn. Letty Russell opined, “The type of Biblical and theological language used in church services of worship, discussion groups, educational institutions, and publications still tends to exclude women from the Christian community. More and more, women are becoming conscious of their social exclusion reflected in that language and are resisting these subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination.”
Clearly, that was then and this is now, but with only slight modifications being made, the same mantras that were chanted along with Jefferson Airplane in the halcyon days of flower power are making a comeback. After having lived through and gone through the questions and debates in the 1970s it appears that the same or very similar questions are being put again. Ironically, some of the unrest is coming from PCA quarters. To hear some people discuss it, there have been few, if any, changes made in the PCA or in the attitudes of men since the time of those initial discussions.
As I stated at the outset, there is no doubt in my mind that some men—some PCA men—have abused their God-ordained spiritual leadership/headship. Some have not led their wives and families spiritually, have neglected their spiritual duties, and will answer to God for that neglect. At the same time, I find it very hard to believe that it is as bad as some people make it out to be. I’m not a person who puts his head in the sand and pretends the problem is not there. My major concern is that after twenty-five years plus of pastoral ministry I have not seen instances of what I keep hearing is going on.
That is to say, are we looking at an exception or the rule when we are confronted with these transgressions? If the tables were turned—and we need to confess that sometimes they are—would we be having this same discussion? For example, if we knew that PCA wives were verbally or physically abusing their husbands, would the cry be as loud and would we be as concerned? There is, contrary to popular opinion and conventional wisdom, adequate data to show that women do, indeed, engage in and, at time, initiate family violence. Kate O’Beirne writes, “According to a recent Department of Justice study, 27 percent of victims of family violence between 1998 and 2002 were men.” Or perhaps we should change our strategy and go after PCA single-parent households, since “The rate of child abuse in single-parent households is nearly twice the rate of child abuse in two-parent families.”
Thankfully, no one would consider doing any such thing, although we would be and should be attuned to the possibly of husbands and fathers neglecting their spiritual duties, wives refusing to submit, and children showing up at church with black eyes and bruises. So where is/are the origin(s) of the complaints that PCA women are being mistreated, neglected, and underused? Is this coming from established PCA churches? Is the origin colleges, universities, and seminaries? Are church planters running up against women who are disgruntled? The short answer is undoubtedly: all of the above. Nevertheless, we should be circumspect about what information we’re receiving, where that information is coming from, and the percentage of people we’re actually dealing with in the accusations.
A few easy examples will suffice. What is the precise content of the information we’re receiving about women in the PCA being mistreated or ignored? To my knowledge, no one has put together a comprehensive study that clearly and precisely delineates what the “problems” actually are. In addition, we desperately need to pinpoint where the information is coming from. Is the origin the theoretical discussions of college—PCA college or otherwise—and seminary students? Are any of the accusations grounded in reality or are we dealing primarily with theory? Are church planters dealing with a number of women who are coming out of secularism and are filled to overflowing with secular notions of what women should and should not be able to do? Are these people well versed in Scripture or are the opinions coming more from the world than from the Bible? This needs to be determined because we need to know as accurately as possible what we’re dealing with. And even though this is directed to the PCA, it also has clear implications and applications for the Church of Jesus Christ in general. I don’t want the “reporting” of what is considered to be a problem being done from the “green zone” of the PCA.
In Iraq a bunch of “perfume prince” reporters, firmly ensconced behind their state of the art laptops, wearing their Blackberries are reporting on the progress—or lack thereof—of the Iraqi War. It is an established fact that a number of those “reporters” are biased against the war and use such “buzz words” as “quagmire” on a regular basis to describe what’s happening in Iraq. Cal Thomas wrote an interesting piece on Real Clear Politics (2.13.07) that was part of an email exchange with Army Sergeant Daniel Dobson, age 22, serving his second tour in Iraq. His words run counter to what the mainstream media would have us believe. Sgt. Dobson writes, “It is our overwhelming opinion that we have not been allowed to conduct the war to the fullest of our capability; neither do we feel that we should pull out because of lack of ‘results.’ War is not a chemistry set with predetermined outcomes or complications. With a great army matched with an equally cunning enemy, we find ourselves in a difficult, but winnable fight. We do not seek results; rather, we seek total and unequivocal victory.” There is an obvious variance between what the “green zone” reporters are telling us and the information we’re getting from the “boot on the ground.”
My point here is this: there are a number of spiritual “boots on the ground” in the PCA called pastors. I’d very much like to hear from them—and others—about real, documented episodes of mistreatment of our sisters in the Lord. I do not, however, want to hear unsubstantiated claims of perceived neglect/abuse from those who are not “boots on the ground.” I will listen to seminary professors, students, and others, but I’m serving notice that what you say to me must include cold, hard facts, which, according to John Adams, are stubborn things. If we have bona fide problems then let’s get them out on the table and discuss them. If not, let’s stop the carping and sniping.
What also concerns me the most are some of the “exceptions” that I hear some of my colleagues taking when they speak about the use of images in the church or the place of women. I would wager that a majority of pastors in the PCA are as thankful as I am to be surrounded by such talented and gifted women. I talk with women, laugh with them, discuss with them, listen to their innovative ideas, teach them, and preach to them. I’m always looking for ways to use the gifts of women in our congregation, but always within the confines of what Scripture teaches, what our Book of Church Order lays out, and what generally comports with being PCA.Next week we continue, Lord willing, and trace more of the presuppositions of Feminism and make some preliminary forays into the exegesis of Galatians 3:27-28.
 R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews, Understanding the ideas that shape society today, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1986), p. 43. Emphasis mine.
 Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992), p. 17. Italics mine.
 Simone deBeauvoir, The Second Sex, (NY: Random House, 1952), p. 797.
 Ibid., 126.
 Kassian, TFG, 19.
 deBeauvoir, TSS, 806.
 Kassian, TFG, 20. Italics mine.
 Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, History, Politics and Salvation, (Sister Caridad Inda & John Eagleson [trans.]), (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 197310).
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid. Italics mine.
 Kassian, TFG, 54, quoting Russell, p. 29.
 Ibid., 215.
 Ibid., 136.
 For example, in 1976, the National Council of Churches published a book entitled The Liberating Word: A Guide to Nonsexist Interpretation of the Bible with a number of female feminist scholars contributing articles.
 Letty Russell (ed.), The Liberating Word, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), pp. 16-17.
 Kate O’Beirne, Women Who Make the World Worse, (NY: Sentinel, 2006), p. 18.
 Ibid., 15.
 Cal Thomas, “A Letter from Mosul,” http://www.realclearpolitics.com/, (Feb. 13, 2007), p. 1.