Christian Feminism? (IV)
On February 24th, my wife, Sally, and I hosted the Elders and their wives in our home for an evening. It was a wonderful evening filled with the noise of many people talking at once, of boisterous laughter, good wine and cheese, and equally good desserts. The crowning point in the evening, however, was when we all moved to our living room and prayed together.
Our congregation had just elected three Elders that had never served at Grace before and I took a few moments to relate something of the nature of the gravity of the calling as well as the need for confidentiality. After my words, we bowed our heads in prayer and my soul was seared by the prayers that the Elder’s wives prayed for our congregation and for the Session as well as the prayers that the men prayed for such godly wives as well as the other godly women the Lord has sent to us. It was a moving experience, but it also pointed me back to the truth of how being a complementarian is far better than being in a situation where there’s hostility between the sexes or a vying for the 51st percentile of power.
After our prayer time everyone stayed and helped clean up and put the furniture back in place. I tell you this for a number of reasons. First, it is an expression of thankfulness to the Lord that our congregation has been blessed both with biblically qualified Elders, but also that their wives are such women of God. Their godliness transcends vocation. Among those women, a number are or were lawyers, entrepreneurs, bankers, free lance writers, or stay-at-home moms. And yet, their prayers were not about themselves but about others.
Second, I still haven’t had any responses to my request from individuals or churches to send me concrete examples of how men are squashing or abusing PCA women. Until I do, I’m going to believe that the problem does not exist in the magnitude often cited and that this is, in part, a perceived problem either from college/university and seminary students, PCA church planters, who are either afraid of stating what the PCA holds vis-à-vis the roles of women in the local congregation or who refuse to teach what they know is true, and some professors. Those of us who live in the real world of the “crucible of the congregation” are simply not running into anything like what is being described in some publications.
Third, I believe that a case can be made of how a relatively large number of theological students and other women were profoundly—yet surreptitiously—indoctrinated either during their college or seminary days. In fact, some still are being indoctrinated.
Those Pesky Late 1960s and Early 1970s
Ann Douglas (The Feminization of American Culture) that as early as the Second Great Awakening in our country that the Church became “feminized.” That is to say, it lost “a toughness, a sternness, an intellectual rigor which our society then and since has been accustomed to identify with ‘masculinity,’ and instead took on ‘feminine’ traits of care, nurturing, sentimentalism, and retreat from the harsh, competitive ethos of the public arena” (p. 18). Nancy Pearcey (Total Truth) echoes this sentiment and reminds us that during this same time frame “the American church largely acquiesced in the redefinition of masculinity.” She continues, “After centuries of teaching that husbands and fathers were divinely called to the office of household headship, the church began to pitch its appeal primarily to women. Churchmen began to speak of women as having a special gift for religion and morality” (p. 334).
This forms the backdrop for the modern Church. These notions and redefinitions lay dormant for over a century while cultural events wound their way to a more robust, full-orbed expression of what was only a “seed” during the SGA. What initially came to us under the banner of “Women’s Liberation” morphed into the rise of Feminism with its strong emphasis on “consciousness raising” (remember that?), which was a powerful form of women-centered analysis of life and culture, to a women-centered analysis of theology. During the 1960s and 1970s we witnessed a spate of courses being offered in “black studies” with its theological counterpart in “black theology” that were paralleled by “women’s studies” and “feminist theology.”
I find it very interesting to attempt to trace the origin of a number of the cultural terms that become popular, prevalent, and dominant. For example, the phrase “political correctness” is derived from Marxism. The concept of “consciousness raising” is not a home-grown American idea, but can be found as a political technique “used in the late 1940s by the revolutionary army of Mao Tse-tung in its invasion of North China.” One of Mao’s dicta was “Speak bitterness to recall bitterness. Speak pain to recall pain.” The tact that Mao employed to assist the purging to the North Chinese villages of Japanese control was to gather the townspeople “in the town squares to recite the crimes their men had committed against them. The women were encouraged to ‘speak bitterness and pain.’”
In America, early feminists made use of this principle as a form of “psychological warfare” or rather, what they called “reconceptualization.” In general, this took the form of informal small group meetings that were meant to be “discussion groups.” The insidious nature of these meetings was, however, that the group “leader” was a trained, jack-booted, walking in lock step feminist. The participants were ignorant and like sheep being led to the slaughter were slowly, gradually indoctrinated in the edicts taught by the feminist agenda. What transpired on those sessions is described by Maren Carden this way: The participants would “exchange accounts of personal experiences, identified shared problems, and interpret these problems in terms of the movement’s ideology. Having examined all aspects of their lives from this new perspective, they eventually reconceptualize their thinking and accept that perspective as the correct way to interpret women’s experience.” It is safe to say that this procedure relied quite heavily “on emotional group dynamics and pressure, which was most instrumental in convincing women that the feminist perspective was ‘the correct way to interpret women’s experience.’” It is also safe to say that many of the participants in these groups then went out and disseminated what they had “learned” to neighbors, friends, and family.
The upshot of the consciousness raising groups is that feminists encouraged a woman “to change her behavior patterns, to make new demands in her interpersonal relationships, to insist on her own rights, to convince other women of their oppressed status, and to support the women’s movement, thereby consummating her new awareness with personal and political action.”
It would be a very naïve person who thinks that this type of indoctrination was limited to secular society. It wasn’t. There were also Christian women who became both involved in and influenced by these groups. It is more than coincidental that while this was transpiring in the secular realm in the late 1960s and early 1970s something similar was occurring in the Church and in some seminaries. In 1970 the Guide to Current Female Studies chronicled about one hundred courses on American college and university campuses (or campi. Whatever.) that would qualify as “women’s studies.” By 1971 the number had exploded to six hundred; by the late 1970s the number was approximately 30,000—and these courses were offered on all college campuses except for nine states. At the tail end of the 1970s it was possible to receive a B.A. (it should have been a B.S.), Masters, or Ph.D. in women’s studies.
But the “SS” was not content to go after only higher education. Organizations such as the “National Women’s Studies Association led to the introduction of feminist theories into all areas of education. Educators modified grade-school curricula, continuing education course, and courses in technical schools. Eventually the values and beliefs of feminism were found in newspapers, periodicals, newscasts and television programming. By the end of the 1970s, it was difficult to find any medium of communication not influenced by this trend.” In other words, the indoctrination was pretty much a fiat accompli.
Feminist Gloria Bowles (Theories of Women’s Studies) opined in words that are easily recognizable from the Emergent Church Movement and postmodernism that “…everything I know is open to challenge, there are no absolutes, meaning is socially constructed…. Accepting the arbitrary nature of everything has necessitated a reconceptualization of right and wrong” (p. 28).
Here we are able to discern the confluence of two powerful structures: the media and philosophy. While it is patently true that not every woman in America was equally influenced by these forces it would be more than naïve to believe that everyone escaped from this propaganda deluge unscathed. Without a doubt many were touched in a negative manner by some of the major feminist tenets.
Running parallel to this secular phenomenon was an ecclesiastical counterpart. While Helen Reddy received a Grammy Award in 1972 for her song, “I Am Strong, I Am Invincible, I Am Woman” Betty Friedan was busy out predicting that the great debate of 1972 would be: “Is God He?” She was right. As the turmoil of the Vietnam War reached a fever pitch and people began an exodus from mainline churches, pastors began to speculate how to do damage control by keeping the sheep they had and, simultaneously, how to bring the disenchanted and disenfranchised back into the Church. A leading figure in this attempt was Bill Hybels, who in 1974 was a youth pastor who patterned his ministry on “loud cutting-edge Christian music, the gritty realism of dramatic skits, and the use of multimedia…wrapped around Bible studies delivered without Christian jargon on topics young people could relate to.”
Combine this with the popularity of female Roman Catholic Mary Daly, who averred that “To exist humanly is to name the self, the world, and God” and we can begin to gain some insight into how we got to where we are today. People such as Casey Miller and Kate Swift jumped on the bandwagon with Daly and all of them imported a buzz-word employed by their secularist counterparts: patriarchal. Miller and Swift argued: “Since the major Western religions all originated in patriarchal societies and continue to defend a patriarchal worldview, the metaphors used to express their insights are by tradition and habit overwhelmingly male-oriented.”The evangelical Church was ill-equipped—with notable exception—to deal with such an onslaught. For years evangelicals had prided themselves on being anti-intellectual in spite of people like Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, Ed Carnell, and other Neo-evangelicals. Everything was in place for feminism to enter Christ’s Church—and it did. More on this, Lord willing, in our next installment.
 Mary Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1992), p. 61.
 Maren Carden, The New Feminist Movement, (NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 1974), p. 33. Emphasis mine.
 Kassian, TFG, 65.
 Ibid., 120-121.
 D.G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 167.
 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Towards a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), p. 8.
 Casey Miller & Kate Swift, Words and Women—New Language in New Times, (NY: Anchor Books, 1976), p. 64. Italics mine.