Saturday, May 8, 2010

Evangelical Feminism and Christianity

Feminism and Christianity, some would argue go hand in hand. On the other hand, others would contend that the two are like trying to mix oil and water. Proponents would suggest that the feminist movement is about freedom from oppression and so too is Christianity. Opponents of the feminist movement would argue that feminism is a radical manifestation of female autonomy and as such is just one more act of idolatry. Both camps have very distinct methods by which they arrive at an understanding of what Scripture teaches on the subject. In fact, both employ, to one degree or another, the use of Scripture as support for the truthfulness of their view.

This article will treat the issues related to the distinctions of feminist hermeneutics and how this movement approaches the text of Scripture. Moreover, because of significant cultural intrusions into the Christian community, it is necessary to explore ways that we inadvertently and unwittingly embrace feminist theologies.

Feminist philosophy attempts to correct the problem of patriarchy and male oppression. Patriarchy is a form of social organization that places the father or the eldest male at the head of the family structure. It should be understood that most feminists consider patriarchy not just potentially oppressive to women, but ipso facto oppressive to women. Moreover, it should also be understood that a feminist is not necessarily a woman. It is anyone who adheres to the tenets of the feminist philosophy. In addition, feminists do not see themselves as wholesale rejecting the teachings of Scripture. They understand Scripture to teach a distinctly feminist theology. They are feminists because they understand that feminist philosophy best reflects the character of God. The only time Scripture departs from a feminist perspective is when the cultural biases of the men who pinned the words in that particular text emerge. Feminists like to have their cake and eat it too. Ann Loades comments
“Feminist interpretation is here understood as presupposing that the Bible is still read and heard and preached as an authoritative text in communities of belief and worship.”
It should be noted here that ‘authoritative’ does not necessarily mean authoritative in the sense of the traditional orthodox understanding of authoritative. Here is means that by using reason, imagination, historical insight, reflection on human experience and whatever other resources we can muster, the Bible somehow mediates to us a God who enables human beings to be most fully themselves. And therein lays the key to a feminist understanding of Scripture. God desires that women are enabled to be most fully themselves. It is difficult, in my opinion, to understand how a definition could be more porous than this one.

Feminism has certainly infected every area of philosophy, theology, society and politics in Western culture. Politically, women are encouraged by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir to try and improve their social and political position. Kate Millet argues that patriarchy is evident in every aspect of society. As such, women are not treated justly. Notice that patriarchy does not lead to unjust treatment of women, but rather it is unjust treatment of women. One feminist argues that “God’s original intention for women and men is that in work and in marriage they share tasks and share authority.” Gilbert Bileziken claims “that it would be natural to expect some indication of male authority in Genesis 1 if any existed, since Genesis 1 is a text that is permeated with the concept of hierarchical organization.” This is the classic case of looking for something implanted in the text merely on the grounds that the text itself seems to be attacking a favorite view. Since the text contradicts my understanding, it cannot be teaching what it appears to be teaching and therefore there must be an explanation that avoids contradiction and offense.

Even in the area of ethics feminism adopts a different emphasis. Carol Gilligan, in her book, “In a Different Voice,” writes, “When understood from a feminine perspective, ethics are grounded in the maintenance of interpersonal relationships. The feminist view of ethics emphasizes personal moral responsibility.”

In addition to this, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza asserts that “women have special insight into truth and knowledge. Consequently, only women can interpret the Bible properly.” To those of us in a conservative church, having been immersed in a conservative tradition, these comments seem very eccentric. However, these views are migrating, more and more, into the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism. As genuine participants in the Christian community, we are obligated to recognize these shifts within our own ranks and as such, respond to counter all ungodly views and practices that threaten the believing community. Every predication that threatens truth is a threat to the faith community. Hence, not only does such a response require an understanding of the issues at hand, but it also requires a great deal of courage. We all just want to get along. However, in the Christian community, getting along requires the practice of purging the community of error and evil that often tends to move stealthily into its ranks. Thus that work is hard; it is dirty; and most often, it is unpleasant. We have been conditioned to avoid anything that is hard and unpleasant. So how do we proceed to purge ourselves of these ungodly cultural tendencies? First we must understand our roles and what they imply. Second, we must understand our value to our heavenly Father and each other. Next, we must know where to look for these attitudes in ourselves. Finally, we must be able to spot these attitudes in our neighbors and act accordingly. The rest of this article will deal with these four areas.

What do I mean by understanding our roles and the implication of those roles? In the beginning, God created man, male and female. He later reflected on that creation and said that it was very good. I cannot image a holy, perfect, loving Father, like God, being so satisfied with something, that He called it very good. When God created man and woman in the garden, he did so for his own glory. We came into existence by God, for God. We are here because he wanted us here. God is never does anything in a capricious or arbitrary style. He had a very specific purpose in mind for man and woman when he created them. We are to understand that purpose and respond to it positively. Man is created to serve and glorify God by being his authoritative leader. Woman is created to serve and glorify God through willful, gracious submission to the authority and leadership of the man. Paul instructed Timothy that he did not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over man, but to remain quiet because Adam was created first, and then Eve (I Tim. 2:12-13). By referencing our first parents, Paul is pointing to an axiomatic universal structure. Man leads and is in the position of authority and the woman is to submit to that leadership.

What is our value to the Father and to one another? Being redeemed by the blood of Christ places great value on our worth in the eyes of our heavenly Father. However, it is only through Christ that this value comes. Outside of him, we are useless God-hating sinners worthy of death. Hebrews 12:5 says God only disciplines those He loves. God cares for our true well-being, as biblically defined. Since we are valued by God, we should also value one another. A husband values his wife by serving her, protecting her, keeping her home functioning, providing for her, making her feel secure in life’s basic needs. Neglect in these areas sends a woman the signal that you do not value her. A woman values her husband by honoring him, respecting him, and submitting to his leadership. If she challenges everything he does, she sends him the signal that she does not value him.

Where do feminist attitudes most appear? The feminist attitude in conservative churches appears in women that reject the biblical teaching on the roles of men and women ipso facto. A woman may freely criticize her pastor and reject his leadership. One should not understand this as simply differing with the pastor on something he preached from the pulpit. That happens from time and time and that alone is not refusal to submit to male leadership. However, going to the pastor and calling him on the carpet is another matter entirely. That is not her place. That is unequivocally contradictory to Paul’s command in I Tim. 2:12-13 and 1 Cor. 14:35. Women who reject this view of Scripture use all kinds of excuses for why they do so. Some women can be heard grumbling that those men, ‘the elders,’ are not God. They are just a bunch of fallen sinners the same as the rest of us. This is also asserted about the pastor and the husband. Some women think they only have to submit to their husband if he is meeting their personal standards of excellence. In other words, a husband has to earn their submission. While it is unquestionably true that a husband has clear mandates from God about loving and serving his wife, Scripture never places conditions on female submission to the male. These are just a few examples of how feminist philosophy appears in the Christian community. By trusting her husband, her pastor, and her elders to carry out their God-ordained roles, a woman honors God and submits to Him. By rejecting male leadership, a woman also rejects God. You cannot reject God’s word without rejecting God (Jn. 8:47)!

How do we when we see feminist philosophy in the faith community? We address it directly and without hesitation. It is a scandalous sin for a woman to put off the leadership of man. This is God’s ordained structure from the very foundation of creation. He created man and woman with specific roles that are equally designed to honor, serve, worship and glorify him. When feminist theology and philosophy infects our thinking to the point that we begin rejecting the sanctified order of God, it is time for repentance in humility and fear. We are to submit to each other and hold one another accountable to live godly lifestyles. When we see others within the Christian community wavering on the feminist issues, we have no choice but to speak with them in love, pulling them out of the flames of error.

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