Gloria (Secular Feminist)
Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)
Moderator: Welcome to the ninth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Gloria will reply to Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism from a secular feminist perspective.
Gloria: Thank you Moderator for this opportunity to present my evaluation of evangelical egalitarianism. I am a secular feminist. I am skeptical about the existence of God or anything like God. On the whole, I don’t think being religious on an individual or a social level supports humanistic values or enhances human life. Indeed, I think religion is a dangerous force. It has on rare occasions been harnessed for good, but for the most part it has not been good for women. This is not the right occasion to make an argument supporting my negative view of religion. I just want the audience to be clear about the position from which I shall evaluate Sarah.
Sarah claims to agree with the feminist principle I stated in my original talk, that is, “It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.” And she seems to agree with the practical program of secular feminism as well, that is, of reforming every practice that falls short of full equality between men and women. Sarah does not make any rational arguments for the feminist principle and program. She seems to accept as them as self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person. But then she supplements and supports the feminist principle and program with arguments from the Bible. Why drag the Bible in to support something that is self-evident on the basis of reason and experience? I find this move unnecessary and actually detrimental to the cause of feminism for several reasons I shall explain below.
(1) The Bible itself is an object of disagreement and controversy. If the principle and the program of feminism are self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person, why attempt to support them with arguments from a source that is not universally held to be authoritative? Sarah claims that the Bible gives evangelical feminism moral truth that is not available from reason and experience. As examples of these new truths she mentions two ideas, that human beings are created in God’s image and that they will be raised from the dead to eternal life. It’s true that the Bible makes these claims, but they seem to secular feminists unlikely and unknowable. Only someone who accepts the Bible as a divine revelation can take these arguments seriously. What a leap of faith that is! It’s not only redundant but introduces unnecessary ambiguity. It takes the focus off the self-evidence of the moral principle of feminism and places it on the complicated and doubtful process of exegesis and interpretation of the Bible. Sarah’s appeal to the Bible actually weakens the case for women’s equality! It makes it seem dependent on the improbable theory of divine inspiration.
(2) The Bible doesn’t really teach feminism. When we secular feminists read the Bible we don’t hear a message of equality. We hear a message of male privilege and superiority. The Bible is obviously male centered. I actually think Abraham is more realistic and honest about what the Bible actually says than Sarah is. Sarah attempts to reinterpret the anti-woman texts in ways that subordinate them to the (few) texts that affirm women in some way. But such interpretative maneuvers seem artificial, complicated and sophistical. They are unconvincing and give the impression of arising from wishful thinking. Sarah forces the texts to say what she already knows to be true on some other basis. Hence working so hard to reinterpret the Bible in a feminist direction turns out to be as implausible as it is unnecessary. So what if the Bible teaches male superiority! Even if it were possible, it’s not worth the trouble to retrieve the Bible for feminism. Let it go, Sarah.
(3) Using the Bible to support feminism gives the appearance of cynicism. Now I don’t wish to question the religious sincerity or conscious motives of all evangelical egalitarians, but I admit that I am somewhat suspicious of their strategy. Why strain so hard to make the Bible into a feminist text? Is it merely because so many people hold it in such high esteem? Is it that Bible believers will never accept feminism unless they can be made to think the Bible supports it…even if it doesn’t? Or, is evangelical egalitarianism merely a cynical strategy with a purely pragmatic goal? Well, for my part I am fine with that as an interim strategy. Whatever it takes! But in the long run people will have to make a choice between the Bible and egalitarianism. They are not compatible.
(4) Evangelical egalitarianism accepts many moral teachings that are incompatible with the feminist principle and program. Sarah claims to accept the feminist principle. But her view of the Bible forces her to argue that some things ought to be forbidden simply because the Bible teaches that they are immoral. Evangelicals hold that non-marital sexual relationships, abortion, homosexual relationships, divorce, gay marriage, and gender fluidity are immoral and ought to be forbidden. Many of these moral rules target women and prevent them from exercising moral autonomy to the same degree as men. Again, we see how anti-progressive the Bible is.
Secular feminism is a much more efficient route to gender equality than evangelical egalitarianism. It doesn’t need to apologize for the Bible’s retrograde teachings or spend its energy attempting to make the Bible say something it plainly doesn’t say.
Moderator: Thank you Gloria for this succinct statement critiquing evangelical feminism. Next time we will hear Abraham’s take on Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism.