Gloria (Secular Feminist)
Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)
Moderator: Now that Gloria, our representative of secular feminism, has presented her viewpoint, Sarah will present her understanding of evangelical egalitarianism. Let me remind the audience that we are engaged in a dialogue on the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church, and home, focusing on the decisive and most contested issue in the contemporary discussion, that is, male power and privilege. As moderator, I will not take sides but will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep our speakers from straying from the topic under discussion. Sarah, please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home.
Sarah: Thank you Moderator for arranging this discussion and thank you Gloria for a clear and robust presentation of secular feminism. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put so well. You lay out the most fundamental decision points where your view and mine diverge and overlap. I am sure Abraham agrees with me on this. As I develop my viewpoint, the audience will see that I share many concerns and principles with Gloria. And in many ways our arguments come to the same practical conclusions. But we diverge in some places, and those differences are anticipated by the differing names of our philosophies.
Moderator: Pardon me for interrupting, but it may help our audience if you explain what you mean by “evangelical egalitarianism.” I notice that you do not call yourself an “evangelical feminist.” Why not?
Sarah: Sure. I’d be happy to do that. Who are evangelical egalitarians and what do they assert? I am a woman and an evangelical egalitarian, but you don’t have to be a woman to be an evangelical egalitarian. The word evangelical derives from the Greek word for good news or gospel. In the English-speaking world, especially in the United States, it has come to mean a transdenominational theological model with its own style, core beliefs, and practical program. We believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, crucified for our sins and raised bodily from the dead. We accept the Old and New Testament Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church. But I am also an egalitarian, which many evangelicals are not. Egalitarianism refers to a set of arguments for the equal status (that is, equal in power and privilege) of men and women in society, church, and family. Evangelical egalitarian arguments differ from those of secular feminism in that they are largely biblical and theological, but they arrive at surprisingly similar conclusions.
As to the question of why I do not call myself an “evangelical feminist,” let me say this. Feminists are a very diverse group. Feminism includes egalitarians but also more radical views, some of which argue that women must minimize their association with men if they wish to realize their full potential as women. Egalitarians affirm the equal dignity of men and women and do not reject marriage and family. So, egalitarians are feminists of a certain type. But using that term in our self-description would lead to confusion. Evangelical egalitarianism focuses on the specific project of equalizing the power and privilege of women with that of men in the church and the family.
Moderator: Thank you for that clarification! You’ve got my attention. Tell us now what evangelical egalitarians assert.
Sarah: I don’t think I could improve on Gloria’s first principle, so, with her permission, I shall quote it as expressing my own thoughts.
Gloria: Of course. I am pleased and a bit surprised that you agree with it. In future discussions I shall want to probe just how far you really agree with it.
Sarah: I look forward to that! Gloria and I agree that: “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.” Evangelical egalitarians don’t believe that being born a woman is a good reason for society or the church to make rules against engaging in any activity, holding any office, or performing any function. There are, of course, many things that ought to be forbidden—immoral things, such as murder, lying, and stealing. And the nature of our mental and physical capacities determines what we are able to do. If you cannot carry a tune, you’ll never be an opera star. If you have no capacity for math or logic or creative writing, Harvard won’t honor you with a professorship in these areas, whether you are male or female.
Evangelical egalitarians—and presumably secular feminists also—do not object to the kind of sorting that works itself out because of the diversity of capacities among human beings. But it is a completely different thing for an authority such as the state or the church to forbid a woman to do something she has the skill to do simply for the crime of being born a woman. Being female is not in itself a disability or capacity. So, we condemn such discriminatory prohibitions and call for all rules to apply equally to men and women.
Now I will address the second area, the grounds that justify evangelical egalitarianism. We do not limit our sources of authority to reason and women’s experience as secular feminism does, though we do not reject these sources. They have much to teach. However, we gain access to truth from the Scriptures that is not available from reason and experience. The Scriptures tell us that women and men were created by God in God’s image and that God loves each one of us and wants us to live with him forever. And God demonstrated this love and revealed this purpose by sending Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin and death. Evangelical egalitarians ground the dignity of women and men in the eternal being and will of God, a much more objective, universal, and authoritative ground than reason and experience can provide. Jesus affirmed the dignity of women by accepting women as disciples and treating them with a respect scandalous to his patriarchal culture. And Paul’s words in Galatians 3:26-29 provide evangelical egalitarianism its theme text and interpretative principle by which it measures all other biblical statements about men and women:
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Time does not permit me to document every assertion I am making in this brief statement. Nor can I respond here to every objection I anticipate will be leveled at my viewpoint by Gloria or Abraham. But evangelical egalitarians contend that the principle Paul lays down in Galatians 3:28 declares that the social distinctions that determine the way power and privilege are distributed in the world are invalid for the church. And we believe it obligates the church to renounce its traditional practice of withholding certain offices and functions from women simply because they are women.
Moderator: Sarah, our time is almost up. Before you conclude please share with us a brief overview of the practical implications of evangelical egalitarianism.
Sarah: I think I can do that in short order. Though evangelical egalitarians desire equality for women in all areas of life, as a theological program it focuses on reforming the discriminatory practices of evangelical churches. It contends that decisions about who occupies church offices and performs church functions should be made on the basis of “giftedness” instead of the gender of the gifted person. The Spirit endows women as well as men with wisdom, knowledge, faith, speaking ability, and administrative skill. We call on the church to stop resisting the Spirit’s decisions and depriving itself of the gifts God wants to give the body of Christ through its female members. If a woman has the gift of preaching, let her preach. If she can teach, let her teach. If administration is her gift, call her to that work. Let the Spirit decide who should bless the church and how.
Moderator: Thank you Sarah for that concise presentation. I learned much, and I am sure our audience did as well. Next time, we will hear from Abraham, who represents the neo-patriarchal viewpoint. I am looking forward to that.