Tag Archives: female clergy

“Biology Is Not Destiny”: The Feminist Case Against Male Superiority


Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We are now entering the last phase of our dialogue on the subject of gender relationships in society, church and family. Only two presentations to go. In this our eleventh session, our representative of secular feminism Gloria will respond to Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy. Please welcome Gloria to the podium.

Gloria: Thank you. There are so many things I’d like to address in Abraham’s talk, it’s mood of condescension, it’s male-normative perspective, and it’s exaggeration of female vulnerability. My suspicion is that Abraham’s rational and theological arguments are mere rationalizations of the prejudices I just mentioned. I will let the audience decide. Despite my suspicions, I will limit my assessment of Abraham’s talk to its philosophical aspects.

As I see it Abraham’s case rests on his rational analysis of the natural characteristics of women and men. Men are physically stronger and temperamentally more aggressive than women. Women become pregnant, carry babies and provide them with milk from their bodies. These factors make women vulnerable to male exploitation and dependent on male protection. According to Abraham, these facts of nature will necessarily manifest themselves at the social level and, consequently, they justify the social, ecclesial and familial inequalities present in traditional societies. To be fair, I should point out that Abraham admits that particular arrangements will differ from society to society and from age to age. Nevertheless, it is clear that Abraham denies that these natural inequalities will ever be neutralized completely at the social level. Nor should they be, in his view.

Far be it from me to deny the basic facts of biology. Nor do I deny that biological differences will manifest themselves in society. In a one-on-one, unarmed encounter, men have the advantage over women in a fight to the death. And in primitive, warrior societies where the survival of the tribe depends on its effectiveness in battle, I admit there are good reasons for the traditional division of labor between men and women. And I understand that the warrior class (males only) will also demand to be the tribal leaders. Nor do I dispute the overall reasonableness of this demand, since leadership in that setting is about conducting war or perpetually preparing for it.

Like his hero Aristotle, Abraham recognizes that women and men are equal in native intelligence. I think he would also admit that if human minds did not live in bodies or if they could be transferred to unisex humanoid robots, the differences would be overcome. So far so good, but our agreement ends here. From this point on Abraham’s argument goes terribly wrong. The facts do not warrant the conclusions he draws from them. Though he admits that modern technology has made the physical differences between men and women less significant in the sphere of work and war than in the past, he still seems to think that the superiority of the naked male body for war and work (hard physical labor) creates a moral imperative for society to mirror this relationship of superiority and inferiority in all dimensions. Perhaps his belief that God created nature lies behind his assertion that the order of nature possesses the force of law. Some such metaphysical belief must be at work here.

I begin at a different place and argue for a different result. I argue that equality of intelligence between men and women, which Abraham also accepts, creates a moral imperative for us to strive for equality in all other areas. Biology should not determine ethics. Or, as one of my feminist sisters said, “Biology is not destiny!” Unlike Abraham, I do not believe in divine creation. Evolution creates facts but imposes no moral obligations. Hence I do not believe that the factual biological order possesses any moral force. In sum, Abraham allows biological inequality to blunt the moral force of intellectual equality. I argue that it should be the other way around.

I envision a society where technology eventually makes all—or nearly all—work depend on knowledge rather than muscle, thought instead of testosterone, and where law roots out all irrational bias against female knowledge workers. As to areas of work where muscle still determines productivity, I believe society should not allow profit to be the sole determining factor for allocating social goods. The moral imperative of intellectual and moral equality should rule out of court any bias against women in hiring for such labor intensive jobs.

Concerning Abraham’s contention that women continue to need male protection, it should be pointed out that everyone, men as well as women, need police protection against violent criminals, male or female. Men murder other men more often than men murder women. Society as a collective is neither male nor female, and it is stronger than any one man or gang of men. Society has replaced big brothers and fathers as the protector of women. Modern family law has replaced the will of father as the law of the household and has outlawed domestic violence, marital rape and other abuses of women.

In response to Abraham’s theological arguments, I have little to add to my case against Sarah’s theological use of the Bible. In response to Sarah, I argued that the Bible cannot be made to support feminism; such support would be redundant in any case. Feminism doesn’t need any help from religion. Indeed Abraham represents the Bible more accurately than Sarah does. Sarah is grasping at straws. Abraham is correct to argue that the Bible supports patriarchy rather than equalitarianism. But I am not moved by either argument, for the Bible holds no authority for me. The arguments between Sarah and Abraham about biblical interpretation seem to me much ado about nothing.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria. I appreciate your contribution to this dialogue. It was invaluable.

Note: The twelfth and last part of this series will be posted on Tuesday, January 24. Sarah will present her response to Abraham.

Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?


Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)


Moderator: Welcome to the seventh session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will continue his critique of secular feminism. He will now address those points of criticism on which Sarah and Gloria agree but with which he disagrees.

Abraham: I have been eager to get to those points! I think you’ll find my comments surprising and illuminating…and maybe a little annoying. And since I am a fictional character, I shall speak with unusual candidness and without fear of retribution. I will organize my comments around Sarah’s three points of agreement, just to show you what happens when you agree too readily with secular feminism!

(1) Gloria articulates her basic principle in these words:

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.

Sarah can’t see anything wrong with this principle, and I would hazard a guess that most of our audience when they heard it simply nodded in approval without a critical thought. Clearly, the qualifying phrase “simply because she is a woman” is the determining factor that elicits the chorus of “Amen! Amen!” to this principle. Why does this assertion seem so beyond dispute? Why does no one even think of questioning it? The reason is simple. And Sarah put her finger on it when she asked, “What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” Irrational prejudice! Nobody wants to be accused of that!

When we hear the phrase “simply because she is a woman” we analogize it to such phrases as “simply because of the color of his skin” or “simply because she is blond” or “simply because of the size of her nose” or “simply because of his height” or “simply because of her blindness.” In these examples we contemplate a totally irrelevant factor being made the basis for discrimination among people. Its irrelevant nature is the reason we view it as irrational. It is irrational to make a decision based on something unrelated to the matter in question. We would not think highly of the intelligence or character of a person who made such life-changing decisions as whom to marry or whether or not to undergo cancer treatment by flipping a coin! However, in some situations, even such factors as skin color, blondness, nose size or height or blindness may be rationally related to a decision that must be made. Use your imagination!

Likewise, being a woman may not always be a factor unrelated to the matter at hand. To say that a particular person is a woman asserts something of her much more significant than skin color or height. Designating a person as a woman says that she possesses a set of specific physical and psychological qualities that differentiate her from men in rather dramatic ways. Clearly, the word “simply” in the phrase “simply because she is a woman” is misleading, perhaps intentionally so. There is nothing simple about being a woman! Or a man! And because women as a class possess these differentiating qualities, it may be rational, and therefore moral, in some cases “to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.”

 It may be rational, for example, for society to prohibit women from using the same public bathrooms as men or to play on the same football team as men or to wrestle or box on the men’s Olympic team or to join a college fraternity. My point is not that it is never irrational prejudice that motivates someone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman. Sadly such prejudice exists. My point is that it is not always irrational and prejudiced to do so. Hence societies, churches, and families must deliberate and make decisions about the conditions that make it appropriate to distinguish between the rules for the behavior of men and those for women. These matters cannot be settled in advance by such sweeping rules as the one asserted by Gloria and accepted so unthinking by Sarah.

Moderator: Thank you Abraham. Good evening.

Blog Programming Note: Don’t miss the conclusion of Abraham’s talk. Look for it on Tuesday, January 10. It bears the provocative title, “The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience.” You don’t want to miss it!

Sarah Speaks



Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)


Evangelical Egalitarianism

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.