Tag Archives: feminism

Three Views on Women in Leadership: A Hyperlinked Index

A reader of this blog requested that I compile an index that organizes and hyperlinks all the posts in my recent series on the debate between secular feminism, evangelical egalitarianism and Christian Neo-Patriarchy. This series ran through December 2016 and January 2017. I am in the process of turning this series into a book with the tentative title Three Views on Women in Leadership. I am considering giving last names to Sarah, Gloria and Abraham. I am open to suggestions. I am also open to suggestions on anything I need to add to the book to make it better.

I changed the order from the way they appeared onthe blog. Now they are ordered so that the responses follow immediately after the presentations. If you wish, you can forward this page to a friend who would like to read them all together in this new order.

 

Gloria Explains and Defends Secular Feminism

Sarah Responds to Gloria

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part one)

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part Two)

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part Three)

Sarah Explains and Defends Evangelical Egalitarianism

Gloria Responds to Sarah

Abraham Responds to Sarah (Part One)

Abraham Explains and Defends Christian Neo-Patriarchy (Part One)

Abraham Explains and Defends Christian Neo-Patriarchy (Part Two)

Gloria Responds to Abraham

Sarah Responds to Abraham

Advertisements

Women and the Bible: An Egalitarian Critiques Patriarchy

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to our twelfth and final talk in our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening evangelical egalitarian Sarah will reply to Abraham the spokesman for neo-patriarchy.

Sarah: Thank you Moderator for your guidance throughout this dialogue, and thank you Gloria and Abraham for your stimulating presentations. From my perspective, among the most interesting and surprising developments in these discussions were those occasions where Gloria and I agreed against Abraham or Abraham and Gloria agreed against me (!) or Abraham and I agreed against Gloria. I didn’t expect these strange alliances to develop. Each person’s presence added something important to the discussion.

And I have to say, I found both my dialogue partners’ thoughts challenging. Gloria challenged me to show more convincingly just how the message of Scripture supports the case for equality in ways reason and experience cannot. Abraham’s creative combination of reason and scripture to support the justice of traditional role differentiation surprised me and made it necessary for me to seek in the future a combination of the two that supports egalitarianism. But my task tonight is to reply to the central argument in Abraham’s first speech.

Sarah Summarizes Abraham’s Argument

As I understand it Abraham’s argument can be summarized as follows: Abraham asserts the infinite worth of each individual, man or woman, and insists that our primary duty to one another is love. He defines love this way:

“To love another is to seek what is best for them individually, given their natural and historical circumstances.”

Hence to love others and do them justice cannot be identified with treating them equally but falls under the rule of seeking “what is best” for each person. Abraham argues further that since men are on average much stronger physically and more aggressive in temperament than women, the rule of love and justice—that is, of “seeking what is best”— demands that men (and society in general) adopt an attitude of protectiveness toward women. In a just order, the rules and roles for women must give them special protections not needed by men. In Abraham’s words,

“Christian neo-patriarchs believe they ought to view women as mothers, wives, sisters or daughters and adopt a loving and protective attitude toward all women. Not a condescending attitude, for we know that women are just as intelligent and wise as men and women possess infinite worth to God.”

Based on this moral vision, Abraham criticizes the egalitarian demand that all social and church offices and roles be open to women and men alike based on giftedness (or ability) rather than on gender. Instead of this meritocratic rule he defends the church’s practice of withholding “ruling” offices and functions from women as consistent with the teaching of Scripture and the demands of love and justice as exemplified by Jesus.

Sarah’s Four-Part Reply

What’s Wrong With Equality?

I shall reply to the four most basic claims made in this argument. (1) In criticizing my emphasis on equality, Abraham asserts that women and men possess infinite worth in God’s eyes. Equality, he says, is a morally suspect idea. Apparently Abraham thinks my argument and practical program of reform depend on the concept of equality. Without it, so he thinks, egalitarianism falls to the ground. In response, I admit that attributing infinite worth to women says something more sublime about women than the equality claim asserts. But if both men and women have “infinite” worth, don’t they also have equal worth? So, how does Abraham’s move defeat my argument? Shouldn’t women still be treated equally even within Abraham’s theoretical framework? How can he justify departing from the rule that equal dignity demands equal treatment?

Abraham replies to the equal-dignity-equal-treatment challenge by defining love and justice as “seeking what is best” for each person given their natural and individual differences. Equal or infinite dignity demands not equal treatment but true love and justice individualized for the needs of each person. It’s hard to find anything wrong with this principle in theory. But here is the problem: who decides “what is best” for men and women collectively or individually? Wouldn’t there be lots of room for stereotypes, misinformation, prejudice and selfishness in such deliberations? And why should men have any say in determining “what is best” for women? Perhaps each woman should decide for herself what is best for her?

To escape this endless, convoluted discussion evangelical egalitarians choose equality as the norm for the treatment of women rather than “what is best.” The concept of equality is simple and generates simple rules. It’s not subject to endless discussions that attempt to take into account myriads of factors. Indeed, as Abraham points out, equality is more a mathematical than a moral concept. But at least mathematics is simple! There is less room for obfuscation and humbug!

Even for Christians, “Biology is not Destiny!”

(2) Abraham makes much of the biological differences between men and women. I grant that in terms of raw physical strength and psychological aggressiveness men have the natural advantage. But Abraham argues that those biological differences demand to be embodied in hierarchical relationships in society and church. Moreover, he contends that though technological advances can ameliorate the social impact of these differences to some extent, they cannot neutralize them completely. Gloria dealt with this claim effectively in her response to Abraham, so I don’t need to address it at great length.

However, I want to consider one aspect that Gloria as a secular person could not really understand or deal with effectively. Gloria pointed out that Abraham presupposes that God’s choice to create male and female unequal in the areas mentioned above justifies maintaining traditional social inequities. She deals with the problem by dismissing divine creation. I do not believe this is necessary. Indeed, as an evangelical Christian I believe God created male and female with all the differences that that entails. Those differences are good for each gender and for society. We are better and happier together than alone.

But it does not follow that it is wrong to strive to overcome the negative impact of those differences, especially when they are magnified by the effects of sin. God also made males and females intelligent, so it cannot be wrong to use this God-given intelligence to equalize the sexes in the workplace and in other areas. If it were wrong to use our intelligence for this purpose, wouldn’t it also be wrong to use it to cure disease, treat pain, increase productivity and enhance human life? Even for Christians, “Biology is not destiny!”

Condescension and False Dichotomies

(3) Abraham argues that men will relate to women either protectively or exploitatively.  He allows no third alternative. As Abraham sees it, on average men possess superior physical strength of a kind that gives them the ability to intimidate and harm women in one-on-one, private encounters. This fact forces men, whether consciously or not, to adopt one of two attitudes toward women: protectiveness or exploitativeness.

Although Abraham asserts that protectiveness need not be “condescending,” given women’s equality of dignity and intelligence, I am not convinced. It seems to me that both protection and exploitation are condescending and domineering. Both imply that women depend on the goodwill of men in a way that men don’t depend on the goodwill of women. These attitudes discount the equal dignity and intelligence of women and reduce them to their bodies. And this condescension is a constant source of insult and irritation to women.

Additionally, Abraham sets up a false dichotomy. I don’t deny the biological facts of the situation, but why can’t men overcome the impulse to condescension of any kind and simply treat women as equals? Why must the issues of sex and power—as inseparable as the two sides of a coin—cast their cold shadows over every encounter between men and women?

The Weakness of the Biblical Case for Neo-Patriarchy

(4) What about the teaching of Scripture? Abraham contends that Scripture teaches the subordination of wives to husbands in the home and of women to men in the church. He attempts to inoculate Scripture from the secular feminist charge of irrational male prejudice by showing that Scripture’s perspective and its instructions are reasonable, just and loving when measured against the facts of nature. He anticipates the evangelical egalitarian argument from Galatians 3:26-29—“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.”—by limiting its application to justification. These verses speak of a new way of relating to God. In the matter of sin and its forgiveness, the worldly status of people makes no difference. All that counts is faith and the life that flows from it. This text does not speak of actually recreating people so that they are no longer male and female. Accordingly, Abraham concludes, it should not be taken to imply that the traditional social, ecclesiastical and familial orders be reordered so that being male or female makes no difference. Hence preserving the “ruling” offices in the church for men is not only reasonable, just and loving, but also obligatory. I shall reply to each phase of this argument in order.

First, I can see why Abraham appeals to reason and natural law to absolve Scripture of irrationality and male bias. He presents an interesting case for patriarchy. Some people may find it compelling. But I don’t believe it really meets the challenge of secular feminism. It leaves the essential idea of patriarchy intact. I too want to defeat critics of Scripture that accuse it of such prejudice. But I don’t see the need to appeal to biology and natural law. I think we can show that the central message of God’s love, new creation and redemption in Christ shows that patriarchy is peripheral to the ethics of Scripture and has been made obsolete by the Christian vision of equality in Christ.

Second, I’ve already dealt extensively with Galatians 3:26-29 in this dialogue, so I don’t need to spend much time on it. I admit that the subject of this text is justification before God and unity in Christ. This is the subject under discussion in the Galatians as a whole. But that doesn’t settle the issue of what follows from the fact of our solidarity in Christ. If our worldly—even biological—status makes no difference in the matter of sin and salvation, surely we are not permitted to carry on “business as usual” in society, church and family! If God accepts us because of our faith rather than any biological or social status, surely we must accept and relate to each other on that same basis! And if we really accept each other on this basis, how can we defend and practice an order based on biological and social status? Moreover, if we insist on continuing the old order, don’t we render our assertions of salvation by faith and oneness in Christ empty phrases? Pie in the sky with no ethical teeth?

Third, what is this all talk about “ruling” and “ruling offices” in the church? Jesus rebuked his disciples for talking like this. He told them that the greatest among them is the one who serves all the rest (Mark 9:33-37). And Jesus himself set the example of greatness in service by washing his disciples’ dirty feet and dying on the cross for sinners (John 13:1-17 and Philippians 2:1-11). The New Testament understands every office and function in the church as service to others for Christ’s sake. If we are thinking rightly about church officers and functions, we won’t view them as ruling but as serving roles. Hence even if you think women should not rule over men, why object to them serving the church in any way they can and doing anything the church needs done and calls them to do?

Moderator: Thank you Sarah, Gloria and Abraham for a very stimulating debate. This concludes our time together. I hope that truth will be served by such respectful and thoughtful conversations as we have witnessed in these twelve sessions. And I am sure you agree.

Programming Note: I am now in the process of editing this 12-part dialogue for publication as a small book. The tentative title is Three Views on Women in Church Leadership. The purpose of the book, like the purpose of this dialogue, is to help churches, church leaders and members to think through the issues now facing many Bible-believing churches concerning the apparent tension between the teaching of Scriptures on the subject of women and church leadership and the increasing demands of society for the equality of women to men in society and church.

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

Speakers:

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.

Evangelical Egalitarians, Married Bachelors and Other Impossible Things

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: It’s hard to believe that this is our tenth session in our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. Abraham will now reply to Sarah’s evangelical egalitarianism from the perspective of neo-patriarchy. Perhaps Abraham can keep it brief this time.

[Note: Sarah’s talk was posted on this blog on December 10, 2016.]

Abraham Replies to Sarah

Abraham: Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Sarah and for the encouragement to brevity. Let me begin by referring back to Gloria’s critique of evangelical egalitarianism. As a secular feminist, Gloria has no sympathy for the Bible or evangelical Christianity. Nor does she betray much understanding of either one. But she has stumbled on the central problem with Sarah’s position, that is, the tension between the evangelical view of the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Bible and egalitarianism. Gloria argues for their incompatibility, and so will I. But our agreement ends at this point. Gloria rejects the Bible in order to preserve egalitarianism. I reject egalitarianism in order to preserve evangelical Christianity (and reason!). And Sarah wants to preserve both.

The Function of the Feminist Principle in Evangelical Egalitarianism

Sarah affirms her full agreement with Gloria’s feminist principle and program of reform. For your convenience I will quote it again:

 “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 said of this principle, “I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” In my reply to Gloria [Posted January 06, 2017], I criticized this rule from a rational point of view. I won’t repeat those criticisms here except to say that I demonstrated that this principle is neither self-evident nor universally applicable. It is not true that “irrational prejudice” is the only possible motivation for making different sets of rules for men and women. No one, man or woman, really believes this!

Sarah’s larger argument assumes the feminist principle without analysis or argument. It then expends most of its energy attempting to demonstrate that the Bible can be interpreted in a way consistent with or even supportive of it. Clearly, the feminist principle serves Sarah’s argument as a self-evident norm by which to measure the moral vision of the Bible. Gloria argued that Sarah’s use of the Bible is redundant except as an appeal to her evangelical audience. I think Glory makes a good point. But if the feminist principle itself is not self-evident or universal, Sarah’s entire argument collapses. She loses her infallible principle that enables her to separate the Bible’s higher moral vision (egalitarian) from its lower one (patriarchy).

Let’s take stock of where we stand. I have made it impossible for Sarah to continue using the feminist principle as the unquestioned norm for her biblical interpretation. Even now her entire argument lies in ruins. It cannot be resurrected without extensive revisions. And without the presumption of the self-evidence and universal nature of the feminist principle her case can never return to its former glory. But now let’s look at Sarah’s argument from another angle. Let’s examine her claim to have preserved evangelical Christianity in her argument for egalitarianism.

Treachery of Feminist Hermeneutics

Sarah claims to be an evangelical Christian and she claims that one can defend evangelical theology while affirming the feminist principle. She gives a brief definition of evangelicalism:

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.

Of course Sarah admits that many texts in this “inspired Word of God” fall far short of affirming egalitarianism. The Old Testament law makes different rules for men and women, some of which sound to modern ears highly disparaging to women. Jesus chose only men as apostles. Paul speaks of man as the “head” of woman, and he gives different rules for women and men when they speak in the assembly of the church (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). He tells women to be silent in church and to ask their husbands any questions they have when they return home (1 Corinthians 14:34-38). He speaks of the husband as “the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” and enjoins submission of wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:1-21). Peter speaks of women as “the weaker partner” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women are forbidden to “teach or assume authority over men.” The rulers of the church, elders and bishops, must be men (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).

Secular or religiously liberal feminists, neither of whom submit to the authority of the Bible for faith and practice, can easily dismiss these texts as products of ancient patriarchy. They don’t need the Bible to support their moral vision; they get their morals from progressive culture. But evangelical egalitarians cannot take this easy option. They must find a way to subordinate the “patriarchal” texts to the “egalitarian” ones without denying that Scripture is “the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church.” How can this be done?

There is only one way. Evangelical egalitarians must argue that the “patriarchal” rules and restrictions on women do not express the essential moral vision of the Bible rooted in the facts of the gospel of Christ. Instead, these regulations are conscious or unconscious accommodations to patriarchal culture or situationally determined applications of such other principles as good order or time-sensitive apostolic judgments that can be revised by the church. My concern with this approach to interpreting the scriptures is this: despite evangelical egalitarian claims to the contrary, many people will conclude that one can remain a good Christian while ignoring or discounting the clear moral teachings of the scriptures. If we can find a way around the apostolic teaching about the roles of men and women in the governance of the church and the family, can we not follow the same procedure when the subject is same-sex marriage or homosexuality or abortion? In other words, I think evangelical egalitarianism opens the door to so-called liberal Christianity.

Galatians 3:28 Again

Sarah and other evangelical egalitarians argue that Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.”) articulates the essential egalitarian message of the gospel whereas the submission and restriction texts do not.

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with Sarah up to a point. In biblical interpretation and doctrinal application it is very important to distinguish the central gospel message and Jesus’ high ethical vision from the detailed applications the apostolic church had to make from day to day and situation to situation. Surely everyone believes that Paul would agree that it’s much more important to believe the gospel and love your neighbor than to keep women silent in the churches. Is it still important for women to wear a head covering and for men to keep their hair cut short? Matters such as these have to be debated and judgments have to be made in every generation. They cannot be settled in advance.

And I agree that Galatians 3:26-29 articulates a central gospel principle:

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.

This text states plainly that gender, social status and ethnic identity do not determine one’s relationship to God. Faith and baptism unite people to Christ. But evangelical egalitarians are mistaken to deduce from Paul’s clear affirmation that the means of justification apply to all without distinction the conclusion that all distinctions in society, church and family must be abolished. Justification deals with something all people share regardless of gender and social standing: all have sinned and everyone needs a savior. Here there is no difference. But people are not the same in all respects. And Paul and other New Testament authors take these distinctions into account in their moral teaching about social, ecclesiastical and familial life. And I believe they are right to do so.

Giftedness

Sarah admits that some distinctions must be made in roles, offices and activities in the church. But, she argues, these distinctions must be made according to “giftedness” and not according to gender. What about this principle? What is “giftedness”? It is a power, native or learned, natural or supernatural, that enables one to perform a task. It’s called a “gift” because whether in a natural way or a supernatural way this power derives from God and is given by grace. To be consistent with her egalitarian assertion, Sarah would have to insist that being created a woman or a man is not a gift, because if it were it could rightly become a basis for assigning roles and functions and offices in the church! But according to Sarah, to be given that set of characteristics and powers entailed in being a woman or a man implies nothing about church roles, offices and activities. And for the church to consider maleness or femaleness a gift and make distinctions accordingly would be wrong.

I find Sarah’s exclusion of maleness and femaleness from the category of “giftedness” implausible and arbitrary. As I argued in my response to Gloria, being a woman or a man is not a superficial characteristic like eye color or height. The differences between men and women are profound and are bound to have consequences for the order in society, church and home. Hence the apostolic rules differentiating the roles and functions of men and women in the church and home cannot be presumed without examination to be in violation of the Pauline principle of justification by faith or the evangelical egalitarian principle of giftedness. In fact, they are rooted in the created order, which can be discerned to some extent by reason, and they are intended for the good of women and men.

Moderator: Thank you, Abraham. Next time we will hear Sarah’s and Gloria’s replies to Abraham.

The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience”

 Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the eighth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will conclude his critique of secular feminism.  Abraham, could you make your next two points a bit briefer? We are running short of time.

Abraham: Okay. But you are the one who asked me to address issues I had not planned to speak about.

 Moderator: Touché!

 

 “Women’s Experience”

 Abraham: (2) Gloria asserts that “women’s experience” is an authoritative source of truth. According to her, when women feel oppressed and think they are being treated unfairly, men should accept their perspective as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands. Sarah agrees. I disagree.

If the subjective feeling of being unjustly treated is a moral norm, why limit it to women’s experience? Men have experience too! And if women’s experience can be used to instruct men about their moral blindness, why can’t men’s experience instruct women in areas where women are morally blind? If women’s experience can refute men’s views of women, why can’t men’s experience refute women’s views of men? If women can insist that men accept women’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands, why can’t men insist that women accept men’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands?

Unless there is an objective standard of moral truth, justice and goodness, appeals to experience lead to a stalemate. One person’s desires are set against another’s with no objective standard by which to judge between them. But if there is an objective moral standard, neither women’s experience nor men’s experience can be used as a moral norm. At best, they are beginning places for a discussion about how to achieve a mutually acceptable approximation to justice and goodness in this relationship.

 “Male Privilege”

 (3) Gloria asserts that:

 Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil.

Gloria here begs the question. She assumes that “male privilege,” that is, giving a right to men that is not given to women, is always wrong. But this is the question to be decided! It cannot be assumed! I can be brief in my response to this assertion, because I have already demonstrated in point (1) above [Posted on January 06] that in some situations giving men a privilege not given to women is the rational and right thing to do. Hence male privilege is not always wrong! We need to deliberate in society, church and family about when it is appropriate. There are no easy answers!

One last point. The whole discussion focuses on male privilege. What about female privilege? Aren’t women given some rights withheld from (or irrelevant to) men? Don’t women want to be treated differently from men in some cases? But if male privilege is always wrong, female privilege is always wrong as well. Does anyone think women would be better off in a society where they must compete with men under the exact same set of rules?

Moderator: Thank you Abraham for your thoughts. Next time Gloria and Abraham will present analyses and criticisms of Sarah’s presentation of evangelical egalitarianism.

Programming note: Gloria’s response to Sarah’s presentation of evangelical feminism will be posted on Friday, January 13. The title of that post is “Is the Bible irretrievably Misogynous?”

Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?

Speakers:

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!

The Godless Goddess

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the sixth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. Last time Sarah replied to Gloria’s defense of secular feminism. This evening we will listen to Abraham analyze and critique secular feminism from the perspective of neo-patriarchy.

The Godless Goddess

Abraham: I would like to begin by thanking our moderator for expertly facilitating this discussion and the audience for your kind attention. I wish also to thank Sarah for her cogent and sometimes brilliant reply to Gloria. Since Sarah and I are both evangelical Christians and share a deep respect for the scriptures, it won’t surprise you to hear that I find myself applauding her five points made in criticism of secular feminism. In fact, she did such a fine job in those critiques that I don’t think I need to address them in much detail. However I find her critique blunted by her three points of agreement with secular feminism. Apparently, Sarah thinks you can agree with the basic principle and practical program of secular feminism while disagreeing with its theoretical justification for them. I don’t believe it is possible disengage the two so easily. My critique of Gloria’s viewpoint will make this plain.

Moderator: Pardon me for interrupting so soon after you have begun. You’ve said that you don’t see a need to repeat Sarah’s five points of criticism. I understand that concern, but I hope you won’t leave it at that. I think the audience would like to hear your take on these five points in your own words.

Abraham: Okay. I can do that, but it may push me beyond my allotted time. Sarah really nailed it when she pointed out that Gloria bases her entire case on an arbitrary assertion of will to power over her being and action. Since Gloria’s whole program is about liberating herself from all external principles and powers so that she can become and do what she pleases, she has no alternative but to root her “rights,” “dignity” and “claims” in her own reality. Any admission that she is responsible to anything or anyone outside herself would immediately legitimate a debate about which of her wishes and desires are lawful and good. It would give others—including men—a say in what she does and becomes. And this is the very intrusion her theory is designed to exclude as a matter of principle.

Moderator: Is there anything you’d like to add to Sarah’s critique?

Abraham: Well, there is one thing. Sarah critiqued Gloria’s theory of the self-creating, self-validating self by reducing it to absurdity and uncovering its secret nihilism. This was a brilliant move. But she could also have critiqued it from a historical point of view. Gloria presents her absurd view of the self as if it sprang from nowhere and were a matter of self-evident experience. I don’t have space here to tell the whole story, but Gloria’s view of the self depends on the intersection of two great historical lines of development that she fails to acknowledge. She may not even realize her dependence. They are:

(1) The Christian teaching about human nature and destiny. In the history of the Christian doctrines of creation and salvation it is affirmed again and again that God created human beings in his image and loves each individual. Human beings possess maximum worth or dignity in God’s eyes. In God’s plan for salvation, human beings will be freed from sin and death and united to God to live eternally in glory. They will become, as it were, gods.

(2) The Christian doctrine of God. Christianity developed an understanding of divine freedom as God’s self-sufficiency, that is, his complete independence from every external power. God is not subject to any law outside his will and being. As one church father put it, God is only what he wills to be and wills to be only what he is.

Gloria draws on the strand of modern thought that secularized and fused these two histories. It ripped the concept of unlimited human dignity from its Christian matrix and reasoned further that unlimited dignity demands unlimited freedom. In a final step, it identified unlimited freedom with complete self-sufficiency and independence from every external power. In other words, Gloria transfers the divine attributes of freedom and self-grounded dignity developed in the Christian doctrine of God to the human self. Gloria demands to be allowed to become only what she wills to be and insists that her happiness consists in willing to be only what she is. Gloria’s woman is a godless goddess who worships and obeys only herself and insists that we also worship and obey her. Viewed against the context of the real human condition Gloria’s theory of the self appears as patently absurd.

Moderator: Okay, that was heavy! I think that is about as much as we can take in in one sitting. Next time I’d like you to present those points of criticism you mentioned earlier, those on which Sarah and Gloria agree but with which you disagree.

Blog Programming Note: Abraham’s presentation grew too long to post in one installment. I will post the next part on Friday, January 06 and the final part on Tuesday, January 10. The titles are “Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?” and “The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience.” You don’t want to miss them!