Tag Archives: patriarchy

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.

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“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.

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!

 

Sarah Speaks

 

Speakers:

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.

A Dialogue Between a Secular Feminist, an Evangelical Egalitarian, and a Neo-Patriarch

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Opening Statements

Moderator: I am very grateful that you three have agreed to engage in a dialogue on a topic of intense interest and immense significance for my audience, that is, the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church, and home. Of course, we will not attempt to address every dimension of that issue but will focus on power and privilege, which are at the center of the contemporary controversy. As moderator, I will not take sides but I will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep you from straying from the topic under discussion. The dialogue will begin with opening statements from each of you. Please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home. The order will be Gloria, Sarah, and Abraham.

Secular Feminism

Gloria: Thank you, Moderator, for the opportunity to explain and defend secular feminism to this audience. And since you seek clarity in this dialogue, I shall begin with a statement as clear as crystal: 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. Some things are logically impossible for everyone. Some things are physically impossible for everyone. And some things are physically possible for some people but for not others. But anything that is possible should be permissible. Secular feminists recognize as legitimate no law of nature, no social custom, no political legislation, and no divine law that forbids a woman to do what is possible for her. And we condemn every political, social, ecclesiastical, and familial institution that keeps a woman from actualizing her potential the way she wishes.

Having stated clearly what secular feminists assert, I shall explain the grounds or justification for our assertions. Those grounds fall into two categories. The first concerns a view of the self that is presupposed by all modern progressive movements, including secular feminism. The second concerns women’s experience of their own selves as women. The modern view of the self began to surface in the Renaissance, continued in the 17th century Enlightenment and in the 19th century Romantic Movement, and came to maturity in the late 20th century. When you disengage the human self from all external frameworks that impose on the self a preexisting, unchosen, and alien identity—state, society, family, church, and nature—you discover the essential self. This self exists apart from these frameworks and possesses power to create its own identity, that is, to become what it wishes to be. Its essence or one essential property is freedom, the creative power of will. The dignity of the self does not derive from any value system outside the self, from nature or God or society. Its dignity is self-grounded. That is to say, I am related to myself and I am worth something to myself. I value myself more than I value the whole world. Given the power of the self to create its own identity and establish its own dignity, it makes sense for the self to assert its right to determine itself and liberate itself from all external frameworks and forces. In fact, this assertion is the self’s essence and its proper act. And it demands that others respect its self-respect. This then is first justification for secular feminists’ assertion of their right to self-determination against all external frameworks and powers.

The second justification is specific to women. Women are self-creating selves like all human beings but in their own particular way. We secular feminists call it “women’s experience.” Women experience their female bodies from within, and they experience the external world of nature, society, church, men, and family as women. And that experience includes misrepresentation, oppression, exclusion, domination, abuse, and rape. Women’s experience includes the feeling of powerlessness, forced silence, and dismissiveness on the part of men. Women experience being valued only for the satisfaction of male lust, as wombs used for reproduction, as housekeepers, cooks, caretakers for children, and babysitters for immature men. We secular feminists consider women’s experience an authority by which to critique the oppressive structures of the patriarchal past and those that still remain.  More accurately, the modern view of the self, which I described above, is the authority by which oppressive structures are judged to be wrong and women’s experience is the way even subtle oppressive structures are revealed as oppressive for women. (In philosophical language, the first is ontological, having to do with the mode of being, and the second is epistemic, having to do with the way of knowing.) Because of their experience of oppression, women can see things that men cannot see.These two sources together provide a foundation and justification for secular feminism.

The third thing the Moderator asked me to do was to detail some practical implications of secular feminism. I will be as clear in this section as I was in the first. Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil. We also demand that every framework, order, institution, and structure that blocks or inhibits the realization of women’s potential be reformed or abolished. These institutions include all public and so-called private institutions: government, churches, military, clubs, families, societies, and schools. And since these institutions are heirs of a long history of oppression, they cannot be left to reform themselves. There must be an aggressive public policy of affirmative action to move rapidly toward equality. As for churches, they are the worst offenders, not only because of their oppressive practices but, more egregiously, because of their patriarchal ideology dictated by Bible, that ancient patriarchal and misogynous text that ought to have been relegated to the dustbin of failed mythologies long ago but is still revered by uneducated men and the women deceived by them. While I am on that subject…

Moderator: Perhaps this would be a good place to stop, since you seem to have completed your case and are now skating close to the edge of incivility. I think you have given our audience a clear idea of the nature of secular feminism. Your statement was clear, bold, and honest. It will give us something to think about and discuss in the next phase of the dialogue.

Next, we will hear from Sarah our representative of Evangelical Egalitarianism.