In my last post we took a look at some different types of feminism, and also some of the gains achieved by the movement. We also, in light of those gains, wondered whether we should be calling ourselves feminists. My preliminary response was ‘no’: God’s word gives us better diagnoses and better solutions. In this post I’ll try to show you what I mean.
GOD’S BETTER SOLUTIONS
God is the solution both to the problems identified by feminism and those caused by it.
From the opening chapters of the Bible, God gives us five foundational truths about women and men, and how to live together well, to his glory.
1. God made all humanity in his image
No matter our race, sex, age, ethnicity, ability, intelligence, health, wealth, whatever: all people are made in the image of God, by God. We are equally made in his image, equally blessed by him, loved by him, and created for him to rule his world as his representatives (Genesis 1:28).
No matter our race, sex, age, ethnicity, ability, intelligence, health, wealth, whatever: all people are made in the image of God, by God. We are equally made in his image, equally blessed by him, loved by him, and created for him to rule his world
Surely one of the gravest evils of feminism is its refusal to acknowledge this in its embrace of abortion. Millions of lives have been ended when they have just begun. And as a consequence, millions of women (and men) have burdened consciences and abortion grief. No doubt, this includes some reading this post (if that’s you, please click here and here for help).
Everything hangs on this: all humans are made in God’s image.
2. God made men and women different.
Being made in God’s image means we’re equal but it doesn’t mean we’re the same. There are differences revealed in our bodies and expressed in our lives. We’re male or female, men or women, sons or daughters, and potentially husbands or wives, and fathers or mothers.
3. Man and woman both sinned.
Both Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Both rejected God’s rule and word. They might have sinned differently in that first instance, but they both sinned. They both were seduced by the lies that God was unjustly withholding something good from them, and that his word is not true and good. And we are all seduced by those same lies too.
4. Sin made men and women combatants.
One of the first consequences of that first act of rebellion is that the beautiful harmony between the sexes that God designed was lost, and we became rivals and opponents not partners.
This means none of us can appreciate how good the relationship between the sexes was meant to be because we can only look at it through sin-coloured glasses. We simply can’t know how it worked before Genesis 3. But we know only too well what it’s been like ever since then; how wrong it can go. At its best, it’s this reality feminism is responding to.
Apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the worldviews of either feminism or chauvinism will sit more easily with us than God’s word.
And, of course, these two facts—that we’re sinners hardwired to reject the goodness and authority of God’s word, and that we can’t read its teaching without reading it through our own experience—mean that apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the worldviews of either feminism or chauvinism will sit more easily with us than God’s word.
And mercifully, that brings us to the fact that …
5. God’s mercy extends equally to women and men
… We see it first in Genesis 3, where God calls to the woman and the man, speaks with them, judges them, and shows them mercy by clothing them, blessing them with children, and shutting them out of the garden lest as sinners they eat from the tree of life, and live forever in their fallen state.
And even more wonderfully he sends us a Saviour. His glorious Son. The friend of sinners.
Women and men are equal in creation, and we are equal in salvation: equally fallen and sinful, equally under God’s wrath and judgement, equally offered the free gift of eternal life, equally adopted into God’s family through faith in the same saviour, equally given his Holy Spirit to renew and transform us.
There is no two-tiered status to salvation: as Paul puts it “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female but [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
And yet we’re not sexless, genderless beings. We’re still women and men and the gender-based roles and responsibilities affirmed in Scripture are still relevant for us today.
BIBLICAL GENDER VS CULTURAL STEREOTYPES
But we have to be careful how we understand these differences. We can easily read in things that come from our culture and not from Scripture. You know the stereotypes: girls like pink and boys like dirt; men like football, women like cooking: women are emotional, men are emotionally-challenged.
The Bible has very little to say by way of gender stereotypes. It has a lot to say about godliness, but there are many different examples of faithful manhood and womanhood. And that’s what we should expect.
The Bible has very little to say by way of gender stereotypes. It has a lot to say about godliness, but there are many different examples of faithful manhood and womanhood.
And the New Testament tells us there are two spheres where the sex/gender-based differences from Genesis apply: within marriage; and in the church.
1. Gender Difference in Marriage
And a wife is to submit herself to her husband’s loving headship or leadership: to respect him, trust herself to him, honour him, and allow him to provide leadership for them and their family (Eph 5:21–33; Col 3:18; Titus 2:3–5; 1 Peter 3:1–6).
Submission isn’t forced on her. She volunteers it—not because she’s weak or incapable or, even worse, because she is afraid—but because God made marriage a partnership of equals where husbands and wives have different roles, and marriage works best, and honours God most when it has this shape.
It’s the picture of a dance: equal partners working together, in different roles, for the same purpose, and for their mutual joy.
And remarkably this pattern of human marriage is modelled on the glorious marriage of Christ and the church (Eph 5:21–33). And if the rest of the Bible hasn’t convinced us, this alone tells us that any use of force, intimidation, violence or exploitation within marriage is absolutely contrary to God’s will. It has no place among God’s people.
So if domestic abuse is found among God’s people (which tragically it is), and if it is mishandled in churches (which can happen), that’s not because God’s word is inadequate or his pattern for marriage is at fault. It is because, as God’s people, we have failed to know and obey his word.
That is why, as Christians, we can be glad of recent efforts to bring domestic violence into public consciousness and to address it, both in society and the church, and if it took feminism to make that happen, then praise God he used it that way.
2. Gender Difference in the Household of God
Not surprisingly, given the unity of God’s creation and salvation purposes, human marriage isn’t the only place where our gender differences are to be worked out. The other place is the household of God, the church (1 Cor. 11:3–16; 14:26–40; 1 Tim. 2:1–15; 3:1–7).
When we come together God wants us to express our gender differences: not to blur, obscure or ignore them. We are to express them in ways that make sense in our culture (see discussion on this here).
When we come together God wants us to express our gender differences: not to blur, obscure or ignore them. We are to express them in ways that make sense in our culture
Also there are some ministries that are the responsibility of men, and not women, namely, the authoritative ministry of teaching and leading the whole church family (but, please notice, not all men—only those suitably gifted and qualified, and duly appointed by the church).
That’s not because women aren’t capable or gifted. God’s word is clear that women are equal recipients of the Holy Spirit, and likewise gifted, equipped, competent, and used by him. Rather it is because God, who gives the gifts, wants us to use them in ways that uphold and express the sex/gender differences he created.
This is why a church that doesn’t encourage, equip and enable the ministry of women, including public ministry roles of praying and prophesying, is failing the whole church, and quenching the work of the Spirit.
THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
I began talking about questions of identity. That’s often the rub for Christians, especially Christian women. Am I a feminist? Can I be if I’m a Christian?
I suspect that what a lot of Christians mean when they say they’re feminists is that they are pro-women, or more accurately, they are against a list of things that represent gender-based inequality and injustice: against the gender pay gap, against gender bias, against the lack of women in corporate, civil, and government leadership roles, against sexual harassment and violence against women. They just want women to get a fair go; to be treated with dignity and honour, to be valued and heard, to level the playing field.
And these are good things. But God got there first. In fact, they are only good because they accord with his holiness, his justice, and his vision for human good. And if we, as Christians, needed feminism to awaken us to injustice and deprivation we should have already seen and corrected, then the fault lies with us. It’s not that Christianity needs to be supplemented by feminism. We just needed to be more thoroughgoingly Christian.
So I’m content to say, I’m a Christian, not a Christian feminist, or a feminist Christian. Just a Christian—a woman who is in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ. He is my identity, and I expect to spend the rest of my earthly life growing in my grasp of the wonder of that.
Photo: Elvert Barnes, flickr
 I realise some groups label themselves ‘pro-life feminists’, but the eventual exclusion from the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 of one such group suggests they are not accepted by mainstream feminists, and illustrates one of the problems of accepting the ‘feminist’ label. See https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/22/14335292/womens-march-washington-abortion-pro-life-feminists accessed 28 March 2018.
This article was previously published on The Gospel Coalition Australia website.
Claire Smith is married to Rob, and attends St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral Sydney. They have a married son. She is a women’s Bible teacher, and the author of God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about Men and Women (Matthias Media, 2012), and contributor to the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (Crossway, 2014) and Word-filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church (eds. Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson, Crossway, 2015). Claire serves on TGCA editorial panel, working to develop women writers and content and serves on the Equal but Different Steering Committee.