Wednesday, May 13, 2015
It seems our society is regularly debating the value of feminism, both within Christianity and in the larger culture. And there is often a lot of confusion about what feminism actually is, so much so that an informal poll of women on the street would likely yield varying answers. Some would say equal rights. Some would say the right to do the same things a man can do. Some would say justice for women. Christian feminists adopt a lot of these ideas, while also attempting to show that feminism is rooted in God’s good plan for women.
In an article for Relevant Magazine, Amy Buckley tackles the issue of Christian feminism by saying that Christians have actually been getting feminism all wrong. Recounting the ways that women have been wrongly treated throughout the world (and how feminism seeks to remedy this), she says that it’s time for Christians to understand that feminism has been misunderstood for too long. And she sets the record straight.
I believe it is time for Christians to rethink feminism. How do we address secular feminist concerns? What will we do to create hospitality to feminists in churches? Whether or not we call ourselves Christian feminists, God calls us to be lights in a crooked, messed up world (Philippians 2:15). Opportunities for responding to feminist concerns are great; hopefully the workers won’t be few.
So is feminism our answer to the very real oppression women face?
The Oppression of Women Throughout History
If anyone knew what oppression looked like it was ancient Roman society. Women were second class citizens, with no voice and no real hope for a future. Their testimony did not count the same as a man’s in a court of law. In fact, they were basically property in some cultures. Equality among the sexes was a foreign concept. In fact, throughout history, women have been an oppressed and voiceless class. When the first wave of feminism emerged, they were responding to very real problems that women faced, most notably their lack of voice in society through voting. There is no denying that feminism was responding to true oppression, but it was actually looking for answers in all of the wrong places. Buckley is right. God does call us to be lights in a “crooked, messed up world.” But I think there is a better way to fight the injustices women are confronted with in our cursed world.
This is why Jesus’ ministry was so radical and so ordinary all at the same time.
Jesus Cares About Women
When the Son of God came into our broken world, he did so in the most unlikely and common way—through the birthing process. Instead of entering our world with fanfare and power, he came in vulnerability and weakness through the birth canal of a teenage virgin (Luke 2:7). You could even say that his first point of entry was speaking significance about the value of women. Women pepper the story of Jesus in ways that were unheard of in that time period. God used a poor virgin and her old barren cousin to bring about the forerunner to the Christ and the Messiah (Luke 1:5-45). Both a man and a woman prophesied over the young Jesus (Luke 2:34-38). Jesus showed great compassion and care for his mother (John 19:26). Jesus healed both men and women of disease and death (Matt. 5:21-43; Matt. 8:5-13; Mark 16:9; John 9:1-32). He was friends with men and women (John 11). He touched both unclean men and women, healing them of sin and all that separated them from fellowship with him. He sought out the Samaritan woman, speaking into her sinful life and providing her with the living water her soul desperately needed (John 4:1-45). And when he triumphed over death, he used women as the first voices who proclaimed his resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18).
The New Testament Pattern for Women Is Not New
The apostles continued in Jesus’ path by also including women in the building up of the church. Priscilla and Aquila ministered to God’s people and learned from the apostles (Acts18:26; Rom. 16:3). Lydia hosted a church in her home (Acts 16:11-14, 40). Men and women worshipped together as equal participants in the new covenant (Gal. 3:28).
So where does this leave us regarding Christian feminism? Because Jesus brought together men and women in unlikely ways, does this mean that feminism is right? Is it the answer to the problems women have faced throughout the centuries?
I don’t think so.
What Jesus inaugurated with his life, death, and resurrection wasn’t a new order of business, but one of the oldest kind, one that harkens back to the perfection of Eden when men and women dwelt in perfect harmony with one another. And in that place we are given a glimpse of God’s plan for men and women all along—equal, but created with beautiful differences (Gen. 1:26-27). Jesus didn’t eradicate these differences, instead he gave a new plan for them, one that exalted the goodness of his Father’s design in both men and women. He kept qualified men in leadership positions, while also showing that women have much to offer in his kingdom work. He removed the oppression that women (and even some men) face by tearing down the false barriers of classism, sexism, and racism that have plagued us for so long.
I can agree with Christian feminists that women are not a sub-class in society. I can agree with Christian feminists that now is the time to stand up for the oppression of women. I can do so not because I’m a feminist, but because I believe that within the goodness of God’s design, both men and women have value, purpose, and dignity. And I believe it because the Bible tells me so.
For more on how feminism has influenced our understanding of womanhood, you can read Courtney’s book The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (available May 31, 2015).
Courtney is a wife, mother, and writer. She is the author of The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Crossway, May 2015). She and her husband live in Little Rock, AR and are members of Midtown Baptist Church, where he serves as one of the pastors. You can follow her on Twitter @courtneyreissig.
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