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Neglecting the Whole Story: A Response to Mimi Haddad, “Human Flourishing”

June 22, 2023


The thirtieth chapter of Discovering Biblical Equality opens with the statement, “The face of poverty, illiteracy, disease, starvation, and abuse is predominantly female” (620). Mimi Haddad then comments on gender-based violence and asserts that “patriarchy is increasingly viewed as one of the most malicious and debilitating forces in history” (621). She offers a selection of evidence for this statement from a variety of locations across the world. She comments, variously, on gender pay gaps, abuse uncovered in the Southern Baptist Convention, abuses such as female genital mutilation and early marriage, lack of educational opportunities for females, sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement, and the violence associated with pornography. Haddad concludes that human flourishing is horribly diminished due to the authority and dominance of men, which has been reinforced by cultural and religious teaching. The “toxic force of patriarchy” (624) has prevailed throughout history and expresses itself in violence toward women across the globe today. The “ubiquitous presence of patriarchy . . . shields perpetrators, obstructs justice and demeans survivors.” God’s ideal is “shared governance of men and women,” which is also the “bedrock of human flourishing” (634).

Critical Evaluation

The presuppositions of modern feminism frame Haddad’s discussion throughout her chapter. Any role distinctions between men and women are viewed as evidence of oppression.

Since mankind’s fall into sin, too often men have used their superior physical strength to exploit women. Sadly, sometimes the Bible has been wrongly used to justify abuse. But God created men and women with equal dignity and significant differences. We only uphold the true interests of both sexes when both facts are respected. Any supposed “remedies” for injustice, however well-intentioned, that undermine the truth of God’s Word and the truths found in creation, always make things worse.

1. Haddad’s chapter fails to deal with global perspectives on human flourishing from a biblical foundation.

A biblical discussion of human flourishing has to be based on the conviction that the creator God provided humanity with the moral law and creation mandates. Where these are respected and upheld, human flourishing will be promoted. Where they are denied or undermined, human flourishing will be compromised.

Haddad assumes that human flourishing demands gender equity, or equal outcomes. But, in the quest for equal outcomes, modern feminism has opposed biblical norms for family life and the complementary roles of men and women, fathers and mothers. There has been wholesale support for the sexual revolution. There has been a destructive unraveling of the creation mandate for marriage and family life, as well as hostility to God’s moral law. This has fuelled the sexual revolution, the increase in pornography (and associated human trafficking), the rise in family breakdown, and escalating sexual abuse. All this has been immensely damaging to the safety and wellbeing of women. Modern feminism has betrayed the real interests of women.[1] Genuine social justice is best secured by following the Creator’s design for social structures.

Throughout this chapter, Haddad commends the various initiatives of international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations’ conventions on women’s rights. These international bodies are at the frontline of promoting abortion, contraception, sterilization, and comprehensive sex education. They defy God’s moral law. They oppose the real interests of women.[2] Women are horribly damaged by abortion, for example. It leaves grievous physical, emotional, and spiritual harm, which is unsurprising as it is both a direct assault on the life of their unborn child, and a violation of the dignity of motherhood.[3]

2. Haddad’s chapter fails to acknowledge the tremendous advances in the reduction of poverty in recent years.

A responsible discussion of global perspectives on human flourishing would acknowledge the astonishing reduction in global poverty that has taken place in the relatively recent past.[4] As Christians, we care deeply about poverty and injustice. Where the biblical worldview has had the deepest impact, there human flourishing has increased.[5] As Christians, we care about the wellbeing of men, women, and children. Poverty is not a zero-sum game with men as the oppressors and women as the victims. Global poverty has dramatically decreased over the past 200 years at the same time as enormous population growth. The proportion of people living in extreme income poverty worldwide plunged from forty-three percent in 1990 to twenty-two percent in 2008.[6] That has been of benefit to men and women and children. The evidence shows that it is when biblical principles are followed, including respect for God-ordained family structures, that cultures conducive to wealth creation are fostered.[7]

3. Haddad’s chapter fails to acknowledge the transformative impact biblical Christianity has had on the dignity of women over the past 2,000 years.

Haddad presents a random list of statistics and anecdotes with little context. In this chapter, we hear variously about female oppression caused by Islam and other non-Christian religious systems (mostly not identified as such); the suffering resulting from sexual permissiveness (mostly without clearly identifying the cause); repression which comes from an overstatement of traditional Christianity (in places confused with complementarianism); and any disparity of outcomes caused by the real differences between the sexes. All are placed under the umbrella of “patriarchy,” which is never defined. Where abuse is challenged, Haddad nearly always references women opposing that abuse. Men, it seems, cannot be trusted to oppose violence and injustice against women.

Haddad fails to clearly acknowledge that today, the countries where women are held back, forbidden an education, married off as children, and subjected to systematic abuses such as honor killings and genital cutting are those countries where Christianity is disallowed. She fails to celebrate the God-honoring account of how true followers of Christ (men and women) have worked to uphold human dignity throughout the centuries. This has had a transformative effect on whole nations. It has been the single most important factor in the elevation of female dignity.[8]

Greek and Roman society was infused with the assumption that women are inferior. But not just women. It was socially acceptable for male freemen to use women, young men, children, and slaves for their own gratification — the level of sexual violence is indescribable. At the time of Christ’s birth, male citizens in the Roman Empire enjoyed patria potestas. This was the absolute right of life and death over their wives and children (and slaves).   In a culture where female infants were regularly exposed and killed, and fathers routinely gave away their daughters as child brides, as Christianity spread, each of these abuses was outlawed. With the expansion of Christianity, an ethic of monogamy and fidelity prevailed as well, and many of the worst excesses of sexual exploitation were restrained. The sexual slavery endemic in the ancient world was dispelled by the advance of Christianity. It’s advancing again today, not because of Christianity, but fueled by the global pornography industry, which Christians oppose.

Christians have historically regarded universal literacy as essential so that everyone could read the Scriptures for themselves. The Reformer Martin Luther believed that it was a crime for parents not to ensure the education of their children. During the Reformation in Europe, there was a surge in the building of girls’ schools in Protestant areas. One example from what Haddad would consider a “patriarchal” Christian society is Anna Maria Van Schurman (1607–1678), who was a skilled linguist, with knowledge of thirteen languages. Brought up in the Dutch Reformed Church, in 1638 she published a treatise on the need for women to be educated: “Ignorance is not fitting for a Christian woman,” she wrote.[9]

Considering the mission movement and the expansion of Christianity worldwide, one of the first indicators of Christian influence was the provision of education for girls as well as boys. Haddad doesn’t mention missionaries such as Ann Judson or Fidelia Fiske, who promoted female education and upheld biblical teaching relating to the complementarity of the sexes.

Ann Judson sailed from America for Burma in 1813. With her husband Adoniram, she pioneered Christian mission in Burma, but she especially focused on educating girls. Ann believed that Christian education for women was the means by which Asian females could be liberated from what was all too often a degraded and miserable life.[10]

In 1843, Fidelia Fiske traveled from America to Persia (now Iran) to pioneer female education.[11] After sixteen years she had established a successful school for girls, and the lives of many women had been transformed. Returning to America, she continued to promote female education.

William Carey, the “father of modern missions,” together with his fellow missionaries, set up the first schools for girls in what is now India. By means of female education, they hoped to break the practice of marrying off little girls from infancy onwards. If women were educated and able to earn a living, this would break the practice of widow burning, which was practiced partly because widows were regarded as an economic liability (they were forbidden to earn a living and forbidden to remarry). Carey campaigned ceaselessly against the practice of widow burning. One of his great allies in England was William Wilberforce. The practice was finally outlawed in India in 1829.

Over the centuries, those who have been willing to sacrifice their lives to try to protect women from abusive cultures have been Christian missionaries.

We could also consider the impact that revival has on communities. Whole communities in eighteenth-century England were transformed by evangelical revival. Men who had previously been addicted to alcohol, violence, gambling, and other behaviors destructive to family life were converted to biblical Christianity. It was their wives and children who benefited most. Haddad fails to acknowledge the contribution to the dignity of women played by social reformers such as Hannah More and Josephine Butler — among others — who maintained the biblical teaching on the complementarity of the sexes.


Today it is impossible to ignore the real cost to women of the false claims of modern feminism.[12] It is disappointing, then, that Haddad uncritically supports “gender equality” and “women’s rights” programs which work against female flourishing.[13] The greatest single factor throughout history in the elevation of the dignity of women has been the promotion of biblical Christianity. This is the good news story that Haddad lamentably fails to tell.

Sharon James studied history at Cambridge University, theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary, and has a doctorate from the University of Wales. She works as Social Policy Analyst for The Christian Institute and has traveled to many countries as a Conference speaker. Sharon has written many books, including How Christianity Transformed the World (Christian Focus, 2021), and The Lies we are Told: The Truth we must Hold (Christian Focus, 2022). For more information, see her website,

[1] Sharon James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2019, chapter 4, “The Bitterness of Betrayal: Seven Ways Feminism Failed us All”, 65-79.

[2] Obianuju Edeocha, Target Africa: Ideological Neo-colonialism in the Twenty-First Century (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2018); Gabrielle Kuby, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom (Kettering: LifeSite, 2015); Katy Faust and Stacy Manning, Them before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement (New York: Post Hill Press, 2021).

[3] Ryan T. Anderson and Alexandra de Sanctis, Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing (Washington DC: Regnery 2022).

[4] James R. Rogers, “What’s Behind the Stunning Decrease in Global Poverty?” First Things, 26 November, 2013, (accessed March 27, 2023).

[5]  Sharon James, How Christianity Transformed the World (Fearne: Christian Focus, 2021).

[6] Rogers, “Global Poverty?”

[7] Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 256-257.

[8] James, God’s Design for Women in an Age of Gender Confusion, chapter 1; James, How Christianity Transformed the World, chapters 5 and 8.

[9] Sascha O. Becker and Ludger Wößmann, “Luther and the Girls: Religious Denomination and the Female Education Gap in 19th Century Prussia”,  IZA Discussion Paper No. 3837, November 2008, (accessed 27 March, 2023).

[10] Sharon James, Ann Judson: A Missionary Life for Burma  (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2015).

[11] D. T. Fiske, The Cross and the Crown; or, Faith Working by Love: The Life of Fidelia Fiske, Missionary to Persia 1843-1858 (reprint, Stoke-on-Trent: Tentmaker Publications, 2005), 91-92.

[12] Non-Christian writers who acknowledge the harms of modern feminism include Laura Perry, The Case against the Sexual Revolution (Cambridge: Polity, 2022) and Mary Harrington, Feminism Against Progress (London: Forum, 2023).

[13] See footnote 2.

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