Culture

Faith and feminism: A love-hate affair

by Kenneth Chew // March 8, 2017, 1:36 pm

feminism faith

There exists no universal moral law that upholds women’s rights – or anyone’s rights for that matter. The moral claim that we should uphold women’s rights stems from the metaphysical claim that women are equal in value.

Does every feminist understand where that claim comes from?

For Christians, the Bible is the basis of all existence, morality and political philosophy.

BIBLICAL GROUNDS FOR EQUALITY: IMAGO DEI

The notion of imago dei comes from the Biblical creation story (Genesis 1:27, 2:20). Men and women are both made in the image of God. Note the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, doesn’t suggest subordination because it’s also used to describe God when He delivered His people.

Whether curse or prophecy, the subjection of women to men was a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3:16).

But I admit there are difficulties for the modern reader to digest how the Bible seems to view women.

The Torah speaks of a patriarchal society where it was culturally normal to treat women as second-class. Some Mosaic laws seemed to permit men to rape women at a small cost (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), considered women a possession that can be defiled (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), and permitted unfair brutality against a protective wife (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).

“Jealous” men could put their wives through “tests” and get away with it even if they were wrong (Numbers 5:11-31). Men could also veto women’s vows (Numbers 30). Periods were seen as unclean (Leviticus 15:19).

Was this God’s intended juxtaposition of men and women, or did Moses interpret Him wrongly? Ceremonial law, moral law, or just culture norms?

PAUL DIDN’T CLEAR THINGS UP

And it’s not like all the controversy evaporated with the New Covenant – it’s in the New Testament too.

We have Paul to thank for instructing women to remain silent in church, cover their heads in worship, and never teach a man (1 Timothy 2:12). To Paul, women weren’t the glory and image of God, but merely the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7-9).

I don’t know how much authority you give Paul’s letters, but our church fathers found it worthy of canonisation.

Don’t even get me started on the taboo S-word: Submission. Is it necessarily bad? We’re called to submit to God (James 4:7), His law (Romans 8:7), man’s laws (Romans 13:1) and one another (Ephesians 5:21) – which includes men submitting to women too.

Wives are instructed to submit to their husbands (1 Peter 3:4-6) – not all men.

Perhaps submission is simply part and parcel of discipleship, rather than a value statement.

The apparent contradiction is that God’s created ideal doesn’t discriminate genders – the Bible does tell of some very strong women who weren’t just housewives and mothers – but His laws for the Israelites seem to do so.

JESUS A FEMINIST?

Perhaps our greatest hope lies in the person of Jesus, who demonstrated unconditional love to men and women alike. By today’s standards He might be called a feminist – He gave women (including His mother) the privilege of special revelation – but the truth is, He was so much more.

He was somewhat egalitarian but also scandalously gracious. He just gave: To the sinners, the outcasts and the children. He healed the sick and spoke of a Kingdom where it was blessed to mourn, to be meek, peaceable and poor in spirit.

He challenged every societal and religious norm of His day to reveal the heart of God with truth and grace. He toppled every hierarchy and shone His light into the law. He wasn’t just sinless, but above morality. He did not nullify but fulfilled the law – mysteriously and perfectly for our salvation.

BELIEVING WHAT WE WOULD RATHER NOT BELIEVE

Is our Jewish heritage void? Jesus held the Old Testament in high regard, and said the Scriptures testify about Him (John 5:39). If you believe Jesus, you must grapple with that authority and wrestle for hidden truth knowing that the Scriptures alone do not save us.

I wish Jesus said more about these complexities. He must open our minds (Luke 24:45). The good news is He gave us the Holy Spirit, whom I suggest we humbly turn to for wisdom, clarity and grace.

It’s every Christian’s obligation to submit to God even if it doesn’t sit easy. The three-way tension lies between our conscience (Romans 2:15), the kind of God we believe in and that which the Bible presents. Ideally, they should be the same. But most people wrestle in mystery.

Not everyone copes well with the tension.

The lazy will ditch the faith. The fundamentals (both scientific and religious) might slap an “evil” label on it for anathema.

Progressives might search for compromise and interpret text differently. Scholars might study text in the original Hebrew or Greek for accuracy, together with cultural context. Others might suppose these laws, while discriminatory, were for protection of women or unity of the church – not easy answers.

SO, SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE FEMINISTS?

Were you expecting a definite answer?

Given the different interpretations of God’s Word, and the different strains of feminism that came in different waves, I cannot give a definite answer.

While certain elements might be at odds, we should be upfront about the equality of women. Feminism is very much an imperfect human application of Christian ethics to the civil injustice of our age. Call yourself a Feminist if you must, but remember that Feminism is not God.

Traditional feminism is generally something Christians should stand for, but that shouldn’t compel us to support every modern permutation.

Start the conversation in Church, in your cell groups and in your families. The wisdom of many trumps the intellectual struggles of one.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to don a politically correct identity, I believe we ought to focus on loving people regardless of their beliefs as Christ loves us. Much of the New Testament involves surrendering our rights (Romans 12:1) and loving God above all (Matthew 10:37), not demanding them for ourselves or other people.

I pray He’ll teach us how to love all people the same: Men, women, the right and wrong, the bureaucrats, silent majority and the activists. Fight for every woman oppressed, stereotyped and discriminated against. Fight also for every other kind of injustice in any other place. We all need Jesus.

May we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) as we continue to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Ask for grace to look at even the most difficult, confused, entitled Feminist marching in the street for something subtly harmful to women, and march alongside her not because we agree with everything she says, but because she’s imago dei – she’s got the right to know, and we’ve got the right to tell her.

About the author

Kenneth Chew

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.