Including the Traditional Woman in Christian Feminism

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For Christian feminists, it is easy to exclude the traditional woman. I am guilty of it myself. It is never intentional; it is an effort to correct an imbalance in the Church. You see, the Church has always praised the traditional woman.

The traditional woman has been named the “biblical ideal” by many leading Christian voices. The Church has not been fair to the non-traditional woman, so our tendency as human beings is to swing the other way in the hope of finding a balance.

However, as we swing the other way and reject the notion that traditionalism and biblical are one and the same, we must be careful not to reject the traditional woman. The truth is that some women love tradition and soar in the home as stay-at-home moms and wives. This is a beautiful choice and it is not an easy task.

Some Christian women sense a strong calling from God to make their full-time job raising their children, caring for their husbands, homeschooling, raising their own chickens, planting organic gardens, leading Bible studies for women only, volunteering in children’s ministry, and all the things we commonly associate with the traditional woman.

There has been tension between the traditional woman and the non-traditional woman since Bible times. We see this play out with the popular biblical story of “Mary and Martha.” Christian feminists love the passage (Luke 10:38-42) because it is one of the few “woman power” stories in the entire Bible, and Jesus was the one empowering.

Basically, Martha was doing what she was supposed to do in her culture – cooking and preparing to serve the men. Mary was doing what she was not supposed to do in religious culture – sitting and learning at the feet of Jesus with all of the men. Martha gets annoyed that Mary is out of line and asks Jesus to make her get back “in place.”

Jesus empowers Mary in that moment and says that Mary has chosen what was best. This had to have hurt Martha’s feelings. I know it would mine, but it had to be said, because Martha was judging her sister as wrong, when she was right because she was following her calling to become one of the first female disciples of Jesus Christ.

However, it seems Martha was also following her calling and using her gifts, and we don’t see Mary get up and say, “I told you so, your way is not biblical and my way is.”

In the Christian world, every woman wants to believe she is a “biblical woman,” but there is not one way to be a “biblical woman.”

We have allowed religious “experts” to tell us what a “biblical woman” is.  This causes us to compete for a certain status that does not even exist. The truth is that there are all sorts of women in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are warriors, prophets, business women, teachers, preachers, homemakers, deacons, judges, and the list goes on.

Jesus does not call us to be “biblical women;” no, sisters, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. Mary did not get praised by Jesus as choosing the better way because she was a non-traditional woman. She was praised because she was taking Jesus at His word. She was paying attention to His teachings.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). 

Remember, the Bible is the written Word of God, but it is not the actual Word of God. Jesus alone is the Word of God (John 1:1-14) and we are called to follow Him over the many biblical interpretations of mere human beings.

How did Jesus handle the ongoing war between the traditional woman and the non-traditional woman? In so many words, He said, stop judging each other. Stop worrying about who is right. Sit at my feet. Learn from me.

You can be a traditional Christian feminist or a non-traditional Christian feminist as long as you are a follower of Jesus and you affirm that women are equal to men in all rights, opportunities, value, and authority in the home, church, and in society. 

Feminism gets a bad rap because it often tries to make all women fit in “feminist boxes,” and traditionalism gets a bad rap because it often tries to make all women fit in “traditional boxes.”

But women are not made to fit in boxes. We are human. We are complex. And we are wonderfully made. We are all different and we should be working towards accepting each other for who we are and celebrating each other’s life decisions. Your way is not higher than my way and my way is not higher than your way, if we are each doing our best to follow Christ.

As females, we move forward by empowering and uplifting the women who think and live differently than we do. We should not shame them or marginalize them until they conform to our way. These are our sisters. These are our best allies. We progress as women when we stick together, despite our differences.

The more types of women we include in Christian feminism, the quicker all women will move towards complete equality and uninhibited freedom in Jesus Christ. 

This does not mean we all have to agree on everything, and it does not mean that we don’t call out oppressive or harmful attitudes. It does mean that we choose our battles with our sisters very wisely and spend most of our time embracing and empowering one another. The continued debate over who is the more “biblical woman” is not a battle worth fighting, because the traditional woman and the non-traditional woman are both celebrated in the eyes of the Lord Jesus.

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27 Comments

  • It’s not necessarily either – or. People are complex, just as you said.. and have different seasons and life situations. It’s OK to have different interests.
    I love both gardening and reading, intellectual conversations and cooking 🙂
    Practical and theoretical skills do not compete with each other.
    We are His masterpieces, fearfully and wonderfully made.

  • Oh, and even in more traditional times, women found ways to follow other interests than homemaking: there were Christian female poets, authors, even preachers (Salvation Army!), who had to take care of their homes and children.

  • Our pastor recently preached on Mary and Martha and he brought to light that in the Bible when a person is called by name twice, as in Martha, Martha, it signifies a calling to something. So instead of Jesus seeming to scold Martha, he is actually calling her to sit at his feet and choose the non-traditional role as Mary did. I found this fascinating!

  • Good reminder: “the traditional woman and the non-traditional woman are both celebrated in the eyes of the Lord Jesus.”

  • I really enjoyed reading this, thank you! I am a single mom and work full time while trying to build a business that I can run from home, so finding the balance between professional and “Mommy wants to stay home with the kids” is always a hard struggle. My church family has been such an uplifting encouragement, especially my sisters in Christ. I have had support from both the stay-at-home ‘traditional’ mothers, and the full time ‘working’ moms.

    • I love that, Cara! So cool when we can all support each other! What could we do as women if we just lifted each other up?!

  • This is SO TRUE!!! There is no such thing as a “biblical woman”. This is a made up human idea. It’s a beautiful life to follow the path that God puts before you. I really want women to get this. I should go share this like a billion times….lol

  • One of the things I have always been frustrated about with feminism is what felt to me like the insistence that I turn into a Type A career person. That’s not who I am. I’m an educator, an intellectual, and a nurturer. I feel like feminism today is kinder to women than it was 25 years ago, and your article is an example. When I was in college I heard people say that I had to have a full time job even if I had kids, because to do otherwise would be to let feminism down. I didn’t want to leave a traditional culture that dictated my life, only to have feminism dictate my life. I see this in women like Gloria Steinem, who says that women who won’t vote the way she wants are just motivated by chasing boys. Setting women free should mean just that, setting them free to make their own choices.

    • “I didn’t want to leave a traditional culture that dictated my life, only to have feminism dictate my life… Setting women free should mean just that, setting them free to make their own choices.”

      Says it all! Brilliant 🙂

  • Thank you Jory! You have done a great job in affirming the validity of both sides of the spectrum while encouraging openness and respect from those on both sides. In terms of trying to figure out what it means to be a ‘biblical woman’, you have simply hit the nail on the ‘head’ when you said, “Jesus does not call us to be “biblical women;” no, sisters, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.” Amen. That is so true!

  • Did you ever see this one, Jory? http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/arise/defeating-dragons-martha-role-model-single-women?page=show

    I’ve read a little about church history’s concept of Martha, and it isn’t a woman that stayed in the kitchen. I wonder if we’ve put her in a corner that doesn’t reflect who she actually was. But I agree with you that the point wasn’t that Mary chose non-tradition over the kitchen (though it is significant that Christ thought it was fine for her to do so), but that she was following Jesus into whatever he was calling her to.

    I actually love Martha… she made the same “You are the Messiah!” profession as Peter, but rarely do we see sermons about that fact. She got it. She knew who Christ was, but in a weak, frazzled moment she forgot to empower her sister to follow Jesus rather than bending to Martha’s needs. Mary was commended because she didn’t give into that pressure.

  • The fourth paragraph of this article seems almost mocking to me. Women choosing a more traditional life come in as many varieties as those who do not. Presenting all of them as a stereotype undermines the point you are trying to make.

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