I have noticed a serious “catch 22” that feminists, in both the Church and in society face. I first noticed this problem in the Bible; I then realized the problem again while studying the 2nd wave of feminism in American history.
The dilemma in which female feminists have is not an easy one. Yet, I believe we are finally in the historical space and time (at least in western society) to overcome our struggle.
I believe that one major reason we as women have struggled to rise up as equals is that after we have been silenced for years, and finally realize that we are truly equals to men in ALL ways, we get a bit “out of control,” and turn people off from our cause. This has nothing to do with “female emotions;” but rather, natural human emotions that are a result of being controlled for too long.
I mean, can you blame us? Women are often locked in metaphorical cages for decades, and then when we are released, we struggle to tame our boiling blood and fiery hearts.
If we were never permitted to have the mic, of course we are going to want the mic. If we were never allowed to cut our hair short, of course we are going to want to cut our hair short. If we were forced to be a homemaker, of course we are going to want to get a job.
We roll around in “righteous rebellion” at first, which is good. It gives us the passion we need to advocate for necessary change. We need to dwell on the injustice we faced and continue to face due to our gender. We need to vent. We need to speak up, write out, cut our hair short, get a job, and whatever else.
We need to distance ourselves from friends, family, churches, and really all environments or people that are not in support of the “new us.” WE ARE FREE! WE ARE FREE! WE ARE FREE! We need to shout it from the rooftops or steeples.
Yet, I have noticed that among women fighting for equality, we lose our influence when our passion turns into rage, bitterness, self-centeredness, and a lack of self-control. We unknowingly turn people away from our cause when our “righteous rebellion” turns into plain old rebellion. When we lose our composure, we get silenced and marginalized all over again, pushing us back, and slowing down our movement.
I first noticed this in the infamous Bible passage of 1 Timothy 2. The Apostle Paul, who was a strong advocate for women’s equality in other books of the Bible, literally tells the women of the Ephesian church to remain silent at their worship gatherings. Why would Paul say such a thing when it was he who praised the female apostle Junia (Rom. 16:7) and the female deacon Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) as key leaders in the early church?
The answer is quite simple.
The women in Pastor Timothy’s church lost their cool. For the first time in their lives, they were being treated as equals in their new Christian sub-culture (due to the way Christ treated women) and they wanted their voice to be heard. The problem was that they had no idea what they were talking about and were leading Christians astray.
CS Keener notes that while these false teachers were most likely men, much of the spreading of the false teaching was through women in the congregation. It is likely that most women in the Ephesian church had limited training in Christian theology and that their interest in false doctrine was proving to be dangerous (Source).
The Apostle Paul basically shut the craziness down and sadly, the women in the church of Ephesus were silenced and marginalized, yet again, by someone who ultimately wanted to see them free from oppressive gender roles (Gal. 3:28).
I noticed this again in the 2nd wave of feminism. The cause started out a worthy one. Women were basically tired of being treated like pretty dolls and were immensely bored and unhappy with the place society had put them in – basically the heat in the kitchen got too hot. The problem is that the movement led to all sorts of craziness and many people were seriously turned off by feminism and still are (especially conservative Christians).
This phase began with protests against the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City in 1968 and 1969. Feminists parodied what they held to be a degrading “cattle parade” that reduced women to objects of beauty dominated by a patriarchy that sought to keep them in the home or in dull, low-paying jobs. The radical New York group called the Redstockings staged a counter pageant in which they crowned a sheep as Miss America and threw “oppressive” feminine artifacts such as bras, girdles, high-heels, makeup and false eyelashes into the trashcan (Source).
Although this sounds quite exciting and I wish I would have been there, it is understandable why the dramatic expose was not appreciated by many.
This wave also lead to some pretty un-Christian ideals. Women’s reproductive rights were a dominant issue, which I stand for in relation to every woman having access to birth control, but it went too far and abortion became an OK choice too.
As a result of the 2nd wave of feminism losing composure and going too far, the Church reacted strongly against all forms of feminism and Christian feminism took an enormous hit.
In the 1990’s, “complementarian theology” was developed as a response to evangelical feminism and it kindly and intelligently suggested that men and women are equal in “human worth,” but not in “authority” in the home, church, and society. Men are to take full leadership, protect and provide, and basically grow up.
In return for what complementarians call “sacrificial love/leadership,” Christian women are to submit to their husbands as their authority, be directed by male only elder boards, and lead pastors must always be male. Women may teach the Bible to other women and children, but they may not teach the Bible to grown up men.
In graduate school, I spent years studying complementarianism. It is attractive because it is systematic, neat, cordial, serious, composed, seemingly ethical and seemingly biblically sound.
Women want men to behave like grownups and many take great comfort in not having to be the responsible one, so the movement exploded and thousands upon thousands of Christian women simply let go of their spiritual authority in Jesus Christ and began to believe that their husbands, male elders, and/or male pastors are their “spiritual covering” – a teaching that is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
Complementarians have kept their act together for over 20 years now, but like any powerful movement, they are beginning to make a spectacle of themselves as they grow.
Major sexual abuse cases of girls and women are being exposed in some of these churches. Complementarians do not promote sexual abuse (quite the opposite), but their theology is a breeding ground for dysfunctional men who are looking to control and abuse girls and women. Sadly, there are many, many dysfunctional men. Christian or not.
Their theology is also beginning to appear unfair, even to their own. Just this past year, leading complementarian John Piper, told the Christian internet that women should maybe shy away from becoming police officers since they would have to hold direct authority over men in such a profession. Some complementarians spoke out against such legalism (thank God).
Also in this past year, well-known complementarian pastor, Matt Chandler, found himself in a mess when he and his board of all male elders attempted to practice “church discipline” on a woman who annulled her new marriage to a man she found out was addicted to child pornoghraphy. It didn’t go well for the guys; many in the Christian world were outraged. Matt and his elder team ultimately offered a sort-of apology to the woman, but it seemed more like a political move to put out a massive fire burning around their mega church (The Village Church, TX).
Also, in current events, famous patriarchal tv stars, “The Duggars,” found themselves in a nationwide known scandal. It came out that Josh Duggar (one of the older sons) had sexually molested his little sisters when they were younger. Josh apologized profusely to the world and conservative Christians were quick to offer public grace, but just a few months later Josh was exposed again as a participant in ashleymadison.com (a website designed to cheat on one’s spouse).
Complementarianism has not had a good year and it is becoming increasingly clear that the theology is not fair, and perhaps even dangerous, towards girls and women.
Further, more and more Christian men are standing up against complementarianism and opening up about the condescending pressure that they have felt to “man up” and change their personalities to fit a human-made American doctrine that is only about 25 years old.
As complementarians begin to lose their cool, Christian feminists are getting smarter, more composed, and kinder. We are standing our theological ground and many of us are not getting caught up in other issues that are not biblically sound. Further, we have experienced a greater level of freedom as females in the western world, so our metaphorical cages are not nearly as suffocating as they once were. Therefore, we are able to tame our reaction to “new found freedom” much easier than in the past.
The time is now to tell your stories Christian feminists! Women of God, use your words, use your words, use your words. Write all over the internet and tell your stories out loud to anyone who will listen. Keep your cool and be quick to apologize when you don’t. Handle criticism with grace. Listen to fellow Christian feminists who you trust. Let them call you out when you go too far and ask them for their opinions.
By the way, you will lose your cool and you will go too far if you care about this cause.
You will make mistakes, but you will still be part of this team. Take a break if you need to, but get back in the game quickly. YOU are needed and accepted just as you are. We are not striving to be perfect feminists; but rather, peace-making feminists. And don’t mistake “peace-making” as “non-confrontational.”
Feminism is not for the faint-hearted and we absolutely must shine our lights on the darkness that patriarchy leads to worldwide.
Remain level headed and intelligent. Don’t let bitterness, pride or rebellion take hold. Be kind. Love your enemies. Be firm, but respectful. Do not back down and stay focused. Speak the truth boldly even when your knees are shaking and do not abandon the teachings of Scripture. This is how we will push back darkness and move forward. This is how the truth will win out.
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