…And our iniquity is pardoned
So goes a refrain from The Messiah. This refrain from Handel’s Christmas classic refers to the revelation that our Lord has bestowed his grace on women according to his great love, and according to God’s looked-for promise of redemption from sin.
During his earthly sojourn, Jesus demonstrated his friendship to women, freeing us from sin’s slavery into the liberty of health, devotion to learning and scholarship, ministry and worship, and equality in the home and church (see Ten Things Jesus Taught About Women.)
Indeed our Lord accomplished these acts for the entire human race, male and female, yet much of the church has been slow to accept the freedom that Jesus wrought for women. A large segment of the Church still teaches men that they are born to preeminence in all things, especially in the family and the church.
Just here, in Boundary County, pastors belabor wives’ submission to husbands for over an hour at summer weddings, while guests stand shifting from side to side in the sweltering heat. Sunday sermons are routinely studded with overbearing reminders to women parishioners that their part is to submit, while men’s part is to lead. These sermons issue forth on the opinion that men are the heads of their wives and families, the priest of the home, and fitted for leadership in the family and in the church, while women must not usurp man’s authority. There is usually little, or nothing, mentioned about the need for mutual submission in the body of Christ.
Yes, some churches will begrudgingly grant that women may minister, to a lesser or greater degree, as long as she is under the authority of her husband and church leadership. I have observed, however, that any woman who is allowed to do so is in a tenuous position. A woman who seems too bold or sure of herself is liable to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. I have seen women who, even while leading worship, hold themselves in a posture of exaggerated humility, their eyes downcast, bowed as if in fear to lift their heads. They mustn’t appear to forget their place, lest the little that is granted to them be taken away.
They do well to walk on eggshells: I have seen more than one mighty woman of God removed from her ministry on no other basis than that her husband, or some other man in the church, didn’t think it appropriate that a woman publicly minister in any capacity whatever.
I have attended one congregation in this county where, when the assembly was called to prayer, the women were twice admonished emphatically to “just let the men pray.” Evidently, women’s participation in public prayer was considered too usurping of man’s natural authority and leadership.
In another local group, women were denied the privilege of getting together for a regular prayer breakfast, because they might engage in gossip and create division in the church.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. No wonder that at least one counselor/psychologist found a high incidence of depression among local Christian women. This finding has been confirmed to me by others in Boundary County.
Standing in Eve’s Lineage
One might naturally ask why women allow this. One reason is that many people have never closely examined distorted doctrines, based on Eve’s part in the Fall, that have been in place for thousands of years. Since before the time of Christ, religious leaders have taught that women participate in Eve’s nature and in her sin. Women, more often than not, have been told they are the Daughters of Eve, and this label has served as justification for keeping women perpetually under men’s thumb. (Of course, pre-Christian societies have had other justifications, too, but I am here discussing the Church). The idea is that Eve got ahead of Adam and wandered from his authority. This is why she fell under Satan’s deception.
Women who are reminded periodically of this are easier to control, in part because they are kept off balance. If any strong woman in the congregation stands up boldly in the church, she is likely to be shamed by being reminded that she participates in Eve’s sin and has forgotten her place. She is then often intimidated into submission. Dr. Susan Hyatt calls this tactic “Blame, shame and tame.”
Some women are more vulnerable to this control tactic, due to their need for male affirmation. Others are confused because they don’t realize that a psychological tactic is being foisted off on them.
Throughout history, uppity women have been warned that they are Eve’s Daughters, and should, therefore, walk in shame. But here is where the Gift of God has set us free: We are not Eve’s daughters. Through Jesus and his atonement we have received the power to become the daughters of God.
Through Adam, sin entered the world, but through Jesus, the Second Adam, we have been redeemed from sin. Jesus took our iniquities upon himself, and our acceptance of his sacrifice brings us into direct relationship with God, the Father. No husband or pastor stands as a mediator between us and our Creator.
Now Martin Luther understood this doctrine full well, and he called it The Priesthood of All Believers. Martin Luther was a great man, though limited in his understanding of the consequences of this revelation. He therefore waffled when it came to extending this doctrine to women as well as men, but it is now understood by many Christian women that we, too, may come boldly before the throne of God—yes, with our heads lifted, our eyes flashing with joy, and our mouths filled with the high praises of God.
At his feet we receive vision for our lives that no man may take away from us. Like the daughters of Zelophehad in the Book of Numbers, we receive an inheritance alongside the men. Katherine Bushnell warns us not to sell our birthright, as did Esau. It is our inheritance to preach the gospel, teach, prophesy, minister to the needy and lay hands on for the healing of the sick. We are responsible to God for the vision and talents that have been given to us, and we cannot allow these precious gifts to be wasted in exchange for the approval of others.
It has come to my notice that there is a resurgence of Reformed Theology in the Patriot Movement, among conservatives, and even in the Charismatic Church. Previously, I had been at a loss for reasons explaining the rigidity I observed among conservatives regarding women. Of course this isn’t a church matter only, but is encountered throughout society. Little by little, I realized that Reformed Theology is currently one major source of Christians’ refusal to acknowledge women’s gifts and authority.
Calvin, like Luther, was also a man of his times and limited in his understanding of the full consequences of the Reformation. He was still greatly used of God, who is able to use us despite our shortcomings, but Reformed Theology never acknowledged the activity of the Holy Spirit and the operation of the gifts of the Spirit in the body of Christ. Hyatt points out that, “following the lead of Calvin and Luther, Reformed Protestants have related to the charismatic activity of the Spirit on a scale ranging from cautious acceptance to stern rejection and violent denouncements that they are ‘of the devil.’ This rejection of the charismata—which could be defined as a restriction on the Holy Spirit—appears to coincide with a restriction on women.”
I adamantly agree with Hyatt’s insight. The rejection of the Spirit’s operation in Boundary County’s congregations has coincided with a silencing of women and a curtailment of our liberty.
Now my brethren (brothers and sisters) are free to believe as their conscience dictates, but they have no reasonable expectation that I will assent to such doctrines by my silence. They have no inhibitions about broadcasting their own views on women, and so neither shall I.
Nor do I think their stated beliefs are in harmony with the rational tradition to which they make claim through Reformed Theology, or even the intellectual tradition of Aquinas or Augustine. Women, more godly and learned than I, have brought their case before the church in language every bit as stately and lucid as that used by any doctor of the Church. These spokeswomen include, but are not limited to, Margaret Fell, Catherine Kroeger, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, and Mary Daly, as well as Daly’s female contemporaries who made appeals to the leadership of the Catholic Church around the time of Vatican ll in the 1960’s.
The fact that the above women differ from Aquinas, Augustine and other early church fathers in their opinions about women doesn’t automatically make them wrong. C.S. Lewis tells us how our understanding of truth may legitimately develop within a system of absolutes into that understanding which is more perfect. Lewis calls a fixed system of absolutes The Tao. Lewis distinguishes The Tao from systems invented by philosophers who believe that there is no objective truth, and that humankind creates its own moral system as it goes along. Lewis tells us that The Tao is not “one among a series of possible systems of value”, but is the “sole source of all value judgments.” Other traditional names for the Tao are Natural Law, Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason.
Lewis tells us we may not invent any other moral code, but goes on to say: “Does this mean, then, that no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place? That we are bound down forever to an unchanging code given once for all?” Lewis goes on to explain that a Poet who loves, and is well-nurtured, in his or her mother tongue may make alterations to the language because changes are made from within the language tradition, rather than from without. He tells us that these kinds of changes are as different as the works of Shakespeare are from Basic English:
“It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: between the organic and the surgical. In the same way The Tao admits development from within. There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation…It is the difference between a man who says to us: ‘You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?’ and a man who says ‘Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.’ Those that understand the spirit of the Tao and who have been led by that spirit can modify it in directions which that spirit itself demands.”
It is by showing where current perceptions within the Tao are inadequate to the demands of its principles that we can legitimately make changes to those perceptions. In the same way, women must show that woman’s equality in church and home lies within the precepts of the Word of God, and how this is an advancement of truth that makes our understanding of those precepts more perfect. Women must make it clear where the current understanding of women’s status falls short of biblical precepts.
I believe that women have done that very thing in the past and are doing it now, but that much of the church has been recalcitrant for a variety of reasons. Many leaders have not even taken the time to look into the issue fairly, nor have they encouraged their parishioners to give the matter a fair hearing. Past writings and the history of women in the Church have been suppressed. For example, the books and lectures of Bible expositor and translator, Katherine Bushnell, have been ignored for almost a hundred years. Bushnell speaks of women translators before her who have been excluded from Bible translation committees, and whose work has been buried.
Nevertheless, the work goes on. I believe that Susan and Eddie Hyatt are currently on the cutting edge for making a rational argument within the Christian Tradition for the biblical equality of women. Another group doing this is Christians for Biblical Equality.
Leaving the Building
Due to the Catholic Church’s resistance to hearing rational arguments brought by Mary Daly and her contemporaries, many of these women left the church—not just the Catholic Church, but Christianity as a whole. Some have sought a new canon, that is, a source of authority outside the Bible, or advocated using portions of it combined with other sources.
William J. Abraham, teacher of philosophy and theology at Perkins School of Theology and Albert Cook Outlier Professor of Wesley Studies at Southern Methodist University, examines feminist philosophers and their epistemological theories of canon in his book, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology. Abraham shows that the feminist theories he examines fail to ground their epistemologies in anything absolute, and notes deconstructionist tendencies in their efforts. Moreover, he notes that their efforts to transcend the Bible and Christian canon appear to result in a move toward a new religion other than Christianity. I think Mary Daly would both agree and approve. This is why she calls her new creed postchristian. These women believe that Christianity is hopelessly patriarchal and can never grant equality to women. How tragic that much of the church seems to agree with their perception.
Hyatt recounts how the World Council of Churches, including 2,000 women, ushered in Sophia worship in 1994. Hyatt informs us that “participants rejected the incarnation and atonement of Jesus Christ as patriarchal constructs.” They prayed to Sophia, goddess of wisdom, and praised her as a deity. In addition, they praised her for her sexual characteristics.
In this context, I sense more than a little pathos in the John 6:68 account of Jesus, who, when abandoned by many of his disciples, asked the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
It’s my desire to reassure discouraged women that Jesus is still our friend. We will find no rock for our weary feet outside of His truth, word and salvation.
Abraham seems somewhat interested that these learned feminists, many of them holding doctorates in theology and philosophy, have mostly dismissed Pentecostal women who read the Bible in ways that liberate them to public ministries. According to those feminist philosophies examined by Abraham, Pentecostal women are included with other Christian women who have internalized the symbols of patriarchy, such as God the Father and God the Son in the Trinity, and hence we participate in our own oppression by remaining loyal to the Bible and Christianity. We are mistaken in our perception that Christ has set us free.
Many within Christianity who reject the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its operation within the body of Christ seem to agree with this dismissal of Pentecostal women. Insights on liberty in Christ Jesus gained and acted upon by Christians within the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements are dismissed as specious. There has been a great effort to squelch any such understanding of the Bible. Indeed, many even within the Charismatic/Pentecostal traditions have left off allowing the gifts of the Holy Spirit a place in their assemblies and worship.
In addition, many Christians either ignore or don’t understand the fact that there are several schools of feminism, therefore they lump all forms into one and reject them out of hand. They either don’t know, or won’t acknowledge, that feminists who base their doctrine on Liberation Theology are very different from Evangelical feminists who believe that the Bible, properly translated, speaks for the equality of women. They also do not distinguish Marxist feminism apart from any other school of feminist thought. Abhorring the relativism and confusion that are the bi-products of those philosophers who have abandoned the quest for objective truth founded on the Word of God, these Christians have reacted to the message of woman’s equality without making critical distinctions, and so are like an army that has boxed itself into a canyon from which they think there is no exit save into the camp of the enemy. Personally, I think this mentality suits the purposes of their opposition far better than they realize.
The Way Out
I applaud William J. Abraham’s proposed solution to the problems uncovered in his examination of feminist philosophies in the church:
“We can identify what is needed. The problem, if it to be resolved, can be addressed in part by articulating a comprehensive vision of the canonical heritage of the Church, which shows that the doctrine of the Trinity is good for all of us , which shows that salvation from all sin, including salvation from male oppression, can be found in Christ. In short, this problem can be solved by showing that the salvation brought by Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit saves all humankind to the uttermost. Clearly, such a challenge is likely to evoke in time the full, self-critical response it so richly deserves.”
To sum up and conclude, some feminists have responded to the refusal of many church leaders to fairly consider rational arguments for the equality of women by leaving Christianity. Rather than continuing to make the case within the precepts of Christianity, they have abandoned those precepts and attempted to bring in a new canon and a new religion. In other words, they have opted for radical surgery, rather than continue to advocate for organic change.
For its part, the church is still changing, but many Christians seem to be hardening in their refusal to consider the case for women’s equality. This includes quite a few groups here in Boundary County, who seem to be doubling down on their insistence that women remain secondary in the Church.
There are those of us in Boundary County who have studied these issues for a number of years. We will continue to set forth the case for Biblical equality in home studies. I would suggest that any persons who are interested listen to Eddie and Sue Hyatt’s YouTube videos and explore their International Christian Women’s History Project and Hall of Fame. They also oversee the God’s Word to Women site. One may profit by visiting the Christians for Biblical Equality web site.
Praise be to God, who gave His only begotten Son, so that all who believe on Him may receive eternal life.
Works Cited and Consulted
Abraham, William J. Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology. Oxford University Press: New York, 2006.
Bushnell, Katherine C. God’s Word to Women. God’s Word to Women, Inc.: Grapevine Texas, 2004.
Daly, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex: With a New Feminist PostChristian Introduction by the Author. Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1975.
Hyatt, Susan C. In the Spirit We’re Equal: The Spirit, The Bible, and Women: A Revival Perspective. Hyatt Press: Tulsa Oklahoma, 1998.
Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man: How Education Develops Man’s Sense of Morality. Macmillan Publishing: New York, 1955.