Recently I updated my Facebook status to admit that I’m better with abstract theology than with social issues. Today’s post may just bear that out, and in the process, upset a few people and lose a few readers. Though I hope not.
A few years ago I was interested in this girl. Sometimes we’d hang out and go on what could only be described as “dates” (unofficially). Nothing ever came of it and I think everybody is happy about that. She was a feminist and her parents were Pentecostal pastors. I was a newbie to the subject of egalitarianism, but was certainly not a feminist. When she told me that the Bible was written by a bunch of chauvinistic, patristic men I was greatly indignant. Since I have a high view of the scriptures, her statement amounted to claiming that God himself was a chauvinistic anti-egalitarian.
On one of those early outings we went on I tried to be my normal chivalrous self by opening the car door for her. Such an act, it seems, proved to be too chauvinistic and politically incorrect. To put the world back to the way it should be, and probably to make an egalitarian point, she stretched across on the inside of the car to pull the handle and push open the drivers-side door before I could walk around and let myself in. She did this so that all things would be “equal” and all things would be “egalitarian” and all things would be “balanced”.
I am thankful to the nth degree that my wife makes no attempt to emasculate me with some egalitarian social agenda to strip me of my manhood in order to make all things equal (oops, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say). And I am thankful (and I’m sure she is thankful) that I make no attempt to dominate, control, suppress or silence her in some social agenda for worldly hierarchical authority.
So because of my relationship, I simply don’t understand the complimentarian/egalitarian debate. It seems to me that it is riddled with reactions to abuses on both sides. I lock arms with egalitarians who get enraged when men abuse women, control women, “lord” an authority over women or anything else of the sort. I get enraged too. But then I get annoyed when egalitarians take those situations and apply them wholesale to complimentarianism and accuse godly complimentarians of having a social agenda when, rather, biblical fidelity is their only agenda.
The girl I was interested in may have been too harsh in her depiction of the biblical form, but she was right about one thing: the bible is not a text for feminists. We may say that it was more egalitarian than any other text of its kind in the ancient world. But it is far from egalitarian in a truly feminist sense. I know this is going to offend people and I’m going to be accused of having a social agenda (which is hogwash), but irregardless of peoples’ reactions, it is true. The only group I think who might buck against this are evangelical feminists. But feminists of other sorts will readily admit my point, which is one of the reasons why they reject the scriptures.
In Margaret Kostenberger’s book, Jesus and the Feminists, she identifies three types of feminists: Radical Feminists, Reformed Feminists and Evangelical Feminists (egalitarians).
Radical Feminists are, we might say, consistent egalitarians. They imagine and construct an “omnigendered society in which gender distinctions are transcended, lesbianism is celebrated and cross-dressing is practiced.” (p.48) Radical Feminists out rightly reject the bible and Jesus because neither is egalitarian in the feminist sense.
Reformed Feminists reject the bible as an authority (like the Radical Feminists), but not Christianity (unlike the Radical Feminists). They believe that Jesus was egalitarian and they want to Reform Christianity from within. But they know that the bible does not depict Jesus as egalitarian (which is why they reject it’s authority). They treat the biblical text much the same way as the Jesus Seminar does, by removing all offensive, non-egalitarian material from the life of Christ.
The point of this is to say that when I claim that the bible is not a text for feminists the claim is not coming just from complimentarians, but from feminists themselves!
Evangelical Feminism (otherwise known as egalitarianism) was birthed in the 1970’s. While Radical and Reformed Feminists rally around the idea of “liberation from oppression”, Evangelical Feminists adopt equality as their central tenet (Galatians 3:28). (p.129) The former groups reject biblical authority, the latter seeks to develop a new hermeneutic with which to accommodate a feminist reading of the text.
Margaret summarizes the difficulty faced by Evangelical Feminists in contrasts to their more liberal counterparts:
“Unlike radical feminists, who reject Scripture entirely, and reformist feminists, who adopt a hermeneutics of suspicion based on a perceived patriarchal bias in Scripture, evangelical feminists on the whole claim to consider Scripture as authoritative, inspired and inerrant. For this reason they cannot simply dismiss scriptural passages that do not conform to their egalitarian commitment, nor can they expand the Christian canon or say Paul or other writers of Scripture were in error. Their major interpretive option is therefore to find ways to interpret biblical passages along egalitarian lines, and, where this proves difficult, to postulate a “center of Scripture” with regard to gender roles that allows them to set aside as culturally relative or otherwise inapplicable passages that do not support evangelical feminism.
The result is at times strained exegesis, and at other times unlikely interpretations that seem to be driven more by egalitarian presuppositions than by an inductive study of the text.” (p.177)
In other words, in order to accommodate a feminist reading of the text, evangelical feminists commit the über eisgesis fallacy.
Google defines egalitarian as “believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights”. Well, then, it turns out that the phrase “egalitarian” may very well be swallowed up in the term “complimentarian”. To put it another way, all biblical and godly complimentarians are egalitarians.
“Complimentarians, then, understand Scripture to teach genuine gender equality in terms of personal worth and dignity before God in Christ and desire to see male-female partnership and mutuality in marriage and the church.” (p.181) What complimentarianism does not seek to do (unlike egalitarianism as it stands alone) is to collapse all gender distinctions.
If this way of talking about complimentarianism sounds strange to some people, than now you know why this whole debate sounds strange to me. Because that definition of complimentarianism is how my wife and I intuitively understand our relationship. We are egalitarian because we are complimentarian instinctively. And there is no need for me to sacrifice my male-hood, nor for her to sacrifice her femininity by collapsing all gender distinctions in order to attain the equality in Christ expressed by Paul in Galatians 3:28.