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Feminism and faith: Some further thoughts

This is the second part of Christine’s article. The first part can be found here.

I have invested a lot of effort in researching feminism and trying to express why I think it is at odds with Christianity. I’ve struggled to reconcile the two, not as someone hostile to the feminist cause, but as one who wishes to let the Bible speak first. No matter which way I have tried to re-frame the argument, I have not been able to come to a position which would allow me to say in good conscience that I am a feminist. But I want to make two important clarifications in regards to this.

1. My position is ‘hardline’ because I’ve decided that I never want to assume the gospel.

One of the most valuable insights I have learned as I have begun to prepare for a lifetime of ministry is that the next generation is prone to assuming the gospel. A large part of what informs my personal reservation in publicly melding feminism and faith is that I want to be absolutely clear on what my priority is. I never want those I am discipling to take Jesus’ Lordship for granted. To put it simply, my fear is that by unabashedly taking hold of Christian feminism, what will be heard by the next generation is the word ‘feminism’ and this is what will be pursued, to the detriment of the Word and evangelism. This is an argument that some may dismiss as a ‘slippery slope’ approach, and yet, I am going to hold to it. I hold to it because I take the warnings to guard the good deposit entrusted to me very seriously. Call it overreaching fear-mongering if you will. I’m simply not willing to risk it, and I have yet to encounter a model of a Christian feminist that I am willing to emulate.

The generational shift is easily discerned via online media. Given that the rise of the complementarian feministis a fairly new phenomenon, it does not have much of a history to evaluate. However, the Christians for Biblical Equality website provides an interesting test case. Whilst browsing the CBE archives I came across the most compelling argument for Christian feminism I have ever read. In 1995, Rebecca Groothius published The Feminist Bogeywoman and it is an elegant and nuanced justification of biblical feminism. It aims to counter the very argument I am employing by ensuring clear lines of demarcation between biblical and radical feminism. Interestingly, by 2015, CBE saw fit to publish articles such as the following: ‘It’s Not Like She’s A Radical Feminist’ (the content of which explains why the author is in fact a radical feminist). I might have been more skeptical of the ‘slippery slope’ argument if I had not seen such obvious evidence of it. Indeed, I do wonder what Groothius herself may have thought about the progression (or perhaps degeneration) of the position she so assiduously justified.

Furthermore, while the theologically trained begin to debate amongst themselves whether or not a complementarian feminist is a contradiction in terms, the young women in their teens (who I teach) approach the issue with remarkable clarity. Time and again I’m finding that young people simply cannot reconcile their feminist convictions with passages such as Ephesians 5. For them, the clash between feminism and faith is assumed by default. I avoid using the label ‘feminist’ primarily for their benefit. Truth be told, I could find the language to justify a personal brand of complementarian feminism if I really wanted to. But this is not about me.

2. The best argument for Christian feminism is poorly expressed complementarianism.

To the men in positions of authority who may be reading this approvingly, I humbly offer a word of caution. It is not enough, and it will never be enough, to simply critique feminism. If you have genuine concerns about the manner in which you see the women around you entangling feminism and faith, your first response should not be to critique feminism but to consider your teaching and your example. To put it bluntly: you will have nothing to be concerned about if you are getting your own house in order. Speak the word of God faithfully, not apologetically. If you find that you are apologetic about the complementarian position, perhaps it is indicative that you have not been practising it adequately.

I am extremely grateful to the men I have worked under and been mentored by who have proven to me that I am not a fool for subscribing to complementarianism. Unfortunately, it’s clear to me that my experience is rare. I don’t think I could write with the conviction that I do had I not been nurtured and discipled by men. If you are a male leader of a church and you are reading this, I challenge you to name at least two or three women in your congregation whom you have recognised to be leaders or are potential leaders. What have you done, or what could you do, to encourage them personally? And would these women commend you? If you are struggling to answer these questions, I will leave it to you to consider the reasons why and I urge you to act on it. If this has been an easy thought experiment then keep going, I thank God for you.

The Sydney Anglican diocese is a curious bubble. It attracts brilliant men and women, and especially some of the most brilliant women I have ever encountered. In the secular world, these women would be leaders in their fields without question. However, as ministry trainees and workers, we find ourselves beholden to a system that we must be invited to participate in, depending on the goodwill of the men who lead it. I am thankful that the men who lead the diocese, Moore Theological College and my own church are men I deeply respect and am glad to follow. But may I remind you: it can be difficult for women to know where they stand, especially if the men are not taking responsibility for involving them.

Perhaps you have struggled to know what complementarianism looks like in practice. We all have. But generally speaking, the men who have included me in their ministry have never really been at a loss for how to do so. This indicates to me that what really matters is whether or not your convictions are firmly in place. If they are, creativity in practice will naturally follow. I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Baddeley’s assessment that we are working towards finding the ‘one true complementarianism’—and we are really only at the beginning.

If we do not work hard at getting this right, then we ourselves will be responsible for our congregations turning to feminism to model right relationships between men and women. As it is, I have experienced the great good of complementarianism and remain convinced that it is thoroughly biblical. While feminism can be useful for pointing out our blind spots, it will never come close to the model that our creator has so graciously laid out for us, and which will see us truly thrive as men and women.