The marginalization of evangelical feminism

The marginalization of evangelical feminism is a serious (and long) paper. I have not read it all yet but was struck by some of the content, which has led me into something of a rant.

This:

Given the influence of second wave feminism on gender norms within
American culture, and given the availability of a discourse of
mutuality and partnership within evangelical subculture, and given the
pragmatic egalitarianism of most ordinary evangelicals, the question
remains: why have the ideals advocated by evangelical feminists thus
far failed to transform the culture of husbands’ headship among
American evangelicals? The intransigence of patriarchy is the simplest
answer. Clearly many feminists have abandoned Christianity altogether
as hopelessly patriarchal. Clearly as well, evangelical feminists do
not believe that is the case. Rather than believing that Christianity
is inherently sexist, they see it as establishing both the ideals and
resources that make an egalitarian "community of oneness" possible.

describes something quite a long way from my experience in the UK. I would suggest that in our more secular society we have moved to a point where overt patriarchy and male headship is not generally acceptable (although in a similar way to racism it is still very much alive, just under the surface). I would agree that sadly much of the church has not been somewhere that is seen as a home and community for feminists.

As I reflect on this I am struck by the way that in a number of US Church plants in the UK we see a US cultural view of gender being taught. My own view is that their growth has been despite that view being so different from a UK tradition. That can be seen as a terrible indictment of traditional denominations that our worship and church life has been so bad that people are willing to ignore their problems with the theology of these churches. So we have big new churches that are disconnected from our communities (inevitable with commuter churches) and the culture of the people around.

As traditional denominations how should we respond to the challenge of these churches? I do not believe the answer is to copy the same model (become like them), that would not be true to our interpretation of scripture (and I
will not be bullied into pretending that I don’t have a very high value
of scripture) nor would it be true to our culture.

We must not accept the premise that "nice" modern worship in comfortable surroundings means you can/should get away with a lack of engagement with local community and society in general, nor with bad theology and not with a wholesale acceptance of US values of prosperity, self actualisation and private (internal to me) rather than public faith.

In previous decades we saw the traditional churches in the UK fix their culture, worship, buildings and life (I believe as a reaction to huge changes outside the church) and hence become irrelevant to many people. How soon before the fixed culture of US fundamentalists compared to general society causes their numbers to free fall? Becoming out of touch with real people and real lives is a sure fire way to kill the Church (through making faith totally irrelevant). Do not take that to mean I support compromise and acceptance of all culture – but do take it that all culture needs to be open to challenge, and that includes a culture that misreads scripture to support violence, patriarchy and prosperity for the faithful.

When non Christian society reflects the teaching of Christ better than the Church it is time to be very very concerned. On the issues of gender and the environment this is scarily true for some churches. On other Gospel issues such as violence, justice and a radical lifestyle we are left behind by growing numbers of people with no expressed faith.

Returning from my rant.The paper also demonstrates some of the false arguments used in debates over gender:

"biblical feminism" remains marginalized from the evangelical
mainstream because it has been effectively linked with particular
strands of "secular" feminism that evangelicals find unacceptable.
Evangelical gender essentialists like Wayne Grudem and John Piper, and
popular writers like James Dobson and Stu Weber have been remarkably
successful in defining feminist arguments for egalitarianism as
arguments for androgyny. For ordinary evangelicals, androgyny is both
counter intuitive and theologically unacceptable. Men and women are
obviously not identical, the argument goes, and so feminism must be
mistaken. Although evangelical feminists have written extensively on
the conceptual difference between egalitarianism and androgyny, their
arguments continue to be cast as urging identical roles and an equally
divided division of labor (Gallagher 2003, 2004). To the extent that
gender conservatives remain successful in linking androgyny and
egalitarianism, evangelical feminism is likely to remain ideologically
suspect to the majority of ordinary evangelicals.

Androgyny has nothing to do with egalitarianism and we should stand up against that false linkage. The argument that egalitarianism is an argument for androgyny falls totally flat when we think of racism. We would not accept that to avoid racist behaviour all people should have the same culture and become entirely homogenised. So why should we accept the same argument against egalitarianism (which is what equating egalitarianism with androgyny does)?

As I write this I am in two minds about hitting publish. Am I just grumpy due to having a bad cold? Am I being unfair? I do not want to leave you with the impression that all is perfect on my side of the fence or that all is wrong on the other.

Somehow as Churches we have to stop throwing babies out with the bath water and read, pray, think and reflect. For both traditional and newer denominations that will mean change. It will mean we have to use the gospel to challenge our own cultures as much as those of the world. It will mean that we all have to check that the Gospel we are evangelising is complete, the same as the one Jesus preached and is engaged with what God is doing in the world around.

Oh and hat tip to The CBE Scroll: “Set Apart,” but is it by Fear?.

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