A popular children’s rhyme says boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.” The poet and historian Robert Southey expresses a much higher opinion of girls: “sugar and spice and everything nice; that’s what little girls are made of.”
In truth, none of us are animals or angels (i.e., boys don’t have tails and girls don’t always act nice). God made us humans, and little has gone well in human relationships since our first ancestors disobeyed God. Scripture and history testify that we no longer live in Paradise (Romans 3:23). Conflicts are rife in our homes and communities. We have only to watch the news to see global violence and poverty affecting vulnerable people, usually women and children.
Evangelical feminists look to God’s word to make sense of what has gone wrong in human relationships affecting the world. Although the Bible does not explicitly refer to “feminism,” it speaks to justice issues that have bearing on present-day feminist concerns: What is true of God’s design and purposes for humans? How does sin play into human brokenness and wrong ways of treating others? What hope is there for change, healing and restoration? What is necessary, practically, as Christians pursue gender reconciliation?
To start, Christian feminists look to foundational truths about creation, the fall and redemption.
1. God designs females and males with equal dignity.
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26).
You and I have dignity because we bear God’s image as humans (Genesis 5:1-2). Male and female equally reflect God as unique persons; neither is superior. When we treat others with dignity, we value God’s image in them. Mistreating others is mishandling God’s masterpieces.
2. God assigns important work to all humans.
In one breath, God expresses mutual purposes for male and female: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Although different physiologically, God intends male and female to complete each other in a unity; children are the fruit of a couple’s union. Scripture also points at important work of single people and those who do not have children (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Jesus never married, after all.
Clearly, God’s assignments include a range of possibilities. The Hebrew words for subdue and have dominion point at taking care of, serving, guarding, watching over, preserving and caring for others and the world. When we honor each other’s unique callings, we build God’s realm.
3. God intends male and female to contribute their unique strengths to benefit each other and the world.
God orchestrated a parade of animals to show the first man he could not possibly do all the work alone (Genesis 2:19-20). He was half a community without someone to help.
In Created in God’s Image, Old Testament scholar Anthony Hoekema explains that the man couldn’t reflect the plurality of God alone. The description of the woman as “a help” is the same word used to describe God and military protectors and allies (19 out of 21 times in the Old Testament). God only declared humanity “very good” after completing the masterpiece. We do well to honor the strength of women working alongside men.
4. Humans are sinful, and Christians are called to fight injustices.
“Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: Rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression” (Isaiah 59:12,13).
The Old Testament traces what happens as a result of humans abandoning God’s purposes. To this day, many experience less-than-human treatment, especially women and children. Attitudes of superiority play into devaluing others through stereotyping, minimizing, competitiveness, withholding resources, dominating, etc.
Sin is the belly of sexism, racism, classism and other forms of systemic inequality resulting in inequitable education/training/opportunity/pay; harassment; domestic and sexual violence; pornography; sex trafficking; slavery; and other crimes. As Christians, we are called to fight for justice in these areas (Isaiah 1:17).
It can be easy to criticize the way some people have gone about fighting for justice in various women’s issues, but Christians should respond to even misguided justice efforts graciously in Jesus’ name.
“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).
Three main branches of second-wave feminism take differing approaches to overcoming gender inequality. Radical feminism, associated with deep hurt and anger, emphasizes female jurisdiction and overcoming evils of patriarchy. Liberal feminism, known for valuing androgyny, seeks reform through education, equal political rights and economic opportunities, and exploring terminology and values. Marxist feminism pursues economic opportunity, freedom from racial and gender oppression and prosperity to all.
Time does not permit critiquing each one, biblically, but we can be sure Jesus would not “throw stones” at secular feminists (John 8:1-11).
5. The spirit of Jesus can restore broken, divided humans to wholeness and unity.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23).
In the words of Henri Nouwen, Jesus brings divided humanity to a new unity. The world pays attention when we treat each other in the ways we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
Evangelical feminists believe there is hope for redeeming communities from age-old conflicts (Ephesians 2:4-9). God has given us power to incarnate Jesus. Doing so enables rising above attitudes of superiority that result in stereotyping, minimizing, competitiveness, withholding resources, dominating, etc. And it enlivens us to oppose structures supporting inequitable education/training/opportunity/pay, harassment, domestic and sexual violence, pornography, sex trafficking, slavery and other crimes. Ground is fertile for bringing light, hope and wholeness to lives and communities in Jesus’ name.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
Created in God’s Image, by Anthony A. Hoekema
In the Beginning, by Henri Blocher
Beyond the Curse, Women Called to Ministry by Aida Besancon Spencer
The Locust Effect, Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros
What’s Right With Feminism, by Elaine Storkey