With the advent of mass participation in media through the internet and social networking, the conversation about feminism (in its “third wave” that is increasingly media-critical, sex-positive and multicultural in character) has broken out of doctrinaire academic and activist circles and is now everywhere — including our campus. One recent Threefold column was titled “Patriarchy: a result of the fall.” A perhaps more daring one demanded, “Stop discriminating: let women go topless.” The University quietly but enthusiastically welcomed a conference on “Faith, Feminism and the Academy” last fall. Personally, I feel uneasy about all this. While I don’t think a flat rejection to all these movements is warranted, Christians should be cautious in their approach to feminism. It shouldn’t surprise us that a modern, western, post-enlightenment ideology of gender might conflict at some points with a biblical theology of gender.
Aristotle thought that women were inferior to men; for centuries, the world followed suit. Feminism rightly objects with its solution to make men and women equal. But, as it so often does, a biblical view of the matter overleaps the dichotomy of conservative-liberal, chauvinism-feminism. Both man and woman are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and are one in Christ and his salvation (Galatians 3:28), but they possess differing and complementary roles in God’s economy. Wives are called to submit and husbands to lead:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:22-25 ESV).
Although talked about in Ephesians in the context of eventual redemption, male headship is not a result of the fall but a pillar of creation:
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (I Corinthians 11:7-9).
But that headship, as discussed in Ephesians, is radically self-sacrificing—not a position of privilege but a call to responsibility.
With any kind of -ism, Christians have to be ready to qualify: to recognize what’s good but to critique in light of God’s Word. Take, for example, capitalism. We can appreciate its power to create a thriving ecosystem of commerce, but we must also be mindful of its appeal to the fallen humankind’s hubris and greed. And imagine if we started trying to correct our Christian practice or theology with capitalism: ceasing the charitable work of our congregations in our communities for fear of creating a dependency, or perhaps awarding grace based on competitive merit. God forbid!
With feminism, Christians can of course affirm the movement’s recognition of the imago dei uniquely present in women. Christians must also rally to women around the world suffering abuse by self-serving and chauvinist male authority. However, they ought to be resistant to the idea that gender roles are merely socially constructed rather than divinely mandated.
It’s true that women shared a radically counter-cultural closeness to Christ, faithful enough to witness his death and privileged to witness his Resurrection while the men cowered in the upper room. It’s also true that Christ entrusted apostleship to those eleven men — despite their cowardice. They were, as men, bound to bear the cross they shirked.