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Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?

I’ve confessed to being in no-man’s land in the Complementarianism / Egalitarianism debate.  While I think it’s pretty clear Scripturally that Men and Women were designed to complement each other and that, in that union, men were called and equipped to lovingly lead, I also believe there’s far too much evidence (both Scriptural and sociological), that women are entirely capable of leading men and teaching men, exercising equal authority, and pretty much occupying any office or role that a man could. That said, the longer I remain here and watch the debate escalate, the more I’ve found myself inching to one side.

The current “Christian feminist” movement is doing more to push me towards Complementarianism than just about anything.

It’s not because their arguments are weaker. Frankly, they have some great arguments. It’s not because their message doesn’t resonate culturally and biblically. I think it very much does.

It’s because of how they come off.

I realize this is completely subjective and anecdotal. But give me a chance to show you what I mean.

Several months ago, Emily Wierenga wrote what I considered a thoughtful post at Prodigal Magazine entitled The lost art of servanthood (a letter to my feminist sisters). Emily’s point — at least the point I got —  was that in their fight for “equality,” Christian woman might be losing “the art of servanthood.”

I fear for us, sisters.

I fear we’ve become too angry to serve, to be opened up to a larger purpose.

I fear we’ve lost the art of servanthood.

Emily concluded,

…When we stop being afraid of what men can do to us, or angry about what they have done, and start serving the God whose image they are made in, then men will start filling our church pews again.

And our husbands will rise up to their full potential to be spiritual leaders, to be prophets and priests of integrity and Pentecost, to be speakers into lives and providers of families and protectors of daughters and mentors of sons.

I celebrate us, sisters.

Not because of our gender.

But because of one man, and what He did for us.

Her tone was gracious and, I think, her point was relevant. However, the comments exploded (and are now at over 500). Some took exception to the examples Emily used, mainly of a Lebanese friend who remained in an abusive situation and won her husband to Christ, as well as Emily’s reference in the comment section that “Men are called on to submit to Jesus Christ, and women are called to submit to their husbands.” The notion that men would “rise up to their full potential” as their wife served was also lambasted.

But the tone of the comments hardly seemed commensurate to the tone of the article.

For instance, Alise suggested that Emily’s article “glorified abuse”:

“Pieces like this that glorify abuse are part of what have kept someone near to me in an abusive marriage for nearly 13 years.”

Diana called the post “downright irresponsible,” while Danielle cautioned Emily to be “excruciatingly careful about not using stories as a ways to preach an agenda or knock a different agenda (i.e. feminism) down.” Laurel intoned, “What a horrible message to send into our society.” Rose wondered if Emily was “capable of having a conversation that is in any way based in reality and not self-destructive hatred of women.”

Stephanie sniped, “This reads like The Onion,” While Angela scolded, “Shame on you Emily. Take a punch in the name of Jesus is some major twisting of scripture.” Bethany suggested the devil got the best of Emily: “I think the enemy used that amazing story to confuse you about what is and isn’t servitude.”

Then there was Elizabeth who openly wondered,

“Emily, are you being abused right now? I’m serious. Are you attending an abusive church? Because there is something going on here that is NOT just about defending a ‘biblical, Scriptural’ view of servanthood. And I have no idea WHAT is going on but SOMETHING is happening to you that is NOT OK. …your pieces have become increasingly worrisome to me. I have seen this pattern before where abused women start defending abusive behavior. I just want you to know we love you. You are not alone. Whatever it is that you are experiencing right now, you are not alone. There is help. We love you.”

Elizabeth later apologized, while Claire defended the emotional tone of the conversation this way:

“I really don’t get why people keep saying that these comments are ’emotional’…as if that was a bad thing. An unemotional or dismissive response to stories of abuse is a sign of an unempathetic psychopath in my opinion.”

But by then, the bandwagon was tottering from the weight of indignation and acerbic rhetoric.

  • “unempathetic psychopath”
  • “shame on you”
  • “glorified abuse”
  • “downright irresponsible”
  • “What a horrible message”
  • “self-destructive hatred of women”
  • “are you being abused right now?”

Frankly, Emily Wierenga’s “feminist sisters” were in attack mode. Which is ironic when they are so often the ones to appeal to… civil dialog.

Whether right or wrong, I felt sorry for Emily. She hung in there, appeared gracious in answering the challenges. But she was being unnecessarily piled on. Don’t get me wrong — some of the objectors had reasonable points. They just got steam-rolled by the snark and self-righteous indignation of supporters. The spirit of Emily’s post did not deserve the reception it received. Sure, there are things worth debating and disagreeing with in her piece. But scolding her? Claiming she’s glorifying abuse? Wondering if she’s actually in an abusive situation? Sorry. Her post had been hijacked by a movement seeking traction. From my perspective, they are losing ground with feeding frenzies like that.

I realize this is completely anecdotal. Subjective. Deciding what is Scriptural can’t be left to responses on one blog post or one’s experience with the representatives of any given position. Just because a Christian feminist is rude — or a Calvinist, Universalist,  Atheist, whoever! — does not mean their position is wrong. Bad manners and blog misconduct don’t invalidate someone’s position. Nor does grace and diplomacy validate one’s position.

Nevertheless, the comments and reactions on Emily’s post have caused me to ask whether or not Christian feminists are actually doing more to hurt, rather than help, their cause.

* * *

UPDATE: July 15, 2013 — Since this post continues to receive traffic and generated so much feedback, I thought it would be appropriate to link to the blog posts and discussions it has generated.

 

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{ 540 comments… add one }
  • michelle pendergrass July 11, 2013, 11:45 AM

    I did a Google search of these terms: “mike duran” christian feminists and I’m not seeing the blogs writing about this. Can anyone link me?

    • Jessica Thomas July 11, 2013, 12:53 PM
      • Jessica Thomas July 11, 2013, 12:58 PM

        And now I shall officially bow out of this comment thread. This all stopped being healthy awhile ago I think. Though I’ve learned a lot about blogging culture and etiquette. For better or worse.

    • Mike Duran July 11, 2013, 1:44 PM

      I’ll post all the links on my next post, Michelle. Regarding your questions above about distinguishing b/w Christian and other feminists — all I can go by is the references they’ve made to themselves on their tweets, comments, or websites.

  • katz July 11, 2013, 3:37 PM

    Wow, given your opening, I was expecting some actual, you know, hateful language from feminists, but those examples you give are totally weak-sauce. “Shame on you” is off-limits now? You’re being too mean if you call something “irresponsible?” (Imagine this argument in other contexts. “Letting your child ride a bike without a helmet is downright irresponsible!” “Well, I was on the fence, but your tone is pushing me toward the anti-helmet camp!”)

    In the first place, if you think those are hurtful, attack-mode comments…you haven’t spent much time on the internet, duder. (A less scrupulous poster might be tempted to demonstrate for you what actual angry internet language looks like, but I’m nice, so I’ll just link you to Reddit. Browse for a while and you’ll come back thinking all those feminists were the height of moderation.

    Second, you’re saying you have a problem with the style, but what I’m seeing is an argument about substance disguised as an argument about style. Many of the statements quoted are plain statements that express a meaning in the simplest way possible. If you think a message is horrible, then how much more simply can you put it than “What a horrible message?” By condemning statements like these, you’re essentially saying that some opinions that are inherently acerbic and uncivil and ought to automatically be dismissed.

    Third, dear lord, how mild does a statement of disagreement have to be not to push you further towards complementarianism? There have been any number of comments in this thread where someone made a point in a measured, polite, even soft-pedaling tone, and have been met with a “This is the exact sort of comment that I’m talking about!” response. No doubt I’ve already been placed in that camp, but I honestly, literally don’t know how to speak obsequiously enough to meet your requirements.

    • Sara July 11, 2013, 6:43 PM

      You are one angry woman, katz. :p I love that you linked to Reddit. I think the author of this blog would have a heart attack if ever spent five minutes in some of those forums.

      • Johne Cook July 11, 2013, 8:00 PM
        • Sara July 12, 2013, 7:31 AM

          If he has seen and done sooo much then why are a few opinionated feminists too much for him to handle?

          • Johne Cook July 12, 2013, 7:41 AM

            Heh.

          • Jessica Thomas July 12, 2013, 7:53 AM

            “why are a few opinionated feminists too much for him to handle”

            I don’t think they are. If you’d been around Mike’s blog long enough, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to lash out at him like this because you’d be able to interpret his comments within the context of his larger worldview.

            To be fair, the same could be said of Mike’s take on Emily’s post. I can see how this post may have come across negatively to Emily’s commenters for the same reasons I just noted. Unfortunately, the Web makes it all too easy to come to quick and often unfair conclusions about our fellow human beings.

            • Sara July 12, 2013, 8:06 AM

              Katz’ point still stands. The comments on Emily’s post were not mean-spirited, especially considering some of the content that was in the post. I do happen to think it’s irresponsible to use a woman getting her teeth knocked out by a man as an example of wifely submission. That is exceedingly irresponsible. And that is what people responded to. If you are going to talk about abuse then you have to it with a lot of care and attention, and Emily did not do that. If she had been more responsible with what she wrote in the first place, people would not have had the reaction that they had to her writing and she would not have had to write a long paragraph at the end explaining that she didn’t mean to justify abuse. Even if she didn’t mean to, A LOT of people read it that way and were hurt, which may have caused some of them to lash out. This is a highly sensitive subject and if you’re going to shame people for having a gut reaction to flippant discussions of abuse then I don’t know what you tell you. Maybe you do need to spend more time in other corners of the internet to see what REAL mean-spiritedness looks like. Saying “shame on you” or calling something irresponsible is not the same as saying “You’re a f***ing bitch and you deserve to die” which is likely the kind of response Emily would have gotten if she had posted on a website like Reddit, as Katz linked to. THAT is cruelty.

            • katz July 13, 2013, 10:21 AM

              If you’d been around Mike’s blog long enough, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to lash out at him like this because you’d be able to interpret his comments within the context of his larger worldview.

              Surely the same goes for the feminists, but I don’t see you leaping to their defense.

              • Jessica Thomas July 13, 2013, 6:43 PM

                The second paragraph of my comment addresses the fact that Mike is probably guilty of the same.

                And I don’t know much about the feminist blogging circles so I can’t really comment on them, but I have followed Mike’s blog for quite some time. I know he’s a good guy who has never shown disrespect towards woman here. Misunderstandings at times, sure, but disrespect, no.

      • katz July 13, 2013, 10:22 AM

        Heh, I’m not actually angry at all–amused, rather. And naturally boisterous.

  • Jodie B. July 12, 2013, 7:24 PM

    Caution: Possible trigger words.

    If I rejected a group’s position because some members were jerks, well, there wouldn’t be many (if any) positions for me to take anymore. Let’s face it: there are Christians who are jerks. There are atheists who are jerks. There are (insert religion/belief here) who are jerks. There are men who are jerks. There are women who are jerks. There are (insert race/culture here) who are jerks. Everyone sins. Surprise, surprise. The list goes on. (And, of course, jerkdom is especially evident on the internet. People say things on the internet that they would never say in real life.)

    Are you saying that you will only believe in something if everyone is super nice about it?

    I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find the opposite … websites/blogs/forums where supposed complementarians are bad-mouthing egalitarians. In fact, I believe several who have commented here have been told cruel things in person (I find in-person insults to your face to be worse than comments from people I don’t even know on the internet) by complementarians! I’m sure they have heard such things as “you deserve to be raped dressing like that” “if you’d only submit more to your husband he would love you and stop beating you” “you’re just a bitter feminist who hates men and no man would want such an unsubmissive wife and you deserve to be alone.” Are those things not as cruel as what you say the “feminists” are saying? Are those things not as offensive?

    Let’s rewrite a bit of your article, taking out the word feminist (the definition for feminism is “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men” dictionary.reference.com)

    “Are Christians Hurting Their Cause?

    “The current “Christian” movement is doing more to push me towards Atheism/another belief than just about anything.

    “It’s not because their arguments are weaker. Frankly, they have some great arguments. It’s not because their message doesn’t resonate culturally and biblically. I think it very much does.

    “It’s because of how they come off.

    “I realize this is completely subjective and anecdotal. But give me a chance to show you what I mean.”

    After which the article cites genuine Christian jerks. You know, Westboro Baptist types. The Christian people that, at one point, had a website celebrating how many days a gay youth had “been burning in hell” (I believe the youth had been dragged to his death behind a truck; I believe this was about 1997?). Many more examples wouldn’t be hard to find either.

    Would you say they are correct in their reasoning? Or would you say, “There are so many Christians that are good! So many that would never say such things, or believe such things! You are basing your argument on an emotional reaction to a handful of jerks talking out of their backsides, instead of on sound research!”

    Really, you could write a million articles with that headline. “Are atheists hurting their cause?” “Are Christian complementarians hurting their cause?” So forth, and ad nauseum.

    Even … “Is Jesus hurting his cause?”

    I’m sure, back when Jesus lived, there were some people who were horrified at what Jesus said to the Pharisees. “How dare he use such harsh words as ‘hypocrites’ ‘whited sepulchres’ ‘snakes’ ‘like your father the devil’ to our religious leaders! He should have found a nicer way to say what he did. What a jerk! If he was nicer, I’d believe in him.”

    (I am definitely not saying here that the commenters on the article in question were jerks. There seemed to be some implication in Mike’s article that the women were acting less than nice, and so I took the worst case scenario and said that, even if it were true what he said and more, does that make their viewpoints less valid. I don’t think so.)

  • Shaenon July 13, 2013, 2:36 AM

    So.

    1. You would like to believe that God created men to be masters and women to be their servants, because a) it’s the way you were raised, and b) it’s a pleasant belief for you, as a man, to hold.

    2. However, it has not escaped your notice that this belief is both immoral and disconnected from observable reality (as a married man with daughters, you must have found this obvious for some time).

    3. Trying to reconcile the issue, you check out the opinions of feminists. They do indeed seem more connected to reality and common decency than those who push the master-servant relationship between the sexes.

    4. But these feminist women are rude. They express their opinions forthrightly. They don’t stop to soothe men’s feelings. And sometimes they’re angry. Not cute foot-stomping feminine anger, but real anger. Righteous anger.

    5. It occurs to you that if your faith community treated you the way it treats women–addressing you as subhuman and stupid, repeating that your mind is worthless and your body belongs to your betters, telling you that if your wife punches out your teeth you should smile through your bleeding gums and ask what else you can do to serve her– you would be angry. You’d be a lot angrier than these women seem to be. The thought is unsettling.

    6. You realize that these master-servant people are on to something after all. Servants are polite. They don’t challenge or contradict. They keep their anger to themselves. If you’re wrong about something, they either stay quiet or tell you agreeable lies. You used to think you didn’t want to hear lies, but the truth can be so hurtful. So unpleasant. So shrill.

    7. You could give up on the whole equality thing and start loudly demanding that women serve you. It’s a popular choice. Still, you feel guilty about that.

    8. You propose a compromise. You will support equality for women as long as they continue to act like servants. You still get to be a master, but you also get to feel magnanimous for granting the servants whatever freedoms you deem just. And you can scold them when they get out of line: watch it, or I’ll go complementarian! It will be very pleasant.

    9. So, ladies. Do we have a deal?

    • katz July 13, 2013, 10:28 AM

      Shaenon! *fistbump*

    • Johne Cook July 13, 2013, 7:31 PM

      Hi, Shaenon,
      I don’t know you at all. This is an interesting post. You’ve obviously put some thought into this.

      With respect, I think you’re observing a little, projecting a lot, and somewhat misunderstanding and fundamentally misrepresenting the motives and character of our host. I don’t dispute this reply was very clever, but honestly, the figure you’re dismantling is made of straw and only superficially representative of the more complex person who wrote what was, really, just another blog post, one of three per week each week.

      Frankly, I think the world of Mike, but disagree on this one, primary detail – I believe what I believe and I couldn’t give a flip how poorly behaved other adherents are. If Feminists have the reputation for being militant and combative (for whatever reason), I would assume Christian Feminists would be further defined for the primary characteristic God is defined by, love, but I didn’t observe as much of that in this thread as I would have thought. There was a lot more pain than I would have expected. That pained me.

      I don’t know anything of the bloodfeud Mike stepped into. I do know the people in this thread who were calm and patient and weren’t throwing haymakers reached me the most: Kat and Katherine and Jill and Jessica and others. I appreciate you all took the time to explain things in language I could understand. You made me think. I believe I understand a little better, if imperfectly. Thanks.

    • Sara July 14, 2013, 4:02 PM

      Shaenon, this is brilliant!

  • Alan Molineaux July 13, 2013, 2:28 PM

    Shaenon – brilliant. Just brilliant.

  • Jodie B. July 18, 2013, 7:35 PM

    Okay … breaking out the dictionary.

    Christian (noun): a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.

    Yep, that’s me.

    Feminism (noun): the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.

    Yep, sounds great, believe in that.

    Egalitarianism (noun): belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, social, or economic life.

    Yep, believe in that too. America was founded on this, and if it didn’t always uphold it (slavery and few rights for women), it has made changes toward this ideal (emancipation proclamation and amendment 19).

    Complementary (adjective): (of two or more different things) Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities.

    Sure, there are examples everywhere of people who are this to each other. My husband and I, for example. He is a pastor, and a great public speaker. I am not. But I am learning from him how to be more confident and speak boldly. I am much better than my husband at correct grammar. Sometimes I help him reword things in his sermons. I check his bulletins for grammar mistakes. We complement each other, each enhancing the positive qualities of the other, and each making up for the not-so-positives of the other. No matter the gender, people can complement each other. In the Bible, Paul writes how we are all members of one body, and the implication is that we are incomplete without each other, we complement each other and help each other. A hand without an eye is limited in its function, as it cannot see to pick something up. A head and torso without legs cannot walk.

    So, to wit, I am a Christian and a believer in Feminism and a believer in Egalitarianism, and a believer that people can complement each other.

  • Janet July 20, 2013, 7:01 AM

    Dear Mike,
    I am a new subscriber to your blog and was excited to read through this particular post as the topic is of great interest to me. First, because as an unbeliever for 33 years, I was a feminist, and then when Christ saved me, I no longer was a feminist but a born again Christian. So, I found it a bit odd how you mix up the terminology in this particular issue.
    You use the terms complementarian and egalitarian. But then throughout your article refer to egalitarians as feminists, but complementarians are given the courtesy of the same title.
    First, historically, egalitarians are the original complementarians and today’s complementarians were the patriachalists. Certain patriachalist theologians over time have captured the complementarian title for themselves. It was a smart move, it has everyone confused. If you study the issue you can see this happening, yet egalitarians will tell you (both Christian men and women) including myself, that egalitarians are the true complementarians.
    Feminism is a worldly term, and a worldly force. It has infiltrated the church to some degree, but patriachalists really reign within the church.
    The difference between egalitarians and feminists is feminists are against men to a large degree, and in attack mode as you noticed. I was too, as a feminist, before I met Christ. I saw men as the enemy. But when God saved me, I saw that both men and women were being attacked and losing out because of these wrong views. Egalitarians, men and women together, work toward bringing a proper Scriptural view to the church and the world.
    I belong to Christians for Biblical Equality and we are doing great things, particularly in other countries where men and women’s relationships (both as sister and brother, and as husband and wife) are being harmed. You should check them out. They have a conference in July in Pittsburgh: Take every thought captive to Christ: ideas have consequences. You will meet egalitarian Christian men and women, married and single, from around the world.
    However, what the feminist perspective fails to capture is the current Scriptural debate. Patriachists who are calling themselves complementarians suggest there is a hierarchical relationship between men and women. Egalitarians who are calling themselves complementarians suggest there is no hierarchical relationship between men and women. Patriachists in trying to prove their case for this are claiming a hierarchical reltionship in the Godhead, so Jesus is subordinate to the Father. Egalitarians are stating there is no hierarchy in the Godhead.
    In the article you discussed above, there is a focus on ‘sisters’. But in the egalitarian-complementarian movement, there is a focus on ‘brothers and sisters’. In the partriachist-complementarian camp there is a focus on ‘husbands and wives’, which kind of leaves me out as I am a single Christian woman.
    I would suggest you do a lot more research on the issue, there is so much more going on, and to caution you not to equate feminists and egalitarians together, since they are not the same (although you might find some women disagreeing with me, but I don’t see feminists arguing in the same light as egalitarians and I have been studying this issue for over 15 years). Terminology is important and I don’t find many feminists appreciate the Christian egalitarian movement.
    One particular book that explains things very well from the perspective of a Christian man who was a ‘complementarian’ and then became an egalitarian (or mutualist I noticed one person above used that term) is Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters by Philip Barton Payne.
    I would suggest to you that what you present above is not representative of the issues at all, and more a sign of hurting people who have not been taught how to converse properly. This is prevalent in society and unfortunately internet conversation seems to have made it worse. You see it everywhere, not just in ‘sister’ conversations. People has lost the art of respectful conversation (especially younger people, but they have not been taught how to debate properly).
    There is so much more that could be said, even about how women are conditioned to attack one another (even through movies and the media), but I will leave it here.
    I hope that you do choose to seek out more learning on the egalitarian-complementarian versus patriarchalist-complementarian debate, because what happened above has nothing to do with it.
    Sincerely in Christ Jesus,
    Janet

    • Mike Duran July 20, 2013, 7:47 AM

      Thank you for this, Janet! I definitely have a lot of study ahead of me. I’ll look into the resources you quoted. And thanks for subscribing to my blog, Blessings!

      • Janet July 20, 2013, 8:11 AM

        You are most welcome Mike. I am looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

        Blessings to you and your family,
        Janet

  • Heidi August 18, 2013, 1:38 PM

    I have read many of the comments about this entry that have been posted.
    Many men and women use “submission” as a way to manipulate a situation. I think in a society like ours with economic, societal, and cultural mobility it is very easy to fall into this trap. We are being a servant in order to change others behavior or get our own way.
    If we are a servant first to the Creator, He is able to make us truly servants to those around us with the right attitude. Also when we submit to our Creator first, He so often helps us to avoid situations where we would be abused. However, we must build a personal relationship with Him first so we are listening to His direction. Or He is able to get us out of the situation in a way that brings Glory to His Name.

  • Amanda L. January 12, 2014, 2:10 AM

    I’m not sure I can entirely separate my Christianity from my professional bias. I’ve worked in child welfare settings and now work with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. That kind of thinking (I can change him! I can fix this, if I just listened, if I was better, if I did this or that. It’s my fault.) is something I hear directly from survivor’s of abusive relationships, some very physically violent.

    I’d argue if we’re to promote women’s obedience, we should have an equally strong and -open- stance in the Church on domestic violence. Having it spoken about by an authority figure, having it made not a secret? That would be so, so empowering for the women involved and would make me feel far better about promoting obedience to scripture since obedience to these verses can dangerous in some cases.

    • Heidi January 13, 2014, 3:26 PM

      Yes the strong and open stance against violence must be spoken by an authority figure.
      However, when I am talking about being a servant to change others or manipulate others I am actually talking about a passive aggressiveness that can actually be abusive from the other side.
      So often some women or men are trying to seem like a martyr and yet they have a me mentality when what The Lord wants is an others first mentality. Again this can be used against someone, but if we are truly a person after God’s own heart, then He steers us clear of a potentially abusive situation.

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