Feminism in the Church :: A Force of Evil?

by Ericka Stephens-Rennie

About a month back, some people within my faith community started an email discussion about sexuality and female v. male roles and the church. I’m still mulling over much of what was said (and hope to write more here soon), but here’s a taste while you’re waiting.

Part of our discussion revolved around an article entitled “How the Church Emasculated Men.” His answer? Men leave the church because church as we know it is feminine and pushes out all masculinity (people…music…décor…etc.). Furthermore, the author suggests, churches focus on the needs of women rather than men.

The article’s author, Tristan Emmanuel is polemical: “The solution is simple. Start encouraging men in the church to be men – not women in drag.” Emmanuel goes on to note that feminism – a force of evil – is partly to blame for the situation.

And then, today, I came across this article from self-proclaimed “soft complementarian,” Mark Strauss. Strauss describes the debate between the “complementarians” and “egalitarians.” He adds this to the debate:

“As a seminary professor…I also see many churches in crisis, often losing staff and sometimes splitting. But I have never seen a church in crisis because a woman was trying to assert her authority over a man. Rather, the causes are always the same: pride, self-centeredness, desire for control, an inability to get along with others. And in almost every case, males are the primary offenders. The greatest danger to our churches is not creeping feminism, it is human sin and our inability to humbly submit in love to one another. When we start valuing and loving one another like Christ loved the church, I am convinced that these struggles over church leadership will disappear. I don’t see women clamoring to take over the church. I see them looking for the opportunity to exercise their gifts and calling as equals in the body of Christ.”

He also writes something that I have long thought (though he writes it much more succinctly). Namely, that creating a rule structure that is external to God and the Bible doesn’t leave much room for God.

“When it comes to using people for his purpose, it doesn’t seem to me God ever limits his options. If God could speak to Balaam through a donkey, if God could deliver Israel through a whiner like Moses, if God could turn the world upside down with a bunch of faith-challenged disciples, indeed, if God can use me with all my failings, then it would be pretty arrogant to say that God can’t use anyone he chooses.”

What are your thoughts about feminism in the church? I invite you to read Mark Strauss’s whole article, and then leave a comment.

Ericka Stephens-Rennie

9 Responses to “Feminism in the Church :: A Force of Evil?”

  1. Lisa

    I have also often thought that about God making use of all of us, and about external rules imposed on the church.

    People often flinch when I say that I’m a Christian Feminist, and I always feel like my answer is to say, “Well, Jesus made me one!” I consider Christian feminism to be maybe 10% about looking for equality in the church (because really, Jesus finds me even if all my pastors have been men) and 90% redeeming secular feminism. It’s about living in a world that devalues women in faith and devotion to Him who values women perfectly. I guess.

    BUT I’ve heard this complaint that the church is “too feminine” a lot, and I can’t quite get my head around it. Or rather, what I’d like to know more is what this “men-welcoming” church should look like. So men aren’t going to church because the music sucks? Or because people cry and hug, or what?

  2. andrew

    I suppose it partly depends on our conception of what a Christian! Man! looks like. Does he bite his toast into the shape of guns? Does he rescue captivating princesses from their distress? Does he find himself in the margins helping people in need? Who is this ideal Christian! Man!?

    Perhaps we need churches with more light armoured vehicles parked outside than minivans. More gun owners groups than knitting groups. That sort of thing.

    Or perhaps the radicality of Jesus’ call to take up the cross should be more central. Who’s “man enough” to go to death for the sake of the oppressed? Direct your machismo here, gents…

  3. lizivkovich

    I’m glad you’ve brought this out Ericka, I think it’s an awesome topic of discussion. I also laughed OUT LOUD at the “bites his toast into the shape of guns” comment from Andrew.

    So, feminism in the church? I think feminism is fighting gender-based injustice and promoting womens’ rights. To me that fight should have its roots firmly planted in the soil of the Body of Christ. As Christians, we’re called to be revolutionaries, prophets, voices of justice, activists, and even (gasp) feminists!

    I think it is an oversimplification of Christian feminism is to say “Christian feminists want women to be pastors (or priests as the case may be).” I’m concerned with areas where, as women, we allow our voices to be subjugated, where we tell people that we are meant to be seen and not heard. Why do we work in the nurseries and teach Sunday School classes but don’t host the Saturday morning theology breakfasts that our male counterparts do, or preach in the main service?

    It makes me nervous when I see the enthusiasm with which our generation buys into teachings that tell men (or women) that the way of living Christ in the world is to embrace their traditional gender based roles. Is it anti-Biblical to have a stay-at-home dad or a working mom? This goes back to interpretation of Scripture I guess… I wonder if Paul intended for people in 2008 to live as if we were in the Hebrew culture of the early church? Hmm.

    I guess I don’t have answers, but just a lot of questions.

  4. Dale

    Great topic. And as with others, we often surface for air with more questions than answers! 🙂

    I am firmly opposed to a bland, homogenizing kind of blurring of male-ness and female-ness, but the other extreme is just as gross: reinforcing every stereotype we’ve ever seen (i.e. if a man dresses quite well, he must be homosexual; and if a woman plays rugby she’s not being very feminine…)…

    I suppose part of the question is: “How do we discern a biblically informed picture of (for want of a better term) genuine ‘male-ness’ and ‘female-ness’. It seems clear to me that God wanted them distinct but also one… Heck, biology alone would suggest that kind of tension between diversity and unity…

    How do we speak light into a dark world that is often confused about such things???

    Big stuff, huh… 🙂


  5. Ericka

    Dale, I think your question of how to “discern a biblically informed picture of (for want of a better term) genuine ‘male-ness’ and ‘female-ness’” is a good one…but I’ve not got an answer. I do, however, think that some church tend to have defnitions for ‘fe-male’ and ‘male.’ Those definitions (boxes) tend to have hard edges, that can force people who don’t quite fit out of the church (eg. your example of the man who dresses well = homosexual = somewhat unwelcome in these kinds of churches). There are big dangers here.

    Lisa, I LOVED your point that God made you a feminist. Haha, I sort of feel the same way. Although, I would add (because I grew into my feminism) that God grew me into a femist through particular experiences (discrimination, belittling, sexual assault, etc.) in life that caused me to relate to the *ahem* feminine mistique.

    Liz, I totally agree with you about seeking equlity and fighting gender-based injustice. We need to do this in our homes, in our communities, in our churches and overseas. Just think, churches that only give men a voice lose HALF of the giftings / talents of their congregation. What. A. Shame.

  6. Looking for Woman-Friendly Churches « Empire Remixed

    […] honour of this special day, I have a question. In response to my last post about feminism in the church, there were a lot of great comments about Christian feminism being about seeking justice for all, […]

  7. mneme

    i snagged this quote from Tristan Emmanuel’s blog:
    They’ve suppressed godly male assertiveness, opting instead to “be nice.” They have abdicated their calling to “speak the truth” in the interest of political correctness. And they have decided that manipulating people with emotional self help books and anecdotal sermonizing is better for the bottom line than training and teaching the men in their congregations to be leaders and warriors for Christ. And as a result, the Evangelical church is suffering from a dearth of real men.

    if Jesus is our model for Christian conduct, then where is Jesus in Emmanuel’s statement? Jesus acted in submission and obedience, not “male assertiveness.” what is male assertiveness, anyway? is there more than one flavor of assertiveness? does female assertiveness look different somehow? In conflict resolution, Jesus didn’t compromise his message but he met people where they were at. he didn’t run over anyone. how do you transform hearts by dominating them?

    as far as “anecdotal sermonizing” goes, i have revisited the parables year after year and God has always revealed more wisdom in those stories. with each re-telling, my understanding grows.

    and what of “warriors for Christ?” it doesn’t even merit a response.

    it seems to me that in this particular case, Emmanuel has an idea of what masculinity should be and he wants to model the church after his ideal. it might be convenient or easy to blame the cultural unpopularity of his version of masculinity on women or feminism but women have been blamed for the sins of men since our first sacred stories were told. Emmanuel isn’t even being original.

    to be a feminist in the church is to be accepted, as i am, as a an authentic woman. it is to broaden the definition of woman in the eyes of the faith community. today’s women work outside their homes, buy ready-made meals, share the household maintenance with their spouses and children. they represent every position on the education and employment spectrums. they juggle personal and professional responsibilities. they worry that they’re failing at everything they do because they’re divided between expectation and reality. as modern life increases in complexity so does the role of women. to require christian women to conform to (outmoded) idealized feminine gender roles is to force us to be false before our faith communities and false before our God. and it really bugs me.

    i care less that women are barred from leadership roles in the church than i care that we’re all supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way and dress a certain way and if we don’t, we’re judged as failing, wilful or sinful. i’d like to see more women at the front, sure, but what i’d really like to see is more women come as they are and not who they think we require them to be.

  8. Terry

    It’s interesting that people need to put people in boxes. Who decides what is masculine and what is feminine? This depends largely on cultural context. Someone mentioned “men in drag”. Men in dresses? Haven’t seen it much in any church I’ve gone to. But so what? Jesus wore a dress. A lot of muslims wear dresses. I really don’t think Jesus cares.

    The Body of Christ is a vast spectrum of personalities, with many gifts, and I believe it’s too limiting to demand that we be artificially sectioned off by someone’s preference of gender roles. We are created equal, male and female He created them, in His image. People who are uptight about what they consider traditional masculinity and femininity need to take it to the Lord. People just need to be encouraged to be themselves, and not worry about fitting someone else’s idea of what they should look or act like.

  9. Kevin

    Call me old fashioned if you want, but women have their place in Church as do men, and women are not to be preachers, women are not to hold the office of Deacon or teach the congregation, if your such a great christian try reading it as a whole and accepting the whole truth of it,

    1 Timothy 9-15 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

    Gods word is whole, complete and never changes, it is eternal, God’s position on feminism is clear here, i am From Western Christianity but i agree with Lucilla, western christianity is becoming sick, and straying from the true path.


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