Am I a ‘feminist’? Yes and no!

Happy International Women’s Day!

A few years ago, I was interviewed for Christians For Biblical Equality’s newsletter.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define feminism?

As a member of the Wesleyan Church, I’m proud of our heritage in the women’s rights movement from the very beginning at Seneca Falls, New York. We were one of the first denominations to ordain women.

However, I don’t use the label “feminist” because it stirs up visions of bra burning, male bashing, and the other craziness of the “women’s movement” in the 60s and 70s. It’s not “feminism” I’m promoting any more than “masculine-ism.” It’s “humanism.” Oops! Can’t use that term either!

I think CBE already has the best term: “Biblical Equality.” So, I prefer to speak of “equality” of the genders based on Genesis 1:27 (both are created in the image of God) and Galatians 3:28 (in Christ there is no male or female).

And while men and women are equal in value they are not equal in the sense they are identical. Obviously sixth-grade health class teaches they are different physically. But studies on brains reveal that men and women are different from the neck up, so I don’t buy into the idea that a woman can do everything a man can do or that a man can do everything a woman can do.

How did you become interested in feminism? Was it because of a personal experience, theological study, or something entirely different?

In the early 70s, a friend paid for my wife and I to attend a Bill Gothard seminar. He taught a very hierarchical model of God is over man, man is over woman. Something deep inside me said, “This is wrong!” (Or maybe it was my wife elbowing me. Ha!)

As I studied Scripture I realized that God has designed men and women for shared dominion (Genesis 1:28) and mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21—often overlooked in favor of 5:22). When my wife felt called into ministry in 1989, I suddenly realized the just how deep was the fundamentalist and “Gothard-ist” prejudice against women in ministry. Catherine Clark Kroeger‘s work on the actual meaning of those “difficult” passages, such as 1 Timothy 2:12, solidified my suspicion of biblical equality into a deeply held conviction. I wrote about that verse in Communicate to Change Lives.

Do you believe your feminism grows out of your faith in Christ, and/or your reading of Scripture?

Again, I’m no more a feminist than a “masculine-ist,” but I try to make Scripture the standard for all I think and do. It is in Christ that there is neither “male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). He respected women (he talked to them in public, taught them, and called some to be disciples—all cultural taboos) and appointed a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the one to announce his resurrection. (Women were not allowed to testify in court at that time because of their “unstable” mental condition.) By his actions, Jesus elevated women to equal status with men (a huge cultural change).

Are there certain issues associated with feminism that are difficult to reconcile with your faith? What would you say to a young person who is wrestling with these issues?

Those with the most difficulty are the fundamentalists who take Paul’s admonitions (eg. 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, 1 Timothy 2:12) as universal principles for all time. (Here’s my study, which appeared in a ministers’ magazine: What was Paul thinking when he wrote 1 Timothy 2:12?.)

It is the fundamentalist who must twist and rationalize Scripture to explain Acts 2:17 and Galatians 3:28 as well as the many biblical examples of godly women in administrative and teaching roles: Miriam (prophet—there is no distinction between “prophets” and “prophetess” in Hebrew Scripture), Deborah (prophet, judge, military leader), Esther (queen), Hulda (prophet), Noadiah (prophet), Anna (prophet), Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanne and “many others” (Christ’s disciples), Mary Magdalene (the first evangelist), the daughters of Philip (prophets), Priscilla (teacher), Chloe (house church leader), Mary the mother of John (house church leader), Lydia (house church leader), Nympha of Laodicea (house church leader) and Phoebe (deacon, not “deaconess” as translated in the KJV).

I would encourage young people to look at Scripture as a whole, and not isolated verses divorced from their context. For instance, the Bible reads “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). This, however, is a “journal entry” from a man who is searching to find meaning in all the “vanity” of life. It is scripture, but it’s not a “promise verse!”

Is there anything else you feel Christians need to understand about feminism?

CBE has the very best resources. I appreciate your work.

My wife has also been a part of the leadership of the Wesleyan/Holiness Women Clergy organization which sponsors a large conference every other year and provides educational material on equality as it relates specifically to ministry. (Here’s my article from a ministers’ magazine on A case for women in ministry.

Copyright © James N. Watkins

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Men and women are different from the neck up
What does the Bible really say?
What was Paul thinking when he wrote 1 Timothy 2:12?

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