“Watch out for her. She’s a feminist!” “She says she’s not, but clearly she’s a closet egalitarian.” “She’s a thin complementarian” “No, an anorexic one.”
Words are powerful, as are labels. They can be helpful. They can be used to encourage and build people up. But they can also be used to dismiss others. They can be used to belittle and discourage.
In conservative, Christianity, there are few words that shut down discussion faster than the charge of “feminist!” Heresy is another big one, although it doesn’t work quite the same way. Feminist has almost exclusively negative associations in conservative Christian circles.
Some of that is understandable. The modern feminist movement has strong connections with abortion and same-sex marriage. Not all feminists are for abortion and same-sex marriage, but the association is there. When a conservative calls someone a feminist, it can be an attempt to question the person’s faith and commitment to Scripture.
I used to think it was amusing when someone called me a feminist. It had to be a joke. Or a clear misunderstanding. Who me? A feminist? I know some of the nuttier guys out there think anyone who disagrees with them is a feminist. And then there are the CBMW authors who say all women are feminists. But clearly, those aren’t serious opinions.
Why would anyone think I’m a feminist? Let’s consider my beliefs (which I’ve stated before.) I hold to the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:
- God made man: male and female in the image of God
- In Christ, male and female are equal before God
- Husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
- Wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ
- Ordination is restricted to qualified men in the church
- Marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life
- Men and women need each other and depend on each other
Take particular notice of what I believe about leadership and submission in marriage and ordination in the church. Those right there set me apart. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an egalitarian, closet or otherwise. I have respect for the egalitarians I know. I appreciate the work some egalitarians have done defending the Trinity. But we have significantly different interpretations of what the Bible teaches about marriage and ordination.
And that’s ok. It’s possible to disagree and still respect other people. If you asked a feminist or an egalitarian about my beliefs, they would say that I’m either complementarian or patriarchal. It’s laughable to say I’m patriarchal, but each end of the spectrum tends towards viewing things as extremes. Just like there are those who say everyone who disagrees with them is a feminist, there are those who say anyone who disagrees with them is patriarchal.
So then the question is, am I a complementarian? I used to think so. I used to call myself one. After all, I believe that husbands are the spiritual leaders of their families. I believe that wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands. And I believe that ordained church leaders should be qualified men. Isn’t that a complementarian?
Apparently not. To be a true complementarian, you also need to believe:
- women were created to be submissive, responsive, soft
- men were created to be leaders, providers, strong
- men are supposed to be priests for their families
- women are supposed to be at home and not in the workforce (unless there’s a really good reason, but even then)
- divorce is wrong even when there is biblical justification for it
- the eternal subordination of the Son, especially as it is applied to men and women
- all women are rebellious feminists at heart and men must put down that rebellion (an interpretation of Genesis 3:16)
How do I know this is necessary for true complementarianism? Well, when I disagreed with these beliefs, I was called a “soft,” “thin,” or “anorexic” complementarian. I was also called a closet egalitarian or a feminist because:
- I questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
- I defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
- I raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
- I wrote about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
- I believe women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires
When I took a logic class in college, I didn’t like the way we were supposed to apply mathematical proofs to language. Math is neat and tidy. Add, subtract, multiply, divide. Numbers have intrinsic meaning. Words aren’t as definite and precise as math. But that doesn’t mean that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.
Our society is losing its collective mind when it comes to words and their meanings. We’re told we can “identify” as whatever we want, regardless of reality. Truth and facts? It’s relative. It just depends on what “your truth” is.
As Christians, we have fought against this kind of relativism for years. You’d think conservative Christians would be more careful about using words accurately. Feminist and egalitarian have actual definitions. There are Christian feminist groups and egalitarian organizations with definite beliefs. Feminist doesn’t mean “a woman I disagree with and wish she’d stop talking.” Egalitarian doesn’t simply mean “someone who thinks women can have opinions about theology.”
I’m not a feminist. I’m not an egalitarian. What I am is tired of the name-calling and the attempts to silence me and others like me. No doubt those who need to hear these words the most are the least likely to listen. But I hope that those who are tempted to believe the lies about me will do me the honor of considering what I’ve written here.