by Faith Totushek.
Frequently Jezebel is a label that many Christian women receive if they believe in the full equality of men and women in the home and church or if they consider themselves Christian Feminists. Both feminism and egalitarianism are labels that are vastly misunderstood in the church and have had their meanings co opted by opponents who define them as in some sense women who are out for power over men, unwilling to submit to authority, men haters and those who would support abortion. In reality this is not true. These are myths.
1. Are feminists and egalitarians out for power over men?
Often I hear feminists and egalitarians described as those who have a Jezebel Spirit. The Jezebel Spirit is described as someone who seeks control over passive men who are unable to speak up for themselves and are seduced by women to give over control of their lives. Such women are considered dangerous to the church and home. In reality, as women and men develop emotional and spiritual maturity, they begin to have stronger voices and a stronger sense of identity. This kind of growth leads to an ability to say what one believes and ask for what one needs as well as the ability to differentiate oneself from the self of others. If an individual does not have a strong sense of self they will often process a request as someone trying to control them. It has nothing to do with power over and everything to do with asking for what one wants or needs. Often the Jezebel label is given to any woman who is merely seeking to have a share in decision making or wishes to serve in an area that is most often dominated by men. To aspire to be a pastor or a leader can bring the label Jezebel to many.
All Christians are called to be other-centered and serve in the church, home and world. This does not mean that women want power OVER but they do want the power TO serve. Women want permission and freedom to be fully who they are as they use their gifts in ways that bring life to others. Immature men as well as immature women can use power to control and abuse. So maturity should be the mark of whether or not someone is given a role as pastor or leader in the church. Neither should leadership and pastoral roles be denied women simply because they are women. Nowhere in the Bible (properly interpreted) does it say that it is a sin to be a women or a woman serving in leadership and pastoral roles.In the home, most feminists and egalitarians believe in the concept of shared power to make decisions that are for the well being of the family and children. Each one brings a perspective that is valuable to the marriage and family. And when they are at an impasse, frequently there are strong values and dreams at play that couples might dialogue about in healthy ways. When couples believe in shared power, they are more willing to use other decision making strategies instead of merely pulling rank. Often marriage is described in the church as sort of a business in which the husband is the CEO and pulls rank when there is an impasse.
This model leads to a great deal of resentment, manipulation and dysfunction in the marriage. Marriage is not a business, its a relationship involving two human beings who are intimate with one another. Pulling rank and forcing one’s decision on the other harms the relationship. When couples use other strategies to problem solve and come to agreement, they preserve the intimacy and person hood of one another in the relationship.To ask for what one needs, to have the power to serve, to have the permission to minister and to share power in the home is not about power over nor is it Jezebel-like. Christian feminists and egalitarians simply want the power TO freely serve God and others in the home, church and world without the limitations imposed by a patriarchal society.
2. Do Christian Feminists and Egalitarians believe in submission?
As an egalitarian, I have often been asked the question, “do I believe in submission?” I find that a funny question because I have never seen feminism or egalitarianism as something that is outside of submission. What is missing is a proper understanding of what submission really is. The Bible tells us that believers in the new community are to submit to one another. Often imposed on Ephesians 5:21-33 is the idea that men have authority in marriage and church and women are to submit. Some go even so far as to suggest that men are being Christ like when they have authority over women and women are being Christ like in their submission. This is a grave mis-interpretation. Submission in Ephesians 5 is not about authority. It is about relationship. Both men and women in Ephesians 5 are being called to a life of serving one another.
If one examines the passage carefully one will note that Paul is exhorting the church to live in the light and to grow in maturity in Christ. (chapter 4, 5) They are commanded to be filled with the Spirit which is curiously, the only command in the text. This is followed by several participles… singing, giving thanks, and submitting to one another as a part of what Spirit-filled relationships look like. (Gordon Fee has written a paper on this ) Then Paul calls both men and women to mutual submission.
What confuses folks when they read this passage is that the word submit is added in English translations when Paul refers to women submitting to their husbands and they fail to see that when Paul calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he is radically calling husbands also to submission. (the translations skew the idea of mutuality) It should read: submit to one another, wives to their husbands, husbands love your wives. The pattern should show reciprocity.
The matter of head is also skewed for 21st century readers because in the first century, it did not mean authority but unity. The picture is of a body that is in union with the head. If Paul would have meant head to mean authority he would have chosen a different Greek word. (Lisa Baumert has written on this. ) But what Paul is doing in Ephesians 5 is redefining how the household of God is different from the household of the Greek and Roman world. In God’s household men and women serve one another in mutuality. And husbands are called to a radical self-giving love which was in contrast to the utilitarian marriages of the day and the Paterfamilias household system of the time.
The biblical ideal is a relationship that is one flesh, mutual love, mutual service and unity. Submission then is a relational ideal to which both men and women are called.
Submission is literally to place oneself under the other–it is the choice of the self to submit oneself to the other. We do that when we listen to one another taking the time to hear our spouses perspectives needs or thoughts. We do this when we do kind things for one another, when we offer our care and support. We do this in sexual intimacy as we seek to love one another in ways that develop the strong bonds that come through such deep intimacy.
So yes, indeed feminists and egalitarians believe in submission–not as an authority term but as a relational term in which we submit ourselves to one another.
3. Do Christian Feminists and Egalitarians hate men?
While at times there are feelings of anger involved when feminists and egalitarians try to engage and dialogue around especially issues of injustice, that does not mean that feminists and egalitarians hate men. That is another myth. What feminists and egalitarians want is for men to hear their concerns about a society that is patriarchal and reduces the humanity of both men and women.
At times speaking up around the social concerns presented by living in a patriarchal society does not mean that men become the objects of hate. On the contrary, if we want to fully grow up in Christ we need to be able to come out of the blindness of how our world views men and women to see how God is viewing us.
Often men and women are prescribed behaviors and various attributes that have more in common with Plato than with God. (Bob Edwards has written on this) In the Greek world men were perceived as rational beings, strong and powerful and able to dominate others while women were perceived as emotional and irrational, weak and passive. God is inviting both men and women out of this social construction of human beings to be able to be fully who he has created and gifted them to be. That does not mean men and women are the same… it does mean that differences do not mean that women are not capable or competent to serve as leaders and pastors and decision makers.
Around the world women are exploited, trafficked and domineered due to a faulty world view within which women are subordinated to men. I believe that Christ came to liberate both men and women from this injustice and enslavement to a Patriarchal idolatry that reduces the humanity of both men and women. It is not hatred toward men to want them to grow out of the ways of the world and into the way of Jesus. When patriarchy is confronted it may not always feel pleasant. But it is necessary and may even be the most loving thing a woman can do.
The goal of our lives as Christians is to love God and one another–walking in the ways of Jesus. At times we will need to challenge one another toward the high call of Christ Jesus. Feminists and egalitarians do not hate men, they hope to see them be fully who they are in Christ–not as the world defines them.
4. Do Christian Feminists and Egalitarians favor abortion?
I need to speak carefully here, so please do not misunderstand me. I would have to say that most Christians do not favor abortion nor do all Christian feminists and egalitarians. Here I will grant that some perhaps do. I do not hold that abortion is a godly choice for believers. I also know of many others who feel the same as I. Having said that, there are areas of agreement that we can find. When some feminists say abortion should be a woman’s right because women have a right to control over their body, there is something in this that I can support. While I do not and will not support the abortion of a child, a woman does need to have autonomy over her own body. Consider rape, rape is an imposition through force into the space of a woman’s body. In some sense, her body is considered the property of the one taking it or exploiting her body. All around the world, women’s bodies are exploited, taken, owned and used. This often results in pregnancy and the birth of children into abject poverty and even into sex slavery.
There is a patriarchal enslavement behind the whole idea of who has rights to a woman’s body. In the Greek/Roman world of the first century, a woman’s body was considered the property of her husband. And if she was pregnant, he had the right to determine if the child should be kept in the family or put out to be exposed. (most children either died or were picked up to become slaves) Her body and the child within was the property of the husband. Often early Christians would take the exposed babies and raise them as their own children. Christians give value to the lives of children, women and men fully.
In healthy relationships, couples agree about when intimacy takes place. Taking or exploitation is not a part of the relationship nor is being owned as if one were property. Each person is seen as fully human and able to give consent to sexual intimacy. Again, the relationship is mutual… mutual giving… mutual loving. Out of that mutuality come children and a new family. The couple then together shares the responsibility for raising those children in the way of Jesus becoming mature human beings able to fully be who they are in Christ.
One does not need to favor abortion to be a feminist or an egalitarian. But one does need to recognize the sanctity of a woman’s body and her autonomy to choose when to give that body and when not give it in sexual intimacy. Consent, mutual respect and mutual love are aspects of a healthy relationship between husbands and wives.
In conclusion, I believe that as a Christian Egalitarian, that God seeks men and women who would be strong and bold and courageous in Christ, willing to move from the deceptions of Patriarchal idolatry into the mind of Christ and the reality that we are one in Him. God has gifted men and women and we are called to work together so that the Kingdom of God might be more and more realized in this day and time. Everywhere in the gospels we see Jesus defying the norms of the day to lift and empower women so that they might fully serve God as the image bearers they were intended to be.
Faith Totushek has served two churches as a solo pastor in Minnesota and Connecticut. She Currently pastors WayFinders Home church and serves as Director of Worship at St Francis United Methodist Church in St Francis, Minnesota. Faith graduated seminary in 2007 with an MDIV in New Testament and Pastoral Ministry.