Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Christian feminist. What is a Christian feminist?

This question was asked in a recent comment on this blog:
What is a "Christian feminist"?
I am by no means an expert on feminism or Christian feminism, but I'd like to write down a few thoughts trying to define what a Christian feminist is. And then the floor will be open, as always, for comments.

Words often mean different things to different people. That's one reason why dictionaries often have more than one sense listed among the meanings for a word. If we look up the word feminist in a dictionary we typically get definitions such as these:
  • of or relating to or advocating equal rights for women; "feminist critique"
  • a supporter of feminism
  • wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

  • Feminism comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and moral philosophies concerned with gender inequalities and equal rights for women.
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist

  • A person who supports the equality of women with men; A member of a feminist political movement; One who believes in the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes; Relating to or in accordance with feminism
A feminist, then, is someone who believes that men and women should have equal rights. The definition does not say in what areas of life there should be equal rights. The struggle for women to have equal rights has taken different forms depending on what was the focal inequality at any particular time in history.

It wasn't too long ago that women did not have the right to vote (suffrage) in the United States. Women who marched and campaigned for the right to vote were called suffragettes. They fit the definition of feminists since they wanted to be able to vote as men did.

Even before then women did not have the right to own land. Eventually laws were passed that allowed women to own land.

Women have sometimes and in some places not had the right to read or attend school, or at least the right to a higher education beyond, say, the 6th or 8th grade. Today in many, but not all, countries, women have the same right to an education that men do. Feminists call for women to have equal access to education, including higher education.

In many countries, including the United States, women are often not paid the same wages for the same work. Feminists believe that a woman should receive the same wage as a man for the same kind of work.

What, then, would a Christian feminist be? I think the answer would be that a woman who believes in equality for women and is also a Christian would be a Christian feminist. This would not necessarily mean that a Christian feminist would believe that women should have exactly the same jobs as men. I'm sure that there are the same differences of opinion among Christian feminists as there are among the Christian public over whether or not women should be able to have the same roles in the church and home as men do. Some Christian feminists believe that women should be able to be ordained and pastor churches. I assume that some do not.

Sarah Palin is receiving a lot of public attention these days, from the MSM (mainstream media), the Christian media, and bloggers, both Christian and non-Christian. Some, including CBMW, apparently, believe that it is permissible for a Christian woman like Sarah Palin to hold public office, because that is a secular ("civic") job, not a ministry job. Others believe that a woman should have not job at all where she would have any authority over men.

Sarah Palin has been a member of Feminists For Life (FFL) for many years. FFL promotes equality for women as well as the sanctity of life for unborn babies. FFL members seen no contradiction between those two positions, unlike many other people who assume (wrongly, in my opinion) that being a feminist includes the belief that a woman has the right to abort her unborn baby. Sarah Palin is a Christian feminist. Sarah Palin is delighted to break the glass ceiling for the highest offices in the United States, as she mentioned in her speech at the Republical National Convention. But Sarah Palin is strongly pro-life (anti-abortion) and gave testimony to that belief by carrying her Down syndrom son to term this year and valuing and loving him as she loves each of her other children.

When some people hear the word "feminist", the image that comes to mind is of women who called for equal rights for women while some of them made symbolic gestures, such as burning bras, to indicate that they did not want to be restricted by men to "women's work" or roles. They wanted the freedom to do anything a man could do that was physically possible for a woman. Some feminists denounced men, making it sound like they had little need for men in their lives. That, it seems to me, is a distortion of the biblical idea that God has created men and women for each other, to enjoy each other's companionship, to procreate, and to nurture their children together.

Today some people refer to feminists who burned bras and downplayed the need for men in their lives as radical feminists. It may be that any use of the word "feminist" has become so pejorative that some will question whether Christian feminists should call themselves "Christian feminists." If so, what would be a better term to use for someone who is a Christian and believes that women should have the same civil rights as men? I am sure that many Christian feminists are complementarians, believing that husbands have authority over their wives and that women should not have positions of authority over men in the church.

In summary, it seems to me that a Christian feminist is someone who is a Christian and who believes that women should have equal rights to men. Here are some of those rights for which many Christians would agree that women should have equality:
  1. voting
  2. land ownership
  3. protection from abuse
  4. equal pay for equal work
  5. education, or, in particular, higher education
Some, but not all Christians, believe that women should have equal rights in the following areas:
  1. military service
  2. church ministry
  3. civil authority over male employees
Do you have any other ideas about how to define what a Christian feminist is?

Does the term Christian feminist sound like an oxymoron (contradiction in terms) to you?