Chris Bransdon · Feminism

5 reasons for a Christian to question feminism

gender card

Feminism is not just an idea or feeling of camaraderie, it is an all-encompassing framework for evaluating one’s experience of life. It is an atheistic humanist worldview.

If I am to take feminism seriously, I should regard it as a complete worldview. Inevitably then, feminism will clash with my Christianity because I cannot, logically speaking, hold to two mutually exclusive worldviews, one atheistic and one theistic.

‘I don’t need feminism’ seems to be a way to invite the ire of all women everywhere. If you don’t like feminism, you must also be against voting, education, paid maternity leave for women etc. I believe that I can reasonably reject feminism, and at the same time value these rights for women, and advocate for them, without adopting the feminist banner.

The only reason I can do this is because I can offer an alternative framework. From a secular humanist point of view, feminism is common sense. I can understand why Emma Watson would emphatically state “if you stand for equality then you’re a feminist, sorry to tell you, that’s it” – but I don’t agree with her – because I don’t think she has considered all of the possibilities. The feminist worldview operates without the assumption of a creator, therefore the rights of all people must continually be asserted because the world is made up of forgetful, selfish people who don’t know any better. They must constantly be reminded: women are valuable, women are contributors to society, men cannot function without women. Feminism must (almost necessarily) take up this cause in an atheistic world, but for the Christian, where the gospel is preached faithfully, the equality of men and women quickly becomes apparent.

The root of all evil is sin, not a white supremist capitalist patriarchy.

The definition of feminism that seeks the equality of men and women presupposes that inequality exists. It is this inequality that must be remedied and the cause of this inequality, the root of all evil in this world is the “white supremist capitalist patriarchy” – i.e. rich white people (particularly the men) getting richer and oppressing everyone under them, because we live within societal and economic structures that favour and bolster the success of said white people (read: men). I don’t entirely disagree with this as a prompt to activism and change. However, as a Christian, I know that this is only a superficial diagnosis of a far deeper problem, that the cracks run beyond man made structures to the hearts of human beings themselves. It’s not the system that’s broken, we are broken. Men and women, whatever colour, race, sex or ability we have, we are all broken because of sin. The white supremist capitalist patriarchy is merely symptomatic of the underlying problem of sin. If feminism rejects sin as the ultimate evil, it rejects Jesus and the need for a saviour.

Incorrect diagnosis (of the source of ultimate evil) will lead to inadequate solutions

Some have argued that Christians can reconcile their faith and feminism by viewing feminism as a metanarrative. In this way, it does not necessarily need to function as a competing worldview, thereby allowing one to incorporate feminism into a Christian framework. Even if one could argue for this position successfully, the necessary acceptance of feminist solutions to problems of structural inequality remains a point of contention for the Christian. Endorsement of feminism must entail, for example, a pro-choice stance*. Pro-life feminists are as inconsistent as no-resurrection Christians. It is not a stance that one can hold to and be regarded with integrity. A Christian simply cannot endorse feminism without also endorsing its fierce advocacy for reproductive rights and fluid expressions of sexuality, etc. Furthermore, as feminism has incorrectly diagnosed the source of inequality to begin with, these solutions will not provide the liberation so desperately sought after because they deviate so severely from God’s design.

Gender equality is inherent in Christianity

For those who believe in a creator, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, men and women, is a given. The recognition of a creator and his intentional design for people who were made in his image means that there is not a single person who can be treated as anything other than valuable. This equality in creation extends to our equality in our sinful nature and our equality in being saved by the blood of Jesus. The cross is the very great equalizer. And so Christianity has a very clear measure of equality, a standard upon which we know whether people are being treated as equal or not. Are we valuing this person as God values them? Do we love them as Jesus loved them in dying for them? (This is also part of the basis for the Christian argument against abortion). Are men and women relating to one another in such a way that they reflect the image of God which is only truly visible when they complement each other as was intended? The definition, standard and measure of equality found in the bible is not in question. God has authoritatively established it, and it governs all of our relationships.

Such certainty, ironically, is not found in feminism. As Germaine Greer pointed out during a panel at the All About Women festival in Sydney recently, equality is a slippery subject for the feminist:

“Can we put any meaning into the word equality? What with? With the current state of men? Equality is ok because everybody thinks they understand it, but in fact nobody does understand it.”

Feminism is only effective insofar as it is Christian

As Christians we should not take for granted what God has been affirming to us in his word from the beginning, which the Lord Jesus demonstrated so wonderfully, which the Reformers promoted: women are co-heirs with Christ, fellow humans, citizens, workers, learners. Where feminism has made gains for women, it has done so because it has acknowledged a universal truth designated by God, not people: women are valuable. When feminism gets it right (from the Christian perspective), it is because it manages to fall in line with created order. This is why Christians will feel a sense of solidarity with particular feminist issues, from the education of girls, to women’s suffrage, to rape culture. To afford women these rights is more than feminist, it is profoundly Christian, because they hark back to what God himself has ordained for his people. The goodness we see in valuing women, as they ought to be, is not because feminism has provided the ultimate good, but because of the goodness of God’s design. When we see women being cared for and supported, when we see men in particular treating women with respect and dignity, it strikes us not just as good but right. We are pointed squarely back at who we were born to be, and the glory for that belongs ultimately to God, not to feminism. As a Christian, wherever possible, I want to draw attention to the biblical understanding of this world, which is observable and true. Why would I take the glory that rightly belongs to God for this, and give it to any kind of ‘ism’?

This list is by no means exhaustive. I have far too much to say on this subject, this is a starting point.

* I know there are Christians who will make the argument for pro-life feminism, and while we can hide behind the ‘bad feminist’ label (read: inconsistent) from time to time, I don’t think this can reasonably apply in this instance. Reproductive rights are key for the feminist movement because a woman must have ‘the same reproductive rights as men’ – that is – she must be able to choose whether or not she bears children because a man never finds himself at a disadvantage because of unwanted pregnancy. Until women have full reproductive control, feminists believe they will be unequal to men.

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23 thoughts on “5 reasons for a Christian to question feminism

  1. Where feminism and Christianity agree, you will find countless men and women who are Christian Feminists. They are not entirely mutually exclusive. Women have gained many rights since the feminist movements have fought for them, like the right to secure a loan without a male countersignature. I’m certain that men would have granted that right on their own eventually, but the tendency is only to create laws based on demand, not preemptively in the name of equality. Which is why sexism and racism issues from the 1960s are being played out even now.

    The root of the evil in patriarchy, matriarchy, capitalism, and all forms of government and economic systems is sin. We can recieve forgiveness for the guilt of our sin, but a responsible society would do well to learn from their mistakes. As of yet, my country has not had a female president. Nor has my former denomination. The former doesn’t have a Bible verse ordering women to be silent or forbiding women from teaching men … before the separation of church and state, in the old country, the Christian bible legitimized slavery and the oppression of women using scripture as a foundation for government and law.

    Even with an incorrect diagnosis, certain symptoms can be treated or managed based on existing knowledge. We live in a broken world, should we not try to improve it while we have the power to do so? Prohibition was just as much about ending domestic violence as it was pouring alcohol down the drain. Those women lived in a patriarchy that didn’t care if a man spent every dime on alcohol, leaving his wife and kids with nothing to eat. It took the Women’s Christian Temperance Union years to do something to help their sisters, and they didn’t do it alone, but with the support of a men’s voting group who were concernec that alcoholic men could not be trusted to vote the best possible president in these difficult times.

    Gender inequality is inherent in scripture so long as verses like “women must be silent” and “women will be saved through childbearing” and ” I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” makes it clear that men are just more equal than women and women are less equal than men. Some doors will always be closed to women so long as “equal but different” is the banner Christianity flies.

    Where feminism and christianity agree, Christian feminists have helped the world make great strides, but all of us have a long way to go yet. There is a lot that there is no agreement on. There are no easy solutions. Outlaw abortion and adoption agencies will be overwhelmed. Ease adoption laws and parents will adopt out their own children to give them better opportunities and for the money … this happened in Guatemala. We have 9 billion people on Earth, too many are slaves, too many are ill, too many go hungry, and the oppression of women in the third world countries just goes to show how bad the secular world is and what Christianity is powerless to fix. The same conditions that was the root of Prohibition, alcoholism, poverty, and domestic abuse are being played out in Africa … in Nigeria, right now. You might not need feminism, but they do.

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    1. Hi Jamie,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment and taking time to engage. Your comment has reminded me that I do need to clarify that when I state that Christianity and feminism are mutually exclusive, I do actually mean that complementarianism and feminism are incompatible. I have found that those who have taught and modelled complementarianism to me have done so with joy and integrity, both men and women, but I do acknowledge that the church has often made mistakes and not always done this well. It is my prayer that men and women will continue to work together to correctly understand and apply the bible.

      The last talk I heard on this issue I found to be extremely helpful, if you have time, it is well worth a listen: https://vimeo.com/album/3081122/video/123167334

      Thanks,
      Christine

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      1. Feminists can also be complementarians. They recognize that one approach doesn’t fit all, complementarianism has no answer for single parents, widows, widowers, single individuals, or other non-nuclear families. They might choose it for themselves, but would want alternatives like egalitarianism for people to find what works best for them. That is what feminism to me: the equality between men and women allowing for freedom of choice in household management, employment opportunities, and legal protection that are the same for men and women with no preference given to men over women or women over men, equal pay for equal work, and respect for all people being a given. I hope one day to see more women pastors so much so that they are normal and just pastors, but as long as seminarys offer the ‘mrs degree’ ladies will have a limited role in the church.

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      2. Miss Rose Claire – just as I am a non-denominational Christian; I don’t specify adhering to any particular kind of feminism, that way I’m free to have a mix-and-match outlook as to whatever agrees best with the sort of person I am.

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      3. Hi Rosie Clare,

        My experience of feminism is informed mostly by the fourth wave, overall indefinable, but which does have some particular characteristics:

        1) this wave is taking place largely online
        2) intersectionality

        It is also a continuation of the third which seeks full autonomy for women in terms of being able to choose, but pushes it further in that the experience of women is truly no longer tied to gender (being a transgender woman for example is an example of intersectionality – one who identifies as such will undoubtedly be subject to greater disadvantage and prejudice by our society).

        Some reflections over the past day or so:

        I find it interesting that feminism is undefinable, and yet I am being told that my conception of feminism is incorrect. From my perspective and understanding of what it means to be a feminist in the fourth wave, it is difficult to claim the term feminist if you do not believe in a woman’s right to choose. As a Christian, I have struggled to come to terms with this because I am not my own, and I submit myself to God. So one of my questions of feminism as a Christian is: can I reconcile this?

        Within the context of the fourth wave of feminism, I think the term feminism automatically implies the following: to be pro-choice and to support the erasure of gender distinctions, things I disagree with.

        I also know that it encompasses a lot of good things that I can agree with: encouraging men to be feminists is to encourage them to support and care for women better, highlighting stories of injustice against women that need to be told: violence, prejudice etc. Largely, feminists are the only ones telling them.

        I know that I live with benefits that have been gained for me by previous feminists. I owe a lot to the suffragettes. But what feminism is now has changed. If I spend any amount of time on fourth wave feminist blogs I know that my views don’t match up because holding fast to Jesus and what that means for me will mean that my conception of equality is different to that of the feminist. My understanding of the bible is that women and men complement each other, so I promised to submit to my husband on my wedding day, I believe that men are given the role of overseeing churches and preaching to a mixed congregation on a sunday. These are not feminist ideas because the feminist conception of equality is different to mine.

        I know you would want to tell me that there is probably some brand of feminism that I could fit in to, but I have really struggled to find it. and if I do find it, it will then only be feminist insofar as it is Christian – so I have to ask the question – why do I need the feminist brand to advocate for women’s rights? If Christians, as I do, believe that the bible teaches the equality of women, do I have to call myself a feminist? People seem to be telling me that I should, but no one can tell me why I would also need feminism if Christianity has already established to me that equality is important – Christianity is the framework I can use to figure this out – not feminism. As I said in my blog, I understand why feminism is necessary for those who aren’t Christian, but no one has yet explained what feminism brings that Christians themselves aren’t already preaching and practising: the bible teaches to treat women as sisters, for husbands to love wives better than themselves, to keep sex precious (which would more than certainly change rape culture). Feminism has been extremely helpful to tell the church when it is failing to live these things out, but the answer is to go back to the bible and correctly understand and apply God’s word. So I think I should be interacting with feminism, but can I reasonably call myself one? From my understanding of what feminism is, which should be regarded with more seriousness than it has been given almost every woman who has commented has told me that feminism is not definable in the first place, I am extremely hesitant to say yes.

        Given that I have upheld the necessity to promote equality between men and women, and I have continually affirmed that women are valuable, I also wonder why I am being regarded with so much incredulity. Is it so impossible that equality for women is something that could be found outside of feminism? If you are a Christian my question would be: is the bible not sufficient for this? What does feminism bring that the bible lacks in terms of establishing this equality – in a theoretical sense?

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  2. Hello!

    Thanks for the article. You express similar concerns I have had with uncritical acceptance of feminism by Christian people.

    However, I disagree with you. I think you do need feminism. Or maybe, you *did* need feminism. The Bible is a wonderful authority, full of scope and flavour, instructing us toward Jesus and godliness with sufficiency. However, historically, the Christian church has often failed to apply the Bible effectively enough. Many times, for example, it has been through heresy that Christians have learned more about God, ourselves and the world, as we make abstractions between ideas in order to argue better.

    I think feminism has been a much needed corrective to complementarian Christianity. I think feminism has more work to do in helping us to study the Bible better. Maybe you have reached a point where you can say that you don’t need the input of feminism to draw your attention to the inherent value of women and children and men, and how Christian ethics bears upon us in terms of gender. Here, here I say! I think that is great!

    However, I think I still have much to learn from feminism as a complementarian (who is still trying to figure out what that actually means!). I continue to see men abusing women and children in society. I continue to see things in myself that are far from godly. I continue to see forgetfulness about these issues occur, and I continue to see the voices of victims quashed under a torrent of argument about what the Bible says about gender in broad perspective. I think men sin violently and oppressively to a greater degree, and will use all their power to not be held accountable. We should never forget that, and we should be skeptical of men until Jesus comes. Not that women do not sin, but in this regard, men deserve particular skepticism. I would welcome these ever-present qualifications to the complementarian position. I think historically as Christians we should be somewhat grateful to God for feminism in our continual desire to place all our life under the authority of Scripture.

    *written on my iPhone so may not be so cogent! Apologies

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  3. Interesting article… but, is there really one Christian worldview? and for that matter is their really one Feminist worldview? For example. If a Christian man in the U.S interprets parts of the bible to mean that he should hit his wife – would you say that he is not a Christian? Or that he has a different interpretation/understanding of Christianity than you? Or if a woman identifies as a feminist because she believes in enfranchisement and equal opportunity, but thinks that abortion is wrong, is she not a feminist? Non of the early feminists believed in abortion. So who or what cultures define feminism? Just some questions that are worth pondering.
    Unlike Christianity – feminism is not a Religious movement that offers the answers to all of life’s big questions – but you write about it as if it attempts to. Feminism seeks to improve social well-being by treating a key issue that shapes human suffering – the oppression and inequality of women. Few feminists would say that this is the only issue that needs human attention.
    Feminism, like Christianity, is a multidimensional, multicultural movement. There are all kinds of feminists and I’m not sure if I agree with your summaries of the core values of the ‘feminist movement’ – there may be popular values – but who defines the core values? Unlike in Christianity – there is no one person or book that defines the movement. Here are some examples of feminist groups in Australia who all have different values and aims:

    Australian Women’s Health Network
    Country Women’s Association
    Emily’s List (Australian Labor Party organisation for the equalising of women in politics, started by Joan Kirner)
    National Council of Jewish Women of Australia founded in 1923.[12]
    National Council of Women of Australia – founded 1888, affiliated with the International Council of Women
    Queen Victoria Women’s Centre Trust
    Women’s Electoral Lobby
    Women’s Forum Australia
    The Working Women’s Trades Union
    South Australian Women’s Suffragette League
    Queensland Women’s Electoral League
    Australian Women’s Party

    I’m a Christian who loves feminism even if I don’t agree with all feminists. But I’m not just a christian-feminist, I’m also a human rights advocate, a social-democrat, an environmentalist and a whole bunch of other things. Christianity is the central belief system that shapes my engagement with all these other movements. But I’m also aware that my interpretation of what it looks like to follow Jesus will differ from that of perhaps, someone in a slum in India, or a wealthy company manager in the Hamptons, U.S.A – and that is OK too.

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    1. Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Firstly, you are correct, there is not a singular Christian worldview in the sense that, different Christians interpret the bible differently. I recognised the need to clarify this by stating at the beginning of this post that I am actually trying to draw a distinction between complementarian theology and feminism, because it would be incorrect for me to claim that feminism and Christianity in general are incompatible. Egalitarian interpretations do allow for feminist readings of the bible.

      With regard to a man who says he is Christian and claims that the bible may be used to justify his decision to hit his wife: that is utterly unbiblical. The bible, read correctly (by correctly I mean: establish the original author’s intent, consider grammatical/historical background, read passages within context), does not in any way justify such behaviour. I wouldn’t recognise that as a valid interpretation.

      Having immersed myself in feminism over a long while, I cannot escape the fact that the feminists whom I take very seriously, and read with respect for their views, do see feminism as an all-encompassing worldview. It does actually provide the overarching framework for their understanding of inequality in this world, and drives the logic behind their solutions to remedying inequality. Their feminism defines them, and this is the kind of feminism that I am engaging with. Feminism, while constantly evolving, does have recognisable characteristics that as a Christian I have to conclude are at odds with key biblical doctrines, characteristics such as the right of reproductive control for all women, and complete sexual autonomy and the right to determine one’s own gender. These are not issues that are peripheral to feminism, they are integral to it. Therefore, I think it would be extremely inconsistent as a Christian to claim that I am a feminist, but need to qualify that ‘I am pro-choice’ and that ‘gender is fixed’ – these ideas would have me slammed by any feminist who knows her stuff. It would be as inconsistent as someone who claims to be a Christian because they like the idea of ‘loving people’ but who doesn’t want to acknowledge Jesus’ death or resurrection.

      Feminism is not founded upon an absolute, so yes, it can basically be moulded or borrowed from, but I personally find such an approach to be illogical.

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  4. Hi Tara

    I feel very conflicted reading this article. There are some helpful things you have said here and there, but overall I think you have misrepresented feminism.

    You rightfully and helpfully talk about feminism taking the glory that belongs to God – but this is only right and helpful insofar as feminism looks how you have described it. In my experience, and in the experience of many people I know, feminism is not thought of or expressed as a monolithic, water-tight worldview. There is no published manifesto that defines feminist belief, there is no higher authority to appeal to (no, not even Germaine Greer!). Feminism as a worldview just doesn’t exist as you have described it.

    Feminism is a fluid concept that is expressed very differently from community to community, but the one thing that feminism seems to have in common across all these different waves and communities is a commitment to the dignity of women as human beings. It’s a broad and generic commit, and it’s almost always subordinate to another worldview*. So, for example, I am a Christian, someone who loves and follows Jesus as my Lord, and treasures the bible as God’s word. I identify as a feminist. My friend R is a Muslim, a scholar of the Quran. She covers her head and attends a plethora of gender-segregated events. But she is a feminist too. My friend M is an Atheist who wouldn’t touch the concept of a deity with a 10-foot pole. She has strong pro-choice conviction. She is a feminist. We all think each other’s worldviews are not just weird, but wrong! We hold one important belief in common: that we value women as human beings and want them to be treated with dignity. And yet while we all respectfully acknowledge that each are feminists, we look with suspicion on each other’s feminist practices. Yes, we are all committed to the truth that women are human beings, but our expression of this feminist conviction is always going to be shaped by our primary belief.

    From this perspective I see Christians responding to feminism poorly in two broad ways. The first, which you are alluding to I think, is when Christians place their feminist convictions above their allegiance to Christ. That is definitely taking the glory from God and giving to another! It is a problem because what they are really doing is not taking on a ‘feminist worldview’, rather they are abandoning their Christian approach to feminism and replacing it with (usually) a humanist approach to feminism.

    What is at stake in this situation? People are turning away from the true and living God. That is the worst. But it is humanism, not feminism, which is the problem here.

    The second broad way that Christians respond poorly to feminism is by saying Christians don’t need it. And yes, if feminism is the monolithic atheistic beast you have described here, there is definitely no place for it in the life of a Christian. But if feminism is a diverse movement, which at its heart is about asserting that women are human beings and of value in our communities, of course Christians can be feminists! And so long as there are communities around the world where women are not treated with dignity, Christians should be feminists! And so long as there are church communities where sin manifests in a way that hurts or diminishes women, Christians must be feminists!

    What is at stake in this situation? As long as women in the world are being treated as sub-humans, as long are women are being exploited, marginalised, shamed and attacked because of their gender, as long as women feel compelled to minimise or hide their gender in order to participate in society, people must keep reminding each other that women are humans and must be treated with dignity. Feminism, in all it’s different expressions, is the way that we are working through these problems, the way we are communicating across cultures and worldviews to address these injustices. So Christians can decide that feminism is irrelevant if they want to, but I think that this is hurtful to women everywhere whose suffering is exacerbated because of their gender. And I think that God will hold us accountable for that.

    God created women in his image, Jesus treated women with empowering dignity, the Spirit has equipped women throughout the ages to serve will all kinds of amazing gifts. Patriarchal abuse still goes on around the world, and even in the church and each each moment of it is a tragic manifestation of sin! Within the broad spectrum of helpful-and-unhelpful ways that feminism confronts this abuse, it is is absolutely vital that Christians take the gospel into the debate. And we should NOT use the gospel to deny the value of feminism, we should be using the gospel to create and express Christ-honouring expressions of feminism.

    (*’Worldview’ is a word I use cautiously; it’s a term better used to describe the framework of a society rather than an individual. Most people live out their worldview with many inconsistencies!)

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    1. Hi Alison, Tara didn’t write this blog, my name is Christine, I wrote it.

      Thanks for your thoughts, and I apologise if my response doesn’t hit the mark, please come back at me to clarify anything I may have misrepresented.

      My understanding of your concept of feminism is that it can be moulded to fit into one’s worldview, be it theistic, atheistic, etc, because at it’s core feminism is a commitment to the dignity of women as human beings. Further, it is not entirely fixed or definable, therefore it is appropriate to express feminism depending on one’s worldview.

      My questions here are:

      Firstly, if your feminism is informed and expressed through Christianity, then why is feminism necessary for you at all? One of the questions I had to ask myself was: ‘what am I looking for in feminism that I think is lacking in Christianity? Do I believe that I am somehow lacking in my womanhood before Christ and his teaching that I need to find it completed or fulfilled by feminism?’ If your commitment is to the dignity of women, is that not inherent in Christianity? Feminism is necessary for those outside of a Christian framework, but for those of us who belong to a creator, the need for feminism to establish the fundamental equality of women becomes redundant. We don’t need another philosophy to establish what is self-evident in the gospel.

      Secondly, I think if you spend any amount of time reading feminist blogs and immersing yourself in feminist ideas, specifically within the western context, it becomes very clear that issues of reproductive rights and the fluidity of sexuality and gender are key pillars to the feminist movement and to reject these is to reject feminism. I guess I feel less convinced that feminism is just the general idea that one believes in the equality of men and women, I think it encompasses much more than that, and while the consensus is that feminism is hard to define, there are certainly things that feminists recognise as core. To use the word feminist in the western context is to conjure up these pillars, these ideas, which are total antithetical to Christianity.

      What has saddened me most is how little faith we have in the gospel for establishing the equality and rights of women. I do think that feminism should be thanked for keeping Christians accountable, even now I can see that the church has dropped the ball if we think we need another philosophy to fight for the equality of women. So my priority has to be to teach the bible correctly, and know it well, so that I can keep my leaders accountable, and live out the equality that has been ordained and will be secured by God in his word, and no other.

      What also concerns me is that the feminist label is absolutely necessary if one claims to be an advocate for women’s rights. The entirety of my blog has recognised that the equality of women is inherent in christianity, yet I continue to be told that feminism is necessary if that is something I truly hold to. In order to convince me that feminism is necessary for establishing equality, I’d need to be convinced that Christianity in itself fails to do this.

      Please forgive brevity/expression. Thanks again.

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      1. Sorry Christine! I found this post on Tara’s twitter account, and saw her name in the sidebar, so I had assumed she wrote it :S

        I think that we might be disagreeing on something more fundamental to do with the role that anything outside of the the bible can play in shaping what we know about God. I think your statement: “We don’t need another philosophy to establish what is self-evident in the gospel” is way too simplistic. We live in a complicated real world, God’s good creation, marred by sin. Romans 1 is a helpful framework I think: it affirms both that God’s glory is seen in the creation around us, but sin has twisted up everything, and darkened our hearts so that we can know nothing.

        This creates a tension where we learn good and true things from the world around us that God has made, and yet also these things are distorted. Sin is everywhere, distorting everything, yes. And also God used all kinds of things – sunsets, science, loving relationships, chance remarks and even foreign philosophies – to lead us back to discover him in his Word. The classic example is Augustine, who helpfully articulated his conversion experience in the Confessions. His Platonist worldview was instrumental in helping him to grasp the truth of the gospel! Plato was definitely not a Christian, and Augustine’s neo-platonist philosophy has had a lasting impact on the theology of the church (including, I think, the title of your blog!), but no one can deny that Augustine was a true believer who taught and lived the gospel with integrity, for the glory of God.

        This is probably something we will have to agree to disagree on. Some Christians don’t like the idea that you can find any truth worth knowing outside of the scriptures. Some Christians don’t like acknowledging that there are failings in the church, or in our own lives, that other philosophies or points of view can help us see and rectify. But I think that is a very dangerous way of approaching life. I think it makes us blind to our own cultural biases and prejudices, and stops us seeing ways that we might have mistakenly misinterpreted scripture. If we have a cultural bias that makes us read the scriptures in an overly paternalistic/xenophobic/imperialistic/individualistc/you-name-it-istic way, it will often take someone speaking from another culture or philosophical framework to shake us out of it. Remember, Augustine needed Plato’s help to see light of the gospel!

        Regarding that second point, about the key pillars of the feminist movement, I think that is just because too many Christians who care about these issues are disassociating themselves from feminism rather than joining the conversation as feminists and showing a gospel-shaped approach.

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      2. Thanks again for your thoughts Alison, it’s helping me to work through my thinking on this.

        I wrote lazy dot points that outlined my hesitations toward feminism, I wasn’t entirely fair in that. I agree that feminism does teach us about our world in the sense that it does a far better job of highlighting inequality and justice in our society and the world than Christianity. In this sense, I can learn things about the world from feminism. However, in order to make sense of what feminism teaches me, I must necessarily evaluate it through the lens of Scripture to decide whether or not what it actually tells me about the world is true. Feminism has been useful lately in Sydney Anglican circles by drawing attention to instances of domestic violence – but what will ultimately strengthen the church and its people will not be to respond by removing teaching on submission, or ignoring this part of the bible, as feminists would ardently suggest, but by correctly teaching and modeling God’s word. Where feminists and Christians find common ground in recognising injustices like this, they will often clash – because feminism does not recognise the authority of the Bible and Christians must obey it. It would be foolish for me to say outright ‘I don’t need feminism’, I think there is worth in it, but I think that any bible believing Christian needs to really examine the intersection between their faith and their feminism.

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  5. Oh Christine. I’m loving this discussion. It is important as I am seeing a ever widening gap between christian men and women who are feminists and christian men and women who are not.

    I just want to make a little comment about needing to take care with one another.

    I agree with Alison regarding the greater issue of seeing Christianity vs feminism. In light of this I want to say that I am a feminist BECAUSE of my relationship with Jesus and my study of the bible.

    I am so encouraged that you are eager to engage and learn about feminism and its messy relationship to Jesus and the bible.

    In the above comment though, you quickly dismissed the years of study, prayer, conversation and deliberation I have had regarding the bible and how highly I regard it.

    ‘or ignoring this part of the bible, as feminists would ardently suggest,’
    ‘because feminism does not recognise the authority of the Bible and Christians must obey it’
    ‘but I think that any bible believing Christian needs to really examine the intersection between their faith and their feminism.’

    I am friends with people who are male and female christians … who are also feminists. I guess you could call us a community.

    While we don’t agree on everything (have you ever met a church that does?) we have all wholeheartedly, diligently spent years scrawling through bible verses, interpretations, original greek/hebrew/contexts/authors intent, prayer, teaching regarding verses such as Ephesians 5 and the like… with the submissive attitude to accept whatever the Holy Spirit taught us with the authority of the bible.

    I do not ignore parts of the bible because of my feminism. I am a feminist because of what I believe the Holy Spirit has led me to understand about Ephesians 5.
    The Quakers understood this as you could say they birthed feminism and I am so proud to be a daughter of their feminist actions which stemmed from their relationship to Jesus and desire to see the curse which Jesus broke, continually lifted from the world.

    It saddens me so much when christian feminists are dismissed as lazy, compromising and disrespectful of God’s word, that we would just pick and choose.

    I take very seriously the process between examining the intersection between my
    faith and feminism
    faith and the economy
    faith and poverty
    faith and community
    faith and sport
    faith and family
    faith and politics
    faith and governance

    Lets be careful, you and I, about how we use the terms ‘bible believing’ ‘biblical’ and what we presume others to believe and how they got there.

    Sydney is a tricky place to be a christian feminist. We are beaten at all sides and it is hard to lean into Jesus and not get bitter. Please do me the honour of presuming we have done our research and our hearts are just as full of love and devotion to Jesus – The Way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Alice,
      Firstly, I apologise for any comments that have seemed dismissive or hurtful, it was not my intention to imply that any Christian feminist must not be taking the bible seriously. I do understand that there are many Christians who are feminists, and so at the start of my blog I put in a note to readers to flag that it is more accurate for me to state that I am drawing a distinction between feminism and complementarian theology, and I have no right to speak for Christianity as a whole.

      I do maintain however that the intersection between feminism and faith needs to be examined, as in my experience feminism has often clashed with my faith, even where I didn’t want it to. I’ve worked really hard to understand feminism precisely because I am so naturally inclined towards it – I still remember telling my father at the dinner table at 9 years of age that I was a feminist, and that was that. But as I grew up I began to understand who I am before God: made in his image, a woman, with a specific role – as a wife, as a church member, as a citizen of this world, and what this looks like. I realised that there was so much in feminism that I couldn’t in good conscience agree with because of my faith. I can’t agree that women should have unfettered access to abortion, I can’t support completely autonomous expressions of sexuality and the rejection of monogamy, I can’t support homosexual marriage, I can’t concede that gender is an entirely man-made construct and people exist on a gender spectrum… Many of these issues are feminist issues and I couldn’t reconcile labelling myself as a feminist without endorsing these things as well. As for other issues of equality – I think ultimately I have what are feminist ideas, but I am reluctant to call it feminism, because it links me to all of the other aspects of feminism that I can’t agree with. And in this instance, I would be picking and choosing, and that would make me an inconsistent feminist, or someone who would have to constantly qualify her feminism. Does that make sense?

      I spend a lot of my time on feminist blogs, seeking out feminist films and books, one of my best friends is a feminist (not a Christian) and we often share the same articles, stories, jokes – we understand feminism together – but she knows that fundamentally, we are different because of the difference Jesus makes when one begins to evaluate this world. So I don’t see myself as someone who is running away from feminism or trying to get other people to fear it, I don’t want to be seen as the unsympathetic enemy. What I want is for people to engage with feminism and think critically about it.

      Like

  6. Hi Christine,

    I have read your post and the comments above with interest, and I still felt compelled to comment. I am not really the target audience for your blog, I suppose, being an atheist, but nevertheless I do take an interest in what you write, and your views. I do find it difficult to understand them, but I am trying.

    While your other insightful commenters have approached their responses from Christian perspectives, my response is from an outsider’s perspective, clearly. Let’s just say I’m coming at this as a feminist.

    What I understand from everything that you have written, and from your replies to the comments here, is that, as a complementarian, you, yourself, personally, do not need feminism. You stated this in your reply to the first comment. Some Christians (egalitarians?) can be feminists, obviously secular humanists can be feminists, but you can’t, because your compementarian views on gender roles make you equal but different to your husband, brother, father, etc. Your readings (on feminist blogs) have led you to believe that all true feminists must support abortion and transexuality. If you proclaim yourself a feminist but don’t hold these ideas, then you are not a real feminist. I think this is ridiculous. It is akin to saying that all little ‘l’ liberals think the same on every issue, or all members of a political party hold the same views, or all Christians do!

    I’m not an expert on Christianity, but just from reading this post, I can see that all Christians don’t agree on everything. Do you seriously think all feminists do? That is a very naive view. Of course there are different types of feminists, and different schools of thought in feminism, just like, as you clearly acknowledge, there are different ideologies within Christianity. I think your whole argument is based on a blinkered view of feminism based on selected readings from some blogs that represent perspectives on feminism that clash with other perspectives of feminism, just like Christian viewpoints have conflicted here under this post. What make a Christian feminist any less feminist than an atheist feminist, or a Moslem feminist? They exist, too, and their views are no less worthy than the feminists writing the blogs that you read.

    Feminism, unlike Christianity, does not have a holy book. There are no meetings. Go to the library and look up feminism and you will find a range of readings with a range of views. There is no one doctrine. There is no one feminism. There is no one authority. There is no right way and wrong way. Radical feminists argue for the overthrow of the patriarchy and reconstruction of society. Do all feminists agree with them? Of course not! Liberal feminists seek the equality of men and women through political and legal reform. Do these two groups agree? Of course not! Because there is no one feminism. Feminism is a lived experience. It has evolved over time, yes, into a tree with many branches. And feminism simply as ‘advocating for women’s rights’ is indeed just as valid as your fourth wave feminist bloggers. Christian feminism is just as valid. I am a pro-choice atheist feminist, but I would rather a Christian woman stand beside me as a feminist and fight for the rights of girls to education than not, despite our different opinions on abortion. Am I not a feminist then, in your opinion? Would your feminist bloggers think less of me? I guess I am sitting on a different branch to them in the big tree of feminism.

    You argue that you, as a complementarian Christian, can advocate for women’s rights, just not under the ‘banner’ of feminism. The news is, that advocating for women’s rights is a feminist action. It is your rose by a different name. The central flaw in your argument is that you don’t understand feminism. You want to support women’s rights? You believe in a system of reform to bring education and opportunity to girls and women? Equal pay? You are a feminist. You don’t want to use the word, fair enough, but why write a blog post about it? Wouldn’t it be more constructive, as a Christian, to write about why we need to help girls and women around the world, rather than denouncing feminism?

    Clearly, feminism is needed in the world, whatever definition you want to put on it. In the developing world, girls don’t have access to education. Child brides are married off and mutilated. Girl babies are killed because they are not valued. Here, our first female prime minister was ridiculed for her dress sense by a sexist media, our current federal cabinet has just two women, and our Minister for Women is a man. Added to that, he is a Christian man whose Christianity doesn’t seem to be leading him any constructive actions where women are concerned. This Christian man has cut aid funding to developing countries – aid which provides education for girls through organisations like Action Aid. You know this. This is all sin, in your view. But how is Christianity going to fix this?

    Can Christianity alone address the rights and inequalities faced by women globally? The answer is clearly no. Of course not. Christians can’t help women in Afghanistan fight the Taliban. But feminism can. Through the lens of feminism, Christians, and Moslems, and atheists, and Buddhists and everyone else, left or right on the political spectrum, can fight for the rights of women. That is what feminism is, in real life, lived by people everywhere who may not necessarily blog about it.

    As a woman in Australia today, you have benefited from feminism. It wasn’t Christianity that got you the rights that you have today. It was the fight of women – feminists – many of them Christians – who enabled you your education and job and right to vote. There is still much to fight – here and even more so around the world.

    You, personally, don’t need feminism now. Good for you. You’re lucky. But you are where you are because of feminists who came before you. ‘Thanks for the hard work, ladies, but I’m good now. I’m out.’

    The fact is that the world is not Christian, and Christianity is not going to help everyone. It can’t. Thankfully, feminism can. It transcends religion and race.

    Sadly, I think a post like this, asking Christians to question feminism, based on a very restricted view of what feminism actually is, does more harm than good to the cause of women’s rights. I understand that this is a personal reflection; you’re mulling over your thoughts and putting it out there. You have a right to do that, and a right to choose to be a feminist or not. But in publishing your personal views on the internet and announcing, ‘I am not a feminist!’, you are making a public comment on feminism. You are rejecting it and encouraging others to do so.

    You might not need feminism, but the world does. Although not necessarily your purpose, this post criticises a movement that has done much good, for you, for me, and all women, and continues to do so. As a Christian, and if Christianity, not feminism, as you say, does indeed hold the solution to gender inequities in the world, then surely a post about how Christians – as ‘women’s rights advocates’ if not as ‘feminists’ – can work to improve the rights of women would be a more constructive approach to this topic?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Lisa,
      I appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment, it means you are, at the least, taking me seriously, and I welcome your challenges because they sharpen my thinking.
      These five points don’t summarise my entire understanding of Christianity and feminism. They were lazy thoughts punched out on a Sunday, but my lazy thoughts have done a disservice to me, to my faith and to feminism. I have tried and failed to write something far more extensive on this, because I know it deserves better treatment, but I became impatient and posted what I posted. I hope you’ll forgive me for that.
      I blogged those ideas naively, but I am glad I did, because the comments provided by yourself and others will help me to re-evaluate.
      One thing I have noticed is the continual insistence that feminism is undefinable, evolving and marked by many different views and interpretations – therefore it would be silly to try to claim that feminism is definitely this. This is true, and something I need to take into consideration. If it is true that feminism can be so malleable, if I can reasonably call myself a feminist while rejecting reproductive rights, and holding to a Christian view of gender equality, if I can consistently call myself a feminist because of a firm belief in the equality of women while rejecting that which I disagree with, then in that case, I am a feminist. But I am not yet convinced that that is a logical thing to do and that this doesn’t trivialise feminism in some way. That is something I need to keep thinking on.
      I don’t regret calling on Christians to critically think about feminism, while my thoughts need work, I still think that they raise questions that should be considered as one thinks about their personal experience with feminism and faith.
      Incidentally, Alie, who also contributes to this blog, will be posting next week on why she is a Christian and a feminist. So of course I understand that people are thinking on this differently, I happen to share a blogging platform with one of them. As for me, I’m not in a place to simply accept the status quo, I question everything – starting with my faith – and feminism is no exception. Only when I question what I believe will I know whether or not it is true.

      I’m sorry I haven’t engaged with the bulk of your post, I will continue to mull over it and perhaps write a follow up blog if I am brave enough. The internet is quite exhausting.

      Like

  7. Christine…

    Thank you. Thank you so much for engaging and being willing to consider things. Thank you for not being stuck in the mud and unable to be self critical. I really really appreciate it. I’m impressed with your self awareness and courage.

    I agree we should be always questioning everything including the bible, christian teaching and feminism. I want more of this. In fact, I am convinced that if more men and women questioned feminism and the biblical teaching they receive we would have less complimentarians and more feminists. (Although its worth noting the right to choose a complimentarian relationship in full understanding is a result of feminist action. Ha. Can’t escape it.)

    A helpful way for me to look at whether I call myself a feminist or not is to consider why and whether I want to call myself a christian or not.

    For years I hated referring to myself as a christian because I didn’t subscribe to the majority of what christians believe. I still don’t. I am often embarrassed, ashamed and horrified by what could be seen by outsiders as core beliefs. I still don’t believe in some of these things. Can I really be called a christian if the Australian Christian Lobby call themselves christians? Or George W Bush? Or Tony Abbott? The list goes on and on and on….

    I am now reconciled with calling myself a christian for two reasons:

    1. Despite incredible differences in the expression and actions of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I share a crucial key belief. Jesus died and resurrected, breaking the curse and freeing us all. This kinda links me up with my extended family whether I like it or not. I would put this key belief as the umbrella under which all differences and issues come under.

    Similarly, I would say that I can call myself a feminist because despite differences in core beliefs eg. pro choice/life etc. my crucial key belief is aligned with others. Men and Women are equal in worth and capacity, all should equally feel safe and valued. All should have equal opportunity and respect. Sometimes this involves proactive positive discrimination… Eg. education programs for women only. But it is ultimately equal worth for all. This key belief I can get on board.

    2. When people ask me if I am a feminist and/or christian, I take the tension out of my response by simply asking…

    ‘What do you think ‘blank’ means?’ ‘What do you mean by ‘feminism’?’ ‘What do you mean by ‘christian’?’

    Let them do the defining and then see if that is what you are. If someone responds a christian is someone who doesn’t respect women and believes they’ll go to heaven when they die. You can respond accordingly….. ‘ahhhhh. then nope, I’m not what you would call a christian.’ But this is what I would call a ‘christian’…….

    Lets take the power out of the labelling. I think that may be what this is really all about.

    Keep thinking about it all though…

    Maybe if you have time.. check out some of these guys.

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com.au -Kristen Rosser (Excuse the terrible font and messy blog – but she is a great theologian)
    Sarah Bessey
    Rachel Held Evans
    Caitlin Moran – How to be a Woman is a great book. Its a wonderful insight into a post Greer non-christian feminism. She talks a lot about how the feminism society doesn’t exist and we all are just trying to figure it out.
    Annabel Bless her Heart Crabb – this article is great. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/annabel-crabb-im-proud-to-be-a-feminist-despite-my-regular-lapses-20150307-13wrw2.html

    Anyways. There are heaps more.. but if you need a thread then these might unravel an interesting journey for you.. if you haven’t been there before.

    P.s. Stay AWAY from feminist academic literature. Just don’t go there. Its full of students trying to push and pull. Its a murky world of bitterness and pursuit perfection. I find it isn’t a healthy place to learn about feminism. People tend to be more interested in articulated the correct expression of feminism and have little understanding of feminism manifesting and realised in a real world context – in relationship with people. I say this having studied it myself at Uni. Loved it…. but wouldn’t wanna go back there.

    Anyways. Peace out.

    Like

  8. Hi Christine,

    Thanks for your blog. Prompted some heated discussions with a few of my friendship groups, that’s for sure!

    I do have numerous concerns with the content of the blog, but firstly I just wanted to flag a couple of things. I hope to reply more thoroughly later.

    1. You have changed the title of the blog, and many of the responses were shaped according to the original post (I know this because I was watching closely), which was “5 reasons I don’t need feminism” which is a very different thing to “5 reasons for a Christian to question feminism.” I get why you might have changed it, but this should be stated on the blog somewhere to help clarify discussion.

    2. You have added, and removed, a caveat about ‘complementarianism’ versus ‘egalitarian’ theology, previously stating that the latter could in fact reconcile feminism and faith. I’m not sure why you added it, or removed it, but it too would have also shaped responses – I was myself considering replying to the caveat alone.

    3. You replied to a comment above with: “I find it interesting that feminism is undefinable, and yet I am being told that my conception of feminism is incorrect. From my perspective and understanding of what it means to be a feminist in the fourth wave…”
    …This is perhaps the most troubling. Women who are calling themselves feminists and are stating that they have thought the issue through thoroughly, and are in fact responding with a consensus (which is, equality for men and women) and yet different. Which is exactly the point – women can be for equality, and not pro-choice, and still be a feminist. It’s not undefinable. It’s just not like the 39 articles, with creeds or statements of belief. Just like you can vote for Liberals and not be for their entire platform (who, by the by, are also pro-choice, just with a few limits); feminists argue with each other all the time about sexuality, prostitution, staying at home v working etc. The point is that feminists want the freedom to choose (not just about abortion) about everything.

    4. I like your central, focal question that you keep returning to: what does feminism provide that the bible does not, theoretically? Well, in fact it does provide some theory. There is no explicit contemporary cultural criticism in the bible, there is no mention of equal pay, or the right to vote, nor critique of gender roles. Feminism and the bible alike share the valuing of women, but one is a diverse spiritual and cultural movement that critiques and evaluates and shapes and pushes the culture and the other is a spiritual text that works on individuals and groups who believe it. They inform and help each other!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Alison,

      Thanks for your comment. You are extremely observant.

      1) I’ve changed the title of my blog because I’ve realised I’m not actually advocating for a total rejection of feminism. I want us to engage with it so I want to remove the idea that people think I’m completely demonising it. People are reading my blog with preconceived ideas that I hate feminism, even though I say throughout my blog that feminism has made gains and identifies issues as a prompt to activism and change that I don’t disagree with. I changed the title in the hopes that I wouldn’t just be click bait. I don’t think it’s made a difference though.

      2) I removed the caveat because I thought it was distracting and unhelpful.

      3) I posted a comment on fb that I think I’ll just repost here to clarify what prompted me to write this blog. It’s basically another blog post. I just ask, please read without assuming I’m just hating on feminism, because I’m really, truly, not.

      – I am being continually reminded that feminism is about establishing the equality of the sexes, but my first question is: what do we really mean when we talk about equality? How are we defining it? How are we measuring it? What is the standard?
      – The definition and measure of equality of the sexes is first found in Genesis: God made them male and female in his image. Here we understand why and how women and men must be regarded with equal worth. They were afforded that worth by a creator and they bear his image, therefore we can do nothing less than regard every person as valuable.
      – What is the feminist conception of equality? Within the context of the fourth wave, equality is closer to a vision of sameness of the sexes. We see this as the fight for reproductive rights becomes a key issue, as does the erasure of gender differences.
      – Now I’m not simply saying that because feminism endorses abortion feminism is automatically bad. That would be a)rubbish logic b)unhelpful fear mongering. What I’m actually trying to do is understand the base assumptions of feminism today which lend themselves to reaching for reproductive rights as a cornerstone for equality. What does equality actually mean to feminists, that reproductive rights and gender autonomy must necessarily be gained? Overall it points to a vision for sameness, rather than the biblical equality that I hold to so dearly. This is a distinction that we should be aware of. When we talk about equality, we are not all talking about the same thing.
      – I disagree with the idea that I can merely mould a brand of Christian feminism for myself within the context of the fourth wave – while undefinable, it seems that there are certain characteristics that I must acknowledge and accept. I see examples of this in the media all the time. Take Patricia Arquette at the Oscars recently: she, very bravely, advocated for equal pay during her Oscars speech. But she put her foot in it backstage when she claimed that ‘people of colour need to fight for her now’. This completely ignored the issue of intersectionality which is integral to the fourth wave and she was called on to apologise and amend her comments. The same is true of Emma Watson, who’s HeForShe campaign was slammed for reinforcing unhelpful gender norms: it was too binary. Of late Emma has corrected this oversight and taken pains to explain that the campaign is not binary, because we are all people who exist on a gender spectrum, and the experience of woman is not tied to gender or sex. It is completely autonomous. So while feminism is difficult to define in its entirety, it seems that there are expectations about what you will believe and fight for if you want to publicly use the feminist brand today. This is my difficulty, and it is this we need to consider as Christians when we advocate for womens rights under the feminist banner.

      Here is what I am NOT saying:
      – I am NOT saying that we need to outright reject feminism
      – I am NOT saying that feminism has nothing to offer
      Here is what I am hoping to do:
      – Help Christians to understand the current wave of feminism better
      – Help Christians to constructively engage with it
      – Help Christians to ask the right questions that they may evaluate today’s feminism through the lens of the bible.

      I am not just a conservative trying to slam a liberal idea. I have had my head in feminism for years, to the extent that people around me just assumed that I actually was a feminist.

      Here’s why it is important:
      – Feminist thinking (in terms of what equality means) is likely to manifest itself in feminist interpretations of the bible if we are not clear on what it is. There is far too much at stake for us to uncritically accept feminism.
      – As I think this through I am considering my youth group, the next generation. When they ask me questions about feminism, what am I to say? And as they are in the context of the fourth wave, I know exactly what is prompting their questions: Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Cara Delevingne. Women who are fourth wave feminists, not first wave Christian activists. We would do well to know the difference and what that means for how we interact with feminism and teach the bible today.

      Like

    2. Alison, also a few other questions I have if you have time to reply:

      1) I guess it would be good for me to ask what you understand equality to be, and do you think that your idea of equality is something that all feminists agree with?

      2) “Feminists want the freedom to choose about everything” yes I agree this is what feminists want – to the point where the experience of woman can be chosen by a man i.e. transgenderism. There are no limits to this language of choice. How do you interact with this as a Christian? Do you qualify what it is that people should be able to choose within your understanding of feminism?

      3) Can you comment more on your thought about the bible providing no explicit contemporary criticism? its translating to me like the ‘bible is insufficient for establishing choices women can make in these areas’. particularly with regard to gender roles. i have 100% confidence that the bible provides clarity on this. can you flesh that out a bit more because i think im misunderstanding you.

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