No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

“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.

 

24 thoughts on “No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

  1. Sam Powell says:

    Beautifully put, Rachel. I’m with you completely on this and have also been tarred with the same labels. I agree completely with your summary of beliefs on this subject. Well done. Keep it up 😊

  2. Susan Wilkinson says:

    Thank you, Rachel. This subject is also a point of interest and work for me and I very much appreciate clear voices calling out the unjust accusations against women who don’t fit neatly into someone else’s mold and therefore become targets of both secular and church culture.

  3. Ian Thompson says:

    Let the battles commence . . . I’m looking forward to some hilarious knee-jerk unthink. Great discussion starter, by the way, Rachel

  4. insanitybytes22 says:

    Amen. This is well said.

    I’ve taken to just calling myself a complimentarian. That’s where you just pour compliments all over your spouse. Seems to work out pretty well.

    We really need to stop demonizing the other side and find our unity in Jesus Christ. All this hostility is actually a fear based, reactionary response, one designed to discredit, dismiss, and demoralize those we have labeled. That’s not how you edify people, that’s not how you spread the gospel.

  5. Barbara Roberts says:

    There are two reasons I am not an Egalitarian.
    1. I don’t believe in women being ordained as pastors or elders (I’d be okay with them being ordained as deacons though).
    2. I believe husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church, and wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ. (But that doesn’t mean complying with their husband’s leadership when it goes against godly precepts.)

    But at this point I am happy to call myself feminist.

    Rachel says that the word ‘feminism’ has a definitional meaning. I think that’s a mistaken idea. Feminism (like many -isms) has many varieties, many sub-streams, many iterations. I don’t think it has one clear definition.

    I’m happy to say I’m a feminist who does not support abortion, SSM, gender-bending, or female ordination for the pastorate. What makes me feel like I’m a feminist is that I advocate for women who are victims of abuse and injustice. I also advocate for male victims, but the majority of intimate partner abuse is committed by men against women. I also advocate (to a lesser degree) for children who are victims of abuse. The first wave feminists did the same kind of thing that I do. Why should I not feel fellow-feeling with them? Why be ashamed of calling myself a feminist who stands up for women’s rights to be free from the oppression which misogynist men are have been perpetrating on women since time immemorial.

    I do not see male leadership in the church as “an oppression” which I need to overthrow. I see a lot of very corrupt male leadership in the church. But that’s corruption… mostly stemming from the fact that many people and many leaders in the visible church are not regenerate. Not born again. Not actually Christians at all.

    And I don’t think that having women pastors and elders would necessarily change that much.

    What I believe is that male pastors and elders need to listen to and respect and consult with women a LOT MORE. And that means they need to be listening not just to the Susan Hunts and Nancy DeMoss-Wolgemuths and Mary Kassians, but women like Rachel Miller and Persis Lorenti and myself.

    And like you, Rachel, I have:
    * questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
    * defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
    * raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
    * written about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
    * always believed that women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires

  6. Grainne says:

    I appreciate your position, Rachel, although I am an egalitarian and feminist. I am also a conservative evangelical inerrantist (regarding the Scriptures) who opposes abortion, homosexual marriage,trans genderism and all sorts of other things! I, too, experience some frustration at being put in a box. I am for ordination of women and am egalitarian/complementarian when it comes to marriage. Every issue deserves serious thought and requires deep study of the Word. The name calling that often occurs merely reveals the
    closed mind set of those who indulge in it.

  7. Pam says:

    I suppose because of my age I do not like the word “feminist.” It appeared to have good ideas but behind the scenes its main intent was abortion rights, meaning “free love” and immorality to the hilt because what is good for men should be good for women too.I just wish we could toss out that word “feminist.” I suppose this sounds wishy washy but why can’t we just love as Christ loves the church and all be servants, getting rid of, what I call, “worldly words” and just believe what God’s Word tells us, to aspire to be Christ like in our daily lives? I find some of the leaders today being so taken with themselves that they have forgotten what Christ actually did, laid down His life for His friends. The haughtiness and celebrity-ism certainly isn’t in the Bible. Years ago an older minister gave me good advice about everything: ask yourself, “what does the Bible say about…” and follow that. Honestly, Rachel, I never considered you a feminist, nor any other word, but a writer who cares about the Lord. I am certainly appalled that people who call you names say they are Christians. You have given me many things to think about and ponder. Thank you very much.

  8. forloveofadventure says:

    Your spectrum isn’t accurate, as egalitarianism is not an extreme position. At one end is matriarchy. The other end is patriarchy. Egalitarian is in the middle. It is not the far left of the spectrum, it is the moderate position. That is why many place complementarianism as being close to patriarchy, because it is on the spectrum of male dominance.

  9. insanitybytes22 says:

    “My general sense is everyone thinks they are in the center”

    Yes, the very center of the universe! I jest, but is that not our human condition? So as Christians we tend to label people in order to dismiss them, dehumanize them, demonize them even. Suddenly you aren’t made in His image, a sister, you are now the enemy, a feminist, a complementarian, or a misogynist even. Depends on what side you are speaking to.

    As Christians we need to start listening to one another, empathizing even. It’s not even about which side you are on, it’s about our behavior in front of the world, what we are modeling, how we are leading, what we are teaching people about our faith through our words and actions towards one another.

  10. MUMSTHEWORD says:

    I hope you are encouraged to see a few of us crawling out of the woodwork to say “Yes! Same here!” I’m a university professor with a slew of kids and a stay at home husband and sometimes I think the church looks at us and says “Well, you sort of asked for problems didn’t you? Things would be better if you had just accepted the roles for which you are designed. It is improbable that you can be a serious, let alone reformed Christian if this is your life!” Not everyone, but enough.

  11. Trent says:

    Hi Rachel,
    Good post. I must confess to now having switched and been persuaded to the dark side (egalitarianism)! Granted, I think at times they are a little too activist. So I guess i am slightly egalitarian. I am just so confused as to why the whole comp/egal debate is such a big deal? I met with a seminary professor at a broad evangelical seminary who, a few years ago, told me that this debate was not in his top ten things he thought worth fighting over. I thought, really? He doesn’t believe Grudem’s evidence? Well the last year or so, I have imbibed quite a bit of egalitarian literature. I completely see where he is coming from (save denouncing the current outlandish and mainstream form). Lo and behold, the ones Grudem spars with that he implicitly calls liberal, are not actually liberal! His thesis is also very ahistorical. The brand of complementarianism John Piper, CBMW, represents a wild and freakish pendulum swing away from the most absurd ideas of feminism and it wreaks of Gothardite misogyny. These are perfect examples of fundamentalism; being more conservative than God is.
    Thanks for calling out these very zany and off the rail ideas.

    • Trent says:

      (save denouncing the current outlandish and mainstream form of complementarianism) is what I meant, though egals can have similar views, though I do not see a lot of it.

  12. Robert says:

    Out of curiosity…. Since, at the core, Egalitarian and Complimentarian are opposites, if you then say that you are not Egalitarian, then aren’t you saying that you *are* complimentarian? I see no middle ground between “there are no differences of role between men and women”, and “there are differences of role between men and women.” Can you clarify your position for me, please? Thanks.

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