Throughout history, movements have arisen to challenge the status quo of society and the institutional church. In the history of the United States and into the present, many have spoken out against the way women are perceived and treated. These voices have fought to open to women spaces and leadership positions in the church and society that have traditionally been exclusively for men. These movements, known collectively as feminism, have requested—sometimes demanded—a transformation in the ways evangelicals conceive of women’s roles.
For evangelicals, the Bible is the ultimate, infallible and inerrant authority, which serves as the arbiter of acceptable views, and theological liberalism exists as a looming menace to biblical authority. Unfortunately, evangelicals are often confused over who is challenging their biblical and cultural perceptions. They generally do not understand the critiques of liberal feminists or of their own evangelical sisters and brothers, nor do they recognize that they are dealing with separate movements in important and foundational ways. For many, feminism is a recent phenomenon, a threatening force, liberal in origin, which in the end rejects the authority of Scripture in order to conform to modern culture. Evangelicals commonly known as biblical egalitarians are quickly tied to liberal forms of feminism because it is commonly supposed that “liberalism and the approval of women’s ordination go hand in hand,” and inevitably lead the church down the slippery slope into the abandonment of scriptural authority.2
This paper seeks to begin to correct the equation of biblical egalitarianism with liberal feminism by considering them on a foundational level—looking at where each locates its authority and how each understands the Bible’s authority.
The tradition of women raising the eucharistic cup is witnessed from the late 100s to the mid-500s, including evidence from the three oldest surviving iconographic artifacts that depict early Christians in real churches.
When I was a child, the Stations of the Cross were a big part of my experiences of Holy Week at my home parish. I am a very visual person, so I remember well the stations that were on display. They were carved from a light-colored wood and rendered in a very realistic and striking style.
Of these stations, one in particular always stood out to me, the sixth station: Veronica Wipes Jesus’s Face. Even as a child, I was deeply moved by Veronica’s compassion for the Lord. Her simple yet profound act of mercy in his greatest moment of need had an unforgettable quality to it. Little did I know that the Veronica legend was so convoluted from a literary point of view and that it extended so profoundly into art, theology, and spiritual devotion.1
Could it be that the complementarian notion of “biblical womanhood” (especially the claim that women’s distinct personhood makes no room for women as teachers and leaders of men) is a recent, Western perspective?
Who translated the version of the English Bible that you use? Google the answer, and there’s a strong likelihood you’ll find that all or most of the translators were men, even of very recent translations. Remarkably, two translations from the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the solo efforts of women scholars.
It can feel like an especially difficult task to identify places where women shaped history. But it’s only difficult because we’re biased against women’s stories and accomplishments, preferring to study and celebrate the historical influence of men. In other words, it's not that women were absent from history; it's that we haven't learned how to see them.
Richard Sturch, a retired Anglican minister in England, has given us translations of two hymn texts by philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard, who wrote two hymn texts that acknowledge the giftedness and contributions of women of faith.