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.
It is rare to encounter people in the United States who understand what I do. “You’re an anthropologist?” They say. “How interesting! Is that like Indiana Jones or more like Jurassic Park?”
I exaggerate (a bit), but anthropology is not a widely understood discipline in this country. I would also say, based on my highly unscientific study, that it is even less understood in the church. Anthropology’s traditional anti-missionary bias, combined with a general distrust of “-ologies” of various sorts, has led anthropology to be a weak voice in U.S. Christianity.
They came from all over— Bahrain, Turkey, Rome:
A little band of women
with hope all their own
To learn and to study,
To become stronger in their faith
To encourage one another
In the footsteps of the saints.
Rendered invisible it has happened just too many times
times two squared
Even worse is being rendered visible
but not really important.
Your voice is not really that important they say.
It doesn’t have the right credentials,
Many books behind you ... a following... or enough degrees,
or how could you really have something to say
when you spend many of your days doing laundry,
wiping noses, changing diapers,
raising living human beings, instead of just words on a page.
Living words are not regarded with the same care.