Throwback Thursday: What is Feminism?

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With newer terms like “egalitarian” and “complementarian” making their appearance in the last generation or so, and with my own dislike for neologisms when we already have perfectly good words with established meanings already in use, I find myself asking, “How does it help to coin a new term rather than clarify the meaning of an existing one?” The problems this sort of move creates are easily seen in the “egalitarian” attempts to claim the term “complementarian” as their own, with their own twist on the term’s meaning.

So, I’d like to lay out some terms and definitions as I use them.

First, a working my working definition of feminism:


Feminism is the belief which denies the created order of the sexes. Religious feminism, in particular, is the heresy which denies the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the authorship of Scripture and denies the paradox at the heart of orthodox Christian anthropology – that man and woman are equally created in the image and likeness of God and that, by creation and sovereign decree, God has established the headship of the man over the woman.


Feminism It seems there are as many definitions of feminism as there are feminists. However, foundational to all feminisms is a common anthropology clearly illustrated in the oft repeated mantra, “feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. This plays out to varying degrees in the belief that women should receive equal pay for equal work (a notion thoroughly misused in the main), that they should be allowed to compete on an equal basis for jobs and places in schools and sports teams. At the extremes, feminists view all sexual encounters between a man and a woman as rape and all apparent differences (other than crude biology) as the result of social conditioning.

In history, feminism has come in various waves – from the Suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th Centuries (although it is something of an historical anachronism to call them feminists, a contention I will expand upon in future) the so-called 2nd wave sparked by Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and on into 3rd and 4th wave feminisms. Then, too there are different schools of feminism – equity, gender, radical, etc. However different these feminisms all are, they have in common a view of the human person (anthropology) that departs from the historic or traditional one.

Religious Feminism is feminism carried into the religious sphere. Simple enough. In particular, the term will here refer to the importing of feminist principles into Christianity and the attempt to blend the two belief systems.

Egalitarian is the term preferred by religious feminists who say they are Evangelical Christians, also known as Evangelical Egalitarian. While this term is sometimes used as a courtesy here, the proper generic term, religious feminist, will be the normal use. Egalitarians generally hold that the priesthood of all believers is a controlling belief and often point to Galatians 3:28 as a key verse. They hold that there is no difference in ways authority are excercised in the home and the church and that church office is open to those who claim a gift and a calling, regardless of maleness or femaleness. In addition, Egalitarians hold that all patriarchy is abusive by definition.

Complementarian is the term preferred by neoTraditionalists to describe the form of soft patriarchy to which they hold. Rather than set down a clear definition and practice of authority, Complementarians coined their new term to avoid the negative connotations patriarchy has in the culture at large as well as its abuse. While the Complementarians came together to respond to feminism within Evangelicalism, they view “Egals” as colleagues with whom there are (generally) no first order theological differences. Complementarians believe the husband is the head of the wife means there is a differential in authority between husband and wife and that only men are eligible for the presiding office (pastor), although some Complementarians will hold that women may hold a sort of associate pastoral office as long as they are under the authority of a male senior pastor. Complementarians are deeply divided on the matter of authority in the culture and government, as the recent candidacy of Sarah Palin for VP illustrated. A primary weakness of Complementarianism has been their failure to articulate a theology of sex and authority that stems from creation but yet does not seem to apply in all of creation.

Although I was once an Egalitarian, I am now a Patriarchalist. I use the term without hesitating because it is profoundly biblical. That case has been made in part here, in the posts migrated over from my old blog, and is a case I will continue to make.