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Christian Feminism, Feminist theology, Feminist Christology

Christian feminism, a branch of feminist theology, seeks to interpret and understand Christianity in the scope of the equality of men and women morally, socially, spiritually, and in leadership. Christian feminists believe their contributions are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity.

While there is no standard set of beliefs among Christian feminists, most agree that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics such as sex. Their major issues are the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, and claims of spiritual deficiency and inferiority of the abilities of women to interpret and exposit scripture compared to men. They also are concerned with issues such as the balance of parenting between mothers and fathers and the overall treatment of women in the church.

Certain Christians who sympathize with women's issues are uncomfortable with the term feminism. One reason for this discomfort is the claim by some conservatives that Christian feminists are theological descendants of radical secular feminists such as Mary Daly, Betty Friedan, and Daphne Hampson.[citation needed] However, Christian feminists appeared on the scene much earlier than secular feminists (see "History" below). Increasingly, the term Christian egalitarianism is preferred by those advocating gender equality and equity among Christians.

History of Christian feminism and Christian feminist theology

The Greek philosopher Aristotle had taught that women are intrinsically inferior. Aristotle's discriminatory view was taken over the far more egalitarian views of Plato and Socrates by notable theologians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas.[1] Protestant reformers John Calvin and John Knox also believed that men were spiritually and morally superior to women. Others, such as Margaret Fell and Sojourner Truth, were women.

In the early 1800s some Christians began to teach that women are not innately inferior. Between 1808 and 1930, there appeared printed arguments in support of women's ministries. Thus emerged the first wave of feminists. They advocated that the theology of gender and justice should be based on a whole-Bible approach rather than "proof texting" of isolated passages. Some notable first-wave Christian feminists:

Fredrik Franson (1852–1908). Founded the Evangelical Alliance Mission.[2]
A. J. Gordon (1836–1895). The founder and first president of Gordon College.[3] "'Dr. A. J. Gordon stood by me steadily,' Frances Willard recalled."[4]
Katharine Bushnell (1856–1946). Medical doctor, scholar, missionary, activist.
Catherine Booth (1829–1890). Co-founder with her husband of the Salvation Army.
Frances Willard (1839–1898). Preached at D. L. Moody revivals. President of Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Issues in Christian feminism and Christian feminist theology

1. Women in church leadership, including ordination of women
Feminism has affected many aspects of religion. In liberal branches of Protestant Christianity (and, notably, in some theologically conservative denominations, such as Assemblies of God[5]) women are ordained as clergy, and in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, women are ordained as rabbis and cantors. Within these Christian and Jewish groups, women have gradually obtained more positions of power; their perspectives now have greater influence in developing new statements of belief.

The leadership of women in religious matters continues to be restricted by many denominations. The Roman Catholic church, and fundamentalist Protestant traditions such as the (American) Southern Baptist convention[6], and the American "non-denominational" movement (that includes the Church of Christ and megachurches)[7] generally exclude women from entering the priesthood and other clerical positions, limiting women to the roles of nuns or laypeople.[8]

This goes against teachings in Corinthians 1: Women are commanded by Paul to be silent in church and to be obedient to men. He further says that "if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in church." 14:34-35, and in Timothy: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." 2:11-12
For more info see article: Ordination of women

2. Resolving the question of whether or not women are spiritually deficient
Understanding whether women are spiritually deficient to men partly hinges on whether women are equipped spiritually with discernment to teach. The following passages also relate to whether women are inherently spiritually discerning as men:

Galatians 3:28. "There is neither…male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus."
Deborah of the Old Testament was a prophetess and "judge of Israel"[9]
Genesis 2:20. The word translated "help" or "helper" is the same Hebrew word, "ēzer," which the Old Testament uses 17 times to describe the kind of help that God brings to His people in times of need; e.g., "Thou art my help (ēzer} and my deliverer," and "My help (ēzer) comes from the Lord."
Genesis 3:16. "To the woman he (God) said, 'I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'"

3. Reproduction, sexuality and religion, including resolving questions on birth control and abortion

In the United States, conservative religious groups are often at philosophical odds with feminist and liberal religious groups over abortion and the use of birth control.[10] These philosophical oppositions are manifest in courtroom and legislative battles, even making their way to the United States Supreme Court.[11]

Scholars like sociologist Flann Campbell have noted that conservative religious denominations tend to restrict male and female sexuality[12][13] [14]by prohibiting or limiting birth control use[15], and condemning abortion as a sin likely punished by damnation to hell by God. [16][17]

As a result of these religious claims, mainline Protestant denominations (e.g. the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America traditions), as well as Jewish denominations and the group Catholics for a Free Choice have formed the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.[18] The RCRC often works as a feminist organization and in conjunction with other American feminist organizations[19]
For more info see article: Christianity and abortion

4. Women submitting to husbands
The following passages relate to whether wives must submit to their husbands:
Ephesians 5:22 Women are told to submit to their husbands.
Peter&verse=3:6&src=! 1 Peter 3:6 Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord
What does this submission entail? What about other scriptures admonishing mutual submission? Is the submission level determined by the sacrificial love husbands are biblically obliged?

5. Head coverings and dress code
In 1Corinthians 11:3–17, women are commanded to cover their heads in worship to show they recognize their husband's authority coming from the fact that man was created first and that he was created in God's image. However Paul noted that this was not necessary, and was merely a cultural phenomenon, whether women covered their heads or not was not important, and not explicitly required.

The Bible and interpretation of Christian Feminism

A major fundamentalism of Christian Feminism is how people interpret the Bible, particularly the influence of one's set of presuppositions on understanding the Bible. The same passages that one denomination takes to say that women may do all sorts of very important things, but not preach to adult men, a Christian feminist might interpret otherwise. An historical approach can influence a Christian feminist's understanding of a passage by taking into account the specific cultural setting and circumstance of the time that the passage was written.
Some problematic passages: scriptures often used to justify subordination of women:
A variety of biblical passages are used as authority to encourage women to not want leadership roles, exclusively in marriage and the pastorate.

  1. Acts 1:21. Criteria for apostleship include being male.
  2. 1 Corinthians 11:3–16. Women are commanded to cover their heads in worship to show they recognize their husband's authority coming from the fact that man was created first and that man was created in Gods' image.
  3. 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. Women are told to be silent in church.
  4. Ephesians 5:22 Women are told to submit to their husbands.
  5. 1 Timothy 2:11–12. Women are told to be quiet in church because man was created first, and woman was deceived and sinned first.
  6. Revelation 2:20 The church of Thyatira was rebuked for letting a women teach that the Lord referred to as Jezebel.
  7. Job 2:10 Job rebukes his wife for speaking as foolish women.

Supportive passages: scriptures often used to justify equality of women with men:
Exodus 15:20. Miriam is called a prophetess.
Judges 4:4. Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at as a Judge and General.
Proverbs 31 10, 29. Women are commended when they are virtuous. They are valued as breadwinners. This 'virtuous' woman sold real estate and textiles and her husband was not the breadwinner for the family.
Nehemiah 6:14. The prophetess Noadiah is mentioned. A false prophet who antagonized Nehemiah.
Isaiah 8:3. An anonymous prophetess is mentioned.
Joel 2:28–29. A prophetic forecast that women and men alike will prophesy.
Luke 2:34–38Anna, the prophetess was present for the circumcision of baby Jesus.
Acts 9:36. A woman, Tabitha, Dorcas in Greek, is called a disciple. Who was full of good works and alms deeds.
Romans 16:1. A woman, Phoebe, is called a "diakonos,"
Galatians 3:28. "There is neither…male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus."


Patricia M. Berliner, Ph.D., Touching Your Lifethread and Revaluing the Feminine Cloverdale Books (2007) ISBN 978-1-929569-20-5 [1]
Mimi Haddad, Ph.D., "Egalitarian Pioneers: Betty Friedan or Catherine Booth?" Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Autumn 2006)
Pamela Sue Anderson, A feminist philosophy of religion: the rationality and myths of religious belief (Oxford; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998)
Pamela Sue Anderson and Beverley Clack, eds., Feminist philosophy of religion: critical readings (London: Routledge, 2004)
John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women: An Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership and Love (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988)


  1. ^ Clack, Beverley. Misogyny in the Western Philosophical Tradition: A Reader. Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0415921821.
  2. ^ http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/087.htm (1) July 10, 1888—Evangelistkurs. Franson's announcement of Evangelist Course in Oslo beginning July 10, 9 a.m. He recounts blessings received through those who have worked as Evangelists, especially in the inland districts, since last winter—and especially so through the women evangelists. (2) Spring 1892—Franson's announcement concerning the founding and work of "The Scandinavian-American Women's Alliance Mission to Dark Places." (3) April 1896—Profeterande Dottrar by Franson and [English] Prophesying Daughters by Franson—concerning women's' position in regard to evangelization.
  3. ^ http://www.gcts.edu/studentlife/ethos.php#women A.J. Gordon was a well-known advocate, in his day, of the preaching ministry of women.
  4. ^ http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jga/3.3/blum.html Blum, Edward (Baylor University).Paul Has Been Forgotten: Women, Gender, and Revivalism during the Gilded Age.
  5. ^ The Role of Women in Ministry (PDF) 7. The General Council of the Assemblies of God (1990-08-14).
  6. ^ SBC Position Statements - Women in Ministry
  7. ^ Classifying Protestant Denominations
  8. ^ SpringerLink - Journal Article
  9. ^ Deborah the Prophetess
  10. ^ Planned Parenthood
  11. ^ Religion News: Religious Opponents of Abortion Predict Supreme Court Shift
  12. ^ Birth Control and Christian Churches
  13. ^ Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious Organizations
  14. ^ Birth Control and Christian Churches
  15. ^ Paul VI - Humanae Vitae
  16. ^ Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions on Abortion
  17. ^ Sin of Abortion and the Reasons Why
  18. ^ RCRC - Member Organizations
  19. ^ National Women's Law Center

 Source: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Christian feminism,” (accessed April 13, 2008). Minor edits by Women’s Rights World.

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