2. Feminism’s false gospel
We saw last month that men and women, both made in the image of God, are ‘equal but different’ because of who God is. Thus the model for human relationships is not interchangeable egalitarianism, as feminism supposes, but God’s Trinitarian inter-relationship — involving a complex pattern of initiation and response, of dependence and obedience.
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul demonstrates this link between the divine and human inter-relationships. Discussing how men and women should conduct themselves in church, he writes, ‘I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’.
In verses 11–12 Paul reminds them that this does not mean that man is independent of woman — there is deep mutuality in the way the sexes relate. But the pattern reflects the way God
It is, therefore, a false assumption to say that ‘equal’ must mean ‘identical’. Some differences between men and women are created — essential to what we are. To express these differences in different roles has nothing to do with who is more gifted or valued. It has everything to do with who God is and reflecting his image.
Biblical Christianity teaches what feminists find impossibly contradictory — that, because of what God is in himself, it is both possible and
necessaryto be equal and different.
Experience is authority?
Having identified their problem and their goal (freedom, as they define it), feminists applied this principle to theology. The dogmatic way they went about it might shock many but they believed deeply in their right to do so.
But feminism is incompatible with Christianity. Why? Because feminism is anti-authority. No one can question the feminist perspective because, according to this perspective, experience is everything.
Letty Russell wrote a book entitled
Household of freedom1 — a sort of feminist vision for the church. In it she argues that the only possible authority is experience, and any other authority is necessarily about domination rather than ‘empowerment’. One is left wondering how such a viewpoint can be reconciled with a Christian submission to God.
This probably explains why feminist theology books are full of hyphens — invented words that make them very hard to read! For example Mary Grey’s book
Redeeming the dream uses ‘co-redeeming’, ‘co-creating’ and ‘mutuality-in- relation’ to express the idea that God is just as dependent on us as we are on him. A feminist cannot permit herself to be subject to anyone, not even God.
Sin and salvation
Daphne Hampson, a prominent feminist theologian, has rejected Christianity on just these grounds. She sees that feminism is founded on autonomy whereas Christianity is based on heteronomy — the two are incompatible. If only others could be as honest!
So, in naming the problem as ‘male oppression’ and the solution as ‘being liberated to attain equality with men’ (that is, having the freedom to do and be all the same things), feminist theologians rewrote the central Christian doctrines of sin and salvation.
If women’s basic problem is male oppression then their sin cannot be pride — that’s a male sin! Women’s sin is passivity or (according to Valerie Goldstein) ‘the underdevelopment or negation of the self ’.2
Salvation then becomes liberation from such oppression and lack of self-worth, to reach a ‘wholeness’ or ‘integrated personhood’.
Letty Russell gives a typical feminist definition of salvation as ‘the realisation of personal power and corporate responsibility to change the world for the better’.3 Rosemary Radford Ruether uses the language of conversion to refer to a conversion from sexism.
Branch of another tree
This is superficial and completely unbiblical. It confuses the essence of sin with the effects of sin. Whatever symptoms might arise as sinful people interact with one another — arrogance, denial of self-worth and so on — the root cause is the same. We are out of a right relationship with God, being self-oriented rather than God-oriented.
Although some people (and indeed groups of people) do suffer terribly as human beings conflict with one another, no one is merely a victim. We are all part of the problem. And it is from this estrangement from God, and the punishment for our rebellion, that we need saving. The Bible makes it clear that that is why Jesus died.
Feminist theology is in many ways a branch of another tree — liberation theology. It labels sexism as the ultimate ‘ism’ (over against capitalism and nationalism, for example) from which we need to be liberated.
According to feminists they have identified the root oppression from which all other ills flow. Maybe if we renamed sin ‘selfism’ we might get further with persuading them that something very different is at the root of it all!
It is easy to think that liberation theology is ‘Christian’ because it talks about helping the poor and the oppressed. However it is a false gospel because it is all about ‘now’ and about ‘us’. It denies any concept of eternity or a personal relationship with God restored through Jesus Christ.
Next month we shall consider the final two ‘phases’ of feminism. These are much shorter, but show how extreme and unbiblical feminist theology became once it had gone wrong on defining equality and on the core gospel doctrines of sin and salvation.
1. Russell, L.,
Household of freedom: Authority in feminist theology(Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1987).
2. Goldstein, V., ‘The human situation: A feminine viewpoint’, Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 17 (1996), 38.
3. Russell, L., Human liberation in a feminist perspective: A theology(Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1974).