Feminist Vision & Strategy

Someone recently suggested to me that the possible responses of the Church to feminism are threefold. He said,

  1. You could denounce feminism and argue feminists disagree with the Bible. Of course that approach actually supports feminist arguments so it might very well have the opposite effect in terms of convincing people.
  2. You could try and nit pick at the facts feminist arguments are based on. This might work but you don’t have a congregation full of conservatives. Most of them could do the same thing with the Bible, so in that fight feminism probably wins.
  3. You could say that metaphor is a type of fashion and every believer can construct there own metaphorical language. There is no real Tiamet to worship, however it’s possible to relate to the God of the Bible in a female way. Christianity never asserts that God has actual gender. You could use female pronouns for “God the Father.” Jesus represents the dying Corn God. You could start using that sort of language, “he died so that all life could be renewed.” Try and create a syncretic faith and then pull that syncretic faith closer to orthodoxy and thus win the people’s hearts for Christ.

I disagree. I think a good starting point for a Christian response to feminist thought is to look at what feminists are actually saying. Many feminist theorists express their theory in terms of vision and strategy. Vision refers to envisioning a world that deos not yet exist; one that is better than the one that does exist. Strategy refers to practical means for creating the envisioned world. Visions and strategies vary among feminist theorists, but many feminisms can be seen in terms of their vision and their strategy.

There are a number of reasons why it’s ineffective for the Church to respond to feminism simply by taking issue with the facts asserted by feminists, or to simply point out the ways that the Bible is at odds with their theory. Feminist theory is prepared for both these approaches. Feminist epistemology undercuts the truth claims made by the Church with regard to the facts and demonstrates that they are indeed a part of the very oppression that feminism set out to redress in the first place. Feminist theory also demonstrates that the claim Christians make about the Bible’s authority only perpetuates this oppression.

It’s also ineffective to syncretize in the hope of captivating those compelled by feminism and draw them somewhat nearer to orthodoxy. This does not address the real issue. The real issue is not that feminists hold an unorthodox view. The issue is that they are more compelled by a vision of the world as it could be than they are by Christ and the kingdom He is bringing about. We want feminists to be captivated by Christ and the righteousness of His kingdom, not to agree with us about certain propositions that constitute what we define as orthodoxy. If they come to agree with us about propositions because we have engaged them with a theological bait and switch, but they are not captivated by Christ, then we have not made progress. To put it another way, the problem is not what they believe but what they find compelling. If we change what they believe by making our arguments sound more like what they find compelling, then what they find compelling has not changed, and changing that is the very thing we must do.

In this light, the Church’s response cannot be to argue with feminist theory or to make orthodoxy sound more like it. Feminist epistemology sets it beyond the reach of argumentation and syncretism fails to come to the core of the issue. On the contrary, if the Church is to respond to feminism, it must do so by becoming better than feminists at telling stories. A theory will not carry the day. A vision is necessary. We must present a vision of the Glory of God and the beauty and perfection of His kingdom that is more compelling than the vision which inspires feminist theorizing. We must also pray the Holy Spirit to regenerate the lost and make them into a people who are compelled by Christ and his Gospel. This can be our only aim because if the Holy Spirit does not regenerate, does not make folks into lovers of the Gospel, then no appearance of headway will suffice.

  1. #1 by JeffB on February 15, 2007 - 5:04 AM

    It seems to me you are arguing the classic Van Til [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Van_Til] approach. That is you seem to be asserting you can’t argue for the orthodox frame from another frame it needs to simply be accepted. Which means progress in the debate since we’ve abstracted from specific issues to a root cause and then to a further root cause. I happen to think Van Til is entirely mistaken particularly in practice.

    A person who is questioning their faith because it conflicts with their view of morality is genuinely in a spiritual battle. Believing that we should work to overcome the injustices of our ages part of the christian heritage. The call is not to be gnostics, the material world does matter. I see no reason to pull out “the big guns” and essentially arguing that rejecting the metaphors of a particular expression of the faith is the same as rejecting reason. That is particularly important in the case of the people whom we are discussing. Even if we can get them to address the core issue they are more likely to find Sextus Empiricus (for whom empiricism is named) compelling than Van Til.

    Now with that in mind, in terms of stories I happen to agree on the area of stories. There are really 3 approaches we can take with respect to feminism and christianity:

    1) They unavoidably conflict (like polytheism and christianity). One belief must be abandoned.
    2) They are indifferent to one another (like spicy cooking and christianity)
    3) They have areas of agreement and disagreement. Nothing core about either one conflicts and a synthesis can and should be found.

    I don’t there is much evidence that (1) rather than (3) is the case. In dealing with people who do find the feminist vision compelling why take on the extreme challenge of making them find another vision compelling (a conservative view of the kingdom of god).

    A good example of this was Moody with respect to Eastern European Jewish converts. Many of them at the college found the American style food far too bland and complained bitterly. Many of the students felt that learning to eat like an American was part of the christian conversion, that is converting to the Christian culture. Moody’s position was that we are instructed to convert men to Christianity not Anglo Saxonism and ordered a more diverse set of choices. That is Moody felt the metaphors (the diet) could change without changing the underlying reality. There was no reason to lose converts over these sorts of issues.

  2. #2 by G.T. on February 19, 2007 - 12:35 AM

    I want to begin by saying that in a sense I think we’re speaking past one another. You’re reading a lot into what I’ve said that plainly isn’t there. I’ve never said anything about anyone rejecting reason and I’ve never said anything about Van Til. I haven’t said anything about the metaphors of a particular expression of faith. If you have a passionate disagreement with Van Til, then take it up with someone who is defending him. I think we can have an interesting dialogue about feminism and how the Church should respond to its claims. Before we can do that we’ll have to listen to one another. You’ll have to respond to what I’ve said and not to other things.

    I really appreciate your point about Moody and diet. I think you might be trying to stretch its significance farther than it will really go, nonetheless I think that what you’ve said about that is one of the most important things to consider in examining this issue. Of more importance, of course is the Gospel which is the power of God to accomplish the work of His kingdom

    I think where we might disagree, and where I did have a few things to say was on the issue of syncretism. By definition most everyone agrees with you that if views unavoidably conflict they must not be syncretized and if they have no conflict they can be freely mixed. The third point is where the real meat is. I agree with you that if nothing core conflicts, then those things that are not core can be held in an open hand for the sake of mission. Clearly spicy food falls in the non-core category. I’m not sure diet is a metaphor in this case for some deeper reality, I think diet is just something that isn’t too important. We can have our own diets and still have the same Lord.

    The real place where conversation can happen and we can learn from one another is on the question of what is core and not core among the issues under contest by feminist theorists. I’m content to discuss this with regard to Christian feminisms or those outside the Church. My experience and the bulk of my knowledge is related to feminism generally and not specifically Christian feminisms. I get the sense your experience is the opposite, but that’s fine for the purposes of the conversation.

    I would say in closing that with regard to the question of what specifically is core and what is not core, what’s core is the Gospel. So in a sense, like all questions of theology, this question comes down to the question of what is the Gospel.

  3. #3 by Malden locksmith on January 9, 2011 - 4:08 PM

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  4. #4 by G.T. on January 9, 2011 - 4:21 PM

    Thanks Malden, I haven’t posted in a long time here but I’m in the process of migrating the blog to my church’s site. Which I’m currently building. It will be at http://www.sunnybrae.org/ soon.

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