PART 3–THE HANDMAIDENS CONSPIRACY: Today’s Culture Is Not the Final Authority

by Donna Howell (partly excerpted from my new book The Handmaidens Conspiracy)


Over and over, I hear versions of the following statement: “Just because our modern culture and society widely accepts something doesn’t make it right. The Bible clearly states [fill in the blank], and the Bible is the final authority, regardless of what society today thinks is okay. This day and age continues to blur the lines of what is and is not biblically acceptable, and we have to stand against the idea that today’s culture defines what is and is not right in the eyes of the Lord while we pick and choose which Scriptures to accept and which ones to reject.”

With that, I emphatically agree. Going against God’s Word is sinful—timelessly so—and sin remains sin, no matter what the world says or what “enlightenment” season we live in.

Let me say this again in different words, since I anticipate being quoted as saying otherwise: Today’s culture, societal tolerances, ministry trends, and social movements have absolutely no bearing on what the Word says is righteous or true.

If it did, even on the most marginal level, then the Bible’s final word on each category of righteous living would fall flat, because the disintegration of one foundational piece will eventually serve to crumble the whole. For example, lying is not considered a big deal today. Sometimes, lying is seen as the “only way out” or a “lesser evil.” There are a million reasons to lie, from avoiding hurting someone’s feelings to protecting a loved one, and so on.

Case in point: Just the other day, Broken for Good (a Christian music group I’m involved with) was performing at a community event, and during our break, my daughter—who was present at our gig under the watchful eye of a trusted sitter—approached me wanting the same bag of popcorn many of the other kids had. Because I was now with my kids at the break, the sitter was looking to me for an answer. I didn’t know where the other children were getting the popcorn, and I couldn’t leave the stage for more than a few minutes, so I told her no. (I’m one of “those” moms. I almost never let my kids out of my sight when we’re away from home. Even during the performance, I kept my eyes locked on them the entire time.)

Just then, a man who had overheard my conversation hollered for his teenage daughter and, without asking for my input, told her to take my kids down the block for a free bag of popcorn. The girl agreed, told my kids to follow her, and started walking away, at which point my kids looked at me pleadingly. I was in a strange position. Putting a halt to the popcorn entourage could have made that young girl or her father feel awkward, as well as let my own kids down. On the other hand, I would never trust a complete stranger to take my children down the block amidst crowds of other complete strangers, whether my sitter was with them or not, simply because there were droves of people and I had no reason to think they couldn’t be snatched when a head was turned. Another acquaintance of mine—a Christian—saw my hesitation and said, “Just tell them your kids are allergic to butter or something!”

That would have been a lie. On the other hand, my kids would be protected. On the other hand… On the other hand…

There are many reasons our society would justify a lie. Telling that man and his teenager that my kids had allergies or that the popcorn was the issue in any way would have been, by the very definition of the word, a falsehood. It simply isn’t true. But I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I shrugged and said, “Let’s all go! But we have to hurry.” Had I not been put on the spot, I simply would have kindly explained to the man that I didn’t think my kids needed it and the issue would have been dropped, but I had only seconds to react. My choices, as they appeared in my head at the moment, were: 1) lie, which the Bible forbids; 2) tell the man and his daughter I didn’t trust them; or 3) go with them all and hope I made it back in time (which I thankfully did).

Even though almost every person I know—Christian or otherwise—would have found the “allergies” lie acceptable (if not completely ridiculous and desperate), it doesn’t make it right. Yet, my friend didn’t hesitate in defaulting to a lie as the instant and obvious solution, which speaks volumes for how a “white lie” is customary within our culture today, even within the most conservative circles. Today’s culture is not the final authority on what is or isn’t wrong. A lie is still immoral. Modern toleration of dishonesty when it appears to be the “only way out” or the “lesser evil” doesn’t bear any weight on the discussion of whether or not it’s clearly outlined as a forbidden sin in the Bible. Further, what one generation tolerates in moderation, the next generation tolerates in excess, so if a contemporary “white lie” is satisfactory behavior for our current generation, a “big, fat lie” will be fine tomorrow…and the disintegration of one foundational piece serves to crumble the whole.

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So for those who say, “You can’t just assume that Scripture no longer applies, because our culture today is different,” I agree as heartily as a human possibly can. Let’s take today’s culture out of the equation permanently, please. Let us forever respect what Paul said when he wrote, “And be not conformed to this world…that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

However—and this is crucial—the society and culture at the time the Bible was written has everything to do with what the Bible commands of believers. Knowing what the Bible says is not the same thing as knowing what the Bible means!

If the Bible says women shouldn’t speak in the Church, then that’s what it says. We as believers cannot pick and choose what we want to believe from Scripture and ignore the rest.

Yes. Agreed.

But it also says—and by the same author, I might add (Paul)—that women shouldn’t wear braids in their hair in church, or pearls, or gold, or expensive clothing (1 Timothy 2:9). Yet the Church has no problem writing that one off as a “cultural issue,” or correctly interpreting it as the command that women should attend services in reverence, modesty, and humility. (More precise reflection on this verse later in this series.) Many today may rail against women preachers, speakers, teachers, and prophets, but some of these same ministers could care less if their wives come to church with their hair in a pretty braid. Why? Because they will accept the “cultural issue” argument when it suits them and dismiss it when it doesn’t. Essentially, they are, as I stated before, “picking and choosing what they want to believe from Scripture and ignoring (or improperly applying) the rest.”

In this, they become guilty of the very grievance they’re preaching against.

Let me make one thing very clear: I do not believe that all these ministers are intentionally trying to squelch women. I am not a feminist, I don’t participate in women’s lib movements, and I don’t think men are “the enemy.” I love my husband and obey him consistently. I submit to him. I am ardently grateful for male ministers and the essential role they have played, still play, and will continue to play in the Church. By no means do I intend to “liberate women from male oppression” or any such nonsense. Some of the ministers preaching this very sermon against women leaders in the Church are doing so out of obedience: kindly, respectfully, and reassuringly. (Others are not so kind in their approach, but in my experience, they are exceptions. More often, the “berating” response comes from men [and sometimes women] who are not in leadership.)

Feminism has, throughout recent decades, caused extreme harm to the concept of equality. What may have begun in its genesis movement as equal rights for women in politics, religion, economics, and social norms has gone beyond anything that benefits the female gender. As it exists today, feminism teaches that in order for a woman to be equal to a man, she must believe men are beneath her and spread the word that men are less intelligent than she is, that she is the superior sex, and that a chief goal among most men is to reduce women to little more than slaves. The only way to achieve true equality, feminism imparts, is for women to act like men and tower above them in the process.

Ironically, this quest for impartiality serves only to forcibly shove men into an inferior position, canceling out equality by default, and disintegrates the feminine and graceful nature that brought balance to the goal of equality in the first place. The answer to what some people view as domination cannot be found in dominating the other.

Though many voices are competing to devalue or eliminate the internal nurturer in every woman, replacing it with an authoritarian aggressor, the result is a degeneration of that which was innately female from the start. The justice that modern feminism fights for results in extreme injustice and subsequent entrapment for those in the fight. In the very moment womanhood is traded for manhood—in the battle to prove we are all one and the same in our abilities, influences, and intrinsic value—the new paradigm becomes, paradoxically, anti-woman. The journey toward “sameness” negates the creation order that God originally designed. Men and women will never be “the same.” If they were, then a woman would not be able to offer anything a man could not, and that precious stabilization of the proverbial scales of life would already be hanging evenly, without the contribution of any female.

We should continue perpetuating the goal of equality precisely because of how we are different, not in the interest of proving we’re the same.

However, the vehicle driving me to address this is not one of retaliation and vengeance, but one of obedience. Scriptures that deal with women leadership in the Body simply should not be interpreted the way they most often are, and many facts prove this.

I will go into more about this in upcoming entries, but next I want to explain the Bible study methodologies I have applied in order to explain how I’ve arrived at the conclusions presented in the new book, The Handmaidens Conspiracy (available March).

COMING UP NEXT–Understanding the Voice behind the Text



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