“But this is not modern feminism…”
The war between the sexes seems to be on the verge of boiling over as the #MeToo movement continues to sweep through pop culture, business, sports and the media worlds.
Famous actors and politicians [too many to name], media personalities like Matt Lauer, and corporate titans such as hotel magnate Steve Wynn have all been accused, while the trickle-down effect has led to an entire cast of lesser-known characters taking a seat among the fallen.
Women in the #MeToo movement say they are finally being empowered to come out with their stories of sexual harassment, sexualized pressure and intimidation in the workplace and in some cases, outright rape.
Men say many of the stories are exaggerated or not true at all, and run the risk of casting the entire male population as predators.
For some, the solution rests in further blurring the line between the sexes, as though the feminist and sexual revolutions haven’t gone far enough. They speak as though the whole idea of dividing humanity into male and female is outdated.
One student at Gainesville High School in Georgia, female according to her biology, told Fox 5 News in Atlanta recently that her gender is “fluid” and to be required to wear the traditional white robe of a female-graduate on graduation day made her feel somehow “unequal” and oppressed.
But the author of a new book called “The Handmaidens Conspiracy,” says we would not be in this crisis between the genders if the Church had taken seriously the teachings of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago – teachings that were truly radical at the time in terms of the role of women in society.
Author Donna Lee Howell says she has found answers in the Bible to some of the most pressing questions of our time. Recently we spoke on the phone and she answered some of my queries:
Q: How does the biblical empowerment of women differ from the modern feminist movement’s idea of empowerment?
A: The idea of feminism today—even though there are certain feminists who would disagree—the general flavor is that in order to be empowered, a woman must illustrate through her behavior that men are beneath her and spread the word that men are less intelligent than she is, that she is the superior sex. 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 the “equality” women seek by default, and disintegrates the feminine and graceful nature that brought balance to the goal of equality in the first place. These endeavors deny the female traits that makes us women: the nurturing spirits, the compassion. When we try to be the same as a man or better than a man by using his set of masculine traits, it stifles what we were created to be; the new paradigm becomes, paradoxically, anti-woman.
Q: Both male and female were made in the image of God, how can that be?
A: This is difficult for many to understand. Honestly, I think there are a lot of people in certain communities today who believe that since both are made in the image of God, then God must be transgender. I think that is a demonization of God’s Word.
Being created in His ‘image’ does not mean His anatomical likeness. It means the creativity, the concern for humankind, the sympathy and consideration for the world around us, our deeply-rooted interests and passions for life, our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, the things that are within the body and mind. Put more simply, we are spirit more than we are flesh.
Whereas both genders have their dominating traits that differ from the other—for example, women might be viewed as ‘gentler’ while men might be viewed as ‘stronger’—neither gender is limited only to those traits; women can be strong, and men can be gentle. In the end, both genders share a precious likeness of God’s nature, His ‘image,’ so we can commune with Him. This is why we’re drawn toward Him, because we are connected through something deeper than the flesh. God designed certain traits to be more prominent in women and others more prominent in men so that we would complement each other and balance each other out. ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ God said in Genesis 2:18. Man is not complete without woman, and woman is not complete without man. In this, the human race is always reliant upon interaction with others for the fullness of internal growth—no one person is ever spiritually, emotionally, or socially removed from the balance. It’s a beautiful design.
Q: Given what we now know in light of all the outing of the #MeToo movement raging through Hollywood, the business, sports and even religious worlds, are women any better off now than they were, say, 100 years ago before the feminist movement and sexual revolution?
A: Universally, from a secular perspective, we have more rights such as voting, we are socially and politically allowed to do more, but in terms of whether we are completely empowered to stand up in front of men and share something in a church setting, we have never been able to do that in many Christian denominations without a fight. Women did gain some freedom in the Body of Christ in the last century thanks to a few powerful female voices, but I personally preach one sermon and have to be confronted by two or three men in social media who claim I am going against God because of the same two verses everyone quotes from first Corinthians and first Timothy—both of which have been repeatedly, abusively misinterpreted. Very few consider how many women Paul openly and unabashedly identified as leaders of the early church. And oftentimes those women who decide to preach despite the opposition are labeled a Jezebel. So, we have much political and social freedom in the secular world, especially here in the states, but in the Church we still face hierarchical and historical oppression behind the pulpit.
Q: What is your church background and how has it affected your ministry?
A: I was raised Pentecostal, and our organization believed in a woman’s right to preach if God should call her to do so. In other words, we believed that the Holy Spirit calls and qualifies His teachers, just as He did on the Day of Pentecost: male and female, without bias. Even then in my own denomination growing up, women ministers often had leadership support, but not always lay support, because the erroneous translations of two Bible verses have been so grandfathered into our corporate psyche that some in the pews stiffened any time a woman had anything to say from the pulpit. Recently, after SkyWatch TV sent me to a women’s conference in Arizona where the subject came up many times, I felt like the Lord was telling me to address the issue and help bring clarity to Christian women who feel torn between the calling of God on one hand and the muzzle of prohibition on the other.
Q: You say in your book that Church ‘tradition’ veered off course from Christ’s teaching on this subject of female empowerment. When did that happen?
A: Much of it started with our concepts of the Genesis narrative: Adam and Eve were created equally. Then, Eve sinned first, Adam also knowingly sinned, but ever since then, patriarchal traditions have taught us that women are easily deceived and therefore don’t belong in leadership. These opinions follow from Eve through thousands of years of Jewish culture, and then it reached a pinnacle in the years just prior to Jesus’ birth when the traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees replaced true study of Scripture. It was during this intertestamental period [the era of time between the Old Testament and the New] that such teachings as the Mishnah openly referred to women as worthless seducers, calling them “pitchers of filth,” introducing the “Thank Yahweh I was not born a woman” prayers, etc.—all of which is documented in the chapter of my book called “The Women Jesus Knew.”
So by the time Christ came, the traditions were already terribly skewed, and since Christ came, there has remained a religious, Pharisaic spirit that continues to perpetuate these traditions that were never biblical to begin with. Paul did write in first Corinthians that women should remain silent, and he wrote in first Timothy that women are not to teach or usurp the authority of a man, but he also wrote that women are not allowed to attend church with their hair in braids [1 Timothy 2:9]. Everyone in today’s Church says, ‘Well, Paul wasn’t talking about a braid, he was talking about humility,” which is true, but they will not allow proper context to be considered in the other two trouble verses in the same way they do for the verse regarding braids. And why not? Because we still see ‘tradition’ overpowering proper scriptural interpretation methods.
Q: What do you think Jesus thought about the relationship between men and women?
A: In my book, I take it as far back as it can go: Genesis. Remember that Jesus poured over Scriptures. He was a rabbi, so He was familiar with the creation account. The relationship ‘curses’ came upon us as a result of original sin. Two times in Genesis the relationship between a man and woman was talked about, once prior to the Fall when they were completely equal and held dominion together, and once after the Fall. Jesus was teaching about marriage and healthy relationships between men and women in Matthew 19:4–6; He chose to focus on the relationship that was established prior to the Fall when He quoted Genesis 2:24. He could have chosen to quote from the post-Fall relationship order [Genesis 3:16] to give us all a “husband dominates wife” or “man dominates woman” concept, but He instead chose to redirect our attention back to the original relationship of mutuality and equality, before sin stained it.
As far as how Christ viewed women preachers, teachers, and ministers, I think the evidence is clear when He turned that woman at the well in Samaria into a preacher and then stayed in her city for several days watching her minister. That wasn’t an accident. He could have ran around after her, reminding her that she should leave the preaching and teaching to the men, but He simply observed her at work and then endorsed the revival she led by interacting with her responders. Of course, that is merely one of numerous examples provided in my book regarding how Jesus’ views of women and personal interactions with them can—and should—revitalize our concepts of whether or not a woman can be trusted with Jesus’ Resurrection message. Jesus stood for equality for women, and He also respected the gender roles assigned at creation.
ABOUT DONNA HOWELL: Best-selling author (Radicals-2017; Final Fire-2016; Redeemed Unreedemable-2015) and former CEO of Anomalos Publishing, Donna Howell is the current managing editor and a writer/researcher for Defender Publishing.