Evangelical Christian Feminists I Have Known

December 6, 2010

Part 1

In talking about feminists I have known, I tend to divide them into two groups. One group I would describe as “classical feminists,” who thought, “Men have fucked us [women] over; when we get the chance, we will screw them just as badly.”

Historically, until recently, women seldom got the opportunity. Three women from historical records come quickly to mind: Cleopatra, Elizabeth I of England, and Catherine the Great of Russia.

Cleopatra famously fooled around with Anthony, who lost out in the Roman gang war rumbles of the time; she went down with him. Elizabeth was very tough and coy; defeating the Spanish armada, negotiating with a variety of suitors, while cultivating a cult of virginity (the virginity may have been accurate in fact.) Catherine of Russia proved to be a tough babe in a rough land; conquering enemies in war, holding on to her court (after her husband was deposed and then killed); and taking and casting aside lovers as suited her tastes without much qualm or secrecy.

At this point, as my style, I will embark on an incredibly prolix, tedious, and ignorant essay on the history of modern religious belief, which will eventually get you to the subject of feminist evangelical Christian babes I have known. Feel free to skip to the not so bad part will be helpfully labeled, “Not so bad part, slightly safer to read.”

While my co-worker Maria would probably not wanted to be grouped with babes like Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Liz; as a very educated woman who majored in history and possessed a wry sense of humor, I suspect she would have reluctantly conceded the resemblance.

As an English major, I was familiar with Henry James, an eccentric writer who wrote dense novels that most people feel they ought to read but probably don’t want to. [Actually, with a little effort on the part of the reader, some of James’ early novels, such as What Maisie Knew, are pretty good, but as James was very bright and very talented, once he put his mind to writing completely unreadable novels, by the end of his life he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. If he had been a competitive runner, James would have been one who ran marathons hundreds of miles from where any other competitor would dream of running in desert landscapes where no human observers would be caught dead watching the race because they would be caught dead period by the Gila monsters and rattlesnakes.

Until later, I was less familiar with Henry’s eccentric and brilliant brother, William James, a philosopher who believed in pragmatism (if i t works, it probably is right); a social scientist who invented experimental psychology (a system for torturing rats and pigeons); and one of the first people to study religious belief from the point of view of social science. In other words, aside from pondering the question of whether religious belief is true (impossible to determine for sure, but probably not) an issue that fretted James quite a bit as he was fairly depressed much of the time and did not want to die any more than most of us, except when he was considering whether to commit suicide, he also contemplated the question: what do religious people actually believe?

Writing in the late 1800s, James noticed that religious belief tended to fall into two schools:

Positive Thinking School: What might be called the “positive thinking school” (Tending toward a belief in a benevolent Loving God who will reward us for existing by granting us life after physical death in a groovy place called Heaven) and:

Humans Are Wicked, Doomed Sinners School:What might be called the “” believing that Christ’s sacrifice will save us from eternal punishment in Hell if we worship God and Christ while constantly bragging about our sinfulness and unworthiness.”

[In keeping with James I am speaking of Christianity here, but similar strains existed in other religions of his time as he was aware.]

A century after William James went to find out for himself if there is any there there (in other words, he croaked), globalism seems to be creeping into the world of religion, in that two main  religions are cohering around the world. Speaking in the late 1900s and early 2000s, writers such as Karen Armstrong (Catholic nun drop-out and author of acclaimed books such as The History of God) have described these trends (my summaries of which would probably make poor Karen puke, though very gently and discreetly, because she is a very gentle, refined woman):

Tolerant, Ecumenical, We Are All Children of One Loving God School and

WE BLOW OURSELVES UP AND YOU WITH US IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE CORRECT GOD OF YOUR OWN FREEE WILL SCHOOL!!!!

(Karen Armstrong herself, describes the second school as “Fundamentalism”]

One of the typical strains of fundamentalism is “obedience to God.” God wants humans to be blindly and unquestionably obedient to Him. A side benefit of this system is that many fundamentalists assign themselves roles as spokespeople for God and then start telling others around them to be obedient to them as religious leaders, political leaders, and so on. In evangelical Christianity (and most other fundamentalist religions), men interpret this chain of command as applying to women being obedient to men (husbands, fathers, and so on).

Just as in the case of political leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Catherine, some fundamentalist women are not inclined by temperament and philosophy to be blindly and passively obedient to the men in their lives. In the following sections of this thread I will describe a couple of evangelical Christian women I have known who were by nature feminists and the somewhat amusing (at least to me) turns these contradictions played out in their lives.

6 Responses to “Evangelical Christian Feminists I Have Known”

  1. Karen O Says:

    No, no, no. Christian women are NOT supposed to be blindly & passively submissive. Submission is given of one’s own free will to someone we trust.

    According to the Bible, men are supposed to love their wives & take care of them as they love & take care of themselves. Another verse mentions that if a man is inconsiderate of his wife, his prayers will be hindered.

    AND Jesus modeled what we call “servant-leadership”, meaning that those with the responsibility of leadership should also be willing to serve those they lead.

    Granted, many men have picked & chosen only the portions of the verses they liked. But a lot of that was also cultural – it’s not only Christian men who have been tyrants in the home. Many non-believers are the same way.

    (And no, I wasn’t saying that all Christian men have been tyrants, but acknowledging that some have.)

  2. modestypress Says:

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for dropping by. I always appreciate your company.

    I did not accuse Christians of saying women should be “blindly & passively submissive.” A typical formulation is the man should take a leadership position, no matter how gently and agreeably the couple negotiates it. I don’t think Cameron reads my blog any more, but as far as I can tell that is the style of her marriage with Tim, and as far as I can tell she goes along with it. I have my doubts this will last for decades…but who knows?

    In any case, I take Christians one at a time based on how they behave, not the supposed rules of their faith (which are all over the map, each spokesperson knowing the “correct” interpretation), just as I take each Muslim one at a time, each Hindu one at a time, each liberal one at a time, each conservative one at a time, and so on.


  3. In my editing career (if you can call it that) I’ve been *amazed* by the number of manuscripts I’ve received from Christians of the Fundamentalist bent, both men and women, who believe the man should be the sole head of the household and decision-maker, and that the wife should basically be his willing slave. Note I said “willing” … and there is some lip service given to the fact that it is the man’s responsibility to be trustworthy and a good head of family. But that surely does put the wife in a difficult position if he’s not, and she’s subsumed herself in him to such an extent that she can’t see what’s really going on.

    I’ll take Catherine the Great.

    • Karen O Says:

      And yet, there are still many couples who live that way who are not even Christian believers. I know a young man who “rules his roost”, & not only is he not a believer, he’s pretty much anti-Christian, anti-religion.

  4. modestypress Says:

    David, I won’t take “Catherine the Great” either. My wife is great enough.

    Karen, there are plenty of varlets, scoundrels, bullies, and idiots. Some are Christians; some are not. Whatever vile thing they are, they will find some ideology and religious belief to justify whatever bad thing they are.

    • Karen O Says:

      And some cultures have allowed it or still do allow it. I would like to think that the majority of men have been decent to their wives, but the bad apples stand out more.


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