Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Still Fed Up with Fundamentalism’s View of Women

Although my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, which currently I am (slightly) revising and updating, was published in 2007, much has changed little since then. For example, Al Mohler, whom I wrote about in the second chapter as one of four influential fundamentalist leaders from 1980 to 2005, continues to spout questionable views about women. 
The Issue of Submissive Wives
At the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 1998, an amendment titled simply “The Family” was added to the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). That amendment included the declaration that wives must submit to their husbands.
The report of the committee recommending the addition of the new article wrote, “A wife’s submission to her husband does not decrease her worth but rather enhances her value to her husband and to the Lord.”
The BF&M was then revised, for the first time since 1963, at the SBC’s 2000 convention. Mohler was one of the 15 members on the “Study Committee” that recommended the revisions, which included the 1998 amendment on the family.
Somewhat related is Mohler’s negativity through the years toward birth control—and his 8/27 podcast in which he declared that “to be human is to be a parent.” Perhaps there is a fairly close link between the emphasis on submissive wives and the “ideal” of women being kept “barefoot and pregnant.”
The position of submissive wives is upheld by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which was formed in 1987 and has consistently forwarded the relationship between husbands and wives known as complementarianism.
The current president of CBMW is Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College in Louisville. Al Mohler, who is the president of Boyce College (as well as of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), is a member of CBMW’s Council.
The questionable emphasis on complementarianism has been correctly challenged by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), a group begun early in 1988. In Women, Abuse, and the Bible (1996), an important book published by CBE, the author of one chapter stresses that the emphasis on the submission of wives can lead, and has led, to the abuse of women.
The Issue of Women Pastors
Not only do fundamentalists of the past and many conservative evangelicals of the present teach that women must be submissive in the home, they also generally hold that women must be subordinate in the church as well.
The revised BF&M 2000 (referred to above) also newly declared, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Moreover, earlier this year in a May 10 podcast, Mohler emphasized that not only can women not be pastors, “females should not preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning(see Baptist News Global’s report here).
The issue of women preachers is a personal one with me, for many years ago I preached the ordination sermon for a Japanese woman (using Acts 2:17-18 as my text) and then for several years she served as my assistant pastor and then as co-pastor of the Fukuoka International Church.
The Case for Full Equality
For decades now, I have been a “feminist,” one who advocates the full equality of women—in the church and in the wider society. I have applauded the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, whose struggles for equality were opposed by conservative Christians, including women, before fundamentalism was called by that name.
I have also been a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, which still has not been ratified by the required number of states, partly because of the vigorous opposition by conservative, traditionalistic Christians such as Phyllis Schlafly and her ilk.
But surely, surely the time has come for full equality between men and women!


  1. Thank you for your steadfast support for equality. Surely it is time to move aggressively toward the goal.

  2. Just a couple of days ago I sent a link to my Sunday School class pointing out that it is not just Christians who have a problem with equality. White male chauvinist scientists got their due from the Smithsonian for "the Matilda Effect" (named after the co-worker of Stanton and Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage) at this link:

    In one of his more poetic moments, the Apostle Paul challenged everyone: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) I think it takes more than a few biblical examples of more of the same old same old to overturn that powerful claim, unless some want to overturn Paul himself. Even in the Old Testament we have the likes of Miriam, Debra and Huldah. All Huldah did was receive the recovered scroll from King Josiah for the purpose of verification of its authenticity, and send it back with the decidedly unsubmissive message, "And she said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the LORD, . . ." It's all there in 2 Kings 22. All the prophet Huldah did was the very first canonization of scripture!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Craig.

      In Chapter Eight of my book, I cite Galatians 3:28 three times, and in the third of those citations I write, "I place great emphasis on Galatians 3:28."

  3. Watching evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity and having lived and worked in a Roman Catholic environment for the last three years, which has much stronger norms of male domination even than evangelicalism -- I'm beginning to thinker with the idea that we more "liberal" Christians should start taking more seriously the New Atheists' charge that we are complicit in Christianity's bad stuff. A "Resistance" movement arose after the election of Trump. What would it look like if we did something comparable within Christianity?

  4. Anton, I share your displeasure with the patriarchy of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity as well as of Roman Catholicism. But I wonder if people like you (and me) are really complicit in "Christianity's bad stuff." Maybe so--just as perhaps we are complicit in the current President's bad stuff because we are USAmerican citizens.

    There has long been a "Resistance"-like movement within Christianity--in churches such as the United Church of Christ to which you have strong ties. The UCC church where you have been preaching had a woman pastor until recently (as you know, but others may not). Many other Christian denominations have long welcomed women not only into the pastorate but into denominational leadership, even at the top of their church organization.

    For example, back in 2006, the Episcopal Church in the U.S.elected Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as its presiding bishop.

    There was a long struggle for the recognition of women pastors in Mennonite churches in the U.S. But there are many such pastors now, including my own pastor. At their national convention this year, the Mennonite Church USA installed a woman as the Moderator for the next two years--and another woman as the Moderator-elect. Further, there are now seven women on the 13-member Executive Committee.

    As one who, as I indicated in the article, decades ago preached the ordination sermon of a woman and who now attends a church with a woman pastor (who just last week noted her sixth anniversary as pastor there) as well as one who was a delegate to the recent MC USA convention, I do not accept the charge of complicity with patriarchy in Christianity at the present --although, to be sure, there is considerable patriarchy in some forms of Christianity and that is one of the reasons, as I have indicated, that I am fed up with fundamentalism.

  5. Facebook friend John R. King posted these comments on FB a few minutes ago:

    "When I was at SBTS, one class i was in was discussing 1 Timothy and how that writing addresses women.

    "I offered a progressive and supportive statement for women pastors. The professor told me that if I could not teach the clear teaching of 1 Timothy about women not being leaders in church, I should keep my mouth shut.

    "This instance was one of the many that soured me on SBTS."

    1. In response to the above, I wrote,

      "I was a student at SBTS many years before you, and while I don't remember much that was discussed in support of women in ministry or even in leadership in the church, I certainly can't remember hearing anything that was to the contrary. And I certainly never thought of my 'progressive' position on women pastors being in any way in opposition or in contrast to what I heard from my professors at SBTS.

      "My blog posting is critical of the current president of SBTS, but I have no complaints about what I experienced there as a student in the early 1960s."

  6. Thinking Friend Frank Shope in New Mexico again shares meaningful comments, posted with his permission:

    "Greetings Leroy, once again you have hit a nerve. I was at Midwestern and working for a local Baptist Association when all hell broke lose about women. I had numerous female classmates and was involved with several in my work environment.

    "Over the years I have watched as SBC leadership wound numerous women by pulling their chaplain and Mission Board approvals. These women were better qualified and more compassionate than their male counterparts. They worked in environments that men would not dare set foot into.

    "I believe in equality and believe Fundamentalists like Mohler are fearful that women may do a better job and most importantly the fundamentalists fear that they may lose power and that is the reason for the 1998 statements and the 2000 BF&M.

    "I concur with the author, Letty M Russel in her book, 'The Household of Freedom' where she points out that power is to enable. Power is never to be used to lord one’s self over another.

    "Lastly, at least two women I personally knew who had the rug torn from under their feet by the Mohler group. Died at an early age with broken hearts."

    1. Frank, as you know I taught at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1991-92. I was prepared to have students disagree with me on various issues. What surprised me, though, was that the strongest opposition I encountered was about women in ministry.

      That opposition was in courses that had women students. One of the best students in one course was a woman who after graduation went on to become pastor of a Baptist church in Kansas--affiliated with the ABC, not the SBC.

      I was interested in your reference to Letty Russell (1929~2007). She was a member of the first class of women admitted to Harvard Divinity School, and one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church. Perhaps it was in the 1980s when she came to give a lecture on the campus of Seinan Gakuin University where I taught in Japan. I enjoyed hearing her and being about to chat with her a bit on that occasion.