Christianity and feminism

I have somewhat of a hodge-podge of books that I'm working my way through at the moment. Alongside readings on the philosophy of science and differential equations I've managed to fit in a little bit more reading on theology.

A couple of days ago I finally finished reading Stackhouse's Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender. Stackhouse is a theologian based at Regent College in Vancouver. What he argues in this book is something somewhere between the complementarian and egalitarian perspectives on gender. What he argues for is essentially egalitarian tempered by the structure of the outlying society. In his view in a strongly patriarchical society the church should also be patriarchical in structure, whereas in an egalitarian society the church should also model this structure.

His evidence? He argues using such verses as Matthew 5:31-32 which offer a different view of the issue of divorce than found in the pages of the Old Testament. In his analysis of scripture, he cites both egalitarian references (eg. Galatians 3:28) and those which speak of wives submitting to husbands (eg. Ephesians 5:22). This latter category he regards as temporal accomodations to human weakness - using Matthew 5 again as an example. As to explaining 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 (regarding women being silent in the church), Stackhouse speaks of comparative education levels of men and women at the time, as well as the social norms of the outlying culture. In his words:

Women in this culture, as in most cultures in the history of the world, generally were not educated beyond the domestic arts. Furthermore, they were not socialized into the discourse of formal, public learning. Therefore, in the enthusiasm of their Christian liberty, in the excitement of the freedom found in their full acceptance into the church alongside men, it appears that some women disrupted the meetings with inappropriate questions and other unedifying talk. So Paul tells the, as a general principle, to ask their husbands at home. (p. 51)

Similarly, regarding 1 Peter 3:7's reference to the wife as the weaker partner in a marriage he notes: "In a patriarchical society Paul is telling the simple truth: Economically, politically, legally, educationally - when it comes to social power - women are weaker than men." (p. 62)

Stackhouse also speaks of references to women in the church around Macedonia - a region of the empire that apparently was less patriarchical. Such exceptions to him speak of "anomalies that do not make sense unless they are, indeed, blessed hints of what could be, and will be eventually in the fully present kingdom of God (p. 54). Yet, in his mind, equality is subservient to the cause of the Gospel. He thus interpretes 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 to indicate that the church should remain somewhat patriarchical if such is the structure of the surrounding society.

I'm not sure of all his arguments, but at least I agree with the following statement regarding the path which the church should follow: "Simply preaching a return to the 'traditional family' is no answer. This sort of family is not found in the Bible or in most of the history of the church. It is instead the family typical of a particular era: the post-World War II boom in which Dad could earn a household's worth of income even on an assembly line while everyone else could stay home or in school." (p. 90).

Given that the CanRC tends to label itself Calvinist, I've taken to quoting Calvin many a time when I've found that he seems to hold views contrary those currently present in the CanRC. Here there seems to be no exception:

Things which have been appointed according to this rule, it is the duty of the Christian people to observe with a free conscience indeed, and without superstition, but also with a pious and ready inclination to obey. They are not to hold them in contempt, nor pass them by with careless indifference, far less openly to violate them in pride and contumacy. You will ask, What liberty of conscience will there be in such cautious observances? Nay, this liberty will admirably appear when we shall hold that these are not fixed and perpetual obligations to which we are astricted, but external rudiments for human infirmity, which, though we do not all need, we, however, all use, because we are bound to cherish mutual charity towards each other. This we may recognise in the examples given above. What? Is religion placed in a woman’s bonnet, so that it is unlawful for her to go out with her head uncovered? Is her silence fixed by a decree which cannot be violated without the greatest wickedness? ... By no means. For should a woman require to make such haste in assisting a neighbour that she has not time to cover her head, she sins not in running out with her head uncovered. And there are some occasions on which it is not less seasonable for her to speak than on others to be silent. ... Nevertheless, in those matters the custom and institutions of the country, in short, humanity and the rules of modesty itself, declare what is to be done or avoided. Here, if any error is committed through imprudence or forgetfulness, no crime is perpetrated; but if this is done from contempt, such contumacy must be disapproved. In like manner, it is of no consequence what the days and hours are, what the nature of the edifices, and what psalms are sung on each day. But it is proper that there should be certain days and stated hours, and a place fit for receiving all, if any regard is had to the preservation of peace. For what a seed-bed of quarrels will confusion in such matters be, if every one is allowed at pleasure to alter what pertains to common order? All will not be satisfied with the same course if matters, placed as it were on debateable ground, are left to the determination of individuals. But if any one here becomes clamorous, and would be wiser than he ought, let him consider how he will approve his moroseness to the Lord. Paul’s answer ought to satisfy us, “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.x.31. The translation seems a little archaic, but its used because its from a freely copyable source)

To give you a little taste of what you can expect here in the future, I have the following books on order:


All of those Biblical references appear to be from the New Testament. Does he ever make reference to the Old Testament? The patriarchal family was established 4000 years before the New Testament was written, making it hardly a concept of the time.

From the NET Bible translation:
2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” 2:19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 2:20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 2:21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. 2:22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 2:23 Then the man said,

“This one at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

this one will be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.

One of the notes for 2:18 is applicable as well:
56tn Traditionally “helper.” The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (’ezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here. See further M. L. Rosenzweig, “A Helper Equal to Him,” Jud 139 (1986): 277-80.

All of those Biblical references appear to be from the New Testament. Does he ever make reference to the Old Testament?

Yup. He did talk about the section you mentioned. He also said almost the same thing as the note for 2:18 that you cited - that the word translated "helper" is used to describe God in relation to Israel, and therefore this word cannot be said to indicate an inferior standing. Beyond this brief description, the passage that you cite also does not allocate tasks to a particular sex - beyond the dictates of basic biology that is.