Why Christianity, the Bible, and Feminism have a hard time mixing.

"The Bible and Feminism" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“The Bible and Feminism” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Want a print of this cartoon? You can get one HERE.

I just finished reading an excellent book, a collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit called Men Explain Things to Me. You must read it.

Here is one quote:

“Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this seven-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.”

She also quotes the British columnist Laurie Penny, who wrote:

“An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you…”

So the problem isn’t just within the Christian tradition, but within our societies that have religions of all kinds woven into the very DNA of our cultures. Whether the primitive misogyny was validated and fueled by religion or religion generated the misogyny in the first place is, in my opinion, too subtle a distinction to discern. I think our religions and cultures, our beliefs and our character, are so interwoven, so codependent, so symbiotic, that it’s no longer helpful to distinguish them. The memory of misogyny is in our cells, and extracting religion from it still leaves the residue of it behind.

I wanted to deconstruct this passage in 1 Peter to demonstrate just how difficult it is for women in our culture, especially Christian ones, to be feminists, and just how difficult it may be for some men to not feel they have scriptural and therefore divine support for their sexism. There’s no dodging this bullet: this passage claims that the best woman is a pure and silent one who is submissive to men.

For me, it’s about how we view the Bible.

This reminds me of a passage I read many years ago in David J. Garrow’s book, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference:

“The exposure to new bodies of knowledge also heightened King’s doubts about the religious teachings he had learned at Ebenezer. His sophomore year witnessed what King later called ‘a state of skepticism’ on his part toward religion. This problem persisted, he said, ‘until I studied a course in Bible in which I came to see that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape.’ At Morehouse, ‘the shackles of fundamentalism were removed’ from his mind.”

What took King a semester to accomplish took me years. But now I see this passage in Peter as an expression of an ancient male-dominated culture that has no hold on us today.

Or should not.



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19 Responses

  1. Alpha Lim says:

    Thanks for this. It’s heartening to know that Dr King also went through a period of deconstruction.

    (Before it was cool :). )

    Haha, I suppose deconstruction has always been happening. But it’s given greater depth and reach with the advent of the internet.

  2. That’s true, eh, Alpha? Cool!

  3. esbee says:

    I have been guilty of many “sins” against my husband.

    In one church my husband was called in to the pastor’s office and asked “what is wrong with your wayward wife?” My sin—-I rode my horse to church. This was the same pastor who commanded me to wear dresses at all times because my husband was minister of youth and music and hinted strongly to get rid of our cats.. I thought I had moved to Stepford (it was about the same time the movie came out.) I guess I was out of place to tell the pastor I could not find that rule in the Bible. p.s. Now there are cowboy churches all over Texas!

    In another church my husband was asked by the music minister (the pastor’s son)—“Why does your wife hate you?” Not sure what my sin was but perhaps because I am Italian and from NY, I am often loud and outspoken and like to laugh and tell jokes in public, also not the best housekeeper and we have cats, in the house no less, and I am an artist. Somehow I cannot find those “sins” in the bible?!?!?!

    Perhaps I should have worn dresses, make-up, fancy hair-dos, told the world how much I lurve Jeeeesus, and then it would be ok to have an affair with the pastor, like I have seen another woman do. That is much more forgivable than those “sins” I committed.

    All I see in that scripture is that a wife should be under her husband’s authority, whatever that means I am sure is different from family to family. It is men that add all the other stuff to it. And the scripture for men is that a man should love his wife and give himself like Christ gave himself to the church and died for it.

    People are faulty and full of sin…good thing we have a savior.

  4. esbee says:

    let me clarify to my previous post—those events happened when the FIRST Stepford Wives movie came out in the 70’s.

  5. Probably didn’t fit the mold.

  6. Gale says:

    A lot of times I neatly sidestepped the issue of someone at church speaking to my husband by virtue of the fact my husband has never attended church, so church authority was left to just talk to me. Although many years ago when I was married, the idea that I as a Christian should marry another Christian was certainly around, after awhile people just assumed I must not have been a Christian when I got married. I think a lot of the references to women in the gospels were put there intentionally by God to even things out. The fact that the first person Jesus appears to after His resurrection is Mary Magdalene is kind of funny in contrast to the men cowering in the upper room. I try to think of people who get (as far as I know) good press like Miriam, Deborah, Lydia, Ruth, Rahab, etc. The whole idea of the woman’s place in some of the traditional /fundamentalist churches is part of why I ended up an Episcopalian. But yes, the lens of our culture casts a very deep shadow on scripture. Lord have mercy.

  7. ReawakeningWoman says:

    I bought into this for years. And my husband (and pastor and controller and “lord”) gladly propagated the message continually. But it leads to GREAT perversion. Here is only ONE example: After being married two months, I put on a beautiful negligee, spread a blanket in front of the fireplace and was awaiting his arrival on a cold wintery night. When he came in, saw the set-up and my attire (or lack of), he proceeded to reprimand me for acting like a man. Yes, you heard me, “acting like a man.” I was vilified with these words; “Don’t you know that men are initiators and women are responders? You are not to initiate. Men initiate.”

    So, as the “good Christian wife,” I dutifully obeyed and did not initiate. Nor did I respond. Needless to say, something died in my 25-year old heart. It stayed dead for 30 years. But God is reawakening me…and I love Him for it!!

    Misogyny is perversion. Complementarianism is perversion. If you’re caught up in it, GET OUT NOW!

  8. Wow ReawakeningWoman: he must have a catalog of missed opportunities!

  9. ReawakeningWoman says:

    OMG! You got that right! And not just with me. Men who believe and act like this miss out on abundant life. There is absolutely NO true, lasting joy…anytime, anywhere, in any relationship. They are trying to GET abundance for themselves not realizing that abundance is GIVEN…as the byproduct of a loving relationship with the One who gives it!!

  10. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    Ah David. Thank you again. I’m SO tired of that pervasive church standard that insists women should be seen ( perfectly presented, holding cake, dumb smile) and not heard. I have been ‘called before’ male leadership over 30 years, for expressing strong social justice opinions. I’ve even been labeled ‘dangerous’ by suffocatingly ignorant ‘Christian’ members of my family, for gaining a degree in Psychology as a middle aged woman.

    But what’s the worst for me? Being told by my husband that I’m angry all the time. He’s a nice bloke who has been raised in the church, and he can’t see what the big deal is. He takes offense on behalf of all men if I ‘criticize’ – when all I think I’m doing is pointing out the bleedingly obvious.

    It’s clear we can’t see our own privilege. That privilege is something you see in others when you are outside it, looking in. For me personally, I only recognized my WHITE privilege when I was in a course with women from indigenous backgrounds who pointed it out. My husband can’t see his privilege as a man in our society. And he doesn’t believe me when I say it exists.

    David, what does it take for a man to ‘see’ what you’ve exposed here?

  11. To be honest Shazza the dazzla it was my wife who relentlessly insisted I see until I did.

  12. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    Well done to your wife then!!!

    You’ve given me fresh encouragement David. My husband will thank you…………….one day. 🙂

  13. kris799 says:

    Thank you for the info on Dr. King! It’s always good to see the transformation in such influential people.

  14. I’ve never forgotten that quote so many years later. It profoundly affected me.

  15. Charlene says:

    I am finally after 6 years having more good days than bad after being mentally abused by my husband and his fellow elders for trying to explain another interpretation of the Bible. I was a totally submissive wife for 40 years. Hair up, skirts, no TV, sports, make-up, jewelry and much more? Because of my 6 children (some of which are in the church) I have chosen to stay with my husband. Still living in the community with these people has made it harder to heal. It’s not only sexual abuse that hurts women, but also mental abuse.

  16. Totally agree Charlene. Thanks for sharing your story.