Wendy Alsup’s “Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture” was released yesterday, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (You can see my reviews of her other books here, here and here.) As part of the promo for it, an excerpt has been published on Christianity Today in which Alsup argues that God is feminist. “By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability.”
However, Alsup wants to be clear that “God’s feminist ideals don’t correlate one to one with the world’s secular ones.” In fact, “Where feminism goes one way, the church the other.” The ‘fork in the road’ between Christians and feminists is, predictably, abortion, but Alsup looks behind the hot button issue to find its cause, namely, the “secular, modern Western view of feminism”, which in her view is different from “the justice for women that Scripture models.” This “fork in the road seems to center on the concept of independence.”
There’s good popular reason for seeing feminism as all about women’s rights and autonomy, if only because of some of the catch cries of the feminist movement, such as ‘my body my choice’. But Alsup cites others as well: presumably referring to Roe vs Wade, she notes that “the Supreme Court gave the woman absolute rights over her body… Her autonomy from others is the highest ideal, and woe to those who attempt to influence society against such a choice.”
It’s fair to say that most feminists do seek women’s autonomy, but abortion can either be a sign of independence, or a sign of complete dependence. Abortion is most often framed as a woman’s independence from others, or desire to pursue her own life direction, but women are not always the ones who make the decision to have an abortion, or may feel that the circumstances compel her to abort the baby. Consider this recent article from one of Australia’s foremost feminists, Clementine Ford, in which she tells the story of Jaya Taki who was coerced into aborting her baby by her abusive boyfriend, an NRL player. Ford is certainly arguing for Taki’s independence, but note that it is independence so that she can keep her baby.
Though a pro-abortion stance has often been the litmus test for feminist allegiance, abortion itself is no guarantee of a woman’s independence. In fact, it can be used as a tool of oppression. Of course abortion can be a tool of women’s liberation (Ford herself has been very public about her own two guilt-free abortions, though her recent memoir adds more flesh to that), but all too often it is a tool of their oppression. To keep speaking as if abortion is about women’s independence only gets one half of the story. Often it is a sign of their entanglement and of violence perpetrated against their bodies.
The genius of the patriarchy is its ability to use any tool women acquire and turn it to its own purposes. The strength of feminism is its evolutionary nature, that it is able to adapt and change in order to continue to cry for justice against the oppressions that women experience. The heartening thing about Alsup’s article is how she puts justice, and God’s heart for the poor and the oppressed, front and centre. However, I am unconvinced by the one-way nature of the ‘tweaking’ she suggests in the article.
I’m with Alsup on the interdependence of humanity, and our mutual responsibility to one another. I applaud how she ties women’s wellbeing back to love of God: “If we value the God in whose image woman was made, we will value the woman herself.” The Bible was well ahead of its time with its message about the full personhood of women, but Christians have sometimes lagged behind society on that count. We have not read our Bibles well, which is why it’s so great that Alsup has written her book. But it’s also why we Christians need feminism. While we dropped the ball on the flourishing of women, God’s common grace extended to give the feminist movement some tools for analysing our society, and perhaps even remedying parts of it.
We must absolutely hear and preach the Bible’s message of good news for women, but we must also have the humility to see and use the tools that God has given us to enhance our implementation and practice of this good news. I meet pastor after pastor who considers himself an advocate of women, and yet who consistently silences their opinions by tone policing or even gas-lighting. These guys have read the Bible, and they subscribe to the theologies Alsup argues for. And yet, they consistently miss their own privilege, or the power dynamic that preferences their voices and points of view. They need the Bible, and they need feminism.
Feminism is not static: to think that it has a settled set of doctrine is to misunderstand the nature of a movement. As feminism continues evolving, it offers all of us further tools to use in extending justice in the world and flourishing for women. This is why I’m cautious around language of ‘departing’ from feminism, or there being a fork in the road.
Image credit: ‘Face Value 7’ by Annette Bezor
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.