Saturday, October 25, 2008

New Semi-Complementarians or Old Feminists?

(Can you guess who this smiling mother is cuddling her precious little one? Read on to find out.)[7]

Many leaders in the conservative Christian movement have struggled with the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s presidential running mate for 2008. She claims to be a Christian, a conservative, and (gasp!) a feminist, all in one breath.

On the night of the announcement of her nomination she gushed, “[I]t's fitting that this trust has been given to me 88 years almost to the day after the women of America first gained the right to vote.

“I think as well today of two other women who came before me in national elections. I can't begin this great effort without honoring the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and, of course, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign.

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all. ”[1]

In a town hall meeting here in my home state of Michigan, Ms. Palin clearly marked where she stands in regard to her hard line feminist beliefs:

“‘. . . I’ll tell you, I’m a product of Title IX [2] in our schools, where equal education and equal opportunities in sports really helped propel me into . . . the position that I’m in today.’

“. . . ‘Now if we have to still keep going down that road to create more legislation to get with it in the 21st century to make sure that women do have equality, especially in the workplace, then we’re there.’

“‘ . . . I was pregnant when I was the governor and they asked how are you going to be their governor and have a baby in office?’’ she elaborated. ‘And I said, ‘The same way that every other governor has brought up a family, had a baby in office.’ Granted they were men, maybe that was the difference. But we’re going to be able to do it.’”[3]

With this nomination, a line has been drawn right down the middle of the Christian right. Which side one ends up on is determined by whether or not one believes her nomination was in line with conservative Christian ideals. However, making this determination is not as easy as one may think. In fact, many, including myself, have been shocked to find who ended up on the seemingly feminist side of this issue, including the staff of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and such notable conservative Southern Baptists as Albert Mohler and Richard Land.[4]

Observing this seeming departure from traditional conservative Christian beliefs regarding the roles of women, Vision Forum president Doug Phillips laments, “There appears to be a fundamental and historic shift in the cultural and political agenda of social conservatives and Christians. . .

“[T]he picture being sent to the world is that Christians and conservatives are placing partisan political objectives over principle. The message being conveyed is this: Our theological commitments are secondary to our partisan loyalties.”

He goes on to list four key reasons why he believes this is the case including historic opposition to feminist philosophy and its egalitarian ideology by Christians and conservatives.[5]
However, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Phillips’ premise that these ideas are new and historic in the conservative and Christian communities. [See Comments below for clarificaiton]. In fact, one may find the roots of what has now been termed semi-complementarianism deep in the history of the American church.

It must be understood that Mrs. Palin's feminist leanings are not totally founded in that sector of the feminist movement which rejected marriage and motherhood wholesale in the 1960s. Conversely, I believe that most of her feminist ideals actually hark back to the pre-Civil War era, the best known leaders being Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Yet, even before these brazen women took to the streets and pulpits with their poisonous message, key women of the church were already leading the slow but steady march from the kitchen to the White House.

The national crises leading up to the Civil War were felt by everyone, but especially the women whose more delicate natures were touched deeply by the oppression they saw around them. The men of the church just weren’t moving fast enough or weren’t concerned enough to act, and many men in leadership refused to allow their women to get involved through the church. So, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
Ironically, many women who left their homes and defied their pastors to take up community service and political activism were originally spurred to action by the accolades given to motherhood by leading ministers of that day. They mistakenly determined that, if they were doing such great good in the home, they could do even more by being "mothers" to the nation.

For instance, it was church women who organized bazaars and bandage-rolling parties to aid wounded soldiers during the Civil War. It has even been suggested that if these ladies hadn’t lent their support outside their homes to the war relief, it may not have taken so long for the men to give up the fight. Still other Christian women led the fight against slavery and later rallied against the drunkenness which prevailed in their homes following the War.

Later on, during the time of the American westward expansion, pioneer women who were taken from their family circles in the East were expected to “buck up” and do the work of men on the new frontier. They did indeed do men's work on the farms and then expected to hold political sway in town. While doing so, they birthed babies, buried babies, and usually reared and educated their children themselves, yet still found time to make the lovely hand-stitched quilts, doilies, and embroidered work which now adorn many of our homes.

Just as her foremothers of old, I honestly believe Sarah Palin feels it is her destined duty, and perhaps even her Christian duty, to use the gifts, talents, and convictions she holds to make a better world for her family, her friends and loved ones, her nation, and the world.
Yet, Mrs. Palin isn’t alone in this error.

One may find this same brand of feminist making a comeback all over our nation, evidenced by the popularity of the likes of writer and entrepreneur MaryJane Butters. I call these women feminine feminists. They love their husbands, they love their children, and they try to make their homes a haven. Yet, they feel a responsibility, yea even an obligation, to branch out into the larger world to hold sway and contribute there as well.

The question still remains, however, – which should have been answered and checked by the churches of pre-Civil War America – is it God’s plan, as revealed in Scripture, for women to hold leadership positions in government? Others have made the case much better than I can that it most certainly is not.[6] And our church fathers very well knew this fact over 150 years ago.

Then as now the country was in a state of civil unrest with threats of racial uprising, financial instability, and strong secessionist leanings among certain sectors of the citizenry. When faced with these dire circumstances, we must not follow the mistake of our forebearers by giving the Scriptures the slip in order to meet what we consider a crisis situation. I contend that conservative Christians in America today, as they did in the mid-nineteenth century, are looking too much at the political arena and are neglecting the power of the Gospel to change our nation from the heart out.

Yet, Christian women have already tried politics and social activism as a means of shoring up the downward slope on which our nation was sliding. Though their efforts temporarily changed the look, feel, and self-esteem of our country through their push for the establishment of health, sanitation, education, and parks and recreation departments, they failed to reach the heart of our nation. That is why their great-great grand-daughters walked out on their husbands and children in the very next century to take up leadership positions not only in government, but in the church as well. And still we continue to slide.

It grieves me to see this happening once again when it seemed as though for several years our nation was heading in the right direction in regard to our homes as women left the workforce in droves to set up homekeeping. Yet, it’s not too late. We who believe women should abstain from leadership positions in the home, church, and society must be diligent to train our daughters that the loving service they render to their husbands and children in the home is the most important contribution they can make to the health and well being of our nation both now and in the generations to come, so help them God.

[1]"Transcript: Palin's Speech In Dayton, Ohio." The Republican Convention. 29 August 2008. NPR. 24 October 2008.

[2] Feminists view Title IX as a landmark victory in the history of women in America. See these sources for explanation of Title IX:;

[3] Cooper, Michael. "Palin Unscripted." The Caucus. 18 September 2008. The New York Times. 24 October 2008.

[4] See also “A Welcome Dialogue on the Sarah Palin Predicament,” CBMW Blog, 15 September 2008,

[5] Phillips, Doug. 2008. USA Today Editorial Challenges Semi-Complementarians for Compromise; CBMW Answers; VFM Responds: Part I. (accessed September 26, 2008).

[6] “Women Civil Magistrates?”, a sermon by Pastor Joe Morecraft III; blog post by Doug Phillips: ; article by Gary DeMar ; article by William Einwechter

[7] This is a portrait of one of the founders of the feminist movement of the 1800s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and her daughter Harriot (1856). Wikipedia states:

Although she enjoyed motherhood and assumed primary responsibility for rearing the children, Stanton found herself unsatisfied and even depressed by the lack of intellectual companionship and stimulation in Seneca Falls (ed. - the conference where the women's rights movement in America was founded by Mrs. Stanton and her friends). As an antidote to the boredom and loneliness, Stanton became increasingly involved in the community and, by 1848, had established ties to similarly-minded women in the area. By this time, she was firmly committed to the nascent women's rights movement and was ready to engage in organized activism."