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4. Feminism’s “New Light” on Galatians 3:28—Part 1 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Feminism’s “New Light” on Galatians 3:28—Part 1
FEMINISM, EQUALITY, AND THE CHURCH

 [This article is excerpted from the author’s book Must We Be Silent?]
By
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference



    Ordaining women as elders or pastors is new light which the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church is being urged to embrace.[1] Crucial in the push for these new leadership roles for women is feminism’s concept of equality.
    
Though many are not aware of it, the most powerful ideology driving the campaign for women’s ordination is feminism. This ideology is very seductive because it is rooted in the pervasive thinking of egalitarianism, which holds that full equality between men and women can be achieved by eliminating gender role distinctions in the home and in the church.

    Proponents of women’s ordination who have embraced feminism’s mindset often cite the apostle Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28—“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”—as the key proof text to justify their claim that the Bible teaches full equality between men and women.

    In this article, I will briefly discuss feminism, showing how its belief in “full equality” negatively impacts some fundamental teachings of the Bible. I will also examine the concept of equality, arguing that unqualified statements about the equality of men and women are dangerously imprecise, potentially misleading, and a gross distortion of Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28. Then, I will take a look at a statement from the writings of Ellen G. White that women’s ordination advocates often misinterpret to justify feminism’s view of equality. I will conclude by stating why feminism’s cardinal dogma of full equality poses a direct challenge to our Biblical faith.

The Feminist Ideology


    The feminist movement or the so-called women’s lib movement is a crusade for freedom, equality and justice. Although Bible-believing Christians have good reasons to distance themselves from the feminist ideology, they share the legitimate concerns of the movement in standing up against any form of injustice, unfairness, and discrimination.

    At the heart of the feminist movement are issues concerning unsatisfied and hurt women. Women have all too often been treated unfairly and as second-class citizens in the world. They have been hurt in the home as well, where they have to live with inadequate male leadership. Many are experiencing frustrating marriages as they suffer from abusive, neglectful, and domineering husbands. When they attempt to challenge these injustices, many women feel that society is on the side of the men who have abused them.

    Though not a feminist or a believer in women’s ordination, one Christian woman has aptly captured the experiences of many hurt women:

I am a woman. I have experienced the scorn and prideful superiority with which men have, at times, treated me. I have listened to insults against my capabilities, my intelligence, and my body. I have burned with anger as I have wiped the blood from a battered woman’s face. I have wept with women who have been forcefully, brutally raped—violated to the very core of their being. I have been sickened at the perverted sexual abuse of little girls. I have boycotted stores which sell pornographic pictures of women. I have challenged men who sarcastically demean women with their “humor.” And I have walked out of church services where pastors carelessly malign those whom God has called holy. I am often hurt and angered by sexist, yes, SEXIST demeaning attitudes and actions. And I grieve deeply at the distortion of the relationship that God created as harmonious and good. As a woman I feel the battle. I feel the sin. Feminism identifies real problems which demand real answers. [2]

    Indeed, feminism identifies these legitimate issues of women’s hurt and unfair treatment. But in seeking to address them, feminists resort to inadequate and un-Biblical solutions. The following are some of the worrisome aspects of the feminist ideology.

    1. Obliteration of Gender Roles. Feminists reason that the role differentiation God established at Creation to govern the complementary relationship of male and female makes men superior and women inferior. Believing themselves deprived of their true womanly dignity, some seek self-fulfillment, full equality, and human justice by trying to be like men or by attempting to reject all role distinctions in the home and in the church.

    In order to be free from the supposed second-class status resulting from gender role differentiation, some radical feminists have fought against the marriage institution and child rearing, which they believe confine them to certain roles. Others have taken issue with organized religion, notably Islam and Judeo-Christian religions, whose teachings of male leadership or headship they interpret to mean that women are slaves to men through submission and obedience.

    2. Lesbianism. Believing that sexual intercourse with men enables males to exercise power over women, many feminists propose sexual encounters that are entirely independent from men. For some, lesbianism is one way women can be free from patriarchy or male leadership in order to know and experience their true inner self. One prominent feminist declares:

Women’s liberation and homosexual liberation are both struggling towards a common goal: a society free from defining and categorizing people by virtue of gender and/or sexual preference. “Lesbianism” is a label used as a psychic weapon to keep women locked into their male-defined “feminine role.” The essence of that role is that a woman is defined in terms of her relationship to men.[3]

    3.Witchcraft. Besides lesbianism, many feminists also see nothing wrong with witchcraft and mother goddess religions characteristic of ancient Canaanite fertility worship. Feminists insist that witches are spiritual women, not evil sorcerers. They point to the burning of witches in the Middle Ages, and argue that they were burned as witches “because they were women and because they possessed a power to heal that was unacceptable to the male establishment” [4]

    One feminist writer explains: “When the patriarchal, prophetic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) met the Middle Eastern Goddess practices, powerful interests came into conflict. Masculine self-control, social authority, and theological construction (a masculine God) were all bound to see Goddess Temple worship as extremely threatening. Since the patriarchal religions won the battle, their Scriptural and cultural authorities became “orthodoxy,” and the female-oriented fertility religion became foul deviance.” [5]

    3. Redefinition of God. While feminists within Christianity may not go this far in their war against marriage and Judeo-Christian religion and in their embracement of lesbianism and witchcraft, some make the effort to redefine God along gender-neutral lines. They attempt to get rid of the alleged offensive (i.e., sexist, male-oriented, or patriarchal) language in the Bible and replace it with gender-inclusive terms that blur the male-female distinction. Accordingly, “Son of God” becomes “Child of God;” “Son of Man” becomes “Human One;” “Heavenly Father” becomes “Heavenly Parent;” and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is transformed into a mother goddess named Sophia. [6]  

    One way by which feminism’s “goddess religion” is spreading into major Christian denominations is through its systematic attempt to feminize God. For example, in the new service book of the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, baptism is no longer required to be in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, one can now baptize in the name of the “Creator, Liberator, and Healer” or, alternatively, in the name of “God, Source of Love; in the name of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate and in the name of the Holy Spirit, Love’s power.” In its first 100 pages there is only one reference to God as “Father”; instead, church members pray to “Mother and Father God” or more simply “Mother God.” [7]  

    Even in our own church some scholars are promoting the Holy Spirit as the female member of the Godhead, repeatedly referring to the Creator as “He/She.” [8]  

    4. Gender-inclusive Language. It is the same feminist ideology that undergirds much of the push for gender-inclusive language, as in various worship services and Bible translation endeavors. [9]  While there may be a legitimate place for gender-inclusive language, it is a mistake to attempt to gender-neutralize what God sets aside as gender-specific.

    An example of this occurred at the 1990 Indianapolis General Conference session when delegates (perhaps unknowingly) voted to revise the Church Manual statement on the office and duties of church elders along gender-neutral lines. [10]  

    Another example is the recent practice at the Ellen G. White Estate to revise some of the writings of Ellen G. White along gender-inclusive lines. This is the case with the most recent devotional books and some newly issued titles. One can understand making minor changes to make her works readable and understandable. But we create a major theological problem when we introduce gender-inclusive language in her works in such a manner as to fundamentally change her teachings regarding role distinctions in the home or in the church. [11]

    Whether or not they realize it, those who teach unisex roles in the home or in the church are driven by the same feminist ideology. The most recent example of this is found in the much publicized pro-ordination book, Women in Ministry, in which some of our church scholars attempt to prove that there was at least one woman priest in the Old Testament and some women apostles and women ministers in the New. [12]

    Mary Kassian’s eye-opening book, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church, [13]  also shows convincingly that besides shaping contemporary discussions of male and female roles in the home and the church, feminist philosophy also finds expression in various denominations through their women’s task forces, in colleges and universities through women’s studies courses, and in seminaries through women’s feminist theologies.

    5. Questioning of the Bible’s Inspiration and Authority. Feminists perceive the Bible as both a producer and product of female oppression. Maintaining that some parts of the inspired Scriptures are prejudiced against women's rights and aspirations, they suggest that there are degrees of inspiration in the Bible—the less inspired parts being allegedly tainted with male prejudices and errors. Thus they consider any passage of Scripture that does not uphold the principle of full equality—redefined to mean the absence of role differentiation within the complementary partnership of male and female relationship—as sexist and biased, and therefore not inspired.

    One scholar has aptly summarized the view of feminist theologians:

The Bible was written in a patriarchal society by the people, mostly men, whom the system kept on top. It embodies the androcentric, that is, male-centered, presuppositions of that social world, and it legitimizes the patriarchal, that is male-dominant, social structures that held that world together. Its language is overwhelmingly male-oriented, both in its reference to God and in reference to people. In short, the Bible is a book written by men in order to tell their story for their advantage. As such, it confronts both women and justice-inspired men with an enormous problem. It is not at all certain that the Bible can survive this challenge, that it can retain the allegiance of people called to justice and freedom in a postmodern world. [14]

    Notice that since feminists hold that the Bible is the product of a patriarchal, male-dominated (androcentric) culture, and that some of its content is oppressive to women, they doubt whether the Bible “can retain the allegiance of people called to justice in a postmodern world.”

    6. Reinterpretation of Scripture. To declare gender distinctions as obsolete, feminists adopt an attitude which denies the full inspiration of the Bible and which utilizes higher critical methods in its interpretation. Consequently, feminist interpreters not only pick and choose from the Bible, but they are also suspicious of the Biblical text. Using the two principles of selectivity and skepticism, feminist interpreters insist that as they approach Scripture, “our ideology takes precedence over the ideology of the [Biblical] literature.” [15]

    A classic example of liberal feminism’s liberal interpretation of the Bible is found in The Welcome Table, a pro-ordination volume written by 14 Seventh-day Adventist thought leaders[16]. In this work, some of the authors argue that Bible passages (like Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18, 19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 11, 12; 14:34, 35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; 3:2; and Titus 1:6) that Adventists historically understood as having a bearing on male-female role relations in both the home and the church are the product of the Bible writers’ faulty logic or mistaken rabbinic interpretations in vogue in their day. Reasoning along feminist and higher-critical lines, some of the writers maintain that the apostle Paul erred in his interpretation of Genesis 1-3 when he grounded his teaching of role distinctions between male and female in Creation and the Fall. They claim that the apostle Paul’s statements were merely expressions of uninspired personal opinions—opinions that reflect his culture and hence do not apply to us. To these authors, Paul was “a man of his own time.” He occasionally glimpsed the ideal that Jesus established during His time on Earth; yet he never fully arrived at “the Gospel ideal” of full equality or complete role interchangeability in both the home and the church. [17]

    7. Mutation of Women’s Ministries. Historically, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has always encouraged women’s active participation in the soulwinning ministry. Women do so without being ordained as elders or pastors. This is still the case, especially in the developing countries.

    But in certain places (notably, the industrialized regions of the world), women’s ministries in these churches have been hijacked and transposed into feminist ministries to push the agenda of women’s ordination. Then, in very subtle ways, proponents accuse those who justifiably oppose women’s ordination as being against women’s ministry. They try also to give credibility to their feminist agenda, when they equate their mutation of women’s ministry with the legitimate one practiced in the developing countries. Thus, feminists take the term “women’s ministries,” empty it of its true meaning, and then inject it with a feminist meaning. In this way, unsuspecting church members do not readily see the difference.

    One knowledgeable writer offers this succinct summary, contrasting today’s feminist ministries and the women’s ministries of the early Adventist pioneers:

Today, feminist ministries contrast sharply with the Women’s Ministry back then. Whereas the spirituality of the Adventist sisters was the greatest burden of the first movement, it seems to be assumed in the second; whereas soulwinning was the whole purpose of the first, it does not always seem to be foremost in the second; whereas the first movement stressed the worth and influence of a woman on the domestic scene in the home, such a concept seems nigh repulsive to many in the second movement; whereas power was equated with the Holy Spirit in the first, one almost senses that it is equated with position in the second.

We can applaud Women’s Ministries in developing countries where women are very active in soulwinning and sharing their faith. Praise the Lord for their faith and sacrificial work! The churches are growing because women have captured the spirit of the pioneers in their area. Let us [in the developed countries] be ashamed to tamper with their form of ministry and infect them with feminist strugglings.[18]

    Summary. Feminism’s campaign for full equality lays the foundation for women’s ordination. The ideology’s fundamental opposition to Scripture’s teaching on role distinctions between male and female in the church leads some feminists to embrace lesbianism and witchcraft, to redefine and feminize God, to indiscriminately push for gender-inclusive language, to question the Bible’s inspiration and authority, to adopt higher criticism to reinterpret the Bible, and to transpose Women’s Ministries into feminist ministries.

Endnotes

[1]    Christians must always welcome new light from God’s Word, as long as the proposed new light does not contradict an established Biblical truth. For a careful summary of what Ellen G. White taught about “new light,” see P. Gerard Damsteegt, “New Light in the Last Days,” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM 10/1 (Spring 1996): 5-13.
[2]    Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Good News, 1992), p. 242. This book is a must read for those who desire to understand what feminism is all about and how it is hypnotizing Christian churches.
[3]    The above statement is attributed to prominent feminist Kate Millet, and cited by Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, p. 85.
[4]    So argues pagan witch Margot Adler, as cited by Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, p. 78; cf. p. 219.
[5]    Denise Lardner Carmody, Women and World Religions (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), p. 32. Cf. Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, p. 155.
[6]    See Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Why God Is Not Mother: A Response to Feminist God-talk in the Church,” Christianity Today (August 16, 1993) :16-23. For a shocking account of how this feminist “reimagining” of God is being actively promoted in Christian churches, see James R. Edwards, “Earthquake in the Mainline,” Christianity Today (November 14, 1994) :38-43.
[7]    See Elizabeth Achtemeier’s review of United Church of Canada’s An Inclusive Language Lectionary (3 vols.), in Interpretation 38 (1984) :64-66; cf. David Lyle Jeffrey, “Death of Father Language: Attacking the Heart of Christian Identity,” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 4/4 (Spring 2000) :1, 11-16.
[8]    Steve Daily, Adventism for a New Generation (Portland/Clackamas, Ore.: Better Living Publishers, 1993), pp. 88, 105, 113.
[9]    To date, the most detailed and compete discussion of gender-neutral Bible translations can be found in Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God’s Words (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000).
[10]    C. Mervyn Maxwell has provided an insightful history, showing how church leaders’ desire to enjoy United States tax law benefits to ministers led to questionable church policy revisions and Church Manual alterations allowing women to serve as elders. See his “A Very Surprising (and Interesting) History,” in Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things: A Response to WOMEN IN MINISTRY (Berrien Springs, Mich.: ADVENTISTS AFFIRM, 2000), pp. 225-230.
[11]    Appropriate minor changes may include breaking very long sentences into smaller ones that are more readable, or substituting for words or expressions that have become obsolete (or better yet, putting those substituted words in square brackets). These minor changes are understandable because they are not motivated by a feminist ideology. Rather, it is a genuine attempt to appeal to people who may not be familiar with 19th century English. It is my understanding that the White G. Estate will not change the language contained in books with familiar titles when these books are reprinted. However, when new and updated versions of, say, The Ministry of Healing are being introduced, another title would be given to it so that there would be no confusion as to which book is the real Ministry of Healing.
[12]    Refer to the articles by Jacques B. Doukhan, “Women Priests in Israel: A Case for Their Absence,” and Robert M. Johnston, “Shapes of Ministry in the New Testament,” in Women in Ministry, pp. 29-43, 45-58, respectively. I have offered a brief evaluation of these articles in Must We Be Silent? Those interested in reading a more detailed critique of the above works should consult Gerard Damsteegt’s contribution in Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry, pp. 123-153.
[13]    Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1992).
[14]    Sandra M. Schneiders, “Does the Bible Have a Postmodern Message?” in Frederic Burnham, ed., Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralistic World. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), p. 65.
[15]    Donna Nolan Fewell, “Feminist Reading of the Hebrew Bible: Affirmation, Resistance and Transformation,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 39 (1987) :78. While C. Raymond Holmes has provided a useful analysis and critique of feminist ideology (see The Tip of an Iceberg, pp. 87-132), it is of no less importance that the method feminist interpreters bring to Scripture, like that of other liberation theologians, is an aspect of the historical-critical method (ibid., pp. 31-48). For more on this method, see Gerhard F. Hasel, “Biblical Authority and Feminist Interpretation,” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM (Fall 1989), pp. 12-23.
[16]    The Welcome Table: Setting a Place for Ordained Women, edited by Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart (Langley Park, Md.: TEAMPress, 1995). The “fourteen prominent SDA historians, theologians, and professionals” who contributed essays to the book are: Bert Haloviak, Kit Watts, Raymond F. Cottrell, Donna Jeane Haerich, David R. Larson, Fritz Guy, Edwin Zackrison, Halcyon Westphal Wilson, Sheryll Prinz-McMillan, Joyce Hanscom Lorntz, V. Norskov Olsen, Ralph Neall, Ginger Hanks Harwood, and Iris M. Yob.
[17]    Although the book’s introduction and back-cover recommendations state that The Welcome Table comprises “carefully thought-through expositions by some of our most competent writers” and “is a definitive collection of essays for our time from respected church leaders,” others have observed that, regarding the key hermeneutical issues of women’s ordination, this volume is more noteworthy for its breadth than for its depth. For example, Keith A. Burton, an Adventist New Testament scholar, has exposed the historical-critical assumptions underlying some of the essays in The Welcome Table. He concludes his insightful critique of this pro-ordination book: “The table around which we are warmly invited to sit is one that already accommodates those who have attacked the relevance of Biblical authority; those who wish to pretend that the gnostic image of the primeval and eschatological androgyne is the one toward which Adventists should be moving; those whose interest is in the acquisition of corporate power rather than the evangelization of a dying world; and finally, those who confuse the undiscriminating limitation of the familial and ecclesiastical roles that have been defined by the same Spirit.” See Burton, “The Welcome Table: A Critical Evaluation” (unpublished manuscript, 1995), available at the Adventist Heritage Center, James White Library, Andrews University. In my earlier work Receiving the Word (pp. 119-129), I spotlighted a few of the troubling aspects of the arguments for women’s ordination in The Welcome Table.
[18]    Laurel Damsteegt, “Shall Women Minister?” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM 9/1 (Spring 1995):14. For a discussion of how “Women’s Ministry” was understood in early Seventh-day Adventism, see also Laurel Damsteegt’s “S.M.I. Henry: Pioneer in Women’s Ministry,” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM 9/1 (Spring 1995) :17-19, 46; cf. Terri Saelee, “Women of the Spirit,” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM 9/2 (Fall 1995) :60-63.