The latest crisis in evangelical Christianity seems to be the “feminization” of the church.
Now, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Even if we were to ignore the fact that there is no real definition of “femininity,” and even if we were to judge “femininity” by strict societal expectations and stereotypes, what does that mean? It’s not like the church is wearing lipstick and carrying a purse. And I’ve never heard a pastor say anything like, “The vagina cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.'”
I mean, really, what do we mean when we say that the church is too feminine?
And, why do I care?
I care because how the church defines “feminization” exposes how the church feels toward women in general.
Women, it’s important for us to know what negative perceptions the church has for us so we can prove them wrong.
I took a look at the website for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I figured they were my best bet for finding information on the “feminization” of the church (well, besides You-Know-Who but I’m trying to fast from You-Know-Who, for the sake of my own health and sanity). Alas, they did not let me down! I didn’t have to browse their website long before I came across an article by Tim Challies entitled Soft, Effeminate Christianity.
It contained a quote by a man named Horatius Bonar (yes. really. that’s all I’m going to say). I’m going to share parts of that quote, because I want us to realize what is being implied when evangelicals speak of the “feminization” of the church.
For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance…It walks with firm step and erect frame…it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest….obliging, but not imbecile…
It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit.
The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God
So what do Challies, Bonar, and other evangelicals think of women?
*We’re interested only in ethereal theology and never active faith
*We weren’t built for endurance. We’re incapable of standing firm in our beliefs.
*We’re afraid to stand against evil
*We’re too sentimental (and further more, such sentimentality is not compatible with Christianity)
*We cannot truly experience God and proclaim truth and righteousness without betraying our “gender role” (in Bonar’s words, we must be “manly” to do such things)
So what’s a woman to do? It’s a lose-lose situation for us, according to the CBMW. If we aren’t “manly,” by CBMW’s definition, we’re betraying our faith and can’t “taste that the Lord is gracious.” If we are “manly,” we pervert God’s “perfect design” for the sexes. We already know that evangelicals certainly don’t want us doing the latter, so what we’re left with is the final implication that women are not really Christians.
Sure, we can pray and love Jesus, and get to heaven. But we’re not active members of the body of Christ (after all, Christ had a penis, right?)–we’re just along for the ride. All the Bible verses about the Holy Spirit giving Christians power and strength–all the parts of the Bible about being able to do all things through Christ? Those apply only to men. The Bible is, by default, for men. Women can only claim passages that address them specifically.
I don’t buy that.
As my first step toward proving Bonar and others wrong, I’m going to step up to the plate with some “honest reproof.” I’m going to make a “fervent, outspoken testimony against evil.”
Quite frankly, thinking like Bonar’s is hurting the church. His view of women is dangerously flawed.
Women, let’s show the church how wrong he is.
The church needs to hear our stories of strength and endurance. Stories that display our capacity for intelligence and discernment and leadership. Stories that prove we can stand strong.
Stories like those of Stitching Seams— a woman who completely smashes Bonar’s definition of “effeminate” to pieces by having the courage to share her experiences.
Stories like those of Elizabeth Esther–a woman who constantly proves Bonar wrong in her relentless fight against evil.
Stories like mine and stories like yours.
Let’s show the world what we women are really capable of–and perhaps, perhaps we’ll soon see the day when the church’s weaknesses are addressed directly, rather than blamed on women. Perhaps we’ll see the day when women are given equal opportunities in which to help the church repair those weaknesses. Perhaps the church will start to see us, not just as submissive wives and daughters, but as sisters, and as fellow members of Christ’s body.
Let’s share our stories.