Complementarian/egalitarian discussions and debates can be complex. Some involve arguments from the finer points of Greek and Hebrew. Others may require an understanding of theological themes that span the entire Bible. Still others require solid grounding in the social sciences. Because of such complexities, I find it refreshing when someone asks a question that is easily answered. The question that forms the title to this blog entry is just such a question.
Essentially all readers have heard the claim that egalitarians are following culture. This claim is typically intended to point out that egalitarians are being seduced by feminism. And the feminism in question is usually a reference to the movement called second-wave feminism, which began in the 1960s and lasted for 20-plus years—a movement with ramifications which continue to wield strong influence today.
To those who would ask this easy-to-answer question, whether egalitarians are being seduced by feminism, I might choose to respond as follows:
Perhaps you haven’t heard of Martia, a church leader in France, probably in the fifth century—long before second-wave feminism. Or of Hilda of Whitby, a Christian leader and educator in the British Isles. She wielded considerable influence in the 7th century—long before second-wave feminism.
Unfortunately you have probably not heard of Lioba, a biblical scholar, church historian and missionary to Saxony in the 8th century—long before second-wave feminism.
I wonder, have you heard of Saint Clare of Assisi, who exercised leadership as an abbess and influenced many Christian leaders, including Francis of Assisi and more than one pope, in the 13thcentury—long before second-wave feminism?
It’s more likely that you’ve heard of Joanna Cotton, who lived out egalitarian principles, including teaching adult men, in the 15th century—long before second-wave feminism. Or of Margaret Fell, co-founder of Quakerism with George Fox, who wrote the booklet Womens Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, in the 1660s—long before second-wave feminism.
Perhaps you’ve even heard of Mary Hanson and Dorothy Fisher, early leaders of Methodism in Britain. In fact, when John Wesley compiled a list of 66 of the earliest Methodist leaders, 47 of them were women. Wesley compiled this list in the early 1740s—long before second-wave feminism.
Or of Mabel Lossing Jones, an evangelist and missionary. She began her missionary work in India in 1904—seven years before marrying famed evangelist E. Stanley Jones and long before second-wave feminism. Or of Anna Boyd, who preached extensively in the northeastern United States. She was ordained by the Rhode Island Adventist Conference and became the first president of the Union Female Missionary Association in 1866—long before second-wave feminism.
Surely you’ve heard of Catherine Mumford Booth, co-founder of The Salvation Army with her husband, William. She argued for the equality of women and promoted them to ministerial equality with men. She was active for the bulk of the second half of the 19th century—long before second-wave feminism.
Again, you’ve surely heard of Jessie Penn-Lewis, a writer, speaker and revivalist in the British Isles. Penn-Lewis advocated for women’s ministry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—long before second-wave feminism.
I hope you also know about Alvera Mickelsen and Catherine Clark Kroeger, born in 1919 and 1925, respectively. These women were founding leaders of CBE International; they were writing about, as well as living out, evangelical egalitarianism before the advent of second-wave feminism.
You’ve noticed, of course, that the above list contains only women. But please know that over the centuries many men have also promoted women as Christian leaders of various kinds.
I began by claiming that this question—whether egalitarians are giving in to culture—is easy to answer. You don’t need all these names to answer it. Instead, you simply need a common-sense awareness that the idea that women are equal to men and are thus fit to exercise leadership in the church began neither in 1960 nor in the United States.
I should note that all of the women mentioned above have been written about in CBE International’s journal, Priscilla Papers. I easily found them, as well as many others, using the online index here. Another excellent resource is Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters, edited by Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi, which offers summaries of the life and work of 180 women ranging from the fourth to the 21st centuries.
In short, the answer is no, biblical egalitarianism is not the result of the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s. We’ve been around much longer than that.
This article originally appeared here.
[For a fine book on Extraordinary Women of Christian history by Ruth Tucker, click here.]