Why God is a Feminist

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Gender Equality
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There’s a lot of talk at the moment about feminism. Much of this is coming from the UN campaign He For She, fronted by actress Emma Watson. The premise behind He For She is that feminism isn’t just for women; men play an important part in campaigning for equality for women. If you’re not familiar with He For She, I encourage you to find out more by going to their website.

The Bible has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to its portrayal of women. A lot of that is down to the way the church has treated women in the past (and still does in some parts). That in itself is partly due to how we interpret the Bible. Paul’s writings about women can largely be understood to be aimed at the culture of the time, but have been treated as commands for the church today. There have been a lot of good articles and blog posts written about Paul’s attitude to women, so I’m going to focus my attention elsewhere and address the notion of equality.

Equality is central to feminism, or at least it should be. When I’ve raised the issue of feminism with other men, often I’ve noticed their defenses go up. As those conversations have progressed, it’s become clear that we both have different understandings of feminism. Once I clarify that I’m not talking about the radical kind of feminism which seeks to reverse the places of men and women in society, these conversations tend to become much more amiable. When we understand feminism to be the idea that people should have equal rights, regardless of gender, most of us agree that’s right. That’s what equality means. So what does that look like in the Bible?

To answer that question, we need to turn to Genesis chapter 2.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭2‬:‭18‬ ESV)

This is an important verse for our understanding of equality. The word “helper” has been interpreted by some to indicate inferiority on the part of the woman. The assumption there is that if someone is a helper, they are lower down the social hierarchy than the one they are helping. However, the Hebrew says something different. The word translated as “helper fit” (elsewhere “fitting helper”) is ‘ezer kenegdo. The first part of that word, ‘ezer, refers to a more powerful force coming to help a less powerful force. It’s used elsewhere in the Old Testament in reference to God helping mankind. Kenegdo refers to “a helper fit for him” or “a power equal to man”. This creates a contrast between the unequal ‘ezer and the complimentary kenegdo. The possible meaning of that contrast can be debated, but one certainty is that you cannot argue that woman is inferior to man from this verse.

It seems clear that God’s intention in creating woman was because there were things that man couldn’t do, so he needed a partner who could do them. Where man was weak, woman was strong; where woman was weak, man was strong. This is what we call “complementarian”. I’ve said already that equality is central to feminism, but equality alone does not do either gender justice. In the eyes of God, man and woman are equal, but they are not the same. It is absolutely important that we have equal rights for women, because we are equally valuable as human beings. However, we mustn’t be frightened of acknowledging that men and women are different. There are some things that women can do which men find either impossible or very difficult, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean that either gender is inferior – quite the opposite. Where would man be without woman? Where would woman be without man? The genders are equal, but distinct. That was God’s intention. When he created man and woman, he intended them to work in partnership, each one complimenting the other, so that they might succeed together.

I believe that God is a feminist, in that he values men and women equally. He created the genders to be different from one another, and it is in those differences that we see how valuable each gender is. Remember that word kenegdo? God’s plan for women was that they function as a “fitting helper” for men, to make up for their inherent imperfections. There is no room for inferiority in this plan. There is no room for superiority either. This isn’t something we’re good at. Both inside and outside the church, men disparage women through sexist jokes. These men probably think that it’s just harmless banter – even if it’s taken as such, it’s still not honouring to the women around them. Similarly some women have, in the name of feminism, elevated the pursuit of career above the desire to be a mother, so that those women who choose to stay at home with the children must be subjugating themselves beneath the boot of man. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for women to have careers. They have a lot to contribute to the world beyond raising children (which is itself a most fulfilling career). It comes back to kenegdo. Men and women are different, and it’d be foolish to deny that. Men and women are also equal. Therefore, I’m unashamed to say that I am a feminist. I support the goal of He For She to see the equality of the genders recognised in every area of society, because I believe in a God who loves and values men and women because he created them as such.

What about you? Men, have you agreed with this post, but never thought of yourself as a feminist? Perhaps this post has changed your thinking in some way. If you’ve been known to occasionally engage in banter which could be interpreted as sexist, I encourage you to think more carefully about what effect that banter could have on others around you. Our goal as men should be to build up the women around us, so they can become the best women they can be. Women, have you thought about God as a feminist before? If you’ve ever felt inferior to men, I hope that this post has helped you in some way. Think about the men in your life. Is there some way you can encourage them to become a He For She? In what ways can you build up those men, so that they become the best men they can be? In God’s eyes, we’re all equal and incredibly valuable. We’re equal partners in this thing called life, so let’s work together to start seeing each other as God does.

7 thoughts on “Why God is a Feminist

  1. Hi Jack,

    I like the fact that you are pushing a considered feminism. Definitely something the church needs to hear. However, I think you are short cutting the debate around Gen 2:18. The phrase in question has been interpreted in lots of different ways, and there is little agreement among the commentators (note it also appears in v.20). There are other features of the text that would need an explanation too; is Adam naming woman? If so, to an ancient mind, this probably indicated superiority? What about the method of creation; Adam from dust, eve from “rib” or “side” of Adam. Does this have any significance?

    The difficulty is that the passage has been used to support egalitarian,ultra-feminist, and patriarchal forms of biblical ideology. We are going to need more than etymology to handle this problem.

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for your comment.

      You make a good point. I originally wrote a paragraph about the debate around Adam naming Eve, but it would have made an already long post much longer if I were to try and tackle that passage as well. Perhaps I’ll write a second part at some point to deal with those arguments more thoroughly. Hopefully you’ll agree that a solitary paragraph wouldn’t have done it justice! What are your thoughts on those passages?

  2. I’m an Elim Pastor, have been for 20 years….I’ve recently read 2 blogs…One on the transgender issue and the other on….Is God a Feminist.
    For my own personal conviction regarding the first post is this. If God is God and as we believe He sees our unformed body, sees us in the womb. Knows all the days ordained for us. We have to then conclude He knows what he’s about. I do not believe for one moment that God would bring someone into this world with a state of confusion and mixed gender feelings. There is the argument of course then how come there are those born as Downs Syndrome, or blind….etc. I don’t have answers for that…But one thing I know my God is a God of order not confusion…why give life and then leave them in a state of confusion. As a pastor I’m very aware of what lies ahead of. The challenges that we face. Certainly in the light of so many evangelicals accepting gay marriage and relationships. This is a time when we need, yes to be loving, compassionate and kind…but also to stay strong on whom we believe God to be. I could say a lot more….

    Regarding is God a feminist….I do believe that all are equal in Christ. Paul mentions this in Galatians 3….there is neither male or female….However there still the constituted order of headship. Christ is the head of the church, man the head of woman as seen in 1 Corinthians 11:3. That does not belittle the role of the woman, although many would see it that way. I could go on. You may consider me old school. Not so. It’s simple really, I’m just not easily persuaded by argument. I’m. Loving compassionate pastor, my congregation here in London will tell you that. But I will remain strong on what I personally beiieve are Biblical principles. I would be very interested in seeing wha the NLT think of these issues.

    Reference

    1. Thanks for your comment Robin. I think we actually agree on a few points, but perhaps the way we agree on them seems different. I also believe that God is a God of order, who doesn’t make mistakes. However, my research has shown me clearly that there are people who really are born with a deep-seated confusion and discomfort in their gender identity. As a pastor, my desire would always be to see people come into a healthy understanding of their identity in Christ, as well as their gender identity into which they were born. I have read many stories of trans people who were so distressed with their gender identity that they were ready to commit suicide. With that being the case (unless God does a miracle in their life whereby they become comfortable in who they are), I can’t believe that God would prefer for them to kill themselves than to transition.

      On the issue of headship, I believe we agree. I would include headship as an example of how men and women are equal but distinct. My wife and I both acknowledge that I am the head of the household, but in reality that doesn’t alter our relationship much, in that we are both equal partners. For me, it comes back to the definition of feminism which I gave in the post; women have the right to be equally as valued as men, while we acknowledge that women and men are not entirely the same. That is why I feel that God can be described as a feminist, because He shows Himself to value women throughout the Bible, which was primarily written to patriarchal cultures in which women had very few rights.

      1. Hello Jack. May I say how lovingly gracious you are in your replies and willingness to understand these issues which many other zealous evangelical (mostly) answer in stark black and white judgmental terms. The spirit of the Pharisees is still alive and well in the 21st century. I leave that there. On the subject of gender issues, my simple thinking goes like this. The Fall: the consequences of this were cosmic. Not only separation from the pure, intimate fellowship with God but death came. Since that time, the condition of human beings has been flawed as a result of the Fall. Every aspect is affected so people are born less than what God intended e.g with mental or physical disability, illness of varying degrees which affects the majority of us, our emotions and temperaments are not in balance and cause people difficulties. Why then, should we suppose that our sexuality should be left unaffected or, if it is, why should it be less acceptable than someone born handicapped? We know that there is a tiny minority of people born androgynous and could be either male or female and a decision about that is made very early on. Also, in Jesus’ day eunuchs were a particular category of people who had been mutilated but, it seems, they were accepted without question. Indeed, Philip is recorded as evangelising and being instrumental in converting one.

        I think your treatment of male / female equality is so balanced. Headship is a role suited to males but it differs from Lordship with which it has been confused. The understanding of it being “superior” has tainted attitudes for generations and is a distortion of the pattern and model God intended. Jesus’ attitude to women was radical in that patriarchal culture. He gave them respect as human beings rather than being a possession of inferior status.

        Thank you for your gracious and understanding way you answer and seek to understand other points of view, often at a distance from your own Pentecostal tradition. May the Lord continue to bless you.

        1. Hi Graham,
          Thank you so much for that comment. I think you’re right about the effect the Fall had on humanity; we shouldn’t ignore that fact when we’re thinking through some of these issues. I appreciate you drawing the correlation between transgender people today and eunuchs in the Bible. I find that a very helpful analogy for how we as Christians ought to treat trans people. Thanks again for your comment, and your encouragement. God bless!

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