Women Called to Witness by Nancy a. Hardesty, Second Edition
The biblical feminists of today reinterpret the original scriptures with reference to women while trying to find religious reasons for their actions. An example of this is Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century by Nancy Hardesty, as also other writers like Lucretia Mott, the Grimke sisters and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is suggested by the book that the motivation of women leading the fights for temperance, female ordination, abolition and women suffrage in the beginning of the nineteenth century was from their evangelical Christian faith. 1 The Second Great awakening revivals touched the lives of each of these great warriors. The author proves that the traditional, evangelical activist was as intelligent as the Christian feminist. The differences between public and private, male and female, and politics and religion that were defined through the Industrial Revolution were deliberately de-emphasized by women like Frances Willard, Antionette Brown, and Phoebe Palmer.
This was an expression of the work of the Holy Spirit in their souls to make them perfect. The question arises today as to how it can be an inspiration for today's Christian feminists to acquire knowledge about the religious and social issues that confronted the nineteenth century woman activist. The leadership in this is provided by the second generation of biblical feminists, and their efforts. The same interpretations of the bible and the inherently same spirit of Christianity should be our inspiration.
1. Nancy A, Hardesty. Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984.
Our response to the religion less society of this century should get the same impact from our efforts, as was the impact of the first generation of feminists. The combined reading of this book Women Called to Witness along with the manifestoes given out by the second generation of feminists would provide an individual with a richer concept of the historical continuity and discontinuities of the movement.
Sarah Grimke was an abolitionist in the nineteenth century and was the first among the followers of evangelical feminism to bring it to the level of a movement. She started in the 1830s to preach, along with the early leaders of the movement, that the Bible had been mistranslated and misinterpreted by men. This error made it seem that the subordination of women was a biblical norm. There was a belief at that time that the Bible also opposes slavery, and the feminist belief became a part of it. The pro-slavery group of course had a lot of proof in the text of the Bible to continue to retain slaves. The Christian evangelists of the time, like Sarah Grimke initially spoke in public against slavery, and this probably started the feminist movement as they also had to defend their own right as women to speak in public. In a few respects, the women's liberation of the twentieth century has given ideas to the evangelical feminists, but, it has not borrowed much from the liberation movement that had started in the 1960s and 70s.
There are a number of radical feminist religions that have come up, but the evangelical feminists do not find them as suitable alternatives - the New Age-type spiritualities. It is still content to proceed along the path that it has been going on for the last two hundred years. Evangelical feminism may also be called the principle of biblical equality. The principle in the Bible of the equality of all human beings before God is the main message that they try to teach and implement. This principle is interpreted to say that there is no moral or religious reason why there may be a permanent status, privilege or prerogative granted to any person solely based on the individual's race, class or gender. One of their main disagreements is with the concept of the traditionalists that the principle of female subordination to male spiritual authority within the church and home is a teaching of the Bible. They feel that since Christ believed in the equality of all believers in him, the women should get an equal opportunity with men to be ordained as ministers in the Church. In the home, they should be able to share authority and submission with their husbands, mutually.
Evangelical feminism is different from the other varieties of religious feminism is in the view that it takes of the Bible. "Feminism is true and the Bible teaches the truth. In this sense the Bible must teach feminism" is the sort of logic that is followed by them. Well most people would realize that there is no explicit teaching in the Bible about feminism, and this poses a problem for the evangelist, as she feels that she cannot be one unless the Bible tells her to be a feminist. The reform minded evangelist must first resolve this issue and talk about the teachings of Bible in a way that makes the teaching of evangelism probable. The feminists, who are not evangelists, get around this problem by either rejecting the total Bible or the unsuitable portions of it.
The evangelists cannot follow this path, as they believe in the Bible in total, and also believe that it does not teach the authority of males as universal or ordained by God. They feel that the Bible has been interpreted from the beginning in an andocentric, meaning male centered perspective and that is the reason why this has led to this fallacious interpretation. They feel that to correct this error one should not go to the other extreme and organize women centered version of the Bible, but prepare a version free of any gender misalignments. They would not like to change the Bible, or take authority over the Bible, but would only like to get rid of this imbalance present in the present Bible regarding the roles of men and women.
Their differences in the understanding of the Church are that they do not distinguish in terms of race, economic status and sex. Even within the church, there should be no distinction between the Jews or other races, and the same principle should be continued at homes. The second part is that in both the church and the home, there should be no distinction between slaves and free men. They state that the church opposed slavery and made efforts for the abolition of slavery in earlier years. The abolition of the distinction between free men and slaves is carried forward to the distinction between men and women - the distinction between their roles in the church and home should also be abolished. They claim that in the rule of Jesus, the distinctions are reversed and all individuals are now in the same level.
They claim the support for their interpretation in Genesis 1:26 and 27 which states that all humans are created in the image of God. This equality is further extended by them in James 2 and Acts 10:34. These they say, show that God does not favor one group of humans over another. The concept of equality is further extended to the concept of salvation in Jesus - indicated in Galatians 3:26-28. They say that all believers of Jesus are heirs, stated as sons, of God there is no distinction or special privileges based on being a Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Regarding the question of priests, they take the lead from Peter 2:5 and 9 which denotes all believers as priests of God. This is followed by Timothy 2:5 which denote Jesus as the only mediator between God and the human race. Their support comes from Galatians 3:28 which they say sweeps away all sex-based roles and this makes egalitarianism a short step from the redemption done by Jesus.
The notion that males should have some preference in the access to God is cleared away by the above quotations and some other texts, as also their inherent right to the priestly or representative of God roles. The emphasis is in the fact of all of us being heirs or sons of God, and this is supposed to give every believer an equal right and responsibility towards God, to hear from him, obey him and account for actions to him, excluding any in-between human. These are the rights of sons, and the gender of the "son" is thought to be unimportant in this new interpretation, and this result in the concept of only males being priests as also members of the entire priestly structure seems contrary to the teachings in the Bible. The individual's position in the kingdom of God will depend on his personal capabilities and his affinity to God. The senior evangelical feminists do not believe in the concept of androgyny. They see in the image of God a reflection of human sexuality.
Trinity is seen reflected in the human male and female partnerships. Elimination of gender-based roles comes from the image of God as a result. These people have…