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Gender Theology for Dummies

These long, clunky words might sound welcome in a heavy seminary textbook, but their actual teachings are well within the grasp or an everyday disciple.

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Amidst the ongoing waves of schoolwork, I’ve finally found some time at low tide to update this blog. I’m burning with renewed passion and excitement for God’s work on these challenging issues after last weekend, when I attended Ashley Easter’s Courage Conference—a two-day event discussing abuse (especially sexual abuse) within the church, and what we can do as followers of Christ to support victims and disempower perpetrators.

Ashley is one of my personal heroes, and spending the weekend with both her and a whole host of Spirit-filled, achingly honest survivors and advocates was an experience I won’t soon forget.

One of the issues addressed at the Courage Conference was our theology of gender. What we believe about men and women, on a foundational level, affects everything else that takes place beneath our steeples. Given that women make up the majority of churchgoers—and both domestic violence and sexual assault are epidemics—it is inevitable that this darkness should poison our churches, as well. In light of this, our underlying beliefs about gender roles—or lack thereof—are critical to the safety and empowerment of our sisters in Christ.

What we believe about men and women, on a foundational level, affects everything else that takes place beneath our steeples.

Over the next several posts, I will be addressing some of the most controversial Bible passages used to form our gender theology. If you’ve never delved into these questions before, the many layers of the conversation can be overwhelming, so I’m going to start with a bird’s eye view of the relevant questions before sharing my personal journey towards biblical answers.

Comp or Egal?

There are two main “camps” of gender theology: complementarianism and egalitarianism. A believer in the former is a complementarian; a believer in the latter is an egalitarian. These terms can be shortened to comp or egal, which I will be using most often for brevity’s sake.

(Obviously, as evidenced by this blog’s title, I identify as an egalitarian—which I once stood staunchly against, as I will expand upon in future writing.)

There are two main “camps” of gender theology: complementarianism and egalitarianism.

These long, clunky words might sound more welcome in a heavy seminary textbook than a millennial’s blog, but their actual teachings are well within the grasp or an everyday disciple.

Who Preaches This Stuff?

The most prominent comp organization is the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which is primarily run by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Piper’s ministry at Desiring God also regularly promotes comp theology. The key text for comp beliefs is “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” which was written by the aforementioned men and is promoted at both CBMW and Desiring God.

The most prominent egal organization is Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE International). Unlike CBMW, CBE doesn’t have a public, founding pair of figureheads, but rather an organically growing team of men and women committed to its vision. (A list of relevant egal Bible scholars can be found here for additional reference.) CBE publishes scholarly articles in the Priscilla Papers alongside its more contemporary Mutuality magazine. While not directly affiliated with CBE, the Junia Project—an egal blog—follows in CBE’s footsteps, and serves as something of an egal counterpart of Desiring God.

The most prominent egal organization is Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE International).

The key categories of gender theology are creation, fall, marriage, church, and society. Comp and egal Christians are asking the same questions, but they come to radically different conclusions. All of these views are nuanced and warrant posts of their own, but I will do my best to skim the surface here.

The key categories of gender theology are creation, fall, marriage, church, and society.

Creation

Comps believe that God created men and women to be equal in value, but distinct in roles. This was God’s divine design for humanity.

Egals believe that God created men and women to be equal in both value and potential callings. God’s divine design was for individual flourishing, not divided along gender lines, with no distinction in roles beyond what is clearly biological (for instance, men cannot give birth!).

Egals believe that God created men and women to be equal in both value and potential callings.

Neither of these positions believes that men and women are the same. Undeniably, there are relevant differences between male and female. Comps believe that there are additional differences in appropriate roles, according to God’s original design; egals do not. Both comps and egals, however, acknowledge and celebrate that men and women are different.

Both comps and egals acknowledge and celebrate that men and women are different.

Fall

Comps believe that the fall in Genesis distorted God’s original design for distinct gender roles. As a result of sin, women will desire the leadership roles that were designed for men, and men will tend to use their authoritative headship to dominate and control. Gender roles become muddled and conflict-ridden.

Egals believe that the fall in Genesis distorted God’s original design for mutual flourishing and “subduing the earth” as an equal partnership. As a result of sin, men have historically tried to rule over women. Beliefs in gendered limitations and expectations have hurt both men and women in the following generations.

Egals believe that the fall in Genesis distorted God’s original design for mutual flourishing and “subduing the earth” as an equal partnership.

Marriage

Comps believe that the husband has a distinct role as the spiritual leader and authoritative head of his family. He is called to initiate, lead, and provide for his wife. The wife is called to submit to her husband’s leadership and authority.

Egals believe that there are no distinct gender roles in a marriage. Submission is mutual between both husband and wife as they both submit first, to God, and second, to what is best for each other.

Egals believe that submission is mutual between both husband and wife.

Church

Comps believe that due to man’s unique leadership role in the original creation order, only men should hold positions of spiritual authority within the church. All pastor and elder positions are for men alone.

Egals believe that both men and women are called to ministry in any and all capacities. Each individual, regardless of gender, should prayerfully follow where God leads them according to how the Spirit has gifted them.

Egals believe that both men and women are called to ministry in any and all capacities.

Society

Many comps claim that male headship theology only affects the church and the home, but this view does inevitably bleed into societal spheres. More hardcore comps have varying beliefs on how comp theology should affect the world at large. For instance, John Piper says that women should not be police officers due to the inevitable exercising of authority over men.

Many comps claim that male headship theology only affects the church and the home.

This is far from a universal consensus among comps—there really isn’t a universal consensus—but it’s a notable example of how beliefs in male leadership and female submission play out across seeming divides and across men and women’s entire lives. I once attended a comp church which, while it did not explicitly stand against female CEOs or a female president, noted that it would be difficult for a woman to truly submit to her husband if she were otherwise in a position of ultimate authority.

As in other spheres of life, egals believe that there are no differences in what men or women can or should seek to achieve in the public square.

Shades of Gray

I want to pause for a moment to acknowledge the vast gulf between traditional comp and egal views. I know and love many people on both sides of this discussion, and there is nothing to be gained by my being reductive. Gender theology is not a salvation issue. The question of gender roles is deeply important for the church, but the gospel is the bottom line.

Gender theology is not a salvation issue.

Complementarian women can be and often are strong, opinionated, gifted, powerful forces for God’s work on earth. They are not a monolith, and treating them as such would be disingenuous and disrespectful.

Many comps believe that the result of male and female marriage roles, properly lived out, is essentially the same as an egal view of mutual submission (with certain qualifiers attached.) Many do not place restrictions on women’s roles outside of the home and church. Many are outspoken, undaunted warriors for Christ. Many expect their husbands to be tenderly sensitive to their wants and needs.

Complementarian women are not a monolith, and treating them as such would be disingenuous and disrespectful.

I do not believe that these women, simply by virtue of being complementarian, are cowering victims of abusive ideology. On the other hand, I do believe that this “soft comp” view of theology is fundamentally inconsistent, dramatically unclear, and still frequently negative in its effects on both women and men.

As I delve deeper into this theology in the coming weeks, however, I wanted to be extremely clear that I would not presume to know any individual’s heart or personal perspective. My critique is of complementarian thought overall; it is not an attack on individual complementarians, and I hope I will be lovingly corrected if ever I sink to that level.

My critique is of complementarian thought overall; it is not an attack on individual complementarians.

Key Bible Passages

The key Bible passages for gender theology, each of which will warrant at least one post of its own in the coming weeks, are Genesis 2–3, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, and 1 Peter 3. I will examine each passage in its own post (or several posts if necessary.)

This concludes “Gender Theology for Dummies.” As a little preview of next post: Eve being Adam’s “helper” is vastly different in the Hebrew than I once presumed from the English. The creation story is a beautiful account of men and women as equals, and I look forward to sharing some of the things I’ve learned with all of you.

Thank you for reading, and have a blessed week!

Fighter, Let Your Hair Down

You were not built for war; you were built to rest in the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Being informed about world issues is exhausting. The world has been broken ever since sin’s entrance, but being a millennial in a broken world means being inundated with real-time updates on the brokenness every single day. Whether through social media, the news, or conversations with others, I am constantly reminded of pressing social justice issues around the world. Syrian refugees. Homeless veterans. Hurricanes. Shootings. Sexual assault.

This weekend, my heart has been heavy with grief. I feel a renewed call to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, and to bring the light of Christ where darkness alone reigns. But in the face of such pervasive suffering, I also feel crushingly small.

In the face of such pervasive suffering, I feel crushingly small.

Recently, I’ve been rereading the book of Matthew. Last night, the next chapter of my reading was Matthew 26, and a familiar story caught my attention: a woman (identified elsewhere as Mary, sister of Lazarus) is pouring perfume on the feet of Jesus in verses 6–13. This story is repeated in Mark 14:1–9 and John 12:1–8. (A similar account in Luke 7:36–50 is likely about a different event.)

The story is short, so I’ll include Matthew’s account here:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

I’ve heard this story countless times. Upon reading it again, I realized that despite my head knowledge of the event, I struggled to pull a personal application from it.

Jesus has already left Earth for the time being—I can’t pour perfume on him. I can only help the poor, which I already knew to be my duty as a Christian. So what lesson is there for me, as a modern believer, in this story?

Gradually, painfully, I realized that I was acting like the indignant disciple. Mary could have been out helping the poor! She could have been telling the lost about Jesus, or comforting the grieving, or any number of things besides simply pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.

What was the point of this, anyway? What good was being accomplished by spending such an exorbitant amount of money on such a trivial thing? The truth washed over me like a cleansing wave. Mary wasn’t wasting her money or her time.

Mary was worshiping Jesus.

Dignified women always wore their hair up in public, but Mary used hers to wipe the feet of her savior. Dignified disciples made dramatic shows of charitable giving, but Mary used her money to honor her Lord. This was worship. Worship—unrestrained, unconcerned with watching eyes, unburdened by financial limitations, overcome with the surpassing value of honoring Jesus.

God grieves for the poor and broken. God commands us to meet their needs. But this is not the gospel. My ultimate calling as a Christian is not to help the poor, but to worship God in everything I do. To my shame, that is not how I live each day.

My ultimate calling as a Christian is not to help the poor, but to worship God in everything I do.

This blog may be primarily focused on advocating for biblical gender equality, but advocating for gender equality is not my calling. My calling is to worship Christ. This can be done in speaking truth and hope over his daughters, but the moment I fix my eyes on sexual assault statistics and not on Christ, I have failed as an advocate and as a disciple.

The war is already won! Death has died, sin is defeated, and Satan is powerless. As a Christian, I am called not only to proclaim freedom to the chained, but to glorify the God who has set me free.

The moment I fix my eyes on sexual assault statistics and not on Christ, I have failed as an advocate and as a disciple.

When I am so frightened by what I see on the news that I cannot recall how Jesus weeps, too, I am not living a life of worship.

When I am so angered by evil that I cannot remember how great is the grace that has been lavished upon me, I am not living a life of worship.

When I am so consumed with the temporary needs of God’s people that I forget the eternal victory I already have, I am not living a life of worship.

Sisters, when you are overwhelmed by the brokenness of this world, remember that its spirit is far less than the Spirit who is within you. When you are tired of seeing how much people hurt, remember the greatness of our healer.

You cannot keep fighting forever. You were not built for war; you were built to rest in the peace that surpasses all understanding.

You were not built for war; you were built to rest in the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Fighter, let your hair down. Kneel at the feet of your Savior. And praise him with everything you have.

There will be those who say you cannot afford to stop for even a moment. Let Jesus silence them. Let him answer their rebuke with whispered assurance that worship, unashamed, is worthy of mention in the Word of God, alongside martyrs and warriors.

You will always have work to do, but you will not always have time to spend glorying in the greatness of your God.

So worship.


Dear readers:

Thank you for bearing with my hiatus! Next week, I will begin the blog series that initially inspired me to start this blog. The first post will explain complementarianism versus egalitarianism—the two main views of how gender roles are defined in the Bible.

While I have come to identify as egal, I don’t want to misrepresent the diversity of comp perspectives while presenting my own, so I will be consulting with a moderate comp friend of mine over the next week before outlining the mainstream positions on both sides.

After the initial Comp vs. Egal post, the following weeks will go through some of the thorniest passages for gender issues in the Bible—such as Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2—spending more than one week on a chapter when necessary, and walking through the relevant theological arguments on both sides.

I hope that the following weeks will serve as a helpful entry point into the biblical gender equality conversation for those who know little about it, an encouragement for egal Christians, and a challenge to those who already hold firmly to comp beliefs. I hope and pray that we can all dialogue respectfully in Christ. Please be praying for me as I begin this series.

In the meantime, have a blessed week and worship our God!

What’s Biblical Modesty, Anyway?

Your body is a temple, not a stumbling block.

Church should be a place where believers are focused solely on Christ, but as a young woman in the church, I remember many times when my mind was fixated on something far more trivial. Her skirt is too short, I would think in my heart, glancing at the girl in the next pew, even while my mouth formed words of worship. How could she possibly think that’s appropriate? I’m being so much more holy than she is. Christian girls are called to be modest!

At the time, I saw no fault in my actions. Today, I am utterly ashamed. I was arrogant and self-righteous, even as I looked at my sister in Christ and thought that she was the unholy one. In the name of biblical modesty, I had become the most immodest person in the room, puffed up by my pride.

In the name of biblical modesty, I had become the most immodest person in the room, puffed up by my pride.

Modesty is an unusual fixation in sermons to young women. I have yet to hear a lesson directed specifically Christian girls that didn’t ultimately circle back to modesty at some point. Very often, we point the word “immodest” at Christian girls like an accusing finger – I know that I once did.

But what is biblical modesty? Is it about how much clothing we wear, or is it rooted in something more significant? And why is it commanded in the first place?

The Definition of Modesty

According to many Christian teachers, biblical modesty involves covering an appropriate amount of the body with clothing. Of course, this begs the question of how much clothing is necessary, and when an outfit can be truly deemed “immodest” for Christian women.

I’ve heard countless teachers and read countless books on the subject, and everyone seems to be locked in disagreement. It shouldn’t be obvious that we have breasts, say some. Or thighs. Or chests. Or butts, for that matter. Or shoulders, according to the summer camp I used to attend, where any strap smaller than the width of three fingers was deemed “distracting.” As a teenager in the church, I was left wondering if my entire body was dangerous, my beauty no less than a weapon, my femininity a constant invitation for the boys around me to wonder what I would like without any shirt at all.

As a teenager in the church, I was left wondering if my entire body was dangerous.

Whatever their particular set of standards encompassed, every preacher claimed that their view of modesty was the biblical view. So what does the Bible say about modesty, anyway?

Peter on Clothes

Some of the most commonly cited verses are 1 Peter 3:3–4, which read, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Context is key in interpreting this passage. In this section, Peter is writing to women who have become Christians, but are still married to unbelieving husbands. Peter is instructing the wives on how to live in such a way that their husbands will see the work of God and want to know Him as well.

As a result, it makes sense for Peter to remind women in a materialistic world that their true beauty comes from doing good in Christ’s name, which is an unmistakable witness of God to their husbands. This doesn’t mean that modern women can’t wear necklaces or bracelets to church – it means that if all we bring on Sunday morning is outward beauty, but not changed hearts, we are failing as testimonies of the gospel.

If all we bring on Sunday morning is outward beauty, but not changed hearts, we are failing as testimonies of the gospel.

As for the “gentle and quiet spirit,” which warrants a future post of its own, we know from Scripture that God honors plenty of women for using their voices. In the Old Testament, women like Esther boldly broke societal silence to follow God’s directives, and prophecies from women like Miriam are recorded in the Bible as inspired by God. In the New Testament, women were the first to see and proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

So the gentle and quiet spirit is not a spirit of quietness in the world, but a spirit of awe and wonder before an almighty God. Psalm 111:10 instructs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” Amidst a chaotic world, God says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (NIV).

The gentle and quiet spirit is not a spirit of quietness in the world, but a spirit of awe and wonder before an almighty God.

A woman of God is beautiful because of her love and respect for her Savior, not because of anything she wears. Using a verse about the higher importance of inner beauty to shame and regulate outer beauty goes against Peter’s entire point.

Using a verse about the higher importance of inner beauty to shame and regulate outer beauty goes against Peter’s entire point.

Paul on Clothes

1 Timothy 2:9–10 is another pair of verses about modesty. Here, Paul is writing to Timothy, a young pastor, about proper order in church meetings. He writes, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (NIV).

It helps to also read verse 8, which precedes this instruction: “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing” (NIV). Paul goes directly from an instruction on prayer to an instruction about clothing because the point of the passage is about neither prayer nor clothing, but about a spirit of humility that should be demonstrated in both men and women.

The point of the passage is about neither prayer nor clothing, but about a spirit of humility that should be demonstrated in both men and women.

James 3:14 (NIV) furthers the concept of good deeds being a Christian’s truest beauty: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” Once again, humility is seen as the basis for good Christian conduct, which includes our choice of clothing.

Isaiah on Clothes

The prophet Isaiah also treated elaborate clothing as not a sin, but a symptom of sin, the sin being pride:

“The Lord says,

 ‘The women of Zion are haughty,

walking along with outstretched necks,

flirting with their eyes,

strutting along with swaying hips,

with ornaments jingling on their ankles’” (Isaiah 3:16, NIV).

James on Clothes

There is a common factor between both 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and Isaiah: the instructions about modesty specifically discuss elaborate fashion and dramatic jewelry, not how much of a woman’s body should be covered. This theme, too, is very present in James, where Christians are warned against favoritism.

The instructions about modesty specifically discuss elaborate fashion and dramatic jewelry, not how much of a woman’s body should be covered.

James 2:2–4 says, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

The early church, like today’s church, was made up of people from all economic backgrounds and social standings. Biblical modesty, alongside being a prohibition against pride, was designed to keep the poor from feeling lesser, as compared to those who could afford to wear gold jewelry at church meetings.

Interestingly, there’s still been no mention of how much a Christian woman ought to cover her body. Here’s the shocking truth: The Bible never demands any such thing.

So how is a Christian woman supposed to determine what clothing is appropriate?

While there is no such things as a biblical dress code, there are biblical principles surrounding both the human body and human sexuality.

While there is no such things as a biblical dress code, there are biblical principles surrounding both the human body and human sexuality.

Your Body is a Temple

Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (NIV). As Christian women, any decision we make about our bodies – including how to clothe them – should be based in a desire to glorify God.

1 Corinthians 6:12–13 and 18–19 also addresses the importance of respecting God with our bodies: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but I will not be mastered by anything… [The body] is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

Verses 18–19 elaborate, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

What can we learn from this passage?

  • We have freedom in Christ to make individual choices (“I have the right to do anything”)
  • Our bodies are meant to glorify God (“the body is meant… for the Lord”)
  • Our bodies are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, who is God (“your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit”)
  • Christ bought us back with his blood, so he has claim to our bodies (“you are not your own”)
  • We must respect God in how we treat our bodies (“honor God”)

Despite the absence of a biblical dress code, this gives us a clear description of what the human body is for – glorifying God. If I wear my fanciest clothes to a church event to impress those around me, but I bring a heart stained with pride, then I am not glorifying God with my body. On the other hand, if I wear my baggiest clothes to church because I am ashamed of the body that God calls His temple, then I am not glorying God with my body. So the underlying principle is not about how much or how little I am wearing, but about how my clothes reflect the state of my heart and my desire to honor God.

The underlying principle is not about how much or how little I am wearing, but about how my clothes reflect the state of my heart and my desire to honor God.

This flies in the face of what so many churches tell Christian girls. If you’re a woman who grew up in the church, I guarantee you’ve heard this a thousand times: “Women are called to be modest because revealing clothing calls men to lust.”

This rests on two problematic assumptions: first, the idea that modesty regulates revealing clothing; and second, the idea that a woman’s choice of clothing makes her responsible for the actions of nearby men. I’ve already addressed the fact that biblical modesty was about wealth, pride, power, and social status, not how revealing a given outfit was. Now I’ll address the concept that a woman can become “a stumbling block” because of what she wears.

What’s a Stumbling Block?

The concept of a “stumbling block” is founded in two passages of Scripture: Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Both are about the eating of ceremonially “unclean” food, which was forbidden in the Old Testament but permitted after Jesus declared all food equally holy.

The concept of a “stumbling block” is founded in two passages of Scripture: Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Evidently, some Christians still felt that eating the “forbidden” meat would be a sin. Other Christians insisted that since Jesus allowed it, they saw no harm in eating whatever they liked. Paul addresses this argument in both Romans and 1 Corinthians.

In Romans 14:2 – 3, we read, “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servant stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (NIV).

Essentially, Paul says that neither man is wrong. If a man believes that eating the meat would be wrong, he shouldn’t eat it, but if another man can eat the meat with a clear conscience, he can do so. Verse 12 summarizes that “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (NIV).

So if both eating or not eating the meat was okay, what was the problem?

The person with “strong faith” was apparently shaming the person with “weak faith,” urging them to eat the meat despite their personal reservations against it.

The person with “strong faith” was apparently shaming the person with “weak faith,” forcing them to eat the meat despite their personal reservations against it.

Verses 13–15 is where Paul explains the concept of a stumbling block:

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (NIV).

Verses 19 and 21 elaborate, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”

So what is a stumbling block? A stumbling block is a Christian who feels confident that God sees no harm with him doing something not explicitly forbidden in Scripture – drinking a single glass of alcohol (not to the point of drunkenness,) for instance, or watching a movie that includes some swear words. The stumbling block is not sinning by engaging in this behavior, so long as his conscience is clear before God, but he sins by encouraging another Christian – say, someone who is personally convicted against ever drinking alcohol – to have a drink because God doesn’t forbid it in Scripture.

Summary: A stumbling block is a Christian who pushes another Christian to act against his conscience on a matter of personal conviction.

A stumbling block is a Christian who forces another Christian to act against his conscience on a matter of personal conviction.

1 Corinthians 8: 9–12 gives a similar guideline to Christians on areas of personal liberty: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (NIV).

What common factors can we learn about the “stumbling block” from these passages? He or she is exercising their freedom as a Christian, which is good, but also urging other Christians – who may be led differently by God – to have the same personal rules as them, which is sin. If a person feels convicted against doing something, other Christians should respect their conviction and not force them to engage in the questionable behavior, which would be sin to them.

How, then, does this apply to modesty?

Some Christians argue that a woman who wears “revealing” clothing has become a stumbling block to the men around her because revealing her body causes them to lust. We now know how the Bible defines a stumbling block. But what does the Bible say about personal responsibility in lust? Who is at fault if a woman walks by with her shoulders exposed, and the surrounding men immediately fall into sin?

Some Christians argue that a woman who wears “revealing” clothing has become a stumbling block to the men around her because revealing her body causes them to lust.

Who is Responsible for Lust?

Jesus equates thought to action and lust to adultery in Matthew 5:27–28, but in verses 29–30, he clearly blames the one who is lustful for his own lust: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it way. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (NIV).

This is obvious hyperbole on Jesus’ part, but his point nevertheless stands. A man (or woman) is responsible for their own lustful thoughts, and they are to take personal precautions to avoid stumbling. Nothing is said about expecting women to take partial responsibility for men’s sinful tendencies. I’ve seen many men tell Christian women to wear more clothes, but few who take drastic personal measures to conquer their own sin.

I’ve seen many men tell Christian women to wear more clothes, but few who take drastic personal measures to conquer their own sin.

1 Thessalonians 4 says “that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (NIV), holding each individual responsible for their lustful thoughts and actions.

In Genesis 3, immediately after sin enters the world, Adam attempts to blame Eve for his own sinful decision: “The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’

To Adam he [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it…’”

Before explaining Adam’s punishment, God makes it very clear that no matter how Eve behaved, Adam is still responsible, personally, for his choice to sin.

So is it possible for a woman’s clothing to be a “stumbling block”?

Personally, I feel convicted against wearing bikinis. I feel that I would be doing so for prideful reasons, for attention, and that doing so would diminish the importance of eventually becoming “one flesh” with my future husband in marriage. If my sister in Christ can wear a bikini with a clear conscience, there is no biblical mandate that says she can’t. But if she shames my desire to avoid bikinis and coerces me into wearing one, she has become a stumbling block to me.

If she shames my desire to avoid bikinis and coerces me into wearing one, she has become a stumbling block to me.

This is the only way in which the “stumbling block” doctrine can be logically transferred to modesty. Elsewhere in the Bible, a man is held responsible for his own lust. Men who struggle with lust would lust after me if I wore a paper bag to church, and holding me responsible for their sin is illogical. Lust is not about being lead astray by a woman, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14, NIV).

Men who struggle with lust would lust after me if I wore a paper bag to church, and holding me responsible for their sin is illogical.

Once we start holding other people responsible our own sin, we invite a slippery slope of excuses for our own behavior. If I struggle with envy, should the other Christians in my church avoid mentioning any nice things they own? If I struggle with anger, can I blame a grumpy customer for my having an outburst at work? Regarding lust, I find muscles attractive; should a man with strong biceps be required to wear sleeves? I find accents attractive; should a man with an accent avoid speaking too much in my presence? We would never hold one Christian responsible for another’s sin, except when it comes to men and lust.

We would never hold one Christian responsible for another’s sin, except when it comes to men and lust.

Do Not Judge

In areas of spiritual liberty, which includes clothing, Christians are explicitly warned against indulging their pride by judging others.

James 2:12–13 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (NIV).

Matthew 7:1–2 echoes, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I remember again my boastful thoughts and confident judgment of the other girls at church. I would not want to be judged by such an arbitrary and self-righteous standard! My behavior was to my shame, even as a woman judging other women – the same principle applies to men who feel entitled to tell Christian girls how they should dress.

In Isaiah 29:13-14,

“The Lord says:

‘These people come near to me with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me

is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

Therefore once more I will astound these people

with wonder upon wonder;

the wisdom of the wise will perish,

the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.’”

Christianity is more than clothes, and godly womanhood is a matter of the heart, not what we wear to church on Sunday. “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:23, NIV).

Christianity is more than clothes, and godly womanhood is a matter of the heart, not what we wear to church on Sunday.

My judgment of the other Christian girls, not the length of their skirts, was the real threat to godliness in the church. In reality, it was something of a coping mechanism for my own spiritually imposed shame about my body.

I remember constantly tugging at my shirt as a young teen, fearful that it would swing too low at my neck or too high at my rear, making me the cause of a passing boy’s selfish thoughts. I remember racing directly from the pool into a towel, despite my extremely modest two-piece bathing suit, for fear that my legs would invite inappropriate looks. I remember wondering if it was possible to be sexy without being a “stumbling block,” or if sexiness was something I could flip like a light switch on my wedding night, an aspect so divorced from my actual self that it would only appear at my future husband’s bidding.

Sisters, you are not called to live in shame, but in freedom. Your body is a temple, not a stumbling block, and when people disrespected the temple, Jesus drove them out with a whip (John 2:13–17). How much more so must he defend you as a spiritual temple? Seek humility, seek authenticity, seek a beauty that comes from your heart and not your hair, but do not believe the lie that your body is an invitation to sin. It is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Seek humility, seek authenticity, seek a beauty that comes from your heart and not your hair, but do not believe the lie that your body is an invitation to sin.

Galatians 5:13–15 is a sobering final warning for us: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

I pray we will stop destroying each other. I pray we will all embrace the freedom we have in Christ, to make our own choices and battle our own demons, by the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.

I pray we will all embrace the freedom we have in Christ, to make our own choices and battle our own demons, by the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.

An Open Letter to the Tired Christian

Tired Christian, Jesus doesn’t need you to work harder. The work was completed on the cross.

When I opened my laptop to write today, I found myself staring, blank-faced, at a blank page, and suddenly the keyboard seemed like a perfectly acceptable pillow. I am so tired. It’s a familiar phrase on my college campus, but we’re far from the only ones battling exhaustion. Every church on Sunday will be filled with weary people, all pretending to be strong.

This post is for the Christian who is tired.

This post is for the woman who has nothing left to give.

As we should, Christians often remind each other to put the needs of others before their own. Philippians 2:3 instructs us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” But Satan is a master of twisting the truth to suit his own needs. It’s true that we are called to sacrifice for others, but it’s a lie that taking care of ourselves is selfish.

It’s true that we are called to sacrifice for others, but it’s a lie that taking care of ourselves is selfish.

Work is part of God’s design for the world. In Genesis, God commands Adam and Eve to work the garden and take dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:28). But after sin entered the world, work became a burden instead of a gift. God says to Adam in Genesis 3:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil you will eat food from it

all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”

Sin turned rewarding labor into a painful struggle. This curse will not be entirely broken until Jesus returns, but in the Old Testament, God knew that we could not withstand such a burden every day without a reprieve. In His divine provision, He established the Sabbath.

Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2–3), He commanded that all people dedicate the seventh day of the week to rest.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8–9). The command is repeated in Leviticus 23:3, and both times, it is accompanied by a warning. If any Israelite did work on the Sabbath, the punishment was death: “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people” (Exodus 31:14).

As one of the Ten Commandments, rest was a command for followers of a God, not a kind suggestion. It was so important to God that any attempt to abolish Sabbath was worthy of death.

As one of the Ten Commandments, rest was a command for followers of a God, not a kind suggestion.

Even the weekly rest was inadequate for God’s people. In addition to the Sabbath day, God established the Sabbath year for the Israelites’ agriculture: “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you…” (Leviticus 25:3–6).

God wants us to offer Him everything we have, but He understands our tired. From His earliest laws to the present day, He made allowance for our limited power.

When we read Proverbs 31 through modern lenses, we see a woman who never awoke with dark circles under her eyes… a woman of boundless skill and unreserved compassion… a woman without limits. But according to Old Testament law, that woman dedicated an entire day of her week to recovery from her work.

Does this mean that a Christian shouldn’t do any work on Sunday? Is that God’s permanent plan for recharging us? No. But the truth is even more beautiful.

In Colossians, Paul writes these words of encouragement to modern believers: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17).

The ancient Israelites could depend on a weekly reprieve, but modern Christians are called to find their rest in Jesus.

When we’ve given Jesus everything we have, he takes our humble strength in his hands and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

When I say, “I have too much homework to read my Bible today,” Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”

When I say, “I am too unstable in my spiritual life to strengthen anyone else’s,” Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”

When I say, “I can’t change this broken world by myself, Lord,” Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”

While I am striving, struggling, and straining to be Christlike, Jesus offers me his eternal strength in exchange for my human weakness. While I am consumed by God’s work, God is trying to draw me into His rest.

While I am consumed by God’s work, God is trying to draw me into His rest.

This message, while true for everyone, is especially important for young women. Society (and often, the church) has impressed upon us that we are the emotional gender, designed to be compassionate, to serve, and to encourage. We (and our brothers in Christ) certainly are called to do these things, but not at the expense of our own well-being.

There’s a quote that pops up on my Facebook periodically. It says, “You deserve the love you keep trying to give everyone else.” I don’t know who said it; there’s no attribution. But I cry every time I read it again.

Sisters, you are not a failure if you need an hour alone, to find yourself again in the quiet. You are not less of a Christian for saying “no” to a church event or a dinner with friends in order to take a desperately needed nap. You are not less of a woman for being unable to meet everyone else’s needs at once. As a beloved daughter, created in the image of God, you are also called to take care of yourself. It is not needy to have your own needs. It is not selfish to value your self enough to take care of it.

You are not less of a woman for being unable to meet everyone else’s needs at once.

Over the past year, this lesson has been beaten into my bones over and over again.

I cannot offer comfort to anyone if I have been bottling my own tears behind my eyes, never to be shed, never to be acknowledged. I cannot speak God’s truth to anyone else if I haven’t had the time to read God’s Word for myself in weeks. I cannot continually empty myself if no one else is pouring into me.

And that is okay.

We were not designed to constantly serve in our own strength, but to meet Christ at the end of ourselves, and ask him to bear our burdens as only he can.

Nevertheless, in this divine rest, we must guard against laziness. Proverbs 24:30–34 warns us against allowing holy reprieve to become deadly complacency. In Matthew 12:9–12, Jesus tells the religious leaders that if they ignore a man’s immediate need for help in the name of the Sabbath, they have violated its true purpose entirely.

We were not designed to constantly serve in our own strength, but to meet Christ at the end of ourselves, and ask him to bear our burdens as only he can.

But again, I am reminded of David. I am filled again with a poignant longing for the peace he knew in the midst of immense trials. In the Psalms, he is being pursued by his enemies, hunted unto death. With danger on his heels and kingship calling on the horizon, David knows that the greatest act of faith he can choose is to rest in God.

Psalm 3:5–6:

“I lie down and sleep;

I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

I will not fear though tens of thousands

assail me on every side.”

Psalm 4:8:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,

for you alone, Lord,

make me dwell in safety.”

Psalm 23:1–6:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.”

Tired Christian, Jesus doesn’t need you to work harder. The work was completed on the cross. All your labor is a footnote in the incredible story of salvation, and it’s time for you to stop writing, put your pen away, and rest in the promises of your Savior.

God’s work will still be here when you’ve been refreshed and revived by the Living Water.

Object Lessons: A Better Way to Teach Purity

He used a familiar object lesson in his sermon, one that made my blood run cold: A rose, once beautiful, whose petals were gradually torn off by failed love and sexual mistakes, leaving it ugly and unwanted.

This summer, my little sister (who’s no longer very little at all) went to her last year of Christian summer camp. Up until I turned sixteen, we’d both attended the same camp every year with borderline religious devotion. Some of my most spiritually enriching moments in middle and high school took place with girls I’d only just met, with only stars standing between our wide, wondering eyes and our God. The crafting, canoeing, and otherwise adventuring called us back to the outdoors every year—but most importantly, there were the Bible lessons. I’ve learned powerful lessons in faith, forgiveness, and the unfaltering power of Christ at summer camp.

So it was a shock this year when, upon her return from an otherwise encouraging week, my sister somberly said, “You would have hated the main preacher.” Her discomfort, which she subsequently detailed, turned my stomach.

The teacher this year, an elderly man who was preaching exclusively to young girls, decided to discuss sexual purity. Setting aside the uncomfortable dynamic of an older man lecturing hundreds of teenage girls about sex (which warrants a post of its own,) it was his choice of words that truly disturbed me. He used a familiar object lesson in his sermon, one that made my blood run cold: A rose, once beautiful, whose petals were gradually torn off by failed love and sexual mistakes, leaving it ugly and unwanted.

When the church teaches young people about sex, it usually splits the conversation into two groups, divided by gender. This is wise when the room is full of teenage hormones, but as a result, I think many young men—who have their own separate talk about guarding their hearts—are often unaware of the way sexual purity is comparatively taught to their sisters in Christ.

Many young men—who have their own separate talk about guarding their hearts—are often unaware of the way sexual purity is comparatively taught to their sisters.

The rose, irretrievably reduced from beauty to trash, is far from the only object lesson used to teach Christian girls about sex. While my home church has largely avoided such rhetoric, it is alarmingly present in the larger Christian culture.

Some youth groups pass around a cup of water, have everyone spit in it, and then ask if anyone still wants to drink it, the implication being that a girl who has had sex outside of marriage could never be sexually desirable again. Similarly, sometimes sexuality is represented by chewed gum, another consumable resource that becomes utterly undesirable after a single use. Still other churches ask us to imagine a brand new bike taken on a joyride by a stranger, the result being a broken, banged-up bicycle that would still be usable by its real owner, but far less fun—a metaphor that literally reduces a girl to something that is “ridden.”

In all of the above examples, the boy in the object lesson is still a human being making conscious choices—ripping petals from the rose, spitting in the cup, chewing the gum, or riding the bike. To the contrary, the girl in all of these examples is an inanimate object defined entirely by her sexuality.

Women being reduced to objects isn’t a revolutionary storytelling technique. All too often, women in media are acted upon, rather than taking action for themselves; they are observers, not participants, of the actions around them. They are potential sexual conquests, love interests, sidekicks, or (often in Christian media) victims to be rescued by heroic men. Women’s purpose, in too many of the stories we tell, is to support the destinies and narratives of men.

Women’s purpose, in too many of the stories we tell, is to support the destinies and narratives of men.

So why do we represent women with objects when teaching about sex?

Because women being treated like objects is our cultural default. Because it’s what we’re used to seeing. Because even Christians, who are called to be “not of the world” (John 17:16,) inevitably absorb dangerous ideas from the world anyway. It’s easier to treat female sexuality as something that can be used up and thrown away than it is to radically affirm God’s divine design for sex: a gift to both men and women, which can hurt both people if it’s misused.

Object lessons like the ruined rose treat affection as something that is destroyed if it isn’t reciprocated, draining a young woman of the potential to love again. The reality is that people who have been hurt love differently, not less, in the future. The right boy will always lead a girl, hand-in-hand, back to the cross; but the wrong boy will send her running, in tears, to fall on her knees at that selfsame cross, and return to her first love, Jesus Christ. Love is not a consumable resource that can be drained dry by use. There is no heartbreak so significant that the love of God cannot restore the potential for future affection.

The right boy will always lead a girl, hand-in-hand, back to the cross; but the wrong boy will send her running, in tears, to fall on her knees at that selfsame cross, and return to her first love, Jesus Christ.

Likewise, images like the cup—filled with the saliva of countless boys—imagine the girl as entirely destroyed by sexual sin, but the boy as largely intact, despite the truth that premarital sex hurts both people. The Bible warns both men and women against sexual impurity, and the woman is no more responsible for a sexual mistake than the man. We are all held to the same high standard of holiness.

In addition, stories like the battered bicycle explain female sexuality as something that exists only for use by men, not something that women have to navigate on their own terms. Yes, girls struggle with lust, too—and we all seem to think we’re the only one.

Perhaps most importantly, when one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, the church must steer clear of language that fails to distinguish between consensual intimacy, which a woman chooses, and sexual abuse, which is never the woman’s fault. I have spoken to too many young women who, after having been abused, imagined themselves as roses with the petals torn off, so damaged by their mistreatment that no one else could ever love them.

I have spoken to too many young women who, after having been abused, imagined themselves as roses with the petals torn off, so damaged by their mistreatment that no one else could ever love them.

All this begs the question: If object lessons are ineffective, how do we teach Christian girls about the importance of sexual purity? Guarding your heart is still wise, and waiting until marriage for sexual intimacy is God’s divine design. How do we cast shame aside in favor of holy respect for God’s gift of sex? How do we treat both men and women as sexual beings, responsible to God for how they behave?

Thankfully, we are blessed with the best teaching example of all: Jesus Christ, who explained spiritual truths through stories (parables) all the time.

Jesus uses object lessons frequently in his parables, but even when people are represented by things, the things are taking action—a lamp shining, salt preserving, seeds sprouting (or failing to do so,) etcetera. In these examples, the objects are also used to represent both genders, not merely to represent women while men remain active participants in the plot.

When the parables specifically discuss women, the women are dramatically active in the events that take place.

When the parables specifically discuss women, the women are dramatically active in the events that take place.

In Luke 15:8–10, Jesus represents human beings as coins, and God as a woman who has lost one of the coins. This story communicates that God values every single person no matter how many have already returned to him. It also radically uses a woman to represent God.

In Luke 18:1–17, a widow who relentlessly petitions for her rights is used to represent a Christian who is persistent in prayer. The male judge in the story is disinterested in the widow’s plight, but she is so determined that the judge eventually agrees to help her. By comparison, Jesus tells his listeners that God is eager to listen to the cries of His daughters.

In Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus tells a tale of ten virgins who are waiting for a bridegroom. Some patiently keep their candles burning, while others are impatient, run out of oil, and miss the bridegroom’s arrival after leaving to buy more. The women here represent the importance of consistent, persistent faith, and all are making their own choices—for better or for worse—in Jesus’ story.

By representing women as full-fledged people, with the potential for good or bad choices, Jesus called all of his followers, both male and female, to a higher standard of holiness. It’s time for us to do the same in our churches. It’s time to discard metaphors that reduce women to objects, female sexuality to a consumable resource, and affection to petals that can be crushed underfoot.

Purity motivated by patriarchy is fear-based, not love-based. Christian women should strive for purity because of its incredible value, not because they think their value as people is tied to how many people they’ve been sexually intimate with. 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Purity motivated by patriarchy is fear-based, not love-based.

God is in the business of restoration, not condemnation—we are called to live in the light of true life in Christ, not to dwell in the shadows of shame.

So let’s step into the light.

You Don’t Need to be a Feminist

But silence is not a moral high ground, and refusal to accept secular solutions to sexism is not the equivalent of offering alternative solutions.

Feminism. Spoken in a crowded room, this word has the power to turn a civil conversation into a passionate debate in the course of four simple syllables. As modern society continues to progress further towards an ideal of equal opportunity, the fight for women’s equality has come to the forefront of the cultural conversation. All this begs the question: What is feminism?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” If we were going to write a definition for Christian feminism, however, it would have to include one additional factor: spiritual equality (which will be a key topic in future blog posts.)

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

The equality of men and women is woven throughout Scripture. Both genders were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and are described as “co-heirs” of Christ’s grace to humanity (Romans 8:17). Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, himself being born of a woman is the ultimate indication of respect, and his ministry to women during his time on earth was one marked by compassionate care and counter-cultural engagement with their lives and struggles.

The need for women’s rights advocacy should also come as no surprise to Christians. When Adam and Eve, the first humans, chose to go their own way instead of obeying God, a process of deterioration began that has continued up until the present day. Sinfulness is, at its root, selfishness, and this has manifested itself in various forms of oppression throughout history, including the oppression of women. The human authors of the Bible were no strangers to grief over the brokenness of mankind. In Ecclesiastes 4:1–3 (NIV), King Solomon laments the injustice that plagues humanity:

“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.”

In Psalm 10:13-14 (NIV), King David calls upon God to advocate for the oppressed as only He can, bringing perfect justice:

Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

Sexism is simply one way in which human beings devalue one another, which is simply one way in which we sin – so the need for women’s rights advocacy is far from a shock to a Christian worldview. It’s impossible to deny the influence of sexism in a fallen world.

  • Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted; one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. To put that into perspective, that means every women’s prayer group at my college (Liberty University) probably contains at least one past or future rape victim.
  • A wage gap persists in women’s earnings (despite repeated claims that it’s a myth,) and this wage gap widens even further for women of color.
  • Women are routinely objectified in the media, reduced purely to objects of sexual appeal rather than autonomous people with value and agency. (I was tempted to refrain from citing a source altogether on this point, since all I have to do is browse a magazine rack, watch a TV episode’s worth of commercials, or just generally go outside to see this principle demonstrated as true, but I’ll cite a source anyway.)
  • Stories by and/or about women are still vastly outnumbered by male-driven narratives. While this is demonstrated across various storytelling mediums, one of the clearest demonstrations of this ongoing problem is in cinema (see the Bechdel Test.)
  • Domestic violence is an epidemic for women – while it does affect men, it is alarmingly more frequent for women and accounts for an overwhelming majority of female fatalities.

I could go on, but finding all of those sources has already sufficiently depressed me, so I’m going to presume that I’ve made my point. Clearly, sexism is a problem in many, many capacities.

This is the part of the blog where you’re probably expecting me to shout, “We should all be feminists!” But I’m not going to do that.

Personally, I’ve found feminism to be instrumental in educating me about the prevalence of sexism in the modern world and the ways in which we can all actively combat inequality. But feminism, by and large, is a secular movement. We cannot expect sinful people to find holy solutions for problems unless they are looking to Christ. Alongside much positive advocacy and advancement of conversations surrounding women’s equality, feminism has brought with it a new set of toxic ideals contrary to a biblical moral standard.

We cannot expect sinful people to find holy solutions for problems unless they are looking to Christ.

First of all, there’s this thing – you knew it was coming – this thing called abortion. I could (and probably will) dedicate an entire separate blog post to this issue, so I won’t go too deeply into it here, but the essential point is simple. This isn’t simply a moral or religious issue, but a human one, the real question being not “When does life begin?” but “When does life have inherent value?”

The majority of secular feminism has taken a decidedly pro-choice stance. There are those feminists who advocate for the unborn – see New Wave Feminists for a personal favorite of mine – but they are far from the dominant voices in the conversation, and they are routinely dismissed by other feminists as enemies of the larger movement.

The other most prominent feminist fallacy is the idea that sexual promiscuity can be empowering to women. Mainstream secular feminism makes a true proclamation – “my body, my choice” – but perverts it into a moral rubric where all sexual choices are equally good, so long as they are mutually consensual choices. Once again, this is a topic that easily warrants a blog post of its own, but the bottom line is that a biblical ethic necessitates marriage as a prerequisite for sexual involvement. The lie that all sex – casual, committed, or otherwise – is created equal does far more harm to women than secular feminism will ever admit.

And yet, anyone who has ever asked me will tell you that I proudly identify as a feminist.

If we lived in a world where “I’m a Christian” meant “I support women as equal image-bearers of God and am engaged in combating gendered inequality in society,” I would not feel the need to say, “I’m a feminist.” But right now, the church has largely stepped out of the ring instead of finding a better way to fight.

Right now, the church has largely stepped out of the ring instead of finding a better way to fight.

The bullet point list above is only the beginning of a whole host of ways in which women are systematically devalued and disempowered in modern society. Progress has been made, but there is still so far for us to go. Feminism’s premise – the full equality of women – is a noble one, even if its resulting messages are steeped in an ideology of self where whatever feels good and functions practically must be morally permissible. As the church, we cannot afford to dismiss the gender equality conversation outright. The problems that feminism addresses are real problems, that affect my real life, that desperately cry out for real conversations about real issues in order to formulate real, biblical solutions.

Christians, as a whole, are often reluctant to have those conversations.

If you don’t identify as a feminist because you think it does more harm for women than good, I deeply respect that choice. But silence is not a moral high ground, and refusal to accept secular solutions to sexism is not the equivalent of offering alternative solutions. If the extent of your advocacy for women is not identifying as a feminist, you have contributed nothing to the conversation.

If the extent of your advocacy for women is not identifying as a feminist, you have contributed nothing to the conversation.

If we are complicit in inequality, we participate in upholding the status quo. James 4:17 (NIV) says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Scripture serves a sobering reminder that mere belief in Christian principles of love, justice, and equality is not enough if we do not demonstrate Christlike compassion in the world beyond our stained glass windows. “Show me your faith without deeds,” James writes, “and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18). Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). He did not say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you tell other groups of people that they are loving ineffectively.” Our love will speak for itself if we truly act like the hands and feet of Christ. It will make the secular response to women’s struggles pale in comparison to the eternal hope we have to offer.

In conclusion, I don’t care what label you use for yourself. Go wild. Invent a new word. Start a new movement. Own society’s issues of sexism on your own terms. You don’t need to be a feminist, but for the sake of half the human race – and half the body of Christ – you cannot afford to be a bystander. Educate. Empower. Engage.

Instead of condemning the secular world’s answer to injustice, let’s all start asking better questions.

Egal Gal will publish new posts on a weekly basis between Fridays and Saturdays. This Friday, I will be traveling back to Liberty University for my sophomore year, so this post was written and published ahead of time. The blog will return between September 2nd and 3rd. Thank you for reading my first post, and I hope you follow along with me in this journey. God bless. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking Christlike answers.