By Ashley Hooker, Crosswalk.com
As of today’s date, our society is in the fourth wave of feminism in America. This speaks volumes about what our society believes about the personal and professional relationships between men and women. Feminism is not just societal, but it is quite active in churches today.
The debate centered on women’s roles in the church has been argued for years. Lay people and pastors are trying to navigate this wave of feminism that could tear a church apart.
In the following article, I strive to answer this question regarding how pastors should approach this topic. How should a pastor approach the subject of feminism?
What Is Feminism?
Before we get too deep in our discussion, we need to talk about what feminism is. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as a belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.
Other definitions of feminism state that it is about the advocacy of women regarding equality among the sexes. Feminism is a movement and a voice. It is women saying they should be treated as equals to men.
A Brief History of Feminism
As I stated in the introduction, America is experiencing its fourth wave of feminism. The first wave happened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Women wanted more opportunities and focused on suffrage.
The second wave began in the 1960s and lasted until the 90s. This wave focused more on reproductive rights and sexuality. In the mid-90s, America experienced its third wave, which focused on defining beauty and not being objects of sexuality.
Today we are in the fourth wave that is more focused on intersectionality. It is about shining a light on women’s suppression by highlighting the treatment of marginalized groups and genders.
Why Is Feminism a Problem in the Church?
The early church described in the Bible probably did not have the issue of feminism in their church. It was custom for men and women to have separate roles in the home and in the church. So if feminism was not a problem then, why is it a problem now?
Whenever a person believes in an -ism, there is room for concern. It does not matter whether it is Calvinism, Marxism, extremism, Communism, or feminism. The -ism seems to lead people down a path that no longer tolerates certain levels of discussion and only one group can win.
Feminism in our churches is a problem when it takes over our train of thought and our eyes are no longer on Jesus. When we attend church and serve to be honored with the position a man would only hold, we are no longer worshiping God. We have made an idol out of a societal movement.
How Should a Pastor Approach Feminism?
A pastor’s role in the church is to lead his flock. They are to pray for their congregations, serve alongside their congregations, and preach the Word of God. Pastors have to be careful to not let the world dictate what comes from the pulpit.
While I was seeking information on this topic, I discovered a statement from Jen Wilkens. She says, “The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve.” When I read this, it reminded me of a church I once served in.
In that church, I served as the chairperson of the Evangelism committee and then as a member of the By-laws revision committee. Both committees included our pastor. He was the one that showed me what God can do through me. His direction led me to the confidence that I could serve in my church without feelings of inequality.
That pastor also gave women the opportunity to pray, take up offerings, and give announcements. He was always pursuing a church culture that honored God as he pursued women to serve.
What I would say to pastors is to take a stance that pursues women to serve. Ask women to speak or take up the offering. Many women are living as disciples of Christ. They are following God’s will for their lives, so why should they have to produce more evidence of their abilities to serve.
Another way to approach feminism requires pastors to challenge misunderstandings of Scripture. All too often we take bits and pieces of Scripture and use them to prove a point. When we don’t read the Scripture in its entirety, we are going to misunderstand what it says.
There are many verses of Scripture that say women should be silent, dress modestly, and submit to their husbands. On the surface, one could interpret these verses literally. The problem is that often the writer is referring to order in worship, and we forget to read on about how a husband should treat his wife.
Pastors can speak truth from the pulpit. My husband is a pastor, and we often talk about politics and how society has changed. The one thing we agree on is that our views are not spoken from the sacred desk. Only God’s view should come from his mouth and His Word.
He also knows that disciplining young men helps establish a relationship that is prime for discussions about Scripture. When pastors take on the role of mentor, they have an opportunity to share more openly about their views and why they believe what they do.
What Should a Pastor Not Do When Approaching the Subject of Feminism?
Pastors are not perfect and can make mistakes when approaching touchy subjects. As you lead your flock, be aware of what your leadership roles comprise. Reflect on what your church sees fit for women to do. If you are seeing a culture where women are not serving because we have not given them permission, don't just stand there.
It is imperative that pastors do not turn a blind eye to this topic. They must be proactive about feminism and make a plan to change things if needed. You may want to avoid the problem, but if you do, there could be harmful consequences for your congregation.
As the pastor, you should not think you know everything there is about the Bible. I have been around men in pastor roles that take the Scripture literally. What they fail to do is read it thoroughly and ask for God’s wisdom. This creates confusion and false beliefs regarding the Word of God.
Bible Verses Regarding Feminism
We have discussed in depth what a pastor should and should not do when approaching the subject of feminism. This is important, but I can't leave the conversation without telling you what the Bible says about gender roles and equality.
Galatians 3:28 - “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Luke 14:11 - “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Psalm 144:12 - “Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.
John 4:27 - “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman.”
Philippians 4:3 - “Yes, and I ask you, loyal yoke fellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Feminism can be a hot-button issue in society, but it doesn’t have to be one in our churches. God calls pastors to preach what His Word says. If pastors do that and create a culture that pursues women to serve, then the church is one step closer to all people understanding the roles God gave us.
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock
Ashley Hooker is a freelance writer who spends her time homeschooling her two children, ministering alongside her husband as he pastors a rural church in West Virginia, and writing about her faith. Currently, she is a contributing author for Journey Christian magazine. She has taken part in mission trips with the NC Baptist Men during the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey in Mississippi and Texas. In her local church, she has served on various committees focusing in the area of evangelism along with traveling to West Virginia and Vermont to share the Gospel. Her dream is to spend her time writing and sharing the love of Christ with all she meets.