John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Christian and Feminist?

Perhaps a little historical context is in order. Beginning nearly a hundred years ago as the women’s suffrage movement, feminism has perhaps been the most influential cultural development of the past century. A direct line can be traced from suffrage to prohibition in the 20s to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s to the women’s liberation movement of the 70s. Men have had to change the way they think about women, and – perhaps more importantly – women have had to change the way they think about themselves. And, in the process, regardless of how you feel about the word “feminism”, it must be conceded that valuable and legitimate contributions have been made.

Ironically, the contemporary feminist movement has its roots in Evangelical Christianity. Most of the early pioneers of women’s suffrage were committed Christians. It was because of their religious beliefs (not in spite of them) that they worked towards greater equality for women.

Susan B. Anthony, for instance, was a committed Christian, having grown up in a Quaker family that instilled in her a strong devotion to Jesus and, as a result, to the pursuit of justice. She campaigned tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and for the full citizenship of black people -- including their right to vote. This was in the 1820s, by the way. She also argued in favor of co-education, claiming that women were able to learn just as well as men. She worked for child labor laws and for the rights of women in the workplace. She was also staunchly opposed to abortion -- which is, sadly, a stance that few feminists share today.

However, she realized that her opinions would never be taken seriously until women had the right to vote. And so she devoted the next half century to the women's suffrage movement.

If feminism is defined as "a belief in and commitment to the full equality of men and women in home, church, and society" (this is from feminist theologians Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty), it would seem that feminism is rooted in a value system drawn from a Judeo-Christian worldview -- which places men and women on equal status and stresses the inherent dignity of each human life.

Historically speaking, the ideas and ideals of Christianity and Feminism have hardly been mutually exclusive. That's a fairly recent development. In fact, a good case can be made that one (Feminism) initially grew out of the other (Christianity). It seems now that most Feminists aren't very fond of most Christians and most Christians are afraid of most Feminists.

Why do you suppose it's so hard to get the two sides together now?