Spiritual Abuse and Shamed into Silence


When it comes to victims being heard, the tactics being used to keep them silent continues to be used as a controlling tool. If so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ in any Christian organization can keep the voices of those who have been harmed from being heard, then their work is done.

If victims are told that no one will believe their story–that may be enough to squelch any initiative on their part to bring the evil perpetrated against them into the light. Shaming victims is a strategic method to keep truth from being brought forward as well as to make victims to wallow in a sea of imposed guilt.

There are many offenses which have been kept under wraps by the tactics of unscrupulous leaders who try to keep institutions free from charge and deflect the blame onto the victims. Whether it is sexual abuse of children or adults, domestic violence, or spiritual abuse–deflecting from those severely wounded towards the perceived merits of spiritual leaders and/or spiritual institutions–is something that Christians need to be made aware.

Continuing with the ‘ideal’ that Christian leaders are without blame and that victims are simply troublemakers intent on bringing an institution down–is far from the biblical ideal of allowing the light to shine in dark places in order to ferret out what has gone on in the darkness. Shame, instead, belongs where individuals and institutions use their power to make a mockery of the truth.


Speaking Out

Rebuking and trying to silence people is a theme that can be found in the Gospel stories. A few key passages regarding this urge to keep certain people silent can be found in a number of NT passages. A few have been selected to illustrate this point.

Parents Bring Their Young Children to Jesus

In the following passages we see that ‘people’ brought their little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them—BUT, the disciples rebuked them! This may have been typical behavior in the Jewish culture and the disciples may have been doing just what was expected in this public setting. If we think about it, we could probably imagine that it was mainly the mothers who were bringing their children to Jesus. Maybe the dads were involved too, but most likely, the greater number were the moms who were coming to Jesus for his ‘blessing’ on their wee children.

Matt. 19:13-15

“13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

Mark 10:13-16

“13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

Luke 18:15-17

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

A Blind Beggar Receives His Sight

Jesus was approaching Jericho. A blind man wondered what all the commotion was about. People near him told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Immediately this man took action. He started calling out.

But, those who led the way promptly rebuked him and told him to just ‘be quiet’. Apparently it wasn’t very cool to be shouting out in public in that society. And more so, if you happened to be so unfortunate to be sightless.

Didn’t this man know his lot in life—possibly to be seen, but definitely not to be heard! This just wasn’t socially acceptable. The crowd was intent on stifling the boisterous and ‘overexcited’ behavior of this blind beggar.

This did not deter him; in fact, it seemed to motivate him all the more to be heard! We read: “but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” His lively actions were rewarded.

We can read this story found in Luke 18:35-43:

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”

This account is also found in Mark 10:46-52. In Mark’s account the man’s name is given: ‘Bartimaeus’.

“46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

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These accounts of Jesus being angry with his disciples for their rebuking the parents who brought their young children and the blind beggar who was rebuked by the people around him for shouting out when Jesus was walking near him, indicate that stifling of the marginalized is not a Kingdom principle.

The idea of speaking out about so much that is called Christian is thought to be brash and unsophisticated.  The thinking may be that in order to be a good Christian, one should be: easy to get along with, not one who rocks the boat, and people who mind their own business.  In many situations, this would be acceptable.  What is not acceptable is when injustice and harm have been perpetrated on the vulnerable and when the ‘system’ favors the authorities and their image, while little attention is paid to those who have been deeply wounded!

There seems to be confusion when it comes to what Jesus taught, what the Apostles affirmed, and what is acceptable to be challenged in Christian settings.

The internet has provided a level playing field. People with no voice can now be heard. Issues and concerns can be investigated in the public square–rather than pushed to the back room.

Another Tactic: Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

A verse of Scripture, both in 1 Chron. 16:22 and Psalm 105:15, has found its way into ecclesial vocabulary in some places. This is another passage that has been used countless times to silence people. Church leaders have conveniently used the phrase from these verses: “Touch not my anointed!” and so many have been intimidated by it.

Many Christians are afraid that it is biblically wrong to speak up or confront a church leader. One thing is certain; this passage is always used to silence criticism.  It just comes in handy for unscrupulous leaders to elevate this passage to their own interpretation—which is: I am NOT to be criticized, since I am an anointed and ordained church leader!

Unfortunately, many folks do not have the understanding to counter their ridiculous claim. A quick look at this verse in Psalm 105 gives a context for what is being talked about here.

First, it must be noticed that it refers to “mine anointed” and is plural.

“Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

Psalm 105:15


Second, this expression is so often taken out of context.  The context here refers to God’s protection of His ‘anointed people’ Israel from the hostile nations during the time of the Exodus and their settlement in Canaan.  What is significant is that the Old Testament context shows that this phrase–‘not to touch the Lord’s anointed’–consistently refers to protection from physical harm and NEVER implies freedom from criticism or accountability.

Third, when David was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet, for his hidden sins, Nathan was NOT challenged for criticizing the king.  In fact, since it could be very hazardous to their health–a faithful prophet needed to be extremely careful when and how they might expose the hidden secrets of a king!!  Yet, King David received the ‘word of the Lord’ from Nathan, which was in the form of strong rebuke.

David was now in a position to begin to seriously wrestle with all the wrong that he had committed. He was now getting a picture of how Yahweh saw his behaviors and was deeply grieved about his wrong choices! It was David’s turn to be deeply grieved by his actions.

The full account of this story can be found in 2 Samuel 12:1-15.


The Psm. 105 and 1 Chron. 16 passages talk about when the nation was in its infancy and they wandered throughout the land as strangers, since it was not theirs yet.

We read from Psalm 105:12-15:

When they were but few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in it,
13 they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
14 He allowed no one to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings:
15 “Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

The actual context referred to the personal encounters of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca in Egypt, the land of Pharaoh and Abimelech, in the land of the Philistines.  The ‘touching’ referenced here seems to speak directly to sexual touching in marriage.  These kings wanted these beautiful women to become one of their wives, but they were already the wives of these patriarchs of Israel. This presented a dilemma.

In Abraham’s time, Yahweh stopped the Pharaoh’s action by a disease among his people and later stopped Abimelech by speaking to him in a dream. In Isaac’s time, the king of Gerar of the Philistines noticed from his window the caress of Isaac to his wife Rebecca. Isaac was called in to be questioned and then was strongly reproved by this king.

All of the accounts pointed to the fact that both Abraham and this son, Isaac, did not fully trust Yahweh to protect them while they wandered among these nations.  It is also curious that there is a reference to ‘prophets’ in the plural.  Could Sarah and Rebecca be included in this main thought: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”? Just a thought.

To Summarize

To summarize this section, we can conclude that it is wrong and unkind for Christians to criticize their leaders for no reason.  On the other hand, if there is a cause, then there should be appropriate action taken and with the right attitude in approaching a church leader.

Further, it is wrong for clergy to put themselves above criticism.  There should be a healthy give and take of congregants with leaders and vice versa.  Church leaders need the checks and balances of peer groups who challenge their thinking and their behavior.  They also need to be open to constructive criticism–that may come from anyone in their church family.  This can be a positive, rather than a negative, experience and be of benefit to everyone concerned.  Leaders, who put themselves above criticism and stifle others by using this passage incorrectly, need to be put on alert. 

Many Voices Needed

Since fear and shame have been tools that have been used over time with immediate results, there are numbers of people who are taking a stand against fear and shame tactics.  After a post on a popular blog there were a few comments that were pertinent to this subject.

This commenter highlights the fact that shame is why many comment ‘anonymously’ on various blog sites.  The following commenter also notes that no single one of us has the resources, etc., but throws out the idea that it is going to take each of us supporting one another that will make the difference.  My response to this person’s idea follows afterward. 

Been There Done That

February 1, 2013 @ 3:05 PM

I suspect this shame is why many of us, myself included, comment anonymously here and elsewhere. That, to me, should speak loud and clear about the “church” organizations many of us fear. It’s more reminiscent of an organized crime syndicate than the body of Christ. (Julie Anne, it’s funny you should post this article on the same day that someone on TWW [The Wartburg Watch] told of their harassment after leaving a comment on a blog.  These go hand in glove.  “Shamed into Silence” indeed!)

The fear is real, because, unfortunately, the repercussions have often been far too real. And no single one of us has the resources, finances, or fortitude to push back. It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.

My comment response: Yes, BTDT, I agree: “It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.” I have been saying this for a long while now.

I happened to see a TV advert about SpongeBob and its creator, who chose the name: “United Plankton Pictures, Inc.” for their logo.  From the picture, you see cartoon plankton holding hands with one another. Now that got me thinking. According to a definition of plankton, these organisms are “so numerous and productive that they are responsible for generating more oxygen than all other plants on Earth combined.”

So, there in a nutshell is our picture—all those concerned, including the nobodies, the nones, the dones, and the eliminated, joining together, hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder like the plankton. You never know what might happen when, like the plankton, many individuals unite! What could this do in the murky waters of the ‘church’ ocean—much more spiritual oxygen maybe?!!

Here is a look at the logo that I was describing:


With Thanks to United Plankton Pictures Inc.

Link to blog article: http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2013/02/01/shamed-into-silence/#more-3730


It is important for those who have been harmed in the church not to be shamed into silence. Each voice needs to be heard.

If this describes you, you might ask yourself: Are you tired of being intimidated? Use your voice when you are strong enough to be heard and when you can face any backlash that might come against you.

For those of you who have found your voice–check up on all your facts, be clear, be fair, and know that what you have to say needs to be said.

Use a pseudonym, if that works for you, but get your thoughts out there where they can be heard.  You are one of many who have experienced harm in the church and by trusted church leaders.  It is important for you to share your personal story—you are not alone!

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For Further Reflection


“Let me not be put to shame, LORD,

for I have cried out to you . . .”

Psalm 31:17a


I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

 Psalm 25:2

Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame,     

for I take refuge in you.

 Psalm 25:20


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© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Women in the the Church and Luke’s Teaching From Acts 2, 10, and 11


There seems to be much discussion about the place of women in the church, that is, what women can and cannot do. From the entirety of Scripture, there is much more evidence to support the fact that women CAN MINISTER in any and all capacities. This is primarily based on the fact of the empowering of the Holy Spirit upon individuals.

This article will consider how the impact of the Holy Spirit upon the Jews and the Gentiles as recorded by Luke, in the Book of Acts, can inform us today. Luke’s account provides foundational support for both women and men to be called of God, anointed and empowered for pertinent Christian ministry in the church and in the world.

Let us examine Acts 2, 10, and 11 and glean from these passages some pertinent truths of what Luke was intending for his readers to understand and to practice. 

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Acts 2—The Believing Jews and Pentecost

So, what was the point of the Day of Pentecost when it comes to ‘how’ women should function in the church today? Obviously it was a significant day in the cycle of Jewish feasts—which pointed to spiritual realties that would come.  It is not hard to understand the implications of the Passover. Fifty days after the Passover celebration, came the Feast of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar.

Details after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are found in the Book of Acts. Though the disciples were living in the joy of seeing their Lord raised from the dead, talking and eating with him again, they also followed through on what they were told to do next, after his ascension: To wait and to expect, as a community of Christ followers, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I am sure that they wondered what this could mean, but they had the promise, both from the Scriptures and the words of Jesus, himself, that this would be their personal experience. This was the time of huge change—since Christ had come in the flesh and had completed what he was sent to do. In our context, we could ask: Was this Acts 2 event/experience to be only for the apostles, only for the converted male followers of Christ, or was this ‘promise’ for ALL of God’s people–which included women and maybe children too?

Who Was Gathered in the Upper Room?

We read from Acts 1:12-14 that a group of about 120 gathered in a designated place. Many from Jesus’ family were there too. Both women and men gathered together to pray, to wait, and to expect. Notice Peter’s salutation to them when they considered appointing someone to fill the position of Judas.

“12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.”

When the Day of Pentecost had come, Luke records in Acts 2 that:

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” 

Moving Out into the Open

As this group found their way outdoors, those gathered in Jerusalem at that time were perplexed at the phenomena that they were witnessing–and some even ridiculed them.

Peter wasted no time to clarify what exactly was going on. He based his explanation on a familiar passage to them, found in Joel 2.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.     . . .

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Peter gave witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and verified the basis for what was happening:

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

What Jesus told them, based on the OT and NT promises was now being fulfilled—before their very eyes. There was no longer any waiting. Men and women, who had trusted that Jesus was the Messiah of God, were the recipients of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on this Day of Pentecost. There was no going back to the ways that things had been shaped by Jewish culture, based on the OT Scriptures.

A New Era Had Begun!

A new era had unfolded and those who gathered on this day were the first fruits of many more men and women who would boldly declare the Gospel message to many nations. It is quite obvious, from a biblical perspective, that the reader of the Acts account should be able to factor in that women were included and that women have a place in ANY and ALL ministry in the Church today–since the day of this significant outpouring!

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Acts 10 and 11—The Gentiles are Included

To continue with our look at the inclusion of women in the Book of Acts, let us consider the account of Peter going to the house of Cornelius and what transpired there. This lengthy account can be found in Acts 10 and 11.

For the Apostle Peter, to be called and commanded to go to the home of a Gentile was quite a big deal for any serious Jew. It was by direct revelation to this spiritual leader in the early church that this was the divine will of Yahweh.

We are familiar with Peter’s lunchtime vision about the unclean animals. We are intrigued as we recognize the unique timing—at the same instant as his vision, the three men sent by Cornelius, were at Peter’s door.   Peter could not avoid going with these men to the centurion’s home. Even still, it was so far out of cultural norms that this story needed to be explained more than once by Luke–in order for the readers to get the full impact of what was so cross-culturally taboo for a Jew to even think of doing. The reader watches this story unfold, blow by blow.

It is noteworthy that Cornelius was expecting them. In fact, he had called together his relatives and close friends to be assembled there upon their arrival. Upon entering this home, there was a large gathering of people—also waiting and expectant—as to what this Jew might say to them.

From his Jewish perspective, Peter made this significant statement before them all: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (10:28)

Cornelius described his angelic visit. From that report, it solidified Peter’s response which confirmed what he now realized: “. . . God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” From there Peter rehearsed pertinent Jewish history and tied together the recent events regarding Jesus of Nazareth, and established that HE was indeed: God’s Anointed One.

Peter affirmed that: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.    42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Right in the Middle of Peter’s Sermon!!

What happens next arrests the reader and demonstrates that what had happened to the believers on the Day of Pentecost was indeed happening right here and right now in this Gentile home!

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

Just as on the Day of Pentecost, Peter gave voice to what had just happened to his fellow Jews. Here again, Peter acknowledged what exactly was happening among these Gentiles. “Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

Peter Now on the Red Carpet

In chapter 11, we read how Peter had to defend his actions after being rebuked by fellow believers for having overstepped Jewish cultural boundaries. “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter had to rehearse the entire story about his vision and about the angelic encounter of Cornelius.

Peter emphasized the fact again that the ‘voice’ that spoke from heaven made it clear that he was NOT to ‘call anything impure’ that God, himself, had made clean. Peter words, recorded by Luke, endorsed again what the message was: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

With those words, there was no more need to defend this multi-ethnic situation any longer. There were no further protests and praise was given to God!

“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Again the teaching from Acts 10 and 11 is clear. Though Peter was slow to grasp the full message—that the Holy Spirit had come upon all, not just the Jews–he eventually got it, at least this time. This account of the significance of the coming of the Spirit upon those gathered in the home of Cornelius, underscores again that the Spirit ‘came upon ALL’—both men and women assembled there.

The Gentiles heard the Gospel and in their hearing and receiving the impact of the Good News, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit–identically as the believers waiting in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Luke’s thorough description of this event in Acts highlights the empowering of the Spirit upon all who believe!


In summary, we see that a host of both Jewish and Gentile men and women were filled with the precious Holy Spirit beginning with these two momentous events. It was God’s timing for change and for the new era of the Spirit to commence. We can thoughtfully conclude that: there are no restrictions between the calling of women or men today–to fulfill all that God calls them to be and to do in His Kingdom!

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For Further Reflection

How did the early church deal with the challenge of including Gentiles into the church? What were the criteria that they used to establish that the Gentiles were ‘worthy’ of inclusion in the church—that is, the Redeemed Community of God’s people?

Acts 15 gives details of the sharp dispute regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles as believers by teaching them that it was imperative that they be circumcised, “according to the custom taught by Moses” OR they could not be saved!

From this passage we see that there was strong contention about this crucial and Jewish traditional issue. We also observe how the early church dealt with such strong controversy. It was a time of huge change and the leaders of the church needed the wisdom from God, patience, tenacity, and the witness of both the Word and the experience of their ‘sent forth’ ones to establish any purposeful change.

We listen in on the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:

“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

From all of the contributors to this tense situation, we observe the following:

  1. Peter verified from the Scripture and from his own recent life experience that God accepted the Gentiles–since the evidence was that they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit ‘exactly as they had’ on the Day of Pentecost.
  1. Barnabas and Paul also recounted their experiences of the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them from their recent missionary adventures.
  1. When Barnabas and Paul had finished, James spoke up. James confirmed Peter’s description that “God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.” James also pointed them to the words of the prophets which were in agreement with this.

To conclude, these chosen leaders proved by the Old Testament Scriptures, the very words of the prophets, and the verifiable recent life experiences of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul on the frontlines of mission that this was God’s divine will. They corroborated how the Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders were done among the Gentiles–as a further witness to God’s working among them. All of these factors pointed to the need to no longer carry on the ‘Moses’ tradition’ of circumcision.

Instead, there were four main guidelines instituted for the discipling of the Gentiles after their conversion to Christ. A letter was written and taken to the church at Antioch by Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas.

That which had been done for centuries by the Jews–to show their covenant devotion to the words of Moses and Yahweh’s Law–was now set aside since there was a new season of the Spirit’s visitation in the lives of Jews and Gentiles. This became the new path for followers of the Christ, the Son of God.

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Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are: Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org

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© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Spiritual Abuse and Where Is God Now?

I am delighted to be able to share and promote this excellent article by my colleague, Brad Sargent. Brad has been blogging about spiritual abuse and recovery and related topics for a number of years. He has a keen sense of what has, is, and may be unfolding in the future regarding the Christian landscape.

You can check out Brad’s blog at: https://futuristguy.wordpress.com  

Brad seeks to provide some answers to the pressing questions that spiritual abuse survivors have. Questions such as:

* Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?

* Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?

* Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

When distress happens in our lives, one of our first questions, that is, our first ‘reaction’ is: Is God still in control? We each must wrestle with this one.

I am grateful for Brad’s permission to re-post this article on my website. I believe that this article is informative and should be helpful to many.

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January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month 

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January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness month, and this article on the bigger picture of God’s grace is the last that I plan on posting in my series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse, which I started on my futuristguy blog in 2008 (see the link for an index of all posts).

Summary. It is January 31st – last day of “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month” for 2011 – and I finally finished the last projected post in my series on recovery from spiritual abuse. It deals with our wrestling with the bigger picture of God’s providence and with what may be our biggest questions as survivors:

        * Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?

        * Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?

        * Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me    everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

This is my best attempt to tease out some of the perplexities and complexities of trusting that God is truly in control, even over situations where spiritual power mongers do their thing and it SEEMS like they face no consequences.

Still, God is at work both behind the scenes and on the front stage to benefit each individual involved and the community as a whole, to bring them all to wholeness. He is keeping the entire system of both individuals and community in mind, doing what is best for everyone and not only any particular one.

The past few years, I have written extensively on the subject of spiritual abuse. The topics I’ve addressed include:

  • Personal lessons I’ve learned from surviving toxic leaders in all kinds of community-and ministry-related settings: church and parachurch, university and seminary, non-profit agency and for-profit business.
  • Practicing a process of discernment and applying it to situations that apparently are abusive.
  • Toxic versus healthy organizational dynamics.
  • Identifying different kinds of abusive leaders, and what might make particular people the most susceptible to falling into the traps of specific types of abusers.
  • Specific strategies and tactics that various kinds of abusive leaders use to gain and maintain control over their “subjects.”
  • Power dynamics and what drives most perpetrators of spiritual abuse.
  • Recovery and restoration processes.

These issues are not theory for me. They are based in multiple gut-wrenching experiences, processed over many, many, years. So, what knowledge and wisdom I have gained has come out of great personal cost through suffering and healing.

And yet, today’s post may be the most difficult one I’ve written on the subject to date–not because it will necessarily be so controversial. Instead, it is difficult because it deals with a cluster of complexities and perplexities that we who have survived abuse may be the most reluctant or ill-equipped to consider. And that revolves around issues of “theodicy”–God justifying His character when things in the world don’t seem to mesh with who He says He is:

  • Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?
  • Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?
  • Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?


Perhaps these questions represent the pinnacle of:

  • Our anger and frustration about the abuse we endured.
  • Our secret revengeful hopes at times for punishment on those who abused us and those who enabled the abusers through their active complicity or their enabling passivity.
  • Our exasperation at a God who let this happen and seems to have done nothing about it.

We hurt. Others hurt for us. We hurt others because we hurt. And often, it looks like those who violated us through their false authority are doing just fine, thank you very much. But let me suggest that all is not necessarily as it appears with perpetrators of spiritual abuse.

Every person will be held accountable to God for every word and every deed. That’s future.

Whatever was hidden in the darkness will be revealed in the light. No one can escape that revealed reality, even when it looks like misdeeds are staying hidden. (Matthew 10:26, Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, 4:5.)

So, a time of judgment is coming. But that’s in the far-away future. So, … what about now? What about right now and in the very near future?

I know this is speculative, but my gut intuition is that God is actually holding the larger situation in check, even while a toxic leader seemingly gets to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing. Spiritually abusive leaders typically have a deep lust for power–to exercise control over others and over circumstances. Is it possibly the case that God has cornered them into situations that actually prevent them from achieving the full level of what their lust would drive them toward? Yes, some people are still being hurt thereby. But is it possible that God has providentially arranged to limit the destructive impact of a toxic leader so it is far less than it would be otherwise?

From my experiences I would suggest this:

Every perpetrator has likely already done some kind of irrevocable, irrefutable deed or patchwork of problems that reveals who they really are. The documentation, the depositions, the details on the internet–sooner or later, the evidences of their ill-done deeds will eventually catch up with them–perhaps far sooner than they, or we, expect. Not only that, but those who reinforced the perpetrator, either as an active protector or a passive bystander, likewise, often get found out.

I have known spiritual abusers in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Each and every single one of them did something that cannot be taken back … only covered up, or explained away, or met with a false apology that is not sustained by real repentance. The abuser’s attempt to retrench and retake their position of power does not remove the event, or the witnesses, or the damage, or the consequences. Their track record of lacking integrity will eventually catch up with them. For instance, here is what happened with some of those I know who perpetrated spiritual abuse:

  • Their toxic organization imploded and they lost their job.
  • They were asked to leave, were fired, or were forced out.
  • They succumbed to severe mental illness when they could no longer cope with or control their situation through manipulating others, and required psychiatric intervention.
  • They had to continue worrying about whether lawsuits, IRS investigations, or even criminal charges would be launched against them for malfeasance, misuse of non-profit resources, harassment, etc.
  • They wanted to become a “big fish in a big pond” and have great influence, and instead got stuck in a role as a minor celebrity–a small fish in a pond that is/was/will be evaporated.
  • They suffered from serious physical symptoms and health problems due to stress as their tactics began to fail and their façade of power began to crumble.
  • They became isolated from roles of influence as people heard stories of their toxicity. They eventually lost project partners, service opportunities, friends, co-workers, endorsers, etc.
  • Details and questions about abusive actions and unresolved indiscretions remain posted on the internet as permanent reminders of what they did and/or what they failed to do; like one’s credit rating, their internet reputation now follows them wherever on earth they go, from that day of posting forward.

Perpetrators are not happy people, regardless of how they appear on the surface and regardless of the adrenaline “rush” they get from exercising their addiction to power. Their ruse of spirituality will not remain intact forever, and the consequences and accountability for their masquerade of meanness will dog them. And perhaps that is exactly what must happen–the collapse of their illusion of control–for God’s grace and mercy to break through in their life in order for the Holy Spirit to bring in transformation. God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of a spiritual bully as He does about anyone and everyone else.

And here is what happened with some of those who protected, supported, and covered up for the perpetrators of spiritual abuse:

  • In the process of supporting an abusive pastor/leader and perpetuating the related toxic system, they ended up losing thousands of dollars in funds and other assets that they had turned over to the church/organization. This was the reality, regardless of whether they ever repented of their involvement in perpetuating a toxic system. What they gave was gone.
  • They came to their senses when they realized they themselves had been victimized – deceived, manipulated, controlled – or when they experienced some kinds of losses – funds, fame, or “face” – that hit them in the heart and softened them to the truth.
  • They experienced guilt and shame and remorse, and sought to make things right with those who’d been hurt by the abuser they had protected, and therefore had been hurt by them as protectors. Some even attempted to confront the abuser(s).
  • They apologized, or at least acknowledged that I was not crazy but had actually identified rightly that there were abuses going on. They became open to me where previously they had closed their heart and mind to me as a person and to my perspective on the situation.
  • They sought me out to inform me about what had happened with the perpetrator(s), and sometimes to ask me to help them process their experiences and find peace, resolution, and recovery.

Protectors are not happy people either. Their foolishness will eventually come to light and they will not be able to hide in the shadow of the abuser whom they shielded. And still, God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of bystanders who let a spiritual bully do his/her thing as He does about anyone and everyone else, including the perpetrators of abuse.

But still, that all is tentative (even if probable) and it is still lurking in the future. What about NOW?

The present is perhaps the most vexing for we who are survivors, when abusive leaders continue their counterfeit ministry apparently unimpeded. But let me offer two radical suggestions: (1) This is not all about us as individuals, and  (2) The Holy Spirit is doing far more behind the scenes in our community or congregation than we realize.

Grace has often been described as “God loving us unconditionally and providing things we DON’T deserve,” while the complementary counter-concept of mercy is “God NOT giving us what we DO deserve.”

So, here is a question for us to consider:

If we received retribution for what we have done in our own life, would the consequences be any less dire than what we feel the abuse perpetrators and their protectors deserve?

I believe the concept of gestalt fits here. The Wikipedia article on gestalt defines this term as the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.” In my understanding, gestalt is about being holistic in our observations, processing, and interpretations. Using it as a verb, if we “gestalt” something, we take in what appears on the surface as well as intuit the interrelations among various things in the situation. For instance, if you watch the TV programs Lie to Me or Human Target or Castle, you see how characters who have a lot of “people smarts” or “street smarts” can walk into a room where there a party is going on and “read” the body language and expressions to gather information instantaneously on who appears to be there for what reasons and who looks suspicious and why.

My main point here is this: We as individuals are not the only ones hurt by a spiritual abuser. An entire system of people gets harmed by the actions of abusers and those who shield them. In other words, abuse harms an entire community as a whole, not just a number of isolated individuals. And so, recovery is not only about what I as an individual must go through to find healing and then ongoing health, but what this whole interconnected network of people–perpetrator, protectors, survivors who escaped, and victims still in the situation–must undergo in order to find healing and then ongoing health (if possible).

Also, to sustain health, the congregation must confront and revamp their entire system of organizational structures (such as constitution, by-laws, doctrinal statement, ministry structure, leadership selection process, process of documentation for decisions, etc.) that supported the perpetuation of abuse. If that is never addressed, you can expect another user to take advantage of both individuals and the community.

But we cannot do this except from a “gestalt of God’s grace” with the Holy Spirit surrounding us, empowering us, transforming us to become more Christlike. If we try this purely in our own personal power, we will fail–and in fact, may become like the very people we are so focused on stopping from further abuse.

What about now? Yes, if at all possible, abusers should be confronted and removed from ministry roles through a biblically appropriate process. Nowhere does the New Testament indicate that abusive leaders get a free pass to stay in their roles of power. But if they are not removed, then we need to persevere with God’s providence in the situation and allow things to continue unfolding.

That does not mean being silent or protecting toxic people or toxic organizations. It does mean letting God render grace and mercy for everyone in the entire community system, and not just deal with the responsible individuals and the recovering survivors as individuals. It also means giving up our demands to control their destiny and perhaps to require a specific form of consequence; to attempt to control them–isn’t that just reversing what they did to us?

From all the Scriptures I’ve reflected on for years about “New Testament leadership,” authority, trust, abuse of power, grace, mercy, transformation, etc., I’m fairly sure that what I’ve just said is accurate. I’m not so sure that I like it. I see power-mongers as so prevalent in the churches–preying on both the naive and the courageous–that I’d rather see them all swept out at once. There are days when I’d like to see a little bit of fire and brimstone reign right in on those in a “BULLY pulpit”!

However, on my better days, I do hope for a more gentle and humble and persevering approach to change for all of us. And I suspect we together will be far more amazed at God’s goodness, power, and love, when we perhaps get a greater glimpse of His multiplicity of purposes that were accomplished through His kindness [not “niceness”] which led to repentances and helping everyone involved deal with consequences of abuse. And won’t that make an even more dramatic ending for the plotline of our interwoven stories as a community?

May we experience God’s grace and mercy in our sufferings caused by spiritual abuser, and may we extend Christlike grace and mercy to everyone, both inside and outside our community of faith …

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With Special Thanks to Brad Sargent for this article.

Original Post January 31, 2011



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For Further Reflection

You might enjoy an article on this website that also asks this equally pressing question: “Why Are Toxic Leaders Allowed to Remain in Power So Long?” 

The following are some passages that remind us about God’s faithfulness:

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”    1 Corinthians 1:9

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33  

“Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”   Exodus 34:6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
     His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
   His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
   His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.”   Psalm 136:1-5

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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.



Women in the Church and Evangelical Feminism


Over the past number of decades, the term ‘feminism’ has gotten a bad rap. Many Christians seem intent on contending that ‘feminism’ is an ‘enemy’–to be thwarted at every turn. I am not sure what some Christians have been taught, but when the topic of ‘feminism’ is raised in some Christian circles, a number of people go ballistic!

Some have even speculated that the word ‘feminism’ is the new ‘F-word’ in some Christian settings. The question that comes to mind is: Why is that?

One factor is that there is an overarching assumption that all feminism is wrong.

I would like to take a poke at the new F-word—Feminism!! Therefore, it is necessary to clarify the historical roots of feminism and to put it in the perspective of the three waves of feminism. It will be important to note that the word ‘feminism’ is not just a single- purpose, catch-all word that is both suspicious and should be maligned because it is linked with radical feminism.

The history of the church includes a serious look at changes in how society and the church viewed the place of women. It is imperative that we grasp the facts regarding the historical record in order to be better informed and not caught in a false interpretation of the facts.

History Matters

The following commentary has been taken from an excellent book which explores and resets the idea that ‘feminism’ should be anchored in church history. It should be correctly designated as ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to be historically correct.

Historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, in her book: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism has provided excellent research with insights into this topic. Rebecca’s work illuminates much of the uninformed and shallow thinking around these issues and bases them in historical happenings and in the context of the Christian church.

I, again, invite you to consider ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to understand its solid Christian heritage and then to recognize the impact that this 19th century movement has had on society as a whole. I ask you to reflect on what motivated people to change the way things were—and were motivated to make a significant difference!

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Let’s peel back a few layers of this onion and see what has gotten people thinking and/or reacting. Dr. Groothuis arrests our attention by using this colorful subtitle and then developing her astute perspective.

The Feminist Bogeywoman

“Feminist ideas are stereotyped; a one-size-fits-all definition of feminism —descriptive of the most radical secular feminism, of course—is used to characterize any idea that deviates from the traditional woman’s role at any point.

Traditionalism today equals   =    Antifeminism.

Many evangelicals have lately been concerned that the wall of demarcation between the church and the world has been breached by assorted evils, including feminism. . . . In this retrenchment effort, feminism is deemed wholly evil and traditionalism wholly biblical.   . . .

Falling back on tradition in order to circumvent the confusion and uncertainty of social change is not warranted, for the simple reason that that which traditionally has been understood to be biblical is not necessarily biblical at all.”

Agreed, it is mandatory that we need to get our facts straight in order to make informed assessments and draw valid conclusions regarding this topic.


Women’s Missionary and Reform Societies

Dr. Groothuis reminds the reader of the massive involvement of women in missionary and reform societies that was burgeoning forth in the 19th century.

“Women’s ministry in the 19th century initially took the form of evangelistic, missionary, benevolence, and reform societies founded and led by women. Numerous such organizations thrived from 1810 until 1920. In their zeal to involve women in ministry outside the home, these groups—without officially sponsoring feminism as a cause—were simply doing the things that evangelical feminists declare every woman should have the opportunity to do.”

Therefore, it can be clearly observed that: “biblical feminism is simply continuing along the lines of a tradition begun nearly two hundred years ago.”

Now we will look at what factors were in play during the 19th century that propelled godly women forward in making a difference in their society. We will consider the ‘roots’ of evangelical feminism in the social milieu of this era.


“Evangelical Feminism Compared with Other Views

The terms biblical and evangelical are used interchangeably to describe a feminism rooted in the Christian world view, which looks to the Bible—not “women’s experience”—as its final authority.

The biblical diagnosis for the “disease” of sexism recognizes that legal and economic inequity and the cultural institution of patriarchy are some of the factors that perpetuate gender injustice. But human sin is identified as the root cause of sexism as well as the factors that perpetuate it.

Genesis 3:16 spells out God’s commentary on sin’s consequences in the area of male/female relationships. Sin has resulted in women being ruled by men in every context—legal, economic, cultural, and personal.

The cure for this universal malaise is the same biblical cure prescribed for every ill effect of human sin: repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Men must repent of the tendency to use women simply to facilitate their own agenda; women must repent of their tendency to circumvent this male domination through sexual manipulation, as well as their tendency to give in to passivity and an unfaithful stewardship of the gifts with which God has entrusted them. . . .

Unlike mainstream feminists who often seem only to be trying to imitate men, and woman-centered feminists who seem bent on being separate from and superior to men, biblical feminists aim for both women and men to become more balanced people who are more harmoniously related to one another.

The goal of evangelical feminism is that men and women be allowed to serve God as individuals, according to their own unique gifts rather than according to a culturally predetermined personality slot called “Christian manhood” or “Christian womanhood.”

Also unlike many secular feminists, women who identify with evangelical feminism are not motivated by a greed for power or a self-centered desire to prove themselves equal or superior to men.

Rather, they are motivated by a sense of justice and the conviction that the traditional order which has been imposed on women and men is not in keeping with God’s will for his people. They desire to see women liberated from the stultifying effects of exclusively male leadership, and they are impelled to seek the opportunity to serve God and minister to others to the full extent of their abilities in obedience to the call of God.   . . .

Traditionally, evangelical feminism derives more from a spirit of “preaching the gospel to the poor” than an attitude of self-assertion and self-fulfillment. Speaking of the nineteenth-century women’s missionary movement, Ruth Tucker echoes similar sentiments:

“Women missionaries generally were motivated by the needs of others rather than their own. They may have looked and acted very much like feminists when they launched the women’s missionary movement in 1861, and when they individually fought for ministry opportunities equal to men’s, but beneath the surface the issues were very different.”

Far from being a struggle to gain power and dominance, the goal of biblical feminism is that men and women in the church might be liberated from the preoccupations with power and authority that characterizes the traditionalist agenda, so that everyone may serve God freely and whole-heartedly without the anxiety that one might be stepping out of one’s place in the “chain of command.”

Evangelical feminists believe that when male authority is billed as biblically mandated, this is not an inconsequential error. Such teaching entails the unavoidable implication of the male’s unique relationship to God—that he is more representative of God and closer to God in the “chain of command”—and it is therefore harmful to both men and women spiritually, socially, and emotionally.


Biblical Feminists and the Bible

Biblical feminists are distinguished from other feminists in their diagnosis and prescribed cure for the problem of sexism, and in their motivation for attempting to solve the problem. They also differ in their use of the Bible.

Other feminists either reject the Bible entirely or seek to interpret it from the perspective of “women’s experience.”

Evangelical feminists regard the Bible as authoritative in its entirety and maintain that sexism in the church derives from the traditional practice of interpreting the Bible in the patriarchal light of “men’s experience.”

The corrective to this androcentric hermeneutic is not a gynocentric hermeneutic, but one which is free of any hidden gender agendas.

  • A biblical feminist hermeneutic is no more woman-centered than it is man-centered
  • It simply seeks to correct a historic imbalance in traditional biblical interpretation as regarding the role of women.
  • It does not attempt to rewrite the Bible or to usurp biblical authority.

Naturally, male translators and interpreters with such a preunderstanding tended to find in Scripture what they expected to find—a central role for men and an ancillary, subordinate role for women.

But evangelical feminists believed that, although the Bible was written in the context of male-dominated cultures, it does not teach male domination as a universal, God-ordained norm.

Although evangelical feminism today has gleaned some truths from modern secular feminism, it is not a product of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s or 1970s, nor does it find inspiration in the pagan feminist spirituality which has emerged since the late 1970s.

Rather, biblical feminism is simply continuing along the lines of a tradition begun nearly two hundred years ago.

For evangelical feminists, the Bible is more than a cultural and religious force with which to be reckoned. It is God’s infallible and authoritative word—every believer’s source of truth. It is for this reason that evangelical feminists for the past two centuries have sought the accurate translation and interpretation of Scripture.

Respect for the veracity and authority of God’s Word is central to the evangelical feminist enterprise, and this is primarily what distinguishes it from the theologically liberal feminist approach to Scripture that has developed in the last century.”


What Does the Biblical Feminist Hermeneutic Include?

“The biblical feminist hermeneutic includes the following eight strategies.

The first and most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is to endeavor to be faithful to the biblical author’s intent in writing the specific passage in question. We must try to determine why the biblical author wrote what he wrote, and in determining the “why” we determine the basic biblical principle or message of the text. That principle can then be applied to our own situation. All other strategies of biblical interpretation follow from this basic objective.

In order to know why the biblical author wrote a particular text, it is essential to know exactly what he wrote. Therefore, a second hermeneutical principle is the accurate translation of the passages traditionally used to silence and subjugate women.

Biblical feminists have found that many texts which are in fact less than clear in the original language have been translated so as to appear unequivocally to support the idea of male authority. . . .

1 Tim. 2:12 The traditionalist prohibition of women occupying positions of church leadership hinges on the translation of the Greek word authentein in the usual way of “have (or usurp) authority over.” But because authentein is not used anywhere else in the NT, and because authentein seems to have a wide variety of meanings in ancient Greek usage, the traditional translation of this verse appears to be open to legitimate debate.

1 Cor. 11:3-16 is full of notorious exegetical difficulties.

The only appearance of authority is speaking of the woman’s own authority— “authority over (or on) her head” is augmented to read “a sign of authority on her head” (NIV). This leads conveniently to the idea that the veil or covering that the woman is to wear serves as symbol or sign of her submission to the authority her husband has over her.

Such an understanding of the verse is far from obvious when one considers only the literal translation of the text. But when the text is augmented and the meaning adjusted so that the authority to which the verse refers becomes that of the man under whom the woman is placed in the chain of command, then it seems to support the traditional interpretation of the passage.

Third, it is important to maintain interpretive consistency with the rest of a biblical author’s writings as well as the whole of Scripture. Toward this end, unclear and/or isolated passages are not to be used as doctrinal cornerstones, but are to be interpreted in light of clear passages which reflect overall biblical themes.

This hermeneutical principle prohibits building a doctrine of female subordination on 1 Cor. 11:3-16 and 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15, for these texts are rife with exegetical difficulties. Principles clearly expressed elsewhere in the Bible must inform one’s interpretation of such “proof text” passages.

Fourth, texts couched in a context of culturally-specific instructions are not to be taken a priori as normative for the present day. Biblical texts that have a universal, doctrinal orientation are more likely to be considered directly transferable to the present day than those texts that were intended for immediate practical application in a particular cultural situation.

Millard Erickson points to water baptism and footwashing as illustrative of the difference between a biblical command that is put into a universal setting (the Great Commission, Matt. 28:18-20) and a command given in a culturally specific situation (John 13:14-16). The biblical principle behind the footwashing incident is that we always ought to maintain a humble attitude of servanthood, rather than that we ought to institute a permanent sacrament of footwashing. “In that culture, washing the feet of others would symbolize such an attitude [of humility].  But in another culture, some other act might more appropriately convey the same truth.”

This leads to a fifth hermeneutical principle, which is that culturally-specific instructions are to be interpreted not only in light of biblical doctrine and principle, but also in light of the culture to which they were written and the author’s reason for writing them.

For example, when Peter instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands (1 Pet. 3:1), it must be remembered that in Roman society civil law granted husbands absolute authority over their wives and that Peter’s instruction is couched in the context of similar exhortations for believers to submit to the civil authorities. The biblical message, then, would seem to be that Christians are to be respectable, law-abiding members of society by behaving appropriately in the society in which they live, rather than that God has commanded all husbands for all time to be in authority over their wives.

Sixth, events recorded in the Bible should also be understood in light of the culture of that time. For example, a woman leader in a highly patriarchal culture would have more significance than a woman in leadership today. While both instances indicate that women are capable of leadership, chances are that the presence of a woman leader in a patriarchal culture—unless she is the wife, mother, or daughter of a male leader—indicates that something other than cultural forces propelled her to that position. We can therefore surmise that women in ancient Israel of the NT church who were in positions of leadership were quite likely in those positions by virtue of God’s design.

Seventh, because of the progressive nature of God’s revelation in the Bible, NT texts concerning women should be considered more accurate indicators of God’s intent for women than those provided in the OT. The familiar traditionalist idea that a man is the priest of his home, for example, fails to consider progressive revelation.

The OT arrangement whereby priests were always male Levites (or, in pre-Mosaic times, the patriarchs of households) was superseded by the new covenant, wherein Jesus serves as the permanent high priest (Heb. 7:21-24) and the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5), and all believers serve as priests unto God (1 Pet. 2:5-9; Rev. 5:10; 20:6).

Concerning the priesthood of all believers, F.F. Bruce comments, “If, as evangelical Christians generally believe, Christian priesthood is a privilege in which all believers share, there can be no reason that a Christian woman should not exercise her priesthood on the same terms as a Christian man.”

In discussing progressive revelation, Millard Erickson notes,

“In some cases, the essence of a doctrine was not explicitly realized within biblical times. For example, the status of women in society was elevated dramatically by Jesus. Similarly, Paul granted an unusual status to slaves.        Yet the lot of each of these groups did not improve as much as it should have. So to find the essence of how such persons should be treated, we must look to principles laid down or implied regarding their status, not to accounts of how they actually were treated in biblical times.”

Eighth, the propensity for male translators and interpreters to read their bias into the biblical text exemplifies the ever-present need to guard against interpreting the Bible in conformity with one’s own cultural preunderstanding or personal expectations. In addition to safeguarding biblical interpretation from emotional interference, it is important to rely on the direction of the Holy Spirit as well as one’s God-given reasoning abilities in the interpretive process.


Engaging an Evangelical Feminist Hermeneutic

The net effect of the evangelical feminist hermeneutic is the discovery that—contrary to what both traditionalists and radical feminists believe—

The Bible does NOT teach male supremacy as a transcultural norm

BUT teaches instead mutuality and equality between women and men.

The biblical principle of the essential equality of man and woman—each made in the image of God—is set forth in Genesis 1 and 2.

In Genesis 3:16 God delineates some of the consequences of human sin; he does NOT issue a command for men to rule women, as some have believed.

The entrance of sin into God’s created order destroyed the equality and mutuality of the relationship between woman and man; cultural patriarchy was the result.

God revealed himself and his plan for his people by means of patriarchal cultures, but progressively made known his redemptive plan whereby the essential equality of all people would be restored and the practice of sexual hierarchy brought to an end.

This ethic of male/female equality was put into practice by Jesus Christ, who countered the prevailing patriarchal norm by treating women as persons in their own right. It was summarized by Paul in Galatians 3:28 and was put into operation by Paul and the early Christians as they sanctioned the service of those women who had been called by God to leadership in ministry.

In view of the existing customs of the surrounding cultures, however, the principle of biblical equality was exercised with restraint and moderation in NT times. It was important, for the sake of the testimony of the gospel, that Christians appear to the onlooking world as respectable, law-abiding members of society. Clearly, the highest priority of the early church was spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The principle of human equality and liberation which was entailed by the gospel message could not be implemented on a widespread basis, at the risk of alienating non-Christians from that gospel message.

“Thus the early church, even while tolerating slavery for the sake of the missionary principle, pointed to a vision of Christian justice and community which would eventually leave slavery behind. So too, Christian feminists argue, does the Bible point beyond the patriarchy tolerated, yet progressively modulated, throughout salvation history to a vision of mutuality between brothers and sisters in Christ in marriage, church and society.”

Today, when non-Christians are offended, not by an equalitarian gospel, but by a hierarchical gospel, there is no reason to continue in the cultural practices that were initially intended for Christians living in a patriarchal society.


Far Deeper Issues Are At Stake

  • Far deeper issues about the relationship between men and women are at stake than that of who makes the (somewhat mythical) ‘final decision’.
  • Far more crucial is the teaching on love: self-giving and self-denying love which should characterize all relationships.
  • The way others will know that we are Christ’s disciples is in the way we love one another, and not in the way we exercise authority over one another.


Gender Is Not the Primary Determinative Factor

Unlike traditionalism and women-centered feminism, equalitarianism does not sexualize the entire person. Gender is not viewed as the primary determinative factor in a person’s life; spiritual, intellectual, experiential, relational, and personality factors are likewise important. A person’s sex does not deterministically and indelibly color all of a person’s character, being, and life experience. Sexual identity is not conflated with personal identity.”


In Conclusion

Dr. Rebecca Groothuis has again helped us to process the essential data regarding the motivation of the early evangelical feminists. We are brought up to speed regarding how to better approach the subject of ‘feminism’ from a biblical and Christian perspective.

Therefore, we must not equate all feminism with ‘radical feminism’ but discern better the implications of evangelical feminism. Also, we should not forget the impact of Christian women who blazed a trail for equality and justice in the 19th century and see how we can be inspired to do the same!


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The quotations for this article are taken mainly from Chapter 7, but also from Chapters 4 and 8, of the book entitled:

Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Publisher:  Baker Books, 1994.

Later version:  Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997.

The excerpts from this book provide a small taste of the expertise that Dr. Groothuis has regarding the context of evangelical feminism in church history and invites the curious reader to explore her entire book and her other works for themselves.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are:

Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.






Women in the Church— American History, Slavery, and Feminism


Often we forget what was going on at various times in history. As we look at some American history and see how Christians were active in social issues at that time, we are reminded that not everyone believed the same way. It is, therefore, a good habit to look back at the historical record and grapple with what freedoms, or lack of freedoms, were experienced by people in their time.

I find that history is quite revealing. It allows us to better grasp how things really were, ponder the implications, and consider how we look at these things today. One topic that continues to draw my attention is how women were ‘considered and treated’ at various points in history! Let’s consider some of the implications of patriarchy found in the 19th century.

The following is an excerpt from a book detailing some history during that era.  I have taken these thoughts from historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. Her book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. This is an excellent book. It provides a keen historical overview as well as biblical and cultural insights. Rebecca clarifies much of the haze around these issues and provides excellent references for further study.

I invite you to consider ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to understand its solid Christian roots and then to recognize the impact that it has had on society as a whole. I ask you to reflect on what motivated people to change the way things were in favor of following Kingdom principles.

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“In the 19th century, the political ideas of classical liberalism interacted with the religious zeal of the Second Great Awakening to energize numerous social reform movements in the quest of a godly society of free individuals. Many of these reform efforts were led and supported by Christian women and men.”

Women and Slaves

“The ideology of anti-slavery was equality and independence for all human beings; many abolitionists became feminists when they realized that the principle that “all men are created equal” applied as well to women as it did to slaves.”

The following is a look at the legal rights of women then and how some godly people saw the need to take action and oppose what was an unjust and unreasonable reality regarding marriage laws at that time. From our perspective, their situations are often hard to fathom while living with the many freedoms in our day.

“The similar state of women and slaves prior to the reform movements is particularly notable. The 18th century English common law of William Blackstone—which early America inherited from England—upheld the “civil death” of women who married. Blackstone asserted in his Commentaries: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage, or at least, is consolidated into that of her husband under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Even as he owned his slaves, so a man owned his wife. Andrew Sinclair notes,

“Early American women were almost treated like Negro slaves, inside and outside the home. Both were expected to behave with deference and obedience towards owner or husband; both did not exist officially under the law; both had few rights and little education; both found it difficult to run away, both worked for their masters without pay; both had to breed on command, and to nurse the results.”

In early America, neither women nor slaves had rights as individuals. Both were under the legal cover and control of their male masters.

The early feminists’ objection to legalized domination of wives by husbands led some couples publicly to renounce such laws upon their marriage. Before John Stuart Mill married Harriet Taylor in 1851, “he wrote out a ‘formal protest against the law of marriage’ for conferring on the husband ‘legal powers and control over the person, property, and freedom of action of the wife’; and he made a ‘solemn promise never in any case or under any circumstances’ to use such powers.”

At the wedding ceremony of evangelical abolitionists Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke, Weld disclaimed any right that the law gave him to own and control his wife’s person or property. Their marriage of mutual love and equality served as an example to others, particularly to Henry Blackwell who diligently courted suffragist leader Lucy Stone for some time before she agreed to marry him. In his letters of persuasion to her, he wrote concerning Angelina and Theodore Weld, “If ever there was a true marriage it is theirs—Both preserve their separate individuality perfectly.”

Blackwell also wrote . . . The idea of equality and mutual submission is rarely considered as a possibility. Only two options are recognized: either a man dominates his wife, or he is dominated by his wife. Because the idea of a man being dominated by his wife is particularly repugnant to most people, his “right” to dominate her is retained. But Henry Blackwell saw through this false dilemma and promised Lucy that he would “repudiate the supremacy” of either woman or man in marriage. “Equality for me is a passion,” he wrote to Lucy. “I dislike equally to assume, or to endure authority.”

The minister who married Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone commented, “I never perform the marriage ceremony without a renewed sense of the iniquity of . . . a system by which ‘man and wife are one, and that one is the husband.’” . . .

Because of the blatant injustice of the law toward women, early feminist efforts were directed toward equalizing marriage and property laws. Also promoted, however, were women’s rights to education, to decent working conditions, and to public speaking and leadership. As American feminists were successful in legal reform, “it allowed American lawyers to boast of the superiority of their legal system to those of European countries, most of which now possessed a version of the Code Napoleon that was based on his dictum, ‘woman is given to man to bear children; she is therefore his property, as the tree is the gardener’s.’”

Women’s suffrage was slower in coming than other legal reforms. The idea of women having the right to vote struck at the very heart of male authority by presupposing that women had minds of their own, that they had thoughts and opinions independently of their husbands, and that the ideas of female minds should be counted equally with those of male minds in determining the laws and leaders of the country.

Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

The application of the principle of equal rights for all people—regardless of race, sex, or economic class—is characteristic of classical (pre-modern) liberalism. The legal rights that were traditionally granted only to free men began to be extended to slaves and women in the nineteenth century. This advocacy of the rights of the individual was part of a trend in Western society toward abandoning the traditional practice of ascribing roles to people solely on the basis of the circumstances of their birth—their sex, race, socioeconomic status, and father’s vocation. The pattern in Western society has been an increasing awareness that these characteristics ought not determine a person’s role in life and that the only valid determining factor should be each individual’s competence to perform a given role or job. . . .

Abolitionism and the Church

The anti-slavery impetus did not come only from 19th century political ideals. Christian abolitionists believed the abolition of slavery to be in obedience to biblical principles. Most of the exegetical arguments of northern Christian abolitionists went along the lines of Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes’s 1846 publication, An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery. He upheld that “The principles laid down by the Savior and his Apostles are such as are opposed to Slavery. . . . the spirit of the Christian religion is against it; . . . it is an evil and is displeasing to God.”

The pro-slavery faction in the church responded by firing a volley of proof texts against the abolitionist appeal to biblical principle. . . . But “Christian abolitionists rested their hermeneutical case not just on what decontextualized, individual passages of Scripture said but on their perceptions of where scriptural revelation in its entirety was heading.”

As theologian Cornelius Plantinga explains, “Despite what Paul says to slaves about obedience, despite what Peter says about obedience even to bad masters, the bigger historical-redemptive line of Scripture tells us that humans made in God’s image cannot be owned by anyone but their maker . . . and especially, that Jesus Christ came to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Those abolitionists who “learned to defend the egalitarian and liberationist ‘spirit’ of the Bible against status quo literal interpretations found that the same arguments could be used in support of the women’s movement. . . .

The pro-slavery proof text assault rested on the assumption that the apostles Paul and Peter simply accepted existing social institutions as God’s order for society.   Christian abolitionists, on the other hand, contended that, “for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom in a given time and place, temporary compromises can and often must be made with the societal status quo.”

Hence, a biblical command to cooperate with a particular cultural institution does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of that institution as God’s ultimate will for society. . . . Pro-slavery Christians had no patience with the notion that the Bible merely tolerated slavery rather than advocated it—any more than traditionalists accept the biblical feminist contention that biblical revelation accommodated itself to patriarchy but was not itself patriarchal.

Similar to the antifeminist of today, 19th century anti-abolitionists grounded the practice of slavery in order of creation, or the God-ordained order of things. African people were viewed as designated by God for poverty, hard labor, and subservience. Slavery was rationalized by the belief that the subjugation of certain classes of people to other classes of people is somehow built into the hierarchical order of the universe. . . . God, they said, had ordained slavery even as he had ordained the subordination of women.

In the biblical case for slavery, proof texts were exalted to the status of universal applicability, and fundamental biblical principles such as the equality of all believers in Christ were qualified and conditioned by cultural pre-under standing—the precise antithesis of the procedure that would normally occur in unprejudiced biblical interpretation.

In addition, anti-abolitionists claimed that because OT law allowed slavery and because people in both the OT (Abraham) and NT (Philemon) owned slaves and the Bible contained no specific rebuke of such activity, slavery was God-ordained. . . .

The assumption here is the same one that seems often to be made by antifeminists today: any aspect of the culture of biblical times that was not specifically condemned or prohibited in the Bible must be God-ordained. . . .

The correlation between the abolitionist cause and the feminist cause was not missed by the anti-abolitionists, who further defended their position by pointing out that if slaves were freed, women would most likely be next, and this, of course, would never do.

[T]he proof-text hermeneutic is still applied by evangelicals to the question of women’s roles but the broader hermeneutic of biblical principle is applied to the issue of slavery.

The traditionalist tendency is always to assume that tradition rests on Scripture and that any new or contrary idea is therefore a violation of biblical authority. Martin Luther exhibited this tendency when he wrote in support of slavery in his day, employing all four weapons of the anti-abolitionists: the example of the culture of biblical times, the proof texts commanding slaves’ obedience, emotional rhetoric, and an appeal to the God-ordained social hierarchy: “Did not Abraham (Gen. 17:3) and other patriarchs and prophets have slaves? Read what St. Paul teaches about servants, who, at that time, were all slaves.” The idea of freedom for slaves, therefore, “absolutely contradicts the gospel. It proposes robbery, for it suggests that every man should take his body away from his lord, even though his body is the lord’s property. . . . A worldly kingdom cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.”

In propounding the biblical doctrine of justification by faith, the Protestant Reformers were able to counter elements of false theology in church tradition. Nonetheless, they were blinded by tradition when it came to defending not only slavery, but male supremacy, the divine right of kings, and a geocentric universe.

When Copernicus advanced his theory of a heliocentric cosmology in the 16th century, Martin Luther found biblical grounds for disapproving of that “upstart astrologer” in the fact that “sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.” John Calvin demanded, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Puritan leader John Owen deemed the Copernican theory “a delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture.”

The lesson to be learned from such historical misuses of Scripture to support tradition is not that traditional biblical interpretation is always or even usually wrong, but that in some cases it can be wrong, and we ought not assume that the traditional is always the biblical. Neither may we assume that any traditional biblical teaching may be evaded simply by dismissing as proof texts those references which support that teaching, and by claiming allegiance instead to some overarching biblical theme or principles to the contrary.

In the first place, there are objective criteria for determining which texts are culturally specific (i.e., applicable primarily to biblical cultures) and which texts are universally applicable. These criteria must not be dismissed in favor of personal preference. In the second place, those texts which seem to contradict a clear biblical principle and are rightly deemed culturally specific nonetheless mean something for us today, and that meaning must be determined by understanding the biblical author’s reason for writing the passage to that specific culture.

Suffrage and Temperance

After the cause of abolition had been won in 1865, the cause of temperance drew the enthusiastic support and leadership of many Christians, including Jonathan Blanchard and A.J. Gordon, founders of Wheaton College and Gordon College, respectively. . . .

After women’s right to vote was legally acknowledged in 1920, traditionalist Christian leaders were obliged to regroup, they redoubled their efforts to keep women subservient in the spheres over which they still had control—a project which in some denominations extended even to denying women the right to vote in church elections.

Today, of course, few if any traditionalists believe that women ought not be granted the right to vote in public elections; it is assumed instead that the biblical texts are intended to place women under male authority only in the church and the home, and to silence women only in the public worship service. There are, however, some conservative denominations that even today prohibit women from voting on matters of church governance.

Evangelical Reform Movements

While abolition, suffrage, and temperance were broad movements that drew followers form both within and without the church, the extent to which these movements were fueled by the evangelistic and reformist zeal of the Second Great Awakening (1795-1840) should not be under-estimated. . . .

Charles Finney was a principal leader behind evangelical social concern. In an issue devoted to North American spiritual awakenings, Christian History magazine notes that when Finney “propelled the awakening onto center-stage in America” its “side-effects became more widespread than ever before: out of it came power for the antislavery crusade, women’s rights, prison reform, temperance, and much more.”

Although Finney did not identify himself as a feminist, his insistence on women’s freedom to testify and pray aloud in mixed gatherings flew in the face of the traditional silencing of women in church meetings. Bur Finney’s “new measures” regarding women were not without precedent. In 1825 Theodore Weld had urged women to speak and pray in public meetings, and a number of women had responded, confessing their sin of being “restrained by their sex.”

The refusal of revivalists such as Finney to consign women to silence and inactivity in church affairs served as an important first step for the 19th century evangelical women’s movement. Ahlstrom notes that “one breakthrough [for women’s rights] resulted from the revivals, especially in the West . . . notably by Charles G. Finney’s new measures.” . . . that women be encouraged to pray publicly in “promiscuous” or mixed meetings. “Traditionalists considered Finney’s practice of having women and men pray together the most dangerous of the new measures, for it implied new kinds of equality between the sexes. Indeed some harried husbands recognized the revival as subversive of their authority over their wives.”

Not only did Protestant church membership increase from one in fifteen Americans in 1800 to one in seven by 1850 as a result of the Second Great Awakening, but thousands of evangelical societies for social betterment were formed during this time—to which “the support of local women’s groups came gradually to be almost essential.” . . .

Finney and other revivalists and preachers helped women “to achieve an attitude of self-confidence and a sense of mission that infected many of their later activities. Surely it is no coincidence that the areas where Finney’s revivals and women’s religious education flourished . . . were early centers of women’s reform work and feminism.”

According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America, “The rise of American feminism had its roots in the Christian reform movements of the 1830s and 1840s that were in turn generated by the Second Great Awakening. Following the Civil War, as the women’s movement increasingly focused on the suffrage issue, the traditional link with Christian thought remained strong.” George Marsden notes that the “ministries [of prohibition and women’s rights] were a part of the wider holiness revival,” which followed the Second Awakening later in the 19th century.

As sociologist David Lyon points out, “A simple correlation of feminism with secularism is hard to square with 19th century evidence. . . .What may appear to some today as the permeation of ‘secular’ ideas into the churches as a 19th century precedent which was quite the other way round! The ‘secular’ movements were initiated or boosted by the ‘religious.’” Lyon notes, “Of course, these feminisms were pro-family—a far cry from some contemporary counterparts (not of Christian origin) which doubt the necessity of any form heterosexual relationship for the nurture of children.”

1920-1960s: The Decades Between

Feminism began to fall out of favor after 1920 as reformist zeal waned in both church and society. The slaves had been freed, women had gotten the vote, and prohibition was in full swing. Suffragists and other reformers believed there was nothing more to do after the legal battles had been won, so they gave up the fight for social reform. . . . Women, for their part, did not take advantage of the legal freedoms that had been won for them. Succumbing instead to the prevailing cultural climate, they retreated from the public arena and sank back into retiring domesticity.

Feminists had assumed that once women were granted equal opportunity under the law everything would turn out as it ought. But it did not. The hidden force of patriarchal social custom prompted a cultural return to female subservience. . . .

Traditionalists contend that women and men had been perfectly content with the gender role prescriptions of the 1950s until feminism came along to unsettle and disturb everyone. But there is evidence that change had been on the way for some time prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s. . . .

The groundswell that developed in the wake of The Feminine Mystique instigated a wide variety of feminist thought, from the revival of the evangelical and classical liberal ideas of early feminism to the fairly recent woman-centered ideology of radical feminism.

Comparing Early and Modern Feminism

Both early and modern feminism developed in a general cultural milieu of social discontent and reformist idealism. Social concern for the rights of African-Americans (the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1830s and the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1950s) served as a catalyst for both feminist movements. When women began to fight against racism, it did not take them long to become aware of the ways in which sexism violated their own civil rights.

Their awareness of discrimination against themselves was hastened by their systematic exclusion by the male leaders of the movements: in 1840 women were denied seats at the anti-slavery convention, and in the 1960s women who were active in the civil rights movement “increasingly became conscious that they were not included in any of the decision-making processes but were instead saddled with domestic and ancillary chores.

Although the women’s movements in both centuries have been diverse, with internal squabbles and factions, they hold in common an insistence upon the idea of woman as an individual, as her own person, who does not need to be dependent on a man for her value and identity. Fundamental to any feminist agenda, therefore, is that woman’s personhood and equality be established, verified, and protected through social change wherein inequitable laws and social customs are made equitable.

. . . There is a conviction that woman’s silence and subservience unfairly restricts her from important spheres of activities. Feminism has therefore encouraged qualified women to take part in political, social, or church leadership. . . .

Nineteenth-century feminism testifies to the fact that sexual license is not inherent to the idea of women’s rights. The accusation that evangelical feminism is an offshoot of modern feminism and therefore intrinsically endorses sexual immorality betrays historical and cultural ignorance.

The evangelical denominations at the turn of the century that were most committed to women’s equality were part of the holiness movement—which could hardly be said to be promoting sexual promiscuity. The only motivation of these groups to “liberate” women was the desire to open up all the channels through which God wanted to bless the church. The notion of using liberation to engage in a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility could not have been more alien to the convictions of early evangelical feminism.

. . . But early feminists campaigned to make home and family values central to the lives of both men and women in both the public and the private spheres. . . . Domesticating the marketplace, not commercializing the domestic realm, was the central focus of much early feminist thought. . . .

While 19th century feminism was not composed entirely of Christians or supported by the entire evangelical church, its goals and motives were in line with biblical principles. A significant percentage if not a majority of those involved in the suffrage movement were Christians or at least “God-fearing.” . . .

The anti-Christian element was a minority one in the 19th century, whereas today it characterizes the secular feminist movement. The evangelical support for women’s rights in the 19th century is apparent in the fact that a significant number of evangelical institutions encouraged women to be pastors and evangelists. This situation can hardly be said to prevail today!

Nineteenth-century feminists—both Christian and non-Christian—rightly viewed abortion as an instrument of male oppression rather than as a means of women’s liberation. Specifically, it was seen as an act that devalued women and enabled men to evade responsibility for the children they fathered. . . .

The roots of early feminism are in the evangelical efforts of social reform following the Second Great Awakening, as well as in the premise of classical liberalism that “all men [including women] are created equal.” Early feminists understood inequality as a function of inequitable laws, so the solution was perceived in legal terms.

. . . Observing that sexism remained even after most of the legal inequities had been removed, modern feminists have focused on the force of traditional social convention that views women as essentially—even if no longer legally—the property of men. In view of this vestigial patriarchy, feminists are now putting more energy into changing discriminatory social structures.

In this respect the feminist movement has seemed to follow a pattern roughly similar to that of the black civil rights movement. In the 19th century, the goal was to secure equal legal rights for both blacks and women.   . . . The 1960s saw blacks fighting to realize their constitutionally guaranteed legal equality by protesting the segregation customs of the South.

Following the inception of the civil rights movements by about a decade, women began to organize resistance to patriarchal custom. While legal reform continued as an element in both movements, both women and blacks were realizing that there was something deeper than law which accounted for their social subjugation. It was a deep-seated attitude, a cultural mindset that even new legislation would not budge. Members in both movements tended to respond with belligerence and anger to this intangible, ineluctable creation of culture called prejudice.”



History is a great teacher.  What we have learned about how things were and what people then did to change things, by the power of the Holy Spirit, along with a clear understanding of the biblical message of freedom for all, inspires us to seek justice—especially for women in the church and in the home.


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The quotations for this article are taken from Chapter 3 of the following book by historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Dr. Groothuis’ book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. Publisher: Baker Books, 1994.   Updated version:  Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997.

The excerpts from this chapter provide a small taste of the expertise that Dr. Groothuis has regarding the context of evangelical feminism in church history and invites the curious reader to explore her entire book for themselves.


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For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

    GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org


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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.