FamilyLife This Week®

Sanctified Feminism

with Courtney Reissig, Tim Muehlhoff | August 21, 2021
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The origins of feminism were good and noble, even if the culture has taken it too far. Tim Muehlhoff and Courtney Reissig talk about the origins of feminism, and how Jesus valued women.
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The origins of feminism were good and noble, even if the culture has taken it too far. Tim Muehlhoff and Courtney Reissig talk about the origins of feminism, and how Jesus valued women.

Sanctified Feminism

With Courtney Reissig, Tim Muehlh...more
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August 21, 2021
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Michelle: Many of us have heard the Bible verse, James 1:27; it goes something like this: “Pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans…” But like most of Scripture, we understand it better in context. Here’s Tim Muehlhoff.

Tim: That’s why James—the earliest New Testament book written—James says, “Let me tell you what true undefiled religion is in the sight of God, caring for orphans and widows in distress.” There’s a place now for women to go; they weren’t just brought in to make coffee. In the ancient world, where there was no welfare system, there is a place now for women and children to go to be cared for.

Michelle: You’re going to want to put on your spiritual floaties today; because we’re going to go into the deep waters as we talk to Tim Muehlhoff and Courtney Reissig about the church’s role in esteeming femininity, and seeing women thrive in our society, on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.

Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. In advertising, slogans capture the attention of an audience; and that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a memorable motto or a phrase that can be repeated over and over in order to persuade people or even to define a group.

I’m going to say a few slogans and see if you can catch on to where I’m heading today: “The hand that rocks the cradle can also rock the boat,” “We try harder, and we get paid less,” “A woman’s place is in the Resistance.” Those are all slogans from the 1960s movement that we know as feminism.

You might be thinking of feminism as the suffragette movement and women’s right to vote or the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But I want us to go back further than that and think about women in the context of what Christ thought of them; I mean, look at Jesus talking to the woman at the well—that was unheard of—or how He treated Mary and Martha. Jesus was a champion to see women thrive in their society.

[Previous Interview]

Today, we’re going to talk about sanctified feminism. Tim Muehlhoff joins me in the studio today. He is the professor of communication at Biola University. Tim and his wife Noreen are friends of FamilyLife® because they’re speakers at our Weekend to Remember® getaways. Tim is co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, The Art of Relationship.

Tim: Thank you.

Michelle: Thanks for joining me today!

Tim: My pleasure; what a treat!

Michelle: I want to talk about feminism. Feminism usually takes a bad rap with a lot of people. Actually, some people start twitching when they hear the word; [Laughter] other people, all of a sudden, jump to conclusions about where you stand politically or even spiritually.

Tim: That’s right.

Michelle: I was told by a former student of yours that you could help me understand the roots of biblical feminism and then move on from there.

Tim: Yes, great; and how bad the misinformation is. It’s incredibly important that we know it comes in three waves, not just a reaction to the sexual revolution. The first wave of feminism was very basic questions: “Are women human?” “Should they be treated as human?” “Are they co-equals with men?”

We might think that that’s crazy, because we’re so far past that; but the first wave of feminism, women were not treated as equals. There were very famous philosophers, who were arguing that women were basically grown-up children; and that’s why they were great teachers and nurses, because they didn’t have the capacity that men have. So in the first wave of feminism, women didn’t have the right to vote.

Michelle: When was that?

Tim: We would say 1800s, the first wave. Think about the right to vote for a second—why women were denied the right to vote—they were denied for basically three reasons:

One, it was argued that women already had the right to vote: that they would vote the way their husband would vote, that they would never disagree with their husband. If you gave a woman the right to vote, you were, in essence, handing two votes to the husband.

Second, literally, you [women] did not have the intellect to handle such big problems. We’re talking about we’re electing the leader of the most powerful country in the world. That was just, quite frankly, beyond women, who mostly thought about curtain dressings and how to make dinner; right?

The third one is my favorite: if we gave women the right to vote, it would inhibit your [women’s] ability to conceive. [Laughter] I’m serious! I am dead serious. Think about that!

Michelle: What would they do with people like Hannah Moore, and other ladies who were proving that they had a brain, and it was working overtime?

Tim: —Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony—

Michelle: Yes; yes!

Tim: —oh, my goodness. Seneca Falls—which most people have no idea about the Seneca Falls Convention—was the first time Frederick Douglas attended it. It was a convention that said that women need to have a voice. Again, women wanted a voice, not because they wanted their independence; they wanted a voice, because they cared about the Temperance Movement; they cared about slavery issues and wanted a political voice to help other people. But then they realized: “I have no political voice whatsoever.” That is the first wave of feminism.

When Jesus comes on the scene, He elevates women. He says, at the foot of the cross, there’s neither male nor female; they’re all one at the foot of the cross. In a radical way, He elevates women to say: “Women are just as important in the kingdom of God as men,” and “Both are made in the image of God, and I died for both.”

And He goes on to say, “The resurrection, My defining moment that validates who I am, I’m going to pick, by providence, two women to be the witnesses,” which, rhetorically, is a joke! Women at that time were not educated; in a court of law, suspect testimony; and yet, He says, “No, no, no! These two women will testify to the greatest act of the resurrection.”

Remember when He’s sitting, and a woman comes and opens up a vial of perfume, and then soaks His feet and wipes it? He says this: “I tell you, anytime the gospel is proclaimed, this woman’s story will be told.” When taken from a feminist lens, this is Jesus elevating the narrative of women and giving them rhetorical voice. That is the first wave of feminism. Now, let’s not be quick to say the first wave is over; for many parts of the world, the first wave of feminism is still happening now.

Michelle: It’s still happening.

Tim: Yes; Taliban-occupied territory, where women have no voice whatsoever; so the first wave of feminism is still being fought.

Michelle: But you’d think the first way of feminism—that’s a long time—I mean, we’re talking 1800-2000 years that it’s been—

Tim: Yes; and women have suffered! By the way, the #MeToo movement—which is the second wave of feminism—shows us that women have been treated really poorly in this country, as well, as other countries.

The first wave of feminism roughly ends with women getting the right to vote. Then, we usher in what we roughly call the second wave of feminism, happens early 1900’s. Second wave is: “Should women get the right to earn as much as a man does? If we do equal work, shouldn’t we get equal pay?”

Now, think about that for a second. The whole Hollywood scandal today is—remember certain actresses coming forward and saying, “Here is what my co-actor gets,”—male actor—“and I get a fraction of what he gets. I actually am pulling in more attention to the movie than my co-actor.” Again, in some ways, we’re fighting/the second wave of feminism is still happening today.

The second wave of feminism would be abortion rights. Obviously, that’s where a Christian says, “I can’t buy all of the second wave of feminism. There’s parts of it I resist, but there’s a lot of it I agree with.” We just have to be careful to be discerning when it comes to the different waves of feminism.

The radical third wave is where we get things like a totally relativistic view—there’s no right; no wrong—these are all the gender wars that we’re seeing today. Gender fluidity would be attributed to the third wave of feminism.

Here’s what I see: when Christians get up and talk about feminism, they’re generally talking about the third wave and painting it in the most negative light possible. I like to educate people and say, “What wave are you even talking about? Don’t always paint feminism in such negative tones. We hate that, as Christians, when people point to the most negative parts of our Christian perspective; so let’s be generous with feminists.

Michelle: I was even reading an article the other day, where the author was saying, “God is the first feminist, because He created man and woman equal.”

Tim: That’s right.

Michelle: If that’s the way He created it, He was the first feminist. There were a lot of people, who were like/you know, the twitching of the eye, going, “Oh, wha-a-a-t?!”

Tim: I did all my grad work at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s one of the top universities when it comes to feminist theory in the country. I didn’t know anything about feminism when I got there. What I would love to say to my friends—when they would say, “The Bible is so sexist. I don’t understand how you can subscribe to it,”—I loved pointing back to the Song of Solomon. In a time, when women had no rhetorical voice whatsoever, and if they did speak, you certainly wouldn’t talk about sexuality. I love that God included that in the canon to say, “A woman’s voice should be listened to.” The Song of Solomon is a wonderful example, to my non-Christian friends, who think the Bible is completely sexist and anti-woman; I would say, “The Song of Solomon is pro-woman/pro-rhetorical voice for a woman in all the positive ways.”

Michelle: Tim, when you explain to somebody that you are a Christian feminist—and they look at you and go, “What?!”—

Tim: [Laughter] Yes.

Michelle: —what do you tell them?! How do you explain that to them?

Tim: The first thing I say is: “You define feminism for me. What’s your definition of feminism? How do you think about it?” Almost exclusively, they describe it in the third wave—and the second wave—let’s be honest; most feminists are absolutely staunchly pro-choice.

By the way, I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-choice that a woman ought to, almost in every regard, have the right over her body—we’ve seen great abuses of a woman not having a right to what happens to her body—except when that infringes upon another human being, which would be the fetus. We believe the fetus is fully human; a woman doesn’t have a right to mistreat a child/doesn’t have a right to mistreat a fetus. Again, I’m pro-choice all the way, except when it has to do with affecting the lives of other people.

I first ask a person: “You define feminism for me.” Usually, we get a radical part. When I break down the three waves, like we just did, it really is an “A-ha” moment for people. I really do feel like it’s an education process: “Let’s not overlook all these commonalities and points of agreement as we rush towards points of disagreement.”

Michelle: What it sounds like is feminism has helped our society; it has improved it in many ways.

Tim: There’s a wonderful book called The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. He’s a sociologist, who asks the question: “Why did the church explode like it did?” He answers it from a sociological standpoint. He does say, for two reasons:

Plagues hit the Roman Empire—40 percent mortality rates—and Christians really did practice neighbor love—and it cost them their lives—they went and helped people.

Second, he said that, in an ancient world, where there was no welfare system, there is a place now for women and children to go to be cared for. That’s why James—I love saying this to my students at Biola University—James, the earliest New Testament book written—James says, “Let me tell you what true, undefiled religion is in the sight of God; caring for orphans and widows in distress.” There’s a place now for women to go, and they weren’t just brought in to make coffee.

We know that there were woman deaconesses. Again, I like expanding people’s idea of what feminism is. Feminism has gotten a bad rap among conservative circles. I think a lot of it is based on, quite frankly, ignorance. We need to do a better job of explaining what feminism is.

Michelle: That’s a good point, Tim. We need to take a quick break. When we come back, I want us to talk about: parenting and feminism, and what we should be teaching our daughters; and also, the #MeToo Movement. We’ll be back in two minutes. Stay tuned.

[Radio Station Spot Break]

Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Tim Muehlhoff joins me in the studio today. Tim is an author and a professor of communication at Biola University.

We’ve been talking about sanctified feminism today and the waves of feminism that have washed over our culture. I’m thinking about our daughters as we’re raising young girls today. We’re looking out across our society/our culture, and we’re seeing this third wave rise up—well, it’s already been bubbling—so the third wave is here. How do we help our daughters, who are living right there right now?

Tim: If I could distill all of communication theory into one principle: “Start with areas of agreement—

Michelle: That’s a lot! [Laughter]

Tim: Yes, all of it/all of it—[Laughter] Boom!—here we go! [Laughter] All of it would be: “Start with areas of agreement and move towards disagreement.” Today’s “argument culture”—that’s a term coined by Deborah Tannen at Georgetown University—we start with a disagreement. I would say to young daughters—and again, I have three boys—but with young women, I’d say, “Take a look at the positive aspects of feminism, and have your discernment radar on about the parts that deviate from a Christian world view.”

Again, there’s so much common ground to be had today, like with the #MeToo Movement. I mean, it’s stunning—what’s happening/what women have had to endure at the hands of really powerful men—I’m afraid that we’re going to grow tired of the #MeToo Movement; like, “Oh my goodness; another person?” Let’s let it run its full course.

If you’re in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein is untouchable. If you speak out against him, it ruins your career. And yet, women have heroically stepped up and have said: “Yes, this happened to me,” “This happened to me,” “This is what he tried to do to me.” #MeToo, I think, has been, by and large, positive.

We still have due process—let’s let justice work—but at the same time, justice is propelled by the voices of men and women, who stand up and say: “This is wrong; this is evil,” and “We’ve got to address this.” There is strength in numbers; I certainly hope Christians are part of the #MeToo Movement.

Michelle: I’ve seen some, so I know that they’re out there.

Tim: We need to be; yes.

Michelle: We do need to be. It was almost just this fall when the #MeToo movement came out. There were just so many scandals that were—that the cover was taken off it—and you could see what was going on. It was like: “What next is going to happen? What next is going to be found out?”

Tim: And if we need to clean house in the Christian church, we need to clean house. If we have inappropriate things happening to women within churches, we’ve got to create a communication climate, where women can come forward—even if it’s just so depressing, the names that are being implicated—again, due process!

As a man, it does concern me that a person can have an allegation against me, and that allegation’s going to do a lot of damage. I have to have certain protection; there has to be due process. That’s why HR exists within organizations. But I want women to have the freedom to say, “I can’t stay silent about this anymore.” To me, that’s a good thing—and needs to start with the house of God—that we clean house first.

Remember the book of Hebrews: “I want you to pray for those in prison as if you were in prison.” I think we always need to imagine what it was like to be a woman, who has had to endure this kind of sexism; or a child living in abject poverty. We need to have times of respite; but we need to always go back to say, “This is the pain that I’ve been called to deal with [on behalf of others].”

Michelle: I’m thinking of the woman at the well, and just having Jesus show up and talk to her!—and for her to walk away, going, “Wow! What an incredible man He was. He cared about me.”

Tim: That message radicalized the ancient world—is that women and children—God loved them equally as men. There is not one—this is what I love about Christianity—there is not one person in this world [who] is beyond the imago dei/beyond the fact that they were made in the image of God. That is radical!

I spent some time in India; we visited some orphanages that were heartbreaking. If you were a woman, with any type of deformity, you were never getting out of that orphanage. No one is going to marry you; no one is going to have any time for you. I love that Jesus walks into those situations and says, “No; you are equally valuable to Me as anyone.” That’s the radical message of Christianity; I love that.

Michelle: Very important, very important.

I’m sad to say that our time has run out. Tim, thank you so much for spending time with me today and helping us understand feminism, and the #MeToo movement, and just everything. Your advice and wisdom on the topic has been fantastic and wonderful. Thank you.

Tim: Thank you.

[Studio]

Michelle: I love that Tim reminded us that we—men and women—that we’re equal in God’s image. We were created equal; we are co-laborers in His kingdom, and we are co-heirs with Christ; and we’re called to different roles. But equality doesn’t mean sameness. We live in a world, where we think sameness and equality should be the same thing; we expect sameness, as in equal pay/equal treatment.

But there’s something deeper at play in the minds of many Christian women today/many young Christian women today. The secular feminist movement has affected us all. Courtney Reissig would say that she’s an “accidental feminist,”—that’s the title of her first book. One thing that Courtney points out is that secular feminism—that has seduced many women—it’s not the answer. There’s a better answer, and it’s bigger. Here’s Courtney talking with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.

[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]

Courtney: I think it is default. I think some women are, consciously, saying they are feminist. When those women are—I think they maybe are seeing some evidences of women not being, in their minds, equal—or they feel like women are not getting the advantages that they need, and so they want equality.

I think most women are embracing feminism and not even realizing it. Even a woman, who would say, “I’m not a feminist,” is most likely embracing it; because it’s just what we live and breathe in our culture now.

Bob: Well, if you ask the average person on the street: “What is feminism?” most of them are going to say, “Equal pay for equal work;—

Courtney: Yes.

Bob: —“that’s what feminism is.” By the way, if that’s what it is, I’m a feminist.

Courtney: Yes.

Bob: You don’t have any problems with equal pay for equal work for women; right? 

Courtney: No; no, I don’t. A Christian women’s author calls it: “A radical notion that Jesus believes that women are people too,”—which is—[Laughter] 

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: You would agree with that? 

Courtney: Absolutely! 

Bob: Okay; so what’s the difference between “the radical notion that Jesus believes women are people too,” and the kind of feminism that you would say is problematic in the church culture today? 

Courtney: Because feminism is very fluid, so people/you can’t really pin it down. Some women will say—like the other author would say that “It’s the radical notion that women are people too,”—some would say it is equality: “Equal pay for equal work.” I define it as: “Equality equals sameness.”

I believe I first heard Mary Kassian say that before/is that: “We are equal; therefore, we are the same,”—so we can do the same things—if a woman wants to preach, she can preach; submission in marriage is mutual—It doesn’t matter if the husband submits or the wife submits—we are both called to submit to one another. It doesn’t matter who stays home with the children—a husband can stay home or a mom can stay home—it doesn’t really matter. It’s the interchangeability of that; besides biology, we’re really not all that different.

I think that that’s the more problematic notion of feminism. That’s kind of what we all believe if we are not consciously looking beyond that for answers in Scripture.

Dennis: You answer that in your book by going back to the book of Genesis—

Courtney: Yes.

Dennis: —and talk about how men and women are made in the image of God.

Courtney: Yes; yes. People think feminism is the answer for women; and I actually, think it’s not. I think Genesis is the answer for women—God created us in His image—we are telling a story about God in our humanity. But then, it also goes on to say, in Genesis 1:26 and 27, that He created male and female in His image. There has got to be something there about being female that images God that is not just mere humanity or biology.

I think that feminism was trying to answer a problem of the battle of the sexes, which is a problem that we see coming out of Genesis 3, where sin entered the world; and now, we have strife. Feminism isn’t the answer. If we had just gone back to the Word of God, we could see that the answer is found in: “We were created to image God in very unique ways that tell a story about who God is,”—and a much better story than what feminism could ever tell us.

Bob: I’ve said, for years, that during the ‘50s and the ‘60s—the time when I was growing up—I think the culture endorsed and embraced male selfishness in such a way that, after years of that, a lot of women said: “Well, now, hang on just a second!  If men can be as self-focused as they can be, we should have the right to be equally selfish.” 

Courtney: Absolutely.

Bob: And I’ve said that, in my mind, is: “Second-wave feminism’s, saying, ‘I want the right to be as self-focused and as selfish as men have been allowed to be,’—not just allowed to be but celebrated.” I, for one, am not interested in going back to the Mad Men days and saying, “This is what it should be like for men and women in our culture.” 

Courtney: It’s so unique, too, in an American Western culture. It doesn’t take into account the person, who lives in India, or the person, who lives in Africa. We/there has got to be something bigger than just a throwback to the ‘50s and ‘60s, or even a throwback to the 1900s and late 1800s, when first-wave feminists were coming on the scene; because they were answering a very real problem of women had no voice. A husband could divorce his wife and take her children, and she had no voice to do anything.

Dennis: Right.

Courtney: Maternal health laws weren’t in place, so a woman had no voice to care for herself and her unborn baby. There were very real problems that were addressed; but I think, as Christians, we have a better answer than putting women in front of men and continuing this whole battle-of-the-sexes thing.

[Studio]

Michelle: Courtney Reissig talking about the cost of secular feminism. I love what Courtney has to say—that we are in a Genesis 3 world—we have sinned against God; the world is broken because of that. We have forgotten that we are made in His image; and we should not be at war, because He made man and woman in His image. If you look at the Trinity, and how the Trinity reflects relationship—perfect relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we should be at peace and reflecting Him to a watching world.

If you want to hear the entire interview with Courtney Reissig on Accidental Feminism, go to our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.

Next time, we’re going to talk about prodigals. Do you ever find someone you love rejecting the gospel and rebelling against you? We’re going to give you help and hope if there’s a prodigal in your life. I hope you can join us for that.

Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the co-founder of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and the president, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Bruce Goff and Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer; Megan Martin is our production coordinator; and Raven Simmons is our production intern.

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