Waking Up to Faith
About the Guest
Are men really the problem? That’s what Carolyn McCulley wondered as she grappled her way through her Women’s Studies courses in college. Today, Carolyn remembers hearing the gospel clearly taught for the first time and tells how it radically changed her life and her beliefs about feminism.
Carolyn McCulleyCarolyn McCulley is an author, speaker, and filmmaker. She has written three books —The Measure of Success, Radical Womanhood, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? — and contributed to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and the forthcoming ESV Women's Devotional Bible. She has also written for numerous publications, including The Washington Post and Christianity Today, and her commentary has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Boundless, True Wom...more
Are men really the problem?
Waking Up to Faith
Carolyn: I started drawing these girls out saying, "What are you aware of? What have you head of? Do you know the name Gloria Steinem? Do you know the name Betty Friedan? Do you know the name Jean Paul Sartre?" I said, "The things that you are now living in grieve me. When I was your age immorality didn't cost you your life. The things that have come up since I was in college like HIV-AIDS, the hookup culture, the rising level of divorce." And so I said to them, "How many of you are children of divorce?" and more than half the room raised their hands. I said, "Something profound has happened in this world – such a seismic change, and you don't know what happened. You need to know what has happened so that you can live purposefully and intentionally."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 11th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Did the feminist revolution that took place in the '60s and the '70s really reshape our world? And what impact is it still having on how we see ourselves as women and as men today? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I guess we could say this just about every day on our program but particularly today I'm thinking it's a good thing that our guest became a Christian, don't you think?
Dennis: I think so.
Bob: If this hadn't happened …
Dennis: I'm just glad this kind of talent to write this kind of book is turned toward the truth.
Bob: Well, that's what I'm thinking because if this hadn't happened, she'd probably be writing books about why Dennis Rainey is a – well, I'm not going to say what she'd say you were.
Dennis: We have some talented writers who are doing some of that, Bob. We won't go there on today's broadcast. Carolyn McCulley joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Carolyn, welcome back.
Carolyn: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
Dennis: I say "welcome back" because a lot of our listeners will remember your infamous book, "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?"
Carolyn: Yes, the book you have to give in a brown paper wrapper. It's the book no one wants to receive – "Oh, no, why did you give me this book?"
Dennis: Yes, we had some good laughs with you about that. But you've written another book called "Radical Womanhood," and this is really a good bit of your story of how you came to faith in Christ and how you came out of – well, being a radical feminist growing up without God, developing a worldview that really left Him out, and it really starts with your journey to South Africa, right?
Carolyn: Right. I had grown up going to church. My mom was faithful to take us, and I'd heard bits and pieces of the Gospel, but I had not been truly regenerated or saved until I was 30. And prior to that time, I got a degree in journalism and then also a certificate in Women's Studies. So I like to announce when I speak at women's conferences, that I am actually a certified feminist, and I have my little placard to put on the wall.
Dennis: I want to stop you for a second, because some of our listeners do not know what is taught in a Women's Study course. Now, this is pretty standard at the university level for all freshman women coming into the university, right?
Carolyn: Yes, and it started in the late '70s, early '80s, so I was among the first wave of students going through those programs.
Dennis: So share with our listeners what you were taught in this Women's Study class?
Carolyn: Well, first of all, that women would be spelled differently – w-o-m-y-n, because it was a very woman-oriented world, so no association with men – just obliterated even in the name. And it was feminist studies, it was gender studies, it was rewriting history to a view of feminist ideology and developing new theories.
Bob: And the reason for that was the idea that women throughout history have been oppressed, mistreated, and so what needed to happen was a re-ordering of the culture to deal with that inequity and that oppression. Now, is that a flawed presupposition, do you think?
Carolyn: I think that everyone can have solid powers of observation; that they can look at something and say, "Here is a problem." And I wouldn't necessarily disagree with some of the observations feminists made, over time. But the ability to make an observation and then to make a correct interpretation of it and then the right solution can be very different. So I think there is a history, corporately, of men sinning against women. But the solution that feminism offered was to continue to promote that anger and to promote that separation and encouraged women to sin in response to men and offered this idea of being women's liberation when, in fact, the only true liberator for women is Jesus Christ.
Bob: Mm-hm. You go back to a story that you came across with the second President of the United States and his wife having a feminist discussion in the early 1800s?
Carolyn: Actually, it was in 1776 as our nation was being founded. Abigail Adams sent a letter to her husband, John, and appealed that while they were formulating the new laws of the nation that he not forget the ladies; that all men would be tyrants, if they could. And so that was her observation and perhaps it was a joke, a little bit, it's hard to tell because he certainly wrote back to her, "This idea makes me laugh. Your ideas are funny."
But I think because our nation was a new experiment on the political scene that it really gave women the idea and the hope that they would become full legal entities in the system.
Bob: Well, let me ask you – when you were taking these Women's Studies courses at the university, were you taking them because in your heart you'd already settled on the idea that women need to be liberated and empowered and men are oppressive, or did the classes point you in that direction or both?
Carolyn: I think it was a little bit of both my indwelling sin, my natural tendency to sinful judgment and not being charitable toward people. The culture I grew up in at the time, I mean, women's liberation, the sexual revolution, was in all the media, and I grew up reading The Washington Post and reading, Time, and I actually thought we were past the feminist thing because it had so much media attention that I thought, "Well, we're all equal now."
Bob: But once you got into the courses, it started to stir that indwelling sin?
Carolyn: Oh, yes, it did – and to suddenly look at the world through the eyes of the problem is all the men, I was not very pleasant. I remember actually really stirring up a family Thanksgiving one time – I don't remember what I got on the rant about, but it was patriarchy and all these other problems. I'm just pontificating at the Thanksgiving dinner, and all these people are looking at me, and I'm sure my mother is going "Please be quiet, please be quiet."
And all the theories that I – I hadn't lived under or suffered under any of these issues – not in that same oppressive concept that feminism offered. I want to be careful to say that there are some things that feminism rightly challenged, and there are some changes for which I am grateful. I am grateful that I can vote, I am grateful that I can own property, I am grateful that I can work and be paid an equal wage, but that was never the heart of actually the argument.
Bob: I wanted to ask you about that, because we think of equal pay for equal job – you'd say that's a good thing, right?
Bob: We say that feminism is acknowledging that women can get the same job that a man can. If a woman wants to be the president of the company, she should be allowed to be – is that a good thing?
Carolyn: Oh, that is such a nuance issue. On the surface, yes, but what feminists failed to do was acknowledge the fact that a woman's life sequence is different from a man's. And there was a moment when this concept actually, of sequencing, was raised in second wave feminism that said a woman's fertility is from this time period to this time period, and she should be free to have her children and build a family there and then think about the career if that's how it serves the family later on.
But they fell down on that, even in a secular perspective, and instead women were told, "Well, you have to live exactly like men," and that's what's happened to a number of women today who have experienced what one author calls "the creeping non-choice of childlessness." They didn't plan to be childless, but they gave themselves to their career for so much time that eventually they discovered, "Woops, I've missed my opportunity."
Bob: You've talked about that as propping your ladder against the wrong wall, and that's the direction in which a lot of young women are pointed today.
Dennis: Well, I've always talked about how we've encouraged young men to prop their ladder against the wrong wall, and we turned around then and encouraged the young women to it. In the process, we've completely undermined what's happening in the American family to such a degree it's become a culture of divorce so that when you teach a bunch of young people in a church, small group setting, and you ask them, "How many of you came from a home of divorce" – over 50 percent are going to raise their hands because they're a reflection of the culture.
Carolyn: Correct, yes. And so to answer your question that when you said, "Is a woman capable of becoming a president of a company" – yes, a woman has that kind of capacity, but the question behind that, the heart behind that is – is that the wisest choice for her season in life?
Bob: And I guess what you're saying is women have been taught that is the wisest choice and haven't really thought it through fully for themselves or in light of what God establishes as priorities.
Carolyn: Right, and now we can add the Christian perspective to it, so to speak, because a woman has capabilities and then there are the questions of sequencing and season, and then there are the questions of what advances the Gospel? What promotes Christ in His glory, and what will earn you eternal reward? And sometimes, as you move along that timeline, you can come to a very different answer.
Yes, you can be president of that company, you have the capabilities, women are not inferior. But what will that cost you in terms of the high view that Scripture holds of being a wife and a mother and what does it cost you in investing in the next generation and intensively raising disciples for the glory of Christ?
Bob: Now, you live in an area of the country where you almost can't buy a home unless both of you are working and making pretty good money. So you bring a counter-cultural message like this and say, "You know, you ought to think about the next generation and about being a good wife and a good mom before you sell out to the marketplace," and a lot of young girls will go, "That's impossible."
Carolyn: It is true that when women entered the workforce, our nation's economy went up, and our productivity went up, and that's kind of shackled us, to a degree. We've enjoyed that prosperity. But, yes, I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and it is very expensive there and growing more expensive every day.
But in my church alone, there are hundreds of families who survive on one income, and one of the ways they do it, even with the high cost of housing, is the idea of bundling up families. So many families have other families living in their basement – basement apartments are quite popular for young couples.
Dennis: You have six nieces and nephews, you don't have any children of your own, you're not married, but if you were communicating with your nieces, what they need to know about navigating the treacherous waters of growing up in this culture, what would you want them to know?
Carolyn: Well, I've already start communicating that to them. I start talking to them about the worldview that they have even when we go to the Build-a-Bear Factory. I can remember my youngest niece four or five years ago – oh, probably even six years ago now, she's around 12 – and we went, and she wanted to pick out a bear and dress it in a sleazy little outfit, and I had to explain to her why that outfit was unacceptable even on a bear.
And we have actually talked about that since then to understand the issues of modesty; to understand the issues of speaking kindly with patience and forbearance and encouraging her little brother and allowing him to serve and lead and speak kindly to him. So, yes, we started much earlier.
Dennis: At the beginning of the broadcast, I mentioned that it took a trip to South Africa to ultimately get your attention and, really, stop you going down one path and completely redirect your life toward another.
Dennis: What happened?
Carolyn: Well, I thought I was just going on vacation. My sister and brother-in-law were there, and they were studying at a Bible college, so I knew I'd need to go to church at some point and so, okay, three hours or so out of a three-week vacation – I can put up with that.
But when I got there, and I heard the Gospel, I knew that God had profoundly changed me, but I also knew that my will was going to need to be changed. And my sister and brother-in-law were so patient. As we drove around South Africa in the dusty red soil, passed under – mile after mile passed under our car, I would lob a question from the back seat. What about tithing? And they would answer.
Dennis: So you literally became a Christian at that point?
Carolyn: I believe I did, mm-hm. And it took about two more weeks for my will to actually bend and yield and receive this, but there was a very significant moment that happened on Easter Sunday in 1993, and I look back on that, and I know that the Lord saved me at that point. He gave me a new birth.
Bob: So you're lobbing the questions from the back seat – what about tithing? What this what about that? They're answering them and two weeks later what?
Carolyn: Well, actually, we went to a little church in Capetown, South Africa, primarily because we were going to see my brother-in-law's former pastor and, honestly, I wasn't that impressed. I mean, a pastor, what does he do? He works one day a week, right?
So there we were, and in walked an American from Gaithersburg, Maryland, named C.J. Mahaney, and when he preached there was such passion and authenticity that I thought, "This helps me to bridge the gap between my cultural understanding of Christianity and what I knew was happening in my life."
As I went back and joined a church, their discipleship of me in these areas is really what made a profound difference. I would see in Scripture what God calls men and women to do; then I see it lived out in the lives of those around me. "Oh, that's what that looks like."
Bob: When you started to see what the Gospel has to say about how a woman is to live rightly before God, and it's really challenging the feminism that you had just drunk in, was there conflict there or was there …
Dennis: Oh, sure.
Carolyn: There was major conflict.
Dennis: I mean, she had to be totally conflicted, huh?
Bob: I was asking her, okay – lobbing a softball here, and you had to jump in and swing around her.
Dennis: You know, I'm just thinking of where she came from, though. She shared about these Women's Studies – it's all about self.
Carolyn: It's true, and it was quite a conflict. I got there just in time for a study that began in the Book of Ephesians, and so we got to the 5th chapter, and I heard about how wives are to submit to their husbands, and I heard about how husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, and I waited for the punch line. I really thought that they were going to say, "Well, this isn't applicable today."
Dennis: So you thought it was a joke.
Carolyn: I was hoping so. I mean, I really thought, "We are going to laugh about this soon, right?" And so I went, and I met with my pastor, and I was a pretty prickly person. I said, "I have a series of questions for you. First, is this stuff real? And, second of all, if I give you my money, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to end up on the front page of the newspaper or some scandal?"
And so actually this is the moment in which this book was birthed in my life because what they recommended to me was a wonderful resource, but it went way over my head – "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" by Wayne Grudem and John Piper – a great book, but it's theologians engaged in theological discussions, and I didn't even know all the books of the Bible yet.
So since that time I have searched for the book that would explain to women – this is what feminism has wrought, and this is why the Bible says what it says about women, and I haven't found it yet. So 15 years later I decided to write it.
Dennis: You know, you said two things there I want to just underscore – number one, you were prickly.
Carolyn: Oh, yes.
Dennis: You were prickly, and I think when we run into people who are prickly, it doesn't mean they're not teachable, and it's a great opportunity to love them. I think it's so easy to get into an argument with a prickly person, though, because you provoke me at that point, and I want to win the debate and, in the process, lose you.
Carolyn: Correct. But, you know, my sister, Alice, actually came to the Lord through Campus Crusade in college, and so there was about a seven to eight-year gap in which she just loved me and prayed for me, and after I became a Christian, she confessed to me, "You know, I don't think I was very good about sharing the Gospel with you." And I said, "I wouldn't have listened to you. I would have given you just the big speak to the hand, but you loved me, you came, and you sat with me, you went through my trials with me, and that meant a lot, because it gave me the relational trust that when the Lord actually grabbed me and turned me upside down and shook loose every idea I'd had like so much pocket change, you were there to listen and to love me."
Dennis: Yes, and you just hit on the other thing, which is – well, a friend of mine once advised me when I was kind of on a tirade about some people who didn't agree with what I believed, and he said to me, "Dennis, all of life is one long process of determining what you believe the Scriptures teach." And people are on that journey – they are determining it. Some a little further down the road than others maybe, but you've got to give grace to those people who are staring out the journey.
That's what your sister did. She gave you some grace to be prickly – to love you in the process, speak the truth in love, just keep on loving you, coaching you, and representing the truth. Because, in the end, the truth makes the most sense, it really does.
Carolyn: And it can be the most appealing as well. I would look in Scripture, and I would see the truth in black and white, but I had not seen relationships among my peers that looked like that. These men that I saw in the church were men like of my father's caliber and character. They loved their wives. They didn't call them "the ball and chain," they didn't call their children "little monsters." I saw what servant leadership looked like, which was a completely foreign phrase to me. I'm like, "What's servant leadership? Bizarre."
But I saw it lived out, and so my opposition, my intellectual opposition to what I saw in the Scriptures was modified by what I saw lived out and, of course, the abundant grace and the willingness of the Holy Spirit to continue to soften my heart and make me teachable.
Bob: If you were a full-tilt feminist in 1993 before Easter, how long did it take for you to go, "Okay, turning my back on that?"
Carolyn: I think it really was the three-week trip in Capetown.
Dennis: That quick?
Carolyn: Mm-hm. I mean, I came back, and there were some things that I knew right away were going to have to change. I had lived like the world, so I knew that worldly, immoral relationships were going to have to change, and so, bit by bit, the Lord just confronted me in Scripture that opened my eyes to things that I had previously had an offense about. I was very pro-abortion, pro-choice during that time because I had never read or seen or encountered something like a crisis pregnancy center. And when I found out about it in the church that there were people who were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of young women who wanted to keep their babies – that was a news flash. I had never know about this. Although, as a journalist, I had written about abortion many times, but I wasn't even aware of the other side to present it.
Dennis: You know, I'm amazed you made the turn so quickly, first of all. I am also amazed that you've written a book here called "Radical Womanhood," because if there was ever a day when this needed to be written from a Christian perspective, I think, first and foremost, to the Christian community, it's today.
I mean, we have a ton of young women coming up off the college campus today who I am afraid have swallowed the message hook, line, and sinker without being discerning women and, frankly, we've got a bunch of men who have bought in as well. They don't question the message, they don't question the source of it, the ideology behind it, and I think if there has ever been a time to come back to this book, the Bible, and what it teaches about what a woman's identity is, where it comes from, how it's achieved, and likewise for a young man, I think it's today, and your book does a great job of doing that.
Bob: Yes, and I have to wonder how many people who are listening to us in this conversation today are like you were when you first came to Christ. They have just grown up in the culture, and it has shaped their thinking, and they hear you talking about a different way of understanding what it means to be a woman and how we understand that biblically, and maybe, for the first time, they're going, "You know, I never really thought about that."
Bob: I want to encourage listeners to get a copy of your book, "Radical Womanhood." It may be a book that women's groups want to go through together, or it might be a book that a mom would want to go through with her daughters, especially if they're middle school or high school age.
We've got the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to get more information about the book or to order a copy from us online. Again, it's FamilyLifeToday.com, and let me also mention that Carolyn contributed to a book that we've talked about already this month called "Becoming God's True Woman," and you can request that resource from us as well.
Again, all the details are available online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. When you get in touch with us, let us know what you need, and someone will make arrangements to have the resources you're looking for sent to you.
Many of you were listening last week as Dennis mentioned the particular financial challenges that we have been experiencing here at FamilyLife this spring, and we know that's been true for a lot of our listeners as well, as folks have experienced layoffs or maybe a reduction in their wages. And we were very encouraged by those of you who did contact us last week and made a donation.
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Tomorrow we are going to talk more about how feminism has influenced our thinking here in the 21st century, and we're going to go back and look at some of the seeds of the feminist revolution that predate the 1960s and 1970s. I hope you can be with us as Carolyn McCulley joins us again tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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