Critical evangelical opinions about feminism — like this recent one from Desiring God — are often overgeneralized and assumed to be anti-femininity. But feminism is, at its core, the belief that women – and femininity – have inherent value and dignity, and, therefore, deserve equality. This simple notion, that every human has inherent dignity, is validated time and time again throughout the Bible. Unfortunately, it seems that mainstream evangelical voices have more to say about their disdain for the feminist movement instead of addressing sexism and misogyny, both within and outside the church.
The word feminist may spark negative reactions from conservative Christians, but the church cannot continue to overlook the toxicity of what it has termed biblical womanhood. Biblical womanhood, as it is often practiced in Western Christianity, is an absolute insult to the imago Dei. Among otherthings, it can be culturally insensitive, othering, and idolatrous.
Most of what I read and learned about biblical womanhood came from a white, middle-class, conservative, Bible Belt, American-nationalist perspective — and most of the critique I have heard from other Christians in regards to feminism have been the voices of conservative, white women critiquing liberal, white feminism. Biblical womanhood is an insult to the imago Dei when the only voices that get to speak on the topic or set the stage come from similar backgrounds. These voices are not solely influenced and led by Scripture; rather they are led by the dominant culture in America. The Bible is not filled with homogeneity. Heaven will not be filled with middle-class, conservative Americans or their assimilating converts.
Most Christians I know who have a lot of negative feelings about feminism lack proximity to actual feminists, as most of our circles tend to be homogeneous. We hang closely with people who look, think, and act like we do. We also tend to build close relationships with people who agree with us on certain issues. We further validate our efforts to remain in these homogeneous circles by oversimplifying Scripture like, “iron sharpens iron,” or by stating our need for “safe spaces” and like-minded community.
Jesus did the exact opposite.
From life to the desert to the cross, Jesus lived his life and sacrificed it for people who did not look, think, or act like him. Despite what Jesus did for humanity, biblical womanhood exalts comfort and sameness over selfless sacrifice. It’s easy to dismiss or even dehumanize others when you lack not only proximity, but relationship.
Growing up, I was taught that the Bible is an instruction manual on how to live. But, the Bible taught me less about imitating the women who have come before us, and more about God. As we learn more about God, we begin to imitate God’s character. Teaching women to reflect the image of any human besides Jesus veers toward idolatry. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), mandated to imitate Christ (Philippians 2:5-11), and are all one with and through Christ (Galatians 3:28.)
And I would argue that biblical womanhood often goes so far as to overvalue, even idolizes, marriage and the family. Marriage and having a family is not the end goal for all humanity and should not be for the Christian woman. Our only goal in life is to be reconciled to our Savior and bear the image of Jesus. How that looks will vary from woman to woman.
We do not study our Bibles to look like Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Hagar, Mary, Martha, Deborah, Priscilla, or the Proverbs 31 woman. We’ll fall short every time, just as they did. We study our Bibles and learn to embody virtue like Jesus, obedience like Jesus, ambition like Jesus, wisdom like Jesus, courage like Jesus, faithfulness like Jesus, and strength like Jesus.
The imago Dei is whole through the finished work of Christ.