This is Part 2 of 3 in a series which explores Moody Bible Institute’s tradition of disallowing women to register for their annual Pastor’s Conference, and the connections that story has to deeper issues of problematic either/or thinking in Western Evangelicalism. You can also read Part 1 of this series: Either/or Understanding of Scripture.
2) Either/or Understanding of Evangelical Feminism: “Either one must embrace feminism and therefore also liberalism, relativism, and humanism or one must embrace traditionalism and therefore also masculine-shaped morality, gender hierarchy, and orthodoxy.”
This false either/or dichotomy is prominent among many Evangelicals. Overreaction to this idea even drives many churches to adopt an ideological preference for an ethos of masculinity. Some even take this to the extreme and teach that any church that is not defined by masculinity is by necessity defined by a liberal femininity—and a feminine church is not only unbiblical and unorthodox—it is sinful. On the other hand, some folks remove themselves from Evangelicalism altogether as they fear that they are not welcomed at the table.
From my studies, however, I find that any substantial conflict between Evangelical feminism and traditionalist masculinity to be mostly avoidable. Evangelical feminism must be not totally dismissed as the liberal feminism that arose at the turn of the century; rather it should be seen as a movement of fully Evangelical men and women who appreciate gender distinctiveness, but see the complementary roles of the men and women to be exercised best when hierarchy is non-existent (or perhaps better stated, to be episodically available to both women and man). It seems that history also tells us that it is possible to have, in the words of Richard Mouw, “A thoroughly evangelical feminism that is grounded in a deep commitment to the truth of God’s Word.” This has been evidenced by the writings of Mouw, Rebecca Groothuis, Stanley Grenz, William Webb, and Douglas Fee. Even early Church fathers like Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and John Calvin has some interesting things to say about the genderless and/or feminine nature of God (You can read more about this on Scott McKight’s blog). As discussed above, Moody’s own institutional history reflects a school that, while never identifying as “feminist”, still supported those who owned that label.
For the final approach to binary thinking on this topic, come back tomorrow for part 3 of this series. We will follow up with a final problematic either/or dichotomy and hopefully offer a way forward.