Do women belong in the political arena? Should we encourage our daughters to emulate the lives of women like Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin? Some Christians believe examples of women like the prophetess Deborah in the Bible answers this question with a resounding “Yes!” This was the position taken by a young Christian woman named Justice Forte who recently wrote a comment on my post “How to Help Women Learn Their Place”.
But does the example of Deborah and other prophetesses and prominent women in the Bible show us that God wants women involved in the political arena?
Before we seek to answer this question let me share Justice’s story.
Justice Forte’s Story
While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across your intriguing post. Though I usually do not take the time to read articles shared by my friends, as I am a pre-law college student with hundreds of pages of reading assigned to me each night, the striking words “How to Help Women Learn Their Place” piqued my interest. I visited your blog and read the biographical information you provided and several of your comment threads. As a Catholic, made in the image of God, I share many of your beliefs and I have read most of the passages that you listed in your article during my years attending Catholic institutions. I have been fortunate in that I have had numerous mentors that have guided me in my faith, including my father, mother, and several teachers. I have had the opportunity to analyze philosophical and theological works, including those of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas with the great educators I encountered in my time at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, New Jersey. I have studied these topics with fervor, and I have strengthened my faith through constant inquiry, as my religion is not something that I take for granted.
However, I believe that your article reflects not only the loving messages given to us by God, but also several sexist attitudes embedded in our society. While it is clear that God created men and women with differing characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, I do not think that it necessarily follows that the two genders must adhere strictly to narrow roles. While the Bible includes passages that guide women to be reverent and respectful to men, it also offers direction to men to love women and to treat them with kindness and understanding, and to acknowledge them as companions and partners in life.
As an 18 year old woman, I have struggled throughout my lifetime to discover exactly what your article claims to offer an answer to. I have struggled to learn my place in this world with this life that I have been given. The wave of feminism that you readily criticize has afforded me the ability to explore the vast possibilities of who I could be. It has allowed me to receive an education, and to read the works of insightful minds who have contemplated and established their places in life.
Through this education, I have found role models such as Deborah the fifth judge of the Old Testament referenced in Judges 4 and 5 and Hebrews 11:32-34. A thoughtful and effective leader, Deborah lifted the spirits of the downtrodden Israelites as she prophesied the word of the Lord under her famous palm tree. A courageous warrior, she led her army of 10,000 against the 100,000 Canaanites and proved victorious. The mother of Israel, the wife of Lapidoth, and the prophetess of God, Deborah serves as the ultimate example of a woman using her specific gifts to lead and to change the world in which she lived.
My education has also allowed me to ascertain and to ruminate on various attitudes and viewpoints regarding sexuality and gender roles that exist in the present day and to solidify my position on these crucial topics. Before beginning my studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I had always referred to myself as a “traditionalist feminist.” I viewed myself as equal to my male classmates, as I had continually been able to interact and compete with them academically. However, I did not feel that I could properly call myself a feminist and all that this term has come to mean, as I agree with many of the roles set out for men and women. This internal conflict continued until I came across a page in my international relations textbook during my first semester at college which separated feminism into two distinct categories.
The definition of liberal feminism was familiar to me; it was an idea that I had heard recurrently, an idea that I could never bring myself to agree with. The theory of liberal feminism claims that there are no fundamental differences between men and women and that any perceived distinctions are merely the result of societal stereotyping.
To me, this theory seems entirely unrealistic, as I have experienced the inherent differences between the genders in countless situations, specifically during my time playing for the men’s ice hockey team at my high school. It is indisputable that I was not physically equal to the men on the ice, as I was mentally equal in the classroom. But, Authors Joshua Goldstein and Jon Pevehouse offer the definition of another strand of feminism, difference feminism, which focuses on “valorizing the feminine…valuing the unique contributions of women as women.” Difference feminism provides a way for a woman like me to both accept many gender roles and to work to compete academically and intellectually to shape their societies and to learn their places within them.
In your article, you stressed the need for parents, teachers, and pastors to teach young women how to behave as daughters of God and you argued that feminism has resulted in disrespectful behavior by women to their fathers and their husbands. Throughout my life, I have looked to my mother and father for guidance and they have been the measure against which I have evaluated myself. My mother is a devoted wife and homemaker, and she has worked tirelessly to instill in my brother and me values of compassion, kindness, and honesty. However, my mother has also served as my greatest advocate, and she has consistently demanded that I be afforded the same opportunities as my brother. She has taught me to be ambitious, and to embrace every task with passion and diligence.
My father, for whom I have immeasurable respect, has provided me with every possible chance to both better and challenge myself. He supported me throughout my eight year long career as a hockey player, understanding that this activity, though male-dominated, was important to me and would present many occasions for self-growth. It was my father who pushed me far beyond my own perceived limitations and encouraged me to apply to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a school 1,250 miles from my home, and it was him who all but forced me to accept my full tuition scholarship to attend this institution of higher education. While my mother and father have taught me what it means to be a daughter of God, bringing me to mass, showing me how to present myself in word, deed, and dress, and providing examples through their own lives, they have never allowed my gender to inhibit my desire to learn and participate in my society.
In concluding your article, you offered a list of Bible verses to be used by women to guide their behavior. While I disagree with the connotations of several of your brief summary headings, as I feel you have misinterpreted some of the text due to the gender biases that our society poses, I have tried to model my life based off of teachings and verses such as these. I work hard to be trustworthy, to show discretion when it is necessary, to speak with wisdom kindness, and love, to dress modestly, and to look to my parents and grandparents for guidance when I have needed it.
Though I have copious aspirations, including earning a college degree, attending and graduating from law school, and using all I will have learned to pursue a career in politics, I also hope one day to be a wife and mother.
Like your daughter, I look forward to fulfilling my role in God’s design and I intend to embark on that endeavor with the same ambition that I have put into my education, the same ambition that has been fostered for 18 years by my parents and teachers. I will treat my husband with respect and I will gladly support him in all that he does, and I will expect that he show me the love and kindness that God commands.
However, right now, I am an 18 year old woman, and I am subject and accountable to no one but my parents, educators, and myself. Right now I am a student and I intend to learn all that I can so that I may one day change my world, because my ambitions stretch far past the nuclear family unit and home. I urge you to contemplate my viewpoint, because I have combated attitudes similar to the one you expressed throughout my life. I have had boyfriends who claimed I showed them disrespect by simply having conversations with other males. I have had young men on opposing hockey teams cast disparaging remarks at me such as “make me a sandwich, bitch,” in an effort to help me learn what they think should be my place. I urge you to reflect on the possibility that there is more than one way for a young woman like myself, and like your daughter, to fulfill her role as a daughter of God and to learn their true place. I ask you to cogitate on my position because I feel it is imperative for today’s young women to understand that their faith does not have to stand in contrast with their aspirations, and you and I both have the power to spread this message. I respectfully ask you to take the time to read and respond to my post, as I would be interested to hear more about your perspective.”
My Response to Justice Forte
First and foremost Justice – I want to commend you for what I believe is a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and your belief in his Word. I also want to commend you for your respect and admiration for your parents as this is something highly lacking in many young people today. I also commend you for listening to wise teachers and being curious about and studying schools of theological and philosophical thought. Being a critical thinker is never a bad thing but unfortunately in most generations there have been few of us that are critical thinkers.
What I want to do next is to zoom in on a few statements that you made and respond to them from the perspective of Christians who believe in a patriarchal view of society and marriage as well as more “strict” Biblical gender roles.
Prominent women in the Bible
First let’s take a look at some female characters that are often used by feminist Christians to assert that God encourages women to take active leadership in political and church arenas and see if any of these women resemble a modern feminist.
Miriam – prophet. – It never specifically says she exercised authority over men.
Deborah – prophet; judge; led the army of Israel into battle with Barak, their commander. She was a spiritual and moral leader. She did not seek to lead with Barak, he begged her to. She shamed him by telling him God would hand their enemies into the hands of a “woman”. It is interesting the Bible says she sat under a tree, and not at the city Gates as leaders typically did.
Hulda – prophet during the reign of Josiah. She served at a time when Israel had forsaken God, one of their darkest hours. Josiah sought to restore worship and the Word of God and sent messengers to her to seek the will of God.
Anna – a widow who became a prophet and pronounced Jesus to be the redeemer of Israel
Lydia – business woman in the Philippian Church, but the Bible never refers to her as a leader or a Pastor.
Priscilla – helped Paul while he was establishing churches at Corinth and Ephesus; with her husband Aquila, corrected Apollo’s preaching and helped him to learn of the new way in Christ.
Junias – contrary to feminist teachings, she was not an Apostle, but she was honored by the Apostles for her work in the Lord.
Phoebe – a servant in the Church at Cenchrea, She was not a deacon as feminists assert.
There is absolutely no Biblical evidence that any of these women sought to raise the social status of women or to challenge the role of a woman in the home and in her relationship with her husband.
Is Deborah a feminist role model for women?
“Through this education, I have found role models such as Deborah the fifth judge of the Old Testament referenced in Judges 4 and 5 and Hebrews 11:32-34.”
I challenge you to present any Biblical evidence that Deborah was a “warrior”. She was nothing more than moral support and reluctant moral support at that. If you look at the passage from Judges 5 Deborah only went with Barak because he asked her to and he refused to go if she would not go with him. She was not the proud feminist that she is portrayed as. In fact she said God would hand their enemy into the hands of a “woman” and this was not said in a proud way, but to shame Barak for refusing to go without her. God did eventually give the honor of killing Sisera to a woman (Jael) to shame the men for their cowardly behavior.
The truth is this. We have no evidence that Deborah neglected her duties to her home in her role as prophetess. In fact we have no idea how old she was when God called her to this position. She may have been barren or raised her children and taken on this role much later in life after her children were grown and gone.
Women in leadership positions were the exception to God’s design not the norm
In no way does the Bible EVER paint women in leadership roles as a positive thing, but it is something God uses to shame the men into action.
“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” -Isaiah 3:12 (KJV)
God is allowed to make exceptions to his own rules
God made these exceptions to his own design at limited and specific times:
God allowed a donkey to speak to a Balaam in Numbers chapter 22.
God tells the prophet Isaiah to go and prophesy naked for 3 years in Isaiah chapter 20.
God tells the prophet Hosea to go marry a prostitute (something clearly forbidden for priests) in Hosea chapter 1.
God took Enoch (in Genesis 5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2) directly to heaven without them first experiencing physical death.
In the same way that God made these exceptions to his rules God has sometimes allowed women to occupy positions of spiritual authority in an effort to shame the men of their society into action and obedience to God.
Are “sexist” beliefs always wrong?
“However, I believe that your article reflects not only the loving messages given to us by God, but also several sexist attitudes embedded in our society. While it is clear that God created men and women with differing characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, I do not think that it necessarily follows that the two genders must adhere strictly to narrow roles. While the Bible includes passages that guide women to be reverent and respectful to men, it also offers direction to men to love women and to treat them with kindness and understanding, and to acknowledge them as companions and partners in life.”
Let me first address the term “sexist”. This term is often used synonymously with “misogynist” but the two words really mean two different things.
The truth is that while all misogynists (haters of women) are sexists not all sexist people are misogynists.
If by “sexist” you mean a person who believes that one gender may typically excel in certain tasks over the other gender than I and those others who believe that men and women excel over one another in different areas could be labeled as sexists. For example, men generally speaking are better at most physical sports than women and women generally are better at tasks that require nurturing and empathy than men.
This is why if you take the typical woman and throw her in a sports game with men she will get beat. It is also why if you put a man in a room with toddlers and infants he will not do as well caring for their needs as the typical woman. Are there exceptions to these norms? Of course there are. But exceptions do not negate norms.
But based on your belief in “Difference Feminism” I would guess that this is not something you are including in what you think are “sexist attitudes embedded in our society”. You accept these types of differences between genders. However, you do seem to believe though that it is “sexist” for a person to believe that a woman’s place is in the home. If that is what you mean by “sexist” then I plead guilty.
To be fair to your position – I recognize that you are not condemning women who choose to be homemakers as your mother was.
But you seem to feel that it is “sexist” for a person to believe God did not give women a choice but instead directly commanded that a woman should spend the majority of her time, talents and energy in direct service to her husband, her children and her home.
Coed Sports force men to violate their natural God given instincts toward women
You reference the fact that you played hockey – a sport you readily admit is dominated by men. The reason that hockey is dominated by men is because it is not only physically demanding but it also a very aggressive sport not unlike football although football is even more aggressive.
I have allowed and even encouraged my daughter to play basketball on a church league in our area – but it was not coed. They have a separate league for girls and a separate league for boys. I would not encourage my daughter to do what your father encouraged you to do and play hockey with men. There are two reasons I would not have done what your father did.
The first reason is that men will often instinctively hold back and do not play as aggressively when women are involved. The second reason is that coed sports can also bring out frustration in men as they realize at a conscious or unconscious level that God meant for men to protect women and not to physically compete with women. This is why I am firmly against any type of coed sports leagues because I believe anything that causes men and women to go against their God given gender specific design, nature or instincts is not something we should encourage.
This is also one of the reasons women do not belong in the military as men will instinctively afford more protection to female unit members which affects unit cohesion and effectiveness.
The Bible does not call a man’s wife his partner
You talked about a wife being her husband’s “companion and partner”. While the Bible does refer to man’s wife as his companion it never refers to her as his partner – despite the NIV Bible translation which tries to use “partner” in some verses with no textual support for doing so. I dive into these passages in great detail in these posts.
7 Questions for young women with political ambitions
How do you explain Biblical characters like Deborah as any more than an exception to God’s design and purpose for woman in light of the fact that God calls it a shame for women to rule over men (Isaiah 3:12), he calls it a shame for women to speak in the church (I Corinthians 14:34-35) and he says the head of the woman is the man (I Corinthians 11:3)?
How can a woman occupy a position of political authority which would most like make her an authority over her husband when God calls women to be in subjection to their husbands in “everything” as the Church is subject to Christ in everything? (Ephesians 5:23-24, I Peter 3:1-6)
How can a woman be the “keeper of her home”(Titus 2:5) and serve the needs of her husband, her children and her home while being gone 40 to 70 hours a week as most political jobs require?
Do you think God is ok with other people raising your children and experiencing all the special firsts those children will have(like walking and talking) while you are gone pursing you political career 40 to 70 hours a week?
If a woman pursues a career and her husband must dutifully stand behind her and support her in this career is this not a reversal of the creation order that woman was made for man, not man for woman (I Corinthians 11:9)?
Could you honestly say if you pursue this course of action that you would be dedicating the majority of your time, talents and energy to serving your husband, your children and your home if you pursue this course of action?
Are you willing to sacrifice seeing your child walk for the first time, talk for the first time and all those other special firsts as you most likely will if you are gone so much from your home?
I would invite you to read a recent post I did “Don’t fall for the feminist lie that women can “have it all”. In that post I show a comment I received from a woman who used to think as you do. She believed she could have it all and found out years later that she was sacrificing her family and her marriage as well as not fulfilling the role God gave her by following her selfish ambitions. I encourage you to read her story.
Justice – there is nothing wrong with you having a love for studying the Bible and also other great writers in history. You could use your love of reading and desire to impact the world by teaching other women in your local church as Paul exhorts women to do (Titus 2:3-5). You might even consider having a Christian woman’s blog.
Neither of these uses of your talents would contradict with the primary mission God has given you.
For a man PART of his mission from God in this life is to lead, protect and provide for his home. If he fails to model the love, leadership, provision, protection, teaching and discipline that God does for his people he will fail his mission. But for a man the other part of his mission is to do what you are presuming to do and make an impact his world through his career.
For you as a woman your husband, your children and your home are not just a part of your mission as they are for a man. Your future husband, your future children and your future home ARE your mission. Anything that takes away from your service to your husband, your children and you home must be put aside or you will fail your mission.
I encourage you to read my post “Young ladies – If you pursue a career you may fail the Christian race”.
Also see Does the Bible allow for a woman to be President of the United States?
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