Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” To the woman [the Lord God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
- Genesis 3:13, 16, 20
I confess that I have struggled with writing this post, not because I do not know what I want to say, but because there is so much I want to say. It is, perhaps, a providential tragedy that the leaked court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade occurred only days before Mother’s Day. Could there be a more revealing incongruency than protesting for the right to unrestricted abortion while preparing for and celebrating Mother’s Day?
Opinions about abortion are pretty well set for most of us, and trying to debate one another about when life begins has proven to be an exercise in futility. As a pastor, I avoided public discussion of abortion for many years. When a society embraces and encourages sin, then many people act with good intentions under the assumption that legality implies morality. But with 60 million-plus abortions since Roe v. Wade, I think, as Christians, we need to think about what we’re doing.
All our discussion and debate are around the issue of when life begins – at conception, somewhere along the scale during gestation, or at birth. But we make a mistake when we limit our discussion to the womb and to stages of development therein. What about women? What does it mean for women when we abort our children? Perhaps the more important question we should ask ourselves is this: what does it mean to be a woman? The answer to that question was assumed by Roe v. Wade, which is why there is such outrage that it is being overturned. But how much have we really thought about the question?
The feminist movement began nearly 200 years ago in women’s suffrage. Women wanted to be able to vote. That in itself is no small achievement. If we look around the world today, there are very few nations in which women or men have true freedom to vote. Thus, none of us should take that right for granted, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the women who made it possible.
Having achieved that objective, the feminist movement set its sights on other goals. Two factors in history served as jet fuel on a campfire, until the feminist movement swept across the nation in a conflagration. The first was, unexpectedly, WWII and the need for workers because the men had gone to war. The iconic Rosie the Riveter was used to recruit women to work in factories, especially those factories supporting the war efforts, and women who had never worked outside the home entered the workforce en masse. Following the war, a majority of women left their jobs, but the precedent and appeal of work outside the home were set. The second development that radically altered life for women was the Pill. The first truly reliable form of birth control gave women the freedom to determine when or if they would become pregnant.
At that point, feminism became entrenched in our society, not only as normative for how women were to be treated, but for what womanhood was. Stereotypes and roles were not merely set aside. They were openly mocked and ridiculed. Women began breaking down the walls of male domination and the bastions of masculine dominion – school, work, politics, and everywhere women perceived exclusion from equal treatment. By all accounts, women made great strides in terms of autonomy and freedom of choice. But at what price?
The ideas of feminism permeate every aspect of American life today. For this post, we are interested in the sexual freedom of feminism. True sexual freedom and autonomy mean women are free to have sex whenever and with whomever without responsibility or consequence when we do so. That is the whole point of abortion, is it not? That we should be able to engage in sexual activity without worrying about consequences?
Before going any further, we need to be honest that the church was complicit in oppressing women with the encouragement of male rule over women and the refusal to allow women full participation in the life of the church. Still today, some denominations continue to require submission of women to their husbands in service to biblical patriarchy, as understood in those denominations. Most Christian denominations across the globe do not allow women the same level of involvement as we find in many American churches. What is not as well known is that the oppression of women in Christian life and teaching intensified in the last 300 years or so and is worse – more intentional – than it was in the first 400-500 years, feminist revisionist histories notwithstanding. With the rise of scientific, secular humanism and the marginalization of Christianity in the West, women have been subjected to more sexism and domination in conservative churches than was true historically.
This failure of men and male leadership in the church makes it much easier for contemporary feminism to mock Christianity and women’s adherence to Christian faith. The obvious sexism still present among some Christian communities also makes it much more difficult to discuss who women are in the eyes of God as conveyed in Scripture. Yet, our choice is not an either/or choice between the wholesale adoption of feminism at the abandonment of Christian teaching or second-class status for women, subjects of male superiority.
For context, I want to use a quote from St. John Chrysostom (347-407) taken from his homily on Genesis 17, “[God is saying], ‘In the beginning I created you equal in esteem to your husband, and My intention was that in everything you would share with him as an equal, and as I entrusted control of everything to your husband, so did I to you; but you abused your equality of status. Hence I subject you to your husband.’”
Really, would you have guessed that? How many of us realize that, in the beginning, God created us as equals, male and female, with equal esteem to men? We do not even discuss this in most churches today because to talk about the punishment of the woman is taken as a challenge to prevailing feminist orthodoxy in our culture. But here’s the thing: if our sin has made us unequal, subject to men, then our salvation in Jesus Christ will change that. Do we not believe that we are new creations, born of God, filled with the Spirit? That is what the Bible teaches. So much needs to be explored and understood before we will be able to live fully Christian marriages that honor God and bless women and men. We commit a grave error when we allow sinfulness to define the goal we seek to attain.
We also make a grave error when we allow a godless ideology to define life, meaning, purpose, nature, or anything else. To believe that God created is also to believe that we will be most fully alive and blessed when we live according to His intentions and purposes.
As most know, naming was very important in the Old Testament. When the man was allowed to name the creatures, his rule over the creatures was being established. The names given to creatures reflect the man’s ability to see the nature of creature, what it was. Man named the animals based upon their essence. Today, it is common to hear that the man named the woman at her creation, but really, all he did was acknowledge that she was the female version of himself (ish/ishah). He does not truly name the woman until after the Fall as they were preparing to leave the Garden, and the name he gave her was Eve, meaning life-giver or living, because she was “the mother of all living.”
Christian faith and teaching hold women in far higher esteem than feminism ever could and not because Christianity believes women should be men’s equals with the same life and habits as men. Authentic Christian womanhood as depicted in the Bible reveals that woman, taken from the side of man and built whole and complete, is the heartbeat that propels society toward its own self-understanding and expression. Women form the culture. That is true whether one believes in God or not, or whether one’s religion is Christian or not. The "mother of all living" is the one who directs the unfolding future through the life she brings forth and in the manner in which she shapes that life.
Certainly, it is true that men have done many evil things in history, but the capacity to do great evil is not limited to men by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout history, women have proven themselves adept at influencing affairs either directly themselves or through the men they married or birthed. One has only to consider the disadvantages to men in the rise of feminism to see the power women wield over the formation of a society.
Today, study after study shows that the greater the influence of women, the higher the price paid by our sons and grandsons. Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, The War Against Boys, is a devastating critique of educational polices that jettison effective means of teaching boys, leaving them to struggle as underachievers in schools designed for girls’ strengths. Kay S. Horowitz’ book, Manning Up, traces the triumphs of feminism in our culture that make it possible for men never to mature or take responsibility for themselves, much less a wife or children. Without any consideration of Christian belief and teaching, feminist ideology reveals the power of women to drive societies. Even so, women do not become more by making men less.
I could go on, but this is already too long. I will say this: contemporary feminism is part and parcel of the effort of men to elevate science as a replacement for God and to reduce human beings to glorified animals. To the extent that we accept this evolving progress of human reason and knowledge instead of the wisdom of God, we will suffer the chaos and confusion that mark American culture today. We will continue to echo an ideology in which women strive to be equal to men by being the same as men – men who also suffer a diminished identity defined without reference to God. Freedom and equality are not found when we choose death over life. Or, maybe that is freedom and equality in a people who do not know God and cannot grasp life and light. We do not help when we accept ideologies that destroy our humanity and “Christianize” them by using Jesus’ Name.
Women and men are not the same, but we are equal in Jesus Christ. We should never define ourselves by our sin, although we must be aware that sin seeks to tear us down. Rather, we should claim the life to which we are redeemed, granting the Spirit the freedom to lift us up to who we can become in Christ. The relationships of men and women, whether in marriage, in the workplace, or in church, should be partnerships in which the majesty and wonder of God’s Image – male and female – are allowed to flourish together so the fullness of God will be revealed in His children.
The measure of womanhood is not our freedom be sexually active with impunity. Abortion is wrong for the death of the child conceived, yes, but it’s also wrong for the slower death of the soul of women. Women are glorious beings when born of God and shaping our world with life, but we cannot choose death and life simultaneously.
If you’ve had an abortion and guilt relentlessly nibbles at your heart and mind, Christ would set you free from that. We do not live fully and joyfully in Him when guilt prevails. New life awaits any and all who turn to Jesus Christ in humility or humiliation, in shame or failure. He is able to make you stand with rejoicing in His Holy Presence. You have only to call His Name, and He will come, so great is our God’s love for us.
Let us express our love for God by choosing life and living with gratitude for the gift.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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