Question: “Is feminist theology biblical?”
Answer: The term feminism itself is subject to many different interpretations, with varying levels of biblical support. “Feminist theology,” however, presents a number of major problems. Please note, there are themes within feminism that the Bible strongly endorses. The point here is not that all feminist or pro-female ideas are inherently unbiblical—some are extremely biblical. The point is that re-interpreting the Bible for the sake of female empowerment or a feminist-political agenda is a flawed and unsupportable exercise.
First of all, adding any philosophical descriptor to theology is automatically suspect. It implies the theology is being interpreted with the deliberate intent of supporting an ideology; that the ideology comes first. This is backwards, since we ought to adjust our philosophy to match God’s words, not the other way around. When someone touts “X theology,” he is skewing theological interpretation in order to support “X.” This is the case with so-called feminist theology, a term used to describe several different attempts to alter the Bible toward a preferred conclusion.
Feminist theology comes at different levels and in different areas. Four topics are most frequently challenged for the sake of female empowerment. These are the use of masculine language for God, female submission in marriage, the ordination of women, and reproductive rights. Advocates of feminist theology can point to legitimate support for at least some part of their ideas. The problem occurs when what the Bible says is stretched, taken out of context, or even ignored for the sake of the feminist interpretation.
Feminist theology often criticizes the use of male pronouns for God. According to this position, referring to God as “He,” “Him,” or “Father” degrades the status of women. As some advocates would say, “If God is a man, then men are gods.” The alternative is to refer to God only using gender-neutral terms such as the Divine or to balance the offending terms with female equivalents such as She, Her, and Mother.
In this matter, however, feminist theology is opposing something that the Bible itself does not say. The Bible does not present God as literally, biologically male. Nor does it indicate that women are morally or spiritually inferior. God’s choice to refer to Himself using masculine words in no way implies that men are superior to women. Further, the Bible does not “balance” male and female terminology with respect to God. God is sometimes described using female illustrations (Psalm 57:1; Isaiah 42:14; 66:13), but He is never referred to using female gender words. When God refers to Himself, He always does so using masculine terms. The better interpretation is that there is something particular to the role of “Father” that better describes God’s intended relationship with us, more so than the role of “Mother.” Changing the words of God merely to satisfy a gender-neutral preference is a dangerous form of biblical editing.
The submission of wives to husbands is also a target of feminist theology. Given that the Bible admonishes Christians to “submit to each other” (Ephesians 5:21) and indicates that men and women are spiritually equal (Galatians 3:28), feminist theology claims that women ought not actually “submit” to their husbands. Some go so far as to claim that marital submission makes women inferior to men.
Once again, this aspect of feminist theology not only defies what the Bible itself says, but it also creates theological contradictions. If the command to submit “to each other” is taken to the absolute, as feminist theology suggests, then children ought to expect submission from their parents. Likewise, if a person cannot be subordinate to another without being inferior, it would mean Jesus Christ is not actually God, nor equal to God, since He submitted to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). There is a biblical mandate for wives to submit to husbands. Of course, the Bible also says that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25–26), which means to love them humbly (Philippians 2:8), sacrificially (Galatians 2:20), and with a servant’s heart (John 13:4–5, 14–15). The Bible does not give men license to be tyrants over their wives, but it does prescribe unique and important roles for men and women.
The ordination of women as pastors or priests is another area where feminist theology conflicts with sound biblical teachings. Using the same general arguments as above, feminist theology claims women should take on the same positions of spiritual leadership as men, with no distinction of roles. Of course, this claim relies less on interpretation of the Bible than on blatant rejection of its teaching as outdated or invalid. The role of women in the church and in the home is not inferior to that of men in any sense, but that role does not include headship (1 Timothy 2:12). The Bible does not imply that men can never learn from a woman or be guided by one, but it does indicate that titles such as “priest” and “pastor” cannot be legitimately claimed by women.
Perhaps the least biblically based attack from feminist theology involves the concept of “reproductive rights,” a common but extremely misleading term. In principle, “reproductive rights” would mean a woman has the right to choose whether or not to have children and with whom. Stated that way, it is a biblically sound concept. However, in practice, the term reproductive rights is almost always a euphemism for the right to abortion-on-demand. Once again, in order to support this branch of feminist theology, much of what the Bible says has to be abandoned outright. The killing of unborn children under the guise of “reproductive rights” is patently anti-biblical.
Some aspects of feminist theology are re-interpretations or misinterpretations of biblical ideas. Gender-inclusive language and the exact meaning of marital “submission” are contentious and sometimes cloudy topics. However, the ordination of women requires an almost complete rejection of biblical authority. And abortion-on-demand, without question, is totally incompatible with any honest approach to Scripture.
The Bible values, protects, and supports women. Aspects of feminism that empower women can easily find support in God’s Word. Feminist theology, which seeks to re-shape the Bible according to a political agenda or a personal preference, cannot.