Women's 'Liberation' Through Submission: An Evangelical Anti-Feminism Is Born
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This October, more than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago for the True Woman Conference ’08: a stadium-style event to promote what its proponents call “biblical womanhood,” “complementarianism,” or -- most bluntly -- “the patriarchy movement.”
Women gathering to support the patriarchy movement? It’s evangelical counterculture at its most contrarian.
The Associated Baptist Press explains the relationship of biblical womanhood to feminism, highlighting an ambitious initiative that arose from the meeting: a signature drive seeking 100,000 women to endorse its “True Woman Manifesto,” which, the ABP writes, aims “at sparking a counterrevolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.”
To outside observers of the patriarchy movement, the starkness of the calls for gender hierarchy often seem amusingly outdated (not to mention historically misleading: feminist blogs Feministing and Pandagon have deftly dismantled some of the speakers’ Leave it to Beaver idealizations of the 1950s as a time when women were universally protected).
Though only just under 3,000 women have actually signed the document since its unveiling on October 11, the fact that it exists, and the campaign to gather such a large showing of public support, reveals something important about this movement: that its followers don’t view themselves simply as a remnant of polite, churchy women, holding out against a crass culture, but rather as a revolutionary body waging “countercultural” rebellion against what they see as the feminist status quo.
“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” one organizer, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said at the close of the conference. “I just believe there is a massive women’s movement of true women in those millions of women who are able to capture all kinds of battlefronts for Christ.”
The terms of the manifesto (downloadable here) serve as a good shorthand description of the aims and principles of the submission and patriarchy movement. Signers affirm their belief that women and men were designed to reflect God in “complementary and distinct ways”; that today’s culture has gone astray distinctly because of its egalitarian approach to gender (and that it’s “experiencing the consequences of abandoning God’s design for men and women”); and that while men and women are equally valuable in the eyes of God, here on earth they are relegated to separate spheres at home and in the church.
The “countercultural” attitudes that signers support include the idea that women are called to affirm and encourage godly masculinity, and honor the God-ordained male headship of their husbands and pastors; that wifely submission to male leadership in the home and church reflects Christ’s submission to God, His Father; that “selfish insistence on personal rights is contrary to the spirit of Christ”; and, in a pronatalist turn of phrase that recalls the rhetoric of the Quiverfull conviction, their willingness to “receive children as a blessing from the Lord.”
Finally, in a reference to the importance of woman-to-woman mentoring within the conservative church, they affirmed that “mature Christian women” are obliged to disciple the next generation of Christian wives, training them in matters of submission and headship, in order to provide a legacy of “fruitful femininity.”
The speakers at the conference were the A-list of complementarian celebrities: Pastor John Piper, Christian radio personality Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and antifeminist author Mary Kassian, J. Ligon Duncan III, chairman of the board for the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), Susan Hunt, an author and consultant to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Women in the Church Ministry, and others. The conference was organized by DeMoss’ St. Louis-based ministry (and eponymous twice-daily radio program), Revive Our Hearts, a women’s ministry that stresses submission as a militant discipline that will alter the culture.