Over the past 10 to 15 years there has developed within evangelicalism a language about men that is uber-masculine. The shift was aided by the publication of books like Wild at Heart by John Eldredge and the Promise Keepers movement. As men have decried the dangers of being a passive husband and father, the church has men encouraged to be strong and exercise the warrior spirit given to them by God.
Alongside of this development has grown a parallel movement among women. Every hero needs a damsel in distress, so Christian women have gladly assumed the identity of princess. After all, we are daughters of the King. In a culture where chivalry seems to be dead and women are objectified as meat instead of being exalted as treasures, the language of “princesses” comes as a welcome change.
Until recently I had not given much thought to this language. It seemed harmless enough. Last week, however, I ran across an article by Alexandra T. Armstrong that leveled a thought-provoking challenge to the trend of “princess” language. In the piece, Armstrong reflected on John MacArthur’s newest book Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ. What Armstrong found most “unsettling” about MacArthur’s explanation of the Greek word for slave, doulos, is that it refers to
“a person who is the purchased property of another and lacks freedom of will. It does not mean a willing hired servant, for which there are several other Greek words.”
In other words, there’s no soft-pedaling the term. When you read the word “doulos” it means that you were, quite literally, bought with a price.
However, what I appreciated most about Armstrong’s article is what she said next:
“For years I’ve disdained the whole evangelical women’s ministry movement that encourages women to see themselves as God’s petted princesses who don’t know sanctification from spa treatments. Gags me. But slaves? Wouldn’t that be an equally unbalanced identity? MacArthur’s book has started to make me think not.”
Although there are few references to women as “princesses” in the Bible, Scripture refers to Christians as “slaves” 124 times. Does this pose a serious challenge to the way we talk about and think about ourselves as Christian women?
I think that it does. But before I explain why I want to offer a caveat. Whenever using the language of “slavery” in the same sentence as “women” it is important to proceed with caution. There are thousands of women in the world today who are actually in slavery. And given that reality, the Biblical language of slavery cannot and MUST not be read as an endorsement of that practice. Slavery to Christ is in no way akin to any form of worldly slavery, whether it is human trafficking or an abusive marriage. In fact, the two types of slavery are utterly incompatible with one another. A slave master of the world sets himself up against the benevolent lordship of Christ.
Bearing that in mind, let’s return to consider princess language. Perhaps the first and most obvious concern is that it ventures into the realm of humanistic self-help and even borders on vanity. That is not to say that women should not love themselves as God loves them, but to think of yourself as a “princess” is not exactly a moderate category of self-love.
What’s more, it can be difficult to reconcile the extravagant language of princess-hood with the words of Jesus. He certainly loves and values us all, but he also reminds us that the last will be first, that we will suffer as we take up his cross, and that the world will hate us. Hardly the life of a princess. Add to that Paul’s language of “slaves” and we are given a picture of discipleship that is altogether antithetical to the language of being a “princess.”
Does that mean we should do away with the princess identity? I wouldn’t say that. But I wonder if that particular identity is an eschatological category, not a present reality. By that I mean that it is a promise of our perfect place in the Kingdom of God. It is a reflection of how God loves us and values us, but it is not our position in the present world.
We exist between the already and the not yet. We live in a fallen world that does not value God’s people the way that He does. In fact, we live in a world that is impressed by princesses and socialites, watching their every move with baited breath, but is utterly apathetic to the plight of God’s true “princesses” who are suffering persecution in many parts of the world.
Again, that is not to say that women are not valuable, beautiful, and precious members of the Kingdom of God. We are. But the world does not see us that way, so we should not be indignant or feel self-entitled when the world doesn’t treat us that way. In fact, Jesus told us to expect this kind of rejection. Fortunately, we do not have to exalt ourselves and prop up our self-image with such passing, worldly standards. One day we will be taken up into perfection with God, and then will we truly know what it means to be a princess. I suspect that on that day the distance between being a princess and being a slave to Christ will not appear so great.
Wow, I love the examination of this! I wrote my own post awhile ago about it, but haven’t revisited the subject much since. I think this runs deep in Christian (and non-Christian) society, especially with the “I deserve better” attitude women take on in regard to romantic relationships.
The only thing I’d add to my own post, and yours, is a shout-out to Queen Susan and Queen Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia, the only female characters who have made me want to be royalty.
For years, even though my theologically extremely careful pastor has preached at least one sermon on Christians as sons and daughters of the King, I’ve had trouble with the princess language. Most of the time when I’ve heard it used it wasn’t the careful nuances of “daughters of the King.” It was pink and fluffly glittery and girly princesses. The focus was on the women in question, not the King who had adopted them nor the Brother who had saved them. The princess language also seems to flatten all Christian women into one woman – one who would love a tiara and delicate waving in elbow gloves. The problem is that God did not create just one expression of femininity. Certainly he did create femininity, but he created women who show it in so many ways. Not all of those are stereotypically princess-y. We conservative evangelicals often seem to have a tendency to want to proscribe exactly what femininity looks like down to the teacup in a woman’s hands and the tea that must be in it, but the Bible does not go nearly so far.
Certainly we as Christians are sons and daughters of the King, in an already-not-yet sense. We should live life with a sense of noblesse oblige. Because God has given us such great privileges, we must serve others. We should also realize that our status as sons and daughters of the King is far more about the King than it is about us.
Great post! I honestly never paid much attention to the princess language. I guess I always thought it was kinda silly to walk around calling myself a princess but didn’t mind if other Christian women did this. But this post is very thought-provoking.
Thanks for writing.
great blog sharon!
There’s a new book out called “SLAVE” – now I want to read it; premise is how a servant works for someone, but a slave is owned!! cool.
Thanks for your thoughts, Sharon! I have a good friend that used “princess” the other day and it made me stop and ponder, because I never use that word. I prefer to think of myself as a daughter.
Your post on the “princess” mentality is timely for me. Since the new year began, I have tried to remember most days to begin by asking, “Jesus, you are my lord and master; what would you have me to do today?” Unfortunately, as the day proceeds I can easily fall into the I-don’t feel like it; I-want-to-treat-myself” mode. The princess mindset is reinforced in the southern part of the US and in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia as the way females are to be treated. Thus the terms “southern princess” or “Jewish princess” or (You fill in the blank) have become part of our vocabulary. Usually, if we refer to someone in our family with that phraseology we mean it in a cute sense, but waitresses and nurses and anyone serving the public use it derogatorily. I believe the later view is more realistic. Who likes a woman who demands or assumes her right to be pampered? My the Lord help each one of us to serve Him and others according to the Philippians 2:5-11 model.
Thank you for this…I’m reading James right now and God is impressing on me how dangerous “selfish ambition” is. I have grown far too fond of our comfort-seeking society and forget that we were never meant to be at home here.
Plus- princesses always have more adventures when they get out of the palace and into the Kingdom. 🙂
Great reflection, Sharon. As for the men’s side, what bothers me is that the “warrior” spirit is often applied in a narrowly Western masculine manner. What bothers me even more is that this model of masculinity is then brought back into the church and begin to determine what men and women are allowed and not allowed to do in the church. I wonder if the warrior language for men needs to be revisited as well.