So apparently a lot of you really like Head-Cold Sharon. I don’t know what that says about my regular personality, but I’ll try and bring her back real soon–maybe I’ll take a swig of Nyquil or something.
But now that I’m all healed up, I’m headed down to Charlotte to speak at another conference this weekend. It’s the North Carolina Baptist Campus Ministry Fall Convention, and I’m teaching on a similar topic to last weekend’s conference. The title for my session is “Unconventional Womanhood: Being a Christian Woman in a Secular World.”
As I’ve been reflecting on this topic, I’ve been struck by the varying ways in which culture has shaped our understanding of godly womanhood. Most Christians would agree that culture has negatively influenced our concept of femininity in some way or another, but exactly how those influences have manifested themselves is up for debate.
You see, your answer to this question will largely depend on what perspective you’re coming from. Most of us would agree that trends such as the growing immodesty among Christian women are a negative impact from our society. But there is a point at which Christians are utterly divided. Here’s what I mean–
(And keep in mind that these are stereotypes. Not all people will fit these exact molds)
The conservative perspective tends to argue that the culture’s influence is most pronounced in Christian women who are hyper-feminists. From this angle, Christians are seen as having abandoned Scriptural teachings in favor of societal trends, ignoring God’s intention for distinct gender roles in favor of female agendas.
The liberal perspective frequently contends that oppressive cultural influences arise when women are primarily limited to the home. From this angle, Christians are portrayed as chauvinists who twist Scripture to debase women.
What is ironic about these two perspectives is that they have completely opposite understandings of the culture. One view sees the culture as being relativistic–anything goes, including all gender distinctions. The other view understands the culture as being too absolutist on the point of gender roles. From this perspective, women have been subjugated by their cultures for far too long, and Scripture should be read as speaking prophetically into that oppression.
So which one is it? Is our culture relativistic, or absolutist?
The answer is both. There are people in our culture who are extreme relativists, and that mindset has influenced numerous denominations. But there are also segments of our culture who are extreme absolutists, and they have influenced countless denominations as well.
And given this reality, it is imperative that we listen to BOTH perspectives. In Scripture we find a surprising tension between an emphasis on distinct gender roles, and female empowerment (which, at the time, was quite revolutionary). That said, we need to adopt a worldview that embraces both ends of the spectrum. Otherwise, we run the risk of excluding parts of Scripture.
Practically speaking, what does this look like? Liberals can embrace the very real language of gender distinction that we find in Scripture, a language that not only lends richness to our understanding of male and female relationships, but also adds depth to our understanding of the Trinity. Similarly, conservatives can embrace the female empowerment that very much exists in Scripture, pushing women to be leaders, to arm themselves with knowledge, to do so in ways that is not necessarily limited to the home and family.
As differing members of the Body of Christ, it is vital that we listen to a wide array of voices. None of us is immune to the influence of culture, so we need the perspectives of those outside our circle to give us clarity. That doesn’t mean you have to agree on EVERYTHING, but if you can’t find a single thing to learn from one another then you probably don’t have a correct understanding of the Church.
Godly womanhood is a complex thing, but the more we seek to understand it and listen to the perspectives of others, the more we will approach a holistic picture of it. The ultimate end, of course, being the glory of God and service to His Kingdom. Women accomplish little if they are not encouraged to cultivate their gifts and join men on the spiritual battlefield. But they will also fail to be effective if they deny their uniquely feminine strengths. So we must seek to find a balance of the two, not for the sake of women, but for the sake of Christ.