Evangelicals have gotten into the women’s liberation battle with a vengeance. Last Thanksgiving the Evangelical Women’s Caucus met in Washington, emphasizing the fact that women, evangelical or not, have legitimate grievances. These are the focus of the Equal Rights Amendment, which now has passed the Congress and awaits possible ratification by the states.

By now people inside and outside the churches generally agree that women should have the same rights as men: equal pay for the same jobs; equal opportunity for positions generally limited to men; the right and freedom to pursue any career, to own and control property, to obtain credit cards, and the like. But there is one question raised in this connection that has produced some unfortunate consequences: I refer to marriage as it relates to the subject of hierarchy, or of subordination versus egalitarianism. Here evangelicals, including some quite active in the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The issue does not involve women who remain single and decide to carve out careers. For them the question of obeying husbands does not enter the picture. But it does become important to Christian women who do marry. Here it is that the eruption occurs. Central to the discussion is what the Bible has to say on the issue. Elisabeth Elliot of Auca Indian renown stands on the side of hierarchy: wives should obey their husbands. She says: “For the tremendous hierarchical vision of blessedness … the feminist substitues a vision of blessedness which holds all human beings on a level plain—a faceless, colorless, sexless wasteland It is a world which cannot hold the mystery of the Trinity, for there three beings, co-equal and co-eternal, exist in a hierarchical relationship to one another.…”

On the egalitarian side stand people such as Nancy Hardesty, Letha Scanzoni, Virginia Mollenkott, and Paul King Jewett. In their efforts to support the egalitarian thesis that Christian wives need not obey their husbands, they are forced to come to grips with biblical data that, on the surface, do not seem to support egalitarianism in marriage.

In Elisabeth Elliot’s report of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus meeting in The Cambridge Fish she quotes Virginia Mollenkott as saying that “the Genesis 1 account of creation [means] that male and female were created simultaneously and not, as has been generally understood from the teaching of Genesis 2, successively” (Winter, 1975–1976, p. 2). If this conclusion be true then Genesis 2 is obviously transmitting fallible data for it says quite specifically that Adam had named the cattle, the birds of the air, and every beast of the field, but there was no helpmeet found for him. So God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and taking a rib from his ribcage he fashioned Eve, who was to become the mother of all living. If Genesis 1 is regarded as a general statement, and Genesis 2 is seen as the expansion of the details there is no problem. But the way Mollenkott interprets the Bible means she cannot hold to an infallible Scripture.

Hardesty and Scanzoni in their book All We’re Meant to Be argue in favor of egalitarianism in marriage by saying that Paul’s injunction that wives should obey their husbands is a cultural phenomenon, and is not binding today. In other words they deny hierarchy. The Reverend Tom Stark reviewed their book and said this about their approach: “There are a number of places where the authors plainly reject Scripture, and many other places where they have used Scripture irresponsibly” (The Church Herald, October 31, 1975, p. 19).

Paul King Jewett is a male proponent of the women’s egalitarian cause. His book Man as Male and Female is a scholarly and thorough treatment of women’s liberation. So far as marriage is concerned the Apostle Paul is Jewett’s chief obstacle. He says that Paul had two perspectives that are incompatible. He acknowledges that the apostle does teach that wives should obey their husbands but believes this is a hangover from rabbinic teaching. He thinks Paul had an “uneasy conscience.”

Tom Stark reviewed this book also. Of it he said: “Dr. Jewett believes that the traditional understanding of what the Apostle Paul is teaching is a correct understanding of what the Apostle Paul taught and thought, but he is rejecting almost all of these passages, except for Galatians 3:28.” (I might add that in Galatians 4, Paul calls the male and female believers to whom he is writing “sons of God” and “brethren”) Stark concludes his review of Jewett’s book by asserting: “My further problem is that his doctrine of inspiration allows him to set himself as a judge of the Apostle Paul, and to discard many verses in Scripture, ostensibly on the basis that they contradict one verse of Paul (Gal. 3:28), and the life-style of Jesus. Dr. Jewett reveals in his book a clear break from an evangelical view of inspiration and authority of the Bible.”

At stake here is not the matter of women’s liberation. What is the issue for the evangelical is the fact that some of the most ardent advocates of egalitarianism in marriage over against hierarchy reach their conclusion by directly and deliberately denying that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice. Once they do this, they have ceased to be evangelical: Scripture no longer is normative. And if it is not normative in this matter, why should it be normative for matters having to do with salvation? Paul is the great advocate of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If he is wrong about wives obeying their husbands, how do we know that he is not also wrong about the bodily resurrection?

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Anyone who wishes to make a case for egalitarianism in marriage is free to do so. But when he or she denigrates Scripture in the process, that’s too high a price to pay. And if a case for egalitarianism in marriage cannot be made without doing violence to Scripture maybe the case isn’t very strong to begin with.


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