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The Roots of Feminism & The Church





noun: feminism

  1. the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

Many people may find it surprising that the roots of feminism began among Quakers. If you asked most believers today, regardless of denomination, where they believe feminism originated most would give possible answers such as hippies, non-conformists, the political left or agnostics. The truth is that the feminist movement began in the 1650s with the beginning of the Quaker movement known as the Religious Society of Friends. From the beginning Quakers allowed women to preach and openly minister. Quakers became the driving force behind women’s suffrage and abolitionism in the 19th century. You may recognize names such as Lucretia  Mott from your history class but there is often not a link between these people and their religious background. The truth is that believers are the first people to implement the equality of women not only in the church but also in the political and social sphere. The idea of equality between the sexes did not originate outside the church but within. The reason women have the right to vote today is because of fellow believers called Quakers.

“The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the USA is widely considered to date from the First Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York State in 1848.  This meeting was instigated by five women who had been closely involved in the abolition of slavery, all but one of whom were Quakers. Seventy-two years later, it was the actions and treatment of another Quaker woman – Alice Paul – which led at last to the passing of a Women’s Suffrage Bill by the US Congress. […]

The involvement of Quakers in the campaign for women to be given the right to vote is perhaps not surprising, given the equal status that women had been granted – within the Meetings if not always within the home – from the earliest days of Quakerism.

The five women who met in 1848 (all of whom but Stanton were Quakers) drew up a Declaration of Sentiments, modelled on the Declaration of Independence, beginning “all men and women are created equal” and going on to list eighteen “injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.”

They also drafted eleven resolutions, arguing that women had a natural right to equality in all spheres. The ninth resolution made the radical assertion that it was the duty of women to secure for themselves the right to vote.

Like Anna Maria and Mary Priestman in Britain, Lucretia Mott demonstrated awareness that equality for women called for economic justice too.  One resolution, drawn up by her, spoke of:  “securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.”” Source.

Although women had gained suffrage there were still many inequalities left socially including in the workplace. As a result, in the 1960s we saw a huge change in the ideas regarding women working outside the home and having roles outside of only wife and mother. For the first time gender roles were questioned since the time of the Quakers. In their new found freedom, women were pursuing their goals and ambitions. Women were leaving their homes to serve in ministry and other uncommon job roles for their gender. Many felt threatened by this change; with some people viewing this change as a departure from scripture and from supposedly God assigned gender roles. This is where feminism and the church became at odds with one another. This change caused many people to fear feminism – particularly in the church; it also caused many feminists to fear the church.

The negative reception of equality in the workplace by religious circles (which were mostly ran by men) rightly caused great anger and feelings of rejection among many women. As a result, a hostile spirit towards men began to emerge from many feminist circles. Religious circles’ traditional assertion that God has designed pre-determined gender roles and that God has placed men in authority over women became at odds with the ever growing feminist idea of equality. Feminists thus began to view God as the enemy instead of men’s own interpretations as the problem. This forced many women to have to choose between their faith (and all of the traditional religious interpretations) and feminism (which was growing increasingly agnostic but provided them with more freedoms.)  The departure of feminism from Christianity and its Quaker roots caused a huge schism to develop.

This is why today we see many feminist circles adopting amoral beliefs such abortion, hostility towards men and disdain for motherhood – many of which call this “liberal feminism”.

Thankfully in recent years, the churchs’ stance on women has changed exponentially. This is greatly in part to researching and new found understanding of the scriptures in their original languages. This has actually caused true gender equality to now emerge among many religious circles with women being allowed into ministry and not having to be under constant male authority.

This being said the roots of feminism are often misunderstood or not understood at all by the church. Feminism was not originally about hostility towards men or abortion; feminism was actually about fulfilling the word of God in that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28. It was all about equal rights and equal opportunity to express the gifts that God has given to us. Period.

Feminism has in no doubt departed from its original purpose and become an ugly polycephalic monster with many different facets and ideologies. With that being said I hear many pastors and Christians in general attack feminism without even knowing its roots. Feminism is not the enemy. It is how feminism is implemented that determines its rightness or wrongness.When feminism is used to promote women in ministry and women operating in the gifts that God has given them then it is right. When feminism is about abortion and about seeing men as the enemy it is wrong.

I just wanted to shed some light and healing on this often very controversial issue of feminism and the church.

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