Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Makes a Woman True?

This post is devoted to introducing a new initiative to you called the True Woman Manifesto, written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (think radio "Revive our Hearts") . While I do not believe the manifesto adequately represents all true women, I do think you ought to be aware of its purpose and power. Much of it I agree with it, while some of it I do not. Perhaps it is the title that bothers me the most.

I believe it's important for you to read the True Woman Manifesto. Take time to discover if it's name is appropriate and why you could or could not sign it. I'd welcome your comments in response and your thoughts to this question: What makes a woman true?

When I look up femininity in wikipedia I find that it can mean qualities that people deem best suited for women and can include any of the cultural trappings including, but not limited to, superficiality, corsets, heels, makeup, long necks, bound feet and cleavage. Now I believe there are some key, essential attributes to femininity. I'm not convinced Scripture teaches them clearly enough to codify. But DeMoss and others do.

Read the True Woman Manifesto.

After perusing the Manifesto, check out this adept critic of its content at a fellow blogger, site:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

While I know John Piper is a much beloved theologian, it's his gender theory I cannot agree with, particularly how he believes that because women are distinct from men, they should not be in any authority position where men will heed their leadership. For Piper, the spiritual buck stops with men. I believe that if women are so amazingly distinct and complementarian to men, why not create churches and homes that are complementarian all the way up the chain of command? Why not use women's distinct gifts for every decision, every leadership opportunity? Why not use the helper God provided to man?

I believe the current crisis in masculinity is a direct result of the strain men accept (often without women lifting a finger) believing God placed ultimate responsibility on their human shoulders. When men and women believe males are directly responsible for all spiritual health in church and home, the body is operating with 50% capacity. Strain and eventual injury is the result. God originally created woman to be helper, an ezer. But helping is impossible if we come under the husband’s spiritual authority and the final buck of spiritual leading falls to the men.

The godly man that I partner with in life and work reminds me that there are some men so confirmed and confident in their masculinity that they can realize their need of woman, just as their forefather Adam, recognized his need of woman. Unless the first Woman could shoulder responsibility with Man, she was not a help at the beginning. This pyramid model for home and church (the same one endorsed in the True Woman Manifesto) shrugs off the community of the body, where every members is needed, the weaker, the stronger, all to fulfill the role we have been gifted to find and fill.

Piper's words:

I regard the True Woman Manifesto as a faithful, clear, true, wise—indeed—magnificent document. What an amazing thing it would be if hundreds of thousands of women signed on with their heart to the True Woman Manifesto.

—Pastor John Piper

This is where Piper and I disagree. Do you?


S G said...

Disclaimers: I'll be honest, I'm just not a fan of the whole thing - the idea of a True Woman Manifesto didn't sit well and even when I opened the pdf document it felt cheesy. But I tried to get past all that and read the statement unbiasedly. And I also don't know whether I identify as complementarian or egalitarian... I'm still reading and studying so these are just some thoughts as I'm processing :)

-This line in particular on the top of page two stood out to me: Women "are to model femininity in their various relationships by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit." Is this really how we model femininity? I don't know, it just seems like there has to be more to being feminine than dressing modestly and being gentle. Even the Scripture references that are cited are controversial (not saying I disagree with how they were references, just highlighting that we are drawing significant implications from controversial verses).

-The part on the first page about children is also interesting. The Scripture verses cited (footnote 15), except for Titus 2, don't seem to make a gender distinction. I could be totally wrong because I haven't studied Titus 2 but I feel like the statement in the manifesto is a lot to hang on Titus 2. From the Scriptures, are woman necessarily "uniquely designed to be bearers and nurturers of life"? I honestly don't know.

-Shouldn't we all be "nurturers of life" is one sense or another? I think that's the other thing that didn't sit right. Obviously, the creators of the manifesto would agree that a large portion of this document would define men as well. While this might not be wrong, I wonder if describing general Christian characteristics within the context of "godly women" is helpful.

-And, maybe most significantly, do women have to fulfill all these things to be "true women"? It seems like much of the manifesto focuses on the house and family, which is great -- but what about a woman who is single, childless and works full time? I couldn't find anything, except general principles of character, that spoke about working or a career. I know many godly woman who fall in this category. And honestly, while it is probably not an appropriate response to the manifesto, as a college student I feel a little anxious about "finding a husband" and "starting a family" because these seem to be the realm of women. If I can't belong to that realm, where does that leave me?

Ok, there's more I could say but that got real long, real fast so I'll leave with that. Sorry for the length :) Again as I said previously, my thoughts are a work in process... I don't know where I land on the major issues I'm just throwing thoughts out there! And... this post was pretty negative but there is a lot in the manifesto I'd agree with too!

RPB said...

Totally apart from the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate (which I'm still wrestling with), I don't think the "crisis of masculinity" is a result of men accepting too much of the burden of leadership. I've been musing on this lately, and I still don't have anything like a good diagnosis. But the more I consider it, the more troubling it becomes.

I've thought about it largely in terms of young adult men and women, including through many recent conversations about "singleness" in the church. Some of the criticism of men is misdirected - or at least simplistic, with single women blaming men for their passivity (there's a fair amount of truth to this) but using this as an excuse to avoid dealing with their own problems (which may include a hardness toward men that mirrors male passivity - a "crisis of femininity," though less far reaching than the male crisis - and a fear of relationship which is similar to the fear that these passive men experience). Leaders and mentors join in this by blaming the young men, without facing the serious changes in both the surrounding culture and the church culture that make dating more confusing. For example, a recent article looked at the ways observant Mormons, Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals approach "marrying off" their young adults. The first two groups have well-established customs for doing this, necessary because of the difficulty of finding a mate as a social minority. Catholics and Evangelicals did not need such customs, since they were such large groups within American society and had well-established cultures generally. However, their role in American society has changed to some degree, and the attitudes and behaviors of society around them have changed even more. Now, young Catholics and Evangelicals are much less likely to meet compatible partners outside of religious settings, while young adult membership in religious groups has also become quite limited (a recent study found that something like 75% of Protestants leave church in their late teens through their twenties).

All of that is an example of the rather more complicated nature of trends sometimes labeled as a "problem with men." But that's not to say that there isn't a real problem. It does seem like female involvement in Christian institutions has long exceeded male involvement, but this does not seem to be the case in Eastern Orthodoxy (or in Islam for that matter), suggesting this has more to do with either Western culture or Western Christianity than gender itself. But the level of difference is pretty amazing. In my work as a university chaplain, I would say that 90% of the students who seek me out (stopping by for open houses, for example) are female. Beyond the religious issue, universities are having difficulty attracting qualified and motivated male students, and there is a large and growing gender gap in reading practices at any age (but especially among young adults).

Something is wrong with young men, but I'm not quite sure what it really is, much less where the problem comes from and how to fix it (even on a small scale - creating healthy male subcultures in the church or on Christian college campuses).

himmiefan said...

This manifesto is just more of the unhealthy obsession that fundamentalists have with gender roles. They've really made an idol out of gender. This silliness will probably go away over time now that women are active in all areas of society. Anyway, it's not up to them to decide how I as a woman should be; only God can do that.

Now, my two cents on the egalitarian/complementarian debate. Complementarianism is based on faulty Bible reading; it's just taking verses out of the context of the paragraph and book, and out of the context of the culture.

Tito Tinajero said...

As I read the manifesto, what struck me was what has always struck me about the egalitarian/complementarian debate. The debate has been about submission and who gets to be in control. I remember I had class taught by a egalitarian, David Scholer. My final paper started with sentence, "Women should not have authority in the Church." Followed by "Men should not have authority in the Church either." My point that the controlling verse on authority and the debate should be Matt 28.18. Yet, we being humans don't like that and want to be in control. We are too busy wanting to control (the first sin) and not give up control that we don't understand the underlining issue. I have seen many men use the idea of authority to dominate a mate, clearly a sin. It all boils down to human sin of wanting to control and be like God without understanding the nature of God. Seeing how Jesus treated women (and all humans, we see not a domineering presence, but a loving one of self sacrifice. The leaders of the church are those who do the will of God regardless of gender. Jesus after claiming all authority asks us (all his followers) to make disciples of all nations and nothing of this prime mission of the Church is in the manifesto. What is in the manifesto is works rightegousness about how a woman should act. Who is a greater leader, a woman who leads many to the faith (Mother Teresa) or a man who fails to. The problem we have had in this debate is understand the nature of authority, which come to think about it is the central problem of Humanity since the Fall.

Anonymous said...

I think the words of former slave Sojourner Truth make an apt commentary on this manifesto:

"And ar'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ar'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man -- when I could get it -- and bear de lash as well! And ar'n't' I a woman?
I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off the slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ar'n't I a woman?

Tasha said...

The manifesto was ok in some parts, and kind of lame in others.
Question: Why is it that modesty and submission are included in traits to be cultivated, yet some of the Fruits of the Spirit are left out?

It confuses me how Piper can support strong women, grounded in theology, female missionaries who have braved extremely dangerous situations, yet support something like this which makes femininity seem so... Stepford.

Perhaps it would come off better if they were careful with terminology and put definitions to certain "problem" words (i.e. gentle spirit, meekness, modesty, submission) in order to clarify their intended message.

I really liked the point you made that the crisis in masculinity is partially due to the enormous responsibility place on their shoulders. I mean, being the spiritual leader of an entire household? That is a serious duty. Making enough to support a large family with wife staying at home and in comfortable style? That is a lot of pressure. No wonder many men are afraid of marriage/responsibility. They grasp how serious it is. And with the emphasis on submission as meaning going with the husband's decision, it seems like he is all alone with no partner. It's lonely at the top.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

SG- it does seem that femininity is more than gentleness and modesty! And aren't men supposed to be both, too? See fruits of the spirit! I'm curious if you've checked out Ruby Slippers on this... I have a meaty chapter about defining femininity with freedom and grace. I agree that is a lot to hang on Titus 2.

As I've written in comments elswhere on my blog, here are a few thoughts about Titus 2.

In Titus the verse about young women being taught to keep house is actually in a list of ways the older women can teach the younger. This is a wonderful Biblical tradition of the older women helping the younger (as Naomi did for Ruth, for example).

The TNIV puts it like this "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

I believe these verses mean that when the older women teach the younger they will be teaching things like "be kind, be pure, when you're at home keep yourself involved in the lives of those around you." It is not saying that women ought to always be busy nor that they should always be at home. For if Paul meant that then he'd be in violation of the ways the Prov 31 woman worked outside the home.

The purpose of this instruction is so that "no one will malign the Word of God." In today's culture a lazy woman who stays home all day and doesn't help those around her is still discrediting to God and his people. But I wouldn't say that this is a command to stay home with your children if you are a woman.

I personally do not think all women are uniquely designed to bear and nurture life more than men. Some are, but some men are uniquely designed to nurture life better than other women. There is much freedom to find the way God will connect our gifts, training with our lives.

You are right on when you say, "If I can't belong to that (husband/kids) realm, where does that leave me? " That is precisely why I subtitled my book: "How the soul of a Woman Brings Her Home." I think all women want to know they can find a safe place to really belong, without cutting off vital parts of who they really are!

Jonalyn Fincher said...

RPB- nice point about how men are drawn toward other religions, just not toward American, evangelical christianity (at least not as much as women). I think this is a good point, counter-acting the much hyped idea that women are "naturally" more spiritual than men.
I find that a lot of hooey!

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Himmiefan- thanks for chiming in... I agree that we do have an obsession with gender roles. It's almost like we want someone to tell us what's RIGHT for our womanhood/manhood and not do the hard work of determining that for ourselves. I find the same drive that motivates so many students to ask, 'But what is God's will for my life?' It's easier to be told than to wrestle and cry out and wait on God.

Tito- GREAT opening line on that paper. I couldn't agree more! Some of your ideas remind me of the excellent points in The Shack. Authority is a central problem... I find it frustrating how people accuse me of having an authority problem or having had a bad history with authority. They toss this up as if that's why I want women to be counted equal in final decision making. However, I was perfectly happy to let men make final decisions in my youth. I cultivated so much submission that I was angry (at first) with my husband for not making the final calls on things. I learned a much better way, but it didn't feel "natural" to me, at first.

E.K.- fantastic quote to remind us of this warrior woman's words. Yes, a woman, made in God's image, equally needed on earth and equally endowed with wonderful capacities!

Tasha- great to hear from you! Yes, it is lonely (too lonely) on top! I wish some men would let us assist them up there. But sometimes the only way we can assist is by listening, loving, sharing gently and firmly again and again and again and again. As I see it, it's as much for the men's good as ours. I think that's why God called it VERY GOOD!

Mephibashef said...

The argument of what authority women are given goes back to Genesis - Adam was created first, and then Eve was created as his helper. That is not a slam on the role, but it is God's ordained order and structure. While I am like you in that I am not certain I agree with the whole "manifesto" thing, I must say that some women need everything structured, put down on paper because they have not wrestled out their own salvation like you or I have.

Ariana said...

Without going into all of the theology, I would like to say that I don't get a sense of freedom anywhere in this manifesto. To me it seems very controlling and leaves me with a very bad, oppressive feeling. To be honest, I really hated it.

On a personal level, I grew up in a very complementarian subculture and was always trying to figure out how to live up to the expectations and roles I had been taught. I didn't really have a college plan when I graduated from highschool, since I believed my destiny was to get married and start having babies ASAP. Well, I was quite lost for the next seven years, since I was single and realizing that I would have to provide for myself somehow, and had never settled on a career (wouldn't that be ridiculous, as a woman?) In reality, I an extremely independent person who loved being part of the workforce. If I had accepted this as OK early on, I'd like to think I would have gone through medical school during all of the time I was wondering how I was supposed to fulfill God's purpose for me as a single woman.

Some of these same ideologies have been problematic for my husband, as well. He took an authentic manhood class at Biola that was ultimately rather damaging. He didn't seem to fit in with the stereotypes for a Godly dominant male, and has spent so much energy trying to be someone he isn't, to fit certain qualifications that are not actually important at all. Many of our qualities and roles as a married couple are reversed according to the complementarian model. We have both experienced a lot of freedom through the process of rejecting many of the Christian gender-role mandates.
I realize that many people feel the need to be told exactly what to do and who to become in order to please God. These rules offer something concrete. It can be much more difficult to work it out on an individual basis, and I think this is a big draw for many believers. In fact, like the comments others have made about gender role idolatry-- that is exactly what it is. So many people organize their entire spiritual life around their specific gender role, and leave so much of their hearts and minds behind in the process.

S G said...

Thanks for the thoughts... especially on Titus 2... very interesting!

kate said...

I have many thoughts on the manifesto...but let me start by saying that I couldn't help but snicker at the irony of this titled link on the Revive Our Hearts webpage:

"The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood" - message by John Piper


More (intellectual thoughts) later.

Anonymous said...


I just turned on the Christian radio for encouragement, and it was Nancy Leigh DeMoss speaking about how many cults are started by women, most of their adherents are women, and... how women are essentially ill-suited to be theologians. Had to come back to this page to encourage myself!

Deborah S.

Anonymous said...

I read the article you are talking about. I just don't see the problem. I dont understand the outcry? The Bible itself says this and more about the subject of submission. I didn't see anyone bashing the Bible. I think we tend to split words and meanings so we can see what we want to see and do what we really want to do. I believe we should read what God is saying and ask for understanding. I admit that the things He says to us are radical. They rock us to our core. I find I am a rebel inwardly. I don't like to be told what to do or what to think. But we have been given the choice to believe Him or not. If we look at the whole picture, the whole counsel of God, I think it is easier to see what He is trying to say. If you will, the spirit behind it.

When teaching my girls about practical things I do it by being there with them, by showing them and by speaking to them. I have some rules that cannot be broken without serious consequences. But there are some that have to be fleshed out. We look at each situtation and then make a call. Yet the spirit of what I am teaching them is not broken.

Submission is a big element in being a follower of Christ. Maybe if we look only at ourselves to see what we need to change and not think it is our duty to change others. Then maybe we would be able to understand these things. We need to have our hearts in the right place and use commonsense.

God is right and I believe Him and this is the essence of faith.
Let's not try to unravel what He is saying. If we try to change all the verses in the Bible that we dont like. There would not be much left. I suggest we just let it speak for Itself and then let it change us.

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Hi Lilyvine,
Glad you wrote it!

The issue here is not that people want to bash or ignore parts of the Bible, the issue is that good, God-fearing, Bible-loving, Jesus-following Christians disagree about what the Bible means when it comes to women and their place.

In your post I noted that there was little room for discussion IF the Bible passages about submission could mean something other than what seems clear to you. The idea that women are supposed to be in submission to their husband but not men in submission to their wives is a HOT topic and much debated because the Bible is not clear about it.

Here are a few examples of the tension where women seem to be in authority over men and God affirms them
- Deborah instructs Barak in Judges 4
- Ruth proposes to Boaz in Ruth
- Huldah prophesies to King Josiah in 2 Chron 34 and 2 Kings 22
- Priscilla is listed first when she and her husband (Aquila) rebuke and correct Apollos in Acts 18, Romans 16, 1 Cor 16, 2 Tim 4
- Jesus told a woman to preach the gospel to men in John 20

Now these verses must be given equal weight and time when you discuss other passages like I Timothy 2, I Cor 14, I Pet, Eph 5, 1 Pet 3

No one in this discussion is being willful or rebellious or unfaithful to Jesus. No one wants to change the "hard" passages to make Jesus-following easier. We are all seeking truth, love and obedience to Jesus even those who might disagree with you or I.

I agree with you that submission is key to being a Jesus follower. I would be interested in knowing more about what you think this word means.

Glad to have you weighing in!

Lori Jo said...

I remembered reading this when you first wrote it, and just came back to it. Skimmed the manifesto as well, and find myself still wrestling with this subject. I'm in college leadership as a small group leader at my not so small wonderful church and we also have a small group for the leaders for accountability and growth and just started reading through timothy...and guess what we came upon... The dreaded and frustrating 1 Tim Chapter 2. I would even say that Piper is a popular name mentioned in our church leadership.

I love that you and Dale are a husband/wife team. I hope to be a husband/wife team someday too when God's timing for that all happens. I'm 26 and single...and was perfectly fine with it until recently, it's been an interesting road since February). I was pursued by an old friend, but he lacked spiritual maturity as well as proximity aka on another continent (it's a long story), not to mention a lack of interest on my part. Now I feel like I'm on the lookout for my future husband. Like this whole thing came about for a prepare me for the next time I'm pursued? Anyways, that's a tangent...hehe

I feel like as single women we aren't given as clear directions for how to live...the verses in 1 Tim 2 that mention quietness (v 11) and the last one about salvation through childbirth (v 15) completely throw me. I know it needs to be looked at in the context, but is it likely that many who agree with this are just taking it literally?

I wonder how, as an extravert, a singer and worshiper, and someday hopefully a worship (co)leader where and how do i apply being a "quiet" woman and i'm slowly coming to terms with submission, recognizing that the one submiting has a choice, and essentially the power to be led. I wonder if this is a bigger issue for single women who aren't in a relationship leading to marriage or if it's more than that. Sigh.

I know there is no easy answer, I know we don't have all the answers, but there must be some reason we have and still wrestle with it...for the past 2000 years...

I'm eager to read your book :)

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Hi Lori Jo,

Ah yes, that dreaded passage. 1 Tim has alternatively concerned, confused and delighted me. I want to direct you to an article that my husband and I wrote that will give you more delight than frustration and some clarity about that last bit about being saved through childbearing. Read it at our website "Unmuted: The Welcome Colors of a Woman's Voice"I think you've hit upon something really important and concerning when you said single women are not given the tools to interpret this passage. I would add that many women are not given the freedom to pursue the calling as single women to live undivided lives (1 Cor 7:33-35) of service to God. I'm afraid the church focuses too much on the biological family, forgetting how many giants of the faith, Paul and Jesus, both didn't marry or beget.

Regarding submission, you'll find a lengthy discussion of that in Ruby Slippers, last chapter. Short version: Submission has more to do with vulnerability and co-submission in marriage (Eph 5:21), than it has anything to do with how single women are supposed to be obedient to men. I don't know of any passage that says a woman is supposed to submit to anyone other than her husband. Regarding the quietness of 1 Tim 2.. well you have to read that article ;)

One thing that's helped me journey through lonely times, be it singleness or childlessness, is to read biographies of women who weathered the unique calling God had upon them. For singleness, I know Elizabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity as well as Quest for Love helped me. I no longer agree with her views of femininity or submission, but I still admire her fierce commitment to God's leading even when her culture disagreed.

I don't know of any others off the top of my head... but let's open it up to readers.

Do you have any biographies or books on singleness that you can recommend?

Lori Jo said...

Thank you for your response Jonalyn, I've just printed out the article to read and think about it some more later today :)

I think I have read both of the books you mentioned. :)