Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 80 (February 1998): 36-40.
This statement, originally titled "A Christian Women's Declaration," was issued on September 16, 1997 by the Ecumenical Coalition of Women and Society, a project of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy. It is reproduced here with the permission of IRD © 1997.
First and foremost, we are women of faith and principle whose Christianity is founded not on human invention but on divinely revealed truth. This truth enables us to experience the redemptive, transforming power of Jesus Christ, who made freedom and dignity possible for all human beings--for women as well as for men. Because we are created in God's image and the grace of God is extended equally to women, we can join the company of those women who first wept in the shadow of the cross and later rejoiced at the empty tomb. Because the Bible is the most effective force in history for lifting women to higher levels of respect, dignity, and freedom, we join an historic succession of women whose Christian faith is forged from biblical truth and whose lives are shaped into Christ's image on the anvil of obedience.
As women we are beneficiaries, not victims, of our Christian faith, despite its imperfect outworking in history. Women of the early Church gave witness to Christ in boldness of speech, purity of character, and even the final sacrifice of martyrdom. Women of the medieval period enriched the Church through their writing and teaching and their examples of prayer and contemplation, self-discipline, and service to family and society. Christian women of the modern era have been pioneers in areas such as education, health care, business, artistic expression, social reform, and worldwide evangelism.
And in every generation, godly wives and mothers have responsibly exercised God's mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and have freely offered their lives for the nurture and guidance of the next generation. We are indebted beyond measure to these women and we celebrate them all. We also honor those who have sought more opportunities and greater respect for women. It is by their efforts that we enjoy a more extended range of activities and opportunities than any previous generation.
Many of the earliest and most effective advocates of women's rights and dignity were women of faith whose convictions were rooted in biblical truth. They recognized that all Christians, male or female, share certain obligations and benefits--that "in Christ there is neither male nor female." Therefore, it is in Christ that we seek to exercise our freedoms today. As individuals, we seek to develop Christian character and to live faithfully within our families, churches, neighborhoods, and the world. As members of the Christian community, we endeavor collectively to bring the love of Christ and authentic Christian freedom and justice to all--especially the weak and helpless who, too often, are denied the respect due all who are created in God's image.
Our Christian faith has been nurtured in various denominations, but we consider ourselves to be one in Christ as members of His universal Church. Specifically, we affirm the following:
We affirm the triune God. We acknowledge God's sovereignty, righteousness, and love. We recognize that God is transcendent and distinct from ourselves, yet we bear God's image as His children created in love. We consider it a privilege to emulate Christ by addressing God by the name Father, even as we acknowledge that God, who created sexuality, is neither male nor female. We will worship no other god but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know that we are not our own, but we have been bought by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We cannot create forgiveness, identity, purpose, and hope by ourselves. Instead, it is Christ who by His death and resurrection supplies what we cannot. There is no person or force that can bring us to God as Jesus Christ has done. In addition, we gratefully acknowledge the power and grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We affirm the authority of the Scriptures and the doctrines represented in the ecumenical creeds of the Church. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the divinely inspired written Word of God for all people throughout all ages. From them we learn the history of God's saving acts toward Israel and all humankind, and so we have a reliable basis for understanding the divine plan and our place in it. From the Scriptures we receive God's commandments and counsel, so that we have authoritative guidance for individual behavior and social life. We are called to approach the Bible with faith in the Holy Spirit who inspired it and with a readiness to obey the Word that we hear.
We affirm the natural, created order. We know God to be far greater than what we see in the world around us or experience within ourselves. For this reason we do not worship the Earth or anything in it, including our own selves. We find evidence of the Creator's design in the differentiation of light and darkness, sea and land, plant and animal, male and female. God pronounced it good that the human race is constituted by two complementary sexes--both created together in His image. We accept this pattern of human sexuality as a foundation for human society, and we celebrate the healthy relationships of mutual service that embody it--above all, the divinely ordained covenant of marriage between one man and one woman prepared to bear and rear each succeeding generation of children. Further, we acknowledge that various social institutions--including family, church, and government--are ordained of God and should operate within appropriate spheres of authority with prerogatives that are respected by the other institutions.
We acknowledge human sinfulness. We acknowledge ourselves to be sinners--without the resources within ourselves to know or to serve God adequately. Sin is personal as well as structural. Every person is guilty. No more and no less than men, we as women are dependent upon the mercy of God in Christ. Ultimately, we trust neither ourselves nor any other human power to defeat the forces of sin and death. Our salvation comes from the Lord.
We affirm that we can achieve the highest and best for ourselves only through obedience to God and service to others. We believe that obedience to God is the pathway, not an obstacle, to our fulfillment as women. We affirm the joy that comes from practicing the timeless virtues that form the character of Christ within us--discipline, self-sacrifice, courage, humility, patience, charity, truthfulness, and personal integrity. The Holy Spirit is the source of the strength to control selfish impulses, thereby making us capable of living authentic Christian lives.
We affirm the liberty that comes from the reconciling truth that we have already received in Christ. We are grieved by the disrespect, the abuse, the personal prejudice and institutional oppression by which humans so often dishonor the image of God in their fellow humans. This tragedy strikes us particularly because we are conscious of how often women have been the targets of such disrespect, abuse, prejudice, and oppression. We pledge ourselves to stand in solidarity with all who have been denied justice, freedom, and opportunity. We know that, ultimately, the fullest freedom for women is to be found only in Jesus Christ. We believe that His Gospel--as an essential foundation for any other social or political movement or philosophy--has the power to change us and change the world, so that we all may be the good, strong, capable, dignified, and faithful women that we aspire to be.
Well-organized movements have developed ideologies that undermine and ultimately destroy the positive contributions the Church and culture have made in affirming women's dignity and equality.
Detrimental Cultural Trends. Troubling and detrimental assumptions within the wider contemporary, secular society include:
Problems With Radical Feminism. The radical feminists' agenda has revolutionary, not reformist, goals. This agenda demeans the role of women past and present and seeks to restructure society. Rather than liberating women by providing them equal opportunity to develop to the fullest their God-given talents, abilities, and potential, this agenda, in fact, leads to women being demeaned, their lives destroyed and their spirits enslaved. Specifically, we reject the following aspects of radical feminism:
The Undermining of Our Churches. At times, portions of the American religious community have offered inadequate, irresponsible, or even destructive responses to pressing cultural crises. Recent decades reveal a massive diminution of the role that church leaders have historically played in positively shaping society. All too often, some of our church leaders have simply appropriated the questionable cultural values and agenda of society as their own. Specifically, we are troubled by the following developments within our churches:
There are those whose feminism is a means to power and self-actualization. Our vision of womanhood is different. True power and self-fulfillment are by-products of a rightly ordered life, not its goals. As heirs of a tradition of strong, capable Christian women whose influence on the world has been positive and uplifting, our aspiration is to ennoble women in the service of Christ. Specifically, we pledge:
To Live Holy Lives. Recognizing the imperative to live in right relationship with God, we will celebrate the atonement of Jesus Christ and declare our allegiance to His Lordship. Filled with wonder and joy, we will worship the triune God. We will aspire to the highest standards of Christian morality and virtue by living an "examined life" enabled by God's Holy Spirit.
To Develop Strong Families. Whether we are married or single, we will choose a radical and sacrificial commitment to strengthening our families. Realizing that successful family life is integral to any other right definition of success, we will make the development of strong family life for ourselves and others a priority in our lives, including our time, interests, and material wealth.
To Embrace Our Calling to Authentic Service to Others and the Church. We will consider it an obligation, freely assumed, to be diligent servants of God and stewards of God's world around us. We will help build strong communities, help strengthen mediating institutions, and live justly among friends and neighbors. We will have special concern for those among us who are poor, defenseless, or who are suffering.
To Be Good Citizens. We resolve to participate in public discourse about the issues and values that are fundamental to our Christian worldview and to do so with civility and forthrightness. We will endeavor to live lives of integrity and to model the virtues that are necessary to perpetuate a democratic and civil society. We resolve to confront the divisive and destructive forces that could readily undermine our own democracy.
To Fulfill Our Worldwide Obligations. As Christians with an international perspective, we will offer the blessings of the Judeo-Christian moral order and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to women and men around the world. We will support the oppressed, especially women and children, and those who are persecuted for their religious faith. We will stand with those of all races who aspire to freedom, peace, and justice.
To Build the Church. We will uphold the "holy catholic church" as the body and bride of Christ. We will work through prayer and discipleship for the transformation of lives through Jesus Christ. We will be faithful to the Great Commission of the Church by proclaiming Christ's work and teachings, confident that these will produce profound spiritual and social impact.
Together, as women of faith, we will focus on three significant areas of engagement:
We Will Work to Reverse Detrimental Cultural Trends. We affirm democracy as the type of government that holds the most promise for the just and good ordering of society and that best protects human rights and dignity. But we acknowledge that democracy, at its best, is a fragile and often flawed experiment. The greater freedom we enjoy in Western society has created an environment where the misuses of freedom have produced social disintegration. Every person, endowed with inalienable rights, is also obligated to exercise personal and social responsibility. Today, the democratic experiment faces perhaps its gravest threat--a cultural crisis that is at its core a crisis of faith.
We will provide leadership toward responsible involvement in public life by identifying and responding to the dominant cultural ideas that destroy a just and good social order. We will work to counter the destructive movements that undermine the values and covenant relationships that are necessary to shape and nurture a democratic citizenry. At home and abroad, we will seek to serve as moral agents to build rightly ordered and just societies respecting the dignity of all persons.
We Will Expose the Assumptions at the Foundation of the Radical Feminists' Philosophy. We are especially concerned about the effects on women of contemporary cultural trends. We decry the erroneous thinking about human nature, sin, and utopian expectations of society that have produced a pervasive sense of emptiness. The notion of women's autonomy--including absolute control over our own bodies--leaves us with an unrealistic sense of human power and an exaggerated sense of independence from the consequences of our attitudes and actions. The denial of the transcendent God who orders the universe and directs our lives leaves us with societal chaos and the absence of any objective standard of meaning. Most especially, it is the authority of the one true God, in whose image male and female are made, that insures the dignity and equality of women and men.
We will counter the influence of extremists within the feminist movement. We will make clear the agendas and programs that harm efforts to enhance the equality, dignity, and freedom of women. And we will expose and counter extreme, radical initiatives that demean rather than liberate women, that destroy women's lives and enslave their spirits.
We Will Press for a Renewal of Biblical Orthodoxy in the Church and for a More Central Role for Faith in Society. Many of our churches are excessively influenced, and some even dominated, by radical ideologies whose agendas contradict the Scriptures and historic teachings that are the foundation of Christian faith. The most likely outcomes of the radical agendas are often obscured by lofty-sounding purposes and goals.
We will unite with women of faith who will agree to press for the reform and renewal of our churches. We will be bold in proclaiming the Gospel, the redemptive, transforming power of Jesus Christ. We will work to strengthen those aspects within the Church that affirm the time-honored truths of the Gospel. While we proclaim the intrinsic freedom of each person in Christ, we will seek to rejuvenate the worldwide Christian witness.
We will unite with women of faith to press for a more central role for faith in American society. The coarsening of our culture and the other ills of our society are the inevitable result of allowing faith to become not just sidelined but trivialized in American life. We will work to restore the solid foundation of American culture--biblical orthodoxy in the Church and faith both as a driving force in our personal lives and as a central building block of our society.