When I was a little girl, my mother told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer, a businesswoman, a chef, a mommy, a doctor, the president of the United States, whatever my heart (and GPA) inspired me to pursue.
Her advice stood in stark contrast to the messages I received from my conservative evangelical culture, which often discouraged women from assuming leadership positions in the home, church, and society based on a widely-held complementarian view of gender . Sunday school teachers and college professors alike taught me that my ultimate calling was to be a wife and mother, not to work outside of the home. Leaders like James Dobson, John MacArthur, and John Piper have consistently warned against the growing acceptance of women in the workplace and railed against what they call the anti-Christian agenda of “radical feminism.”
And so if feels a bit like stepping into an alternate reality when I read headlines describing women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann as “evangelical feminists.”
All my life I was taught that “evangelical feminist” is an oxymoron.
Indeed, many evangelical leaders appear to be struggling to reconcile their political ambitions with the inconvenience of having women fulfill them.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said that while he supported Sarah Palin’s political positions, “it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that I would be perfectly happy to have Christian young women believe that being Vice President of the United States is more important than being a wife and mother.”
Both “evangelical” and “feminist” are loaded terms that when placed in close proximity to one another spark strong reactions all around. I suspect this is why the media has latched onto this phrase with such enthusiasm, even though it is essentially meaningless. As a Democrat, an evangelical, and a strong supporter of women’s equality, I can’t bring myself to call Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin “evangelical feminists.” But if their ambitions force the evangelical community to confront the mixed messages being sent to young women in churches across this country, then I think their presence in this election is a good thing.
…Maybe not for the country, but for that little girl sitting in the front row at Sunday school who secretly wants to be president.
Rachel Held Evans is the author of Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 2010). She blogs at rachelheldevans.com, where readers will find updates on her “year of biblical womanhood”—a quest to explore and attempt all of the Bible’s instructions for women.
More On Faith and ‘evangelical feminism’
Anne Graham Lotz: “A privilege to be an ‘evangelical feminist’”
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: Separate conservative politics and real evangelical feminism