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Woman this is War!

That is a bit extreme, isn't it? We don't want a war between men and women; we want to work together, share one another's burdens.

However, Jocelyn Andersen's book opens with a quote by a Christian pastor that sounds like a declaration of war, where a wife is a foe and a husband must bring her into subjugation.

  • "Gentlemen, don't even think about marriage until you have mastered the art of warfare." - John MacArthur

  • "Today, it is still man's responsibility to rule his world..." - Charles Stanley, 1988

Reading this book taught me how extreme some arms of Christianity have become and how critical it is to speak and break the chains that enslave. This book contrasts three viewpoints:

  • Traditional role religion, which holds that in the Garden of Eden, God made the first man and woman absolutely equal and gave them equal functions and mandates. The balance of power shifted to the male in the Fall. Absolute equality is to be restored in the end.

  • Egalitarianism, which supports the rights and freedoms of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts as God calls them, whether it is church leadership, including roles of pastor, deacon, or elder. It sees that Christ has made all creation free from the curse of the Fall and those who are 'in Christ' are new creations, with no more differentiation based on social status, Jew/Gentile, male/female, slave/citizen. Gender hierarchy is incompatible with God's character as presented through Scripture and through Jesus.

  • Complementarianism, which holds that from the beginning, God created males and females of equal essence but unequal in purpose function, authority, and action. Women reflect only feminine aspects of God, while men reflect God's male headship, authority, and leadership. Women have equal access to salvation but never attain access to equal levels of autonomy, and freedom. This doctrine was defined by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) when they introduced the Danvers Statement in 1988. While you may not have heard of the term "complementarian', if you have been told women may not speak or lead at home, church, or society, you have experienced the effects of this movement. The purpose for which CBMW was formed was to promote female subordination to male leadership. Moody Bible Institute began to teach that gender hierarchy was not the result of the Fall, but the divine order of creation.

Who declared war?

It gives clear evidence of the past and present strategies used to achieve the militaristic goal of men ruling over women. It seems that some men have already declared war against women having equal rights:

  • "For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy, and is now called complementarianism" - Owen Strachan, 2012, then president of the CBMW.

book cover
Woman this is War with was an abolitionist symbol

Woman this is War! Gender, Slavery, and the Evangelical Caste System

Author: Jocelyn Andersen

You may wonder how Christianity has a caste system. Jocelyn Andersen compares gender-based restrictions on women with race-based restrictions on slaves. Some of the same biblical passages that were used to support slavery continue to be used to support separate, distinct roles for women.

What is at stake?

Most of us do not see human rights as a threat. However, just as people thought emancipation would end civilization, some Christians think freedom for women will end the church:

  • "I believe one of the greatest dangers facing the Christian church today is women who advocate feminist viewpoints... feminists should not be allowed to infect Christian women with their alien ideologies." Beverly LaHaye, 1984

Some men see the movement for equal rights regardless of gender as a militaristic advance that must be stopped or the church will end:

  • "The feminist and diabolical spirit has invaded every major Christian movement... They would rather the church cease to exist than to fail their goal, and in fact, the church will cease to be a part of Christ's body if they succeed." Joseph Chambers, 1996.

Some Complementarians also see wives who claim equality with husbands to be making an illegitimate claim to power:

  • "[mutual submission], which often results in the husband acting as a wimp and the wife as a usurper..." Wayne Grudem, 2002

What are the weapons?

Many Christian women fought for the abolition of slavery and were punished for it:

  • "I stand before you as a Southerner, exiled from the land of my birth, by the sound of the lash, and the piteous cry of the slave. I stand before you as a repentant slaveholder. I stand before you as a moral being, endowed with precious and inalienable rights, which are correlative with solemn duties and high responsibilities..." Angelina Grimke, 1838 speech.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were excellent speakers and writers on the topic of abolition, and so many men and women came to listen to them, that they had to move from community halls to large church sanctuaries. But women speaking from the pulpit to an audience including men was too much. Maintaining male leadership and authority was more important than allowing women to speak toward ending slavery.

Andersen provides shocking quotes showing how male Christian leaders have already declared war on equal freedoms for women. Giants of our church forefathers fall by quotes from their own writing:

  • "... Nature I say, doth paint [women] further to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish: and experience hath declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment... for the which not only have [men] removed women from rule and authority, but also some have thought that men subject to the counsel or empire of their wives were unworthy of all public office." - John Knox, 1558

  • "... she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said 'Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.'" - John Calvin Commentary on Genesis, 1554

  • "Women was originally the inferior... She is more easily deceived and more easily deceives." - John Wesley, 1700s

Christians who oppose equal rights and freedoms for men and women may call their opponents names such things as 'worldly', 'feminist', 'unChristian' and 'unbiblical'. They may accuse equal rights advocates of being influenced by the secular feminist movement. However, both Christian and secular men and women were involved together from the beginning of the feminist movement. In fact, a Christian woman may have been the first feminist. Margaret Fell, co-founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) wrote a key document in the movement for men and women as equal partners in her 1666 pamphlet "Women's Speaking Justified". Josephine Butler, known for her work reforming rights for women prostitutes in Englan in the 1880s was motivated by her Christian faith. Rosa Parks, known as an activist for racial equality in the 1950s, was also a committed Christian.

When women were silenced, they found they had to defend their right to speak publicly in order to fulfil their goal of achieving human rights. Their lack of rights was limiting their efforts to relieve human suffering. They began to fight for equal access to education, voting, and the legal existence of women as persons. That's right, married women were not considered persons. They were absorbed into their husbands, and only the husband had a voice and a vote. In Britain, this was defined by the laws of England:

"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is the very being of legal existence of the wife is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband." William Blackstone, (1765-69).

Defending against the attacks

As a Canadian reading this portion, I could not help but think or our own "Person's Case" where the 'famous five' posed the question, "Does the word ‘persons’ in Section 24 of the BNA Act of 1867 include female persons?". The Supreme Court decided in 1928 that women were not persons qualified to be Members of Parliament or Senators. Fortunately, they appealed and The Privy Council of Great Britain declared that yes, women were indeed persons.

  • “The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.” - Lord Sankey, 1929

To demonstrate that the movement for equal rights regardless of gender does not originate in worldly feminism, Andersen lists a hall of fame of Christian women who have fought for abolition and equal rights:

  • Margaret Fell, co-founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) in the 1600s

  • Elizabeth Fry, an advocate for prison reform in the 1800s

  • Elizabeth Heyrick, advocate for the emancipation of all slaves in the 1800s

  • Angelina and Sarah Grimke, sisters known for kindness and generosity, devoted to abolition

  • Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the underground railroad, was a Christian led by God's Spirit

Is there just cause?

Andersen counters the idea that there was no cause for women to lobby for more rights, giving examples of inequality in marriage, asset and inheritance law, banking, household income, home ownership, and financial matters. She gives examples of how male perspectives have impacted English Bible translation, commentators, study guides, and marriage advice.

To assist our understanding, Andersen applies a military strategy: Subjugation, humiliation, and assimilation. This framework shows what is happening with role religionists:

Subjugate by withholding education and forcing blind obedience. Humiliate by convincing women to believe they are inferior, incapable of independence, and to accept their role as subjects. Assimilate by convincing the conquered people (women) to embrace the beliefs of the conquerors (men) that only hierarchal power structures follow true Christianity. We have seen this as women have been spokespersons for male hierarchy.

Andersen lists arguments against equality, providing quotes that show how ever more strict role restrictions have been imposed on Christian women since the 1980s. These role restrictions have limited a woman's access to income, food, and shelter, as well as freedom. Some have even taught that a woman's role means being sexually available to her husband as he is her master and she does not have the right to say no to sex. Many of the arguments used to limit women are the same as those used to support slavery: it's the natural way, the subordinate people are happy in subordinate roles, the masters are benevolent, and it's God's design. I previously wrote an article about racism arguments recycled for sexism.

Andersen counters each of these arguments with reasoning from the Bible. She shows the harm being done to women, men, and the body of Christ by listening to these harmful teachings. She points the reader to the evidence of the harmful fruit of hierarchal power structures: domestic violence, bad counselling, separation, divorce, men who do not know how to have healthy relationships, and women who are silenced from using their gifts.

This book shows there is a cause. Hierarchal men and women have declared war on equal freedoms, and have employed militaristic strategies to ensure men rule over women. Women and men need to defend the church and society from these harmful power structures. Jesus proclaimed liberty to the captives. This book is a call to arms for all followers of Christ to proclaim liberty to the captives: Woman this is War!


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor


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