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On the Bride of Christ as Bride: Why the Church Has No Room for “Christian Feminism”

Like oil and water, Christianity and feminism are quite simply immiscible. When left to their own devices, the two antagonists repel one another, and when forced to coexist within a system, they stubbornly float in perpetual heterogeneous opposition. Christendom is inextricably predicated upon a foundation of patriarchal governance laid by God’s own hand, whereas feminism’s raison d’être is nothing less than full-fledged mutiny against patriarchy in all its forms, domestic and ecclesial. It is high time that someone debunked the pernicious myth of “Christian feminism” once and for all, much to the chagrin of social justice warriors who value sexual identity over Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, in today’s stifling milieu of superlative political correctness and coerced inclusivity, some may be tempted to chide as “reactionary” or “outdated” the proposition that Christianity and feminism are mutually exclusive. However, far from being some fringe theory relegated to isolated pockets of avant-garde religious conservatism, the categorical incompatibility between the Barque of Peter and feminism is readily acknowledged by a number of mainstream feminist luminaries. Consider, for instance, the musings of feminist systematic theologian Daphne Hampson (emphasis added):

There is a basic clash between feminism and Christianity. Christianity is essentially related to the past. … The very conjuring up of that past, for example by reading the Bible, brings sexism in its train. That is not to be escaped. Christianity sees a particular past as in some sense normative; so that Christian women who are feminist have to try to contend for what they wish to say with one hand tied behind their backs, making reference to that past. [1]

Thus, according to Hampson, “[f]eminism represents the death-knell of Christianity as a viable religious option [for women]” because Christianity, of its very nature, is “patriarchal” and is inextricably rooted in a normative historical moment that is antonymical to feminist values [2].

Hampson’s understanding of the relationship between Christianity and feminism is no aberration from modern bluestocking thought. Rather, her views are firmly rooted in the conclusions of her intellectual forbears. For example, feminist radical Mary Daly (of Boston College infamy) held that Christianity cannot be reconciled with feminism because it makes exclusive use of masculine imagery (i.e., the “Father” and the “Son”) to describe the Triune God [3]. This position is often summarized with the preposterous quip that “if God is man, then man is God.” Likewise, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a prominent suffragist and co-foundress of the women’s rights movement, regarded the Bible as an inherently chauvinistic document, rife with dehumanizing ideas about women [4]. Others of this ilk have noticed that “Christian” feminism appears to be as paradoxical as a “jumbo shrimp” due to Christianity’s patriarchal structure.

And although the purists of the feminist camp readily acknowledge the antinomy between their idolatry of woman and Christianity, others of a more conniving stripe have opted to retain their nominal claims to Christianity while seeking to fundamentally distort the religion from within. Thus was born “Christian feminist theology,” which, at its core, is neither Christian nor theology, since it is worshipful of sex yet skeptical of the divine. In contrast to authentic theology, which is oriented toward discovering “the Truth which is the living God and his plan for salvation revealed in Jesus Christ” (Fides et Ratio, §92, emphasis added), feminist theology focuses on “women’s experience of the Bible’s negative and restraining impact on their lives” so pesky Christian values that contradict feminist shibboleths can be “problematized, interrogated and re-visioned” [5]. In other words, self-proclaimed “Christian” feminists study Scripture not to discover God’s loving self-revelation, but rather to incite women by highlighting allegedly unjust sexual disparity on the sacred page, in order to foment a chthonic revolt against the traditional doctrines of the Faith.

In addition to cultivating a hermeneutic of victimization by combing through holy writ in search of phantom grievances against women, feminist “Christian” theologians weaponize Scripture by intentionally misreading it in order to arrive at predetermined egalitarian conclusions (e.g., contorting themselves to find “evidence” of ordained deaconesses in the New Testament so they can attack the viability of the all-male priesthood, and attempting to neutralize St. Paul’s explicit language about the respective roles of the sexes). The apostles of sex sameness essentially abuse the interpretive method to manipulate the black letter of God’s word into conformity with their radical prejudices — under the respectable banner of “biblical studies,” no less. These false prophetesses toil diligently to hijack the meaning of Scripture, as their ability to cobble together a noisy coalition of dissenting pew-sitters rises and falls with their success in creating the illusion of an intellectually tenable Christian feminism. One is hardly surprised at such duplicitous methodology, since feminists concern themselves not with the detached study of God, but instead with toppling “structures of oppression in religious and cultural institutions” [6].

Put differently, feminist theologians do not labor as exegetes (scholars who carefully study textual, historical, and cultural clues to determine the message that God is delivering to His people); rather, these impostor theologians function as eisegetes (provocateurs who read into a particular passage a message that is objectively absent, but which conforms to a socio-political or theological preconception). This should surprise no one, since it is widely conceded that “feminist theology is explicitly oriented toward the concrete transformation of meanings and structures, of consciousness and of roles” [7]. Feminist scholar Mary Ann Tolbert encourages such jiggery-pokery as interpretive praxis:

To destroy the oppressive structure of society using the tools that structure itself supplies is a process of erosion. … The kind of vast structural alteration that feminism demands must occur gradually over a long period … by small, often unnoticed acts of subversion. Numerous such incremental changes, like erosion, will eventually bring down the fortress[8]

Doubling down on feminism’s full-throated endorsement of sophistry, feminist theologian Letty Russell pontificates that “it has become abundantly clear that the scriptures need liberation, not only from existing interpretations, but also from the patriarchal bias of the texts themselves” [9]. So, according to feminist theologians, as precondition for the unholy merger between feminism and Christianity, God’s word must be “liberated” from the manner in which the Church has interpreted it for two millennia, and from the clear import of its own diction and syntax. Russell’s statement is like proclaiming that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn must be “liberated” from the original manuscript written by Mark Twain in order to speak to the modern reader. The faithful have to wise up and realize that the bastardization of a text to arrive at a preordained result is not a valid interpretive method — instead, it is essentially the creation of a wholly different book under the benign pretense of a hermeneutical approach. Suffragettes with one foot in the Church and the other on the perimeter of a coven circle are attempting to revise the word of God to transform Christianity into a brand-new religion — yet they audaciously accuse orthodox Christians of zealotry for noticing and objecting to their subversive agenda.

But we do notice, and we do object, with all the vim and vigor proper to the elect of God in defense of His immutable and holy word. God, in His infinite prudence and wisdom, from the very dawn of creation, structured mankind as a patriarchy. Such is the constant teaching of the Church and the explicit mandate of Scripture. As such, man lacks the authority to “problematize, interrogate, or re-vision” the governance of creation and the Church. Any attempt to realize a feminist paradigm shift is nothing short of a defiant usurpation of divine impetus. And we won’t stand for it, because “who is like unto God?” Further, because God does not act arbitrarily, but always in accord with His perfect nature, which is pure reason (cf. Jn. 1:1), any attempt to defiantly impose petticoat governance onto the world and the Church will yield fruit of the most noxious sort. Divorce, abortion, fatherlessness, universal crudity, a spike in the suicide rate, and a general Western malaise testify with one voice to the sepsis wrought by the debauched sexual revolution. But it seems that, in a pathetic act of silent homage to the “b—- goddess” [10] Isis, only an incautious few are prepared to weather the onslaught of manufactured rage sure to follow the identification of feminism as the rancid, festering source of Western decay.

Scripture’s theological anthropology testifies with singular clarity that proper governance of the world, the family, and the Church requires a patriarchal model. We will demonstrate it here, starting from “the beginning” — such time as before creation was marred by the fall of man. It is apodictic truth among scholars that in the ancient world, to name a person was a sure sign of authority over him [11]. It is for this reason that God is able to change Abram’s name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5), Jacob’s name to Israel (Gen. 35:10), and Simon’s name to Peter (Jn. 1:42). For the same reason, parents properly bestow upon their baby a name he will carry for life. Hence, in the garden of Eden, Adam — the steward of all creation — immediately set about giving names to the animals with which God presented him, “and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” due to Adam’s rightful exercise of authority (Gen. 2:19). Thereafter, God presented Adam with the woman for his helpmate. In response, Adam beheld the woman and hastily named her, announcing, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman” (Gen. 2:23).

From this one passage, two conclusions necessarily flow. First, from Adam’s recognition that the woman was a helpmate fit for him (of his same nature), we know that man and woman enjoy equal dignity in the sight of God. Second, because Adam named his wife and recognized his dominion over her in the pre-fall state of innocence, we know with certainty that God eternally willed for man to have authority over his wife, and for the wife to be duty-bound to submit to her husband “as to the Lord” [12]. Incidentally, it is significant that God created the woman from Adam’s rib, and not his head, “in order to give her to understand that it was not hers to command but to obey her husband” [13].

It is also to be noted that Adam named the woman not once, but twice — once prior to the fall, and once subsequent to it. After our first parents rebelled against God in Eden by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God responded by pronouncing fitting consequences for the man, the woman, and the serpent. To the woman, God declared, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16, emphasis added). Immediately thereafter, Scripture tells us that Adam decided to call “his wife’s name Eve” (Gen. 3:20). Thus, Scripture again links Adam’s act of naming with a recognition of his authority.

Here we must also pause to deal with a frequently raised but feckless objection: that because God decreed Eve’s subjugation to Adam as a punishment for man’s disobedience, we must not perpetuate this “perversion” of the “egalitarian ideal.” As has already been established, the man’s authority over the woman antedated the fall. But beyond this, God — who is pure reason — surely would not invert the entire domestic order for the purpose of shaming, or even rehabilitating, Eve. To be sure, no substantive change to the structure of the family took place when God decreed the woman’s punishment. God simply pronounced that due to mankind’s loss of original justice at the fall, Eve would come to resent her husband’s authority (owing to the acrimony and rebelliousness that are part and parcel of post-fall concupiscence) and that Adam would have to impose it on her. In other words, because the perfect marital harmony that God had intended for mankind gave way to discord after original sin, the woman’s submission became an occasion of conflict. Yet, whether or not man’s authority incidentally came to be experienced by the woman as a cross, this does nothing to rebut the fact that male headship was established by God in the beginning.

The theme of male headship is further borne out by the latter events of salvation history, since the patriarchal order prescribed for the administration of the family — the fundamental unit of society and “domestic church” — cannot be dissonant with the order prescribed for the governance of society at large or that of the sacramental Church. Thus, we see that God intimately cooperated with the Old Covenant patriarchs to lay the groundwork for man’s redemption. Leaders such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and later the levitical priests were all charged to varying degrees with cultivating and shepherding God’s people. In New Testament times, Christ vested His authority in the all-male apostolate of twelve (Luke 6: 12–16), which would ultimately pass its divine commission to an exclusively male episcopacy, charged with the threefold munera of governing, sanctifying, and teaching (cf. Acts 14:23).

Many attempt to marginalize the significance of Christ’s selection of all men for the apostolate and the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, arguing that Christ was hamstrung by the “misogynistic” Semitic culture of His day and age. Yet this is an uncompelling refrain. Christ was not shy about shirking morally insignificant cultural mores. The Son of God regularly scandalized the sanctimonious sensibilities of the Pharisees by dining with tax-collectors (Matt. 9:10), healing on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:9–13), touching lepers (Matt. 8:2–3), and associating with women and Samaritans (see e.g. Jn. 4:1–42). It is inconceivable that Christ would have excluded women from an institution as august as the ordained ministry for the ignoble purpose of placating the aesthetic preferences of some priggish hypocrites (cf. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, §2). Thus, in establishing the Church and the new creation as a kingdom governed by twelve princes and their successors, Christ reaffirmed the patriarchal order envisioned from the foundation of the world.

We need not merely infer that God prescribed that mankind should operate as a patriarchy on the basis of indirect evidence in the Scripture narratives. The apostolic writings of the New Testament, the Tradition of the Church, and the constant teaching of the Magisterium explicitly and unanimously affirm male headship in the Church and in the family. For instance, in his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul hands down the broad directive to:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; … Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (1 Tim. 12:11–15).

While there is neither time nor space here for a plenary examination of the entire corpus of canonical epistles touching upon the patriarchal structure of the family and the Church, John Fulton has adroitly woven the rest of the “apostolic doctrine” on the matter into a neat tapestry:

The husband is the head of the wife (Eph. v: 23), the woman being made for the man and not the man for the woman (1 Cor. xi: 8); therefore, the woman is not to usurp authority over the man (1 Tim. ii: 12), but to be obedient (Tit. ii: 5; 1 Pet. iii: 6), submitting herself (Col. iii: 18), with reverence (Eph. v: 33), and in subjection to her husband (1 Pet. iii: 5); while the husband is to love his wife as his own body (Eph. v: 28), even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Eph. v: 25), and he is especially to honor his wife because of her weakness and dependence (1 Pet. iii: 7)[.] [14]

Within the context of St. Paul’s instruction (in his letter to the Ephesians) that the husband-wife relationship mirrors the Christ-Church relationship, it is beyond cavil that no more can a wife rule over her husband than can the Church claim sovereignty over Christ and that, likewise, no more can a wife disobey her husband than the Church can flout the commands of Christ. Any ill conceived attempt to blunt the force of Ephesians 5 to conform it to feminist prejudices will invariably do violence to the Christ-Church analogy embedded in the text and therefore cannot be tolerated.

While the foregoing passages are certainly signs of contradiction to a culture saturated with a fiendish reverence for unnatural feminine power, we must guard against such verses being de facto excised from Scripture by those who seek to ignore them or to alter their meaning through eisegesis. St. Augustine warned against the dangers of infecting scriptural interpretation with the conventional wisdom of a cultural setting:

But as men are prone to estimate sins, not by reference to their inherent sinfulness, but rather by reference to their own customs, it frequently happens that a man will think nothing blameable except what the men of his own country and time are accustomed to condemn, and nothing worthy of praise or approval except what is sanctioned by the custom of his companions; and thus it comes to pass, that if Scripture either enjoins what is opposed to the customs of the hearers, or condemns what is not so opposed, and if at the same time the authority of the word has a hold upon their minds, they think that the expression is figurative. [15]

As we have seen, Scripture speaks clearly about the necessity of patriarchy. However, of late, even some well meaning Catholics have imbibed enough pop culture soma to become intoxicated in a feminist delirium vis-à-vis male headship. For example, in his vaunted work on conjugal sexuality, Christopher West remarks that, when read at face value, Ephesians 5:22 should “make[] the hair on the back of your neck stand up” because it suggests that wives be “doormats who must surrender to their husbands’ domination” [16]. He goes on to explain that only when the literal interpretation is flipped on its head is the verse properly understood [17]. (One wonders if West prescribes this hermeneutic of inversion for all biblical texts, or just the ones not in lock-step with progressive values.) Ultimately, West concludes that the real meaning of Ephesians 5:22 is to “let your husband serve you” [18]. Why is it out of the question that Scripture says what it means and means what it says? Regardless of West’s semantic pandering, there can be no doubt that St. Paul prescribes that the wife must submit to her husband’s rule.

The Catholic Church has, on numerous occasions, reaffirmed that Scripture does mean what it says when it comes to familial, societal, and ecclesial patriarchy. In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, promulgated by Pope Pius V, we are instructed that it is not a wife’s prerogative to lead, but to follow her husband [19]. The Tridentine Catechism specifies, “let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience” [20]. Pope Leo XIII later confirms this constant doctrine in his encyclical on Christian marriage:

The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church. … Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things. (Arcanum, §11, internal quotations omitted)

Quickly picking up where Pope Leo XIII left off, Pope Pius XI penned his renowned encyclical Casti Connubii to extol the worth of virtuous wedlock and to sound a clarion call for its defense against the marauding forces of secularism. In the encyclical, Pius XI provides a thorough explication of the Church’s understanding of male headship:

The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs and in the rearing of the children. …

This, however, is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children of their mother, and the home and the whole family of an ever watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as amongst the pagans the mere instrument of man (Casti Cannubii, §§74–75).

Moreover, anticipating the argument of progressives that the Church’s traditional teaching is a mere disciplinary matter and therefore changeable at the good pleasure of men, the Holy Father clarifies that the essential order of society originated with God and, therefore, is not susceptible to change (Casti Connubii, §77).

Christendom is thoroughly predicated upon a patriarchal structure, whence it cannot be disentangled without frustrating the providence of our beneficent Creator. Even in the face of the most strident efforts to force doctrinal “evolution” in this most fundamental of power struggles, the faithful will not abide exchanging divinely ordained patriarchy for feminist ochlocracy. The notion of the Church as a gender-blind, egalitarian society is a pure theological novum — a pipe dream of recent vintage that modern feminism has schemed to engraft upon the depositum fidei. To recognize the feminist hermeneutic as having any value to the theological sciences is to allow the tail to wag the dog, since feminism is not legitimately interested in exploring the divine mysteries. Rather, feminism abuses theology as a vulgar means to deify woman, at the expense of spurning the living triune God. Yet the tension between Christianity and feminism should surprise no one. For, as our Blessed Lord observed, it is impossible for a man to serve two masters, because, inevitably, he will love one and hate the other.

David Gordon and his brother, Timothy, will be releasing a book on this topic later this year through Sophia Press.


[1] Daphne Hampson and Rosemary Radford Ruether, “Is There a Place for Feminists in a Christian Church?” New Blackfriars 68, no. 801 (1987), 12.

[2] Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 1-3.

[3] Ibid., 108.

[4] Maretha M. Jacobs, “Feminist Scholarship, Biblical Scholarship and the Bible,” Neotestamentica 35, no. 1/2 (2001), 84.

[5] Ibid., 86-87 (emphasis added).

[6] Ibid., 89.

[7] Rebecca Chopp, “Feminism’s Theological Pragmatics: A Social Naturalism of Women’s Experience.” The Journal of Religion 67, no. 2 (1987), 251.

[8] Mary Ann Tolbert, “Defining the Problem: The Bible and Feminist Hermeneutics,” Semeia, 28 (1983), 121.

[9] Letty Russell, “Introduction: Liberating the Word,” in Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Letty Russell (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 11.

[10] This phrase was coined by philosopher and psychologist William James in a letter to H.G. Wells in 1906.

[11] F.F. Bruce, H.L. Ellison, and G.C.D. Howley, eds., The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), 117.

[12] George Haydock, Catholic Commentary on Genesis (First Rate Publishers, 2016), Ch. III, verse 14.

[13] The Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1982), 377.

[14] John Fulton, The Laws of Marriage; Containing the Hebrew Law, the Roman Law, the Law of the New Testament, and the Canon Law of the Universal Church: Concerning the Impediments of Marriage and the Dissolution of the Marriage Bond (New York: E. & J.B. Young & Co., 1883), 15.

[15] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (Pickerington, OH: Beloved Publishing, 2014), 95 (bk. III, ch. 10, ¶ 15).

[16] Christopher West, The Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching, rev. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2007), 61–62.

[17] Ibid., 62.

[18] Ibid.

[19] The Catechism of the Council of Trent, 377.

[20] Ibid., 378.

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