Does anyone feel like a whole new vocabulary has surfaced the past couple of years?
I certainly do. Not all these words are brand new themselves, but the definitions are morphing, and they’re being used in contexts that vary from their traditional meaning.
One of these words is misogyny.
I know this word isn’t fresh off the press, and I’m accustomed to hearing it particularly in secular contexts. However, I’ve noticed it being increasingly used in the vocabulary of Christians as of late. Sometimes it’s in regards to tragic abuse cases uncovered within the church. But I’ve also begun to see it used where it shouldn’t be, and to describe people it shouldn’t describe.
Words matter; especially words that carry some serious connotations like this one. You can’t just label someone or something “misogynist” without potentially disastrous consequences trailing along behind. And as Christians, we should be especially careful with our words, because we know we’ll be judged by God for every false, flippant one we utter.
I think we need to take a good look at the word misogyny: what it is, and what it isn’t, and align ourselves with the true meaning of this term. And I specifically want to address what it is and isn’t within the context of the church.
What Misogyny is
Let’s start by defining misogyny.
The Merriam-Webster definition is:
Hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women.
We should all agree that this is wrong and should never be tolerated outside or inside the church. It’s evil at its core because women are created in the image of God, equal in value to men (Genesis 1:27). Wherever hatred and mistreatment of women is happening it should addressed quickly and correctly. Christians should never accept or or abide by this kind of sin.
Sadly, this does come up in the church because it is a community full of people still tainted by sin. Here are several ways this might manifest itself:
- Saying Women are Inferior to Men
Where it is being taught that women are inferior to men, this is wrong (Gen 1:27; Gal 3:26-29). Where it’s being taught that all women are to be subject to all men, this is also false because that’s not what the Bible teaches about God’s authority structure. Although different from one another in many respects, men and women are both heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7), and women are to be treated as such.
Abuse of any kind—whether physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional—is wrong. No matter how “big” or ‘small” the offence it should be handled in a biblically just way. If church authority is being used as a justification for this kind of treatment it mustn’t be brushed under the rug; it should be brought to light and dealt with. In reality, when this kind of behavior is being perpetrated by a church leader, they are disqualifying themselves from being able to hold a position of authority in the church (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7).
Husbands are also called to live with their wives in a sacrificial, loving, understanding way (Eph 5:25; Col 3:19). If they are using their God-given position as an excuse to abuse their wives it’s erroneous, and shouldn’t be ignored or diminished.
- Prohibiting Women from Serving in Their Right Capacities
There are ways that women are called to love and serve others that are clear in Scripture. Some of these are specifically directed toward women (i.e. Titus 2:1-5), and others are for men and women alike found in the “one another” passages (i.e. Rom 12:9-21). When a husband or church leader deliberately keeps women from these clear commands as a way of displaying their authority or because they believe women are inferior, this is a form of misogyny. Men and women are equally responsible before God to obey His commands, and men should be encouraging women to love and serve alongside them.
This could also be manifested by prohibiting women from engaging in activities that are not necessarily commands in Scripture, but are good and right (similar to the types of endeavors described in Proverbs 31). I’m not referring to situations when a couple decides together that—due to practical reasons or circumstances—it’s not the time to participate in some activity; that’s very different. It would be misogyny if these were barred simply for the sake of exercising power over a woman, whether that’s being practiced in the home or preached in the pulpit.
What misogyny is not
Now that we’ve established an overview of what misogyny is and what it might look like within the church, it’s time to move onto what it is not. This is where my primary concern lies.
Misogyny is not:
- Men Seeking to Obey the Biblical Commands of Scripture
I’ve seen this faulty labeling of misogyny most often directed toward what is called a complementarian view of the roles of men and women. Simply put, complementarianism is the view that men and women are both created in the image of God; their person, role, and contribution are of the same value, but they are different in function within the family and church. Complementarians believe that according to Scripture, husbands are the God-ordained head of their homes, and that men are called to be the leaders and preachers in the church. This is a perspective that has been accepted as biblically valid throughout history, and can be fairly succinctly articulated (Eph 5:22-24 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 are a couple of passages that this is based on).*
The viewpoint on the opposite side of the spectrum (because there is a spectrum) would be egalitarianism: the persuasion that men and women are not only equally created in God’s image, but also equal in function in the home and church—essentially meaning that the roles of men and women in the family and/or church are interchangeable. There are also passages of Scripture used to back up this position, however I’m not including them here because they are a little bit harder to sum up succinctly due to reliance on historically based interpretation and the meaning of Greek words (but it’s quite easy to find what arguments are used for this).
It is often those who take the egalitarian stance who say that complementarianism is misogyny or likely to lead to it, particularly because it holds to wives submitting to the authority of their husbands and women not leading or preaching in the church. I’ve seen multiple statements implying that complementarian men have a chip on their shoulder toward women (whether they know it or not), suppressing their giftings to maintain power or as an excuse to abuse them.
But is it really misogyny to hold to a biblical viewpoint that can clearly be supported by Scripture? And does holding a viewpoint like this always lead to (or become a cover-up for) abuse and power-grabbing?
I’m going to say an emphatic no.
I’m a woman who grew up in a complementarian home, is married to a man who holds the complementarian viewpoint, and attends a church that is complementarian. My father and husband cherish their wives and serve them sacrificially as Christ does the church (1 Pet 3:7). They champion our strengths and see us as partners and co-heirs in Christ, called to advance His Kingdom on earth together. Our pastors treat women with honor and respect, utilizing the gifts of the women in our church to help the body thrive. They are quick to address sin when they see it, and don’t have any tolerance for abuse.
Do I choose to submit to this authority structure because I feel pressured to do so by the men in my life? Absolutely not. I accept this viewpoint because I personally see legitimate backing for it in Scripture (after studying both sides), and I desire to honor God and what I believe He says is best even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense to me, or my flesh wants something else.
I’ve seen this view lived out in ways that lead to a thriving home and church. I have not felt suppressed or oppressed. My dad, husband and pastors have pointed out and strongly encouraged the spiritual and practical giftings they see in my life. I feel listened to and appreciated.
That doesn’t sound much like misogyny to me.
Have men ever sorely exploited their God-given authority or made it a cover-up for sin? Yes, they have, leaving devastation in their wake. But that doesn’t mean the complementarian view is wrong, or that all men who hold to it are abusive: it means those men are wrong and need to repent and align themselves with God’s Word, regardless of whether they hold a complementarian or egalitarian view. When men are loving God and seeking to obey Him in everything, they will correctly treat those around them.
I’m going to tack on one last observation that might be the most disturbing to me about all of this.
Do you know who I’ve seen approving of this growing phenomenon of Christians labeling the complementarian view as misogyny? Unbelievers. And it’s a little scary when the world, who rejects God and is blind to truth, says that the church is headed in the right direction on this—or any—issue.
My goal in this post is not to persuade you to adopt a specific viewpoint. My goal is to point all of us back to the importance of using our words with care, remembering that they hold significant weight.
Proverbs 18:21 says,
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
And Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37,
“I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
As followers of Jesus, our words should be full of truth, spoken with discretion, edifying to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and bear the fruit of love. By God’s grace, it can be done.
*This topic is far too vast to present in-depth here, but I’m including the links to several other resources: two blog posts by one of my favorite writers/speakers, Mary Kassian, and a more extensive book on the topic compiled by John Piper and Wayne Grudem