Haddad provides little in the way of evidence for her claim that complementarians rarely discuss abuse while egalitarians make it one of their main emphases. One might rather say that egalitarians often make the accusation that complementarianism fosters abuse. Unhappily, the questions for which our own age beg for answers engender little curiosity for egalitarians like Haddad.
“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future” (11). Thus, quoting George Orwell’s 1984, Mimi Haddad opens the inaugural chapter of the third edition of Discovering Biblical Equality. Women’s voices, she claims, have been silenced throughout Christian history by those “committed to male authority” (11). Their essential contributions for the advancement of the gospel have been “marginalized,” “omitted,” and “devalued,” particularly by modern-day complementarians, especially in theological institutions (11). Haddad leans on Beth Allison Barr’s analysis of courses and curricula offered by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to introduce her subject. “Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s biased curriculum,” she writes, “not only damages the credibility of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a center of higher education, but it reinforces the Southern Baptist Convention’s sexism” (11–12). One of this sexism’s most iconic examples is Paige Patterson, who is reported to have expressed himself happy that an abused woman returned to her abusive husband and there endured yet more abuse (11).
Rereading Church History
To redress this sexism, Haddad profiles prominent women in church history. Beginning with the early Church martyr, Perpetua, she sketches the biographies of Blandina, Crispina, Syncletica, Macrina the Younger, and St. Paula. She goes on to highlight the most prominent medieval mystics — Hildegard, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna — and notes the remarkable stories of Reformation heroines Argula von Grumbach, Lady Jane Gray, and Margaret of Navarre. The real substance of the chapter, however, is Haddad’s turn to the stories of evangelical Conversionism, Evagelicalism’s Golden Era, and what she calls a period of Activism. The well-known names, to me, of Lottie Moon, Sarah Grimke, Amy Carmichael, and Sojourner Truth are joined by the less well-known Mary Prince, Phoebe Palmer, and Elizabeth Heyrick, among others. In all, Haddad discusses the lives and contributions of thirty-four women, if I have counted correctly.
Haddad’s list is an engaging journey through the well-rehearsed tumults of the modern era that finally settled into the entrenched “culture wars” still going on inside American Christianity. Women, of course, played critical roles in overturning the injustice of slavery, spreading the gospel abroad, and calling nominal believers to lives of holiness. Amanda Barry Smith, for example, “was the first African American woman to receive invitations to preach internationally” (22). Phoebe Palmer ignited the Third Great Awakening, and was, amongst all her other accomplishments, “certain that God had called her to preach” (21). Catherine Booth was instrumental in founding the Salvation Army. Amy Carmichael and Lottie Moon both died of ill health in the midst of their tireless work. Every single person Haddad names devoted her life to the work of the gospel. Each felt the call of the Holy Spirit to speak and write and many to preach.
How then, asks Haddad, did the church, corporately, not step into the fullness of egalitarianism? Why aren’t the pulpits of today full of women? “Women,” she writes, “opened new global centers of Christian faith in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but as their churches and organizations became institutionalized, women were pressed out of leadership” (27). This shift, she writes, resulted from the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the mid-twentieth century,” during which “mission organizations, Bible institutes, and denominations moved women into support roles to distinguish themselves from a growing secularization of feminism” (27). One might ask, at this point, what it was about secularization and feminism that caused such a shift.
Rather than delving into the explanations that these mission organizations, Bible institutes, and denominations provided, and still provide, for not placing women in leadership roles, Haddad asserts that “Early evangelical biblicism, which supported abolition, suffrage, and pressing humanitarian work worldwide, gave way to an anti-intellectualism that judged social activism and women’s leadership as liberal” (28). The withdrawal of “conservative” scholarship on this subject — which, one presumes Haddad means by the failure to accept women in pastoral and preaching roles in the church — meant that evangelicals “lost respected positions in the academy and culture.” “It would take,” Haddad appeals to Charles Malik’s 1980 speech opening the Billy Graham Center, “many decades to recover the intellectual and cultural leadership surrendered by fundamentalists and evangelicals after 1950” (28).
The fundamentalist-modernist debate regarding how the church should engage with encroaching modernity and secularism has been litigated effectively elsewhere. What is most interesting to me is the variety of reasons the place of women in the church and the home was so contentiously debated during this time. Haddad unwittingly hints at one major factor without acknowledging the very great weight it held, and continues to hold, for so many Christians.