In case you don’t already know, Aimee Byrd was recently “graciously exited” from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals shortly after the publication of her latest book, Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Her contributions included articles for Reformation 21 and co-hosting the Mortification of Spin podcast. Her “exit” came after Byrd responded to what appears to be a public inquisition of her by the aforementioned parachurch organization. Perhaps the significance of this will be lost on those who haven’t read her book. A major concern Byrd raises is that parachurch organizations are subsuming the church’s duty to disciple (and discipline) their own members. In addition, numerous blog articles lambasting her,1 and the recent exposé of a social media group (composed of several OPC and PCA pastors, elders, and prominent seminary professors and administrators) makes it clear some believe Byrd is trying to subvert qualified male ordination through a feminist reading of Scripture.
Aimee Byrd is Not Promoting Feminism
Before I show why I don’t believe Byrd is promoting feminism, I want to remind readers what feminism is.2 Feminism is primarily about rights claims and rectifying inequalities (both real and perceived) through a fundamental change to various power structures. This includes the state, church, business, and the family. Byrd doesn’t make any claims in her new book about rights per se. She discusses concerns about what women are being taught in conservative and complementarian circles. And it’s not just about masculinity and femininity, (although there is that), but it’s also about first-order doctrines concerning the Trinity, the Image of God in mankind (specifically in woman), and what discipleship (not ordination) means for lay men and lay women in the church.3 However, given women are co-heirs with Christ, (Rom. 8:14-17) we do have a born-again “birthright” (so-to-speak) to the gifts God bestows on all Christians through His church. (WCF 12.1; 26) Rather than being a prudential guard against feminism, denying women particular gifts, Byrd says, is outright disobedience to God. Byrd explains how the patriarchalist view is that Bible itself is a patriarchal construction.4 That is, the only voices, and Biblical figures relevant to overall redemptive-historical narrative, are that of men alone. In fact, it’s not hard to find the evidence for this. One critic seemed to miss Byrd’s point entirely when suggesting “gynocentric interruptions”5 were by their nature “interrupting” an androcentric text.6 Byrd answers this criticism in the book:
“If there were no gynocentric texts in Scripture and women played no role in the process of recognizing the canon, then it would be fair to say that maybe Scripture is a patriarchal construction … But the woman’s perspective is not missing from Scripture … women played an active role alongside of men in passing down the history and teachings of God’s covenant people as tradents of the faith.” (p. 68)
Here’s the thing: feminists agree that the Bible was a purely male construction! That’s why feminists are so angered by it. This is one (of many) reason(s) why Christians should reject feminism. Not that the thought of a patriarchal canon angers them, but that such a construction is manifestly inaccurate! Byrd goes on to resist the egalitarian tendency to read more into this fact than what’s there:
“We don’t want to overemphasize these gynocentric texts over and against the androcentricity of Scripture. That is not what they are meant to do … The canon itself corrects [the] promotion [of androcentricity].” (p. 68)
Byrd is essentially saying that God does in fact speak to us in His word, through the perspective (voice) of women. This is wonderful news! But Byrd warns against the egalitarian pendulum swing, saying we can’t take it too far. We can’t read into it egalitarian inferences about women’s ordination. But here’s the dig – it’s also one (of many) reason(s) why Christians should reject patriarchalism too. The idea that Scripture is totally “androcentric” with no contributing female perspectives, is simply false; manifestly so. Put more simply, the feminists are wrong because the patriarchalists are wrong. This is one of the truths Byrd is drawing out in the book. She shows how God lovingly conveys His complete message to his people by speaking through both chosen men and women. Don’t confuse this with the idea of female authorship. Byrd is not saying women wrote anything in the canon. Rather, the Spirit-inspired men of God authoring the books of the Bible included first-person female perspectives (Byrd calls these ‘voices’) relevant to the overall narrative of redemption. It’s indeed a very positive view! The Holy Spirit inspired male authors to include the voice of women in a time and culture that treated women as property with no voice and no identity. Now that’s counter-cultural! Byrd further opposes a feminist reading of Scripture by making these statements throughout her book:
“If the Bible were a patriarchal document, we wouldn’t have these details of Deborah, Jael, or Barak. And the best part is that God alone gets the glory. (p. 81) … If the Bible were a patriarchal construction, the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ to announce the gospel would definitely have been men … It’s time for the church to examine whether we too are sending the same message as the radical feminists who are opposed to God’s Word by treating it as an androcentric text that lacks female contribution. (p. 91) … we also see how God has been ripping [the yellow wallpaper] off, revealing true complementarity of the sexes. (p. 92) … while evangelical egalitarians agree on distinctions between the sexes, they often downplay these distinctions and empty them of their meaning. (p. 111) … While I am challenging what many say are essential differences and expressions of femininity and masculinity, I am not saying that we should not affirm biological and even gendered differences between the sexes … we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality … however, … men and women are … distinctly differentiated by our sex (p. 123) … Evangelical parachurch organizations have successfully joined forces across denomination lines to … combat the promiscuous and biblically unfaithful message of the sexual revolution. This is praiseworthy. (p. 155) … Sometimes the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers can mislead well-intentioned Christians into thinking they are little ministers of a sort … we care about the preservation of orthodox Christian teaching throughout the history of our faith … (p. 165) … I share CBMW’s concerns for speaking out against the damage and pain caused by the sexual revolution. I share their zeal for promoting holiness and making known the good news of redemption in Christ available to all. (p. 171)”
If Byrd were a closeted feminist, she wouldn’t be making these statements. Byrd has repeatedly rejected that she’s a feminist, or interested in women’s ordination, and her critics should be taking time to listen to her words, instead of projecting onto her statements and sentiments that she does not hold. She has also stated, in her books, articles, and interviews, that her aim is discipleship, not ordination.
What is really meant when Reformed women are labeled “feminist?”
As a student of philosophy, political philosophy in part, I know something of feminism and what it promotes. When I hear complementarians screaming that women like Byrd, Rachel Green Miller, myself, or other reformed women challenging these ideas are “feminist,” I can’t help but laugh; we in no way fit the definition. According to this interview Byrd did with Julie Roys of the The Roys Report, the mudslinging against Byrd began when Mortification of Spin interviewed Dr. Valerie Hobbs in 2015. Dr. Hobbs had written an article about her observations of an ecclesial trial in the Southeast OPC presbytery. Hobbs reported and commented on testimony that demonstrated the prevalence of a demeaning view of woman in the church. Dr. Hobbs, a linguist who’s been studying language in Reformed churches for several years, points out that the label ‘feminist’ is used as a way for people to “distance” themselves from confronting some of the concerns raised by women in the church. Byrd has recently began calling this kind of deflection by the acronym, DARVO.
- Deny the abuse ever took place, then
- Attack the victim for attempting to hold the abuser accountable;
- Reversing the Victim and Offender; by lying and claiming that they, the abuser, are the real victim in the situation.
In this case, the term “feminist” is used to make women like us the the offender, and the patriarcahlists are just the victims sounding the alarm. Apparently, several officers involved in the trial observed by Dr. Hobbs, are some of the same people attacking Byrd and other women in the now exposed Genevan Commons Facebook group. (the group has since been renamed.)
So what’s the deal? Why the name-calling?
The only reasonable explanation is that we’re so-called “feminist” only because we’re women disagreeing with these self-proclaimed patriarchs. That’s it! When critics respond with accusations (or Inquisition-esque questions) that we’re feminists, and are trying to subvert ordination, they’re only proving Byrd’s point! Church leaders are either oblivious to what’s happening or they’re satisfied with the mediocrity of complementarian teaching so long as it keeps feminism at bay. Nothing will encourage feminism in the church faster than falsely accusing sisters in Christ of rebellion, subversion, and usurpation. I say this as someone who is opposed to feminism and what goes by ‘social justice’. I am especially opposed to those things in the church. NOTE: My official review of Aimee Byrd’s book is forthcoming!
2. This is an excerpt taken from my response to Mark Jones on the topic of Rachel Green Miller’s book, Beyond Authority and Submission. “It’s imperative for Christians to learn what feminism is. Feminism is a proposed ideological solution to claims of rights violations against women. Some are false claims because feminists don’t know how to properly identify legitimate rights. However, some of their claims are legitimate rights violations, but their proposed solutions are themselves unjust. So, to be clear: Feminism entails claims of rights violations against women and proposed solutions that look like this: Illegitimate claims | Illegitimate solutions Legitimate claims | Illegitimate solutions What Christians need to be concerned with are the legitimate claims where the church is involved.”
For more info on what Feminism actually is, click here
3. One reason, I believe, for this confusion comes from a Baptist view of church office, namely that there is none. Where Presbyterians have a doctrine of ordination, Baptists by definition have no doctrine of ordination. It’s what makes them Baptist! Al Mohler has pointed out that in the Baptist church women cannot “do what unordained men can do” because, “The problem with that is that we are Baptists and have no theology of ordination whatsoever. For that reason, we have to understand that the pastoral office and pastoral function are the same thing.” They define the ministry by way of function. It’s this confusion that I believe causes Byrd’s critics to accuse her of supporting women’s ordination. Byrd is challenging the idea that ministry is defined by function rather than office – as every good Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Reformed Anglican should be doing! David Vandrunen’s recent review of Byrd’s book vindicates Byrd’s challenge and my observation presented here. I predict that the SBC will be facing a very tough question in the near future; they must either openly embrace patriarchy to uphold male-only ordination, or capitulate to the feminists because Scripture illustrates women performing functions that Baptists have erroneously bound to the pastoral ministry alone.
4. “Liberal radical feminists like to regard our canon of Scripture as a ‘hopelessly patriarchal construction’.”(37). NOTE: “See Allyson Jule and Bettina Tata Peterson, eds., Being Feminist, Being Chrisitan: Essays from Academia (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2006), 148. Richard Bauckham added the “hopelessly” in Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), xix.” (37n) Following some evaluation (37-41), Byrd rhetorically asks if the Bible has a “patriarchal construction.” She responds, “‘No!’ we insist. And yet the resources flooding the Christian women’s genre for Bible reading and devotions send the message that God’s Word is so male-centered and authored that women need to create our own resources to help us relate to it.”(42)
5. Byrd is borrowing the term “gynocentric interruption” from Richard Bauckham, an Anglican who wrote a book called, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. “Bauckham brilliantly introduces the idea of female-centered (gynocentric) interruptions of the dominant male-focused (androcentric) writings of Scripture in his first chapter, “The Book of Ruth as Key to Gynocentric Reading Reading of Scripture.” (43) Other “gynocentric interruptions” include the female voice in the Song of Songs, the Book of Esther, Matriarchal voices throughout Genesis, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Tamar, Phoebe, and many others. 6. Mark Jones, Review of Aimee Byrd’s book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, says, “Byrd makes frequent use of the phrase “gynocentric interruption(s)” (23 occurrences), which refers to the dominant female voice in various biblical texts that help us to overcome a purely androcentric reading of the Bible. (But if they are interruptions then is not the ordinary narrative androcentric?).”