“Biblical manhood and womanhood” is not biblical at all

From “Scapegoats: The Gospel Through the Eyes of Victims” by Jennifer Garcia Bashaw – Fortress Press

Before the Religious Right rallied Christians around their golden calf of the traditional family, many Christians commended and even championed the feminist movement of the 1970s. A 1974 survey in Christianity Today reported that Christians favored the Equal Rights Amendment by a three-to-one margin, and an editorial in the same issue endorsed the amendment. Then the Christian Right turned its ire on the amendment (and feminism), calling it an assault on “family values.” Over the next several years, evangelicals demonized the women’s movement and effectively halted the ratification of the Equal Right Amendment when their smear campaign convinced five states to rescind ratification. These earliest moves of the Religious Right were incredibly effective in slowing the women’s movement in America and transforming the political priorities of Christians. Its influence continues to radiate through evangelicalism, molding rhetoric and holding sway over the voting consciences of millions of Christians. At the heart of the Religious Right’s campaign for family values (and against feminism, abortion, and gay rights) was a desperation to maintain what they called the “gendered order,” or the conviction that men were made to inhabit certain roles in society and church – roles of leadership and authority – while women were created for childbearing and rearing. 

Like the “cult of domesticity” in the nineteenth century, the move toward political conservativism in the church of the 1970s and ‘80s was a reaction to a surge in women’s liberation and influences. It was also a move that cleared the way for the continued scapegoating of women. Complementarianism is the newest iteration of this reactive push against full equality for women, a misguided attempt to force women back into a position of powerlessness. The majority of Christians who follow it and defend it sincerely believe that it represents God’s plan for humanity. They accept it as the biblical model for gender roles in family and society. They are mostly devout and well-meaning people who have been manipulated into accepting a message that contradicts Jesus’s life and ministry and stifles the liberating work of God in the world. Church historian Beth Allison Barr traces this manipulation through history and into the twenty-first century in her book The Making of Biblical Womanhood. This book is an apt summary of how the idea of “biblical manhood and womanhood” is not biblical at all.