Whence Evangelical Feminism? -- By: Mark Rogers
JBMW 14:2 (Fall 2009) p. 57
Whence Evangelical Feminism?
A Review of Pamela D. H. Cochran, Evangelical Feminism: A History. New York: New York University, 2005.
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
The Chicago Declaration, adopted at the first meeting of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) in 1973, included several statements on women’s rights. The Evangelical Women’s Caucus soon grew out of these ESA meetings, and the evangelical feminist movement was born. Pamela D. H. Cochran’s Evangelical Feminism: A History tells the story of this movement, focusing on evangelical feminist theology, leaders, and institutions. The book attempts to place the evangelical feminist movement within the wider contexts of evangelicalism and American religion more generally. Cochran writes that questions “over the nature, meaning, and scope of biblical authority” were at the heart of evangelical feminism, and argues that the movement resulted from and contributed to a weakening of biblical authority, which characterized American evangelicalism during the last quarter of the twentieth century (2).
Cochran explains that two important developments led to the rise of evangelical feminism in the 1970s. First, evangelical scholars like Bernard Ramm, Edward J. Carnell, and Daniel Fuller had been working to reconceptualize the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Their modified definition of inerrancy and use of modern hermeneutical and theological methods, though fervently contested within evangelicalism, resulted in the expansion of evangelical, theological, and hermeneutical boundaries. At the same time, feminism and women’s rights were a hot topic. Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique was published in 1963; NOW was founded in 1966; Ms. magazine began publication in 1972; and the Supreme Court handed down their decision on Roe v. Wade in 1973. Progressive evangelicals like those at ESA meetings, concerned to speak out on contemporary social issues, began to apply the progressive hermeneutical tools of evangelical scholars to the issue of women’s roles.
In 1974, Nancy Hardesty and Letha Scanzoni wrote All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation. This was the first evangelical book to advocate egalitarian interpretations of the Bible, and was the most influential book in launching the evangelical feminist movement. The authors utilized new hermeneutical methods of evangelical scholars like Paul Jewett to reinterpret passages in order to show that the Bible liberates women from oppression in the home, church, and society. Cochran points out that the book received favorable reviews in evangelical publications, and that no one criticized the autho...
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