Feminism in the Writings of Jacques Ellul -- By: Joyce Main Hanks

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 02:4 (Fall 1988)
Article: Feminism in the Writings of Jacques Ellul
Author: Joyce Main Hanks

Feminism in the Writings of Jacques Ellul

Joyce Main Hanks

Late in 19S11 dug up one of Ellul’s early articles from the Protestant weekly Reforme: ‘La Femmes et les esprits’ (Women and the spirits)1 and found what we expect when we know Ellul: a maddening mixture of apparently reactionary views and revolutionary ideas. He maintained mat, although a woman’s spiritual destiny resembles a man’s, her spiritual nature and her spiritual adventure differ from his.

On the other hand Ellul posited a kind of female superiority, in the sense that women have more direct contact with the spiritual powers (the Holy Spirit or rebellious powers) than men, so that they mediate between men and the powers, playing an autonomous role. Thus women call men’s vocation into question (Job’s wife, Delilah, etc.,) and even their rule (Deborah).

On the other hand, a woman’s direct and spontaneous contact with the spirit world represents a certain danger, so that she needs her husband’s protection. He is her head and authority, symbolized by the veil of I Cor. 11. In reality, this authority represents the authority of Christ, who protects unmarried women directly. Ellul insists there is no male superiority here, just a different role.

Let me underline that these views tending to place women in an inferior position (in spite of Ellul’s disclaimers) are without exception revised in Les Combats de la liberte.2 I mention them here only in order to emphasize that very early on, he saw women as autonomous in some sense, and as having a quite different role to play than men.

Although, as we shall see, many feminists would find the role that Ellul suggests for women in his current view utterly sexist, he maintains their superiority. Indeed, as he said to me in 1981, he believes that women and women’s values hold out the only hope for our world.

Although some theologians have seen woman’s creation after man’s as evidence of female inferiority, Ellul maintains the opposite: each stage in creation is superior to the previous one, so that woman represents the high point of creation. She is the perfection of man, who was incomplete without her, and the source of his freedom in the sense that he finds freedom in relationship with her. The serpent attacks the woman because she is the head and perfection of creation, not because she is weaker man.3

According the Ellul, women’s superior values stem more from education and culture than from their genes, which probably play a role in shaping them but do not constitute a determining factor. Since women...

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