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Feminism or Faith?

While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
C an you imagine how Mary might have felt to hear this? I can't answer for everyone who reads this website, but virtually every woman I hear from who has found this blog testifies that she is seeking to obey the will of God as it relates to her life. Because we are blessed to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, within that personal relationship, God will communicate, guide, and direct personally. I realize this might seem elementary, but many well-meaning people continue to teach that when a woman listens to or seeks God herself, or when she is given a calling by Him for her life, that she is being influenced by feminism's alleged focus on independence instead of listening to her parents' interpretation of God's will for her.

However, I contest that instead of promoting independence, when we encourage all others, women included, to seek the voice and will of God, we promote something far greater...God-dependence. This certainly isn't an objective of feminism! And it requires faith. It might seem simpler to rely on those who lay out specific guidelines of belief and behavior, or tell us what we should or shouldn't do, because then we have our lives in black and white. We know exactly what we are to do and what's expected of us. Having someone "hear God for us" makes our spiritual walk easy and broad! When our path is wide, we don't have to worry about falling off the edge. We can see our steps clearly, and see far into the distance. We can place our trust in those who have a vision for our lives. We don't have to weigh the consequences or endure the pain of living. It's not as scary this way, and perhaps we make fewer mistakes. We don't have to search the Scriptures quite so doggedly to determine God's will ~ because those who have set themselves in this position in our lives have already done so. Yet Scripture says:

      Who among you fears the LORD?
      Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
      Who walks in darkness
      And has no light?
      Let him trust in the name of the LORD
      And rely upon his God.
       Look, all you who kindle a fire,
      Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
      Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
      This you shall have from My hand:
      You shall lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:10-11)

Faith runs through lightness and darkness, the known and unknown, following the letter of the Spirit and clinging to the solid Rock for everything pertaining to life. Faith doesn't fear making mistakes, but trusts the One who justifies the ungodly and who calls us to follow Him on the narrow, difficult way that leads to life.

Sometimes this looks doubtful to parents, who I believe truly love their children and want the absolute best for them. Sometimes parents disapprove of the choices and decisions their children make. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes there might be rebellion in their hearts that God will address. Who is the "they"? Mistakes are a human thing. Rebellion is a human thing. Adult children are not automatic culprits. Nor are parents exempt. This doesn't make light of sin, but rather places it properly. Truth is, a heart can be rebellious even when outward actions completely conform to what others want, and I fully believe the opposite is also true: that a heart can be humble and obedient to God when outward actions might appear to others to be wayward.

Revisiting Honor vs. Obedience

Because I write to adult women, issues of child obedience as it relates to parental authority do not pertain to the scope of this blog. Yet I hear from many who equate obedience with parental honor. I wholeheartedly support, believe in, agree with, encourage, and love the Scriptural command to honor parents. In my humble understanding, honor and obedience are not one and the same. In my article Daughters in Waiting ~ Adult Daughters at Home I give examples of ways parents are honored when it manifests outside the context of obedience. 

In a recent comment, I wrote "If our parents are Christians then they are our brothers and sisters in Christ...yes, we should honor, respect, and care for them, but ultimately, [spiritually speaking] they are equal with us before God. Consider if as adults, your own brother or sister asked you to do something. If you did what they asked, would that be you “obeying”? Or simply you doing a favor? Or what if your adult brother or sister commanded you to do something? What if it were a friend of yours? You can give thought and prayer to their demand, seek God’s direction and Scripture, maybe even seek the counsel of others, and decide if it is a healthy or righteous step for you to take. But that still doesn’t mean you’re “obeying” them if you do it or “disobeying” if you’re not. The fact that you even consider their command, suggestion, or request gives them honor."

Although not discussed as often as the others, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. We do hear about it in the negative sense ~ controlling sinful habits or the lusts of the flesh. We don't often hear about it in the positive sense ~ which could be exactly what it says! Self-control. As a woman seeks the influence of the Holy Spirit and discerns the will of God, as she learns to walk in the Spirit, self-control is one of the fruits manifested in her life. Yet when others consistently thwart His transforming work in the lives of those who, really, are His children ~ that is a misuse of authority (which is the abuse of authority). When parents try to make adult offspring "obey" them, even through subtle coercion or cognitive dissonance (bounded choice) they are making themselves as God in their child's life when in reality, they need to be stepping out of His way and coming underneath with prayer and faith that God is in control and loves that child.

Being self-controlled certainly doesn't mean that a wise person won't seek the guidance of those close to them. But they will take everything they receive before God for His direction, weighing it according to Scripture with prayerful consideration. Note that the Bible doesn't say when we do the will of others, we are part of the Lord's body, but when we do God's will, we are, as Jesus proclaims, His brothers, sisters, and mother. He embraces us not only among His disciples, but also His family. Seek and obey Him!


  1. A very thoughtful and thorough look at the issue. I appreciate the breakdown of honor and obedience.

  2. Hillary :"This certainly isn't an objective of feminism!"

    The accusation of feminism against any woman who would rather obey God than men gets quite tedious.

    We ARE to be Spirit led, not human led.

    Human guidance is a good thing. One human controling another because they think the Bible gives them permission to do so in an abomination.

    Thank you so much Hillary, for your voice, in this wilderness of women trying to find God in a world where some (NOT ALL) men want to make themselves as God, is refreshing. Keep it up. You are a blessing and are being heard.

  3. As a mother, I believe that the greatest honor my children can bestow upon me is to follow God for themselves. To take what I gave them that was good and throw out the bad. I am human and will err. I do not begin to claim that I know all Truth and my prayer is not that they would obey me no matter what, but that they will obey GOD no matter what. That they will see the Truth in spite of my error. That they will be able to look me in the eye and say "I do not believe this teaching is from God. I love you, but I must obey God." To me, the heart behind such a stand is exactly what I desire for my kids. THAT is honor. THAT is my heart's deepest desire. To be able to promote a heart that runs after truth at all costs and respect differences while fostering a love for Jesus and a burning desire for intimacy with God is what will cause my children to "rise up and call me blessed". Not demands for obedience. Not because I got everything right. Not because of me at all. But because I led them to Jesus then got out of the way.

  4. Very good exposition!

    On a distantly related note, this sets me thinking about a phenomenon I think I might call "Boogeyman Words." To wit, have any of the people who say "That's the influence of feminism" ever had five minutes' social conversation with a real live "feminist?" Or are they just using the word to mean "Something we've been told exists and is very scary, and if you're not good maybe it will come and get you?" Woooh, booooooo!

    All the "feminists" I've talked to (though the label itself is actually quite passe by now) are very intelligent and friendly; they just tend to get riled up by little things like child abuse, domestic violence, and social inequality.

  5. Hillary, this is *SO* true! I remember literally being paralized by not knowing this important truth.

    One of the ladies that helped me so very much in my darkest times, once refused to answer a Bible question for me. (After I hounded it on her again and again. After she gave me her opinion and I wasn't satisifed.)

    She told me that I was going to have to ask God himself, because only He could give me the answer more satisfactory than she.

    Two days later, I wrote her an email excitedly telling her that God answered my question in *exact* detail.

    It was a break through for me. For someone so afraid to even move an inch on my own without some person's opinion.

  6. You make some very good points here Hillary. I'll need to ponder them in depth in my quiet times.

    Thanks for being a wonderful friend, and a person who cares about those who are suffering.

  7. I'm with Lewis on this one. Thank you for the distinction between honor and obedience. Such a subtle but important distinction to be made.

    I'm reminded of Daniel in the lion's den. He honored the king - even yelling "Long live the king!" - but he could NOT obey the king's no-prayer command.

    Thanks, Hillary!

  8. {{{friends}}} thank you for your comments...it blesses me so much that you take time to stop by and leave your thoughts.

  9. This post reminds me of just why your book is so important, Hillary. Not only do fundamentalists throw these code words around, but mainstream Evangelicals (who don't generally agree with the extremism) often miss the layers of implicit meaning.

    Years ago when I was struggling with this very issue, I went to a Christian counseling agency that was very much grace-based. The small group facilitator agreed with me that it was important to honor and respect my parents no matter what.

    It wasn't until much later that I figured out she and I had two very different conceptions of those words. She was thinking along the lines of what you describe, but I was still haunted by the "submit and obey regardless" definition.

    Needless to say, that particular experience was not very helpful for me.

    On a side note--Hillary already knows this, but I confess to being a "real live feminist." And shockingly enough, I also bake whole wheat bread, freeze peaches, and can spaghetti sauce as do many of my feminist colleagues. Who knew?! :)

  10. Not everyone who has a problem with feminism is without acquaintance or experience with 'real live feminists.' In fact, I had little promblem with that word until I met up with some very strident feminists (in my work as a birth doula). The ones I know insist that those of us who are prolife cannot possibly be pro-woman. They get pretty shrill on some other issues as well, just as controlling and abusive as any -ism you deal with. Disagreement and nonconformity are not tolerated in their midst. Sound familiar? These "womyn" aren't content with equality but want dominance. They don't want freedom of religion, but freedom from religion to the point that they would gladly force people of faith out of the public square. I realize that not all who call themselves feminists are of this stripe and there are even "Christian feminists" and "feminists for life" who I find admirable. Still- this term is loaded for a reason and it's not simply fear tactics nor ignorance from the right that makes it so.

  11. @Mandy - Point taken. Of course the larger idea I'm after is not the pros and cons of "feminism" per se but an irresponsible use of loaded language as fearmongering. I'm sure "feminists" can be as guilty of this as "complementarians" are; it just interests me greatly as a writer and an armchair theologian. As you correctly point out, though, the problem is not so much with the label but with the attitude, namely one that's depressingly common throughout almost all ideologies.

    Screwtape says, "It isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say "mass" and those who say "holy communion" when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes."

    Of course this does tie back into the main theme of the post with Hillary's observations about honor and obedience.

  12. Beautiful and wise, Hillary!!

    Wonderful thoughts, Darcy and Mary Reid!

  13. Thanks for posting this! I really relate to many of these issues. I remember being told by my doctor that I might not be able to have children, and finding that my Christian faith actually made me feel *worse*. Instead of turning to God for comfort, I found myself feeling like I wouldn't be a proper Christian if I didn't have kids. Thankfully the man who is now my husband was a lot wiser than me and helped me to see that God loved me no matter what. And by His grace we do have 2 beautiful children!

    That's the thing that has really struck me reading some of these post-quiverfull blogs. A parent can do everything 'right' and their child may still go wrong - we are all responsible for our own actions. A young woman may totally believe in courtship but never marry. Is she a failure as a Christian? NO! I also believe in submitting to my husband, but does that mean I switch off my own brain? NO again! I am called to bless my husband, and part of that is sharing with him what God is doing in my life and what He has been saying to me. I'm a person, not a parasite who relies on someone else for spiritual nourishment and connection with God. My husband and I talk, and we respect each other's opinions and wants.

    We do plan to homeschool our kids, but in our view part of that is teaching them discernment. So yes, we allow them to watch TV, but we watch with them and talk about what's happening. We allow them to have emotions and try to help them make sense of what they are feeling. We want to ground them in the faith we have and introduce them to Jesus, but we also won't isolate them from the world. How can they show the dirty, smelly homeless woman that Jesus loves her if they never meet her?

    Okay, rant over :)


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