A Surprising Phone Call
I was working as an unsalaried assistant in my husband’s senate office when, one day in 1982, I was surprised to receive a call from the White House. President Reagan wanted to know if I would accept an appointment as special liaison to women’s organizations.
I was startled by his invitation. I had never entertained ambitions of this sort. I was also acutely aware that women’s issues were among the most hotly debated issues of the day. In the political arena, women and their concerns were on the front burner. Newspapers were full of the latest disputes and trends in the women’s movement. There were charges and countercharges, and fists were shaken under the nose of anyone who disagreed with the basic tenets of the movement.
Knowing this, it was without much joyful anticipation that I said yes. But I believed that God had a plan, and I did not dare pass by an open door, especially one that others had been pushing to get open, without giving the matter a great deal of thought and prayer.
My position in the White House turned out to be just the political hot seat I had expected. If anything, the pressure was even worse than I had anticipated. The depth of emotion on both sides of the issues made rational discussion difficult.
A Common Experience
As I worked with a wide variety of women, I began to notice something. It was clear that many of the women I talked to had been seriously mistreated. Some of them had faced great injustice in their lives. It was hardly surprising that they felt angry and bitter. Certainly, it was important to seek justice for them. Yet I noticed that these women had a problem whose roots went far deeper than discrimination. Even if they were given justice, they would still be left with the problem of their own anger and resentment, with their dissatisfaction with life.
At the same time, I witnessed the red-hot rhetoric flowing between women who were trying to defend the home and family and the more militant feminists. It seemed impossible to resolve the conflicts between different groups of women. That kind of conflict seemed to me to be yet another problem, not a solution.
The same was true of the divisions between men and women. Something was wrong with a society in which men and women were constantly accusing one another and being put on the defensive. Clearly, an essential element was being kept out of the public debate about women. I felt that we were missing the very core of the issue. But what was it? How could I articulate it?
Finally, I decided that the solution lay somewhere beyond the equal rights debate. After I left the White House at the end of 1983, I addressed this issue in my book Women: Beyond Equal Rights. Since then, I have spent a good deal of time traveling, speaking, and writing in order to communicate with Christian men and women what I believe to be of tremendous importance to God and to his people.
We Must Value Women
Let me begin by stating something fairly obvious: women constitute over half the population of this country. Even so, their contributions are often undervalued. The fact is that society needs the influence of women. Women are the ones who primarily pass on our culture and our values. We shape and mold the youth of the nation. We have profound influence. In fact, our influence is so great that we might have trouble with pride if we realized just how strong it really is.
Women are the ones who primarily pass on our culture and our values. . . . We have profound influence.
To be co-creators with the God of the universe, to be able to conceive and bear new life, is a tremendous blessing. But the role of mother and homemaker has fallen into great disrepute and neglect. I can recall a time in Washington, D.C., when I participated in a discussion before a national committee of a large denominational church. In the course of the discussion I mentioned the word “family,” and drew audible groans in the audience. I wanted to weep, not because those present disagreed with me—that wasn’t the point—but because it grieved me that the family, which is God’s idea and which is the basic unit of government within a nation, could be viewed with disdain even in the church. Sadly, some in the church have been influenced by the so-called sophisticated, intelligent, and modern view that says the family is passé.
But God is not impressed with our sophistication. The story of creation in Genesis tells us that when God called forth creation, he said, “Let us make man in our image. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, emphasis added). First he shaped Adam from the dust of the earth. Then, recognizing that is was not good for man to be alone, he drew Eve out of Adam. I believe that only in the fullness of Christian manhood and the fullness of Christian womanhood is the completed image of God reflected to the world around us. But both sexes seem to have amnesia about who they were meant to be.
Women need to learn one of Christianity’s best-kept secrets—that Jesus values women. We need to realize how important we really are, not because of our own merits but because of the qualities God has given us to use on his behalf. We need to realize that we have a high call. He is the liberator, the One who frees us from our own sin as well as from our circumstances and the distortions of our culture. God is asking us to play our part in his plan. Something vital will be lost if women fail to respond to God’s call.
What the Bible Teaches Us about Women
Some women think the Bible makes us second-class citizens. But this is not true. First of all, consider that God chose Mary to give birth to his Son. The Son of God came into the world as any other human being would enter it—through the womb of a woman, and an unlikely woman at that. Mary was young, poor, and unmarried. She came from the insignificant village of Nazareth, and everyone thought that nothing good could come from Nazareth.
But Mary possessed something that pleased God, a humility and determination to do his will no matter the cost to herself. To the angel she responded, “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). This is the kind of humility and dedication to the will of God that we all need.
We need to remember not only that God sent his Son into the world born of a woman, but also that Jesus performed his first miracle at the request of a woman, his mother.
Consider also the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her the greatest secret in the history of the world. This woman too was an unlikely choice. The Jews hated the Samaritans; rabbis did not talk to women in public; and this woman had a terrible reputation in her hometown. Yet Jesus told her that he was the Messiah, the long-awaited One. He began by telling her the sins she had committed, but he also spoke of the rivers of living water that he would give her. And the Samaritan woman did what we women are so good at. She believed him. And she acted on her belief. She went into town and told everyone what Jesus had said to her. As a result, many of the people came to believe in Jesus.
The story of Martha and Mary is often told to emphasize the importance of having one’s priorities in order. But there is another point to note. In the society of Jesus’ day, women were not taught by rabbis. Jesus cut across cultural barriers to elevate women to a position of equality. He told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part, to be with him and to learn from him.
Women ministered with and to Jesus Christ during his ministry on earth. The women stuck with him. Whom did he stop and comfort on the road to Golgotha? The women. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me,” he said. They loved him and He knew it. We women are good at being loyal. Whom did Jesus see when he looked down from the cross but the faithful women? Most of the men had run away in disappointment or fear.
The rise of evangelical feminism challenges traditional Christian beliefs related to gender roles in society, the home, and the church. This comprehensive defense of complementarianism contributes to the debate with systematic argumentation and practical application.
Who was the first at the tomb? The women. To whom did Jesus first appear when he rose from the grave? Who was the first evangelist? It was a woman. She went and told the others the good news that Jesus was alive. So let us not conclude that the Bible presents women as second-class citizens of the kingdom. Instead, let us acknowledge that women were and are important, in fact, essential, to the plan of God.
In the story of creation, after the fall, God said there would be enmity between the serpent and the woman. Through a woman, Mary, came the Savior of the world and Satan’s defeat. Satan hates women, and through the centuries, either blatantly or subtly, he has put us down. Most of us have wondered if we were really as good as men.
The World's Lies about Womanhood
When I was at the White House, I worked with many women who had highly successful and challenging careers and yet concealed low self-esteem underneath the facade of their success. Many women simply did not know that they had value. As someone said, “They’re vogue on the outside and vague on the inside.”
I am convinced that the enemy has tried to destroy womanhood. Today he is breaking up marriages, denigrating the home, and trying to do us in, because he hates us. But I also believe that God will use those very circumstances to move against his enemy and ours. In the latter half of the twentieth century, women have taken their place at center stage. Whether or not we like it, the spotlight is on us. I am convinced that God is now raising up godly women to reflect this character to the world around us.
I am convinced that the enemy has tried to destroy womanhood.
When God created woman, he created her with sensitivities that most men possess to a lesser degree. We need these sensitivities because we were created to be the life-bearers, the nurturers. That’s part of what it means to be a woman.
It’s important that women are allowed to bring these womanly qualities into every area of life. The whole fabric of our society needs to be touched by the qualities women possess. But Satan has diverted us. As women began to ask why they were relegated to positions of lesser importance in the world’s eyes, he stepped in to tell them that the men were doing all the important work. Consequently, child-raising and homemaking began to be viewed as lesser occupations. The enemy has convinced many women to go so far to the other side that they have modeled themselves on the very men they have criticized. In the process, they have denied their own womanhood. Once that happens, logic says that you no longer have one problem but two problems.
Consider abortion. Women were created to be life-bearers. Now the world is trying to tell us that it is actually noble for a woman to discard the fruit of her womb. She is simply exercising her “right to choose.” But what of the child’s right to be born, to be nurtured and loved by its mother? What happens to women who opt for abortions even though a mother’s basic instinct is to protect her young? Such an action certainly does violence to a woman’s soul.
The world has been telling us tremendous lies, and we have believed them. Our gullibility has caused us great stress and confusion. Some women are frustrated because they think they can and should be the best homemaker, the best mother and wife, and the very best in their profession—all at the same time. Many women feel pressured to become superwomen because of the message that society sends them. But there are no superwomen, only frustrated individuals attempting to live as though they have no personal limitations. Some of us have more energy than others, but we all have a limited supply. Part of growing up involves realizing that one has limits, that there are trade-offs in life.
For women especially, seasons of life are tremendously important. What is good for a woman at twenty-five may not be good for her at forty-five. I would not have been speaking, writing, and traveling, as I am today, twenty years ago when I had a family to raise. But now a season in my life has arrived when I can do all these things with the assurance that God is asking me to do them. But society says get it all—now. “Go for the gusto.” But who wants the gusto if it means wearing yourself out in the pursuit of an unrealistic ideal?
I frequently remind people to whom I speak that today all of us are one day closer to death than we were yesterday. When faced with our own death, what will be important? The title before our name? Our influence or power? Our great achievements? None of these things will make the slightest difference. What will matter will be the nature of our relationship with the God who made us and of our relationships with others—with friends, family, even our enemies. That is what will count. And that is what we women are best at—relationships that embody the kind of love the world needs so badly.
We Need Strong Christian Women
Our society urgently needs the influence and action of Christian women. If the women of this country do not stand up in protest against the killing of a million and a half of their young a year, if they do not rise up against pornography, which demeans women and exploits children, who will? It has been said that if the women of a nation lose their virtue, the nation will lose everything. But how often is virtue talked about in public debate today? Too many of us have been intimidated for too long. We have kept silent even when we knew we should speak out.
Our society urgently needs the influence and action of Christian women.
We live in a society that tries very hard to separate the sacred and the secular. When my husband, Roger, was in the Senate, I realized that any mention of spiritual values in the public sector was taboo. But a nation without underlying spiritual values cannot long endure. As Christians, we are supposed to be influencing the world rather than being influenced by it.
I am convinced that as Christian women learn who they are, they will begin to respond to God with deeper intercessory prayer. We are called, as are our brothers, to move the hands of God through prayer. We are called to listen to him and to proclaim his Word. What God whispers in your ear, shout from the housetops!
I believe women will be used as instruments of healing, as peacemakers. We are the fixers of the world, able to bring people together, to help mend relationships.
I believe God is going to raise up women, first in our homes, then in our communities, and then in the nation. I am convinced that we can change the nation by responding to God’s call. But how can you be the salt if you never get out of the shaker, the light if you are covered with a bushel basket, and the leaven if you never get into the loaf? It is time to let God have his way fully with us, to surrender absolutely to his plan for our lives.
Part of this surrender involves seeking God’s plan for unity among his children. In John 17, Jesus prayed that we would all be one even as he and the Father are one. But how can the Father answer his prayer if we are unwilling to love one another as fellow Christians? By unity I do not mean uniformity. The body of Christ is made up of many parts, but the world cannot recognize his body if it is divided.
Speaking the Truth in Love
The time has come for both women and men to grow up to maturity and to the fullness of Christ. We need to find out who we are in Christ. And when we go out and speak the truth—and that is what we need to do—we must speak it in love. It would be a hollow victory indeed to win in a righteous cause and yet to discredit Christ by our own self-righteousness. It is so easy to label those who disagree with us as evil men and women, but we cannot know the intent of their hearts. God knows and judges our hearts, and he commanded us to love others, even our enemies, and told us not to judge.
I believe that women really are key players in God’s plan for the present age. We are not the only players, but our role is an important, even a crucial one. I am both glad and excited to be a woman living in these days. And I pray that Christian women will begin to understand who they are and how God wants to use them. It is my prayer that Christian men will begin to look at women through new eyes, through the eyes of the God who made them and fashioned them for his purposes.
This article is adapted from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
- What Motherhood Teaches Us about Womanhood
- 10 Things You Should Know about the Bible’s Teaching on Men and Women (Andreas J. Köstenberger, Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger)
- How Jesus Viewed and Valued Women (James A. Borland)