The Church, Feminism, Dorothy Sayers

My mother isn’t a feminist. She was born a few years after women were given the right to vote, that is, when women became “legally human.” (Check out this timeline.) Her role as a woman was pretty much mapped out for her. Not that I’ve ever heard her complain. But sometimes I wonder…

She is, as we all are, a product of her time and place; but her “place” was primarily given to her from the point of view of the church.

It has been the church that has roped off and relegated women to a lesser realm. (Catholic and many Evangelical churches are still examples.) And it has been government and secular agencies that have progressed towards gender equality. But primarily because they were pushed by women who refused to be content, who risked being vilified often and misunderstood constantly. Women who were seen as anti-Christian even when they followed the Gospel.

Has the church and its leaders (mea culpa) ever lead the way? Why, when the sometime chauvinist Apostle Paul, had the foresight to see the direction of things? (“There is neither male nor female…but all are one in Christ.” Of course here most pastors gave us to understand that this was an eschatological utterance, having nothing to do with the then and there and here and now.)

And why has the church so little egalitarian traction when we have an exemplar par excellence who modeled this basic understanding? Here’s Dorothy Sayers’ thought:Dorothy Sayers

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this Man- there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “’The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious… Nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about women’s nature.”

But in spite of the ambivalence in fundamentalist churches, sphere mapping for women is inevitably breaking down. I’m taking the liberty of sharing a quote from a recent email I received. “There is such a wave of strength in the collective conscious of the women around me lately. We’re realizing that we don’t need permission from the men in our church to lead. We refuse to be treated as second-class children of God. It’s amazing how the awakening is rippling out—the more I talk to women, the more I hear the same voices. We will use our gifts! We will be who God made us!”


  1. the fact that churchy people and their invincibly ignorant leaders have to be pushed pulled and prodded by the non church world to recognize God’s movement towards the kingdom (aka the Beloved Community) has frustrated me to no end.

    My own pet peeve is how the secular agencies have led the way in recognizing the essential humanity and shared place in our human family of ‘the least of these my brethern’ while evangelicals have been to busy doing other (quote unquote) more important things.

  2. for more important things read………. comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted
    i.e. sending women back to abusive and unequal relationships
    having no place for the disabled in their “all healing all the time churches”.

  3. I love this quote from Nellie McClung (1873-1951)
    (First wave of Canadian feminism – the persons case – women were finally allowed to vote)
    Never retreat
    Never explain
    Never apologize
    Get the thing done
    Let them howl

  4. Is there something inherently wrong about there being a specific role for women?
    What is the alternative? A different role or no roles at all? Is the role the issue or the lack of perceived status or power in that role? Was that role actually lived out in such a way as to deprive women the potential for status and power and was this an inherent wrong?

    I dunno, as much as I am glad to have the opportunities I have, I don’t think it would have been an unbearable burden to be a woman in the past either, even if it would have (and it would have) grated on my pride.

  5. Thanks so much for your comment Sophia. Your right, there is nothing wrong about there being certain specific role for women. I don’t think my mother ever saw her role as mother and wife as unbearable. But my mother never aspired to any form of public, coorporate or church leadership either. Women before her who did, soon found certain aspects of life unbearable, discriminatory, that is, they were told where their roles began and ended. The issue wasn’t about “percieved” power, it was very much about real power and control. The opportunities you have, have been hard won by courageous women. May you have even more opportunities in the future.

  6. As I experience middle-age I’ve begin to do what the adult development text books talk about middle-age adults doing – reflecting on their lives up to this point and trying to bring some understanding to the coming years. Being raised in a fairly strict Christian home and church, I find it interesting, maybe even amusing(we need to be able to laugh at ourselves) to realize that some of the beliefs that I thought would only grow stronger have now shifted in an unexpected way.

    One of those beliefs is about roles. From my studies and experience I have come to understand that roles are a societal construct that is not necessarily ‘holy’. In fact in Genesis 3 it is storied as a part of the curse. Too often, I think that we’ve been caught up in determining our gender roles when we need to be more concerned about our immediate community role. How do I fit in this marriage? this family? this community? whether I’m male or female. What are my unique gifts and strengths that I offer? that others offer?

    By concentrating on keeping women ‘in their place’, I believe that society has been impoverished in not recognizing women’s unique contributions.

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