The other day Anne Graham Lotz spoke with NPR about her journey as a woman who has faced resistance in her vocation. The preacher, author and daughter of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, says she is privileged to wear the label, “evangelical feminist.”
Which struck me. These days “evangelical” and “feminist” are loaded words. They carry a lot of baggage, and rarely do they come as a pair joined at the hip. If anything, the “evangelicals” and “feminists” I typically hear about in the news are the last people I would expect to see holding hands taking a leisurely stroll together.
Lotz went on to describe her understanding of an “evangelical feminist”: “It’s just a woman who knows what she believes, has strong convictions and the courage to stand up for them regardless of glass ceilings or boundaries that other people may want to place upon us.”
There are plenty of biblical examples of just these sorts of women, Lotz says. And maybe this is where “evangelical” comes more into play. Because an “evangelical,” as originally conceived during the Great Awakening movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is someone who places a strong emphasis on biblical authority. (How “biblical authority” can be bandied about to support various political platforms in and out of the church is another story, but a common denominator among evangelicals is this prioritizing of Scripture.) So Lotz turns to Scripture in looking for her feminist role models.
An “evangelical” is also someone who believes in the importance of personal conversion. Here again Lotz appeals to personal experience in recounting her own conversion to “evangelical feminism” and its impact on her parents:
RAZ: And yet, I understand that early on, when you began spreading your message, even your father, Billy Graham, and your mom, Ruth, they weren’t entirely supportive.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LOTZ: That was when I started that Bible class that I told you about. And they were not supportive. And I think one reason was because the traditional role of women in my family have been that the mother stayed at home, reared the children, kept the house so that the husband, father, could go out and do ministry, which was my mother and father’s case. And so they just felt that, you know, I had three children and a husband, and my role was to stay at home and be that traditional type of wife and mother.
So they didn’t think I should, but once again, I wasn’t living my life to please my parents. As much as I love my mother and father, I knew that I was called of God to teach that Bible class. So I’ve been teaching for about three years, and I looked up in the class one day and they were sitting in the middle of my class. I’ve been going for about five minutes, so I had to, you know, catch my breath, swallow hard, and then I stopped and introduced them and then went ahead and finished the message.
From that day to this, they did an absolute about-face in their opinion, and they saw what God was doing. They saw that God had indeed called me, that people’s lives were being changed. I was getting people into God’s word. And I’ve had no two greater supporters than my mother and father unless it’s my husband and my children.”
An evangelical emphasizes the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and its transformational relevance to the world. An “evangelical feminist” does this same thing- only within a framework that assumes God calls both men and women to serve God and God’s world, equipping them with gifts that in themselves are gender blind. In this framework, to reject God’s call to serve using one’s gifts for preaching and teaching would be more than “un-feminist” or “un-evangelical,” although it would be both of these things, too. At heart it would be unfaithful.
So I applaud Lotz for her courage to take two bad words that do not often belong together and reclaim them for their original meaning. It has inspired me to do the same. From now on I will gladly be pigeon-holed as an “evangelical feminist.” Thank you, Anne, for your bold example and the trail you are blazing for women like me.