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He Says, She Says, The Gospel Says

GC Professor Weighs in on Feminism's Past He Says, She Says, The Gospel Says

In late nineteenth-century America, the father of Free Methodism and the mother of woman’s suffrage committed their focus to winning equality for women.

Though churchman B.T. Roberts and woman’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton probably never met, each embraced the need for gender equality and worked to convince others of that need too.

The latest issue of Women's Studies features an article by Greenville College Assistant Professor of Religion Ben Wayman that parallels the persuasive efforts of Roberts and Stanton. His previous articles on the same topic appear in the Spring 2014 Free Methodist Historical Society Newsletter and on the Free Methodist Church website.   

In all, Wayman points to the pair’s shared time in history when people relied on the Bible’s influence and biblical interpretation to shape their views about women in the church and society.

Similar, until . . .

In some respects, Roberts and Stanton appear cut from the same cloth:

  • Both studied Scripture extensively.
  • Both identified the church’s misuse of biblical texts to subordinate women.
  • Both interpreted controversial passages in ways that championed women’s equality.
  • Both shared their reflections in writing – Roberts’s Ordaining Women (1891) and Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible (1895).

When faced with a fork in the gospel road, however, they chose different paths:

  • Stanton denied the divine authority of Scripture and reinterpreted passages that proved problematic for women’s equality. She set an antagonistic tone that pitted her against Christianity and the church.
  • Roberts acknowledged the divine authority of Scripture and asserted that it contained the remedy for the mistreatment of women. He determined to reshape the church’s misinterpretation of the Bible and encouraged its members to embrace the full freedom made possible by the gospel.

Wayman contends that the gospel-freedom described by Roberts ultimately proved more radical and far-reaching than the freedom Stanton and others in the first wave of feminism envisioned.

Wide vs. narrow audiences

Stanton addressed a wide audience from the broad platform of the woman’s movement. Roberts, however, targeted the much narrower audience of his denomination – a limited scope that may have rendered him somewhat invisible to historians. 

“I was surprised to find that nothing had been published in academic journals that focused on Roberts's Ordaining Women,” said Wayman. “This seems to me an amazing omission. Ordaining Women is a great gift to the church not only in its time, but ours as well.”

Wayman hopes his article will help readers see that Christians have resources in the past that are of great value to us in the present and for the future. Roberts’s Ordaining Women is one such resource.

Wayman’s latest book, Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms is scheduled for publication this fall. He is an ’02 graduate of Greenville College.

This story was published on July 18, 2014

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