Monday, January 28, 2008

Charles Finney: A Liberal Feminist?

"No written law has ever been more binding than unwritten custom supported by popular opinion."--Carrie Chapman Catt, suffragist.


Since the labels "liberal" and "feminist" come with a lot of baggage and Finney himself hated stereotypes, I won't pigeonhole him to these descriptions, but I will say he dabbled in activities and efforts associated with "liberal" and "feminist" goals more than most people realize. This is a great synopsis from The Rebel God blog on the christian leader Charles Finney, a figure immortalized in many conservative-evangelical camps, who ironically advocated women's rights by admitting women into his college, allowing them to speak publicly at revival meetings, etc. This aided in spurring on the early feminist movement, which had a very spiritual foundation. Finney was also dedicated to more "liberal" causes and intertwined personal faith WITH social action. Very interesting read!

8 comments:

keithandjennifer said...

Doesn't sound liberal or feminist just biblical. Women's rights and helping the poor and needy are all though the Bible. However, he would probably blush today at what liberal and feminist mean in our society today. Or at least what those "labels" stand for.

Tia Lynn said...

Oh I agree totally that extreme feminist and liberal agendas would make him blush, I also think extreme right wing activity would warrant his anger though too. And many conservative evangelicals would oppose him allowing women to speak publicly in the presence of men. So, for his time, he was a feminist and held to some "liberal"views before the great split of evangelicalism.

Terry said...

What I'm going to say may be controversial, but c'mon Tia, would you expect anything less from me? The simple truth of the matter is that many, if not most Christians on both the left and the right, cherry pick those Bible verses that best reflect their personal agendas, which is the antithesis of what a truly converted Christian is supposed to be all about. Yes, I'm questioning their spirituality! For example, when a husband feels the need to assert his authority and demand submission, I can almost guarantee you that he is not loving his wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church. I could go on and on with examples, but you've said you admire my ability to be concise so I'll stop right there. I think you see my point.

Tia Lynn said...

I’m gonna start calling you spunkster, terry! :)

I completely agree that BOTH sides tend to cherry pick the verses that support their case and then leave the rest. I'm not sure what that has to do with this post though. I only found this particular post interesting because Charles Finney, a figure beloved in the evangelical conservative community, helped start the EARLY feminist movement (not to be confused with much of today’s feminist movement AND was very politically oriented), let women speak in his church TO MEN (something that is NOT done in MOST theologically conservative churches), and was an advocate of social justice privately and politically (something that is downplayed in conservative churches to focus MORE on personal faith). I don’t really know what this particular article has to do with cherry picking bible verses. Maybe you are referring to the 10 Lies conversation, in which I will say that there was NO cherry picking, whatsoever in that book. The author talks most about the verses that seem to contradict the egalitarian position. :) Help me out here!

Terry said...

I think the connection to this post is that while I don't doubt that Finney was ahead of his time in terms of his views on women in general, I have a hard time believing that he in fact would support the notion that every scripture that assigns women and men different (but equally important) roles meant something other than was specifically outlined in Scripture. To me it just seems sometimes that more liberal Christians work too hard to invalidate Scriptures that do point to the fact that men and women have different kingdom assigments (especially as it relates to the home and family life). I may be wrong, but it just seems that way to me.

Tia Lynn said...

Ok, now I’m up to speed. From my experience, (I don’t know about liberals) but egalitarian Christians firmly believe in scripture and ascribe to a holistic and analytical interpretation, where scriptures should affirm each other, and not be contradictory. I personally have NOT read any egalitarian literature that claims men and women are the same and without inherent differences. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what egalitarians actually believe, which is why, that 10 lies book is really good to read just to familiarize oneself with their perspective. I was blown away by the depth and veracity of their study and scriptural adherence. After I study some more, I will be doing a series on some of those perspectives on home, family, and public church ministry. But one thing I can say, their stances are not arrived at lightly or at the cost of scripture verses that “contradict” their ideals.

Peter said...

I love how when a historical larger-than-life christian figure advocates women’s rights and social causes, it’s biblical, but when everyday people today raise their voices for the church to get behind women’s rights (not abortion rights) and a call to social action they are tagged as liberals and feminists, which of course could never be biblical! :)

And wow, Finney ahead of HIS time with women’s rights? He is ahead of OUR time, considering he let women speak to and teach mixed crowds and most churches (conservative ones) forbid it.

phillip said...

Who knew? :)