Reading Coakley: The Danger of Difference

This is the fifth post in a ten-week series on reading Sarah Coakley’s Powers and Submissions with my friend and mentor, Pastor Jason Byassee.


Below is a list of what I googled in order to respond to your post from last week:

-“Coakley often gets her hackles up in response to intellectual uniformity and shrillness.” I now know that hackles are the hairs along the back of an animal that rise when it is angry or alarmed, like my cat Meekie used to do when I tried to put a baby bonnet over her mosquito-bitten ears.
– “I’ll just tell them to put on their big girl panties and then I’ll show them my Glock.” Frankly, I’m glad I’m naive enough not to automatically know a Glock is a handgun. We Midwestern gals are more comfortable with corn husks and corn hole.

I suspect all good (and angry) Christian feminists will need to know what hackles and Glocks are at some point in the journey with the church, and so for my brief linguistic education, I am grateful to you.

Your birthing image of Christ was such a powerful conclusion to last week’s post on what it might look like to de-center gender. Would you advocate for such language in liturgy? Mixing gendered metaphors has always been a favorite feminist move of mine. Like praying to God the Father and her only begotten Son. Again, I’m not sure Coakley would find this strategy all that effective at producing true change in the relationships between men and women at the congregational level, but I do think it does something to jar the soul and pop the lid on its imagination.

This week’s chapter found us back in familiar territory with Coakley again challenging the sweeping anti-hero of feminists – the Enlightenment’s ‘Man of Reason’ – and asking us to consider the presumed antinomies (another googler for me; meaning the incompatabilities) such a denigrating view has with the autonomous self many modern feminists aspire to.

In my experience this is one of the critical issues of a specifically Christian feminism that we’ve discussed in the last few weeks: vulnerability and dependence are part of our salvivic narrative, and as such, need to be part of our liberation narrative. The Man (or modern Woman) of Reason, upheld by the Enlightenment’s key figures such as Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant, should not be our holy grail of equality, however tempting it may be to emulate the characteristics already rewarded by society.

However, Coakley notes the arguably ill-advised move of some radical feminists to deepen women’s connection to nature and capitalize on our differentiated strength. Funny, isn’t it, that the radical feminist position is perhaps most in line with the evangelical Christian position of complimentarianism? Makes me all the more suspect of authors like Wayne Grudem and John Piper knowing their views may have been influenced by lines from Rousseau such as this, “A perfect man and a perfect woman should no more be alike in mind that in face.”

Coakley concludes that the feminist dream must be the ‘abolition of the sex class system” tout court (googled: meaning ‘and nothing else’), not simply a swapping of masculine and feminine ideals nor a complete blurring of sex all together.

To her I say, Amen. And nothing else.


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