The fact that a term or phrase can be used by one person one way, and mean something completely different to another person, is nothing new. But as people who believe that words matter—because God communicated to us using precise words, right down to the smallest jot and title—we as Christians should be especially thoughtful in how we use terms, and educate ourselves about what others mean when they use them. We’d be wise to carefully articulate what we do and do not mean (and support or oppose) when we use certain words.
Take, for example, two terms commonly heard today: “gender equality” and “the empowerment of women.”
One site defines “gender equality” this way:
Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.
Christians should be the first to fully elevate and respect women and their God-given equality with men! My wife Nanci and I raised two daughters whom I respect deeply. I’ve never had a moment’s regret that God gave me girls instead of boys. As the father of daughters I routinely stood against some of the chauvinistic assumptions I saw and still see, in the world at large, and even among some evangelicals.
When it comes to gender equality and the empowerment of women, there’s much that Christians can affirm and agree with the world about. Girls and women should be given equal opportunities for education (see John Piper’s post “Why We Educate Our Girls”) and employment, and legal rights, like the right to vote and run for office. Women should be able to live full lives of opportunity free of enslavement and abuse.
In fact, I argue that as believers, we should show girls and women that the church offers them more respect, not less, than the world. In many parts of the world where, unfortunately, women are treated as inferior, the church is indeed “radical” in its treatment of women by elevating them as equals in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 ). Where God’s Word is available or translated into people’s heart languages, it brings transformation.
John 1:9 says that Jesus came as “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” I think this reflects the fact that all people in history have benefited from the coming of Christ, even those who reject Him. The model of Christ, His grace and truth, His elevation of women, and conciliatory words created a reference point for bringing freedom and civil rights to many societies. As far as we still have to go, the progress in affirming the rights of women and racial minorities in our own culture is due not to the current beliefs of moral relativism, but to the teaching and model of Christ which sowed the seeds for later reversal of the injustice (including slavery, women unable to vote, etc.) that hung over this country when it was founded.
The Wikipedia page for the term “gender equality” says this:
On a global scale, achieving gender equality also requires eliminating harmful practices against women and girls, including sex trafficking, femicide, wartime sexual violence, and other oppression tactics.
Of course we can agree that Christians, and indeed all people, should oppose and actively work to eliminate such evil practices! God calls us to seek justice in the world He’s placed us in: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8, NIV).But unfortunately, when the secular culture refers to gender equality, sometimes they’re including an entirely different set of issues that prolife Christians must be aware of. The Wikipedia page also says this: “Gender equality is more than equal representation, it is strongly tied to women’s rights, and often requires policy changes” (emphasis added). Women’s rights, sadly, have been hijacked to not just include access to abortion but often exclusively focus on it. For example, see the Wikipedia page on women’s rights, which quotes the Human Rights Watch as saying, “The denial of a pregnant woman’s right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights.”
This is tragic, as abortion not only kills children, but also deeply hurts women. My books ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments and Why ProLife? were born out of a heart both for the unborn and their mothers. In fact, my deep concern about abortion didn’t start with a burden for children, but a burden for women who struggled due to their past abortions.
Life Site News reports that often U.N. documents also use the terms “gender equality” and “the empowerment of women” to mean the promotion of abortion. This is both sad and extremely ironic, because Jesus is clearly in favor of gender equality and the empowerment of women, in the sense of their equal worth and value! I hate it when good expressions become code words for what’s evil.
So one of the ironies of that particular use of “gender equality” is that by its advocacy of abortion, it endorses the single greatest means of robbing the youngest women of their most basic right—the right to life. A little more than half of aborted children are female, and in some cultures prenatal testing is done to identify females and kill them before they are born. This is anti-woman on the most basic level. (See my article Is Abortion Really a Women’s Rights Issue?)
I also am saddened when believers end up automatically pushing back against terms and phrases without carefully explaining what they’re really opposing, and what they’re totally in favor for. It’s like arguing against “every child a wanted child” without explaining that we actually do agree every child should be wanted—but the solution isn’t killing unborn children, but placing children in homes where they are wanted, and learning to want children more. Another example is when Christians say, “I oppose the ACLU” without qualifying that we should thank God for the ACLU’s historic efforts in racial equality and justice (not always done the right way, but resulting in just laws for which we can be profoundly thankful). Even though I oppose most of what they do today, I thank God for what liberal groups like the ACLU accomplished in the racial arena.
The bottom line? When we talk about a term like “gender equality,” let’s be sure we are clear what we are and are not opposing. In no way should we ever be anti-women; but we’re emphatically against the inclusion of abortion as part of what defines women as having value and worth.