An Open Letter to Hugo Schwyzer

Published as a comment at his site, in response to this post. (Hat tip to Scott at Acephalous for reminding me of how these issues continue to simmer.)


You are wrong about the parallels between feminism and Christian evangelism. You are wrong about the pertinence of your distinction between purists and popularizers. Finally, your characterization of the Gospels, crafted to support your arguments, is faulty. All popular movements, including organized expressions of hate, aim to transform the world. Although, in your mind, there may be a closer association between feminism and Christian evangelism because you support both, the differences are far more significant than the similarities.

Feminism is not based on faith. Its premises, beginning with the principle of the equality of the sexes, are reasoned conclusions. Feminism does not seek to convert individuals; it seeks to reason persuasively with them. If you try to fudge this distinction, you do a disservice to feminism and Christian faith alike.

While individual evangelical churches or communities may be comfortable with feminist ideas, the history of the American evangelical movement has been blackened right up to the present day by its willingness to harbor misogyny and homophobia. Your idealized version of Christian evangelism cannot substitute for the historical reality.

Christian evangelism is part of the American mainstream; feminism is not, particularly when you are talking about articulate and inclusive feminisms rather than vague platitudes about equality. While it is common practice for evangelicals to denounce mainstream culture as an immoral and unwholesome influence, this is a put-on, and the target is every part of the mainstream except for evangelism.


Articulations of the truth cannot be divided in two; the integrity and power of an idea cannot survive every kind of translation. Luce Irigaray is not a very clear writer: that is her loss and ours. If another writer can be clearer, so much the better for the movement. Also, it is to be expected that different writers will write in different styles. But when you begin to lend vagueness, simplicity, or agreeability the virtues of clarity, you are equating two very different things: stylistic difference, and differences of ideology. All of these debates within the feminist blogosphere have concerned the latter.

These distinctions are equally bad applied to aesthetics. There is nothing compromised about Charles Dickens or Madonna; similarly, there is nothing respectable about the success The Secret or Nickelback have enjoyed. Pat Boone popularized “Tutti Frutti” in the short term by ruining it; in the long run, Little Richard’s original recording is the one that has proved immortal.

The whole text of Matthew cries out against what you have written. To begin with, you have misquoted the Bible. You write:

Sylvia, Jesus also says “whoever is not against us is for us”.

As you must be aware, this reverses the emphasis of the original: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”

I do not regard the New Testament as a historical or supernatural document. I do, however, regard it as one of the most compelling articulations of an integral worldview that the West has produced, and I am dismayed that you would be so untroubled by its calls for living with integrity.

Does it say there are purists and popularizers? No, but rather “strait is the gate and narrow the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be who find it.” While I am sympathetic to the difficulties involved in “proof-texting” the Bible, this is not an ambiguous statement.

Complaints about the difficulty of radical texts are, often as not, disguised complaints about their content. Nobody has trouble assigning difficult scientific works to undergraduates pursuing a career in science; no-one expects calculus to be “accessible,” as we use the term today. Nonetheless, we expect every high school student, and not just an imaginary 3%, to be capable of understanding calculus. A lot of complaints about feminist theory are born of discomfort with feminism. The situation is similar to the inconsistent way pundits deal with the physical size of political documents. The Clinton health plan (from 1994) was ridiculed by conservatives for being 1,300 pages long; Bush’s tax plan, however, which received conservative support, was over 700 pages long.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.