Lecture marries Calvinism and feminism

by Caitlyn Starkey

Edward B. Lindaman Chair and professor of political science Julia Stronks gave her lecture “If A Calvinist Had Coffee with a Feminist” on March 28 in the Robinson Teaching Theatre.

Stronks explained that, to most people, the terms Calvinist and feminist appear to disagree and to support opposite views, but when examined closely the two can exist simultaneously.

She defined the terms feminist and Calvinist to give a clear and unified point of discussion.

Among the Christian reformed tradition, Calvin is a well-known name. His work discusses grace, predestination and the elect, Stronks said.

“Now [what] people who know Calvin will usually know about him [is] that he emphasized grace. Sola gratia. Sola scriptura. Only grace. Only scripture,” Stronks said.

However, it is hard to relate feminism to the theological underpinning of Calvin.

“But the thing that people usually don’t know, that I think is extremely important, is his cultural understanding, his public theology,” she said. “His understanding of how we live in a fallen but redeemed world.”

Calvin stated that Christians had spheres of influence, and they were to live out their daily faith within those contexts, Stronks said. A sphere could be government, business, church, or others. All the spheres are under God’s authority and thus none has more power.

Calvin advocated living out faith and justice in a person’s daily life through their spheres of influence. But for feminism to fit into that framework, the definition must be cleared up.

When Stronks clarified a few stereotypes about feminism, she made a clear distinction between radical and liberal feminism.

“Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians,” Stronks said, quoting television evangelist Pat Robertson describing the radical feminist movement.

Stronks characterized that type of feminism as radical feminism, compared to liberal feminism. Radical feminism is a limited section of those who identify themselves as feminist, less than 5 percent, Stronks said.

“Liberal not in the sense of lefty but in the sense that they accept the themes of Enlightenment and they accept the themes of American democratic tradition,” Stronks said. “Rule of law, market economy, separation of power, autonomous individuals.”

Stronks explained her own interaction and experience with the word feminism. As an undergraduate student Stronks attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

“If you had asked me then if I were a feminist I would have said, ‘No way. I like men,’” she said. After she graduated with her law degree, Stronks went to work at a large law firm and got married. The couple moved to Washington, D.C. and Stronks chose to go back to school as they started a family.

“One day I was at a picnic table with some friends of mine, they are all young mothers, and all of our children were gathered around us playing,” Stronks said. “All of a sudden I realized I had spent two hours talking about baby poop, and laundry and how to get a stain out of an undershirt. And I thought ‘How did this happen to me? How did I become Leave It To Beaver’s mother?”

Stronks has since aligned her definition of feminism to that of liberal feminism and identifies herself as such. Yet that shift in thinking leads to public policy implications.

A Calvinist says that a person’s spheres of influence should be used for faith and justice, and a Feminist seeks equality and justice in all aspects of life. Thus if the two had coffee they would conclude that personal influence should be used to bring equality. For Stronks that conclusion particularly relates to public policy and legislation around sexual assault and domestic violence.

One in four women will be sexually assaulted. This is an area of injustice and inequality that needs to be addressed, Stronks said.

Contact Caitlyn Starkey at cstarkey14@my.whitworth.edu.

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