By / Mar 17

This U.S. Congress is considering a joint resolution that would eliminate the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. 

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that was first introduced into Congress in 1923 and an amended version passed in 1972. Proponents of the amendment say that it would merely clarify that men and women have equal rights throughout the United States. 

But as critics have forcefully argued for the past century, the ERA would be used primarily to strip women of any distinctives and, in many areas of life, would put them at a disadvantage in relation to men. 

Attempting to erase gender distinctions

If promoting equality was the true goal, the ERA would be unnecessary. Numerous laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the Title IX Amendment of 1972, protect women from discrimination on the basis of sex. The Supreme Court has also established protections for women in a variety of rulings over the past 50 years. 

But the push for the ERA is not about promoting women; it’s about erasing all gender distinctions. The ideological perspective behind the ERA is in direct opposition to the biblical view of gender, which emphasizes the idea that men and women have distinct, complementary roles in the family, church, and society. Scripture makes clear that men and women were created with different strengths and weaknesses, and these differences should be embraced rather than rejected. Genesis 1:27 states that, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In this verse we see the beautiful reality that men and women are created equal in worth and dignity and yet were made distinct and non-interchangeable. 

Attempting to erase gender differences causes significant harm to all of society and especially—as the transgender movement has proven—to women and children. One of the reasons for the attempted revival of ​​the ERA is to provide a shortcut to the process of outlawing gender distinctions that has been used in recent years by the federal courts. A series of rulings have reinterpreted the meaning of “sex” and “equality of rights” in ways that have expanded abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. 

From the founding of the country until a few years ago, the term “sex” was once used in federal laws and regulations in reference to biological sex. However, in recent years, federal courts have interpreted this term more broadly to prevent any distinctions based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

For example, in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), the Supreme Court held that the prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The court reasoned that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity necessarily involves sex discrimination, because an individual’s sex is inherently tied to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ERA would codify such reasoning into the U.S. Constitution. The version approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” Approval of the amendment would supercharge the efforts to reinterpret sex in a way that privileges the preferences of gay and transgender men over the rights of biological women—and make it nearly impossible to challenge such laws that specifically protect women.

Other areas of concern 

Pro-life issues: The ERA would also threaten the hard-won gains that came from overturning Roe v. Wade. As the use of various state-level ERAs have shown, it would make it nearly impossible to implement state-level restrictions on abortion. We’ve also seen how such reasoning has been used at the federal level. In June Medical Services LLC v. Russo (2020), the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The court found that the law placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions, in violation of Roe. The court noted that laws that restrict access to abortion may have a disproportionate impact on women because of their biological sex. The overturning of Roe returned such issues to the states. But the ERA would put them back in the control of federal legislators.

Education and scholarships: Passage of the ERA would also harm girls and young women by eliminating women’s programs and scholarships in all areas of education. Title IX currently allows for programs and scholarships that are exclusively for women, but the ERA would strike that down since any program or scholarship that excludes men would be discriminatory. Removing such efforts to level the playing field would be a blow to women who worked hard to gain representation in such areas as science, technology, and sports. 

Additionally, adoption of the ERA would mean the end of single-sex colleges. It would also force the sex integration of entities such as fraternities, sororities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, and Boys State and Girls State conducted by the American Legion. Public restrooms would also likely have to be unisex in order to avoid violating the constitutional provision. Shelters specifically for women experiencing homelessness and prisons designed specifically to house women would also likely be deemed unconstitutional.

Family structure and policy: The ERA would also have negative effects on the family structure and family policy. For example, the ERA would be used to challenge any laws that recognize the unique roles of mothers and fathers in parenting. It could also be used to challenge laws that provide benefits to mothers, such as maternity leave and flexible work hours, and prevent the protection of abused women. Currently, many states have laws that provide different levels of protection to men and women who are victims of domestic violence. The ERA would require states to eliminate these kinds of gender-based distinctions.

By attempting to erase the beautiful God-created distinctions between men and women, the ERA works to deny reality in a way that would cause further damage and harm to women and girls. Rather than helping women achieve parity with men, the amendment would enshrine within the U.S. Constitution that there should not be any legal distinctions ever made to protect women. Christians should oppose the ERA, not because we are opposed to equal rights, but because we are genuinely pro-woman. 

By / Feb 26

As a husband, pastor, and the father of eight children, five of whom are daughters, there are many reasons I am deeply troubled by H.R. 5, legislation ironically named the Equality Act. In this article, I want to focus on my concerns as a girl dad who loves sports.  

As a girl dad, I am concerned about the Equality Act because it will undermine female equality by negating the biological reality of sex. Erasing biological sex as a legal category will negatively affect all of us, but it will disproportionately harm women.

Women and Title IX

Under H.R. 5, vital laws protecting women from discrimination on the basis of “sex” would be upended. A person’s sex would no longer be a matter of biology, but of one’s internal sense of “gender identity.” Title IX is a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, designed to ensure equal opportunities in programs and activities for biological females. The amendment is probably best known for its impact on high school and college athletics. Title IX reads,

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Of course, when Title IX was adopted, “sex” merely indicated whether a person was biologically male or female. If the legal definition of “sex” is expanded to include non-verifiable gender identities, which H.R. would do, then what is the purpose of Title IX? How can you have an anti-discrimination law in place to protect women if there is no objective way to determine who is male and female? Any attempt to enforce such regulations would be nonsensical.

Impossible standards

In athletics, a refusal to account for biological, sex-dependent differences will legally enshrine inequality in sports. In addition to being unfair, it is insulting and demeaning to females when we proceed as if biological males are the standard by which they ought to evaluate themselves. Acknowledging biological differences in athletic competition is as necessary as acknowledging differences in age.

This is not hyperbole. 

Female athletes nationwide are already experiencing the unjust effects of our cultural gender chaos. In Texas, a 17-year-old female student transitioning to male and undergoing testosterone treatments won the girl’s state championship in wrestling. Performance-enhancing drugs are banned in most sports competitions but not if allowing them accommodates the student to “transition.” In Connecticut, biological males competing as females combined to win 15 girls state outdoor or indoor championship races. And how should we respond if a male who self-identifies as a female seriously injures a female while wrestling? It is not inconceivable that such issues portend the end of public school athletics.

Even tennis champion, long-time gay rights activist, and open lesbian Martina Navratilova responded with shock and outrage when she heard about biological transgender males competing against females. She penned a February 2019 article titled, “The rules on trans athletes reward cheats and punish the innocent.”

Navratilova asserted, “It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.” She continued, “To put the argument at its most basic: a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organization is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires.” Of course, she was pilloried for her common sense comments and walked them back a bit.

Level playing field

My oldest daughter has enough talent as a tennis player, competing against other girls, to earn an athletic college scholarship to an excellent school. Would that be the case if she had to compete against biological males? No. Not even close. 

Let’s be honest; legislation like the Equality Act is not about protecting people who have been unfairly excluded from participation in sports. It is about politicizing everything in our culture, including sports, in service of the sexual revolution. 

I have no plans to turn my back on the reality of biological science. Nor to accept the new sexual orthodoxy. Still, I am gutted when I think about the implications of this legislative assault on my five daughters. There are far worse ramifications of H.R. 5 than the end of female sports, but as a dad who fiercely loves his daughters and has spent a lifetime enjoying sports, I grieve the thought of that loss in particular. 

The truth is found on the opening page of Scripture. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). I cannot wait until the weather warms, to watch my daughters compete against other girls on a tennis court. The beauty of competition taking place on a level playing field brings me great joy. I plan to enjoy it as long as I can.

By / Jul 16

Wikipedia, that encyclopedic shaman of our Internet age, defines “War on Women” as “an expression used in United States politics that characterizes certain Republican Party policies as a wide-scale assault on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights.” As a committed political and theological conservative, former staffer for three (GOP) Members of Congress, and proud carrier of two X chromosomes, I take umbrage with this characterization.

Look no further than the Planned Parenthood Federation, to reveal the ugly details of the War’s leading players. Touting itself as “America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care,” Planned Parenthood actually generates more than half of its $320 million of annual revenue from abortions—facilitating a mother’s decision to end the life of her unborn child. While touting itself as a leading advocate for women’s health, Planned Parenthood has repeatedly covered up statutory rape, done abortions on minors without notifying parents or authorities, and resisted informing women about the risks inherent to abortion—including miscarriages, psychological harm, and increased rates of suicide. The stories continue to roll in.

One need not have a Masters degree in Women’s Studies to believe that something is amiss. And one need not hold a Masters of Divinity to suggest that a Christian anthropology offers a hopeful, authentic alternative to the modern extremes of this gendered warfare—either a radical feminism or the radical conservatism one sees in a fundamentalist Muslim context. A Christian anthropology explains that the strife over sexuality and relationships has a long and colorful history arching back to the Garden of Eden. God brought Eve to Adam as his match, his complement, and his teammate. But after Adam and Eve questioned God’s goodness, rebelled, and ate the forbidden fruit, God specifically offered Eve a warning that her pain would be multiplied in childbearing and her desire would be for her husband. Daughters of Eve, and the men near them, have been dealing with the painful implications ever since.

In some sense, the entire post-fall human experience is marked by conflict and aggression. But the antagonism, strife, and brokenness of sexuality and the abuse and objectification of women form a subset of that conflict. This “War on Women” is a minefield and this little essay holds no pretense of ending that war. However, I hope this discussion disables (or detonates) just a few of the mines. As flawed and explosive as the War label may be, the church of God ignores, dismisses, or exaggerates this conversation about women its own peril. To avoid getting caught in the cultural crossfire, I suggest that Christian leaders pay attention to the several myths.

There is a myth that exists in conservative circles: the girls are all OK. There is no war on women. I start here for the pastor or church leader who has read my introduction but dismisses the “War on Women” and its motivating emotions and factors as a fantastic figment of the feminist imagination. But, consider this. Even in the some of the most affluent, intellectual, and doctrinally sound congregations sit women who have been raped, physically and verbally abused by fathers, boyfriends, and husbands. I am a member of one such church and my sisters have told me their stories. Many of us also know the milder forms of discrimination and objectification—being ogled or groped as we make our way down the city sidewalk. At times we know or suspect that our double-X chromosome has served as the primary reason we have been denied employment, promotion, or inclusion into important decisions—even in a secular work environment. Of course, we have also been privileged and protected because we are women. The “War on Women” meme may have been coopted by progressive feminists. But the fact remains; we women have experienced life differently than have our brothers.

Dear pastor, have you considered that women in your church bear the burden of the culture’s sexual saturation and delayed marriage differently than do the men in your congregation? Have you considered that practice of sex-selective abortion threatens to exacerbate these tensions in years to come? Have you grappled with the verifiable linksbetween pornography, abuse, and the sex trafficking? Have you acknowledged that today’s women not only also wrestle with Eve’s promised “pain in childbearing,” but increasingly with the pain of delayed, deferred, and denied childbearing—and are bombarded by a vast array of ethically suspicious methods to address the challenge?

Not every pain requires a sermon; not every problem requires a program. But wise pastoring and counsel requires both an intellectual awareness of the cultural trends, but an authentically sympathetic ear to the women whose stories and struggles contribute to those trends. Pastors need not feel threatened by our stories, but they must know some of our stories to shepherd effectively and carefully apply truth. The grief, vulnerabilities, and burdens are real. Our brokenness and abuse can color our trust of authority, fuel our longing for justice, burden our relationships, and blind us to the good news of the gospel. This good news is certainly powerful, active, and objectively true—convicting and healing, even when the speaker’s life experience does not match his congregants.

If you hear me advocating for a victim culture, you haven’t heard me very well. Women gain very little from the myth that all women are equally victimized by a patriarchal regime. The claim simply doesn’t hold water and the recent social media conversation #YesAllWomen seems instructive. As women, inside and outside the church, many of us care deeply about a systemic bias that still exists against women’s education, safety, and economic opportunity—especially in other cultural contexts. We are, perhaps, wired to experience more solidarity, empathy, compassion, and collaboration than are our brothers. But our most effective campaigns and conversations (on social media or otherwise) will avoid conflating possible discrimination with acute abuse. As one leading lady in American history noted, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” Christian leaders are often called to address both: to advocate for changed cultural circumstances (the pursuit of justice and abolition of sexual slavery) and to motivate a change in individual disposition.

How then should Christian male leaders weigh in on these conversations? Feminist standpoint theory will generally question the validity of the male perspective and question the existence of objective truth. However, as misguided as feminist standpoint theory may be, Christian theology should never require the gnostic separation of intellectual reality from bodily presence and physical reality. After all, Christians are invited into renewed relationship with the living God. We are also told “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15, NIV)

But while our Savior tells us that he is able to empathize, his servants sometimes fail to do so. The Christian church in America can afford to learn from its botched conversations and address sensitive topics like sexual abuse and rape with greater humility and empathy. While one may think that the current agitation for free contraceptives is ridiculous and selfish (and I believe that it is), one can choose to respond in a way that challenges and engages the selfish feminist singleton, or dismissively comment that allshe needs to do is keep her knees together, and her problem is solved for free. The later response fails to engage the woman as a person who longs for relationship, has sexual impulses, is surrounded by lies about human sexuality, may have been abused by men, and (like all human beings ever created) is tempted to place her own needs and desires in the center of the universe.

Rather, a Christ-like leader will actually sit down with the woman, like Jesus did with the adulterous woman at the well. He will seek to understand her story. He will care to discern how the raw and ragged edges of her story affect her ability to understand and follow the Savior.

So, what will you say the next time you get that angry phone call or read that anguished email—“I can’t believe that you think I shouldn’t get an abortion. Do you have any idea how this rape has turned my life upside down?” Perhaps, as we minister to others, we can acknowledge our own emotional and experiential limits: “I have never been in your situation. I find it difficult to understand all the pain that you must be going through.” We then, have the opportunity to walk towards the angry and broken woman in front of us—to share the reality that Savior feels her pain and offers authentic hope. We can, and must, pursue justice within the legal system. We can share our concern that an abortion—a chosen act of violence towards an innocent party—will not solve or undo the victimization. We can point to other brave individuals who have chosen a difficult but brave and redemptive path and known great blessing as a result. We can, and must, open our hearts, homes, families, and wallets to make it clear that we the church is ready to help.
This is only the beginning. Our conversations must continue. Our humility must grow. To stay engaged in this conversation, look out for my next installment, I offer several ways that the church can de-escalate and reframe the “War on Women.”

By / Jul 2

"This is the scariest thing the Court has ever done,” emailed a friend to me yesterday. Understandably, women’s hearts are beating fast and our heads are spinning with confusion due to uproars declaring a heightened “war on women” in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Sebelius v. Hobby LobbyStores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius decisions.

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold citizens’ First Amendment right to live and work according to our moral convictions should not scare women. What should frighten us is the deceptive and potentially harmful misinformation so-called “progressive” voices within pro-abortion lobby groups, mainstream media, and, most disappointingly, from some within the Church are feeding us.

Lending to the “war on women” outcry yesterday was Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. According to Huffington Post, Richards stated, “Today, the Supreme Court ruled against American women and families giving bosses the right to discriminate against women and deny their employees access to birth control coverage.”

First, let us quickly debunk Richards’ misleading sentiments by clarifying that women are not denied access to birth control coverage. In fact, Hobby Lobby and Constenaga wood are willing to provide 16 out of the 20 forms of contraception dictated by the Obama Administration’s invasive Health and Human Services mandate. The point of contention arose when the Southern Baptist Green family and Mennonite Wood family declined to pay for abortion-inducing emergency contraception, including Plan B, Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Ella.

Just to prove that the Supreme Court decision did nothing to limit women from accessing these four abortifacients, this morning I visited my local CVS pharmacy. Walking straight back to the pharmacy I simply asked, “Do you sell Plan B?” The young female attendant said, “No, but we have the generic version Next Choice.” The cost of came to about a little over $40.00.

I declined to finalize the sale, but did notice that there were no conservative evangelicals or conservative politicians forbidding me—a 26 year-old woman—from accessing these abortion-inducing drugs. Am I really supposed to believe that my health is at risk because my boss will not pay for it?

Second, and most importantly, Richards ignores that women actually won yesterday. Although opponents of the court’s ruling are directing women by focusing on a “personhood of corporations” argument, it is vital to remember that behind the Christian family-run business Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are women. Namely, Barbara Green and Elizabeth Hahn sought protection to live by their convictions. These women and their families were victories and we should celebrate their courage to defend their constitutional rights in the face of fierce hostility.

In addition, Hobby Lobby’s legal counsel consisted of several women including Lori Windham. Speaking for the Green and Hahn family, Windham shared, “Women’s voices are heard standing up for religious freedom. This case is about the freedoms of all Americans, women and men. And it’s something that all Americans should celebrate.”

Glance at the photographs taken outside of the Supreme Court moments after the ruling was released. You will notice the photos captured joyful young women, many of my friends who work for faith-based pro-life, pro-family non-profits. These young Christian women  were supporting religious freedom for all women, not corporate greed or capitalism.

Women of faith like Barbara Green, Elizabeth Han, and our pro-life friends and I, are ignored because we refuse to depend on emergency contraception for liberation. True liberation and the ability to live out Truth can only be found in Jesus Christ alone. According to Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is filled with women (and men’s) liberation stories. As followers of Christ, we are charged with the Great Commission to share the message of true salvation  (Matthew 28:16-20). But sadly, many among the Religious Left continue to base women’s liberation from an embellished oppressive, patriarchal society through birth control instead of the transforming liberation through Jesus Christ.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), is one such voice inside the Christian community that sees so-called “reproductive” rights as women’s ticket to freedom. The RCRC is a coalition including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC). Outraged by the court’s ruling, RCRC stated, “Real religious liberty protects the rights of women to make thoughtful decisions about whether and when to use contraception in private consultation with their doctors, their families and their own faith – there is no place for a boss’s beliefs in such conversations.”

Missing the point, Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, wrote, “The supporters of Hobby Lobby think they are being ‘pro-life.’ They are wrong. A massive study conducted in 2012 showed that contraception coverage without a co-pay could dramatically reduce the abortion rate.” Since when is the Hobby Lobby ruling about monthly contraception?

Again, David Gushee and Brian McLaren, two leading voice among the Evangelical Left, both raised the same question, “Are critics taking seriously the public health benefits of no-cost contraception coverage, and the moral benefits of the likely dramatic reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions?”

Aside from the fact that these professing believers do not acknowledge that these drugs are life-terminating, these men are misleading women to believe these drugs are safe and regular forms of birth control.

Women, don’t be fooled! As RCRC wrongly claims, Hobby Lobby’s exemption from paying for these four abortifacients will not cost families “$40 a month.” Nor can they be used as regular forms of contraception.  The major problem with Cizik, McLaren, Gushee’s shared argument is that they mislead women to believe that Next Choice, Plan B, and Ella are all regular forms of birth control. According to Next Choice’s packaging, is to be used in an “emergency” only and not as a regular form of birth control because it contains a higher dose of levonorgestrel, the drug typically comprising the Pill. Yet, regular forms of the Pill can cause women serious health complications including breast, cervical, and liver cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

If there is such a thing as a “war on women,” it is being launched by “progressives” who view women’s worth according to how much free birth control we attain. Thankfully, our value extends beyond our ability to “family plan.” Women are hardworking, witty, caring and intelligent beings made in the image of our Creator, who calls us to live by faith beyond our sanctuary walls.

Chelsen Vicari
Chelsen Vicari serves as the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Director of Evangelical Action and is the author of the forthcoming book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith (Frontline, September 2014).