Sarah Grimke was a Quaker woman who faced opposition in her preaching and public speaking against the evils of slavery because she was a woman. In response she gave scriptural arguments in support of an Egalitarian interpretation of the Bible when it comes to gender. Evangelical Egalitarianism did not originate in the 1970s, but was the result of the reformation movements following the 2nd Great Awakening. As a movement Evangelical Egalitarianism developed out of the Abolitionist movement and continues on even today. Many notable denominations and evangelists have historically given their full support for women in ministry (for example: Moody himself and his institute).Egalitarianism was primarily an Evangelical movement and any non-Christian feminists generally had to join existing Evangelical feminist groups or causes. The key error of the early Egalitarians was their idealistic belief that if they only changed the laws that the hearts of the people would follow. In 1920 women gained the right to vote and confident their work was done began to fade, but their opponents reinforced the spheres they still had control over: the home and church. The key problem was not legal, but social and cultural and the status quo returned. However, out of the increasing dissatisfaction with the prescribed gender roles of the culture, a new kind of feminism(s) began to rise (1960s-1970s?).
It was not an Evangelical movement, but a liberal and secular one which did not have the same understanding of the authority of the Scriptures. Unlike the Evangelical movement which saw abortion as oppressive towards women and sought mutual sexual chastity among the genders, this movement eventually began to equate abortion with a woman’s right to choose and sexual activity outside of marriage as liberation. The Evangelical strain continues, but has now been eclipsed by liberal and secular feminism(s) and has been wrongly associated with that movement as though it never existed before.
The following are some of the excerpts from the Letters of Sarah Grimke. I have not provided the Scriptural arguments here since most are surprisingly familiar (some suited uniquely to her time). Instead, here are some of her essential thoughts that have come out of her convictions concerning Scripture:
I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy. If he has not given us the rights which have, as I conceive, been wrested from us, we shall soon give evidence of our inferiority, and shrink back into obscurity, which the high souled magnimity of man has assigned us as our appropriate sphere…He has done all he could to debase and enslave her mind; and now he looks triumphantly on the ruin he has wrought, and says, the being he has thus deeply injured is his inferior. –Sarah Grimke Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman p.10-11 Letter 2
He has adorned the creature whom God gave him as a companion, with baubles and gewgaws, turned her attention to personal attractions, offered incense to her vanity, and made her the instrument of his selfish gratification, a plaything to please his eye and amuse his hours of leisure…The poet has sung, in sickly strains, the loveliness of woman’s dependance upon man, and now we find it reechoed by those who profess to teach the religion of the Bible. -p17 Letter 3For the original source, enjoy it here.