Elisabeth Elliot was a spokesperson for a definite view of gender. Her book Let Me Be a Woman (1976) was a traditionalist – some would say “complementarian” – blueprint for women in the home: assertive women are missing out on God’s plan and divine joy, and they should not seek to be equal to men, beyond the fact that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. “Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race.” I’m summarizing of course, and leaving a lot out, but that is much of her point.
On the other hand: Elisabeth Elliot also demonstrated by her actions, words, writings, that a woman in Christ can be every much the mighty warrior that a man in Christ can be; that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on both “sons and daughters”, leading us to rethink what is men’s and women’s work; that a woman can take a degree in Greek and work cross-linguistically (in Spanish, Quechua – she co-authored a Bible translation – and Waorani), and cross-culturally both without a husband (she was married to Jim Elliott after they had both gone to Ecuador as single missionaries), with a husband, as a widow and single mother; that a woman can in our collective memory outshine three husbands – even the martyred first one – in her faithful and determined labor.
On the back cover of her book for men, The Mark of a Man, it reads: “The world cries for men who are strong: strong in conviction, strong to lead, to stand, to suffer…glad to shoulder the burden of manliness.”
No argument here, that we need strong, godly men. But Elisabeth Elliot showed that you could swap out “men” for “women” in that blurb, and in the New Covenant it makes perfect sense for the sisters as well. Not feminism; not pc; just the gospel.
Many Christian women have been blessed by her teachings about the woman’s role, but I hope we can also – principally – remember her as a model to all women and men to take God’s call seriously. This is how I will remember her and try to honor her memory.
Elisabeth Elliot – 1926-2015