This post is a collaboration of thoughts from the KP Team, building off of part 1.
How should the Christian writer handle the prospect of female characters in combat?
Strength comes down to how well someone or something fulfills the purpose it was created for. Men and women were created to fulfill different roles, each reflecting one-half of God’s character. A woman doesn’t need to pick up the sword, or express military prowess to be strong.
Does this mean we can’t depict women in combat? Not at all!
As writers, we need to draw a careful distinction between aspects of the story that are there just because it reflects reality, and aspects that we’re trying to glorify. In the context of whether not we should write stories with women in combat, this distinction can become pretty crucial. There is nothing wrong with writing about “gung-ho, beat-’em-up female characters taking part in combat” necessarily. To the extent that our culture is moving in that direction, those sorts of people do exist in real life to some extent. The real question then, is whether or not we present it in a positive light in our stories. Gender roles and gender callings are a tricky subject to wade through, especially in light of a culture that’s very hostile to drawing any distinction between men and women. It therefore becomes imperative to focus on biblical commands to guide us through these discussions, and not on cultural standards.
The real question then becomes, “should we be glorifying women in combat?”
The obvious answer is “no”, because warfare should not be glorified. Therefore, we shouldn’t glorify men or women in combat. That being said, when we read the Bible, we find there is a distinction between men and women when confronting the violence of evil.
How do we as Christians know that exalting women in combat in a story is truly wrong? Well let’s start at the beginning. When God created man and woman, He gave them both attributes that would define them in their sexes. The man was given the attributes of being a leader, a protector, and a provider over all that he dominated, which (in the beginning) was the woman, the garden of Eden, and the lower order of creatures.
Expanding on the attribute the man has of being a protector, this of course means that it is his duty to protect those that he loves; even going so far as to shed his own blood to save them from harm. God gave the woman a set of attributes as well, but they are vastly different from that of the man’s. The woman’s attributes are that of being a helper to the man, the child-bearer, and the glory of man.
The attribute of child-bearing in this argument against women in combat is key here, for though it is somewhat obscure, woman, like man, also sheds blood for those of whom she loves. However, she does so through child-bearing, and not through the wounds of battle. This is the great separation that God placed between the two sexes, and as Children of the Most High, we ought to honor the order of creation that was established from the beginning of time.
But, there are exceptions, aren’t there?
Deborah is frequently pointed to as proof that the Bible supports women in combat, and yet, Deborah did not actually take part in the fighting herself. Instead, she had to continually insist that Barak man-up and do what God had called him to do. This is not because she feared combat herself, but because she was seeking to fulfill the will of God not just for herself and Barak, but His will for men and women as well.
Barak refused do what God had commanded him to do, unless Deborah came with him. Deborah agreed to accompany him to the battle, and Barak begrudgingly led the army. Then, when the enemy was amassed at the foot of Mount Tabor, Barak still hesitated. Deborah had to tell him, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” (Judges 4:14).
In this case, Deborah is clearly the stronger person here between the two. Barak was weak, not because he was afraid of combat, but because He didn’t trust God. Deborah was strong, even though she didn’t physically fight, because she DID trust God. As a result of Barak’s cowardice, Deborah proclaimed, “The honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
Sure enough, Jael, a woman, had to be the one to put an end to Sisera. The story of Deborah is not detailing an ideal situation, but rather, a time when, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” (Judges 4:1). Men were not fulfilling their God-designed purpose, and so women had to take their place.
Similarly, in Isaiah, the reality of women forced into the role Deborah was, is not seen as a sign that everything is peachy. “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.” – Isaiah 3: 10-11
It is this situation, and the one in Judges, that we can model in our stories if the plot dictates, since it can be a reality. If it is a reality that women must step-up and fill the void vacated by men, then show the negative consequences of this reality in the society and the lives of the characters. Show that women stepping into this masculine role is not ideal.
So we can’t have strong women and have them be in combat?
But what if we want to put a female character in our stories, yet also have her take part in combat? Well, we can, but if she is going to fight in battles, perhaps we put her on the villainous side, and point out that a woman who fights is not to be accepted in the realm of righteousness. If this doesn’t satisfy, and the story calls for us to write about a female character who is neither squeamish nor fearful of hardship, without her being a warrior, then place her under the headship of a male character, thus enabling her to act as the helper she is supposed to be.
As in the example mentioned above, Deborah was a very strong female character, but do we see her fighting after Barak asked her to accompany him? No. She is there for the moral support Barak needs (i.e. being a helper). Certainly, she could have led the army into battle. True, women are generally not as physically strong as men, but all things are possible through God. God certainly could have given Deborah the strength, and she probably would have been the better option to go with, considering how pathetic Barak was being. Rather than having this rather awkward story in Judges 4, we would have a victorious tale of how God can do the impossible, and use those whom man thinks little of…but God didn’t go that route. God wanted the man, Barak, to step up and be the physical defender of His people, despite how incompetent a leader Barak was .
In the end then, we can clearly see from scripture that one can put a strong female character in combat, and have it be honoring to God, but only so long as the writer follows the guidelines, does not paint the situation as ideal, and makes the woman follow the attributes God has so justly given to all womenkind.
More importantly, how is she relating to God and men?
The more important question to ask ourselves is not “should our female characters do ____ or ____”, but how are the women in our stories, relating to God and men? We see God’s design for woman in creating her out of Adam to be a “helper fit for him”(Gen. 2:18,22-23). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God”. If the woman is unmarried, she is still to remain in submission to her father or the male authorities God has placed over her.
Let’s say your female character is placed in a world and time that makes physical combat necessary. How does she take on this responsibility? Does she act completely independent of male authority, proving that she is capable of everything a man is capable of? Or does she seek to help and aid the male characters, walking alongside them, allowing them to lead and protect as Christ leads and protects the church? (Eph. 5:25-27)
This doesn’t mean she is to be weak. The Bible encourages women to develop both physical and spiritual strength. The Proverbs 31 woman “dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (Prov 31:17). But it is vital that our heroines not lose their sense of authority and submission, and gracefully accept honor from the man, knowing they are the “weaker vessel”(1 Pt 3:7).
Too often today female characters who have a chip on their shoulder, and feel the need to show-up and out-do their male counter-parts (which they often do). In such a situation, the motive of the female protagonist is self-glorification, and she is stepping outside of what God has created her to be. She is not acting in strength, but weakness. I would really like to see some female characters who don’t feel like they have anything to prove, and are okay with who they are as women.
It is still possible for the Christian writer to positively display female characters in un-ideal situations like combat. Be creative. Display your character’s inability to back away from what is right. Show her sacrificing for others. Have her bring glory to others, rather than seeking it for herself. This is true strength, strength of spirit, and it applies to male characters too.
Men and women alike who are under Christ are commanded to be strong in the Lord, put on the armor of God and wage war “against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12). If that doesn’t sound like a subject for a gripping adventure novel, I don’t know what does!