As she retires from the presidency of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Patricia Ireland looks back on a career consumed with defending the most radical aspects of feminist theory. She has argued on the nation's airwaves and before congressional committees that gender is a social construct and sex roles are oppressive. She is a champion for lesbian rights, even leaving her husband for a time to live with a young female companion. Along the way, she has engaged in some of the harshest rhetoric against evangelical Christians and their "anti-woman" views about biblical manhood and womanhood.
A news brief in a recent issue of World magazine, however, reveals a softer side of this feminist activist.
World cites an interview with Ireland in National Journal magazine in which Ireland is asked whether there are any conservatives she admires. Ireland mentions Barry Goldwater who, as World notes, "in his later years became a harsh opponent of religious conservatives." But Ireland also mentioned Carmen Pate, who formerly served on the staff of Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, a conservative group devoted to countering NOW's feminist agenda.
Of Pate, Ireland said: "I believe that when she proselytizes me periodically, it's because she really believes so strongly that [this is an] important decision for my eternal life."
Who knows how many times Carmen Pate has spoken with Patricia Ireland about the love of God in Christ. It was without fanfare and without media attention, as it should be. In this short sound byte, this feminist leader expresses appreciation for a young Christian woman who opposes everything Ireland advocates, and yet loves her enough to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even while rejecting Pate's convictions, Ireland recognizes that this Christian sees her as more than a foe to be vanquished.
Patricia Ireland's ideas are dangerous. The social agenda of NOW hurts women, destroys homes, tears at the fabric of marriage, and sends millions of unborn children to their unjust executions, all in the name of "women's rights." For Christians to fail to oppose this agenda — and vigorously so — would be to fail to love one's neighbor as one's self. We must work for evangelical churches that model a truly biblical view of manhood and womanhood. We must warn the larger society of the inherently destructive nature of the feminist worldview. But that's not enough.
The quiet example of Carmen Pate should prompt us as conservative evangelicals to do something for Patricia Ireland that some of us may have forgotten to do — pray for her.
For those of us who may find it hard to imagine Carmen Pate one day leading this combative feminist to Christ, perhaps we need to re-read the letters of one who was once even more "anti-evangelical" than Patricia Ireland will ever be. "… I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor," the apostle Paul writes. "… I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 1:13-14).
Let's pray for Patricia.