Letha Dawson Scanzoni, an evangelical author who argued, gently but persuasively, that the Bible considered women equal to men, inspiring a wave of Christian feminism and, perhaps inevitably, a backlash against it, died on Jan. 9 in Charlotte, N.C. She was 88.
Her death, at a skilled nursing facility, was from congestive heart failure, her son David Scanzoni said.
Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was already a best seller in the mid-1960s when Ms. Scanzoni began writing for Eternity, an evangelical Christian magazine that often challenged conservative attitudes on social issues. She had the same questions as her secular sisters: Should women be submissive to their husbands and stay out of leadership roles in the church, as many fundamentalist Christians believed?
Ms. Scanzoni did not think the Bible supported these views — and quoted scripture to prove her points in articles published in Eternity, like one titled “Women’s Place: Silence or Service?” and another on egalitarian marriage.
The articles didn’t accrue too much opprobrium at the time, though the editors did ask for a photo of Ms. Scanzoni and her husband to accompany the egalitarian marriage piece to show that he approved of her position. And there were a few outraged letters to the editor. One reader wrote that “Mrs. Scanzoni’s article is a prime reason the Apostle Paul told women to be silent.”
But as the women’s liberation movement gained momentum outside the church, Ms. Scanzoni felt that Christians were sitting on the sidelines, save for some mild carping about the decline of society, and decided to tackle the subject in a book. What resulted was “All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation” (1974), which she wrote with Nancy Hardesty, who had been an editor at Eternity.