Christianity shouldn’t need feminism, but it helps.
A friend recently shared with me this article about why secular feminists need feminists of faith.
Then another friend challenged me:
“I like the distinction one of the commentors made that the spirit of the piece is good, but what exactly does “Christian Feminism” mean? What does it mean to you Karen?
P.S. I think the term makes a lot of people uncomfortable (including me to some degree) because it suggests that mere Christianity isn’t sufficient, that somehow being a follower of Christ doesn’t allow for love and respect of women, that feminism is the addendum necessary to ‘perfect’ God’s work.”
“Thanks for asking the questions and reading critically! I agree with your criticisms, and I do think it is sad when people do not believe that Christianity calls for love and respect of women. I don’t view feminism as an addendum necessary to perfect God’s work, but more of an noun (and in “feminist’s” case, an adjective) used to describe a movement or a person or a theology etc. that describe the stance of respect and love for minority populations, especially women. I think the reason why feminism is important to describe Christians and Christianity is that not all Christians are feminists. Not because they hate or disrespect women, but because of the way that some people read the Bible.
It is worth respecting different readings and interpretations of the Bible, but in my opinion as a Christian and a feminist, I think that it is important to read and interpret the Bible in context. For instance, the Bible is set in the backdrop of patriarchal societies (as were prevalent for a long time in ancient history and many cultures), and I think the whole narrative that weaves throughout the Bible is that God reveals Himself (I use Himself because that is the term commonly used, and an argument about gender will open up another can of worms) throughout human history among imperfect people in imperfect times. One of these imperfections and part of the ways I believe that we have fallen short of God’s vision for the world is how women are seen as inferior and less capable than men. The saddest part is when this is seen in relation to serving God.
But I think one only has to look at the genealogy of Jesus and the stories that are highlighted in the Bible (Rahab, Esther, Ruth) to see that God chooses the least in society (also see Moses, David, Matthew and the rest of the disciples) to serve Him. Also Jesus’ interactions with women in the Bible (graciously forgiving and healing the women who was suffering from bleeding– possibly menstrual, so if she touched His cloak, she was making Him unclean; giving water to a Samaritan woman) clearly show that He was willing to break barriers in proving that women are also worthy of being touched by God.
I think if we don’t consider what it means to be Christian in a feminist lens, then we run the risk of not giving women places in the Church in accordance to their spirits and gifts. For instance, we have seen how the United States during the temperance movement had the cult of domesticity that lifted women up to pedestals, and said that a woman’s place was in the home, raising children and teaching moral values. Well, this is not wrong persay, but I would also argue that this put undue emphasis on how women were supposed to raise their children and teach morals, when /women and men/ should both be doing that. And I also believe that it doesn’t make sense to give blanket roles like that if, for example, a woman’s gift is not to raise children and teach Sunday School, but she’s really good with giving messages to large groups of people. If this woman was told she can’t give messages to large groups of people because only men do that (e.g. this is the Levitical tradition mixed with a culture that was traditionally shaped by men), then that’s not respecting the gifts that God has given her, in my opinion. I think of D’esta Love (who is a lovely theology professor at Pepperdine who is our chaplain emeritus) whose gift is clearly preaching and was a preacher’s daughter, yet she remains in the Church of Christ which does not allow for women to preach, and this has been a struggle for her in wanting to serve God in the way she is designed, but her church says she cannot.
This makes me think especially of Romans 12:3-7, where we are called to serve God with our whole selves, with a spirit of humility:
“3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
In my mind, I think of feminism as a movement and a way of seeing the world that can exist with and within Christianity to describe ways to best serve God with our whole selves, in the way we were designed, with a spirit of humility, understanding that we cannot tell others how they should best serve God, but that the way that each person is called to serve God is something between God and themselves, and that we should trust God to be powerful enough and loving enough to give us that discernment.”
What does Christian feminism mean to you? Weigh in– whether you identify as secular, Christian, another religion, spiritual but not religious, etc.