Why I Think Christianity Needs Feminism
October 23, 2016
Uh-oh, spaghettios! Prepare yourselves for a wild ride. And don’t be a dick in the comments section.
This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, but feared to do so. I was scared because a) I wasn’t sure I could give this subject the proper justice it deserves and b) other, more well-spoken characters than me have written about it, in better and more pithy ways. Why should I want to add my voice to the clamour? Why should I try to convince anyone of anything on the internet? Isn’t it better, wiser, more time efficient, to keep my mouth shut? Why do I have to stir the pot? (Something my mother has been asking me for years.)
Well, first of all, being subtle or playing hard to get is just not something that comes naturally to me, so at this point in my career I’ve decided to give up on those two admirable activities altogether. You’re welcome. And secondly, I feel like it’s my responsibility to say something. As a woman, and also as someone who calls herself a Christian.
The reason I’m writing this post at all is because it has come to my attention, in a myriad of glaring and simultaneously subversive ways, that there is a divide between “feminists” and “Christians.” To be seen as feminist, in some circles, is to be seen as anti-Christian (because think of the babies!), and to be seen as Christian, in some circles, is to be seen as anti-feminist. To calmly put yourself in both camps is nothing short of ideological suicide on both sides of the coin. And while I’m no stranger to committing ideological suicide, I still feel like this egregious oversight needs to be corrected, or at the very least, someone should point out the fallacies of it. I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE!
First of all, before we really get started, there seems to be drastic confusion and antipathy surrounding the word “feminism”, and it needs to be cleared up. I get the feeling, in certain social situations, that saying the word “feminism” is akin to saying “I pooped my pants.” People look away, fidget in their chairs, blush, back away a bit, tense up for the smell that’s about to hit. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. It’s okay to say the word feminism. It’s not dirty, it’s not bad, it doesn’t mean that you hate men, or want to talk smack about them, or think women are better than men, or that you want to kill all the babies, or that you’re now a member of the Politically Correct Police Task Force. It doesn’t mean any of that. All it means is that you believe women should have the same rights as men. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Do you believe women and men have the same right to exist? Congratulations! You’re a feminist.
What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy, and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are. -Caitlin Moran, How to Be A Woman
If you think women should be allowed to say what they think, you’re a feminist. If you think women should be allowed to make decisions for themselves, you’re a feminist. If you believe women have valuable input, be it at work or church or school, you’re a feminist. If you’re a woman who has talked in public today, you’re a feminist. If you believe women have the right not to be raped, you’re a feminist. If you’re not into child marriage or human trafficking, guess what? You’re a feminist! If you believe women should be allowed to take care of themselves, you’re a feminist. If you believe a woman should be allowed to say no without being called a selfish cunt, you’re a feminist.
And lastly, though I may get in trouble for this one, if you call yourself a Christian, you’re a feminist. Because to be Christian, to follow Jesus, to believe the words and message of our God, is to be a feminist. In fact, the birthplace of feminism was the evangelical church, circa 1840’s. You really can’t get more fundamentally Christian than feminism. It is the traditionally conservative approach.
The fact that there are Christian women out there who speak against feminism boggles my mind, because without it, you wouldn’t be allowed to voice how you felt about it in the first place. In Caitlin Moran’s words, “The more women argue, loudly, against feminism, the more they both prove it exists and that they enjoy its hardwon privileges. Imagine if, in the 1960s, it had become fashionable for black people to say they “weren’t into” civil rights. “No! I’m not into civil rights! That Martin Luther King is too shouty. He just needs to chill out, to be honest.”
In her book Liberating Tradition (which I cannot recommend enough and which everyone needs to read), Kristina LaCelle-Peterson describes this estrangement between women and the Church in the following way :
“[Feminism] is to help women believe at a deep level something that our laws and our theology affirm – that women and men are equally valuable – but that our societal and church practices often deny…I met a young woman who had grown up in the church but somehow never really believed that women and men are made equally in the image of God; she feared that in God’s design, women are only second-class citizens. She may have heard the words about women’s equal value before God, but she has doubtlessly received the opposite message many, many times in subtle and explicit ways…American gender mores have been baptized by church tradition and repackaged as ‘the will of God’ and ‘what the bible says women should be or what men should be.’ Consequently, to challenge gender assumptions and gender roles feels as if we are rejecting Christianity, or at least parts of the Bible. But that is simply untrue. The problem is that we often assume that the social distinctions we live with flow naturally from biological differences. But they simply don’t.”
One of the best and most overlooked things about Christianity is that, among other things, it is an invitation to be fully human. Often, as women, we are asked to be one-dimensional supporting characters to the men in our lives. And we can feel how unnatural it is. We want to be fully human.
But how can we do that, how can we accept that invitation, if there is an underlying assumption that men bear God’s image more fully?
Because God is equally female and equally male, and being “large enough to encompass both”, neither gender can claim that they have a greater resemblance to God. Therefore, neither gender can claim superiority or inferiority. We are equal. God did not design the relationship between men and women to be hierarchical, and scripture does not divide God’s characteristics into either “feminine” or “masculine.”
Regardless, we, The Church, have done this anyway. We have tried to divide God. The invisible hierarchy takes place, despite what the bible says. I can only begin to imagine how this grieves God. And because of that, I have to believe that the current imbalance in the way men and women are perceived in the church is something that God never wanted. In the words of Sarah Bessey, the Patriarchy is not God's dream for humanity.
So without further ado, here are some troubling arguments against feminism I have come across that I will address, and then you can decide how you feel for yourself :
Feminists are nothing but Pro-Abortion, Anti-Family Satanists
Classic. Okay, well. We all knew this was going to come up, so let’s get it over with. Let me just preface this by saying that I am not going to get into the Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice debate, because that’s a fool’s game, and it will only end in tears.
What I will say, however, is that I have seen astonishingly blindsided and hateful rhetoric from both sides. Abortion isn’t simply murdering a child, and abortion isn’t simply a woman’s choice. It’s more complicated than that. You can’t force an issue to be less complicated by sheer force of will. It doesn’t work that way.
You can believe abortion is wrong and still believe that women are equal to men. You can also believe that it’s a woman’s choice to get an abortion and still be a Christian. If you are a woman who has chosen to stay home and raise a family, that’s not anti-feminist – as long as it was your choice. If you are a career woman, you aren’t anti-family. It is not Us vs. Them. Christianity is about inclusivity, no matter what bible you’re reading. We can’t keep polarizing the sides like this, not only because Jesus didn’t do it, but also because from a practical point of view, it gets us nowhere. So can we please stop with this bullshit? Being pro-life isn’t antithetical to feminism, and being pro-choice isn’t antithetical to Christianity. As Buddy the Elf once said, “There’s room for everyone on the nice list.”
Man Is The Spiritual Head/Submissive Marriage
This argument is like a pesky, slightly immortal mosquito. I have to keep swatting it over and over. For years.
So let’s start with what all the cool kids are saying.
There are several verses in the bible that state husbands are the head of the wives, and that the wives should submit to them. However, any biblical scholar who’s worth his salt will tell you that the word given for “head” translates as source and/or completion, not authority. So there, you think, that’s that problem solved.
But is it?
Because somehow, the belief that the husband makes the final call, that he directs the household, or that there are different things in marriage that men & women are suited for (i.e man is suited for leadership, woman is suited for…other stuff) keeps cropping up. The argument goes, “You can’t be a feminist and a Christian because God made men and women different, not equal.”
First of all, let me just say that I don’t think this particular school of thought is Christ-like or even scriptural. Secondly, I’m going to quote LaCelle-Peterson again, because she says it better than I ever could :
“You can’t convincingly say ‘We are going to do things my way because I am the head of this house,’ and in the next breath say, ‘but I am ready to lay down my life for you.’ It is nonsensical because those are opposite orientations. Rejecting the hierarchical model of marriage that is still so comfortable in this culture in favour of a marriage shaped by Jesus’ definition and demonstration of love would be truly counter-cultural…God doesn’t need husbands to be spokesmen for him in their families. That some of the marriages in the Bible depict the submissive model for marriage says more about human brokenness than God’s design, and further to that, if you are looking in Scripture for passive women who fit our stereotypes of nice, godly women, you will be sorely disappointed.”
Women Aren’t Supposed to Teach or Lead in Church
Again, this seems like a simple misunderstanding – when the verses in the bible that forbid women to speak in church are looked at critically, we realize that the writer of these verses, Paul, was merely admonishing the women in the church who were being disruptive (and not in a cool way). If you look at all the things written by Paul about women as a whole, Paul was actually an advocate for women, encouraging them to pray, prophesy and be heard. The apostle Paul was a feminist. Maybe the first one. I’m considering making him our team mascot.
Therefore, it astounds me that there are churches and Christians out there who would discourage women from being in a place of teaching or leadership. However, to make a long story short, I would perhaps redirect our attention to something I heard said at a conference a few years ago : The church is impoverished when voices are missing. The church cannot fully bear the image of God if half of that image isn’t even invited to the table. Not only is it mathematically impossible, but it is an insult to God.
To say, “we accept and uplift this part of your creation, but this half – no, they are too emotional, they are less than, and we alone determine their importance in your story” is audaciously arrogant and gross. It’s gross. And I’m really surprised and disappointed that we’ve let it go on for this long.
If you are a Christian, I want to invite you to really take a long hard look at why we, as the Church, are looking at feminism with such distrust. What are we afraid of? Is our God not capable? Does he not transcend gender? Has he not demonstrated, again and again, by word and action, that He believes women are an equal part of his creation? Why can we not treat women as He does? Why can we not make room for that? Why must we ask women to make themselves smaller, to shrink in on themselves, to be one-dimensional?
The answer does not lie with God, but with us. It’s us. We did this. The good news is that only a part of the story that's still being written.
God remains faithful to us. The women. The sluts, the witches, the angry, the neglected, the abused, the quiet and the dehumanized. All of us. We are unafraid. We are unapologetic. We belong to God, and God belongs to us.