On being a Christian feminist

One of the things I’m hoping to do is have a weekly faith-themed post (Sundays, not because it’s the rule, but because it’s easy), because that’s one of the main topics I’ve was struggling to post over in the old space. I have to issue a disclaimer, though, that I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual exploration lately, and my beliefs are constantly shifting, which means that what I say–particularly from one post to the next–may not always be completely intellectually rigourous. Take all that for what it’s worth.

Now then, what does it mean to be a Christian feminist?

It’s not *that* rare (in urban Ontario, Canada) at least, to encounter ‘liberal’ Christians, which generally implies a certain level of respect for women’s rights (in addition to support for other anti-oppression, anti-poverty, pro-equality issues). Explicit, self-declared Christian *feminism* is much more rare, though there are one or two I’ve come across out there on the internet. As a result, I often feel like additional explanation is required.

For me, the principle reason that Christianity resonates with me is that I cannot grasp the idea of a benevolent God who would behave in any way other than to offer every human being an equal opportunity for salvation and grace. That women (and non-whites, and gay and lesbians, and people with disabilities, and etc) would fall into the category of ‘everyone’ is not a huge leap to make.

The meaning of ‘equality in opportunity’ is, as always, more complicated, but I certainly take it to mean that all roles in the church community, and all aspects or methods of relating to God and to other human beings are accessible to and encouraged for both men and women as their individual strengths and preferences dictate. Conventional patriarchal Christianity, of course, suggests that men and women are preordained into different roles by God, and the woman’s position is by decree the subordinate, submissive one (I’m thinking through some future Sunday faith posts on breaking hierarchy in spiritual practice in general, and on some of the logical leaps required within the ‘traditional gender roles’ Christian construction).

By my reading, patriarchal Christianity has completely misinterpreted Genesis in construing the subordination of women as God’s original intention and not the consequence of the Fall–the breaking of the designed relationship between God and His creation. Because of sin, not because it was what He wanted, God tells Eve (and womankind) “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). That the world is broken is undeniable in my eyes, and the text in Genesis seems to clearly suggest that responsibility for the overall brokenness lies equally with Adam and with Eve. Another central premise of my faith, however, is that we need to be working (and that God is working with us) to restore the original balance of Eden. Before the Fall, man did not ‘rule over’ his wife–the fact that gender imbalance is one of the most significant, most immediate, most powerful consequences of the entry of evil speaks volumes to me about just how important feminism is to the restoration of God’s kingdom.

There was a post on Pandagon a few months back (which I can’t find anymore, unfortunately) that linked to an article making essentially this same point. Amanda Marcotte said that it struck her as a huge stretch to use this argument to try to reconcile the square peg of feminism with the round hole of Christianity. She felt that if you had to be justify being Christian at all, the stronger argument for a non-misogynist version allows that God ordained inequality as outlined in Genesis, but that Jesus changed all that. Obviously, I think Jesus changes everything, and Jesus’ treatment of women also contributes to my feminist interpretations of biblical texts. To me, though, that approach requires a much more bludgeoned-in, ill-fitting reconciliation–first of all, where that puts Old Testament teaching is completely unclear to me, and second, that view makes it acceptable to be a Christian and a feminist at the same time. In my eyes, going back to the roots of what God created as idyllic, as the way the world should be, and as that which we are striving toward, feminism is a Christian responsibility. I’ll grant that a lot of that point gets lost in the *other* 2500 pages of the bible, but it surprises me in some ways that, given that this argument is not unique to me, more people haven’t started identifying as feminist Christians.

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9 thoughts on “On being a Christian feminist

  1. purtek says:

    I’d say the idea ‘restoration of God’s creation’ is pretty common in Christianity, but generally under a different name, or with a different understanding of how it might come about. Fundamentalist ‘dispensationalist’ beliefs about the impending apocalypse and how we should be dealing with it are not unrelated. It’s present, at least beneath the surface, in the standards of the mainstream ideology, as for instance the phrase in the Lord’s prayer ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven’.

    As to what use Eden/values are without the dysfunctional world to shape them against, I think that becomes an impossible question, because if we assume a world where they don’t exist, then the questions can’t exist either. We can only ask them because this is the reality–it frustrates me when people suggest that they see ‘heaven’ as ‘boring’, because, as I understand heaven, the concept of ‘boring’ wouldn’t exist because we wouldn’t have the same range of feelings and the same reasons for feeling them as we do here and now.

    Your concern with the myth of the Fall is bigger than that, though, because all of a sudden you’re questioning the source of meaning (which is a question regardless of whether one is theist or not) as well as why God would create the possibility of brokenness in the first place (which is only a question within this system). The latter is one I need some time to ruminate on, personally, because that really gets to the heart of what a professorial type at my church would call the Great Story.

  2. Oliver says:

    Is the return to Eden a mainstream Christian ideology, or is that something you yourself have developed?

    I’ve always found the Fall parable particularly frustrating. I read the fall as a kind of liberation from utopian banality and meaningless existence. I’m certainly no Christian, but of what use could static, eternal bliss be to a believer? Of what purpose are Christian values without a damaged, dysfunctional human world to shape them against, in relief?

  3. Oliver says:

    I had a conversation with someone last night about the ‘pre-human’ state and the possibility of a pre-human value for existence and how we can’t really conceive of one beyond our knowledge systems (the conversation itself a tight little meta-irony) and I’m struck by a neat dovetail with your line of reasoning: one cannot transcend ‘the box’, as it were, without completely undoing the framework which permits one to contemplate ‘the box’ and one’s relationship to it. That is, one cannot really conceive of heaven (or, from my perspective, a state beyond ‘being’ in our universe) or the experience of heaven in any meaningful or ‘concrete’ sense, because we are entirely embedded within the opposite – the ‘damaged’, fractured ‘world’ – in even asking the question.

    And now I’m dizzy.

  4. […] talk about gender roles in Christianity without addressing the creation myth, and in my post “On being a Christian feminist“, I explained my basis position on the relationship between Genesis and feminism. But the […]

  5. […] 21st, 2007 · No Comments Given that I’ve already established that I think that feminism is a Christian calling, many of my struggles with the church as an institution and with its cultural presuppositions […]

  6. Philomela says:

    “For me, the principle reason that Christianity resonates with me is that I cannot grasp the idea of a benevolent God who would behave in any way other than to offer every human being an equal opportunity for salvation and grace. That women (and non-whites, and gay and lesbians, and people with disabilities, and etc) would fall into the category of ‘everyone’ is not a huge leap to make.”

    yes absoloutley to that.

    I’m interested in your interpretation of genisis, do you see it as it absoloutley concretly happened or do you see it as a creation myth explaining that god created the world but not explining how? for me I see it as a myth, as symbolic. I belive in evoloution but that there was a creator behind it.

    I’m really nervous about the phrase “christian feminism” myself because I often find that people who claim it have a watered down version of feminism I am really uncomf0rtable with and often still upholdsthe idea of complementarity and the “different but equal” thing that is both mysogynistic and homophobic

  7. purtek says:

    I most emphatically *do not* see Genesis as having actually happened, but rather as a symbolic myth. I find it really frustrating that the word “myth” gets tossed around or reacted to as though it means “fiction”, but I think we’re on the same page here in using it to say that myths express bigger truths, whether we’re talking about 1:1 correspondence with “reality” or not. Hence my interpretation of Genesis doesn’t depend on Adam and Eve being real, literal human beings and finding Eden as a real, geographical place, but rather seeing all of it as symbols of man and woman living in an idealized, egalitarian context.

    As the phrase, I hear what you’re saying. I think I, personally, have what is often considered (probably accurately) a watered down form of Christianity more so than feminism, but I certainly think there are others who claim the label who are pretty solidly both. Few, but some. One of the reasons I like to claim the label is to counter the impression that either part of that description necessarily implies being a certain way or believing certain things.

  8. Brown Shoes says:

    The thing that strikes me about the Eden story is that it’s emblematic of the attitude some or many people have about the Tanak – a story described there has to necessarily contain a moral judgment about HOW things should be, rather than how things came to be where they were. Is it somehow not possible to these people that the Eden story might simply be the Hebraic equivalent of an Aesop fable?

  9. purtek says:

    Brown Shoes – in short? No, that’s not even a little bit possible to some people. The idea of “myth” inherently meaning “fiction” is pretty deeply ingrained, and “fable” strikes me as just as bad, if not worse, from that perspective.

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