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.