By Sarah Gardner Hale
For almost all of my life, I’ve lived in some of the Bible-iest parts of the Bible Belt. Since before I can remember, Sundays and Wednesdays have been church-going days, and there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it in my household. I know scripture. I know the Bible. I know the way the Bible clashes with the common worldview today and, for the most part, it’s brought me to a pretty conflicted place in my own spirituality more than once. A lot more than once.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine started asking me about being both a Christian and a feminist. In my mind, I thought, “Why bother? Faith totally cancels out the need for feminism. We know who we are and the role we play.” I was more than familiar with the Christian household hierarchy and truly believed the two could not intermingle. Feminism was one thing and faith another. I had what I felt was a lifetime’s worth of evidence that feminism was some weird, mythical, unnecessary distraction from what Jesus created us to be and to do. So, this friend that was asking me about it? I shut her down. I said, “Why bother? We’re a part of something bigger than feminism in simply choosing to practice our faith.” I was so sure. Feminism seemed laughable. My nose was turned upward at the thought.
Don’t you hate the certainty with which we answer things from time to time, only to look back years later and realize we were so far off of the mark? Yeah, that happened to the trillionth degree when I grew up a little and thought about what I’d told my friend those years ago concerning feminism and its irrelevancy. I don’t know the exact moment it happened. There wasn’t any personal, earth-shattering tragedy or injustice that opened my eyes. The only specific moment I can recall that incited my change of heart came from sitting among friends one evening about a year ago. We’d somehow landed on the discussion of women in politics and women in the church. I’m the lone Democrat in my circle of friends, which are mostly people I attend church with, so I have almost always opted to listen silently because opposition can be a huge pain in those circumstances. Or…in any circumstance where it’s you against everyone you’re around. On this particular occasion, an opinion was thrown around that really bothered me in my silence.
“Women shouldn’t be pastors. The bible isn’t okay with that. They shouldn’t be in politics, either. They’re too emotional.” I think I actually heard Anne Hutchinson roll over in her grave.
Faith says we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Faith says I’m created in the image of my Creator. The text that an entire religion is founded upon states, unequivocally, that in the Creation process, God didn’t see humanity as complete until he added the woman.
That evening, the person who made the statement in question about powerful women said we were for childbearing and submitting, like Paul talks about in Timothy. Does Paul say that? Sure. He does, but those comments are culturally bound. I don’t even know how we have to keep going over that. The gentleman making these claims was raised by a single mom, which I found out within the conversation we were all having. I asked him, with the intent to theologically embarrass him, who taught him to love Jesus and who raised in him in the way he should go.
He responded without hesitation, “My mom.”
“So she’s your hero?” I asked.
“She’s my hero.” His response was earnest. I didn’t stop.
“Name something she’s not strong enough to do.” He stared at me with what felt like contempt at the question. Oops.
“She can do anything. She’s stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.” I had to tell myself not to be smug at his response.
“Hm.” I did a terrible job at hiding my smugness.
This exchange seems unimportant to probably anyone else that was there that evening. To me? It set my feminism on fire.
Christianity and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive.
They’re just not. And the differences are only ever mentioned as issues in sexuality or inclusivity. Honestly, I’m more a member of the Christian left anyway, and in our realm, there’s a beautiful picture of progress being painted. It’s a picture of love, regardless of all facts outside of being similarly human. I don’t live in a world where any one person is more powerful or has more access to power than anyone else. For any reason. I don’t live in a world where the underdog has chosen their plight. I don’t live in a world where there are conditions surrounding who you have to be to be loved by Jesus. As a feminist, I feel empowered by my faith.
There isn’t a person created with more purpose than another, and my faith is clear on that fact. I am not expected to sit idly by while injustice runs rampant. Within the boundaries of feminism, there exists a kind of strength so precious and powerful. There is love. There’s a desire to fight for those who can’t always be heard without the voices of those rallying around them. There is a love without conditions. No one is turned away. No one is weaker than anyone else. There is concern and empathy and a spirit of giving where it’s needed. There are acts of charity. There is acceptance and a sense of belonging that doesn’t hinge on literally anything.
Why in the world would a person look at what is accomplished by feminism, and the principles upon which it was founded, and think there is no room within faith for that kind of inclusivity without condition? I have as much access to forgiveness as anybody by and through Jesus. I missed the part where we’ve decided human beings can police that. I missed the moment when people decided, “don’t fight for them because Jesus wouldn’t.” How could anyone possibly understand the love of Jesus but not the love of people?
My faith doesn’t say women are created weaker. In fact, it says I’m created in the image of my Creator, who is also mentioned to be all-powerful, omniscient and omnipotent… To say a fight for equality among all facets of humanity is a waste of time because of faith is a suggestion that there is something weak in God that He, the guy we call “The Almighty,” decided to pass on and mirror in anyone who isn’t a straight, white, male.
I don’t buy that. I do buy that he is The Almighty, and I’m convinced that because of that, we all have a power within us to do absolutely anything we want or choose. We have the same access to strength as anyone else does.
I know we have a President who seems to feel like we, as women (or anyone who doesn’t agree with him), aren’t smart enough to make choices for ourselves, but the same faith that most evangelicals claim compelled them to vote for him kind of dispels that.
It doesn’t say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens my caucasian, heterosexual, and preferably not female, self.”
There could be an incredible opportunity for understanding if people would understand that we’re all equally as powerful and our power is as valuable as anyone else’s. Unfortunately, for now, Christian Feminism is an anomaly.
But change is on its way, I hope.