This past weekend, all over the nation, large crowds gathered for the Women’s March. Many of my friends and family members joined in the marches, and I would have too if the word “march” didn’t sound so antithesis to “9.5 months pregnant.” However, having a sideline view of the event was eye opening, as I was yet again reminded of the many labels associated with movements, the blurry lines of moralism and ethics that are argued over in these conversations, and the utter defense that many decide to display.
I found two polarizing views sweeping across my social media feeds: either you are a Christian and therefore not a feminist, or you are a feminist and therefore not a Christian. Since I consider myself both a Christian and a feminist, these labels and generalizations leave me, and many others of us, out of the conversations all together. I have been ridiculed by many well-meaning Evangelicals for being a feminist, yet have received the same indirect criticism for those who are feminists but non-Christians. With both parties shouting loudly, if you are a Christian feminist, you don’t find yourself in either camp.
But what is happening here? Why are these lines being so sharply drawn, and are they being drawn fairly? After taking a look at history, definitions, and the Scriptures, I propose that there is a way forward in which being a Christian inherently means that you are a feminist, and that feminism, at its best, will point to Jesus as the liberator of all people.
Jesus: The Original Feminist
The Gospel is marked by redemption, that’s what the Good News is! And so we are quick to apply this label to the cross, but we often forget that the cross was the culmination of it all, the final act of redemption, but that everything leading up to this moment had the exact same focus. All of His ministry, every meal, every interaction, every miracle, healing, deliverance and path was marked by redemption. It is impossible to point to one interaction in which Jesus didn’t set someone free in one way or another, because there are no purposes of Jesus that aren’t tied with redemption. He is the Redeemer, after all.
Jesus and His inclusion and treatment of women is seen all over Scripture, as He continually brings them into the fold, eats with them, heals them, brings them dignity when they have none, and restores hope for their stories. A simple reading of the Gospels can attest to this. But what I am more concerned about is how this redemptive work is being carried out today in real-time.
The Holy Spirit is constantly on the move, and like Aslan, we can see where he is moving, working and bringing redemption. These are his purposes, and where we find a group of people being set free, we will often find a movement of dedicated prayer warriors, church goers, and people who are madly in love with Jesus.
In her book, Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey says the following: “…in Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement-for both men and women- toward equality and freedom. We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing in justice and power in sacred language. Feminism is just one way to participate in this redemptive movement.”
“Feminism” is defined as “
Over the last Century, feminist advocacy has taken on many shapes, sizes, and movements and has paved the way for equal rights for women in equal contract, parenting, and property rights. This movement, called “First Wave Feminism” is what gave women the right to vote, and introduced the campaigning for equal rights for women in political and economic aspects, as well as reproductive rights.
From there, waves of “Second and Third Wave Feminism” began cropping up all over the world, still addressing the right to vote for many women in other countries, as well as other gender equality initiatives . For example, in France, married women did not receive the right to work until 1965. However, Second and Third Wave Feminism collided together and are still present today in other countries as well as the United States as they cover a wide array of topics such as gender equality, equal pay, reproductive rights, and others.
Over the last Century, Feminist movements have campaigned for equality of the genders in many forms, but all have been to dismantle the structural privilege that existed (and still does in some cases) of women being inferior to men. Going back to the definition, feminism, at it’s core has been about creating a way for men and women to be treated as equals in all sense of the words, no matter what arena they find themselves in.
Recent studies show that in the United States, there is a gender pay gap of 20%, and in many Churches women are still not afforded equal opportunity to preach, teach, and lead. And this doesn’t even cover the portrayal of men and women in the media, the pass that men get for the treatment of women, or even the way that men talk about women.
It is obvious that we are all defining “feminism” by different terms, and often confusing the purpose of feminism with the movements associated with it. We are getting these two things confused, and when a movement arises that advocates for an aspect of feminism that we disagree with, we are quick to judge others, or recoil in advocating for the original purposes of the movement.
So our definitions matter, as they do within Christianity as well. To be a Christian is to affirm specific things about God, Jesus, the Holy Trinity, Scripture, the origins of God, His purpose, and the validity of the cross. With this in mind, we see a large body of believers that spans across many different denominations with (mostly) the same purpose in mind: that God, creator of the Universe, came in the form of man to live among His people, was crucified, died and was buried but rose from the dead to bring redemption and ever lasting life to those who believe in Him. But as we dive deeper into other issues that arise within this purpose, we see new movements that are based on sticking a stake in the ground for a specific issues, cause or interpretation. This is basically what we call “denominations”.
While we all started with the same purpose, we have divided up according to specific things that we believe are important to stand on. And the same is true for Feminism. The original purpose is the same: to bring equality to women, while specific movements of this purpose have played out over time. Just as you have no issue with being called a Christian while belonging to a specific denomination, so can be true for the Feminist movement. It is entirely possible to be an advocate for women’s equality and rights without ascribing or agreeing with every moment that arises within that purpose.
These are things, the outliers, both within Christianity and in feminism that require study, research prayer, and often times heavy lifting of dismantling and rebuilding our beliefs and convictions. But when we do, we find freedom to march to the beat of our own convictions, and pair arms with those who have the same purposes yet belong to different movements. There is plenty of room for all of us in the march to freedom and equality when we all have the same purpose in mind. We may disagree on the movements, but these are the things that are to be worked out with the Spirit, and through conversations and relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters. The Table has taught us exactly this.
In the meantime, we can link arms, paint signs, and hear the voices of our sister’s while still holding some of the movements loosely, or not at all. To advocate for something doesn’t mean that we must agree on everything, it just means that we have a passion, purpose and drive towards the main goal. The rest can be worked out on our porches with wine, coffee shops, long walks, and life work.
My Sister’s Keeper
I saw posts this week about how people personally didn’t experience inequality as women or didn’t see it as an issue, and therefore, a women’s march was unprecedented, and called a “temper tantrum”.
Perhaps you yourself do not experience unequal treatment or you do not treat others unequally. If this is true for you, then consider yourself one of the lucky few. But if there is one thing that I have learned from looking at a society who marches, and hearing other’s stories it’s this: just because you have no experienced it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I’ve talked before about the discrimination I have received being a woman who can preach, teach, and lead and while others may suggest that I don’t have a right to feel discriminated against, I would beg to differ. Their disagreement with me comes from a different interpretation of Scripture in which I read and come to a different conclusion than they do.
So for many, because we disagree, then my voice is therefore, irrelevant. But this is irresponsible and disrespectful behavior at best.
Genesis 4 makes it clear that we belong to one another. After Cain kills Able, God inquires of Able’s whereabouts to Cain, as if He doesn’t already know. God does this so much in our lives: asks questions of us not necessarily because He can’t figure out the answer but to hold up a mirror to our own selves. Cain responds with a classic elementary response echoing what I hear my son say many times: “It’s not my fault” when he says, “What am I, my brother’s keeper?”
This question is left unanswered, most likely accompanied with a “look” from God Himself that didn’t need any words to get His point across. Scholars and theologians agree though on the implicit answer: YES. Yes you are. You are most definitely your brother’s keeper. He belongs to you. Where he is, should be a matter of your concern. The things that plague him, haunt him, hurt him, these things need to matter to you. And so the story of God goes: we are then introduced to story after story where the people of God are advocating and taking care of one another, and God is constantly directing them to ways to freedom and deliverance from oppression and slavery. They look out for other another: in Pharaoh’s kingdom, in the wilderness, during the time of Jesus, after the cross, with the Good News of the Resurrection, and everywhere in between.
God created a people that not only followed Him, but that have each other’s backs, that practiced advocacy and worked for deliverance and truth for one another. If we want to be a part of this movement and follow this same story, then we must act in this same way.
In the purposes of this writing on feminism, men and women alike: you are your sister’s keeper. What she is marching about, should be of concern to you. How she feels at work, on the street when someone whistles at her, or in the pews of her Church where she is struggling with her giftedness yet the limitations of opportunity: these should matter to you. Why? Because we belong to one another. We always have and we always will. It’s because of God’s grace that we were given one another, because in each other we see mirrors to our own missteps, we have a place for our voices, and we can bring the healing power from oppression that can only come from Jesus.
So when our sisters talk, it is our job to listen. When she is hurt, wounded, feels oppressed, we must remember that we have a responsibility to her. We don’t have to participate in advocacy in the way that the media shows us, but we do have to let her feel heard. And then do something, in any way that we can. This may mean that we become excellent bosses who advocate for gender equality within our own little work places, or that we use our own places and spaces to give her an opportunity to exercise her gifts. It may just mean asking her how she feels. But it’s something. It’s a way forward that offers dignity, restoration and liberation.
United We Stand
It is no secret that women in the United States and other affluent countries have more rights and equalities than say women in Haiti, India, or Uganda.
So if this type of inequality is experienced in the most affluent, advanced, and powerful country in the wold, then how much more is it prevalent and crushing in other countries? Vastly. And we have a responsibility there. Our responsibility is found in our humanity, as Americans, and of course, as Christians.
The point of Christianity, the point of the Church, is to bring freedom where there is oppression, to bring liberation where there is slavery. Everything, must be done with this lens, or the world will never see Jesus.
There is a rule for the exegesis of Scripture that I like to live by and it goes like this: if what we are teaching, preaching, and doing in the name of Jesus can not be directly applied to the woman in Haiti, then we are reading everything entirely wrong. If we can’t take what we are saying or doing and feel confident that we can tell the widow who is stuck in poverty, raising 4 children on her own the same truth and standards, then we need to get our heads out of our American framework, and try again.
The same is true here when we talk about feminism: if we boil feminism down to only a specific set of issues (ie. pro-life and pro-choice which seem to be the hot topics of late), then we are completely missing the point. We have to talk about and advocate for feminism with strokes that sweep the whole gamut of Scripture and the World at large. Of course we must work to lessen the gender gap here in the United States, but we must do so because we firmly believe that we are setting a precedent for the rest of the world. And that we are willing to fight for that in other countries and with people that we don’t see or directly affect us. That at it’s core, whatever issue we are tackling, is because we believe it will bring freedom to others all over the world in the name of Jesus. This is our litmus test.
A New Way Forward
This can get tricky for some of us, because we want firmer lines. We want to be able to label groups and movements and assume that everyone involved is all-in. Therefore, it is hard to accept the fact that there are Christians who staunchly stand on one side of an issue, and others that stand firm on the opposite camp. And while we could take our time to dive into a discussion of pro-life and pro-choice right now, among other feminist issues, I want us to look forward as the Church in a new way. A way that insists that our definition of Feminism is not about agreeing on every issue, but is about bringing liberation to a group of people who are not treated as equals. We do it for ourselves, for our daughters, sisters, friends, and mothers, and also for the women we have never met but are still worthy of equality and dignity.
This “new way” isn’t really new or revolutionary at all. It is counter cultural, and if done right, will be a witness to the Church and to those who are seeking Jesus and don’t yet know it.