Yesterday, I was watching a conversation online about Christian dating, and one of the men mentioned that feminism and the rise of feminism has made it increasingly difficult for men to be leaders in their homes. While I agreed with him to an extent, it got me thinking about how the word ‘feminist’ gets used in Christian culture, particularly in more conservative circles.
I’ve stated before that I don’t choose to identify as feminist but despite this, I’ve been called a feminist several times. The word is often lobbied jokingly by Christian men at me in any discussion about sexism but the undertone is always the same. It’s an undertone of dismissal and disapproval.
Essentially, calling a woman a feminist in any conversation about how Christian culture, church organisation or congregations participate and encourage unhealthy and derogatory attitudes or behaviours towards women is an easy way to shut down conversation and encourage others to label the person as a ‘liberal’ or ‘heathen’. It’s an easy way to prevent someone from bringing any concerns to the table. It’s an easy (and often sexist and patronising) way to suggest that a woman has been ‘brainwashed’ by popular culture and is clearly spending more time reading Germaine Greer than her Bible.
Instead of being committed to the truth as taught in the Bible, a lot of Christian men are committed to wordly power structures that give them license to exercise the leadership that Jesus calls them to with little of the servanthood he embodies.
This is why a substantial amount of white Christian men could find themselves voting and supporting a man who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and has had several sexual assault claims against him. This is why pastors in positions of power within our church can take advantage sexually of female members and are excused by the majority male leadership of our churches. This is why the rate of spousal abuse and domestic violence are pretty much the same in evangelical circles as outside.
There appears to be a concerted effort in some Christian circles to abjectly deny that there IS a problem in Christian circles with gender bias and sexism. It’s a lot easier to write off any attempts to address these issues as ‘feminism creeping into the church’ than it is to actually interrogate how the church as well secular society have strayed from the Biblical ideal of male-female relationships.
Yes, the Biblical view of men and women is distinct and often at odds with what modern liberal media espouse in many aspects and I don’t expect some feminists reading this to be entirely happy with what I believe, but that doesn’t mean that our own practices have been perfect. Why do we find it hard to believe that Christian culture, which historically has subjugated and demeaned people for centuries on the basis of race, would still have a perfect practise when it comes to gender? Why would we even for a minute, in arrogance think that it is impossible for us to have also gone wrong when it comes to our treatment of women? The civil rights movement of the 60’s not only changed the world, but changed the church. We acknowledge that the impact of this could only have been positive in the ways that it caused the church to take a look at racial injustice within its ranks. We still have a long way to go with addressing racism within the church. Is it not then possible, that the feminist movement although imperfect in many ways, could allow us to examine the injustices of sexism within the church?
But it’s not about feminism.
Tenuous claims of protecting the faith against feminism is just your excuse for continuing and excusing behaviour that has no grounding in the principles of your faith, but rather the sexism you’ve been taught- which unfortunately extends across religion and culture. I’m not talking about gender roles and whether the man should be the head of his household. I’m talking about you sleeping with 10 women but viewing a woman in church who has slept with 10 men as ‘loose’. I’m talking about women who have been taken advantage of sexually by pastors who command power in congregations where a significant proportion of women are single and lonely being labelled as ‘Jezebels’ who have ’caused God’s anointed to stray’. I’m talking about women getting disfellowshipped for pregnancies out of wedlock but Pastors who sleep with congregants simply getting moved to another district. I’m talking about women paying the majority of the churches tithe but being underrepresented in decision making processes. None of these things can be excused by any Bible text.
I’ve heard people say that as a church we should be committed to spreading the good news of Jesus rather than tackling minor issues like sexism within the church. While I agree that as Christian individuals and a community that the gospel is our priority, the idea that other ‘minor’ issues will just sort themselves out without any concerted effort is extremely naive. We have had centuries of preaching the gospel without any real attempts to address these issues. The results of this has been that we’ve had people become Christians and then worship at segregated churches. We’ve had people become Christians and also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a church deacon. We only have to look back at the history of 1000 years of preaching the gospel to understand that sometimes, specific problems need to be specifically addressed. Most importantly because these problems actually are a specific hindrance in our attempts to reflect Christ to the world.
So next time you start to use the word ‘feminist’ to shut down conversation, chuck that word out of your vocabulary. Instead, ask what you have been told to ask. Which is – is it Biblical, is it true, is it good, does it reflect Jesus? And whether it’s feminist or not, if the answer is ‘Yes’, then it deserves to be listened to.