Embracing feminism comes as part of an extended journey of spiritual transformation that I began last year and which continues to reshape me. Feminism ties integrally into my faith, because I believe that all humans, men and women alike, are created equally by their Creator. The distinctions that have developed in human history in which men have come to be viewed as superior and women as inferior, men as more intelligent and women less so, men treated as strong protectors and women as weak ones who need defending, all these arise from culture and from the broken nature of this world. They are not inherent in God's good creation. In Christ we see the true nature of the universe restored and one key aspect of that should be that women regain their rightful place as full equals of men.
Unfortunately many in the Church do not accept this, which grives me deeply. As I grew up in various branches of the Church I never really confronted questions about the roles and nature of men and women. In the vast majority of churches I have attended over the years the default assumption has been that women are subordinate to men. Women were created to “help” men, to submit to their leadership and serve them as they (men) live out their divine calling. The ideal role for women, in the world in which I grew up, was to be a godly wife and mother – end of story.
Only recently have I really begun to awaken to the grievous error – let's call it sin, because that's what it really is – that the Church has perpetuated throughout so much of its history and which much of it continues to perpetuate to this day. In the interest of upholding a particular interpretation of the Bible, but in reality in the interest of maintaining a patriarchal system where men hold all the power and influence, much of the Church has silenced and marginalized women. In doing so we have robbed the Church of the voices and talents and gifts of more than half of its members and we have hindered the realization of God's Kingdom in this world by restricting women from living out their calling and utilizing their God-given talents. Of this we must repent. We men must relinquish our stranglehold on power and influence and allow the women of the Church and the world to flourish as God created them to. I truly believe that our muzzling of women causes God immense pain and sorrow – and therefore should cause us sorrow as well.
A year or more ago I read the phenomenal book Half the Sky by Sheryl Wudunn and Nicholas D. Kristof. I can say that this book planted the key seeds that have grown in me and brought me to embrace feminism as a key element of expressing my faith in God. They wrote:
We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.
As I wrote earlier this year, I not only affirm this statement but I have come to recognize that this struggle remains a key moral challenge in the developing world as well, and particularly within the American evangelical church. As Carolyn Custis James argues in her book Half the Church, the Church cannot afford to squander the talents and resources of half (more than half really) of its members.
I now struggle with the application of this conjunction of feminism and faith in my life. Much to my sorrow, the church I most regularly attend holds to a very patriarchal worldview. We don't even allow women to collect the offering, for crying out loud! My wife and I have considered looking for a new church home and may yet come to that point, but for now are choosing to remain and raise our voices in advocacy of the equality of women (and others). Sometimes I feel like a lone coyote calling in the desert, expecting stones to be thrown at any time to silence me. The church should be the most welcoming place on earth, the place where each person feels embraced and cherished and where she or he finds the freedom to develop and express her or his gifts and talents. I hope and long for the day when all churches, including my own, will realize this dream. I may yet reach a point where I feel like I must seek to realize this dream in another community, but I do care for the people I worship with and want them to come to recognize that feminism is not only not incompatible with our faith, but in fact expresses deep truths about that faith. With that in mind I keep writing, talking and raising my voice on behalf of women, while at the same time I seek to listen and learn from the many talented women in and outside the Church. It's a great, humbling learning curve and the more I learn the more I recognize that feminism arises from, expresses and strengthens my faith.
This blog entry is a part of the Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival, Fourth Edition, hosted by From Two to One.