When I saw the title to of this article published by the Atlantic, ‘Christian, or Feminist’, I was actually really excited. I’m like finally! Conversation opened! …no. Upon reading the first sentence, I was severely disappointed. The particular lens in which the article has taken to reconcile Christianity and feminism was really restricted to sexual freedom and failed to expand itself into the greater conversation of societal understanding of gender and how the church overall understands gender. Yes, one could indeed argue that gender/gender inequality can be closely tied to sexual expression but I also feel like it’s a very limited way to look at it. Let me set up some personal context from where I’m coming from before coming back to this article.
I think as a Christian woman born in the late 20th century and now living in the 21st century, I am constantly grappling about how I should understand the role of women in the context of today’s world/culture. I grew up in a family that valued both son and daughter without discernment (which from a culturally standpoint, is pretty amazing since my family is Chinese and traditionally, patriarchal). I had the greatest privilege of attending good schools and received a solid education first as a secondary and then post-secondary student without any obvious barriers due to my gender. I also currently work in a workplace where a lot of us are women but our expertise and experience is taken into consideration without the lens that hey, this comes from a woman and thus could be questionable. Nope. I grew up and continue to be someone that believes in equal opportunity for both men and women, whether it be in sports, career, education or whatever. Whenever someone challenges my abilities and inserts false limitations of what I can or cannot do because I don’t have that particular appendage, I take it as a personal challenge and go out of my friggin’ way to prove this nincompoop wrong (note, I wanted to insert stronger language there but refrained…trying to curb my swearing ;)). As I’ve written before, I’ve struggled with accepting ‘girl’ in who I am because I had for some reason associated being feminine as being weaker than a man especially in the context of sports. However, being surrounded by so many strong female athletes in my tri club (which often has a majority of girls at our workouts…), climbing gym/outdoors and on the ultimate friz field, has really challenged my perceptions. Also, seeing my own athletic abilities grow due to time invested and commitment to training without relinquishing the fact that hey, I was born with certain body parts and still am pushing hard and playing hard. Anyways, mini rant there.
However, I’m also not pretending that men and women were created in the same fashion; it’s that seemingly contradictory phrase of ‘different but equal’. A friend of mine was like I think that sometimes we forget how different we are including via gender lines and that our genders gives us certain inclinations that are stronger in one gender than the other. It’s not say that those inclinations and strengths are any better or less than the others but they are indeed different. To an extent, one could even say that those different inclinations and strengths can complement one another towards a greater outcome. One only has to look at a healthy marriage (to illustrate this particular point, between a man and a woman): I think ideally a husband and wife could say that they work together to make the marriage work and to run as smooth (though…life happens :)) family life as humanly possible. It could be something like husband is stronger at writing and reading so he helps the kids with language arts and social studies homework whereas the wife is stronger at math and science, so she helps out more with subjects.
I remember the first time I heard the bible verse that called women to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), my hackles totally raised up and I was like what kind of crazy backward way of looking at things is that? There are few ways that I’ve deconstructed and reconciled my understanding of this particular verse. For one, our current understanding of ‘submit’ has some really negative connotations with it. I think often times I look at that verse and forget the verse that follows immediately afterwards: ‘Husbands, love your wives and Christ loved the church…'(Ephesians 5:23). Personally I think that’s an even harder calling. But if one’s husband aspires to instil that kind of love for his wife in his marriage, then it would draw upon and embody those characteristics in Christ that calls Christians to love and trust Him and ultimately, to submit to Him. If that is indeed the case, that an environment of love and trust is created in a marriage or we can even say relationship if you think that this may only pertain to marriage (mm would argue no but this isn’t the main point), can we ladies trust our men to care for us and respect the decisions he makes? Chances are, if there is indeed again that environment of love and trust, decisions aren’t made without a deep consideration for your opinion and discussion to come to whatever conclusion has been drawn. So in this case, for me, submission isn’t so much a call to bring him a damn sandwich when he’s sitting on the couch watching the game, but it’s a call to truly trust the man you love and who loves you (as Christ loved the church!!!) in return.
I point to this particular verse because it’s one of the most obvious ones that people like to pull out when talking about the patriarchal culture of the church and how women are justified to be a second class as a result of what has been written in the Bible. Historically, I cannot deny and vehemently disagree about how the Bible has been interpreted to create different classes of man, whether it be through gender or racial lines; I really don’t think there is much biblical foundation for that. I’m not a theologian so I’m sure someone could come up here and bash this little blog post of mine all around but hey, let’s engage in some dialogue then. Jesus Christ specifically reached out the people who were considered to be second class or of no class during his time. His very birth is an example of his closeness with those who were considered less in this world – the king of heaven, king of kings, was born in a stable…in hay. I know that after years of Christmas carols and stories that we may be desensitized by the imagery of this but really, think about it. Have you been in a barn before? He also didn’t rise up the career ranks to become a formally recognized high priest or a king’s right hand man; nope, he was a carpenter. He also often called for the children during his travels; children during that time (and arguably now…though again not the main point for this particular blog post) had no voice and no status. Also, when we think of Jesus’ followers, I think most of us go directly to his 12 apostles who were men; I know I do. But let us not forget about Mary and Mary – they were to first two people who were told about Jesus’ rise from the dead by the angel. Women during those times were also of little status – for God to decide that these would be the first two people to receive this news when this occurred is pretty momentous. Oh yeah, how could I forget them? Women in the old testament also had an incredibly important role. Esther, Ruth…yeah let’s not forget what amazing things they have done out of faith.
So now that I’ve laid out that I really don’t think women are second class citizens in God’s eyes, I’m going to come back to that article I cited at the beginning and the driver for this post. The article is centred upon a book by Dianne E. Anderson to sought to wrestle with and reconcile her faith and feminist self; this realization came through losing her virginity and then realizing that sex outside of marriage can be holy. Wait, what? Of all the things that could be have been used a launching point, this was chosen? Seriously? The author of the article does make an interesting and arguably true point which does support why perhaps Anderson went in this particular direction: ‘Despite being at odds in their politics, evangelical Christians and feminists share a fixation on sex’. Really true. A quote pulled from Anderson’s book does also resonate with me to an extent: ‘”Sexual purity—rather than a relationship with Jesus, caring for the poor, or loving one’s neighbor—has become the marker of a good Christian,” she writes. Conversely, at times, “sex becomes the god we worship, and we will go to any length to obtain it.” The solution, she writes, is to recognize that “sexuality is not the center of a person’s life, faith, or health.”‘ Fair enough. There has been indeed a deep fixation on sex and I would argue that sex has been elevated to the sin in which we must fight against the most versus ‘do not steal’ even though sin is sin, regardless of what sin it is. There are no levels of sin. Interestingly, the article does go to say that ‘Arguably, the focus on “purity” in evangelical culture arose in response to a secular, sex-obsessed American culture’. Agreed as well. Okay, so what’s my biggest problem with this article since apparently I can relate and even agree to some of the points made in it: the fact that Anderson has decided that sex outside of marriage can be holy. How, seriously, how can you draw that conclusion? I really cannot understand how any interpretation of the Bible can lead you down that rabbit trail. I also fail to truly understand how she can draw upon this conclusion to reconcile feminism and Christianity. As someone that has had sex outside of marriage in a couple different relational context, I cannot relate to her conclusion whatsoever. Sex to let’s say third base was and has been so ingrained in me to be okay that it is only now that I’m really starting to unpack and realize that hey, maybe not so much. It sucks to have a conversation with the Christian man you’re now in a relationship, we’ll call him John Mayer, and be like by the way…yeah, not fun.
The argument made in this article also brings me back to an ongoing conversation with I’ve been having with John Mayer (ha yes! He’s actually a real person, not just an abstract example to illustrate my point). We were talking about the continual strain and difficult balance that must be struck in trying to retain the hard truths we know to be true in our faith and remaining relevant and still being in tune with what is going on in our world. It’s very dangerous to live in our little Christian bubble and pretend the world outside of us doesn’t exist. Differing viewpoints is a blessing especially when there’s room for conversation and discussion; it’s how we grow and understand who we are as people, not just in our faith. The primary approach to the ‘Christian, or Feminist’ article is through my interpretation, a complete disconnect from a hard truth from the Bible. I’m glad it was written though, if anything, so that we can get the wheels churning as to what we really think about this particular topic. I’m a feminist and Christian. I personally don’t undrestand how these two things cannot be reconciled. I’m most disappointed by Anderson’s approach because it’s such a pigeon hole approach to bridge feminism and Christian theory; there’s so much more that she could’ve launched off from. But hey, maybe we can really start digging deep and start talking about this now; at least it was a launching point of sorts.