Someone sent me a blog post entitled 5 reasons for a Christian to question feminism (by which the author really means 5 reasons for a complementarian to question feminism, though most of her points don’t actually relate to complementarianism per se.) The author, Christine, hesitates over feminism for 5 reasons and they’re ones that are often put to me as I write about being a Christian and a feminist. So while this post is responding to hers, it’s by no means directed only at her, nor is it meant to suggest that questioning feminism is invalid. By the way, next week her blogging partner is also posting on why she is a feminist. (Here‘s part of the story of why I am.)
Feminism is by nature intersectional
Christine’s experience, she says in the comments, has been of feminists for whom feminism defines them, and it’s all they see. She’s saying this kind of feminism is incompatible with being a Christian, but by her very acknowledgement that there is a ‘kind’ of feminism like this, she admits that there are some feminists who do not think in this way, and also that there are ways of being feminist. That ought to open up the possibility that there is a way to be a Christian and a feminist, that the two need not be mutually exclusive, competing all-encompassing worldviews, as Kate Kirkpatrick discusses in her Grove booklet.
Sin manifests in a ‘white supremist capitalist patriarchy’
Christine argues that the root of all evil is sin rather than the system. Our problem is individual sin, not communal structures, she says. Yet, the two are interlinked. We are not the only ones who are broken; our world is broken. Sin is not only individual, just as it is not only communal, but it is both of those things. Western Christians with our Enlightenment background are awesome at seeing individual sin but we struggle to see the communal aspects. This is one way in which feminism can be tremendously enriching.
Christianity has often failed to practice gender equality
Christine believes gender equality to be inherent within Christianity. Indeed, I agree with her; it’s there from the get-go in Genesis. She’s right that all Christians are sinful regardless of gender and saved by the cross regardless of gender. We should add that they’re given the Spirit regardless of gender! She goes on to quote Germaine Greer saying that no one understands what equality means. I’m not sure she’s parsed Greer correctly on this point, but irrespective of that, even if Christianity does indeed have more resources for speaking about equality than feminism, it has often failed to implement these. Indeed, today Christians are talking about things like rape culture in large part due to the contributions of feminism. However confused or not feminism may be about the definition of equality, it helps us to apply a biblical principle that Christians have long failed to carry out.
Christianity is not the only good in the world
Christine’s belief is that when and if feminism coheres with Christianity, that brings a great sense of rightness and goodness, because it’s what God created us for. In that sense, it needs the Christian interpretation to find its true meaning and source. In the comments, Alison has graciously argued that there is truth to be found outside the scriptures, and indeed I agree. The scriptures are our authoritative source; they need not be our only one. Let us not feel that joining a feminist cause takes God’s glory away from him; let us praise him that he has given it to us that we might better understand our world and how to live in it.
I suspect much of the issue here comes from issues concerning Biblical interpretation. In another post, Christine says,
Can I be a Christian feminist? Having Köstenberger put the Bible front and centre again made me realise that I was asking the wrong question. We should never bring our cultural bias to bear upon Scripture. I cannot turn to Scripture and interpret it based on feeling, or experience. I must let Scripture stand on its own merit, and speak to me of its enduring truth. I cannot simply look for feminism within its pages. [emphasis mine]
The belief in interpreting scripture without feeling or experience itself betrays a cultural bias — a post-Enlightenment one, as does Christine’s insistence in the comments on the original post that the correct way to read the Bible is to “establish the original author’s intent, consider grammatical/historical background, read passages within context”.
Now, I come from that same background. It is my bread and butter of biblical interpretation to take the grammatico-historical approach. So much of what we teach and model here in Tanzania is reading the Bible in context. Yet this is a relatively new development in the way Christians have historically interpreted Scripture.
Do I think it’s the best one? Sure.
Do I think that because of my own cultural bias? Of course.
We can not extricate ourselves from our cultural bias or pretend that we can be ‘objective’.
I absolutely want to hear Scripture’s enduring truth. I expect that it will challenge me and be uncomfortable for me, so I am not merely ‘looking for feminism in its pages’. However, I expect that part of that challenge will be undoing my assumptions about Scripture itself, not just my assumptions about gender. While Christine scorns the idea of feminist theology as dangerous, I take a different approach, reading and seeking to learn from it on the assumption that precisely because of its different approach, it may highlight something that I may otherwise miss.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.