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4 reasons for Christians to participate in feminism, and a postscript

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.

Postscript

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.

 

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

6 replies

  1. Hi Tamie, thanks for your thoughts. Here are my responses. I’ve tried to summarise what I think you are saying so as not to misrepresent you, and I then provide my thoughts. Cheers.

    Feminism is by nature intersectional:

    My understanding of the response: feminism is intersectional and therefore it is possible to have different kinds of feminism, including Christian feminism.

    The original question I posed in my blog however, still stands. When Christianity provides the only meaningful definition, standard and measure of equality why do we still now turn to feminism when it has so radically changed? I suspect the answer is that we see a lot that we empathise with, and I do personally, but I’m trying to understand what drives feminism today, at its core.

    I understand why this world needs some kind of feminism: it has killed God. If it removes a creator, it removes the inherent value of all people, and women have suffered terribly because of this. Feminism must necessarily take up the cause of women’s rights from an atheist perspective.

    To convince me to change my mind on this, you’d need to show that the biblical definition of equality is the same kind of equality that all feminists within the fourth wave are fighting for and that we don’t depart on this. Equality is the base assumption, but if our definitions of equality clash then we have a problem.

    Sin manifests in a ‘white supremist capitalist patriarchy’

    My understanding of the response: individual sin and unhelpful communal structures are linked, we must take note of the feminist critique of these structures to help us understand our world better.

    My reponse: I think we agree on this. I’m just trying to make the distinction that needed to be made: feminism will fall short in its diagnosis because it is only surface level. If it does not recognise sin, then we need to be aware that many of the solutions it proposes will ultimately deviate from the gospel and we would do well to have this in the back of our minds as we engage with it.

    Christianity has often failed to practice gender equality

    My understanding of the response: we need feminism to help us to rightly apply biblical principles

    My response: I largely agree with this, in fact I think this is the best way for Christians to engage with feminism. We saw it recently with the issue of domestic violence. However even in this instance we needed to be careful in our interaction with feminism. I am thankful that Julia Baird held to account the men of the Anglican Church, opened their eyes to the weight of the issue and pushed them to move faster on addressing this. It is to Christianity’s shame that feminism recognises things like this better than we do, and it provides a helpful corrective. However, Julia’s solution was to do away with the biblical teaching on submission, that is not something I can agree with. The answer is to ensure that the bible is being preached and modelled correctly, and in my own sphere of influence, particularly with youth group kids, I ensure that I am teaching young men and women how to love and respect each other as Christ calls them, and my husband and I model this as best we can.

    Christianity is not the only good in the world

    My understanding of the response: goodness can be found outside of the Scriptures

    My response: good comes from God. Things are good insofar as they line up with scripture.

    Thank you, Tamie, for your thoughts. Incidentally, I have followed your blog with interest. I have been considering Christian feminism for a long time and I found your blog the most compelling overall. You are extremely well thought out, you know what the fourth wave looks like, you are good at articulating it and how it informs your faith. Please know that I while I disagree, I do so with complete respect for you and for feminism, but my own digging has led me to this point.

    On that, I would ask that in your follow up blog you do not presume to tell me why I am a feminist. I think that much of what I believe about men and women appears to be feminist, I have no doubt about that, but I do not want to claim equality for men and women under the feminist banner. I do so as a Christian, with a clear understanding of biblical equality and what that means and with respect for feminism but a great scepticism of it. By all means, post your blog, but I ask that you no longer refer directly to me.

    Thanks,
    Christine

  2. Also, I have just re-read your post once more to ensure I did not say something idiotic, and I have. I misread what you said about my blogging partner and assumed you were doing this yourself. This is the great limitation of blogging: we read what we want to read, even with our best intentions. I apologise for that.

  3. Thanks for your kind words Christine, and your responses. :)

    Re: your insistence that feminism is atheistic at its core. I suppose perhaps I am looking at feminism’s source (i.e. God, since we’ve agreed all good things come from God) and you’re looking at what you think are the underlying assumptions of its philosophy (which is implied, since feminism has no leader or core text). What do you think? Is that fair?

    Secondly, in terms of what drives feminism today at its core, though there’s lots of talk about equality, I’m not sure that’s the clearest language to use, for the very reasons you identify: feminists have different ideas what that will look like. That’s one reason I like Michele Le Doeuff’s definition that ‘a feminist is someone who knows that something is still not right in the relations between a woman and everyone else.’ I think it’s that instinct which drives feminism.

  4. Finally. Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m heading off on a weekend away with my church but I’d love to chat this with you further, perhaps, not via blogging comments, but skype? let me know if this is possible. Cheers.

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