You can read Faithfully Feminist (Part 1) here.
For most of my childhood, I was oblivious to gender roles and stereotypes. I climbed trees faster and more fearlessly than the boys in my neighborhood because no one ever suggested that I couldn’t — or shouldn’t. My mother didn’t care if I wore dresses or jeans. My father was the one who cooked Sunday dinner and most other meals, too.
But it was the church that taught me girls were to be seen not heard. It started when I got kicked out of a vacation bible school class one summer at my cousin’s church for asking too many questions about Proverbs 31. When I got older and even more interested in religion, I told my Granny I had thought about being a preacher one day and she told me that would never be allowed because the Baptist church believed the pulpit was no place for a woman. This was long before I called myself a feminist, long before I even really understood what that word meant. Yet, when my well-intentioned grandmother said those words something stirred within me and gave me a command as clear as God’s to Moses through the burning bush: “Rebel!”
I declared myself a feminist when I was in graduate school and in some ways it felt like declaring war because from that moment until this one I’ve felt my feminist ideals and my Christian beliefs battling inside my heart, my mind, my soul.
I wish I were a Jesus feminist.
Sarah Bessey, the woman who coined the term, defines a Jesus feminist as a person who is a feminist because of her (or his) commitment to Jesus. “Jesus made a feminist out of me,” Bessey declared in her 2013 book Jesus Feminist.
I am not a Jesus feminist. I cannot say that I am a feminist because of my Christianity because most days I feel I am a feminist in spite of my religious beliefs.
I am an intersectional feminist, a feminist who believes issues of race, class, and sexual orientation intersect with issues of gender, a feminist who can’t sit comfortably in the pews of churches that stay silent about police brutality, churches that shun the gay, lesbian and transgender community, or churches that don’t open their doors and their hands to the poor.
So sometimes I stop going to church altogether. There was a time when I became so disillusioned with the church that I stopped calling myself a Christian. I didn’t want to be associated with the sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia that I had started associating with the Christian church. So I stopped saying I was a Christian and started saying, “Jesus is my spiritual guru.” But soon I realized I sounded as silly as people who say they believe in the equality of the sexes but swear they aren’t feminists.
Once during one of my church sabbaticals, as I like to call them, my husband, a man of unwavering faith who’s always been a dedicated leader in the church, said to me, “You don’t let anyone define your feminism. So why do you let racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic so-called Christians dictate your faith?”
It was a great question and I knew the answer.
Whenever someone tries to challenge my feminism because they believe feminism is about hating men or because someone told them feminism was started by wealthy, racist white women I simply hold fast to the dictionary definition of the word. I am a feminist because I believe in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. No one can do or say anything to make me not believe in the equality of the sexes and therefore no one can do or say anything to make me not call myself a feminist. Even when people who call themselves feminists do or say things I don’t agree with, I do not let their words or actions define my feminism. I believe I am free to live out my feminism in any way I see fit as long as I am true to the core mission of the movement.
I need a simple statement of faith that I can cling to as I do this dictionary definition of feminism. But there is nothing simple about religion.
In the New Testament, someone asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus answers, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I wish someone in the crowd would have asked follow-up questions because as I try to cling to this as the foundation of my faith I need to know how. How do I love God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind?
Perhaps Jesus anticipated this question of mine when he told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I often talk about how I need to write like a girl – how I need to write for the love of writing, for passion and not just profit. Maybe I need to pray like a girl, too.
Maybe I need to go back to carrying my prayer journal with me and writing love letters to God anytime, anyplace.
Maybe I need to go back to the days of feeling God everywhere and in everything.
Maybe I need to go back to the days of reading the Bible and studying religion not so I could win debates about faith but simply so I could get to know God.
Maybe I need to go back to the days of meeting Jesus in my dreams. Maybe instead of taking me shopping for back to school clothes and going with me to fancy parks, we can go to Black Lives Matter rallies and National Organization for Women meetings.
Maybe I need to go to church not because I need to do so for God to love me but because at church I can learn new ways to love God and meet new people to love in God’s name.
While feminism is primarily about equality, to me it’s also about sisterhood. I feel this uncanny kinship to nearly every woman and girl on the planet, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, or sexual orientation. This sense of sisterhood drives me to try to empower women and girls in all I do.
Perhaps my love for womankind, for mankind, for humankind—a love that was birthed from my feminism—is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
While I can’t say that I am a feminist because of Christianity perhaps my feminism will make me a better Christian.