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Web Event 1- Feminist Theology

sschurtz's picture

Is a Christian feminist an oxymoron? I identify as a Christian. I identify as a feminist. I do not know how to completely reconcile them together. It can be easier to have these two aspects be separate. In some circles you can proudly say you are a feminist and in others affirm that you are a Christian. But then you are denying a big part of yourself if you do not acknowledge both beliefs. An issue that you’re creating for yourself is that you are hiding and choosing parts of yourself which might not be as accepted in certain circles. You are picking one over the other and in those instances saying that the other is less important. How do you deal with feminists who have a view that religion and “their ideologies, their symbolism, and above all, their established institutions stand accused of putting a stranglehold on women’s aspirations”(Soskice 1) In many ways men and organizations have used religion to put women in a subservient role. Christianity is not about making women lesser than men and feminism is not about destroying family values and beliefs that Christians hold dear. If you can find the good in theology that helps to elevate women then Christianity and feminism could become closer to being accepted together.

Before doing this research I had never called or thought of myself as a Christian feminist. Both those aspects are huge facets separately as to what makes me who I am as a person, but I did not want to deal with people judging my beliefs and having to defend them to both Christians and feminists, because it seems there is such a dichotomy in my beliefs and so few people share my view. After looking at the literature and doing research on the subject I believe now that is how I want to be represented to others. I want to make progress to stop isolating parts of who I am and make them connect on an ideological basis. It is easier to not look at where your beliefs conflict but if you look and can find a way for them to work together it makes both beliefs more true to you as a person. There is no easy answer to the intersectionality of feminist theology. The more you learn the more questions you will have about what approach you take and how to reconcile your beliefs together but there is support for reconciling them. Both religion and feminism are “controversial, emotion-laden systems of belief that directly affect people’s lives” (Gross 5). People are passionate and have strong beliefs about both of these issues and it can be hard to have a conversation about them that is not fueled by passion and hyperbole. I need to do more research so that I can be better educated on the subject but I am turning off that little voice in my head that worries that people will judge what I believe. It is how I choose to represent myself and it does represent me as a person. If people feel it is contradictory come and talk to me about it and I’ll give you my reasoning and thoughts on why I identify as a Christian feminist.

            In Woman’s spirit rising Carol P. Christ describes two types of approaches to feminist theology. One is to “search tradition for positive and constructive alternatives to sexist theology” (Christ 10) and incorporate them into our current experiences and the other is to disregard the past because it is so detrimental to women and “claim no loyalty to biblical tradition”(Christ 10) and rely on experience instead. I would classify myself as the first one. It’s a dangerous path to go on to just pick parts of the Bible that you like or passages that fit in with what you believe. That is not the way that I was taught to interpret scripture. You are supposed to look at the context and what theologians have interpreted as well. I think that for feminists it is okay to interpret and pick passages out for yourself. ”theology has been written almost exclusively by men” (Saiving 25) and much of it has been interpreted exclusively by men. I think that using women’s experience and point of view can give a different interpretation and searching these positive alternatives out to sexist theology is a positive thing to do.

            There are parts of the Bible that put women in a subservient role to men but there are also parts of the Bible that make women equal. It says in Galatians that in “Christ there is no more male or female” (Galatians 3:28).  When God created men and women he didn’t create one as lesser He “created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them”(Genesis 1:25). There is a study of women and feminist ideas in the Bible but it’s not known to many people. The topic of feminism and religion never came up in my four years of high school Bible. For some people it is not seen as an important main element to study in Christianity. I was not aware that there was this plethora of information on feminist theology until recently.  Is it okay to have your beliefs be separate from each other? Everything doesn’t have to fit into a neat little box but does it lesser the value of your beliefs if you can’t be both at the same time? I didn’t use to believe that this was an issue. It makes conversations about religion and feminism easier and it makes things simpler. When I actually analyze why I wouldn’t say that I’m both it’s because I wouldn’t want people to judge my beliefs.

            Many of the sexist elements in the Bible seem to draw its reasoning from the story of Adam and Eve. It’s because “’Adam was first formed, then Eve’, and because Eve was deceived, while Adam was not” (Mortley 47). This has long been a sexist element in the church and that is that the first women committed the first sin. Eve is vindicated by most while Adam is seen to have followed her.  From this idea people have spawned it into thinking of women as the lesser sex. This is not the only way to interpret the story though. There is feminist reasoning that the story isn’t saying that the woman is “a second subordinate, inferior sex” but instead she is “not an afterthought; she is the culmination”(Christ 75) Both Adam and Eve sinned. They both were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and had to deal with the consequences. Adam did not theologize but instead he accepted the apple. The blame does not fall solely on the first woman but they fell together not one after the other. Man only became man when women was created “only in responding to the female does the man discover himself a male”(Tribble 76).

            How am I representing myself as a feminist and how am I representing myself as a Christian? I have gotten backlash for being each of them. For me my faith is a deeply personal thing that I don’t feel comfortable talking about with everyone. I am not ashamed of my faith but it is a part of who I am and it can be upsetting to constantly be defending all tenants of my religion. When you tell someone you are Christian sometimes they react by assuming that you’re judgmental and close-minded.  There are people who don’t like Christianity and will never understand why you would choose to be a Christian. As a Christian I get a lot of flack regarding, either you are too Christian or not enough of a Christian. In Christian communities being a feminist is not seen as a powerful thing. They have the bra burning 2nd wave of feminist in mind. To them the idea of calling God She would be offensive. In feminist communities it can be seen as buying into the system that has brought women’s rights down for thousands of years. The way to represent yourself is to be confident in your beliefs instead of hiding them.  Challenge the preconceived notions by being well read and educated on the subject. If there is a backlash in how I represent myself if I am happy and confident in how I’m represented and my beliefs than I don’t care what others think of my choices.

            Religion is making strides all the time now. Women play a large role in religion “More Christian women than men belong to churches, more attend public acts of worship, more say they pray, and more work for religious organizations”(Soskice 2). Even though the Bible and its teachings stay the same, churches are allowing more women to have larger roles. Earlier interpretations of scripture tend to be from a time where women were seen as the lesser sex.  I don’t believe that putting women in lower positions comes from the Bible but from churches and organizations. There are many important female figures in the Bible but the Bible is not written from the female point of view and it doesn’t use the female experience. Many of the contemporary theological doctrines have “been constructed primarily upon the basis of masculine experience and thus views the human condition from the male” (Christ 27). I don’t have a problem with God being called a He or Jesus being the son of God but it creates a male hierarchy. We were all created in God’s image but by putting He onto God it creates a world where men are closer to being in Gods image and therefore closer to God.

 I don’t want to put my beliefs about feminism in a box but in order to have insight in feminist theology I needed a definition to use so I used the definition in “Feminism and Religion” “The most basic definition of feminism is the conviction that women really do inhabit the human real and are not “other” not a separate species”(Gross 16). I also need to have a basic definition on Christianity. This for me is following the teachings of Jesus. As a Presbyterian my faith relies less on tradition and more on interpreting the scripture and living life close to Jesus’ teachings. I believe in the idea of reconstructing the past in Religion. Jesus’ teachings were not based around the idea of women being subservient to men but of love, faith and generosity. I look for strong women in the Bible and for feminist elements and focus less on the passages that have sexist theology.

            I’m still not sure how to totally reconcile my faith and feminism together. I don’t think they can completely go together without any conflicts. One thing that took me a long time to figure out in Christianity is that it is okay to have questions and doubts. It’s easy to be frustrated seeing people who are so full in their faith but people get there in different ways. It took me many years to find my faith and ever since I did it’s been the one of the most important elements in my life. The same can be applied to the understanding of feminist theology. It might not be harmonious but there are more reasons to be a Christian feminist than to be them separately. The more you study and question the more whole your identity will become.


Works Cited

Mortley, Raoul. Womanhood: The Feminine in Ancient Hellenism, Gnosticism, Christianity, and Islam. Sydney: Delacroix, 1981. Print.

Soskice, Janet Martin., and Diana Lipton. Feminism and Theology. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

Woman Spirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. Print.

Gross, Rita M. Feminism and Religion: An Introduction. Boston: Beacon, 1996. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

Feminist (in?)consistency

It’s a deep delight to me to see you struggling to make sense of these different strands of your identity, learning more about the feminist dimensions of Christianity, more about the Christian elements in feminism—it’s a very heartening path you are on, a different version of “intersectionality” than the ones we have been discussing in class so far.

I was struck, first, by something you say just @ the end, that it took you “a long time to figure out in Christianity is that it is okay to have questions and doubts.” I’m a Quaker (not a Presbyterian), and/but I believe very strongly that the exploratory seeking that Quakers call "continuing revelation," the process of constantly "testing" in a social context, against what others know, what one knows oneself, against new experience and new information
... are activities that, ideally, can be practiced in both the religious and the intellectual realms (see Science and Spirit for more on this…)

I was struck, second, by your repeated use of the work “contradictory.” Why do you think that you need to be consistent in your beliefs? Let me offer a couple of American writers on this point:

  • "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." (Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”)
  • "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do….Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood." (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”)
  • "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up")
juliah's picture

Faith and Spirituality

This was a feminist lense I had never before considered. I am not personally religious, but I have always thought of myself as a spiritual person, and that is one of the reasons I identify as an ecofeminist. The author also clearly tries to link her own beliefs with the "feminist" cause, and for that, we are the same. Her point of trying to "make them connect on an idealogical basis" was a very ecofeminist statement to me--all about connecting and relating to the world around you. I see such parallels, despite a vastly different approach. I can also clearly identify with the attempt to reconcile two seemingly contradictory parts of what make you who you are. It is a struggle, but when they are such important aspects, it is impossible to not work to find some way to make them cohesive. I completely support this author, and while we have differing points of view, I think any search for a feminism that represents you is an honorable cause.

Fdaniel's picture

Through a multicultural lens

          This essay was extremely insightful and interesting. The more I read I couldn't stop because I never looked at "Christian feminism" in that way. Through a multicultural lens you are completely right. We can’t define feminism without putting into consideration other aspects of a woman that affect her. Religion is a huge aspect of our lives that effect women and men on a daily basis. It may determine the type of food we eat, what we wear, who we associate with etc. Religion is very complex and can't be ignored when women are identifying themselves. It brings to light that everyone's feminism is different depending on their complexities and it isn’t fair to make feminism exclusive but rather an outlet for women to explore their own definition of feminism and exactly what that means. You shouldn’t feel in any way that you are going to be judged because of your Christian belief while being a feminist. This is why feminism needs to be redefined in a way that doesn’t ignore the complexities of a woman. As stated in my essay, feminism should have a common theme across the board that is to solely empower women and eliminate the oppressive forces that are stopping her growth as opposed to trying to define what is right or wrong. However, your essay is very good at addressing intersectionality and incorporating that into how we look at feminism, which is very important in multicultural feminism. As you stated, "it might not be harmonious but there are more reasons to be a Christian feminist than to be them separately." This is a great synapsis for how we should look at multiple identities. We should never feel the need to separate any parts of our identity or give one priority we should give all layers of ourselves importance because it makes up who we are.