Feminists can be Christians, too

Lot's Wife - medieval stained glass detail, Ca...

Image of Lot's Wife by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

I am a Christian. I believe that following Jesus is about kindness, compassion, for meeting people where they are, for practicing empathy. I think the Bible contains metaphorical truth, historical truth, and that it’s a record of human struggle with faith and the human story of encounters with the divine.

As a feminist, I am afraid to admit that I am a Christian, because I’m afraid you won’t take me seriously anymore. That you’ll think that I live my life and govern my relationships with legalism (i.e., using the Bible to make “rules”). Sometimes, those who are also struggling to follow Jesus as a path to following God act in ways that are intolerant, uncompassionate, and inhospitable. These fellow believers make people uncomfortable, claiming to speak for God, claiming to know when another person is sinning, claiming the Bible as incontrovertible truth with a capital T. They use this belief to say that love between two people of the same sex is a sin, to reduce women to objects and servants, and to consume the Earth’s resources.

These people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are using God’s name in vain. They are speaking for Him without the humility to admit that they may be wrong. I have recently been made aware that silence on the issue of faith and belief may also be using God’s name in vain, because I am part of God’s voice in this world. Silence implies shame.

Here’s what I want to make the liberal, feminist blogosphere aware of — the Bible is open to interpretation, and when it is being used as a tool of bigotry, literacy is the only way to educate those whose minds are open, those who are not using God’s name in vain.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapter 19, verses 1 through 19, narrates the story of Lot inviting two strangers, angels, into his home in the city of Sodom. The bigoted citizens of the city, who already do not like Lot, because he is also a foreigner, demand him to hand over his guests. Most translations I’ve read demand that the guests be turned over to the mob so that they can “have sex” with them. Lot pleads with them not to do this wicked thing, and offers his virgin daughters to the mob instead. Before this can happen, the angels strike the mob blind, and ultimately, as a result, the city of Sodom is destroyed.

This passage is the source of the word sodomy, which is less judgementally known as anal sex. Those who believe that homosexuality is a sin cite this passage as a proof that God hates sodomites – i.e. those who have anal sex, i.e. gay men.

But, feminist readers, does this not also sound like attempted gang rape?  Complete with rape apologist language of “have sex”? Could this passage be a story about how rape is not to be tolerated? Instead of teaching how a certain kind of sex is wicked, could the passage be teaching that a lack of consent, that force in a sex act is wicked?

As feminists, it is easy to get up in arms and distracted with the way that Lot offered his daughters to be raped to protect his guests. It is not nice to think about, but in the historical context, women were objects — and we must acknowledge this. To apply our current values on historical circumstance is futile — we will always be disappointed. The knowledge that women’s value used to be different can be a source of strength, too. How far women have come, and yet how far we have to go. Just as life is now, the Bible is a mixed bag. There are both wins and losses, victories and defeats.

What I take heart in is that God did not allow Lot’s daughters to be raped either (at this juncture of the story, at least. The ultimate fate of Lot’s daughters is a different story). God through his angels intervened, and did not allow anyone to be raped that day; the city was destroyed for that attempted act of violence.

At least, that’s how I read the passage as a feminist.

The Church is still a human institution, I get it.  Sometimes the acts of Christians are incredibly hard to defend. The Bible is a human work. Not all passages are easy to explain in a way that makes us feel good.  Sometimes humans use God’s name to legitimize their bigotry and privilege. Sometimes people who believe in justice, in tearing down privilege, and are Christians forget to invoke God. Both are wrong.

My mission here is to record my activism. Sometimes that activism occurs in the context of Church. I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.

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One thought on “Feminists can be Christians, too

  1. The church desperately needs more feminists. They don’t necessarily need to DO anything in the church except exist and be somewhat sociable, but we need more.

    Obviously there are many churches that espouse the patriarchal idea of “complementarianism” and twist the text of the Bible to try and keep women chained to the stove. They teach that feminists are radical anti-male, anti-God crazies who think women need to start oppressing men. They’re bullies, yes, but I also think they’re on the decline.

    I think the bigger problem are the churches that think they are progressive because they let women teach Sunday school and they think it’s acceptable for them to wear pants and go to college. They teach that feminists are radical anti-male, anti-God crazies who think women need to start oppressing men. Oh, and if you have a serious talk with them about gender roles, they shake out on the side of complementarianism. This is where you’ll hear people say things like, “Well, just because women CAN do anything men can, doesn’t mean they SHOULD.”

    They’re a problem because people like me grow up thinking women have achieved equality and feminists are just whiny and/or evil creatures who are out to destroy civilization. I mean, it’s not just the men in the church saying these things — surely the women would object if they were being treated as second-class citizens, right? Right? No? Not necessarily? Hmm…

    The other thing I sometimes hear (and this one really irks me), is, “Well, if they’re happy…” So, if a woman has to call her husband at work to ask permission to leave the house, but she’s happy, it’s ok? If she only wanted three kids but had to bear five, but she’s happy, it’s ok? If he doesn’t lift a finger to help take care of said kids, but she’s happy, it’s ok? Really?

    /rant

    I think that if there were more feminists in church, the simple virtue of not being insane would go a long way toward opening the lines of communication that can lead to real change.

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