Wednesday, 30 April 2008

This blog has been suffering from the dissertation mania I'm in at the moment (its about prozac and depression in India if you care). However, I'm currently very excited about the discussion EFN are having about Faith and Feminism. Partly just because its exciting that feminists of all faiths/none are going to be taking the time to actually listen to each other about what we believe. Thats very rare, and very wonderful.

As I prepare for what I'm going to say at this discussion, I've begun to think about how my Christianity affects my feminism and vice versa. Ultimatly, both are ideologies that affect how we live, act, and see the world (although christianity is a bit more than that).

My first thoughts are about the church. The church has, in many ways, been known for being highly sexist and exploitative of women since it began. However, while I acknowledge the churches many sins in this area, I believe its deeply misguided to blame religion for this. I believe that after the Fall, the way human beings related to each other began to change. Power structure and hierarchies were created that simply didn't exist before. As we can see in the story of Adam and Eve, one of the key hierarchies that formed was between men and women. I believe that the result of this sin is that the power dynamic between men and women is skewed towards men (this is how I define patriachy).

If the question was 'which came first, the patriarchy or relgion,' I would say that first there was God, then there were humans, then there was the Fall and sin, and then there was patriarchy (among other things, patriarchy is just one of the tools we use to understand our fallen world). I believe that patriarchy has polluted religion, but that it is possible for religion to exist without patriarchy. Going back to the way it is illustrated pre-fall, when it was just Adam and Eve, walking with God.

In an increasingly secular society (I think this is fair to say??) we have just found new ways to oppress women. In religion this oppression is often expressed through limiting the roles a woman is allowed to fulfil, and existing on subjugation in marriage. In secular society, this oppression is more often seen through an obsession with body image and beauty and the sexualisation of young girls. Violence againsts women is endemic in both sacred and secular relms. As society changes we find new ways to oppress women (and other groups), specific institutions cannot be blamed, its a bigger, much deeper problem than that: its a problem in our souls.

That, in a very convoluted nutshell is how I reconsile my feminism, with what many see as 'patriarchal religion'. And being a follower of Jesus deeply affects how I see my feminism. For me, feminism is part of the process of redemption that we are all going through. Redemption means 'going back to how it was meant to be', and this is true for society as well as for individuals. This requires reconciliation, and grace and love towards those who oppress as well as the oppressor (loving your enemies was never more difficult or more necessary!). I genuinely believe that only using these tools, will anything ever really change. Christian feminism is about taking seriously the call to set free the oppressed, which is so key to bringing in the kingdom of God. It combines spiritual freedom with material freedom.

But the fact that I am a feminist also affects my faith. It consistantly raises useful questions and criticisms. Mostly it affects the way I relate to the church, rather than the way I relate to Jesus. The way the church works is (like most of society) deeply sexist. Being a christian feminist means I have a calling (yes, thats right, a calling!) to fight this (using christlike methods). Celebrating women who are willing to follow God into roles they 'aren't supposed to do', challenging the enormous mound of books that are currently being published showing a skewed and dangerous view of how to be a 'Godly woman' among many other things. Its draining and exhausting, but if we don't do it then no-one else is going to.

There are big areas where christians and feminist often disagree (abortion and sexuality mostly), and without going into my opinions, its clear to me, that while important, these issues are not the root. And at the root, I believe that Christianity, which brings liberation from sin and feminism which brings liberation from gender oppression are all part of the same fight. Its the fight that God has called us into, our challenge to live in a way that glorifies God, to break down oppression and hierachy, and in the end, to see the Kingdom of God become a reality.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Christian Feminism

Ultimatly, Christian Feminist is about taking serious Gods command that we work to bring about freedom from oppression.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?" Isaiah 58v6

Its about being angry about the opression God is angry about:
"They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." Amos2v7

When Jesus went to his hometown to preach for the first time, he opened the scriptures and proclaimed his mission on Earth:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4v18+19

These passages highlight God's desire for liberation from oppression. Christian feminists see that of the many kinds of oppression in the world, one of these is oppression based on gender. And so we work to end this oppression, battling domestic violence, sexual violence, mysogynistic pornography, prostitution, workplace inequality, inequality in the home and in school, female genital mutalation, trafficking, the objectification of children and many other things.

We are working to try and bring in the Kingdom of God, bringing real freedom - through knowing God, making God known, and working for the reality of God's desires here on Earth.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Singleness in Church and Society

I have a number of small confessions to make. Firstly, at 20 years old, not only am I a virgin but I've never been in a relationship, not even a pretend one when I was 7. Secondly, I have spent hours over the last month (and indeed most months) thinking about how much I would like to not be a virgin, and how much I would like to be in a relationship. Now, I have very good reasons for both my virginity and my lack of a relationship, but that doesn't stop these feelings, and I'm fairly sure that I'm not alone.

To some degree this is normal. People tell me sex is fun and relationships are fun so its quite normal that both are things I want to do. Pretty much everyone has desires both for companionship and intimacy as well as for sexual intimacy. This is not a problem. However, I'm increasingly aware of how much the world around me is making me feel like there is something wrong with this singleness. Firstly, there is the church. People tend to get into relationships and marry fairly young in christian communities (and I'm sure theres something to it other than sex!). In my own life, two friends my age have got/are getting married this year, and while I'm happy for them, this has not been easy. Singleness is difficult in the church. As you near thirty, it becomes to be a bit odd that you're 'still single', and people begin to look at you kindly and say things like 'there is still time'. I really don't want to go through that! The church is often so focused on the family unit, that any other lifestyle can be difficult to incorporate.

Society and the media in particular also make singleness hard. TV shows and films are all about getting in relationships, and once you are in one, happiness has been achieved. Bridget Jone's Diary comes to mind! Everything we see is geared towards falling in love, sex, relationships, and everything to do with this.

Surrounded by these messages, its very difficult to be happily single. This is so frustrating! Using me as an example, I have so many reasons to be happy with my life. I love my degree, I have lovely friends and I do lots of lovely things. (Its all very lovely.) To a great degree, I am unhappy about my singleness because society/my christian community tell me that I should be. Other than that I don't think I would be. Possibly slightly sexually frustrated, but not a lot more. There are a million ways to have intimacy and companionship with people, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to just relationships.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post, I just wanted to start a conversation about singleness and what it means for us in our world. Relationships are great (they tell me) and I really hope that I'll be in one one day (though I have my doubts, but more on that another time). However, for now, I think its time to try and fight to be happily single.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Jenny Gedes

So, most of the women I've looked at so far have been fairly well known, at least in certain circles. However, very few people have heard of Jenny Gedes, who's an amazing women from right here in Edinburgh. She became famous in 1633, which was a period of religious turmoil in Scotland. King Charles was trying to force Church of England traditions such as Bishops and the use of the book of Common Prayer onto a resistant presbetyrian Scotland. While some the reasons for resistance were probably politically motivated, the Scottish Christians also did not want their church to be based on hierarchy, and didn't want to use a prayer group which exalted the King. Which I think is pretty awesome of them! (And if any Church Historians are reading this, I'm really sorry for this terrible summary!)

So, where does Jenny come into all of this? A book of Canons was about to begin to be used in the Church of Scotland which ran counter to the way the CofS worked and still works (based on principles such as the 'first among equals' role of the minister). The Dean of Edinburgh stood up to read from this book in St Giles for the first time and Jenny stood up, threw her stool at him (!) and shouted, "“"Villain! doest thou say mass in my lug?". This action started what can only be termed a riot in the church, and through this action, and the actions of many others, the Church of Scotland remained free from links with the monarchy and state, and maintained its non-hierarchal system of Government.

I've included Jenny because her story is an often forgotten one (although there is a plaque to her in St Giles where she threw her stool), and because it reminds me of how much ordinary women who are rarely remembered by history, do for God, and in this case, to preserve religious freedom.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Christian Privilege

I've been hearing a lot lately about privilege. About how certain groups have more power than others purely as a result of their sex, race, sexuality etc. And this often goes un-noticed by, for example, white people, because we're used to this privilege, its only when we start to look closely that we see that things are often easier for us than they are for black people, because society is geared towards us. And I am very willing to accept that as a middle class white person I have an amount of privilege that means I have to fight my own tendancies to racicism and classism, and to confront other people when they exhibit such behaviour.

So far, so clear, but I read something on a blog the other day that was talking about christian privilege, and I had to stop and think about this one a bit more. I've very much in two minds over whether or not such a thing exists. Obviously I'm talking about the UK here not the whole world, it wouldn't take much searching to find out that being a christian doesn't bring much privilege in North Korea or Iran or Pakistan (at least not in this world).

On a societal level, I can see the privilege to some degree. Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture, so our holidays are celebrated both by government and the commercial sector much more than Eid or Diwali are. In England the Church of England has bishops automatically in the House of Lords, and all across the UK the church has a relatively powerful voice in politics (although given that every major denomination in Scotland oppposes Trident, perhaps not so powerful as some believe!)

Its on an indvidual level that I most struggle with this idea of privilege. I have put up with very little bullying in my life compared to many people I know, but pretty much all the bullying I have experienced has been about my faith. Many, perhaps even most of my christians friends would say the same. Certianly in high school, christians are an easy and often an obvious target. Surely the abuse most of us went through is not a privilege?

Perhaps it is the institution of the church which gets the privilege not the individuals. Certainly the ideas of the bible are not privileged in our society, in a capitalist society a God who called his disciples to give up everything they owned so they could follow him more effectively does not go down well. In a culture based on hierachy, Jesus' tendancy to treat everyone equally would be ridiculed. In a culture based on 'getting what you deserve', grace is a foreign concept.

So Jesus is not privileged and christians have not in my experience been privileged, but the Church in many ways has been. Maybe this is a lesson for us, we have let the Church (with a capital C) become something more than just the body of Christ, made up of individuals who form a community. Perhaps in order to really live out the terrifying message of Jesus, the institution has to be slowly pulled to pieces. Because real change doesn't come from institution power, it comes from radicals on the edges of society. Exactly where the church should be.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sojourner Truth

So I realised the other day that I'd basically stopped doing profiles on women who amaze and inspire me, and so I decided to go back and do some more. Maybe I'll even make it a Monday Feature. It would be fun to have features! So, in the name of remembering the forgotten women who change the world for Jesus, so far we have:
- Catherine Booth
- Elizabeth Fry
- Dorothy Day

And today we have Sojourner Truth. Most of the information here is taken from the ever reliable Wikepedia (I'm such a scholar!), so please forgive any innacuracies.

Sojourner was born into slavery in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree and was a famous abolitinist and women's rights activist. In 1806 she was sold to her second master, a very cruel man who beat her and her raped her. She was sold several times, her fourth owner forbade her from marrying a slave from a neighbouring farm that she loved and a number of years later forced her to marry another slave with whom she had five children.

In 1826 Truth and her baby daughter escaped and were taken in by a Quaker family until the New York Emancipation Act made her free. While staying with these Quakers Truth had a religious conversion and some time later changed her name to Sojourner Truth.

In 1844 she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry which supported women's rights and pacifism among other causes. She wrote a book called 'the Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A northern slave', which documented her life in Slavery.

In 1851 she went to the Ohio Women's rights conference where she delivered her famous 'Ain't I am woman' speach, including the lines:

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

Much of the rest of her life was spent speaking at various meetings as a suffrage and abolitiionist.

In November 1883 Truth died in Michigan, having lived a life devoted to freedom for slaves and for women among many others.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Share your story

I appear to be on a bit of a blogging role this week, probably because I have so much actual work to do this week!

Anyway, I got a request on facebook for christian women, especially those involved in either lay or official ministry in the church, to consider sharing their faith stories for this webisite.

There are some really great stories up their already, it'd be amazing if your's was too, go have a look.

Most Irritating Argument in the World

Those of you who know me in the real world will probaby be aware that I've spent quite a lot of time recently celebrating and advocating for women leading in the church. There are lots of reasons for this, which I will hopefully try to dwell on a little bit in later posts, but for now I just want to hightlight the MOST annoying things that comes up in conversation abou this.

You would think the most annoying thing would be people saying that women aren't qualified to teach, that women are called to submit to all men (***stabs pen in eye***), but actually these are just the tip of the ice-berg. At least those people are honest in their sexism. Actually, for me, the most annoying arguement comes from those who believe they are 'moderate' saying that, 'when men in the church fail to come forward, God calls women.'

Basically, what this arguement is, is that ultimatly, what God wants is for men to lead the church, but because men can be lazy or whatever and fail to heed the call, sometimes God is forced to call women to this role. Do this people seriously have no idea how patronising this is? I would challenge them to tell the Godly, amazing female ministers/elders/priests that I know that they are only fulfilling their call because there is no man around to do it.

Its a terrible argument. Its used to try and make sexism more subtle and its not even logical. Either God welcomes women as leaders or God doesn't. There is no room for middle ground. It also suggests a really low opinion of God. A perfect God does not do imperfect things, this makes no sense. If God does something, and God is perfect, then the action cannot be wrong. (Although for me this becomes difficult as I read the Old Testemant!) Or does God ever compromise? Theres an interesting discussion to be had here!

Seriously, what should I say to people who say this? I honestly don't know how to engage with this arguement, it makes me want to cry.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Message from Ladyfest Edinburgh

Wanted: female filmmakers and visual artists to submit short films (under 20mins long) of all genres and descriptions for a programme of new shorts to be screened at Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, in May 2008. The screening is taking place in association with Ladyfest Edinburgh, a branch of the global arts festival celebrating the participation of women the culture industries.

Submission Deadline - 15th April

Send DVD copies of films to:
Ladyfest film co-ordinators
c/o Front of House,
Filmhouse Cinema,
88 Lothian Road,

Contact Lydia or Madeline on
or for more info on Ladyfest Edinburgh go to

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


Sometimes I wonder why the feminist movement is so lothe to use the words morality or morals. For example, I've on various occasions heard/read feminists say, "I'm not against pornography for moral reasons, I'm against it for feminist reasons.' I understand why they're saying it, they're saying it because they don't want their opinions to be confused with members of the religious right who are shocked just at the very idea that people have sex, let alone having to see it!

But why are we letting them own morality? Morality is all about what is right and what is wrong, we all have different ideas about what falls into what group, but most of us have a fairly firm idea of things that we believe are wrong (i.e. sin - thats all sin really means). And what could be more immoral than being profoundly sexist, beating or raping your partner etc. Indeed, since I've heard this most with reference to (certain types of) porn, what could be more immoral than abusing and exploiting women, perpetuating a 'rape and violence culture' and promoting only one body type as being normal and beautiful. These things are all really, really wrong, and therefore they are IMMORAL.

Religious people (like myself!) do not own morality. Its time to claim it back! When you are taking a stance for what is right, its important to be willing to say that you are also taking a stance for what is, in your view, moral.