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.


Feminist Avatar said...

There is sometimes an attitude within the Church that women's subordination (or second class citizenship) is their punishment from God for the Fall. And, as such, we shouldn't resist our punishment or we will be resisting the will of God. Just out of interest, do you think as a Christian feminist that you are working towards a society that resembles pre-Fall; towards a reinterpretation of God's will for women; or something new altogether.

Christian Feminist said...

Yes I've seen that attitude before and I hate it, and also think it lacks intelligance. If we understand the fall (as I do) as being the point at which humanity stepped outside of Gods will, then it seems logical that the things that are wrong with the world now are a result of this, and therefore are NOT the will of God. The whole point of this doctrine is that things are not the way they are meant to be!

Besides, that analagy of accepting punishment has way to much in common with racist attitudes and slavery being justified using 'the sins of Ham', for me to ever trust it.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I think the aim of christian feminism is. My current feeling, is that its about working towards a 'pre-fall' society, like you say, but that might change. I think that the reason Jesus came was because of Gods desire to redeem what had gone wrong with the world. I believe that this includes more than our individual relationships with God (as important as I think that is) but also the way our relationships with each other were corrupted, and thus need to be redeemed.

This is all still a bit waffley though, hopefully I can get clearer in my own head.

Josiah Lockhart said...

I think this entry raises an important question to this ongoing discussion. You refer to society as 'increasingly secular.' Although I think I understand what you mean by this I wonder if it is more helpful to describe society as 'post-Christendom' as we are not moving away from Christianity per-se but away from Christianity as The institution. One of many.

I think this is important as among what many contemporary Christian refer to as 'secular' is where much of the christianity/feminism discussion takes place. I wonder if by maintaining this divide (which some of the early church theologians would not have) creates this divide where the two need to be reconciled. There are many groups who have chosen to not take part in the christendom side of things in order to explore equality, non-violence, anarchism, etc... (e.g. anabaptists) I think drawing upon some of their understandings (and those of the catholic liberation theologians) you may find that Christianity and feminism of sorts does not need to be reconciled and can co-inhabit each other easily.

There will always be groups of religious adherents who emphasis certain dogma forgetting the wider picture, or think that they have the corner on the market of Christianity. But in all things we have to be careful to prevent that within the communities we inhabit. The danger in all of this is not moving to the other side and being turning the tables to become the judge and oppressor...

Christian Feminist said...

Yes, I think you're right that 'post-christendom' is a more helpful term to use, thanks. You make a really valid point, as one of the reasons I started this blog, is because I don't think the divisions we tend to make between sacred things and secular things are helpful, perhaps I'm forgetting that.

I think a christ-filled understanding can help us not become oppressors in our attempt to stop oppression. Its hard to oppress people, when your starting point is 'love your enemies'.

You're right to bring it up though, in my quest to help some groups see that they don't have a corner on what christianity is, I often fall into the trap of suggesting that its ME that has the corner. Which is ridiculous.