I use many labels to describe myself: college graduate, reader, daughter, sister, aunt, dog-lover, vegetarian, messy, nerd. Most of the time my labels get along together nicely, and I enjoy the way that my particular combination of labels makes me unique.
But there are two labels that fight one another constantly. They plant doubts about the other in my mind, and they cause frequent conflict in my beliefs. I used to try to keep them apart, being careful not to let them collide and destroy me in the process.
These labels are feminist and Christian. A lot of people think it’s impossible to be both, and each of these identities comes with its own set of negative stereotypes. I don’t think I exemplify any of those stereotypes, but I am nevertheless constantly worried about how to interact in my various communities.
Among Christian friends, I’m not shy about disclosing my feminist beliefs. Although evangelical Christians are often considered to be misogynistic fundamentalists, there is a wide spectrum of feminist ideology within the church. It is possible to encounter a pro-choice, feminist man and a pro-life, anti-feminist woman in the same church pew.
I am, however, very cautious about specific topics. Because the issues of feminism are so closely related to issues of morality within Christianity, it is difficult to have a civil conversation in which two people disagree so drastically. Issues of sexuality are especially touchy, but even discussions as simple as the roles that men and women should fill can become heated quickly, and can lead to ruined friendships and difficult working environments.
Among feminist friends, I am usually very reluctant to reveal my religious affiliation. The church has been responsible for perpetuating a lot of harmful patriarchal systems, and there are few people who have encountered Christianity without being hurt in some way. Many women have experienced sexual abuse, oppression, and damaging teachings about women. I don’t want to trigger painful memories or emotions by revealing my faith.
Balancing these two parts of my identity has become a mental strain and emotional drain. I often wonder if I should abandon one in favor of more fully embracing the other, but I have so much pulling at me on both sides. Each part of my system of beliefs is crucial to my identity.
How Feminism Has Influenced My Faith
Before encountering the life-changing ideas of feminist leaders, I was blind to the misogyny present in many evangelical Christian circles. I am lucky to have been raised by feminist parents, but many of my Christian friends were taught that women are different than men in ways that make them incapable of being leaders. My mother showed me by example that a woman can both defy the sexism of those who distort the message of Jesus and also remain committed to her faith.
On a more personally surprising note, feminism brought to my faith the importance of intersectionality. Although this is typically used as a social justice term, it has grown my desire to understand various viewpoints. Sects within the church are often fiercely divided, and the intersectional feminism that I became a part of helped me to become more tolerant.
How My Faith Has Influenced My Feminism
Learning about feminism is both enlightening and disheartening; it is easy to become bitter and angry about the centuries of abuse that women have suffered. It is just as easy to feel this bitterness and anger against all men, blaming individuals for the evils of the patriarchal system.
The Christian idea of self-sacrificial love has been a defining part of my feminist ideology. When my anger against misogyny caused me to lash out against my male friends and family members, my faith encouraged me to have the patience to teach rather than argue. Without the encouragement to love all people, even those who do me harm, I would likely cut myself off from anyone who made me angry. Instead, I am usually able to engage in constructive dialog, which I believe is the best way to achieve a more equal society.
Reconciling the Two
I don’t think these groups are inherently enemies, and I do think it’s possible for us to coexist and even get along. By continuing this feud we are missing out on the potential to learn from one another. It has been valuable to have both faith and feminism guide the formation of my identity; I do not believe that it is necessary for everyone, but it has been critical for me. Working together, I think feminists and Christians can eliminate bigotry and hatred in both communities.
Resources on Feminism and Christianity:
- Rachel Held Evans (http://rachelheldevans.com/)
- Christians for Biblical Equality (http://www.cbeinternational.org/)
- Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (book) (http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Feminist-Invitation-Revisit-Bibles/dp/1476717257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402781986&sr=8-1&keywords=jesus+feminist)
- Monica Coleman (http://monicaacoleman.com/)
- Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) (http://netgrace.org/)
- Dianna E. Anderson (http://diannaeanderson.net/)
Written by Becca Costello-Thomas