Thursday, March 17, 2011

Can Christianity and feminism be reconciled?

A friend recently posted something which caught my attention:

A couple days ago someone told me and my classmates that he thought it pretty much impossible to reconcile Christianity and feminism. He said some people believe they do, but “I think it’s amazing what some people can believe.” To my ears that is like saying one cannot reconcile living in a patriarchal society with being a feminist, or one cannot reconcile being a philanthropist with being an atheist. To be honest, I go back and forth on how I identify myself in relation to faith. If by “Christianity” one means the “Christianity” that makes the news for wanting to burn Korans and blow up women’s health clinics, or the Christianity that says women should be subordinate to men, then no way, no how, nah-uh can one be a Christian and a feminist. But since the people who introduced me to feminism are all self-identified Christians who have had to honestly and painfully come to terms and redefine the terms of their faith, I have to with all due respect level at such an over-generalized accusation, “How...would you know?”  (for the full article see

I agree with Kohleun that our answer has a lot to do with how we think about "Christianity." My perspective and conviction, as a person who "believes in" Jesus (i.e., embraces him and seeks to follow his teaching), is that he did not bring the (or a) "religion" of "Christianity." People who have followed him, through history, have constructed "Christianity" from Biblical and extrabiblical texts (as they have sought to work out the implications of his teachings). 

So in response to the implied question, can Christianity be reconciled with feminism, I would reply:

1) Yes, one can read the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the Bible in a way that is consistent with feminism - i.e., one can construct a "Christianity" that is feminist. This is, in fact, being done by many people. Implied in this, of course, is that what has in various times and places gone under the name of "Christianity," is not necessarily absolute, or final, or consistent with what others (in other times and places) would see as accurately reflecting the teachings of Jesus. (You can note views on race and slavery, and even views of how people should relate to their government - i.e., whether they should revolt against perceived unjust leaders - as other examples of a different reading of the Biblical texts leading to different views of what "Christianity" should be all about.)

2) For me, it's more helpful to stop talking about "Christianity," and focus more on the idea of what it means to be true to Jesus (if you want you may refer to that as "being 'Christian'," but that tends to lead to the confusion that what we're talking about is "Christianity," i.e., a religion). The question I would therefore pose is, can one love and embrace and follow Jesus and his teachings, and be a feminist? And to that, I would say the answer would almost certainly have to be a resounding "yes," whether others who follow Jesus, in any time or place, would agree or not. Because Jesus seems to be remarkably resilient, able to walk with people in our diverse contexts and convictions, bringing his light and life to bear in and through us as we are.

(Please note: I have not defined "feminism" here, which would of course be necessary for a deeper and more adequate consideration of the question at hand. And it is another question, worth asking, whether Jesus would actually lead us in the direction of feminism. If we are talking about valuing women as much as men, as equally created in God's image, and all that follows from that,I would again argue that not only would the teachings of Jesus be consistent with feminism; he would actively lead us in this direction.)

Carry on, Kohleun, and Karith, and everyone else out there who is wrestling with understanding how to be be true to yourself, to humanity, and to Jesus, in this complicated (and messed up) world we live in.

(P.S. This does not mean that I believe that there is no truth. But clearly, our understanding of the truth seems to be continuously developing through history. Another way of saying what is above is that the problem isn't with "Christianity," it's with our human understanding of what exactly "Christianity" - by which, here, I mean, rightly understanding and living by the teachings of Jesus - means.)

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