Well, the US election is now just over a week away and many in the Republican party seem to think that’s no reason to ebb the flow of total and utter shite issuing from their mouths.
Recent comments made by party leaders have further irritated an already raw social consciousness, particularly with regards to ladies and their lady parts. All of the sparkling and oh-so-logical discussions of rape within US political circles over the last several months have not only helped me to affirm a few of my own beliefs (Democratz 4 Life!), they have also reawakened a debate which it seems, now more than ever, crucially important to engage: can feminists be Christian?
Although feminism has hardly been a comfortable ally of any mainstream religious tradition, the relationship with Christianity in particular seems to have come to the fore in both the US and the UK. Men like Richard Mourdock, a candidate for the US Senate, have fought to curtail women’s rights to choose, even in cases of rape, because—despite fundamental Constitutional principles necessitating separation of church and state—life must be considered in terms of God.
In a Senatorial debate, Mr. Mourdock said, “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God… And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Here in the UK, the political terms of the abortion debate are purportedly more secular. Nevertheless, the most visible opponents of abortion providers are Christian groups (like 40 Days for Life) who, despite having relatively low numbers on Twitter or Facebook, are still noticeably present in the national media… well that, and literally present in Bedford Square.
Of course this isn’t solely about the abortion debate. Christian institutions of all denominations have long, illustrious histories of capitalizing on their patriarchal structures to exclude, marginalize, disenfranchise, and even commit violence against women. There are loads and LOADS of academic works to this effect, as well as popular historical texts. Even recent declarations by the Catholic Church, for instance, reveal a lingering mistrust of women at best, and straight up misogyny at worst.
Nevertheless, feminists interested in studying religions, or in reexamining their personal faith have been challenging patriarchal interpretations of Christianity for decades. Today, you can find everything from feminist Mormons—I am not making this stuff up—to UK feminist Christians who feel that their faith strengthens their ideology and defies traditional religious definitions. Theologians like Margaret Farley or popular authors like Rachel Held Evans are challenging entrenched historical Christian practices and beliefs to establish new feminist interpretations.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to stand amidst a bunch of grumpy old men and shout about your vagina, there’s no denying. And although some of the methods adopted by Christian feminists to forge these new paths (Held Evans followed the Bible literally for a year, even going so far as to call her husband ‘Master’) make ME want to nervously rock back and forth, I am still unprepared to deny their status as feminists. Who am I to say?
Herein lies the problem, methinks. This debate, like so many others within both feminist and Christian contexts, centres on who gets to speak and what kinds of interpretations are considered legitimate. Yes, Margaret Farley wrote an honest, in-touch, feminist book about sexual ethics—which she deemed Christian—but the Catholic Church made no bones about denouncing her efforts. Rachel Held Evans unabashedly devoted her vag to God, and argues consistently for greater inclusion within the Evangelical church. And yet her books were banned from a number of prominent Christian bookstore chains. These reactions beg the question of who has the reins on this pony-show.
It is absolutely fine to invent new ways of speaking, but if you’re simultaneously insisting on having a conversation with someone who is accustomed to tradition, you’re only going to get so far. It’s like me realizing that if I wanted to find a place to get rid of my gum, I was going to have to stop asking for the whereabouts of the ‘trash’ and inquire about the ‘bin’ instead. Compromises necessarily have to be made.
On the other hand, for feminists who claim to reinterpret Christianity entirely, so that God the Father becomes God the Mother and so on, you have to wonder about whom they’re really helping. Sure that may be liberating for the women who take part, but as I suggested above radical shifts, which are entirely unrecognizable to traditional Christians, are often ignored altogether.
I don’t have the answers to the questions I’ve posed (convenient, isn’t it?). But I will say, claiming to be a feminist and a Christian feels to me a little like signing an e-petition demanding that Apple stop relying on inhumane labor practices, and then going to stand in a queue for the latest iPhone. I’m not suggesting that Christian feminists are NOT feminists, nor am I claiming that they are not Christians. It’s just hard to see their situation as dialogic when the church so often seems to be running around with its hands clamped over its ears singing, ‘I can’t hear you, I can’t hear youuuu’.
Image via LastFuture's Flickr