I used to believe that to be both a feminist and a Christian woman was impossible.
Feminism was the antithesis to Biblical submission and role expected of women in the church.
Denominations who had allowed women to be pastors in any area other than women’s and children’s ministry were directly subverting direct commands within Scripture for men to be the leaders of the church, society, and the home. Until, as I discussed last week, I stumbled on to Rachel Held Evan’s books and her site. While there I found more resources on views surrounding Christian Egalitarian Marriage via her Mutuality Series. From there, I discovered this brand new site (at the time), known as the Junia Project.
Who We Are
The Junia Project is a community of women and men advocating for the inclusion of women at all levels of leadership in the Christian church and for mutuality in marriage. We believe that when interpreted correctly, the Bible teaches that both men and women are called to serve at all levels of the Church, and that leadership should be based primarily on gifting and not on gender.
I was enthralled. Although I knew there were mainline denominations out there who supported female pastors, I had never encountered a systematic approach to the theology of including women in all levels of church leadership. I had also never seen that theology translated into equality for women in their role in the home and in marriage. It was a whole new world.
From this point on, I began scouring Rachel’s website, religiously reading the Junia Project’s updates, and perusing through all the resources they both listed. I wanted to learn everything I could about how men and women of the church were finding a reason to so boldly claim to be a feminist — a term that I had only known to be an insult for angry, man-hating women before.
Rachel talks about her journey into Feminism as an accident, because instead of discovering its truths through women’s studies or studying Feminist theory in college, she discovered it in Jesus, in Christ’s followers, in women of the Bible, and in other Christian theologians before she ever turned to classic feminist writers.
It felt nice to know that I wasn’t the only one stumbling into this world by accident.
What drove me to this search?
Marrying my husband opened up a whole new way of seeing and believing in myself. Suddenly the messages I had internalized for years from my childhood, the church, mentors, boys, and men in my life began to pile up like an unavoidable stack of clutter.
“Women should be seen and not heard.”
“Because you are a girl, you’re decision-making capabilities, you’re intuition, you’re sense of God’s direction in your life, and you’re interpretation and understanding of Scripture are always suspect due to your inherent weakness of emotion.”
“Women are the weaker vessel and easily deceived, thus they need to be led, protected, cherished, and taken care of.”
While it may sound nice to some, this belief grounded in centuries of scriptural teachings from the Genesis accounts of Eve and in the teachings of Peter, inherently classifies women as being deficient, weak, highly susceptible to deception, and in continual need of being rescued by a man in order to truly thrive in life as both a person and a Christian. Problems begin to occur, when one examines how those teachings become impossible for single women without a husband to rescue them, or how following those teachings to their literal conclusion means that if women are truly so inherently defunct they should not be allowed to teach anyone, much less the scores of women and children that churches and ministries often utilize women to teach and lead.
“My value as a woman was only so secure as my sexual purity and submission to male authority and direction in my life. Girls and women who failed sexually were considered broken and damaged goods. Women who were bold, opinionated, and resistant to direction were ostracized as rebellious and attention seekers.”
“As a girl and a single woman, any dreams I have and talents I have or wanted to acquire, must always come second to serving others and serving the church.
“Once I got married, my dreams were to be sacrificed for the greater role of being a wife and mother. To want to develop a career on my own, would mean competing with my husband thus thwarting his inherited Bible right to be the provider. It meant placing the responsibility of any potential marriage demise squarely on my own shoulders for being inherently selfish. It would also mean that my future children would have a selfish mother, heartless and cold to their needs and well-being.”
I met my husband in my freshman year at college. By the time we actually started dating a year later, I had become well accustomed to precariously hiding my dreams and career inspirations from young men my age I was interested in, as any I had encountered up until that point responded with a mixture of intimidation, insecurity, and competition.
The first boy I told I was interested in pursuing a law career and possibly politics, or something in government — looked right at me and scoffed,
“You a lawyer, but you hate conflict. You would be a terrible lawyer. Plus you could never defend someone you knew was guilty.”
As if being a defense attorney was my only option. As if being a litigation attorney was my only option. As if, even if I had wanted to pursue those fields within law, that I was incapable of learning trial and litigation techniques.
My husband was the first man who ever thought it strange that I would even consider not having a career. After a lifetime of growing up around church boys, who deemed me as the typical candidate to be a Pastor’s wife and ministry leader, it was a shock to find someone who wasn’t phased at all by my dreams that felt so subversive to everything I had been building my life around. Before him, all the men I knew, were only interested in my Proverbs 31 resume.
My husband didn’t even know what that was. Ha!
A scriptural resume I readily admit I worked on for years to build up. I played the piano, sang, and had built up years of volunteer experience working with children and women in leading sunday school, bible studies, accountability groups, missions trips and more. I also knew how to cook, sew (the basics), and clean. Growing up the second oldest of nine, meant I also obtained extensive baby sitting and secondary mothering skills. Marrying my husband threw me into a continual battle between what my heart and mind wanted, and years of carefully ingrained habit.
A few months into reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood a friend of mine who had been reading it with me, sent me a text with a picture of a book called Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey.
Such a book existed?!
I couldn’t get to Amazon fast enough. Turns out, it wasn’t released yet. I pre-ordered it that day, and waited for months for it to come in the mail later that fall.
The day it came in the mail, I sat down and read it through in one sitting.
I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t put it down.
As this series has revealed, growing up I had only known a negative connotation of feminism, and I never quite knew what it actually meant. This series is an effort to share what I have learned so far, as well as chronicle a journey into finding and discovering what feminism truly means.
Sarah’s definition of feminism is what I have begun with.
It is beautiful and profound.
At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance–not greater than, but certainly not less than–to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.
As I continued to read, what I found was a book that not only addressed my questions of women, feminism, and the church — but a book that acknowledged the even scarier reality — the deep questions of my faith haunting my soul.
Sarah’s words captured me as I felt like she was writing to me — an audience of one.
Lean into the pain.
Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Your fear will try to hold you back, your tension will increase, the pain will become intense, and it will be tempting to keep clinging tight to the old life; the cycle is true. So be gentle with yourself. Be gentle when you first release. Talk to people you trust. Pray. Lean into the pain. Stay there. And the release will come.
I know you have questions, and they’re much bigger than the whole church-women-feminism-equality issues. I know. Me, too. Still. So I’ll carry you in my heart. Stay as long as you’d like; I’m in no rush.
Hurry wounds a questioning soul. (p. 52)
Sarah’s book is beautiful from beginning to end. I could no more do it justice than even if I pulled quote after quote from each chapter. It is simply a must read, for anyone who is interested in reconciling women as Christ-followers to equality within the church, society, and their homes.
In her closing chapter, her words breathe life with nostalgic, charismatic charm as she charges her reader,
Stop waiting for someone else to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, a place that you are called. …
Stop waiting for someone else to validate your created self; that is done. Stop holding your breath, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, through your quietness, your submission, your home, your children, and your “correct” doctrine that God has already freely given you.
Because, darling, you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your vocation or your marital status. Not because of your labels or your underlined approved-by-the-gatekeepers books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the celebration you’ve mistaken as a job description in Proverbs 31.
Rest in you God-breathed worth.
Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world. (pp. 192-195)
Be still my anxious soul. Oh may it be so.
Oh the irony of ironies, because it was women of the church, who found feminism in the life and words of Jesus, that showed me the freedom I had already been given.
The freedom to be me.
The freedom to know I was loved by God and considered equal in importance, value, dignity, and ability.
The freedom to ask my hard, scary questions.
The freedom to no longer feel guilty for my dreams or feel the need to hide the fact that I had somehow miraculously been found by a husband who believed in them too.
The freedom to be a feminist and a Christian.
For women, what has the church taught you about Feminism and your role as a woman in the home, church, and society?
How do you define Feminism? Where did you first learn about it?