Christianity · Faith · Feminism

Aligning beliefs

On the morning of Sunday 22nd of January I took my seat in church, barely able to contain my joy in a simple smile. I could still hear the impassioned words from the Women’s March the day before; could still see the witty and powerful signs in the huge crowds. From my room, in a little village in the south of Germany, I had been transported to Washington and could barely keep the tears from my eyes. Women were rising up, demanding to be heard, and it was incredible.

I had spent the evening googling pussy hats and searching my room for pink wool. I dreamt of customising one of my t-shirts with a slogan that would not be seen on just one (beautiful) day. I chatted excitedly with my mum over skype, as we united in watching the march from different countries and time zones.

So, as I sat in church that morning, my heart was full with pride. We sang the lively songs that I love, and thanked God for his love. My joy was expressed in singing and dancing.

And then, it all came crashing down.

The sermon started normally, though it was a lady preaching this time and not the main pastor. Perhaps she would mention the march? I felt excited. The solidarity with my sisters stretched continents and cultures. I looked around the room, wondering if they had all been watching too.

The lady on stage began to talk about how many bad things there are in the world, and suddenly I heard the words “You may know that there was a Women’s March yesterday” and looked up expectantly. Ready to raise my hand as a proud supporter and watcher. Ready to grin at all around me.

Then she went on:

“…Women’s March yesterday. Those militant women, filled with anger. They want to be better than everybody else. They say they are for everyone, but they aren’t. The say they are for everyone, but they didn’t allow women to march with them, who were fighting for lives… the life of the unborn child. That’s not inclusion! And those pro-life women will be marching next week, but the press won’t care about them. It’s a sad, sad world we live in.”

I’m sure my facial expression would have been comical, had anyone been watching. The smile, so bright, slipped off my face as I looked into this woman’s earnest eyes. Without thought my hands clenched, and I barely restrained myself from shouting out in the middle of the sermon with a disbelieving shake of the head. I couldn’t believe it. The lies! The blatant twisting of the truth! Was nobody else outraged?

As the sermon continued, my anger drained and I had the oddest feeling of vulnerability. Where I had seen friends, allies and sisters on every side, I now felt like I was in the enemy’s nest. In a moment of naivety, I had really thought that the world was a different place. That we could all come together, and fight for a better and more equal world. Realising that I was wrong was crushing. Realising that it might be ‘unchristian’ to be a feminist was crushing. Realising that I might have to pick sides was crushing.

I left feeling upset, but got home feeling purposeful.

There will always be people who will hate us for being feminists. There will always be people who will try and get us to lobby for their issues above our own. There will always be people who spread hate and lies. But, in the words of Michelle Obama: “when they go low, we go high.”

Many people would like to claim that feminism and Christianity are incompatible. It’s just not true.

Feminism is about so many things: empowering women; supporting women; recognising the sexism, violence, abuse, hate, mistreatment, limitations and disadvantages faced by women; and giving women the right to make the best choices for them.

Christianity is about Jesus dying for my sins. It’s about God creating and loving each and every person equally. It’s about him giving us free will.

‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ – Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

The writer of this verse is a guy called Paul, and he’s not trying to say that there are no differences between somebody who is a slave vs. somebody who is free. His point is that God created all humans to be of equal standing, no matter what their situation. That means that God treats men and women the same.

Paul was trying to educate Christians with his letters. The word Christian actually means Jesus-follower, and so if you’re a Christian you’re supposed to act like Jesus did. It was completely counter cultural then, and it remains counter cultural now, to place equal value on all people.

How little is the life of a Syrian refugee worth, in comparison to that of one of Donald’s children?

Feminists see how clearly the lives of women throughout the world are still seen to be simply… less.

Religion is a construct that will always disadvantage women. Cults show that most prevalently, with women almost always being forced into subservience, and used sexually. In many Muslim countries, women have little freedom and their male relatives control what they can do. In western churches, women are the ones expected to give, give, give and yet are often not allowed in leadership. When there is talk of sexual purity, it is always in relation to the woman.

There are many contentious issues where religion would like to take the moral high ground. The topics of abortion and sexual purity are red rags to the white-Christian bull. Religion uses these things to shame women, and only women. My faith does no such thing.

If you read the bible, then you should notice that one of the major themes is free will. It’s actually the whole reason why Jesus came to earth to die, and Jesus is the whole point of the Christian faith.

At the very beginning, God creates the world. Then, he creates Adam and Eve. You probably all know the story: he tells them they can do whatever they want, just not eat from that one tree. They do it anyway, get kicked out of the Garden of Eden and sin comes into the world. Whether you believe this to be what happened, that it’s an analogy, or that it’s a load of rubbish, is not really the point here. The point is that, at the origin, God gave humans free will. This is highlighted here:

‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful. Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up.’ 1 Corinthians 10:23 (ISV)

So, while I believe (for example) that sex is intended for marriage and that this is the way that will cause the least regret, this is a decision that I make for myself. Jesus died on the cross so that I could “have life, and live it to the full.”1 He didn’t die so that we could be subservient to men. He certainly didn’t die so that men could use my God-given sexuality to shame me.

Jesus actually says ‘“If you had known what these words mean ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

He’s talking to the religious leaders, telling them that instead of only caring about their legalistic rules, and making everyone else follow them, they should realise that nobody can ever be perfect. They should treat others with respect and compassion, and worry about their own choices instead of other people’s. None of us make all the right choices, and we have absolutely no right to judge others.

Jesus didn’t judge anybody, and the only time he tried to shame anybody is when he condemned the religious leaders. He preached about the love of God for all people, no matter what. He called for us to get to know God, to live compassionately, and to fight for the oppressed2. I believe that it breaks God’s heart to see how badly women are treated in this world. If he loves each and every one of us equally, and enough to die for us, then it must be so.

So, here I am: a Christian feminist.

I will fight until my last breath against the oppression of women. I will fight for our choices, fight for our freedom, and I will fight the culture of shame threatening to strangle us.

And when somebody comes, and tells me that I can’t be a feminist and a christian, I’ll tell them to pick up a bible.

1 John 10:10 (NIV)
2 Isaiah 1:17 (NIV)

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