When I started this series on Christianity and feminism many months ago, I told you why I do not consider myself a (secular) feminist. I found secular feminism to be philosophically shallow, and said that I thought Christianity offered a more robust basis for gender equality, but that because equality based in God wasn’t equality on our terms, we may not like the implications.
The catalyst for this series was a Christian Ethics class I took last fall as part of my program at Fuller Theological Seminary, and one of the things I’d learned from my exploration of this issue as part of that class is that my disagreement with my classmates and with the authors we read boiled down to how much authority we assigned to the Bible and (consequently) how we interpreted it.
So, in the first post of this series, I walked you through what the Bible is. I told you how the Bible came to be what it is and how that story, coupled with the high authority I assigned to the Bible, led me to interpret the Bible using a biblical narrative hermeneutic, which is just a fancy way of saying that I interpret the Bible as one cohesive story, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.
We then dove head first into what the biblical story told us about God’s vision for relationships between men and women in marriage, in society, and in the Church. We saw how a broken relationship between men and women (especially in romance) was born of the Fall, and how in marriage, God does not intend to erase this broken relationship, but instead plans to redeem it by calling women to find their identity not in their marriage to a man but in Christ, while calling men to earn the trust of their wives through the same sacrificial love that Christ first showed them.
From there, we looked at God’s vision for how men and women are to relate to each other in society. We looked at several passages in the Bible that speak to this relationship, including the story of Deborah and the proverbial “wife of noble character.” We saw how the notion that a woman’s place is in the home is strictly the product of our broken culture, and finds no basis in the biblical story.
Finally, we saw earlier this week how interpreting the Bible as one cohesive story of rebellion, fall, and redemption through God’s faithfulness gives us good reason to believe that God’s ultimate vision for women in ministry is a more egalitarian one, and that the roles a woman can serve in the Church are perhaps constrained only by her free choice to marry or remain single.
Owning the Label
All of this begs the question, can Christians embrace feminism? Christianity seems to have a lot of overlap with feminism, particularly when it comes to God’s vision for how men and women are to relate to each other in society. As I’ve noted, Christians can and should advocate for the political and economic equality of men and women.
Two weeks ago, I was visiting Fuller’s Pasadena campus for a week of intensive classes. Dr. Erin Dufault-Hunter, one of my beloved professors, described herself as a conservative theologian, a Mennonite, and a feminist. (Go figure that one out.) During a dinner we all had together on our last night on campus, I asked Erin how she reconciled feminism with her Christian faith.
She said that the broken relationship between men and women that emerges from the Fall in Genesis 3:16 required her to be especially alert to the tendency in our world to dominate and control women through various institutions. Here was a woman (much smarter than me) whose faith compelled her to embrace the label of “feminist.”
But the problem I have with calling myself a feminist is the problem I have with labels generally. The moment I choose to identify as a feminist is the moment that what I believe and how I’m perceived is defined not by me, but by Emma Watson, Bell Hooks, and Gloria Steinem, and I don’t want to be defined by those women, but by Christ alone.
This brings me to an even deeper issue. Given everything I’ve articulated over the last several months about the redemptive vision the biblical story gives us for relationships between men and women, why is it not enough for me to simply call myself a Christian? Why must I identify myself as a Christian and a feminist?
And I think it’s because we don’t want to be seen as one of those Christians. I don’t want to be associated with the right-wing fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I don’t want to be associated with the hate-filled rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church, or the sexism of theologians like John Piper. I don’t want to be associated or defined by those Christians, so there is this temptation to latch onto different labels. “I’m a Christian and a Democrat,” some might say, as though being a Christian (without more) somehow meant they were Republican Tea Partiers hellbent on making America great again.
But the problem I have with that, the problem I have with Christianity and something more, is that by attaching some other label to our Christian identity, we are, in a very real way, abandoning the Christian label to the John Pipers, Jerry Falwells, and Pat Robertsons of the world, and I simply cannot believe we are doing the work of Christ by abandoning the label we were first given at Antioch to some of the very people to whom (I believe) Christ would say, “Away from me, you evildoers!”
I refuse to label myself a feminist because I believe the Christian label to be enough, and I will not let the Westboro Baptist Churches and the Liberty Universities of the world own that label. I believe that Christianity has a lot of overlap with secular feminism, but when I choose to identify as both a Christian and a feminist, I am, in a way, denying that reality. I’m saying that the label of Christian, without more, is not enough to define me, and I must reject that very notion on the basis of my faith.
So, no, I am not a feminist. I am a Christian. I believe that God made man and woman both in his image. I believe that the attempts throughout our institutions to control women are the product of our broken relationship with God. I believe that the biblical story demands that women be treated equally in economics and politics. And I will fight for that, not because I follow Emma Watson, or Gloria Steinem, or Bell Hooks, but because I bend the knee to Christ the King, and firmly believe that his Kingdom is breaking into this world in spite of the John Pipers, the Pat Robertsons, and the Jerry Falwells.
I am not a feminist, or a Republican, or a Democrat. I’m not an American, a Utahn, a liberal or a conservative. I’m not a modernist, a communist, a socialist or a capitalist. I’m not an egalitarian, a complementarian, a pescatarian or a vegan. I am a Christian. And that is enough.