You may remember that this fall the OSFGroup was reading about and discussing six women in Jesus’ family tree. Near the beginning of that study, my friend Jeff said he had a confession to make. (He also said I could tell you about this conversation.)
“When I first read about your plans to do this study,” said Jeff, “my attitude was quite condescending, something like, ‘Oh, Jenn is catching up with feminism! How cute!'” He then proceeded to comment on how I was asking questions in the study he had never even thought of asking and how much he appreciated the challenging thought going on in there.
“Aww—that’s really nice of you to say! And kind of hilarious,” I said. “I don’t really want to catch up with feminism, though. I just want all God’s children to have the freedom to fulfill the creation commission in the way God has specifically created them to do—regardless of gender. And I want, as much as possible (because it’s pretty impossible to be objective and devoid of human interpretation—especially one’s own), to free the biblical text to say into our lives what it’s really trying to say.”
“Perhaps this is not true of you,” Jeff said after that. “But it is fascinating to me the number of people who were raised in the church that really resist calling themselves feminists.”
I guess my reasons for not applying the term “feminist” to myself are two-fold. 1. I’m not totally sure it applies to me. I might be able to bring myself to say I am feminist, but I don’t think I could call myself a feminist. I don’t actually think I want to call myself one, either (maybe that’s my church baggage, but I think it has more to do with things I see that don’t strike me as ultimately that helpful), but mostly I feel like I would make a really bad one. This one time someone asked a question in an online group I’m in for egalitarians, and someone else started talking about different “waves” of feminism, and I was just like–I have no clue about the history of feminism. I don’t actually care. I don’t know in which wave I could most comfortably surf. I don’t know the rules for this club–and it feels like they keep changing. Maybe people who are sympathetic to but outside Christianity looking in, feel this way, too. Regardless, I kind of feel like, “I could never be part of that group. I’d make a really bad feminist. I wouldn’t get it right and they’d be judging me all the time, if they didn’t outright kick me out.
So yeah, maybe one day I could see my way to calling myself a feminist Christian or even (gasp!) a feminist Evangelical (that would be provocative!), but I just have no desire to call myself a feminist. And that has to do with the above and also with my second reason:
2) It’s not my starting point. I know there are very, very different views of the Bible, but I really genuinely believe that it’s basically Jesus-in-writing. I do believe that God is not fully knowable, but I believe He is to a remarkable extent knowable and wants to be known by us, partly because of the very passages we read in our OSFGroup during that study, and partly because we have this book and this Person. I believe the reason the Bible is so easy to get wrong is because God isn’t fully knowable and that while we may be like Him (made in His image) He’s not like us (if that makes any sense), but I believe Jesus and the Bible are fully consistent with each other and that over time the Holy Spirit illuminates to us (if we’re looking for it and paying attention and maybe even asking and stuff) how they are consistent with each other–and through that more and more what God is like and what His heart is.
I started from a more “complementarian” and rigid place than I was even brought up in, and I had no desire to even consider feminism. I didn’t come to whatever feminism I have because I thought, “Women have been oppressed around the world and for millennia and that hurts me, and so let me find some passages in the Bible that show God’s (or Jesus’) regard for women.” I came to it because I was sitting in my bed one night in 2006 and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit (I assume) basically told me to stop hiding behind three biblical passages that I don’t understand, and to start building my theology of women (myself included) around the whole rest of the testimony of Scripture where, even when the male characters don’t honor the women, the text actually does. (That’s basically what the last OSF Bible study was about.)
So I guess–this probably sounds heartless because it sounds like I’m valuing an inanimate object (no less, an inanimate object which has been used to oppress women and many other people groups) over even people of my own gender. But my passion is really the Book/Jesus–and I do think gradually the Holy Spirit is showing me how they are consistent with each other and in so doing, the heart of God–which in turn makes me really passionate about (as God allows it) helping other people experience that, too.
“Thanks for sharing all that,” said Jeff when I finally shut up. “I found it really enlightening. I don’t have anything really to say in response. Except for that would make a pretty compelling blog post.”
I dunno about that, but it at least made a blogpost. For another version of this same story, written much closer to my moment of epiphany, you can visit my very first ever blog and see what I was saying about it, “fresh.”
For the record, the other day Jeff told me he still thinks I’m a feminist. I guess he can think that if he wants.