For months on end I have battled to articulate myself when it comes to issues concerning my faith and my feminism – two things that I am unapologetic about. For someone as verbose as I am, being constantly stumped when it comes to this topic shows how complex Christian feminism is.
In many circles, I have seen people treat me differently and not take me serious after they find out that I am Christian – the type of Christian that is at church twice a Sunday and does daily Bible devotions. There is a belief that one cannot be “conscious” and Christian and I find myself caught in between a tug of war between two worlds that I truly deeply value.
Reconciling Christianity and feminism (more especially black feminism) is hard, almost impossible, because Christianity is often the vehicle used to perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy.
People tend to focus on the patriarchy in the church – like patriarchy does not exist in all facets of society. However, I don’t see people asking women to quit their jobs because of the patriarchy in the working environment.
But the question still remains: Why do I stay?
Faithfully Feminist is a collection of essays from women who identify as feminist and also continue to practice their religion – be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Each essayist narrates the journey of reconciling her faith and feminism.
“The traditions themselves are not oppressive. It’s the interpretations that are,” said Gina Messina-Dysert, one of the book’s editors.
I agree with Messina-Dysert; many times when I read the Bible for myself I leave empowered and encouraged, but it is these same scriptures that have been used to justify sexism, racism and homophobia.
I am aware that many injustices have been perpetuated in the name of the Christian God – this was the very basis of colonialism. It makes me angry, sad and confused that this God that I revere, love and obey was used to enslave and hate my ancestors. Mariam Williams, a womanist writer and Christian, believes that we should not run away from this truth."This inconsistency between black identity and Christianity's role in the oppression of black people is something I think all black Christians who take the time to seriously think about their religion and why they are devoted to it must confront," she writes.
Christianity offers me a much needed place of assurance that I have not found in any other religion or atheism, even though I have tried. I am willing to self-contradict to ensure my spiritual and emotional wellness, but this does not ansolve me from questioning myself on these choices. To act as if these self-contradictions are reserved for those of us that stay within religious institutions would be a lie. These clashes exist within all spheres of life and this shows that decolonising is an ongoing work.
In many situations I feel like I am too feminist for my faith and too faithful for my feminism. It is a difficult path to follow, but I do not see my world existing without either so I have no choice and that is why I have chosen to make it work. So, I started applying my politics to the Bible and I discovered that Jesus, the cornerstone and foundation of Christianity, is a feminist.
It is important that we are mindful of the time and cultural context in which Jesus was alive – a time where women were not even allowed to sit at the feet of a Rabbi for teachings. And that is why some of the things the Bible stipulates about women are oppressive. However, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while he taught as written in Luke 10:38-42. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus challenges the patriarchy of his culture by having women at the forefront of his ministry. It is through women like Mary Magdalene, which he called out his own disciplines for slut shaming her, that his led his ministry.
My first encounter with a feminist within a church was a man. He impregnated his partner out of wedlock and according to that church’s rules, the woman must be excommunicated to reflect on the sin of pre-marital sex. He objected to this and said that if his partner must be excommunicated then he also should be – because the sin was committed by the both of them. If that is not an act of feminism I don’t know what is.
It would be naïve for me to ignore the fact that women have been oppressed and abused because of religion – even my own. This is one of the reasons I stay, I believe in actively working towards dismantling the patriarchy within the church as much as I work to dismantling it outside of the church. I do not see this happening if I, and many other women who share my views, opt out of our faith. Patriarchy must fall in all spaces – including the church, but it will not if all women who see it as problematic leave the church.
I often feel marginalised by both my faith and feminism. I have been particularly defensive of my faith to feminists because that is easier than having to object to my beliefs, but I am learning to embrace the discomfort both worlds has to offer. I am also learning that my faith and feminism do not have to look like someone else’s in order to be acceptable. In her book, Sister Outsider: Essays and speeches, Audre Lorde writes,
“Unity does not require that we be identical to each other. Order to be acceptable it must be capable of being homogenous to the larger structure, however this is the very basis of racism, homophobia and all the things we as intersectional feminist strive for.”
So, I choose to stay because my personal relationship with God is a real one. I stay because it is my faith that fuels my views on gender equality and justice. It is in the midst of this tug of war that I have loved Jesus more – and because of that, I am a feminist.