Following Phoebe

Dropping the F-bomb - Feminism and Christianity

Christian. Complementarian. Feminist.

All of these labels are highly loaded words which carry different meaning for different people. For some people, even suggesting that Christianity and feminism could be ideologies which can sit side by side is a ridiculous, scandalous notion. These people might be Christians who see feminism as fundamentally anti-Christian. Alternatively, they might be feminists who see Christianity as fundamentally anti-women.

At the very least, many people I know see the complementarian Christian view as old hat, if not anti-women as well. It is certainly seen as limiting Christian women in a way which they shouldn’t be in the 21st century (see my post ‘On 7 Reasons Men Should Not Be Pastors' for an example of that).

So how could I possibly claim that I can use these three words to describe myself and that these perspectives can fit together in a coherent way? I hope I can explain!

First and foremost – I am a Christian

I believe that I am a broken person, sinful before God, but that through the gift of Jesus, by God’s grace, the punishment I deserve has been paid for by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because of this, my identity is founded in being a woman who is redeemed and loved by my creator. I was created in the image of God. I bear His image, as men also do, and I find equal dignity and value in this fact which the Bible clearly teaches (Genesis 1:26-27). I also find my identity in being a child of God, adopted into His family, which is something I can be confident in through Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).

Within my Christian worldview, as a woman, I understand my God given ‘gender role’ to be a helper to my husband (since I’m married). This is what brings me to the next word, as this view makes me…

A Complementarian

I believe that the way the Bible teaches about men and women, and the way they relate to each other in God’s design is that we have complementary roles. Particularly that we have complementary roles in the home (within a marriage) and in the church (and I'm stressing this as I don't believe the Bible calls all women to submit to all men) and that these roles reflect God’s relationship with His church. This sees men called to reflect Christ as the head in servant leadership, and women called to reflect Christ’s body (the church) in their role as helper.

This view is called complementarianism. Many people see this view as oppressive to Christian women, and I can definitely say that I have not always found it easy to understand the way that the Bible calls women to these roles in the home and in the church. But I do believe that it is what the Bible means when it teaches on gender and, when it’s expressed rightly, it can be a really beautiful picture pointing to God and His relationship with His people.

Having said that, there are some big issues with the way that complementarianism is played out in the church sometimes, and the overemphasis of some aspects has lead to the mistreatment of women and limiting of the way women can serve in the church. I hope to write more about this, but you can read a short critique of complementarianism here, and you can read about ‘a new wave of complementarianism’ here (I really love this blog from Wendy Alsup…can you tell?).

Now I can imagine that this view will in many people’s opinions disqualify me from being the next, and most loaded word…

A Feminist

I want to start talking about feminism by first saying that it is a very broad movement. It fundamentally started as a movement which came out of the Women’s Suffrage Movement but really came into its own in the 20th century, and in a big way from the 1960’s onwards. Now it is an academically accepted theoretical perspective and some would argue it has now gone through four waves of change.

As a result of its history and diversity, there are many types of feminists. You can have radical feminists, intersectional feminists, eco-feminists, motherhood feminists…the list goes on. I thought I’d include a fun picture that popped up in my Facebook feed which show some of the fourth wave feminist types.

And it’s for mostly this reason that I feel that feminism and Christianity can actually be compatible.

Feminism at its core is about women being treated with equal dignity and respect as men, and having the same rights to work and pay amongst other things, which our highly patriarchal society restricted access to for women (I am only really talking about the West here, as I don’t have much knowledge or experience to speak on other cultures!).

Equal value and dignity for women is a big way that feminism and Christianity intersect. As I discussed earlier, the Bible talks about men and women bearing God’s image; all people no matter their sex are of equal value and have equal dignity because of this.

While our society has changed a lot and made life much easier for women in recent history, there are still inequalities, particularly when race and class are included. But on the whole, feminism has changed things for women in a big way, and intersectional feminism (feminism which seeks to include how race, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability etc. intersect with being a woman and the inequalities that produces), especially seeks to give a voice to the voiceless in our society.

This is also a way I see feminism and Christianity intersecting. There is much to be read in the Bible about caring for the oppressed and the poor and this is an area Christians are, and should be, passionate about.

Unfortunately feminism and evangelical Christianity are often seen as being at odds with each other. And it’s true that there are many things that feminism as a wider movement that are at odds with Christian morals and ethics, sex outside of marriage (in all its forms) and abortion are the big ones. But I don’t think this means that there can’t be any parts of feminist thought that can be useful and helpful to the church. I hope I’ll get to write more about this, but as a start you can read this old but good article by Michael Jensen ‘Perhaps feminism is not the enemy’.

Well, I think I’ll stop there. There is so much more that can be said on all three of those words and I think they are important ideas for Christians to be thinking about – so I hope it’s been thought provoking! Let me know what you think!

Laura Haines
Author

Laura Haines

Laura is a Christian, a wife, a daughter. She has a BBehavSci and GradDipCouns. She works as an International Student Worker at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London.