“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.
And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another.”
― Judith Butler, Undoing Gender
Growing up, many of us were taught that the f-word was a dirty word.
In some Christian communities, feminism is analogous to communism, hippie “make-love-not-war” movements, or Mother Earth theologies. It may be seen as dangerous and incompatible with the Bible’s teachings: a threat to the social order and community life of the church. Even in those communities that are deeply rooted in justice and Scripture both, we still bear witness to inequalities and hierarchies related to gender, sexuality, race, ability, class, and more. Sadly, differences within the Body of Christ are often more apt to be viewed with suspicion and even derision than celebration, even by Christians desiring to be inclusive and affirming of all gifts and callings.
Gender equality is far more than an issue of income, “right” theology, or even representation. Glaring disparities remain between the numbers of women and men in ordained ministry and positions of influence everywhere. Anecdotally and statistically, women experience violence, exploitation, belittling, silencing, and de-legitimizing because of gender at church, work, home, in the media, in public, private, and online. We recognize that we don’t bear these wounds equally: women of color, queer women, abuse survivors, and others experience marginalization on multiple axes beyond gender. Realizing this, we cannot work for gender equality without also fighting white supremacy. The so-called “mommy wars” are meaningless to women who work for the survival of their families (and those who are not parents at all). Any serious work to end violence against women must include transgender women, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Our feminisms must actively combat insularity and privilege in order to truly bear the fruits of justice, wholeness, and peace.
In many respects we have come a long way. Many have joined the work of feminists to address the authentic liberation of all women. Through work and witness in every sphere – pulpits, blogs, and boardrooms, carpools and classrooms, factories, fields, and front lines – we are working to empower women to live into the fullness of our gifts and selves, for the glory of God and the flourishing of our communities. “This commitment is not abstract – it is grounded in political movements that actively seek change. The goal of liberating women has two aspects – identifying various forms of oppression that structure women’s lives, and imagining and seeking to create an alternative future without oppression.”*
But insidious and subtle inequalities remain, invisible to the distracted and those preferring (and perhaps benefiting from) the way things are now over “all things made new.” Macro and micro-aggressions persist alongside glass ceilings, gaslighting, rape culture, objectification, stereotypes, snubs, and demeaning jokes. These have no place among those who follow Christ or desire gender parity, yet we bear their wounds, inflicted even by those desiring to raise the banner of solidarity with us.
A Calling Out
In an effort to broaden conversations about diverse feminisms’ dialogue with theology and faith, we are responding to God’s call to be called out, that is, ekklesia -the Church, the Body, and those gathered together who are literally the “called out” ones. In response to God’s Spirit we are calling ourselves out, we are putting a call out, and we are calling the Church deeper into resurrecting faith.
This week women writers, pastors, pilgrims, and leaders will explore topics such as the issue of labels and calling oneself feminist and Christian; the added layers of race and culture that complicate feminist identity; internalized patriarchy; respectability politics; modesty and purity culture; equality versus liberation; what it means to ally oneself with a justice movement as a person of privilege; and the direction we go from here.
Additionally, mini podcasts at Thirty Seconds or Less will accompany conversations in this space and on twitter, and we invite feminists of all faiths to reflect with us on the interplay between feminist praxis and religious faith in a synchroblog occurring now through Friday, July 25th:
How does feminist thought or theory shape your faith expression? How has your theology stirred you to work for liberation? What tensions do you experience, and how do you navigate them? How are you complicit in oppression within and outside the church? How have you failed as a feminist, and what are you learning? What challenges does the future hold for our daughters and sons who will carry on this work? Does fighting for justice make way for peace? What does healthy conflict entail? How are privilege and power wielded for good and ill? How can we honor a multiplicity of voices without perpetuating further marginalization? How can ministries seek liberation and shalom? What does a robust, intersectional, liberative feminist theology look like in practice? What is the relationship of contemplation to activism? Who teaches and inspires you? What brings you hope? How do we grow as a movement for justice and as communities and people of faith?
Throughout the week, add your link to an essay, poem, sermon, rant, meditation, podcast, video, prayer, or anything else you dream up pertaining to these themes. Be sure to visit links, meet new-to-you feminist writers, and respond to others’ offerings. More light, more heat. There is so much more room.
As always, we are grateful for all the women – Church foremothers and preachers, activists, mystics, artists, sisters, sages, and the Divine Mother God – who breathe into us life and love, strength, conviction, and courage, stirring us to speak and setting our feet toward shalom. We are spurred on by Jesus the Liberator and the Spirit of wisdom, freedom, and truth.
Wary of those “who call evil good and good evil,” we commit ourselves to truth-telling, solidarity with the hurting and marginalized, and resurrecting works of justice and shalom. We seek to acknowledge the gap between our value systems and our actions and actual relationships, recognizing that this chasm indicates communal brokenness, persistent inequalities, and human fallibility. We desire to create more room for vulnerability, honesty, growth, and a willingness to be undone by each other – our assumptions and long-held notions, our ideologies and blind spots, and the ways we speak, work, and name God. None of us holds a monopoly on faith or feminism, and we are thankful for the reminder that even as we are undone by each other, in ways both good and difficult, the Spirit calls and knits us together yet again.
*This specific quote and some of these themes come from the first chapter in Serene Jones’ Feminist Theory and Christian Theology.