I am on a journey. It is a journey of faith, it is a journey of feminism, it is a journey into the Kingdom of God. Like every journey, it is both a walk away from something, and a walk toward something. It bears the tension between the now and the not yet.
Ten months ago I wrote a blog post declaring myself a Jesus Feminist. It was inspired by the work of Sarah Bessey, which gave me a theological basis for a feminism and a Christian faith that co-exist and inform one another. Today I remain deeply grateful for Sarah’s work; that little yellow book of hers stands as a beacon in my faith journey. Truth be told, my choice to identify myself as a Christian feminist was something of a second conversion for me – much more decisive, informed, and transforming than my choice to become a Christian as a young girl who was born and raised in a Baptist church. The intersection of faith and feminism is where I’ve found tangible justice at work. It acknowledges inherent privileges and systemic oppressions, and the goal is to work toward change, not just for myself but for the world around me.
So I invite you to think of this post, my contribution to the #FaithFeminisms series, as a Part II of that Jesus Feminist post I wrote 10 months ago. Because here’s the thing: declaring myself a Jesus Feminist was only the first step in my journey toward justice in the Kingdom of God.
It began there, but it will not end there; my feminism becomes my own as I learn to bear its fruit, educating myself, intentionally de-centering my experience as a white, straight, American, Christian woman.
If becoming a Christian Feminist was a rebirth in my faith, then I’m a baby feminist right now. I need the voices of diverse and learned people to teach me how to be an active participant in the work of justice and liberation for everyone. And therein lies my struggle:
My temptation is to let my Christian Feminism mirror the white evangelicalism in which I was raised.
Old habits die hard; listening to the voices of other feminists opens my eyes to the pitfalls of my privileged background, the ones that tempt me to do any and all of the following :
- to shy away from naming the powers and principalities at work, and ignore the systemic sins that perpetuate the oppression of God’s image-bearers.
- to think myself clean of these systemic oppressions – racism, sexism, ableism, classism – simply because they are covert and easily disguised within my own communities.
- to think myself a safe person and ally, when my behavior has not earned the trust of marginalized people.
- to think that labeling my feminism with the words “Jesus” or “Christian” absolves me of participating in what feminism actually is, educating myself on its central principles and its history.
The insularity and homogeneity that white evangelicalism instilled in me threatens the authenticity of my Christian feminism.
By listening to diverse voices and accepting the lived experiences of others, they help me name the darkness.
Scripture warns us that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. We are fighting against the systemic sins from which we have benefited and in which we have been complicit. Patriarchy is the power and principality that we fight against, and it is responsible not only for the oppression of women but of all people:
“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 … Our feminisms must actively combat insularity and privilege in order to truly bear the fruits of justice, wholeness, and peace.”
This must be the very central crux of which my faith and my feminism stem: it isn’t just about me.
Feminism only works when we are co-laboring for the justice and liberation of all God’s people. We can only break free of white, straight evangelicalism when we make the choice to respect, include, and center the voices of all God’s image-bearers: people of color and lgbtq people, people with disabilities, and the economically diverse. I know that I can only do this when I am willing to let go of my privilege.
My feminism must cost me something if it’s going to be real.
It’s not enough for me to call myself a Christian Feminist and acknowledge patriarchy as A Thing That Exists. God is calling me to notice its symptoms in my sphere of influence – crass, sexist jokes; the dismissal of minority voices and experiences; the misappropriation of language and ideas for our own benefit.
Part of centering the experiences of others is making it safe for people to share their experiences. I have to be willing to root out the symptoms of patriarchy wherever I witness it, even among my own people, even in the communities I have deemed “safe,” even in my very own self.
Months ago I read an interview with Peggy McIntosh, the feminist scholar credited with coining the term “privilege” in the 1980s. When McIntosh began gathering the research for her paper “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,” she says she began with a simple yet incredibly powerful question:
“I asked myself, On a daily basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn? It was like a prayer.”
McIntosh’s words are my daily prayer as I walk this path: God, show me what I have that I didn’t earn. God, show me the injustices and oppressions. Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to understand, and a will to participate in Your justice.
If I could add any questions to that prayer, they would be:
- What voices inform my faith and my feminism? are they racially, sexually, economically, ably diverse?
- Am I working to make my spheres of influence – my work, my church, my family, my online communities – more just?
- Am I willing to speak out in my own spheres of influence when I see micro or macro-aggressions being waged against the marginalized, even if speaking up costs me something?
Here is the bottom line, for me as a Christian feminist:
They will know we are Christians by our love.
They will know we are feminists by our pursuit of justice.
They will know we are Christian feminists by the fruit we bear in our work and our witness.
Our love is defined by our pursuit of justice, by our willingness to listen and be challenged by diverse voices, and by our ability to speak up even when it might cost us our privilege.
My identity as a Christian Feminist lights the path for me to keep walking out of the systemic and interpersonal oppression that has imprisoned me and others. Here I own my role as a daughter of the Divine and sister to my fellow image-bearers. I am (slowly but surely) walking toward the Kingdom of God, guided by so many wise voices who have ushered me in to this new way of understanding the world.
Bethany Suckrow is a writer at www.bethanysuckrow.com, where she shares both prose and poetry on faith, feminism, grief and grace. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about losing her mother to cancer. She and her musician-husband, Matt, are Nashville’s newest residents, having moved there from Chicago this July.