I’m not sure where I read it, or who first said it. I’m sure of a few of the details, one being that it was a man behind the sentiment. The exact wording escapes me, but I can recall the message: “Feminism is an idol if you place it before your Christian walk.”
The idea was being shared and liked and faved on all my social media channels, this idea that feminism could be turned into a sin, a stumbling block on one’s road toward faith and Christendom. The blog posts sprung up, enumerating all the ways one could be seen to have feminism on a pedestal before Christianity. You had to rank it, you see, and if you ranked your ideas about rectifying social inequality over your love and obedience to Christ, you were in the wrong. Somehow, a false equivalency had been created. We were being told it was possible that we could boil it down, find a final line, reach a demarcation on a map of our insides that said “this is where my feminism ends and my Christianity takes over.” The gauntlet was laid. Decide, declare, be found in the black or the white, as if humans were not more complex and multi-hued than that.
At the time, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was probably in the grey, unsure of where my loyalties were supposed to lie. I mean, I knew I loved God, and I knew I wanted to honor that in my life. But I also knew that my discovery of feminism was what enabled me to find the resolve to leave an abusive home and strike out on a life free of violence and nightmares. Feminism was my guiding light and beacon. Feminism told me I was worth being treated well and kindly, that I did not need to submit to torture and mental torment from someone else, that being male and in power was not a god-given right or role, and that I was allowed to reject those teachings and embrace a healthy life for myself. I held on to those ideals in the dark, when I was at my lowest, to remind me that I was doing the right thing in leaving abuse and not going back.
Funny, that I would describe feminism in this way, in terms that are usually reserved for encouraging those in the Christian walk. Perhaps this meant that I was, indeed, one of those sinful number who placed their feminism on a pedestal before God. But if being feminist made me a sinner, it kept me out of the fire, and I wasn’t going back there for anything.
In a way, I suppose I’m grateful to the person who originated the idea, and to those who spread it around the evangelical internet. They presented me with an opportunity to hone my answer to this question of which ranks above the other, and believe me, it’s popped up.
The answer is, in short, that they inform each other. The relationship between my feminism and my faith is symbiotic and interchangeable, one feeding the other with questions and ideas, the other responding with theories and practices. But really, I don’t believe they can be weighed. As I said earlier, it’s a false equivalency that reduces me to an impossible binary. I don’t have to be a “Christian feminist” anymore than I have to call myself a feminist who happens to be a Christian.
The funny thing is, feminism is what saved my faith. I came so close to walking away from church, from the body, from Christ and belief and worship. I wanted to throw it all out and never think of it again. My parents were pastors in a fundamentalist environment, and as if that isn’t enough to turn one off of the faith, they were also the creators of the abusive home I chose to leave. It felt, to me, that it would’ve been much easier for me to get rid of the theology and ideals I’d been brought up with if I’d just left faith altogether. Baby, meet bathwater.
Wrestling with myself was much harder, and it’s a process that happens continually. Feminism was not a miracle, not a chrysalis that I emerged from fully-formed, but neither is faith. Finding myself as a feminist has been messy and offensive at times, and finding myself in faith has been even more so. Letting go of my need to figure it all out rightnowthissecond has freed me in both my faith and my feminism. Disregarding societal mandates to appear perfectly composed has done so as well. The fear of being regarded as unseemly haunts me whenever I talk about my relationship with God, but feminism helps me tamp that down and be loud and unlikable and wholly, utterly myself.
If I hadn’t discovered feminism, I might not have left an oppressive life. But say I had done that anyway – if I hadn’t evolved into a feminist, I know for certain I would not have retained any faith whatsoever. I would’ve rejected the patriarchal-infused rhetoric of my upbringing and replaced it with nothing at all. Feminism illuminated a faith that was healing, possible, whole. It showed me that faith in God didn’t need to be fearful and angry, that God did not actually dictate my existence to be controlled by men. I forgave the god I grew up under for being so hateful, and unearthed a bigger God than I ever could have dreamed of, one whose love encompassed all. I never would’ve done the hard, dirty work that it took to get there had I not been exposed to the work of Christian feminists who told me it was possible.
Now, when I am asked which is more important to me, faith or feminism, Christianity or intersectional justice, God or Gloria Steinem (really), I hope I will just smile. “Neither,” I will say, and to those confused by my reaction, I give this as an explanation, an anthem, a declaration that I will not be boxed in or dissected for motive. I can possess a faith and a feminism that do not battle for supremacy, but rather hold each other pointed towards the light. I am a feminist, a woman, a person of faith, and as I like to say, I contain multitudes.
Becca Rose has her degree in creative writing and has high hopes for her student loan debt. She writes about feminism, her struggles with faith, boys, and how not to look so awkward during social functions atbookwormbeauty.com and tweets too much @bookbeaut.