Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Feminist Christian apologia

Look: I’m sick of having my religion controlled by a bunch of sexist, homophobic assholes. I’m sick of having to say “Yes, I’m a Christian, but...” in any conversation with other feminists, and the reverse in conversations with Christians. I don’t want my beliefs presumed based on either of those adjectives.

I’m a Christian because the image of Christ as God fits best with my intuitive understanding of how God works. That’s not particularly academically rigorous, I realize, but it’s far from an uncommon reason for religious choices. I have faith that there is, in fact, a God because I have directly experienced changes in my life that I can only describe as miraculous. I don’t feel the need to subject to the scrutiny of others the fact that I attribute those changes to God, because I don’t understand why anyone else should want to break down the joy I experience as a result. Again, that’s not academically rigorous, but that’s because it’s faith. My understanding of God will always be limited, because I am finite and He is not. But I choose to call myself Christian because my finite mind cannot grasp a benevolent God that does anything other than give every human being an equal opportunity for salvation and grace. I choose to call myself Christian because I believe that Christ’s sacrifice represents that opportunity, and I choose to participate in Christian community because it gives me joy and constant reminders of the presence of God. Beyond that, things get very complicated because living in an imperfect world cannot ever be considered simple.

I have no real interest in talking about heaven and hell, because I don’t really think that much about it and am not living and making decisions in this world as a holding ground or test of my qualifications for some future better place. My faith is not a sedative that prevents me from fearing death. There are plenty of atheists in foxholes, I still fear death as the ultimate unknown and living my faith in a real, fucked up world is more often frustrating and challenging than it is reassuring. I have no idea what gets people their tickets to eternal happiness, and while I do my best to live my life in the way I think God would want me to, I have no idea if I’m listening carefully enough, or if I’m ending up rationalizing selfish choices and reframing them as God's will in order to serve my own desires, or if some combination of specific failures is going to prevent me from getting on the guest list. I also have absolutely no idea what is in anyone else’s head or heart, which, in combination with the unknowability of God’s “naughty” vs. “nice” criteria, means I have no opinion on whether or not anyone else is or should be on the guest list. Even if they do things I won't do for moral reasons. Even if they’re atheists. Even if they’re serial killers. That last one is tough to apply, but it reminds me that I may be radically incorrect about the nature of God on every level. If unrepentant torturous serial killers are getting in, I’ll probably be given the “handbasket” pass, but I gotta do what I gotta do here and now.

I have a strong interest in wresting control of Christianity away from the dominant voices of sex-obsessed power hungry men who need women to be servile and can’t handle the threat that love between members of the same sex presents to their understanding of the “natural” gendered hierarchy that puts them at the top. I base my conceptualization of women and gender roles in Christianity on two fundamental biblical concepts. The first is that Jesus Himself showed many signs of a radical viewpoint on women (including marginalized sex workers and those with the audacity to study and speak on scripture) and their value that went well beyond the oft-cited “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage. The second is that, by my reading, patriarchal Christianity has completely misinterpreted Genesis in construing the subordination of women as God’s original intention and not the consequence of the Fall, or the breaking of the designed relationship between God and His creation. Because of sin, not because it was what He wanted, God tells woman “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Blame for the Fall lies equally in man and woman if Genesis is given careful reading, and if the goal as Christians is to live in a way that brings us closer and closer to the original plan God had in Eden, to truly create His kingdom on Earth, then we must be working to dismantle the consequences of the Fall, one of which is male dominance over women. Being an active feminist is, for me, the logical consequence of seeking to restore God’s creation and the natural extension of the work Jesus was doing in His lifetime.

I use male pronouns to refer to God because it’s convenient, not because I think only “man”, in the limited gendered definition, was created in God’s image. I look extensively at the ways in which imperfect human language, imperfect human interpretation, and the limitations of translation have influenced Christian practice, such that the pre-Fall reference to Eve as a “helper” (or “helpmeet”) to Adam has been taken to enforce subservience even though God refers to Himself in relation to humanity using that same term, and I’m not aware of any Christian who has suggested that God should therefore be subservient to people.

I support the legal equality of women, and I oppose paternalistic policies that suggest women can’t or shouldn’t make their own decisions, the persistent use of violence and threats to silence women, the continued politicization of every choice a woman makes regarding her body and how to clothe it.

I support equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community, including but not limited to employment, marriage, and freedom from the same kinds of oppression on the list relating to women, and I think all Christians should do the same regardless of whether they think the behaviour is sinful.*

I recognize that correcting a system of injustice involves reducing the current power of those who have been historically privileged, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m a straight, white, extremely well educated woman who has benefited extensively from my race and class background, and I do appreciate that it’s a huge challenge not to feel entitled to what I’ve always had because of that. My response to those men, both within and outside of the Christian community, who feel unfairly maligned by feminism and other equal rights movements is therefore generally “Get over it”, though it’s not said entirely without sympathy.

Even though I say at the beginning of this apologia that I’m sick of having to justify my faith, I don’t believe Christians are marginalized in any way in North American society and I’m far more sick of hearing that we are. The requirement that I explain myself has more to do with the oversimplification of words and knee-jerk principles of categorization than does with “oppression” or “discrimination” by any definition of those terms. That concept will at some point be fleshed out in a future post on language with a catchy (?) academic title like “A Rhetorical Manifesto”.

I'm not unique in these beliefs, but if we're going to be having any kind of conversation at all, apparently you're going to need to understand the context of my self-identification in order to have a chance at mutual respect, so here I present my narcissistic apologetics.

*I don’t, personally, but part of my point is that I don’t think my view on what is and is not sin needs to be brought into discussions of politics, rights and discrimination, so I don’t intend to present a biblical justification for that aspect of my belief system. I apologize if that seems contradictory given that I just provided exactly that justification for my feminism.

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