Not too long ago, I was describing part of my thesis project to a colleague after a conversation about the search and call process. “It’s a prayer shawl,” I told him, “with the names and images of the women I consider to be my saints, the cloud of witnesses that surround me.”
“Whoa,” he replied. “You’re going to have to tone down that crazy feminist stuff when you meet with search committees.”
Now, truth be told, I don’t consider myself a “crazy” feminist. I am a feminist, yes, in that I feel that men and women are equal and deserve to be treated as such. Perhaps I am a strong feminist, in that I believe that men are not the “default” humans, with women being an afterthought. I believe influential women should be celebrated in the same way influential men have been for millennia. I also believe that women have the same access to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that men do, and the same ability to share that with a parish community. If that makes me a “crazy feminist,” then I will proudly claim that title.
So, in honor of that, here are my top ten reasons I won’t tone down my “crazy feminism:”
10. Because I grew up going to Sunday school and learning about the men in the Bible, but not the women. The women are there and are important, and I want to be sure that children being raised in the church today know about them. They should not only know Moses, Abraham, Paul, Samuel, Jonah, Peter, and Noah, but Deborah, Miriam, Phoebe, Martha, Hagar, Ruth and Rebekah. Most kids in Sunday school know about David and Goliath, or Daniel in the lion’s den, but do they know about Esther saving her people, or Rachel and the idols? These women are in our sacred texts—shouldn’t our children know about them? Shouldn’t we?
9. Because I want the young women and the young men growing up in the body of Christ to know that they are all equally part of that body—with equal benefit and responsibility. It does a disservice to both genders when the Church says otherwise. Let us look at the Bible, particularly at the first chapter of Acts, where it lists the names of the Apostles who went to the room upstairs in Jerusalem, and says, “all these were constantly gathered in prayer, together with certain women.” It certainly seems to me like women were an important and included part of that very early Church. And like then, today we need all the ministers—in all areas of ministry—that we can get. So why should we discount half the population?
8. Because I don’t believe my “crazy feminist” message is just for young radicals, but for my mother’s and grandmother’s generations as well. When I make sure women’s stories are more often present in Scripture readings, sermons, and Bible studies, I do it not just so the next generation can grow up knowing differently than I did, but also to affirm the older women as well. Maybe they’ll just think, “Well, then, she’s just saying what I knew all along.” But perhaps there will be some who will think, “Wow, I never thought about it things that way before, and it speaks to me.” Hopefully there will be some older men who feel that way too!
7. Because male pastors aren’t expected to suppress their gender identities.
6. Because we are living in a post-women’s movement society, and our churches are steadily declining in membership. What do those things have to do with each other? Many of the people who aren’t coming to church feel like their progressive beliefs—like feminism—don’t fit with Christianity. I want to evangelize that you can be a feminist and a Christian! In order to do that, however, I need to not only be able to tell the feminists in society that I go to church, but tell the church I’m a feminist. Both of those are risky, and I fully acknowledge that. I also believe that being a Christian and following Jesus’ teachings means taking risks.
5. Because too many women before me have struggled too hard for me to stand aside quietly. In 1853, Antoinette Brown became the first woman ordained in the United States, in a Congregational church, one of the root traditions of our own UCC. She couldn’t vote or own property, but the church acknowledged her calling to preach. However, women still make up less than 40% of ordained clergy in our denomination, and in my conversations with female clergy, it is still a struggle to be a woman in this profession. For them, for the women who came before me, and for the women who come after me, I speak my truth.
4. Because when you Google “feminist pastor,” most of what comes up is highly anti-feminist Christian rhetoric. Websites and pastors that claim feminism is evil, of the Devil, and the main problem for all of societies current ills—and I am in no way exaggerating—all fall under the guise of providing the true Christian message. Women who do not stay at home to care for the children and obey their husbands are defying God. They want authority over men, which is just like Lucifer wanting authority over God! I really wish I were making this up, but I’m not. By claiming the term feminist, I am not claiming to be anti-male, or wanting to be somehow “above” men, switching our society from patriarchy (where men have the authority) to matriarchy (where women have the authority). I simply want equality—and not a “separate but equal women and men have complementary God-ordained roles” equality. And here’s one big reason why:
3. Because putting women in a box puts men in a box too. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spoken to male friends who were putting off marriage simply because they didn’t yet have a job that paid well enough to support anyone else. They were taught that men are the providers, and if they couldn’t live into that yet, then they would wait. I think this is where some of the fear comes in about feminism, and that includes in the Christian world. If women are strong, acting as leaders, providing for themselves, not needing to be taken care of, where does that leave the men? In working with others to expand our language for God (more on that in a minute), I often hear that in order to include women, we should name the “feminine” qualities of God—“broods like a mother hen,” nurtures us as a mother, etc. If we keep God the Father as disciplinarian and not nurturing, we are telling men to be the same way. By embracing my feminism and asking that women not be put into a box of being the nurturing ones whose core strength is in how she cares for others, I’m also asking that men be allowed to step out of the box of always having to be strong, un-emotional providers. This should not be an either/or situation for either gender. Men and women can be BOTH strong AND nurturing.
2. Because God is not a boy’s name. This is a sticky one for many people. The Bible uses the term Father for God—Jesus himself calls God Abba, “Daddy.” All the pronouns associated with God in the Bible are male. People may say that using female language is heresy. That being said, I believe it is heresy to claim that our limited human language could possibly every fully describe God. Think about how hard it is to describe the things and people that surround us just using language. Why do you think so many people talk with their hands? Now think about the awesome and immeasurable quality of the Divine. I think it’s a little presumptuous to say that just a few of our words—God, Lord, Father—can describe all that. So in my crazy feminism, I say that yes, we should attempt to expand our concept and language of God, but this is not simply by throwing in some “Mother’s” and “she’s.” We should really expand our language and think of the Triune God as Fire, Flame, and Light. God as the Holy Painter of Sunsets. Christ as Rescuer in Times of Trouble. Holy Spirit as Laughing Wind of the Divine. You get the idea.
And, the number one reason I won’t back down from my crazy feminism:
Because I believe in living authentically. I mean to ask that from my parishioners, and I would hope you would want nothing less from me. If I come in here pretending to be something I’m not, what sort of example am I setting? Not only that, how are we supposed to clearly discern whether I am being called to this community if I am not expressing my true self? Part of that true self is feminist, and I hope I would not have to “tone that down” to live out God’s calling for my life.
Now that I’ve completely terrified most of you, I want to simply state that my saying all this does not mean that I plan on entering any church community and force beliefs or changes on anyone. I’m not going to go through everything and state that you may never again use the word “Father” for God. I’m not going to look down on you if you disagree with me. I will, however, ask that you join me on a journey to deepen our relationships with God, and to wrestle with what it means to be Christians. I will ask that you explore this and other uncomfortable places with me, and maybe open up some doors that have been shut tight. If you can only be comfortable cracking it open and taking a peek before slamming it shut again, that’s ok. If you’re ready to walk out flinging the doors wide open, that’s fine too. And balancing those two perspectives is part of how we live –and love—together in Christian community.
May God bless all of us with discernment on our journeys in Christ.