Defining the Church’s “F” Word

Can we salvage the word? or is it beyond repair?

Navigating our current culture the last couple of weeks has been almost unbearable as a woman who has spent most of her adult life ministering to, studying, observing, and fighting for women. The unbearable part for me has been watching the assault women are launching on each other. The lines have certainly been drawn. There are millions of women hurting, angry, and scared about where our country might be going….and there are millions of women who are thrilled. Verbal grenades are being thrown back and forth, leaving relationship casualties in their path. I have never seen so much carelessness with words – so much lack of concern about who may be hurt – so much assumption that surely everyone must agree with one’s opinion – so much apathy towards those that may disagree. My main concern is really with the church and the seemingly collective desire to demand behavior modification from those who do not yet love Jesus in order to make the world a nicer place to live in for those who do. This, my friends, is not the gospel.

This topic is like an onion with many, many layers that need to be peeled back and examined. But before that is possible, I feel it is imperative to re-define some terms, especially recovering the meaning of the “F” word…and yes, I’m speaking of “feminism.”

I have been pondering this post for about three months. As I’ve pondered, I have began to wonder if  the word “feminism” has been damaged beyond use. Has its original definition been so twisted and distorted that those of us who love Jesus, believe in equality, AND desire to submit wholly to the authority of Jesus need to come up with a new word for the topic? Or is it at all possible that we can recover its meaning and turn the tide of culture that has lumped so many other things into it? I am honestly not sure. But here is my feeble attempt. Again, this topic has many layers. There is not time to discuss them all today. But one thing is for sure, most of the conservative church does not believe that one could be a feminist and a Christian, and most feminists see the church as being against them. It is a hot and hard topic. My motive here is just to provide some terminology and encourage people to really think through what they’ve associated with certain words. It is time to clarify and adjust.

Without chasing too many rabbits here, I want to literally look at some dictionary definitions and help us sort out topics that have historically been lumped together.

Feminism: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” This is the primary definition, according to Merriam-Webster. Whether or not you agree with the definition, let’s just look at the actual definition. Feminism advocates for equality between the sexes – equality politically, economically, and socially. That is what it means. Clear. Simply. Clean.

I can already hear some of you through my computer screen, “Well, that’s not what it has *come* to mean.” or “That’s not what women mean by it.” or “There is way more to it than that.” I know because I’ve heard it over and over again in personal conversations…and I agree. It’s true. It has come to mean so much more than that…because we are lumping lots of issues together and calling it feminism. I’d really like us to stop doing that.  So I offer a few other points that may clarify where I am going with this. (Definitions taken from Merriam-Webster)

Feminism is not the opposite of misogyny. I think most Americans were unfamiliar with the term “misogyny” until our recent election, as our new president was continually (and continues to be) accused of it. Misogyny is “a hatred of women.” The opposite of misogyny is not feminism. It is “misandry.” You know what disturbs me? I had never heard of that word until I recently looked for it. My whole life, I’ve heard that feminists are men-haters. Feminism does not equal hating men. Are there feminists that hate men? Yes. I’m sure of it. But one does not equal the other. A true feminist desires equality, not hatred.

Feminism is not chauvinism. Chauvinism is “an attitude of superiority toward members of the opposite sex; also behavior expressive of such an attitude.” We hear often of male chauvinism, but we don’t talk about female chauvinism. Instead we call it feminism. Are there feminists that believe they are superior to men? Yes. I’m sure of it. But one does not equal the other. A true feminist desires equality, not superiority.

Feminism is not the opposite of patriarchy, nor is it matriarchy. Patriarchy is “a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly- control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.” Matriarchy is similar, but following the woman’s family line. Again, feminism is about equality. I do personally find it interesting that the traditional church tends to function out of a patriarchal system, whereas Judaism claims a matriarchal system. But I will restrain myself from chasing that rabbit at this time. Are there feminists that would prefer a matriarchal system? Yes. I’m sure of it. (In fact, I’ve witnessed a number of traditionally conservative Christian women run their homes in quite a matriarchy fashion,  simply because they are controlling people – yet disdain feminism out of the other side of their mouth, verbally attesting to their biblical role as a woman. So much confusion there, that I don’t even know where to start. But I digress.) One does not equal the other. A true feminist desires equality, not a disproportionately large share of power.

Feminism does not equal pro-choice. Again, it is impossible to settle a pro-life/pro-choice debate in this post. …and honestly I do not want to try. But again I will say, are their feminists that are pro-choice? Yes. Most of them, I’m sure. But one does not equal the other. There are pro-life feminists. I am one of them (and yes, I mean pro-life on all levels- not just the unborn). A true feminist desires equality. Seeing a baby as part of one’s own body whose right to live should only be up to the woman carrying it, is a different issue than feminism – a view the majority of feminists hold, but a different issue nonetheless.

Equality does not feel threatened by roles. Traditionally, Scripture has been taught as defining different roles for men and women in the home and in the church. Though some of those traditional roles and the interpretations of Scripture could possibly be challenged, a woman confident in her equality isn’t threatened by having a different role. A woman confident in her equality doesn’t assume that the role she is offered or assigned is because she is less. God did in fact make men and women different, and we are not all good at the same things. We should be free to thrive in our giftedness and not view it as affecting our equality. Different does not mean unequal.

Feminists is not a type of woman. There is nothing in the definition that defines who can be a feminist, simply that one believes in equal rights for women. Feminism is not tied to a gender. Men and women can be feminists.

Now after sorting out some definitions, I will offer a very limited amount of observation and opinion. In doing so, I feel I must share a bit of background. I am the oldest of five. I have four brothers and no sisters. I was raised by a strong woman and a loving father in a house of boys. I do not have daddy issues. In fact, I consider myself one of the luckiest women in the world in that regard. My dad never treated me like I was less or could be less because I was a girl. In fact, he may have over-indulged me a bit in allowing me to spread my wings and fly, without preparing me that the rest of the world may want to just clip my wings.  I have now been married a little over twenty years and have four sons of my own. I say that to help you see that I am in the unique position of being surrounded by ten very important men in my life, who I would fight tooth and nail for. I have seen how often the world unfairly treats boys, but it never gets noticed because the screaming is for women’s rights. I have watched the school systems pendulum swing to favoring girls and worked hard to find schools that would work with active boys in a way that they wouldn’t hate learning. I have seen how fragile and tender the heart of a man can really be and how easy it is to defeat them with a woman’s claws. I love my men.

I also know what it is like to be a strong woman, grow up in the church, love Jesus fiercely, and feel like that cannot go together. I identify with those that feel God made them one way and then said it was bad (again, another rabbit trail that cannot be addressed here). I have watched Scripture be horribly misinterpreted and poorly defined, to fit personal agendas. I have also watched men come to what I view to be terribly wrong conclusions, with motives as clean as bleached cotton – because their desire truly is to simply be under the authority of God’s Word.

It’s messy.

But it’s important that we don’t give up. I would say that getting it right (or wrong) affects half the body of Christ. But the truth is, the whole body is penalized when we don’t get it right. One half feels it directly. The other half doesn’t realize they’re crippled.

Jesus – the Original Feminist – I know. I’ve struck fear in some of your hearts with that statement. Some of you will write me off as a heretic right here. But let me tell you how I came to this conclusion.

Sarah Bessey and I – Spokane 2016

Years ago, I was sitting at a women’s conference when a mom from Canada read some beautiful poetry she had written and then prayed. Our heads were bowed. Our eyes were closed, when she said something about being a Jesus Feminist. My head popped up. My eyes opened. Big. My thoughts were spinning. “Did she just say what I thought she said? It sounded like…Surely not…Is that allowed? Can she even say that?” I was intrigued. So I found her book online and began a journey. I have felt more comfortable going on this journey in the past year and a half when I had no attachment to a church staff who would most likely not be thrilled with my discoveries. This isn’t a journey I’ve taken lightly. I have read and read and read. I’ve spoken with authors. I’ve visited with theology professors and pastors. I’ve had discussions with family members and friends who see things the way I do, and those who do not. I get a report from google every night about every single thing that has hit the world wide web that day regarding women in the church. I scan each topic and read every relevant article. I have more books on the topic than any pastor I have ever personally met, and I have researched it at a Master’s degree level.

Putting all of that aside, let’s make it all about Jesus for a minute. Jesus valued women.

Jesus valued women politically. In a culture where women were not even allowed to testify in court because they weren’t worth hearing, Jesus appeared to the women after the resurrection. He entrusted them to testify of the gospel.

Jesus valued women economically. As he hung on the cross, Jesus made sure that his mother would be provided for, by putting her in John’s care. He commended the widow publicly for giving all that she had, though it was one simple coin. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume (perhaps worth enough to be her dowry). He didn’t tell her she should save it to get a husband or use the money better. It was hers to give, and he commended her gift.

Jesus valued women socially. Women had never been allowed in the temple schools. They were not taken into the charge of a Rabbi. But Jesus allowed them to sit at his feet and learn. He did not shrink from women who would grab his cloak to be healed or anoint his head with oil or wash his feet with their tears.

I confidently stand with Sarah Bessey in saying, “Jesus made a feminist out of me.”  God created the sexes equally. Jesus worked to change the tide of the broken culture, and Paul affirmed that we were equal at the foot of the cross.

But can we salvage the word? I do not know. I think in some ways it would be nice if we didn’t need it. What if we could just talk about equality? and treat each other as equals? What if women begin to champion men as much as they champion themselves? What if we were so confident in our equality that we didn’t feel the need to fight for ourselves?

What do you think? I’m sure you have an opinion, and I would truly love to hear it and have an opportunity to interact with you.

 

 

I do moderate comments simply because you have no idea (or maybe you do) how many spam comments a blog can get. I mean, do you want to really hear about neckties in the comments? or read seven comments from web developers thinking I need more traffic? I think not. But as long as you abstain from crude and vulgar language (because I personally hate it, and it’s my blog), I will most likely publish your comment and reply. It would also be nice if you could be respectful because believe it or not, not everyone shares your opinion.  That would be my personal hope.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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16 thoughts on “Defining the Church’s “F” Word

  1. I appreciated reading your perspective. I have no attachment to religious views but enjoyed getting some insight. You talked about how “a woman confident in her equality isn’t threatened by having a different role” and I’m struggling with experiencing this feeling myself. I understand the goal, (it’s a really good goal) but I feel a layer of stubborn armor thicken around me every time someone even slightly challenges my life choices or abilities because I don’t fit into the “typical girl” stereotype. These challenges can be as subtle as someone telling me I should be more careful when I come home from rock climbing with a big bruise on my leg and my male friends don’t get the same comment. My feelings of needing to defend myself in my life choices have been both verbal and physical. Friends have described me as “looking like I’m going to beat someone up” by the way I walk – a subconscious behavior used to be taken more seriously. I want to let my guard down, take a deep breath, and feel like everything is okay with the world, but I don’t know how. I’m confident in who I am; I am NOT confident in my equality, but most of my insecurity around the topic stems from the treatment I receive from other women. I love the men in my life intensely and feel much more acceptance of my life path by them. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Kelly, I hear you. I’m not sure how much I can help all of your feelings, because we are all so individual in the ways we have been wounded and nurtured (or not nurtured). We come from different cultures and have different values we feel we need to fit in with. I can say, though, that my statements about being confident in equality are fairly idealistic. Though I believe what I said, I recognize that confidence is rare for most. But when we have it, so very little else bothers us.

      For me, Jesus gives me that confidence. He created us in his image. He considered us equal from the beginning. Belonging to him means being secure, loved, forgiven, valued, worthy, free, and adopted by a perfect father. For me, that means I can walk into circles of mockers knowing that they may not approve of me, but they can’t change who I am. It would be like the daughter of a king walking around the village during the day and maybe being taunted by villagers for her behaviour or looks, but she still goes home to the castle at night. She is still the king’s daughter. Her position and inheritance holds no matter what. Knowing in my heart that God considers me equal allows me to endure things that are sometimes unfair because I know that in the end, I am wholly loved, secure, worthy, free, and made in the image of the creator.

      I’m thankful that you were willing to comment and ask. I’m glad you’re here. Jesus loves you as much as he loves me, and he’d love to give you that kind of confidence and security.

      I don’t know if you listen to podcasts, but you might like this one. Let me know if you listen to it. I’d love to keep talking to you about this. http://northpoint.org/messages/who-needs-god/

  2. “it’s important that we don’t give up. I would say that getting it right (or wrong) affects half the body of Christ. But the truth is, the whole body is penalized when we don’t get it right. One half feels it directly. The other half doesn’t realize they’re crippled.”

    Love this!

    Tell me more about what you mean that you are pro-life and not just relating to the unborn.

    • Heather, there has been much talk lately about how pro-lifers seem to only care about the unborn. Some are saying that is simply “pro-birth.” The thought is, how can you say you are pro-life, but not care about refugees, care for those dying of starvation, support the death penalty, etc. Being truly pro-life values all life.

  3. Oh my goodness. Thank you so much Angela for your insight. I love this and it gave me a lot to think about. I’ve struggled as well identifying as a feminist and a Christian and have had some question the reality of my faith because of my feminist views. So thank you. I agree with this completely and I commend your bravery for researching this, writing it, and publishing it. You’re awesome.

    • Christina, you are so welcome. It is my prayer that young women like you all over the world are not afraid to be exactly who God made them to be, without shame.

  4. I’m really happy you posted this! I learned a lot about the journey of feminism in American history and how the definition has been added to ‘redefined’ through every major movement. It’s a loaded word for sure, and it’s good to be reminded of what is at the root of words and beliefs like feminism. And that there can be pro humanity christian feminists!!!

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