I have always been a little suspicious of religion, specifically Christianity/Catholicism. Not that I don’t respect those who follow religion (as long as they don’t use it to hurt others). In fact, I was raised Catholic, attend church occasionally, and live with three women who define themselves by their faith.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, once I finally accepted myself, continuing to follow a religion that essentially prohibits my identity and love, was kind of difficult. Additionally, when I found feminism, I couldn’t really consolidate how male-centric and female-hating Christianity/Catholicism seemed to be.
And that was how I thought about religion for a long time, that it was incompatible with two parts of my identity – Feminism and the LGBTQ+ community. However, that kind of changed my freshman year at JMU. I lived with a random roommate and suitemates that became my best friends, and I live with them to this day and will be the bridesmaid at one of their weddings this summer. All of these roommates are heavily involved in InterVarsity (IV) and/or Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) on campus. As a freshman, they always invited me to their small and large groups and respected that it wasn’t really my thing when I stopped going after my initial attempts to try it out.
When I finally came out to them, they told me that they loved me no matter what and that my sexuality didn’t affect our friendship. And they have always been open with me to have a conversation about their faith.
And while I still wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly religious, I do feel that I am more open to the concept of feminist theology.
Feminist Theology is the movement to “reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women’s place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion’s sacred texts and matriarchal religion.”
I think that this practice is actually really important to the feminist cause, as such a significant portion of the world practices some form of religion. However, it is actually pretty difficult to find feminist’s perspectives on feminist theology, and I wanted to get a perspective that was a little closer to a normal woman’s idea of how one can be both religious and female empowering.
So, I spoke to my roommate, Sarah-Katherine, who’s goal for the future is to be a missionary, and will be taking part in World Race this year after graduating.
Sarah-Katherine would characterize herself as a feminist, though she admits that she disagrees with some ‘traditional feminist’ viewpoints because of her faith. She also does not identify as ‘religious,’ because she does not like how the institution of religion has historically been used to persecute, rather than love.
I asked her about how she understands her own place in Christianity, while also identifying as a feminist, considering some of the more conservative views of a woman’s place in the world from the Church. She described how, in the Bible, man and women were both created in the image of God and different tasks were assigned to them. Men were assigned the role of headship and woman assigned the role of helper.
Now, just hearing that, made me a little apprehensive – why is a woman designed to be a ‘helper?’ That doesn’t seem to be very feminist. But, Sarah-Katherine explains how a helper is a person who helps someone who is too weak to do their job, and how God has been described as a ‘helper’ in the Bible, so it is not a lesser role. She says that, while men are called to headship (in Genesis 1-3, men are called to work and keep the garden and keep world order), that does not mean that women can’t be there, that they cannot also participate in those ways in the church.
Sarah-Katherine also tells me about submission, and how some more conservative interpretations of the Bible have used God’s call for submission to subjugate women. She says that Jesus was submissive to God, that both men and women were called to submission to God and that she believes that using this call to submission, to put women in a lower place than men, is not its intended purpose.
She also acknowledges that what is most often preached nowadays, the New Testament, does not have as many women present in it. The New Testament has letters that reference and praise women, however there is not the element of women’s stories like there is in the Old Testament. She identified for me some of the women in the Bible whose stories she loved the most, and from the way Sarah-Katherine described them, they sounded like feminists to me.
Ruth – Ruth is a provider, after her husband dies, and shows a lot of courage
Esther – Esther is a queen who saves the Israelites
Deborah – Deborah leads the Israelite army and is one of the Judges over Israel
Sarah-Katherine says that, until she started reading through the Bible and searching for women’s stories, she didn’t know about these women whose stories she loves.
In conclusion, I have learned a lot having been friends with women like Sarah-Katherine, who are willing to talk to me about their faith in an open way and also listen to my own hesitancies. Neither I, nor Sarah-Katherine, had heard of feminist theology before I started writing this post, but I think that it is an important part of feminism, as there are many women who may feel alienated by feminism because of their faith or vice versa.
While I don’t intend this post to criticize those of us who have removed themselves from the Church, I hope that readers who may be struggling with either their feminism or their faith can see that there is a way for you to identify as both. And while I don’t see myself changing my whole identity after this blog post, I feel that I am more open to learning about the Bible and how it is supposed to be interpreted in terms of women.