Welcome to the place where feminism and Christian thought can meet up, dance a little, fight a little, and ultimately hug it out for the betterment of women’s hearts, minds and lives. It is a space of respect for women of all backgrounds, along every point on the Christian journey (even if you’ve totally detoured!). Here, we can freely consider various spiritual responses and practical solutions to everything from surmountable daily challenges to the endless systemic oppression women still face daily in American society. It’s a place to feel encouraged in examining the health of your deeply instilled beliefs, in thinking through and making sense of your personal experiences, and in figuring out how to get what you need to cultivate a nourishing spirituality that jives with your reality. So, if you are all too familiar with a nagging cognitive dissonance between WWJD? and WTF!?!, come on in, friend.
I’ve made quite a long journey myself from a fundamentalist, conservative upbringing in the Bible belt to… well, for me, a much more multifaceted and productive relationship with faith that I consider “progressive Christianity”. In seminary I began the process of articulating my passionate feminism and applying it like salve to my experiences with painful religious assumptions and practices regarding women, as well as my wounds from the secular world. Experientially, this application made quite a lot of sense. Intellectually, in my feminist space, it became impossible to find a spot for Jesus or any of those smug male disciples and “saints” to sit comfortably. The Bible could not even approach that space without threat of pages being shredded. And pastorally, in my faith space, it opened more dangerous, tradition-based gaps and put me at a loss for terminology and materials for things like devotionals or Bible studies.
Not too long ago I found myself in challenging times, trying to put a bad decision and terrible experience behind me, and subsequently found myself sitting on the floor of the “Christian” section at Barnes & Noble, searching for sustenance to bring me back to what really mattered in life. I was unable to find new, appropriate wisdom in any of the books I would normally look to for comfort and guidance. I read summaries of Christian advice for women who wanted to be pious, chaste, lady-like and perfectly prayerful. There were whole books dedicated to becoming a clone of that staid, spindle-working answer to the harem-enhanced King Lemuel’s imploring, “a godly woman, who can find?” in Proverbs 31. (She would give Anne-Marie Slaughter an exhausting argument that while women aren’t in any standing to remotely imagine “having it all”, they are indeed expected to manage, bear, and produce “it all” on a slim wick that never extinguishes, so their husbands will be fulfilled and wealthy.) But suffice it to say, I couldn’t find a Christian women’s book that honestly addressed my complex modern reality, much less offered all the tools I desperately needed, in one place. So what now?
A question asked for decades has been whether women can be “good and faithful Christians” and also join a movement that (thankfully!) questions every belief system and (hallelujah!) calls out the patriarchal, hierarchical, institutional mistreatment of women by religions, governments, universities, corporations, media, etc. Because of all the amazing, gut-wrenching work done by the ferociously brave, intelligent women who have birthed and raised feminism, we now have the luxury of coming at the question from another perspective: Can a robust, Christian spiritual life actually help equip women to tackle issues of sexism and gender bias? I’ll be honest, I don’t know the answer.
But that’s what makes a call to Femmevangelicalism so important, and so exciting. It is a thesis asserting that if women are ever to achieve full human dignity, equality and opportunity, then diverse women across cultures, religions and traditions must come together with all of our best practices, most potent beliefs, and most powerful allies. We have to bring what we know, with all of the good intentions, bad consequences and sheer ambivalence and sift through it all, test it in the fire, then put the refined elements to proper use toward female freedom and flourishing in all arenas.
When it comes to Christianity – no matter the denomination or heritage – the one common, central tenet is the “Gospel,” proclaiming the divine Christ who came to earth as human to “die for our sins.” This is the “evangel” that brought about the term “evangelical,” or one who shares and spreads the Gospel. It comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news.” The good news as actually proclaimed by Jesus in the New Testament was a declaration that God had heard the cries of the oppressed and had come for the sake of humanity. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mk. 1:14-15).
Consider that in the actual parables of Jesus, “sin” usually referred to a chasm created between God and “man” when the powerful took advantage of the weak or underprivileged (which is why so many in the crowds – even the disciples – couldn’t understand his parables; they were listening in the idealistic, perfection-obsessed Greco-Roman cultural context of simplistic good vs. evil; they were not listening for a critical analysis and condemnation of the abusive social and political structures of the Roman government in the Mediterranean diaspora). Consider also that the term “repent” is likewise often misunderstood. The Greek metanoia implies a change of perception after experiencing a life-altering event. To repent is the act of changing one’s mind to accept a new reality. It really has nothing to do with guilt, finger pointing, confession, suppression or oppression. Jesus’ parables pointed to a new reality where the last became first, the hungry were fed, the mistreated were lifted up, the humiliated were given dignity, the naive and guileless would lead. All good things for women, then and now.
So, I suggest that the term “evangelical” has been unceremoniously and erroneously usurped to exclusively name a judgmental, rigid, restrictive, patriarchal approach to Christian living that generally does not serve women well. And I want to take it back again, back to its roots. If being evangelical means I can spread the good news to women and other minorities that God hears the suffering of the disenfranchised, and has come for us so that the relationship between the powerful and the powerless can be corrected, and therefore can restore our expectations for a life-changing discovery that we are unconditionally loved, and establish the reality that we live in a world of abundance – not scarcity! – where all can have our needs met without resorting to trickery, exploitation, withholding of rights, unequal and malicious treatment… hey, I am in! That is an evangelicalism I can assert wholeheartedly. I am going Femmevangelical, bringing good news of our God-given equal standing to women everywhere, and I am out to convert the world. I hope you’ll join me.
This week’s prayer: God, allow me to look into my old faith and find a new truth.