I converted to Catholicism as a feminist. Some people were pretty shocked. It’s one thing to be raised within Catholicism, become a feminist, and then wrestle with how both can exist together. It’s a whole other thing to willfully convert to Catholicism as an adult and feminist woman.
I’ll be honest. It was a huge sticking point for me when I was considering conversion. That’s part of why it took me so many years to follow through.
Let me preface the rest of this post with a disclaimer: I do not want to be a priest. I don’t want any form of official authority. As an individual person—and not as a representative of all women—I’m most effective working outside formal channels. I realize it’s tempting to dismiss me as a power-hungry progressive woman. So, sure. Go ahead and do that, I guess. I’m soooooooo progressive I…
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
I’m so progressive, I joined the Catholic church.
It’s obviously the most progressive organization ever.
Although I don’t personally want any formal responsibility, I do support women having greater leadership roles within the Christian faith. There’s no reason women shouldn’t be voting in the Amazon Synod. There’s no reason women shouldn’t play a larger role as deacons within their communities.
Let’s go back to what I said earlier for a minute. I said I don’t want any responsibility. When you’re leading the way you’re supposed to lead, you don’t have power. You’re a servant. Servants don’t have power. They have responsibilities. Women taking on leadership roles isn’t a power grab. It’s a desire to use their gifts in the service of the church. That’s how all church leaders should see their roles.
We can’t sit here, spouting complementarian talking points about how men and women are of equal value, and then not value the voices of women by giving them a vote. Or devaluing women’s contributions to their communities by not embracing them as deacons. Paying lip service to women’s importance isn’t the same as treating women as important. Sexism, including attempts at benevolent sexism, are harmful to the entire church. We are all missing out when women are dismissed.
So, what am I doing in a church that doesn’t allow women to take on an equal amount of responsibility within the church?
I could throw a lot of answers at that. I could pretend blatant sexism within the church is OK because, hey, we all really love Mary, so how could the church have deeply entrenched issues with sexism? I could try justifying why this or that issue isn’t as bad as it seems, even though it is just to make myself more comfortable living with this cognitive dissonance.
Ultimately, the real answer to why I can be part of a Christian tradition that devalues women is the same answer to why I can be part of a Christian tradition that gets some other things wrong too.
Let’s get real. The Catholic church has gotten some things wrong in the past. We all know that. It’s not a stretch to acknowledge the Catholic church is getting some things wrong now too. One of those things is women being left out of any real decision-making processes.
Don’t come at me with, “Women are part of the decision-making process because the men who are voting get input from women.”
So, what, women in the US shouldn’t have gotten the right to vote because we have the opportunity to persuade our husbands to vote for the right candidate, with no power to do anything if he chooses to vote for a candidate who will do us harm? Come on. Having a vote matters.
Some Catholic beliefs and practices are unchangeable. To change those beliefs or practices would be to undermine the core of what it means to be Roman Catholic. Other teachings and practices are way more flexible (even if some people don’t want to admit it.)
To be clear, I didn’t convert to Catholicism expecting the church to bend to my personal will. I’m OK with teachings that are hard, but aren’t you know, obviously causing unnecessary harm. I don’t expect my faith to be easy.
I didn’t convert thinking I would see anything change. I don’t expect to see any significant changes within my lifetime.
I have faith that the Holy Spirit does work through this imperfect group of people, though. I have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to influence the Catholic church, and one day sexism won’t be such a blinding force that gets in the way of doing God’s work. One day, the Holy Spirit will get through, not just on issues involving women in roles of leadership, but on any issue where the church is causing more harm than good.
I’m not here just to be a member of the Catholic Church of 2019. When I think of the universal church, I don’t just think of us being geographically or culturally universal. I think of the universal church that exists in the past, present, and future. When I speak the words of the Apostle’s Creed, I’m not just reciting those words with the Christians on Earth today. I’m speaking them in unison with Christians in the past and in the future.
I’m just as much a member of the future universal church as the church that existed at the beginning and the church as it exists now. I have faith that the church of the future will get all of this right.
I believe the Catholic church is on the right path, even if we aren’t all the way there yet. I want to walk that path with the past, present, and future church, along with the Holy Spirit, for the time I’m here.