Why I’m Not A Christian Feminist

People have called me a feminist, and I’ve often wondered if I actually am. Many of those who accuse me of such don’t mean to compliment me, by the way. Probably, by a general societal definition, I am. But this I know – after thinking carefully about it, I am not a Christian Feminist.

Feminism as a movement came about when women, via critical and political mass, empowered themselves to begin to systemically overturn legal, cultural, political and systemic inequalities in society and culture.

Tired of being a marginalised minority, women set about changing that for themselves, their daughters and granddaughters. But it isn’t just women benefiting from feminism. Civil and social equity movements concerning race and sexual identity have paralleled feminism in helping bring greater equality and empowerment for and to the vulnerable and marginalised across society, across the world.

Recreating social fabric isn’t just a matter of anarchy and revolution. If you depose a despot, but merely instate yourself as the new despot, the problem isn’t and never was that one person; it’s your broken system, which allows despotic rule to ever take place.

Feminists, civil rights activists, environmental and LGBTI advocates, social changers of all kinds; all know you cannot simply remove the people who do things you don’t like from the systems and structures and occupy the offices yourself. To do so is to place yourself in danger of merely creating other people and people groups into new marginalised minorities to take your place.

And this is why I am not tempted to call myself a “Christian Feminist”.

I see Christian women rising up to assume their God-given voice and authority to be not just self-directed in life, faith and ministry, but to lead, teach and facilitate healthy church-life, where ever and in whatever form it can be found. And this is a good thing; not according to all, but to most.

However, what troubles me is the fact many women who come to recognise their power, voice and authority, simply instate themselves safely within a system which is still geared to marginalise, discriminate, create power-strongholds, and perpetuate abuse, also shielding the perpetrators with immunity and impunity. And let’s face it; as many women as men are capable of stupidity, abuse and power-mongering.

Many women, and indeed men, may have felt a “softening” female presence –  a kind of patronization or sharing of power-laden positions with women – is the “Godly” answer to “re-balancing” the church. This “softening” female presence is perhaps what many men in contemporary church congregations and denominations decry as anti-male and feminisation of the church. But lets not kid ourselves. Those women who have managed to behave themselves properly enough, or negotiate shrewdly enough, to be “allowed” to minister in such positions, are complicit with all the systems and the structures which keep less complicit, clever and well-behaved women out.

While I am loathe to simply ignore the implicit misogyny of lumping everything we hate about the “new way we do church now, with all the singing and crying and swaying with our arms in the air and public displays of emotion” and calling that “feminisation” (it’s simply annoying ways to do church, which an awful lot of women don’t like either) I can appreciate men’s frustration with the way simply knocking the hard edges off the old church, or, conversely, bringing in a few female pastors with crew cuts and tattoos, apparently equates to gender equality in the church.

It doesn’t. Not in any real way. I have tattoos by the way. Not knocking women with tattoos.

I don’t think it’s gender equality as such we want in the church. More women in exciting roles or top ministry or church executive jobs isn’t going to fix what’s broken about contemporary Christianity. It’s a reinvention of the Christian church into a new way of operating that’s needed; a way which does not heap power up into piles accessible by only a few. A new way which supports and empowers the marginalized, instead of simply creating new and re-branding old ways to marginalize. A way which facilitates more freedom and perpetuates less legalism. A way which empowers people in their unique and individual walk and faith expression, whilst bringing them into healthful, vibrant and diverse gathering together, creating life-filled and dynamic community. A way which trusts people with their lives and beliefs, instead of teaching them to distrust their hearts and yield control of their minds and hearts to safely well-positioned others higher up some hierarchical ladder. A way which disseminates personal power and control of thought and practice back to each free believer. A way which makes us truly brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of competitors for top jobs, parking spaces, social media platforms, places on the board.

I don’t want more women in church positions. I don’t want more women pastors, or more women on the Christian best-seller list. I want less church positions, and more people waking up to the fact they are the Church, and living their lives from that place. I want all Christians, men and women, to remember – or if they never knew, to simply empathise with – what it feels like to be marginalised and rejected, to be pushed down and out and away because of something about you that you’re powerless to change, and do something to ensure that never happens on our watch, to ANYONE.

If being a Christian Feminist is only about having more women speakers at huge Christian conferences, I’m not for that. I’m about less need for big Christians conferences in the first place, because people are being empowered at grass-roots level to take care of each other better, and lead themselves and other people in healthy ways. I’m about learning how to hold safe spaces for the vulnerable many, rather than preserve power tenets for the powerful few.

If being a Christian feminist means I simply depose a man who has a powerful job in a church I really want and really think I deserve because I am a woman, well, then I am not a Christian feminist.

Christian feminism is about what I think and do, as human being and a woman, who has often felt through the circumstances of life marginalised and disempowered in and out of the Church, even by the Church. It’s about me stepping into my God-given authority and voice as a woman, human being and believer to stand in the gap for those who are marginalised and disempowered, in and out of the Church, even by the Church, and supporting them to realise their own voice, power and authority in Jesus Christ.

It’s also about questioning and criticizing systems that marginalize and disempower, knowing full well it’s very often established institutional Church systems which need addressing, as well as established institutional Church people. I feel it’s my duty as a Christian feminist, if I can be shown to be one, to help undo those harmful, oppressive systems – and those harmful, oppressive people, if need be – if they can be shown to be perpetrators of disempowerment and marginalization – not by virtue of their gender, or mine, but of their actions, and mine. My Christianity demands no less of me than this, and I intend to deliver it to the fullest extent of my energy, and intellect, however limited they may be.

Christian feminism is not feminism if it merely seeks to replace men in positions of power with women. This, to my thinking, isn’t the re-imagining of life, love, faith and religion Jesus had in mind, for men or women. It’s simply gendered power politics, and I want no part of it. I’m under no illusion my femininity sanctifies me, any more than a man’s masculinity demonizes him.

Feminism is not a dirty word. In it’s purer forms, feminism is at the very heart of Christian practice, because it is about redistribution of power, recreation of harmful systems, and rethinking the way people work and live together. It’s about the Church – a church where men and women are able to fully express their full selves, sexual, political, personal, spiritual, social and intellectual, without fear. This is the church I have imagined, and my hope is feminism will be one of the various looms we weave the fabric of such a Church from.

Jo Hilder​

The Name God Gave Us

There’s something very special about bestowing something or someone new with its very own name. Naming a new baby especially is a huge responsibility, and an exciting and grounding experience for every parent – will the name I love now for my baby still be okay when they have grown up? Should I use a cherished family name, or the weird one I absolutely adore? What if everyone else criticises what I choose? What if my child turns out to hate the name I give them?

Then, having given them a name we practically plucked from the air, we proceed to marry it together with this other, more substantial entity – the family name. Thus, our children take with them all their lives the product of both of our our memory, and of our imagination.

People change their names sometimes, for many reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple and as noble as taking the name of the person we love in order to recreate and affirm the beginning of a new family history. This can be bittersweet. Giving up a name is a kind of surrender, as in marriage, but it can also be a way of empowering ourselves. We might choose to change the name given to us at our birth in preference for a new name as a way of breaking the ties with our family of origin, or simply making a new identity for ourselves. In either case, taking a new name can be like being born again, and this may be exactly what is intended. But to be born again, there must be a kind of death take place, and the loss of a name, intentional or not, is like instating a deliberate episode of mourning and of grief, perhaps to force the bringing about of a process of change and transformation.

There is another kind of name. There is the name someone tries to force on you against your will. Ignoring someone’s given name and calling them something else, or by profanity instead, is a particularly insidious kind of power-play. It’s meant to dehumanise and degrade, like giving a prisoner a number instead of a name. It is intended to remove identity, personhood and dignity. To take or replace someone’s name by force is equivalent to an act of extreme violence.

*****

The first name ever given to a woman was “woman”. This first female human was actually named by the first male human (Genesis 2:23). He (not named Adam just yet) named her “woman” because she was derived from himself – not an amputation, but an entity all unto herself, prised apart from his flesh and his bone. The name he gave her was in itself a thing of beauty – as was the first woman – derivative, but not unequal, taken from, but not lesser than.

An interesting point – neither the first man nor the first woman had proper names at all until something in the garden went wrong (Genesis 3:17). Before that they were simply known as – “the man” and “the woman”. When there was just the two of them and the community of God in the world, this no further form of personal identity was needed. But after their human eyes were irrevocably opened to the knowledge of good and evil, they received names into the bargain. After the fact, God tells the man that as a result of what he did the earth will therefore be cursed and he will always work hard to eat. He comes to be known as Adam – meaning the human-kind, the earth, the ground, the blood. God tells the woman she will bring forth children out of her own body with great pain, and be subject to her husband always. Adam thus takes it upon himself to name his wife Eve – meaning the mother of all human life. Their names became in essence a lasting legacy, with both their identities forever intrinsically linked to both their sacred origin, and the foolish thing they did. But, provided the close communion between them remains somehow, there will never be any reason to become confused about the new balances – or perhaps, imbalances – of power that circle between them……

*****

We all know how much weight a name bears. If we did not know, we would not use them like we do to wound, to brand and to disempower. When we call someone a name other than the one they were given, or the one they chose themselves, we are entering into a power-play we hope to win. Now, name-calling can certainly be a sign of endearment. Baby. Sweetheart. Mister. Honey. But in a different context, those same names can be used as subtle – or unsubtle – acts of hostility. Or patronisation. And there are other more visceral names that we use, absolutely intended to stand in for acts of unbridled and violent hatred, absolutely intended to oppress and ravage and hurt.

Bitch. Slut.Whore.

Strange how there are no exclusively male gendered equivalents to these words.

Unless you count these.

Mother-fucker. Son of a bitch.

Guys, when God invented the whole naming-giving thing, somehow I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

*****

Men shove names like slut and whore towards women’s faces all soaked in gall and vinegar, goading us hey, suck on that. But rather than being the great equalisers men hope they will turn out to be, misogynist slurs are nothing more than a feeble attempt to subvert the perceived power of women, and an effort to force us to surrender to sheer brute force rather than logic or reason or sense, or even grace. For many men this is okay because *apparently* God Himself created an order which dictates every woman must give over to the men around her, or else have it taken from her by any methods necessary. But even in the original nest of gender politics, in that gentle power-play of the name-giving exchange between Adam and Eve and God I see none of this spirit of violence, bitterness or oppression. I see a nod to the beauty of the past, the lost wonder of unbroken communion between God and humans, and a gentle resignation to the sadder, more difficult future where work and pain and birth and death would now be the joint human – and also the Divines –  reality. The past and the future. Together, but apart. The same, but different. Memory, and imagination.

The demeaning, sexist, verbal assaults alluded to previously have no place in the dialogue between men and women, theological or otherwise. And whilst men may join the conversation on what women may or may not do with women’s bodies, they may never confuse concession with acquiescence. God certainly derived us from men’s bodies, but since then, much more than mere skin has come to separate the genders, and this divide cannot be bridged simply from the woman’s side. In fact, if there is division, men must be prepared to bear equal responsibility to bridge it, particularly if they also wish to benefit from the unity that will result – and benefit from it they certainly will. Men know this, or they would not demand so vehemently women give so much to procure it for them. However, to pretend that all disharmony and uncommunion between men and women and God can be blamed wholly on the unwillingness of one gender to lay down the power which helps her survive the world in which she find herself – a world where much of the hostility she must navigate is perpetuated by men for men’s sake – is a great folly.

To call a woman a slut or a whore in an argument – political or otherwise – is a form of feminine mutilation, an act of unGodly violence and a sign of intrinsic weakness. Firstly, it forgets and dishonours who we are, because all women were first named woman – prised apart from the stuff of men, and then Eve – mother of all the living. Secondly it disregards what we have done, which is survive this hostile world, beside and besides the man and sometimes even despite him, that we men and women – let’s not forget – created together. Any downfall this world and our society may or may not have suffered was an equal opportunity job. When it comes to gender politics, our slander and our blasphemy of the other does us all no good. In all our conversations about the inequities of power in this world, what we need is memory  – the grace and the grown-up-edness to honour what has gone before, politically, theologically, experientially and sociologically.  We also need room to develop a brand new imagination – giving all the ability and freedom to see a world where power is balanced far more broadly, freely and equally…perhaps even as broad, free and equal as God’s grace is.

*****

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