I’m not a bitter and angry feminist.
Oh, no. I’m a Jesus-following, joy-filled feminist, a Jesus-made-a-feminist-out-of-me feminist. I’m no man-hater: I’m surrounded by good men, brave men who celebrate, affirm, welcome, strengthen, and protect. There’s no bitterness in my words, my axes aren’t for grinding. I’m ready to beat them into ploughshares. As my friend Kelley Nikondeha often says, “I’m for farming not fighting, fertilization not weaponization.”
I can’t make apologies for it even though I know, if it’s possible to alienate almost everyone with just one label, well, my made-up label of “Jesus Feminist” might be it.
Feminism carries a lot of baggage for the evangelical church. We’ve been fed a steady diet of stereotypes and straw men. Feminists are shrill killjoys, man-haters, lesbians, and rabid abortion-pushers, terrifying on our cable news programs, deriding motherhood and home making. Feminism has been blamed for the breakdown of the nuclear family, gay marriage, bikinis, day care, rape culture, the downfall of the dominance of Christianity in Western society, and pop icons from Mary Tyler Moore to Lady Gaga.
In some evangelical circles, using the word “feminist” is the equivalent of an f-bomb dropped in church: outrageous, offensive even. It’s likely some people saw the name of my upcoming book and figured that they knew what sort of words would be hidden here, an angry shrill man-hater, aferocious and humourless, arguing that men and women had no discernable differences, and so they reacted at the sight of Jesus alongside Feminist like someone had raked long fingernails across a chalkboard.
I like the word feminist, even if it worries people, or causes a knee-jerk revulsion in some evangelicals. The word feminist does not frighten or offend me: in fact, I’d like to see the church reclaim it.
For me, feminism consists of the radical notion that women are people, too.
Feminism means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.
I call myself a Jesus Feminist: to me, the qualifier means I am a feminist precisely because of Jesus.
Gender inequality is bigger than our congregational divides over lady preachers. Patriarchy cuts a wide swath across civilization. One need only read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s groundbreaking Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide to feel angry and motivated, horrified and sick. Stories of rape as a war tactic, murder, sex trafficking, maternal deaths, the exhausting grind of poverty, and the tragic economic and social consequences of the refusal to educate women while study after study shows that it’s the best way to develop communities. But these stories are not limited to the developing world. Our sisters and mothers right here in our own neighbourhoods are also victims of physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, manipulation, silencing, objectification, and poverty. Even within our churches, we have stories of oppression, minimizing, and marginalization.
So yes, anger has a place and it can be helpful, even constructive, as we look the facts square in the face. But mostly I am hopeful. Women are not the problem. Nor do we bear the weight of being the sole solution here. Jesus and life in his Kingdom is our solution, and so we are seeking men and women together, in wholeness, healed, walking in the Light and free. Our strategies might look like education, economic development, maternal health, biblical literacy, and theological debate, but our true purpose is the mission of God to redeem, rescue, and love humanity.
We can hear the daughters of the earth crying out for God’s justice and peace. First world and third world and caught somewhere between, we are buried in the world’s power structures, tensions, histories, the old empire fall-out of authority and patriarchy, war and economic injustice, hierarchy and systemic evils. So like David Bosch beautifully explains it his book, Transforming Mission, as the people of God, we bravely “erect, in the here and now and in the teeth of those structures, signs of God’s new world.”
Our world believes women are only valuable if we are thin or young or sexy, preferring all three at once. Our world believes women exist for men’s pleasures, however perverse or damaging. Our world believes women are only valuable if they bear healthy children. Our world believes women are manipulative, insecure, catty, shallow, silly, and jealous. Our world treats women as objects, to be used, abused, discarded. Our world believes women are to be servants of their husbands or fathers or families. Whether through advertising or pornography, vicious assaults or quiet subjection, language or legislation, the message is the same: women are not valuable. Our world dehumanizes and devalues women. These are all the lies of the enemy, an enemy seeking to kill, steal, and destroy.
So the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the ways of the world. The church has not always stood in sharp contrast. Yet the Kingdom of God is bigger even than the Church’s failures and successes, disappointments and triumphs. As the people of God, we proclaim and we dare to live out the truth for us all: you are valuable, you are free, you are loved.
As Carolyn Custis James proclaimed in (my very-dog-eared copy of) Half the Church:
“The community of God’s people should be the epicenter of human flourishing — where men and women are encouraged and supported in their efforts to develop and use the gifts God has given them wherever he stations them in his world … God never envisioned a world where his image bearers would do life in low gear or be encouraged to hold back, especially when suffering is rampant, people are lost, and there is so much kingdom work to do. He wants his daughters to thrive, mature, gain wisdom, hone their gifts, and contribute to his vast purposes in our world … God created his daughters to be kingdom builders — to pay attention to what is happening around us, to take action and contribute.”
I want us to move beyond man-made restrictions and fully welcome women’s diverse voices and experiences to the Church, for the sake of the Gospel. My prayer is that we will all lay aside our ammunition, our proof-texts, our deeply ingrained notions. I want to be both loving and fearless.
There are many of us — men and women together — emerging like stars out of the dark, out of our brokenness, and crazy-making hermeneutical gymnastics rhetoric. We don’t care about labels or debates, we’re moving on, we care about the great I AM glorified, and our only song is worship and freedom, we’ve decided to plant vegetable gardens, ringed with marigolds, in our exile.
Maybe it’s not as movement-building to tell the good, hopeful stories or all of the ways the Bride grows more beautiful as she ages. It’s not as fun as thundering down judgments. The revolution of love takes many different forms, all good and courageous for their differences. Sometimes we turn over tables in the temple and other times we invite conversation.
I could spend my life telling the beautiful stories of ordinary radicals, of the normal people sitting right beside you in that folding chair in the school gym, on the itchy padded pew, in the movie theatre style-seat at the mega-church, the living room and the back alleys, the refugee camps and kitchen tables, and still run out of time because there are so many pockets of hope, love, and freedom for women in the church.
My friend Tina was at a conference when she heard about soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorizing northern Uganda. Women had their lips, ears, noses, and even genitals severed from their bodies. Many of these women are HIV positive as a result of rape as a war tactic, and they were now marginalized and ostracized from their own communities and families.
Tina was single and in her twenties then, the daughter of immigrants, living a full life in a first world country, but she could not bear to think of how these women had endured war, loss, torture, rape, and on top of that, were unable to provide for their families due to disfigurement. It was unacceptable to her.
Tina now considers this story her inciting incident, the moment when she realized she didn’t have to live vicariously through anyone else; she could do something. These women needed relatively straightforward surgeries to reconstruct their bodies. Tina thought, “Well, I’ll try to raise the money for one surgery for one woman”.
She organized a half marathon to benefit Watoto’s Living Hope project to restore dignity to women of Uganda. By the time she was done, she had raised nearly $43,600 to pay for more than a dozen surgeries.
We must also tell the stories of grace and justice — received, given, witnessed — alongside the stories of disgrace and despair. I know it’s important to be honest; to honour the stories of hurt and pain, but it is just as important to tell and hear the good stories of the people of God. I believe we can be critical thinkers without a critical spirit.
We must make room for redemption, for the stream in the desert, for the road of the righteous. A quiet shift has happened in my heart as I see, live, work, and love with my sisters and brothers all over the world. It’s a shift towards hope and grace, towards freedom over fear, life over death, inclusion over exclusion.
As we follow in the footsteps of our Savior, we are led away from the world’s way of looking at life and conflict, community and creation, marriage and children, aging and youth, suffering and friendship, even male and female.
I believe our early church father, Irenaeus of Lyons, when he said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That happens by beholding God. So I believe God is glorified by new babies, and laugh-line wrinkles, by true worship, toddlers running at the back of the church, by the rolling down of justice, by the love of mercy, by walking humbly with Him. I believe God is glorified by dancing; by silence and gardens and bonfires on beaches, by conversation and laughter, by gratitude and grace freely given. I believe God is glorified by both real marriages and real singleness, and by true friendship, by daily forgiveness, by quiet service, by ferocious gentleness, by bold subversion. I believe God is as present in the 20,000 tents still standing in Port au Prince, Haiti, as He is in my little home beside the blueberry farm in the Fraser Valley. I believe God is glorified when we love Him with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our strength, all of our soul, and then we turn around to love each other, the whole world over, as both neighbours and our own selves.
Wherever there is injustice or oppression, anything less-than-God’s-intended-purposes from the dawn of Creation, our God has always set his people on the trajectory of redemption. The Cross is the center of this story, Christ and him crucified, the Gospel is always glad tidings and great joy for all mankind. And now, we live in that truth and goodness, we live unveiled, and we are prophets and ambassadors of the God way of life.
God has a global dream for his daughters and his sons, and it is bigger than our narrow interpretations of Biblical manhood and womanhood, frozen-in-time arguments, or cultural biases. God’s vision is a call to move forward into the future in full operation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, with a fearlessness that could only come from Him.