The first time I said it out loud, it took courage. It felt weird, a bit risky and daring. I was trying the word on, like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes, to see if it fit me: feminist. And it did fit; it grew to fit beautifully, and so I turned this way and that, admiring the way the word clung to my voice and my thoughts and my work like we belonged together.
I’m a feminist.
Even now, all these years later, when I say the word in my “of-course” tone of voice, it can be met with disbelief or nervous laughter or raised eyebrows and, almost always, surprise.
Because really? a feminist, eh? so what kind of feminist are you? Meaning: Are you angry? Are you bitter? Are you a lesbian? What’s your stance on abortion? Are you against marriage and motherhood? Are you “one of those feminists” responsible for everything evil I’ve heard about feminists from Christian culture radio shock-jocks and straw man arguments on Sunday mornings? After all, we’ve heard feminism blamed for everything from day care to rape, from bikinis to tornadoes, from abuse to childhood obesity.
What kind of a feminist are you?
It’s a fair question. So here is my answer: I’m a Jesus feminist. I’m a feminist precisely because of my love for Jesus, because following Jesus turned me into a feminist.
And if you believe that women are people too, then technically, well, I hate to break it to you, but you are a feminist. After all, at the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.
Not so scary, is it?
It may surprise both anti-feminists and anti-Christians equally to know that feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s commitments to the temperance movement, women’s rights to personhood under the law, suffragist movements, and–in America and England in particular–the abolitionist movements of the nineteenth century. Christian feminism predates the works of second- and third-wave secular feminist writers such as Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gloria Steinem.
We have a legacy of Christian women behind us, all drawn to feminism precisely because of their deep Christian faith. Our foremothers knew that the mistreatment and dehumanization of women was not–and never would be–part of God’s plan and purpose for womankind, and so they were moved to act for justice in both big and small ways all throughout history. Now we continue that legacy.
Of course, feminism has gained popularity as a result of “secular” work and scholarship, but the line between sacred and secular is man-made. Because God is the source of truth, Christians can still give thanks to God for any and all good works associated with feminism, such as the gaining of status for women, as “persons” under the law, voting, owning property, education, maternal health initiatives, and defending themselves in a court of law against domestic violence and spousal rape.
As Canadian theologian Dr. John G. Stackhouse Jr. says, “Christian feminists can celebrate any sort of feminism that brings more justice and human flourishing to the world, no matter who is bringing it, since we recognize the hand of God in all that is good.” Modern Christian feminism is alive and well, from social justice movements to seminaries and churches to suburban kitchens, worldwide.
One read through Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s agonizing and brilliant book Half the Sky will confirm it for you: feminism is too necessary in our world to languish without the participation of the Body of Christ. As Christians, we were part of the original women’s movement, and I believe that we–the people who carry hope in cracked pots and love in our earthen vessels–are able to advocate and rabble-rouse and make peace on behalf of women like none other. We are people of love, joy, peace, patience and kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I would love to see the Church reclaim our historic place in the feminist movement, to become fierce champions for the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women again.
The daughters of the earth are crying out for God’s justice and peace. People in the first world and third world and caught somewhere in between, both men and women are buried in the world’s power structures, tensions, histories, the old empire fallout of authority and patriarchy, war and economic injustice, hierarchy and systemic evils generation after generation.
So as David Bosch beautifully explains it in his classic book, Transforming Mission, we, the people of God, are called to bravely “erect, in the here and now and in the teeth of those structures, signs of God’s new world.” Those signs include the women of the world, walking beloved and free.
My name is Sarah. I am a happy-clappy Jesus lover. I am a wife and a mother. I believe women are people. And so I am a feminist.