This week, with the leadership of Mihee Kim-Kort and Jes Kast-Keat, feminists all over the internet are discussing the ways in which their faith has impacted feminist thought, and vice versa. The discussion is borne out of the desire to prioritize the voices of women – particularly marginalized women of faith – as the prophets of our time, a push-back and calling out against the ongoing trend of white cishet men positioning themselves as arbiters of the feminist movement. It is for women, by women, about women – an all inclusive approach to the ways in which faith and feminism intersect. I’ve been thinking about those intersections a lot lately.
I recently moved into a new apartment in town – a nice duplex in a nice, tree-lined neighborhood. My neighbors in our tiny little complex are young people from all walks of life and many mornings throughout the week, we sit out on our front stoop, drinking coffee, chatting, and playing with the dogs my neighbors own.
Being the new person in this arrangement, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know new people, learning about their lives and their stories. This burgeoning friendship also means that I get to tell them about myself. They’ve asked me about my work, and I’ve been honest about it, but there’s a part of me that’s always a little wary of telling new people that I work in the space between Christianity and feminism. Both those areas tend to be conversation killers – people make quick assumptions about what I think and believe, and it causes them to recalibrate whatever they think they know about me.
I was sitting out on the stoop last week with my neighbor John and his friend Derek, chewing the fat and talking about education and life and everything in between. Derek point blank asked me, “So are you a Christian?”
“Um, well, I identify as such, yes. But I’m not that kind of Christian.”
Everyone knows what I mean when I say “that kind.” I don’t have to explain it. There’s a couple of seconds of shock and then, despite most people’s efforts to hide it, a brief, quick sigh of relief. Saying “I’m a Christian” creates a rift in new relationships – a sudden loss of trust and wariness, because everyone has encountered That Guy who claims to love Jesus and then screams at you for not being perfect and holy.
In many ways, being a feminist who insists on holding onto her faith places me in a position of straddling two worlds and not being accepted in either. There are secular feminists who write off any person of faith as unintelligent and incapable of engaging in feminist discourse. There are women of faith who think feminism is anti-God and anti-Christian – we are witches who want to kill our babies and divorce our men. By identifying as a Christian feminist, I am engaged in a double-whammy of fighting both reputations at once.
This is why, in many ways, the feminist project is that of reclamation. I’ve spent most of my life being told who I am, what my labels mean, and what my identity should be that, for a long time, I lost sight of who I actually am. Feminism, spurred on and motivated by a Christian belief in justice, righteousness and an eschatological Kin-dom, brought me into a project of discovering anew who I am and who I want to be. Instead of forcing myself into a gendered box, where everything is determined by my performed gender and whether or not I’ve engaged in sex, a faithful feminism has breathed new life into my perception of myself and my confidence as a person.
I know I am loved now in ways I could never be sure of when my faith consisted of hoping I wasn’t sinning too much. I chase after justice now in way that never would have occurred to me when God was the arbiter of shame. I know myself in ways I never would have had access to if I’d stuck in an orthodox, graceless, individual-focused faith tradition.
When I declare that I am a Christian feminist, I am engaged in a radical act of reclamation. I am declaring myself both as an individual and as an uncompromising part of two different worlds. I am becoming who God made me to be and declaring that my faith is about justice, it is about grace, it is about love. I celebrate God’s love every time I declare who I am, in my fullness, in my created being. She is my guiding light.
Within this light, I recognize that I am both a perpetrator of injustice and the target of injustice. I inhabit a seemingly contradictory sacred space wherein I am both privileged and oppressed. My position means I must continually be aware of when my voice is prioritized over those who do not always get heard, I must be willing to listen to those who are marginalized in ways I am not, I must be willing to see the impact of my words as they spread out into the world. My words are simultaneously my own and belonging to my readers – a part of the project of reclamation of my faith and my feminism – and it places me in a unique position to both amplify and to harm.
My reclamation consists of being aware of myself and the impact of my actions in ways I never was before. It consists in prioritizing empathy, even when it means I should not speak. It is built upon the foundation of a person and a savior who said that the least of these have something to contribute and that my job is to listen.
This is Her guiding light – that I may listen more than I speak, that I may become more myself by acknowledging and denying my selfish desire to control the conversation, that I may be more eager, day after day, to chase after justice. This is feminism. This is faith.