What does it mean to be a Christian Feminist?
Feminism is a word that sometimes invokes anger, hope, annoyance or gratitude in those who hear it. It is used in such a variety of contexts and movements these days that it is very hard to say exactly what a feminist today looks like. Feminism has become a hot topic in church websites and blogs as the battlefields where feminism is heralded as what Christianity needs or scolded as the influence of a godless culture. So what does it mean to Christians? Can a Christian be a feminist?
Well, first of all, let’s define feminism. The definition in its most basic form is the advocacy for women to have equal standing with men. Does this idea stand up to Christian values? Well, Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” According to this verse, feminism seems perfectly fine for a Christian. But what about verses like Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:5 that tell wives to submit to their husbands? In 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul tells the church at Corinth, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”
Can a Christian truly accept this and consider themselves a feminist? Looking at the context behind these passages, it becomes clear that God did not just ask wives to submit to their husbands, but believers to submit to each other. As for Paul telling women to be silent in Church, this was a temporary silence he was talking about. Paul was instructing the church of Corinth to organize their unruly worship services better and just a few verses before tells those who speak in tongues and those who prophesy to “remain silent”. He means for them to talk one at a time and not interrupt others while they speak, not that women specifically can not actively participate in worship.
So feminism is not against Christian theology. But what is a Christian feminist compared to just a feminist? How does Christ’s advocacy for women differ from a secular one?
To answer this, I decided to talk to Christian feminist Kate Wallace Nunneley. She is an adjunct professor of political science and co-founder of the Junia Project, a blog dedicated to spreading the idea that men and women are meant to take equal leadership in the Church. Kate explains that the difference between a woman and a Christian woman is, “I would say that being a Christian woman and the difference between that a being just a woman in culture is the same as the difference between a man and a Christian man. The difference is Christ.” Kate also talks about the roots of feminism in the Church pointing out how “The first feminist convention was held in a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York … Christian women were the first to speak up for themselves because it was the Holy Spirit that called them to do so.” Kate says that “anti-women sentiment has no place in the Church. Galatians 3:28 clearly states that at the cross, all people are equal and in Christ and our relationship with one another in the church, we should not be distinguished by our appearance or biology or gender or race.”
The difference between Christian feminism and secular feminism is obvious. A Christian feminist shows the love of Christ to all equally. The Christian feminist advocates for women but continues to love all, regardless of gender. This is not to say that all secular feminists hate men (some ARE men), merely that Christian feminists are called beyond advocacy to show the love of Christ in all they do. The love of Christ is what separates Christians from the world and unites them together, beyond race, class, politics or gender.