[This week marks the six month “anniversary” of The Junia Project blog. To celebrate, we’re sharing three of our favorite posts that were published in the first month. In this post Katie Hickman shares her story of coming to a deeper understanding of the importance of women’s equality in the church.]
I didn’t always feel passionate about gender issues in relation to the Church. Let me briefly tell you the story of how I came to be writing this post. I am the type of person who loves learning about things that interest me. I’m that person who goes to Barnes & Noble and reads all about whatever topic I’m currently into. A few years back, this topic was marriage. I was engaged to be married, and I have always taken the vows of marriage very seriously. I thought I might as well figure this marriage thing out (because you can do that by reading a couple books, right?).
I read a lot of Christian books on marriage. A few were fabulous and helpful; others didn’t sit right with me. I noticed that a lot of them seemed to be all about gender differences. For example, women think about a million things at once; men have one-track minds. Women need love; men need respect. Women are primarily called to nurture and take care of their young; men are primarily called to be the breadwinners and provide financially for their families. Men want and need sex all the time; women don’t, and they need to step it up in order to provide for their husband’s needs.
With all these differences, one would be surprised to learn that we are even the same species. Sometimes recognizing our differences helps us better understand each other. It also helps us have a group of people to relate to (i.e. “My husband does that too! Men will be men.”). I believe that the people who are writing these marriage books all about our differences, about how “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, are truly doing so to help people. What I think they don’t realize is how damaging the glorification of our differences can be. When common, natural differences are turned into prescriptive roles of “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”, not only are the people who don’t fit these descriptions being told that they are essentially flawed, but they are also being denied the right to pursue who God really made them to be.
It seems that in many Christian communities being a “biblical man” or a “biblical woman” is just as high of a priority, if not more so, than being a biblical person. How did we come to the conclusion that men and women are to imitate Christ in different ways? I’d like to know where people see Jesus mentioning or even emphasizing that a man’s highest calling is to be a leader and a decision-maker, and a woman’s highest calling is to be a nurturer and “advice-giver”. From what I know about the life of Jesus, he called us to love God and love others selflessly. That’s all Jesus seemed to really care about.
Some people accuse women who support egalitarianism of being power-hungry, selfish, and unable to recognize the “beauty” of the way God made women to follow the leadership of men. This is where I get really frustrated. I want to challenge this way of thinking.
I believe that God calls us to live Christ-like lives; that we are to live selflessly, so that we can better love others in the way God loves us. However, sometimes in Christian culture, this idea of selflessness is used to tell our brothers and sisters that they shouldn’t stand up for their God-given rights. For example, if a woman asks or trains to be a leader, it is not seen as selfless service, rather it’s seen as being selfish for wanting more, wanting something else that God hasn’t ordained. On some level, I think I understand why there are Christian women who are comfortable with letting men be the only leaders. I think they must see it as being selfless, as being content with what God has given them.
But denying women the right to pursue their calling to lead people, including men, to Christ’s love, is something that I think people will have to answer to God for. To say that one gender is inherently better suited at leading than another, sounds a lot to me like saying white people are better at leading than black people. People have said these things, and have used scripture to support their ideas. Scripture can be twisted to support a lot of injustices, as we have seen in the Church’s history. Sometimes it’s easier to think that scripture is on our side than to really question entire systems of injustice.
I don’t think that people who believe in the idea of complementarianism are intentionally seeking injustice. I have very, very dear friends who believe that complementarianism reflects a beautiful picture of who God is. However, I think it’s important for people who are going to preach these ideas to thoroughly examine the negative result they can have on people, and consider the cost of preventing women from holding leadership positions.
A lot of people see feminism as a dirty word. I would like to argue that a Christian feminist is simply someone who follows Christ and believes that Christ created us all to be equal; that he created us all to love people and lead them to his love. That’s why I am proud to be a Christian feminist.
What have you observed about reactions to the term “feminist”? If you support women’s equality, do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not? What distinguishes Christian feminism from other branches of this diverse movement? What does it have in common?
Graphic Credit: Katie Hickman http://www.goldbugdesign.com/
Hi Katie! Thank you so much for sharing this. My best friend and I have been discussing this very thing a lot lately, and it is so refreshing to see this dialogue taking place. I wanted to ask if you had any recommendations on books I could read on the subject of feminism and Christianity? I am very interested in learning more about how I can engage my views, drive, and independence as a feminist while still being a Christian? Any guidance you could offer would be greatly appreciated!
Hi Janelle! So sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to you. I love that you are interested in learning more about being a christian feminist! I would definitely recommend the book “Jesus Feminist” by Sarah Bessey. She spoke at one of our events and was fabulous, and the book is wonderful. I believe for a limited time it is on sale (kindle version) for only $1.99 at Amazon! Other than that, there are a lot of books I have started or have been meaning to read as soon as my schedule allows. I’ve heard great things about “Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women” by Carolyn Custis James. “Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family” by Gilbert Bilezikien is a favorite of Kate’s, who is one of Junia Project’s co-founders. “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn is supposed to be great too. That one isn’t from a Christian standpoint or about the Church, but it talks about a lot of the oppression that happens worldwide to women. I watched the documentary on Netflix and really enjoyed it.
Hope that helps!
I can absolutely relate to this post! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! The similarities between our experiences and journeys are quite uncanny and it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has wrestled with these questions. My husband and I have held these views for a while, but we also work for a pretty conservative Christian organization, so it often feels like we’re alone in this journey.
I recently wrote my own post documenting my own journey to discarding the widely held idea of “biblical femininity” and “biblical masculinity” (it can be found here: http://www.whatsonmymindgrapes.com/2014/01/27/on-motherhood-uncut/), which, like I mentioned, had mixed reactions due to our work with a pretty conservative Christian organization. On one hand, it was received well by peers and those who aren’t in full-time ministry, but on the other, it was received not as well by others in full-time ministry. I’ve been asked to tone it down because “you might make people feel bad and alienate them.”
I loved what you wrote, though, that “sometimes in Christian culture, this idea of selflessness is used to tell our brothers and sisters that they shouldn’t stand up for their God-given rights.” I think about how many absolutely talented sisters in Christ there are, with amazing visions for ministry, who defer and whose voices are “willingly” stifled because they feel they should just be “content” and not desire the same kind of voice and influence that their male counterparts automatically have, who have never given their privilege a second thought. Who end up feeling defeated that “this is the only way.” In whom the potential power and impact of the Holy Spirit is squelched in the name of “the only way.” It saddens me greatly. Whereas a man who asks for equal influence and voice would be considered “motivated” and “visionary” and “leadership material,” a woman who asks for equal influence and voice would be considered “discontent” and “power-hungry” and asked, “why do you need it?”
I also appreciated your thoughts on the dangers of holding too rigidly to the “prescriptions” for what it looks like to be a biblical man or a biblical woman. I’ve always felt that I didn’t fit in the biblical femininity mold, and for a long time tried to stifle how God has created me and try to jam myself to fit into this mold. And what a shame that so many others have felt the same way, even to the point of leaving the church because “there’s just no way I can fit into this mold, which means I must not be a biblical woman, which means I must be a bad Christian, which means there’s no place for me here.” The unintentional shaming that has resulted from the Church as a whole holding too rigidly to these views of biblical manhood and biblical womanhood is tragic.
Anyways, all this to say, I really very much appreciated your post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, thanks for inviting us into your journey, and thanks for initiating this discussion! I hope to read more from you!
Thank you so much Alice! It always feels good to know that someone appreciates hearing your story. I read your post, and the one you wrote on motherhood. Wow – such great stuff! I think we have a lot in common. I also have a niece who was born almost a year ago, and also had an unexpected change of heart similar to yours (even though I still hold a lot of hesitations about parenting). Your blog is great! I think it’s wonderful that you wrote what was on your heart regarding gender and ministry even though you work with people that don’t agree. It requires such admirable bravery to be honest and vulnerable like that, especially when you know people surrounding you won’t agree with you. I saw on your Instagram feed on your blog that you went to our event last night. Wasn’t Shauna great? So inspiring.
Hey Katie! Thanks so much for your thoughts on my blog and post! We’ll see what comes of these discussions with leadership and being the squeaky wheel in a VERY dominant complementarian culture.
And YES, I did come out to your event on Thursday, and quite accidentally (or God ordained??)! And I LOVED it!! I’ve read a couple of Junia Project’s posts in the past and loved them, but didn’t hear about Shauna’s talk until the morning of the event. Usually, that’d be too late notice for me to feel motivated to go as an awkward loner stranger, but it’s just been so discouraging to be a lone voice speaking out for women to have an equal value in ministry that I was just THIRSTING for such fellowship and such a message! Shauna’s talk was FANTASTIC, and it came at SUCH an opportune time for me in my discouragement. Her talk addressed so many questions I’ve been asking myself in the past few weeks, specifically in acknowledging how God has gifted me and what training I’ve received, what my dreams and desires are for my ministry to look like, and wondering whether my current ministry situation (which, actually, is how I know another one of your contributors, Laura Ziesel!) is the best place for me to actualize my dreams, desires, giftings, and training. Thank you guys so much for putting the event on! And I just have so many questions that I’d love to pick your collective minds on, if that’s possible! (Is that the right American colloquialism? 😉 ) Would love to be able to do so! Is there a way and is there a best way?
Thanks again, and I can’t wait to read more from you all. And I LOVE that you’re so local!
Well I’m so glad you made it and enjoyed it! Feel free to e-mail any questions/thoughts to us by either filling out the contact form on our site, or you can e-mail me at [email protected]. Or if you’d ever want to chat over a cup of coffee sometime, I’d love to meet you. Small world that you know Laura – we were in the same small group for awhile.
I really liked what you said about how some women may feel comfortable letting men lead because they see it as being selfless. For the longest time it was so hard for me to understand how some of my friends were so easily okay with just stepping into the background. I was never like that and always felt called to lead and so I always just assumed that maybe they didn’t have the same calling. I also knew that part of it was the way that they were raised, always being told that the woman’s job was to be submissive. It still bothered me but I tried to be understanding that they were following what they believed they were called to. There were certain girls who followed the complementarian model but I could tell were miserable doing it. That always frustrated me and I would try to help them see a different way. But it was even harder to understand (and not judge) the girls who seemed to enjoy it. I still struggle with whether or not I should help break them out of that mold by talking about how selflessness is a two way street and selflessness is not stripping yourself of your worth by not embracing how God made you. Or if I should just respect their decision to live out their selflessness in that way. I know it’s not really up to me, but as a friend sometimes it’s hard to watch my other friends go along with a model just because they feel pressured. Or to watch them go along with it and feel a sense of pride, that they are somehow really humble and selfless people for doing so, but instead rob themselves of really becoming who they are, or judging other women who choose to lead. Thoughts?
Thanks Melissa! I know that at times it can be difficult knowing how to best navigate friendships with women that believe that God does not intend for submission to be mutual. Having those conversations can be so tricky! When discussing sensitive issues like this, I really try to approach the conversation with humility, respect, and love. I think sharing how our personal stories affect our deeply held convictions (and remembering that the same is true for others) instead of approaching the issue as a debate that needs to be won, is essential.
I think it’s really important that people know that the complementarian model of living isn’t the only interpretation of the Bible, because there is a surprising amount of people that have no idea there’s any other way. How we approach these discussions though really reflects how we love people.
I don’t know if that helps, but I’m really glad you’re thinking about this important stuff!
Mostly I hear “feminism is all about telling men they are evil and hurt women and the patriarchy controls everything and it doesn’t care about men, or other issues, etc.” these are the same people that are open to discussions of equality and are pro equality, but feel that feminism is too focused on just women.
And I honestly feel like I’m banging my head against a wall trying to convince them otherwise.
I hear you on the head-banging 🙂
While I’m sure there are forms of extreme feminism that are all about man-hating, that really is not what I have ever understood feminism to be. While I may not agree with everything that most feminists embrace (I am pro-life for example), I still agree with what I believe the heart of feminism to be, which is gender equality, not that women are better than men or that women need to not care about men. That kind of thinking is just a flip-flop of the injustice that feminism opposes!
Kate wrote a great post about the differences between feminism and christian egalitarianism that you may enjoy: https://juniaproject.com/feminist-and-egalitarian-not-the-same/
I found one glaring problem with the article. ” However, sometimes in Christian culture, this idea of selflessness is used to tell our brothers and sisters that they shouldn’t stand up for their God-given rights.”
We have no God-given rights. I understand her point, but perhaps that could be rephrased. The only thing we deserve as our right, is to go to hell.
Hi Kendrick. I see what you mean. What I meant was that no one should take away another person’s right to pursue their calling from God to lead others to Christ.
That sounds better. Perhaps I was reading it wrong. “Rights” is an issue that God has been dealing with me about for some time. It just stuck a chord.
That is an important point, Kendrick. As Christians we willingly give up our rights when we choose to follow Jesus. But When people are denied autonomy simply because of their race, gender, ethnicity, etc., basic human rights are at stake. I think that in order to willingly and voluntarily give up our rights we have to have them in the first place – and that’s the missing piece in some churches today. Thankfully, not in my own church! But you are right that we need to be clear on this.
Your right. We do have God-given human rights. I guess I was getting that confused with what we deserve. We don’t deserve those rights either.
Kendrick, I think you’ve hit on something really important here – well said.