Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Feminism and Christ Followers

I’ve never embraced the term “feminist,” but I think I’ve long recognized discrepancies in the treatment of men and women in our society. As mentioned in a prior post, the dictionary definition of “feminism” is “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” If the gist of being a feminist is advocacy of equality of women to men, I am clearly a feminist.

But that dictionary definition is not the one everyone seems to intend when using the term. Indeed, I recently overheard a very conservative Christian woman I know state that feminists are “women who negate the importance of men in society.” To be clear--I’m not a chauvinist, I don’t think women are superior to men, and I don’t advocate the supremacy of women over men. I am unabashedly proud of my brilliant husband. I’ve also had many good male friends and mentors. I am not in any way “anti-male.” As a Christ follower, I simply think all human life is equally valuable, and accordingly all human beings should be treated with the same respect and dignity.

In one e-mail, the law professor, who invited me to affiliate with the feminist law professor group, shared her opinion that she thought Jesus was a feminist. I shared with her that I agreed. Honestly, I had never thought of Jesus in those terms previously. But heretofore, I also hadn’t really thought about the term “feminism” much. However, with my current understanding of the concept of a “feminist,” I think Jesus fits the bill.

Jesus’s ministry was remarkable in terms of inclusiveness. At a time when the prevailing religious values and cultural norms emphasized purity, Jesus went out of his way to befriend impure outcasts. For example, in his culture, women were nobodies. They were considered impure. Their presence in society was marginalized and undervalued to say the least. Yet we know that Jesus did not treat them that way.

Women traveled with Jesus and his disciples. Mary and Martha were among his closest friends with whom he could just relax and hang out. Women were also among Jesus’s most faithful followers. After Judas betrayed him, and even Peter claimed not to know him, women were the last to stay near Jesus as he experienced a torturous death by crucifixion. After his resurrection, as his disciples despaired at the apparent defeat of their leader, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene.

My sense is Jesus inspired such loyalty in women because of his radical attitude in treating them as precious human beings. People don’t follow a leader who denigrates them and makes them feel worthless. Leaders who inspire and empower people inspire enthusiastic loyalty.

Most of the New Testament was written by Paul as communications to various Christian communities. Paul has sometimes been disparaged by some progressives as misogynist. But as I understand, modern biblical scholarship has actually shed doubt on Paul’s authorship of certain controversial passages on the role of women. Indeed, Paul’s own writing memorializes his respect for the leadership of women like Priscilla in the fledgling Christian movement. And it is Paul himself who instructed us in his Epistle to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 King James Version).

I think this oft-quoted passage from Galatians is indicative of the respect for all human beings that Christians profess to have. If we truly believe that we are all one in Christ, and if feminism is about advocating for the equality of women, then all Christians should fall within the scope of the term “feminist.”

Acts 18:18 (Today's New International Version)

Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.

Romans 16:3 (Today's New International Version)

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.

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