Why does the idea of women empowerment create such push-back in the church?
At the risk of being disfellowshipped from certain Christian circles, I hesitate to admit it; but yes I am what one would consider a Christian who may align herself to certain feminist ideals. “What ideals are these?”, you may ask. Well, let me explain.
The dictionary tells me feminism is the advocacy of the equality of sexes. Equality you say? In what way? Well the way I have understood it, historically feminist movements were set up to re-dress certain inequalities such as women being allowed to vote, work, own property in their name, go to school; the list is endless. Basically, to offer the same opportunities to girls and women that society has afforded men.
Doesn’t seem horrible does it? Yet the word ‘feminist’ is at times hurled at me to shame me for believing in such ideals. To be honest I have rejected this because God forbid that I be considered such. Why? Well it could be the fact that the idea of women empowerment invokes strong negative reactions from both men and women in Christian circles. I will readily admit that global feminist movements have approached the African continent and our cultural practices with a zealous, misguided, blanket approach which has led to an outright rejection of the idea of gender equality. It misses a lot of the nuances and wisdom in many of what our cultures possess.
“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” – Genesis 1:27
However, should this necessarily translate to the assumption that seeing value in such a concept necessarily equates rejection of culture or Christian principles? Could it not be instead while respecting and honoring who we are as Africans– be it our hospitality, our business acumen, our ingenuity in tough situations, our beauty, our love for our families and communities – the issue is the expectation that there be no discussion of societal expectations but just an acceptance of what society throws at women. Is it so terrible to ask why certain things are done the way they are? Is it so terrible to not want to fit the mold?
I think this is the challenge really – how accepting are we of diverse views? Can we also admit that our cultural beliefs have seeped into our Christian beliefs and at times it is difficult to differentiate what is deemed more important? This may be a subject of another discussion but I digress…
How can we accept this concept of gender equality within the Christian context when it seems to challenge the order of society which is ordained by God. Ephesians 5 and Titus 2 are used as guiding principles. But perhaps this is where the misunderstanding is. It’s about the principle – of equality of choice and access to resources. I do not believe those of us who have buy-in into the concept of gender equality want to throw out our belief system but rather challenge the detail and the prescriptive way these principles are presented to women.
Let me give you an example: if my brother decided to break away from anything considered out of the norm, he would be called brave and would be supported and welcomed home with open arms even if he failed in his endeavors. But if I sought to do the same, there would be panic. The responses would be; “you can’t do that! What will people think? Who’s going to want to marry you?” I could go on and on.
You see, we live in a sinful world that has resulted in vast inequalities; in this case that unfairly affect the woman. Perhaps we should ask how can the Christian address these challenges individually and corporately. If we as Christians addressed the inequalities that necessitated the birth of these movements in the world perhaps we would not even need to have such a discussion. How can the Christian community respond to societal injustices while upholding our values?
“How can the Christian community respond to societal injustices while upholding our values?” – Larissa Subira
If the issue is adopting a worldly view that does not sync with our Christian values, do we offer a plausible alternative? The church is meant to be part of the community. If that was our focus, then perhaps we would realise that our man-made cultures are not necessarily Godly in the way we have created hierarchies and degrees of separation according to age, ethnic group, marital status etc.
When we look at Christ’s short 33 years on earth – one would say He reveled in disrupting cultural norms. When the disciples would shoo children away because they saw it as a waste of His time, Christ said; “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” Matthew 19:14. Culturally, it was not the norm for women to be an integral part of ministry, yet Christ encouraged Mary and Martha’s participation; developed friendships with them; encouraged their faith; and defended them when society was ready to literally stone them to death. In fact, an article written on Christ’s relationship with women in His day provides the following insightful excerpt:
“Jesus’ honor and respect was…extended to all women—an attitude largely unexpected and unknown in His culture and time. Jesus, unlike the men of His generation and culture, taught that women were equal to men in the sight of God. Women could receive God’s forgiveness and grace. Women, as well as men, could be among Christ’s personal followers. Women could be full participants in the kingdom of God…. These were revolutionary ideas. Many of His contemporaries, including His disciples, were shocked.” – Sheila Graham, Grace Communion International
The myth here is that if you believe in equality, you’re seeking to make women a replica of what men are. This may be happening, but in my view this should not be the intention. The intention should be to address the perversion of our roles that God created with love and wisdom. We were made in His image and with the ability to choose – this is our equality regardless of race and gender. Unfortunately, because we live in a messed-up world, the way we seek to address these issues is devoid of wisdom because we don’t go to God.
On the flip side instead of fighting and attacking each other, can we go to God? Not place our worldly wisdom above His by policing diversity of thought on His behalf. Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying we should all join the ‘feminist bandwagon’, I am just asking that we interrogate some of the prejudices we have and look at the heart of the matter that plagues our societies.
Larissa is an integral part of the bAw team and is the Content Manager for everything you see on our blogsite. She is an extremely smart and compassionate young woman who is passionate about the fair treatment of women.
Thank you Larissa for challenging us with these thoughts on a very sticky topic in the Church.
Let us know your thoughts on this issue. Do you think the Church is doing enough to ensure fair treatment of women today? How could we begin to become a part of the solution rather than the problem?
We’d love to hear from you!