women's empowerment

How I Learned That Feminism Isn’t Disconnected From Faith

A woman and a man carry scales of justice. Image courtesy TackTack/shutterstock.

A woman and a man carry scales of justice. Image courtesy TackTack/shutterstock.com

One of the most interesting conversations at the Berkley Center focused on the desire for power in feminist discourse. In some ways, the feminist aspiration for power in terms of fiscal gain only perpetuates the patriarchal emphasis on economic power as the only definition of success. 

One definition of female power that has its roots in Scripture is the power to be seen as equal before God. The concept that God created “man in his own image; male and female he created them” is imperative to feminist theory of shared power between sexes.

If we only define having power as women making capitalistic progress in our markets, we lose important aspects of divine femininity that render both male and female equal in the eyes of God.

I Need Feminism Because ...

Human rights, woman shape. Image courtesy Bombaert Patrick/shutterstock.com

Human rights, woman shape. Image courtesy Bombaert Patrick/shutterstock.com

In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism.

That there’s disagreement over how we talk about women’s empowerment in the U.S. isn’t surprising — feminism is a collection of unique people with unique visions of a good life, trying to figure out how to preserve past and present good, correct past and present wrongs, and forge a new way ahead together.

But it is tragically, perennially clear why speaking up against male-controlled narratives in church or school or novels or movies or business or government, against generations of excused behavior for men and oppression for women, against ongoing systemic injustice is still so crucially necessary.

From reading what these “anti-modern-feminists” have written, I don’t believe any of them would take umbrage with that. It’s a pity, then, they are rejecting the term feminism — their challenges would be great additions to the dialogue. More education and conversation about what feminism is, and how we do it, and where it can go, is clearly needed. Without it, I’m not at all sure how much farther forward we’ll be able to go.


In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and ‘Masculine Christianity’

A woman stands alone on the stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/shutterstock.com

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.

'I Believe You:' The Silence and the Shame of Sexual Violence in Church

Young woman alone on stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/shutterstock.com

Several years ago, Amee Paparella was an eager student at a state university in Ohio. A conservative Christian, she quickly signed up to join the campus ministry. What she found in the group surprised her.

“It was so misogynistic,” Paparella recalled. “My leaders perpetuated this hyper-masculinized idea of God as physically a man.”

Over the years, Paparella wrestled to reconcile this image of God with her own faith, often to the discomfort of her peers. But an incident of sexual abuse within the ministry proved the breaking point. When it was discovered that a young man had been abusing his female partner, also in the group, the campus minister and student leaders responded by encouraging the young woman to stand by her man and to pray with the other students for his healing.