Faith v. Feminism: Do I Really Have to Choose?

My faith crisis began at a church membership class. After leaving the Baptist church in 2009, where women aren’t allowed to wear pants or stand in the pulpit, I never officially joined another congregation. I’ve always been pretty faithful when it comes to attending service and Bible study, but because of my general distrust of pastors and church folks, I’m just not about that membership life. [I’ve noticed similar anti-formal commitment themes in my non-existent love life, but that’s a different blog post.]

This past January, however, for the first time in 5 years, I finally felt ready to commit. This particular church was different—the people were imperfect, the vibe was non-traditional and I felt that I fit right in. In many ways, it was far from what I wanted, but I knew it would grow me, which is what I needed.

I showed up on time for membership class, ready to make my new relationship official. But as soon as I read ahead in the church’s “philosophy of ministry” to the clause about women in the church, I knew we had a problem. Though they encouraged women to teach and lead in certain capacities, they believed the pastoral role was reserved strictly for men. The pastor went to great lengths to explain why women weren’t allowed to be pastors, but to me, it sounded a lot like “separate but equal” doctrine. No matter how many Greek and Hebrew words he interpreted, I just couldn’t bring myself into agreement with it.

As a woman who’s impacted thousands of people through writing, leading Bible studies, and discipleship, I didn’t understand why I eventually couldn’t run a church. Am I not already doing that? I thought. Well, no, but I totally could in the future. Why are these people telling me that I can’t? Does the Bible really say that? Does God really think women are the weaker vessels? How can I serve a God who doesn’t regard me as man’s equal?

And just like that, I entered crisis mode. I scoured the Bible for every sexist story I could find and threatened to leave God if He didn’t explain them all. I stopped going to church, unable to sit through a sermon without questioning everything the pastor said—not because he was wrong, but because he was quoting the Bible and I didn’t know if I believed in it anymore. Since I had built my entire life around my faith, I felt that my world had fallen apart. If I didn’t believe in the Bible, then what did I believe in? Without God, I no longer had a purpose. Pair this with the inevitable quarter-life crisis that hits after college graduation and you have a very serious situation on your hands.

My “come [back] to Jesus” moment happened when after trying to return to some old sinful habits, I literally couldn’t. Despite my deliberate neglect of the Word and frustration with God, His convictions still weighed heavily on my heart and I knew it was time to start inching my way back towards Him.

Throughout my time of questioning and contemplation, as rough as it was, I gained a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and grace. I couldn’t even step to God before checking my pride and Black power fist at the door. Whenever I opened my Bible looking for misogyny and blatant racism, I found it. But whenever I dug into His Word looking for God’s form of justice and equality, I found that it compensated for the controversial passages.

But don’t get me wrong. Nothing about this journey has been easy or automatic. I still haven’t joined that particular church largely because of their clause on women. Does that mean I’m not a Christian or that I don’t believe in the Bible? No. It simply means that I’m working it out. And for the first time since I rededicated my life to Christ in 2010, I’m asking God the difficult questions: Why exactly are women called to submit to their husbands and what does that even mean? Why are there no female authors in the Bible? Why was Eve’s curse so much more intense than Adam’s? And why, Lord why, do women have periods? Etc.

I may never receive the answers I’m looking for, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that God deeply loves women and justice! At a first glance, the stories of Hagar, Sodom & Gomorrah, and [enter seemingly problematic Bible story here] may not seem to reflect a fair and just God, but I’d argue otherwise. If I shared all that God has revealed to me regarding His heart towards women, this post would never end, but please know that God is willing and able to meet you where you are. He knows your thoughts anyway, so you might as well vocalize them. Tell Him what you’re struggling to accept and why. Ask Him to help you understand. If He can do it for me, an extremely critical and distrusting social activist, He can do it for you.

It is no secret that, as Christians, we must believe before we see and trust before we understand. When it comes to our personal philosophies and values, this rule still applies. Believe it or not, feminism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. As believers, however, we must be willing to submit our subjective truths to His absolute.

As for me, I’ve decided that Jesus is worth the paradigm shift.

Note: This post was inspired by Samantha Eyler’s moving article, Why I Had to Lose My Religion Before I Could Support Gender Equality. After reading it, I felt compelled to share my own story. Let the dialogue continue!


9 responses to “Faith v. Feminism: Do I Really Have to Choose?

  1. I think when women teach, we do lead. I think the church just has a clause on women being the lead pastor because of how men are called to leadership in our homes and families. It’s the church’s responsibility to help raise up these kind of men, so we find men living Godly lives in order to lead other men in this regard.

    Also, as far as women being the weaker vessels, yeah we definitely are. Ever had to pass your dad the jar of jelly to get it unstuck? Ever asked a guy to help you move something that you weren’t strong enough to lift? We’re definitely physically weaker, and we’re fragile in other ways. Not saying that women can’t be emotionally strong and great leaders, but we’re also emotional, vulnerable, and tender in ways that are different from men.

    Oh and I chuckled a little at the thought that Eve’s curse was more intense than Adam’s. I disagree. Responsible men, Godly men, lead hard lives. God puts them in charge of their whole family and places on men’s shoulders the responsibility for their family’s wellbeing. Many blue-collar men (like my dad) work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and are still expected to come home and be a good dad.

    Anywhoo, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We all go through those moments or seasons when God test’s our faith and increases our understanding of him. Thanks for the openness.

  2. I love this quote from reddit I was looking at this morning:

    from the thread

    My Christianity and my feminism are my two strongest convictions, and I’ve reached the point where it’s difficult for me to understand how anyone who claims to be following the example of Christ’s teachings can be content with anything less than an attitude of activism against unjust social standards. This is limited to not just women, but people of color, LGBT people, disabled individuals and the poor.
    What many, many people refuse to acknowledge is that Jesus was one of history’s first feminists. Many don’t realize how utterly radical his actions in John 8 where, when he went before a crowd of men about to serve their version of justice to a woman who had been accused of adultery. At that period in time there was literally no greater disgrace than women deemed to be sluts. They were considered less than human and undeserving of forgiveness and even life, and yet Jesus confronted the crowd and without breaking a sweat stated flat-out: you are the same as her. You as men are not superior to her, and she is not worse than you. That was unheard of. Combined with the fact that he allowed Mary Magdalene to not only be an apostle the same way his male students were but to also be the first to see him after his resurrection and spread the news of his return, Jesus proved himself repeatedly to be radically feminist and utterly unashamed of it.
    A lot of people have somehow twisted the Christian religion into a tool of oppression against the very people that Jesus taught us we must extend our greatest compassion to, and there isn’t a day that goes by where that doesn’t deeply trouble me. But there are many, many denominations which recognize the importance of building God’s perfect kingdom on earth through activism for the cause of the oppressed and they never get nearly enough credit for it because the detractors are merely louder.
    A Christian abolitionist and woman’s rights activist named Sojourner Truth argued that the bible is in fact a basis for female supremacy in both religion and government because, by her reasoning, if all it took was a single woman to turn the world upside and give mankind free will, women ought to be able to band together and turn it right again. That’s a philosophy that’s become incredibly important to me.
    haha aaand this turned into a bit of a novel, sorry! This is just a topic that’s super important and super personal to me. Feel free to shoot me a message if you ever want to discuss it further or have any specific questions.

  3. I truly thank God that I saw this. To have someone who feels the exact same why that I do is wonderful. I myself am a feminist activist in training and I myself am as we speak questioning God for the conviction of women, worldly and biblically. Again thank you so much for posting this. You are a gift from God.

  4. I have asked these questions before and I am still asking some and I am excited to read that your questions have not made you walk away from God. One of the greatest things I have learned is that God is not threatened by our questions. I pray that your find answers and that the Holy Spirit leads you and changes your heart (if need be) to who he wants you to be 🙂

  5. Pingback: You’ve left the Church, now what? A response to Christians who choose not to attend church –·

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