Femmy-Mentum: Why I am a Feminist 3/3

I am a feminist because I believe in Gender Equality.

Many of my friends, some of whom read this blog, have a few of feminism as a movement for Woman-supremecy.  That we won’t stop until men are smashed and women are on top.  This isn’t true of me, and actually it isn’t true of feminism.  What I do want is gender equality.  I am sick and tired of society treating women differently, having different expectations of them, of them being forced to modify their behavior to suit men’s agenda.

These posts aren’t supposed to be long, but at the same time I feel the need to establish a strong case that women and men are treated unequally otherwise arguing that I am a feminist for the sake of gender equality is futile.  So I will link you to this privilege checklist:

http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/male_privilege.pdf

I believe that this privilege, the privilege in which I share, is unjust and it demeans the God-given personhood of women and that feminism is the best way of smashing it.  (yes, that is something I believe we should smash).  And that once we have overcome this male-privilege then we will see greater gender equality.

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Why a Church Student Worker is marching on Demo2012

I work part time for a church in North Wales as a Student Worker. Most of the time I am paid to support our student group, offer pastoral care to students and explore ways we can engage with more students. I also go to meetings and am involved in things at church. In practice this means I am paid to drink a lot of tea in our uni coffee shop. When people ask me what it is I do, the first answer I give is that I am paid to be nice to students. That is the one line version that summarises all the stuff I do.

It also works well because it incorporates a lot of the motivation behind what I do. As a Christian I believe in a God of love, who limited themself to human form in order to demonstrate that love. Jesus’ life and ultimately his death demonstrates the nature of God as one who cares for other people, giving of himself out of his love for them.

It is because of the example of Jesus and because I am employed to be nice to students that I am joining our Student Union’s contingent going down to London on 21st November.

How can I say God, the Church, or I love students if I stand idly by when existing students are facing horrific debt and crippling cuts and other when university applications are falling? How can I hear students express their overwhelming fear of never repaying their loan, or that they will have “invested” all this money but be one of the growing number of under 25 year olds unable to find employment?

I can’t. It would destroy my integrity, it would make a mockery of the work I do and be a very poor representation of the God whom I follow with my life.

I care deeply about students. The ones I work with, the ones I will work with in the future, the people who have been put off being a student, and so I am called by the loving God to turn that love into action. To speak out against the fees and the cuts. They weren’t right two years ago and they still aren’t now. They are still hurting students. They still have to stop and so I am going to march to tell this to the government, the media and the country.

Femmy-mentum: Why I am a feminist 2/3

I am a feminist because God has changed me to be so.

As a rule of thumb I am not particularly charismatic in my spirituality and I am generally sceptical of people who appeal to personal experience as a justification, therefore it is with some disbelief that I submit this reason for my feminist convictions, and I suppose, I offer it actually as one interpretation of an event.

Conveniently it ties with with Momentum, in that it occurred at the teenage version; Soul Survivor. After a talk on loving what God loves and serving him, we were invited to pray that “God would break our hearts for what breaks his”. I think my young self expected me to develop a passion for evangelism and biblical teaching in some previously un-reached tribe. He didn’t. At that point I would not be able to describe myself as a feminist. I barely supported a feminist agenda, and my attitude to women’s liberation did not change. But gradually over time my attitude shifted, I found myself agreeing more and more with elements of feminist agendas, then I changed a bit more and here I am. I am a feminist, I cannot hide from that title, and instead I actually use it unashamedly. The goals that we pursue and the injustices we challenge set my heart ablaze in a way that I was expecting it to respond to tribal evangelism. It burns with passion for the cause, and anger at the injustices.

And I am left with a question, a niggling, inescapable question. It isn’t one that I totally have an answer to, but that I am enjoying sitting with. What if, perhaps, this is an answer to prayer? What if, somehow, what I feel when I get all feminist, is my heart breaking in the way that God’s does?

Perhaps, I am a feminist, because God has made me so.

 

Femmy-Mentum Why I am a feminist 1/3

I am a feminist because God values women but the world doesn’t.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures there is a bias for protecting and empowering the marginalised. I cannot escape that there are a number of misogynistic passages in the bible too, but I believe the whole testimony of scripture is one that seeks to challenge marginalisation and liberate from oppression. Women are looked down on, judged, they are blamed for the way that men act around them, they are not given the equality or dignity that they deserve. Men children of God continue to hold onto the reigns of power, to demonise women, to hinder them, to be treated better than the treat women children of God. This isn’t right, this is not fair. I genuinely believe that women in the UK and across the world are being oppressed by patriarchy. I believe that this flies in the face of the Gospel and should anger all who wish to follow God. I also believe feminism is the best tool we have for smashing patriarchy and inequality. Feminism is the best way of fighting for a better, fairer world that gives people equal value, irrespective of their gender, and I believe to long for those things is to be in tune with God’s redemptive scheme for the world.

I am a feminist because God wishes to end women’s oppression.

Next week: Why I am a feminist 2/3

Femmy-mentum: Here we go …

I know it has been a long time coming; a lack of internet and settling into my new job have kind of got in the way of my blogging, but I am back, and as promised I have a series of reflections, from a feminist perspective, from my time at Momemtum.

Naturally they are not a full picture of my time there, but they include a few of the things I was mulling over.  So, each friday until I have run out of things to say, I’ll be post a reflection.  It will start with a three part look at why I support a feminist agenda (something I was thinking about at Momentum) and then continue into other reflections and some reactions to events there.

At the end of each post I shall tell you the title of the next one, so you can be waiting for it all week/decide not to read it. Or, more accurately because sometimes they come in two parts of with two sides and I don’t want you ripping me th shreds before you’ve read both!

Next post (actually coming later today): Why I am a feminist I/III

Impetus gained by a moving object

I am now back from 5 days of an Evangelical-Charismatic Conference for Students and 20-30yr old sorts called Momentum, which is run by Soul Survivor.  In which my femmy brain went into over-drive.  Therefore … I am an announcing a forth-coming mini-series of blogs around themes of feminist theology inspired by my time there.  This is possible slightly brash, we shall see.  But, as they say, which this space.

Because they will for a series I hope that the posts will be shorter than usual; they should cap about the 700 word mark.  Also, I intend to have a clever title for my series, but suggestions are welcomed!

Privilege and Persecution

Yesterday I popped along to the evening service of the church I went to on my gap year.  I don’t tend to go back there these days; my church-hood and spirituality have changed a lot over the last 3 years, but I didn’t go to a morning service and I try and pop in once a summer holiday to see which folk I recognise.

Not quite in this language, but in essence the preacher touched on Christian privilege and persecution and, sadly, I was horrified by what he said and the position from which he spoke.

His starting point was that the Church is to expect persecution; something I wholeheartedly agree with.  He also did not fall into the trap of claiming the British church is persecuted.  He acknowledged we have it easy for which I was very grateful.  (He didn’t quite go as far as saying we sometimes abuse our privilege, but oh well!)  So he started well, and many in his place would have done a lot worse.  I am sick and tired of being told the Church in the UK, or the Gospel, is being persecuted.  Bishops sit in the House of Lords, Schools are obliged to carry out acts of Christian Worship etc etc but explaining in utterly labourious terms how the Christian community in this country has it easy will have to wait for another time.

The preacher’s attention then turned to the genuinely persecuted church.  We were told an horrific tale of police brutality and institutional mis-treatment. My paraphrase  follows below:

In a central Asian country there was the daughter of a pastor. When the rest of her family was out she was visited by 3 police officers.  She refused them entry to her home, the police went to her family’s car, and fearing they would plant incriminating material to provide a pre-text for arresting her/them she tried to stop them.  In response the police grabbed the girl and repeatedly smashed her head against the vehicle causing brain damage.

Her parents returned home to find her body.  They sought medical attention for her at a state hospital but they were reluctant to treat her because her injuries were dealt by the police. When the hospital found out she was a Christian they discharged her.  She tried a few other hospitals but all were reluctant to treat her.  Eventually her parents decided to go private but even the private sector was reluctant.  She is currently in a Russian hospital being treated and is slowly regaining use of her limbs.

This is a horrifying story of vicious persecution, but also of oppression.  It is not a tale of a one-off attack against a woman, but a snap-shot of a police force without due care for its countries citizens, a state that permits its law enforcement agencies to commit civil right abuses, it includes state medical institutions that fear the state more than they care about providing quality care (not that I can blame them).  It is also, therefore, a reasonably safe bet that it is not just Christians who are subjected to this treatment.

I hear stories like this and I become angry, I guess some people might say my heart breaks.  Not because a Christian sibling is being persecuted but because fellow humans are being oppressed.  I get angry because a chain of humans in this central Asian country failed to see anything of themselves in this woman and so abused and then neglected her.  I get angry because countless other humans, my self included stand by and allow it to happen.  I think that God gets angry too.  I think he gets angry that anyone, Christian or not, is treated this way.

The preacher wasn’t best pleased by this story either.  He said it broke his heart. But institutional violence and systematic abuse didn’t anger him, what angered him was that a Christian was a victim of these things.

When will we wake up?

When will we see the bigger picture?

When will we stop caring about ourselves?

When will we start being people’s neigbours and “the creed and the colour and name won’t matter”?

As he told us how his heart broke, the preacher spoke from a very privileged position, and us in the congregation (predominantly, but not solely, white and middle-class)listened from one.  Christians in the UK do not suffer from religious persecution and we live in countries with a National Health Service who’s mission is to provide free, accessible health-care at the point of need, and do so without fear.  We in countries where our human rights and civil liberties are protected.  Yes, things could be better.  There is police violence, there is institutional discrimination, the privileged continue to oppress the less-privileged.  But he and we have it OK.  Our neighbour is unlikely to have their head smashed in by the police.

I think this blinds us slightly.  I think our privilege blinds us slightly.  We struggle to acknowledge the wider travesty that the story points to, because we cannot relate to living in a country where such things could happen.  So instead we focus in on how outraged we are that it should happen to someone we like because they share the same faith as us.

The Church needs to stop.  And it needs to wake up.  We cannot claim that God makes all humans with value, worth and dignity and yet only be angry when Christian’s rights are curtailed or only when Christians are abused.  Jesus came to “proclaim freedom for prisoners and …. set the captives free“.  We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start opposing the wider, deeply-rooted injustices.  It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun.  We might look political, we might look to be buying into the agenda of modern, democratic liberalism, it might look as if we like civil liberties and like human rights, it might mean challenging earthly authorities.  SO WHAT?!  If challenging a country is political, so be it.  Human rights and civil liberties are good; they are one way of giving people value and worth; something Christians believe is important and Godly.  Yes, we’ll challenge authority, but Jesus did that too.

So, please, please can we stop feeling sorry for Christians and start protecting humans.  Rather than looking at stories of persecution as one-off attacks against a person’s faith and start seeing the real depth of the problems and the way the affect all of a country’s society and please, please can all of these injustices, regardless of the victims, break our hearts in the same way the cause God to grieve.

“forward planning”

One isn’t supposed to do forward planning, one ought really just to plan, because what other direction might one plan, backwards-ly?  We tend to call that regret or hindsight!  But the thinking I am doing at the moment feels like very forward planning.  I have started to consider where I want to be and what I want to be doing in 13months’ time.  My chaplain at uni (I suppose now he’s not my uni chaplain he’s my colleague -oooh!) sent me an E-mail semi-seriously suggesting that I consider applying to stand as the Methodist Youth President.  I am tossing up whether to stand for a different representative position from 3Generate; the Methodist Children and Youth Assembly (which, by the way people should book onto!) and am mulling over standing in the election to go to Methodist Conference to represent Wales Synod.  All of which need decisions soon, but won’t take effect for nearly a year.

I’m not sure I like making plans for after a post that I haven’t even started yet!

If anyone who thinks I might value their opinion has pearls of wisdom they would be accepted!

Progress and Paperwork

The distinct lack of writing her has not been a conscious decision, but more a mix of laziness and a lack of things to write and then being quite busy, but things now move on a-pace.

The first notable thing is to say that I have graduated!  I suppose I am now technically Mr. Paul Parker BD, although I would much prefer it if people used this term of address and little as possible!  I graduated with a 2:2 which was what I was expecting and which I was pleased with.  Most of my theology friends graduated with First Class degrees and I am very pleased for them.

At milestones such as this I often get a bit reflective and so I have been thinking back over the last three years (with much gladness)!  How I have changed, how I have grown.  What if anything I have changed.  It has been a slightly mixed but generally wonderful experience, which I doubt I would change much at all.  I have affiliated a society to our Students’ Union, been a Society President, fallen in love with climbing, been on a national demo, failed an exam, done very well in an essay I started two days before in Costa, lived with and visited some incredible people, stayed up all night supporting friends, spent numerous hours at ballot boxes, counted for a Union election, helped run the first online election in Bangor’s history and experienced our highest every election turnouts, I have started training as a Local Preacher and have stuck with our fabulous department as it has started winding down its existence, I have fallen deeper into the snare of Connexional Methodism and I love it, I have cried when an old housemate has been called back into work, resigned from a society, moaned about sending E-mails, screamed at people I love dearly and had dear friends leave.  Some of the time I ought to have been doing uni work rather than what I actually did, but if I were to do the whole thing again I’d still stay up, I’d still climb rather than revise etc, it may be the reason I got a 2:2 rather than a 2:1 but I’d rather have all these experiences and have been shaped by them than get a 2:1.

So that is a bit of progress.  Then comes some paperwork, which is, I suppose, progress but mainly just feels like paperwork!  Me and my family spent the week of my graduating holidaying on Anglesey, which was lovely, but involved a day trip to Bangor to look for accommodation for next year which involved some forms, I looked around a few places, decided to go for one, which involved even more more forms!  But several questions and very few easy answers later, I am paying the deposit for a lovely bungalow in Bangor next week! So I suppose I pretty much have a place to live!  That ought to count as progress, and I am looking forward to making it feel homely and stuffing a cupboard with tea!

I have also been filling in Methodist paperwork! An application for a little bit of Grant Funding for next year to supplement the District and Circuit Funding and a form so that my wage goes to the right place!  This second form in particular came as a massive surprise, but is a bit reassuring.  So again, paperwork but also progress!

So September and the “next chapter” fast approaches, but the getting ready for it also continues and a pretty nice speed!

If there isn’t a happy ending … don’t preach one

[Warning: This post goes on to mention violence against women]

The Christian Canon is wide-ranging and deep-reaching.  It is testimony to, as well as being born out of, pretty much the whole spectrum of human experience.  Sometimes preachers like to remind us of this; in a evangelistic talk we are told we can always find a bit of the bible we can relate to and it’s relevance is commended to us on this basis.  From the pulpit also.  We are reminded the bible wasn’t just written by saints; the “go to” passage for this is Psalm 51 where we hear David confess to God of his sinfulness with Bathsheba.

But alongside these claims (and I believe them to be valid) our actions also sometimes speak differently.  Sometimes the pulpit masks, avoids, glosses over, down-right polishes up some of the very human bits of the bible.  Recently I experienced a sermon given on the story of Ruth which highlights the point.  Ruth’s story became idyllic, fantastical, almost like a fairy-tale as she went from destitute to secure, all because of her prince-charming and God’s provision.  I am sure most people at the service left with a warm glow in their hearts. … But I didn’t.

Because I saw through the fairy-tale.  Alongside the preacher’s gloss of the story I also dipped into my translation’s account, and I become more and more discomforted.  I didn’t read a story of God’s provision, or the joys of finding “Mr. Right”.  I found a story of patriarchy and oppression.  I met a group of women who didn’t have their own standing in society, and who were dependent on men for their survival.

Ruth’s story occurred in a viciously patriarchal society, I have to accept that, and it would be irresponsible of the preacher to pretend otherwise just as to gloss over the nasty bits coming up is irresponsible.  I also have to accept that we can’t preach about how God values women and equal and independent people each time a bible passage portrays the patriarchies of the past, although I think it is sometimes helpful to get close to that.

I do, however, struggle with twisting Ruth into a means of saying “don’t all you women just wish you could be like Ruth and find a nice Boaz who will care for you and provide for you”.  The angry feminist within me sees that far too much like perpetuate bad stereotypes about gender and gender-roles.  I fail to see how the Church will nurture Deborahs if we emphasise how women should be Ruths looking for their Boaz.  But then within the Church I know some women who are called to be like Deborah and  find that empowering and other women who are just as equally and validly called and empowered by finding a partner.  There are some women who serve God in both images of womanhood.  I believe God made and celebrates that diversity.  So whilst the “true-love” theme isn’t the one that I would take, and whilst it did nothing for me, I am prepared to mutter quietly to myself about that one.

But there is more in this “happily-ever-after” and this is what really gets me angry, not just for myself but for other people.

“And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” Ruth 2:22 ESV)

Things are far worse than gender-roles now.  One of the key figures in this biblical narrative has to stick to Boaz’s field and with the other women because if she doesn’t she might be assaulted by the men.  The bible covers a full spectrum of human experience.  Even violence against women.  And this one utterly horrifying verse also reminds us that oppression of women isn’t just something of the past; it isn’t just that Ruth couldn’t sustain herself without a man, it is that she fears for her safety.  In the UK women can now have jobs and earn money, they can have their own bank accounts, they can take out their own mortgages and own their own houses.  (All rights they had to fight to win.  They are still not at full equality yet) but they are also being told to walk home from town in groups and have to plan which route will keep them on well lit, populated streets.  Some things have progressed but some things still haven’t.  There is not much difference between Naomi’s instructions to Ruth, and the safety guidelines given to women today.

But so often that verse is shot over, not mentioned, glossed over, omitted.  Which is an irresponsible way of dealing with a biblical text, and also a pastorally devastating decision. We have known for a little while now there are more women in our pews than men.

And at the same time, in 2007 stats from the Home Office showed tha, “Violence against women has affected almost 1 in 2 women in the UK”¹.  We have churches predominantly full of women, and just shy of half of women have experienced violence against them.  That means that it is statistically likely there are women hearing sermons on Ruth (and other passages) whose lives relate directly to her experience as portrayed in v.22 and yet so many preachers continue to avoid this subject. Apparently it is OK for the bible to relate to us when we give in to temptation, or when we get angry, when we have doubts with our faith etc.  I suppose the bible is allowed to relate to us when we are mourning the death of loved ones.  Bible verses flow a plenty when we’re unsure about the future, or are having a rough time, but if you’re a victim of violence against women, then no, the message of the story is that we should all hope to find lovely husbands like Boaz.
This angers me.  I’m OK with not ranting too loudly about gender-stereotypes and a massive emphasis on finding Mr (Boaz) Right, but this is different, this is a whole different ball game.  This is something I’m prepared to get angry about because in omitting talk about this very real human experience the Church alienates itself from people it should be caring for and becomes complicit in a society where “More people would call the police if someone was mistreating their dog than if someone was mistreating their partner.”² By neglecting to preach of these painful verses, by remaining silent on this issue which strips women of the dignity and worth that God gave them we dishonour the creator-shepherd who loves them and we dishonour those whom we are charged to love.
[1] Coleman, K., Jansson, K., Kaiza, P., Reed, E., (2007) Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006. Home Office, Editor. 
[2](pg 15) ICM (2003) Hitting Home BBC Domestic Violence Survey