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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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

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

a Body of Christ comes together to give a welcoming hug*

Not actually a hug.  Physical contact with strangers who are trying to welcome me can be awkward.

This is essentially an anecdote of a few conversations I’ve had recently which I kind of liked and then probably with some reflection tagged on the end.

In the Methodist Church the majority of our acts of worship are lead by authorised (volunteer) lay people who move around the churches in their area taking services.  These people are called  Local Preachers.  They go through a training programme and then are “accredited”.  They then hold that office for life, even if they are no longer actively working.  At major milestones we recongnise the valuable work that these people do in the church with Long Service Certificates which are usually presented during a service.

2 Local Preachers in Bangor are up for Long Service Certificates and their service is on this Thursday, which is also Aldersgate Day (Aldersgate deserves a separate post. Watch this space). I was undecided whether or not to go to the service; invariably it will be a fabulous service; a good mix of recognising these individuals hardwork and also that we all have different gifts and are called to use them at different times, and it being on Aldersgate would just add something very nice to it, but I am also cooking tea for a friend so we can hang out before we leave for the Summer!  So I was in two minds whether or not to go until Sunday morning.

One of the Local Preachers is a senior academic at my uni, and a lovely woman with whom I get on very well.  Her husband often helps out with the recording of services and the audio and was down to do so for the service coming up.  They occasionally invite one of her research students along to Chapel events (she last came to our beetle drive!) and this student is coming to the service, so the husband asked if I could cover the AV stuff so he could sit with the guest, because it would be utterly unfair to just abandon her in a strange situation!

I said yes.  Of course I said yes.  This is what team work is about (and yes, in part I see Chapels functioning as teams).  By someone else taking on his responsibilities in that service it freed up the husband to get on with the vitally important role of being welcoming and hospitable to someone coming into a strange setting; what a fabulous expression of what church should (in part) be like.  We talk so much about churches needing to be welcoming, and heck they really do need to be. It is a tough thing to achieve and requires a lot of hard work and some tricky balancing acts, but I see this as a clear example of when we got it right, because he recongised what it would mean for the guest to be coming, and because the chapel worked sufficiently as a team to be able to accommodate that.

Now all we need is for something similar to happen about the catering, which is still a bit dubious!!

In other news: I am doing a guest blog for The Spectacled Bear who is just utterly fabulous, I’ll post a link to it on here when it happens, but go check out her stuff before then, it’s pretty fab!

In other other news: Even better than me guest blogging for her, she is doing me a guest blog!  That will be far better than any post I ever publish, so keep your eyes out for that one as well!

A Trip to Llandaff

A few weeks ago now (sorry, other things got in the way of blogging about this) I went on a day trip down to St. Michael’s Theological College run by the Anglican Chaplain here.  The idea being to give people considering ordained ministry, a flavour of what “vicar school” is like.  Given that this blog will still function to be a public forum for my thoughts as I consider vocation, and what mine might be it seems appropriate to share some key snapshots.  This won’t be an extensive narrative of the time.  If you desperately want to know about the teashop on the way down or what the lasagne was like, get in touch!

Some background
St. Michael’s College (St. Mike’s) is the Church In Wales’ training college, with Methodist Ecumenical links and a good relationship with the Baptists.  It is based in Llandaff, Cardiff.  It has a mix of residential and non-residential students who hail from a range of Christian backgrounds; welsh-language, English-language, Charismatic, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church, Reformed, not-so-reformed, Conservative, Liberal etc.  It offers training at a number of academic levels depending on an ordinand’s ability and background. So on to the realisations …

Their approach to “formation” 
We arrived for lunch (very nice) and then after that the first port of call was an introductory talk by the vice-principle (a very lovely man who was very gracious and seemed to take a genuine interest us as people).  One of the main thrusts was their view on “formation” which made a lot of sense.  Like other similar institutions there is an emphasis not on imparting knowledge, or training in skills (although both are integral) but about developing people.   Stephen Roberts gave such a better explanation of this.  You’ll have to settle with, “I was very impressed with the approach they took for their students”.

On small communities
When I was choosing where to study my undergrad degree the size of the student body was a key factor; I wanted somewhere not overwhelmingly big, but not so small that it felt invasive.  I would hold that the size of the student body will be a factor in the order that I rank my preferences for training institutions (assuming I candidate and am accepted and that the single “Hub” Methodism is planning doesn’t exist by then).  If you’d asked me the day before going down to St. Mike’s I’d have said that I accept none of our colleges are huge, but the bigger the better because I’d find a small community to claustrophobic.  The community of students at St. Mike’s felt tiny (maybe 20?) but it didn’t feel claustrophobic or invasive.  Admittedly all we got was a snap-shot but it felt far better than I was expecting.  I had an overwhelming sense that I could actually fit into a group like that.
In no small way that was because everyone I met was so lovely.  I’m sure not every community that size has that feel, and praise is owed to the students we met, but I am no revising how important I think the size is.

Worship
This was so so lovely.  Partly I was shattered after a manic week and so a time to sit down in some quiet was delightful, but also it was a wonderful service, well conducted, by the students.  One of those beautifully refreshing services where I was certain I’d met with God, not because of how I’d felt, but because of the way I left in some way different.  Also the chapel was really beautiful.  It was probably an acquired taste, but I could have spent half a day there.  I also liked the idea that the style of worship changed with the students leading to reflect the diversity of the college; what a lovely idea and what a great way to foster understanding.

The next two points are a little bit more of gut-feelings that any real response.

A Call to Ordination and Further Theological Training
Whilst it is extremely unlikely I’d ever train at St. Mike’s it felt right being there, in the sense that it felt right I get a better feel of what a training college is like.  It confirmed the sense that this would be part of my future.  That I have been called to ordained ministry and to further training.  Whilst the two come together they can also be separated, and it was in different ways that I felt called to both, but at the same time that they’d come together.  Discussions on practical things like how one would deal with certain situations confirmed a sense of calling to be a Minister and theological discussion and the talk of Masters excited me that this would come with part of that.

A Call to be Ordained a Presbyter
Within British Methodism there are two orders of Ordained Ministry; Presbyters and Deacons.  So with a sense of call to ordained ministry one must discern which form of ministry one is called to.  The students lead worship, including communion with the exception of the special bit that only ministers can do (the days of lay presidency can’t get here soon enough for my liking) and because I was so tired I even missed the subtle swap between the that bit, so it looked to me as if the students had lead communion.  This bit gets very wishy washy, but when I saw them I felt a sense of empathy and that *that* was what I was supposed to do.  So it felt like a definitive confirmation that if I am called to ordained ministry it is to presbyteral ministry; a ministry of Word and Sacrament.  This is something I’ve always felt, but could never justify, which might have proven tricky come candidating.  But now I have a small experience which might support this “assumption” although it’d be lovely if God could send some more.

All in all the trip was a really lovely one, fascinating, informative and affirming.  I am very glad I went.

Feastly blogging

The Church of God has always celebrated things, and since its inception those celebrations have, in part, been linked to the calendar.  This is obviously not a unique element of Christian faith, most religions have a calendar with high points in it, but as our Tradition grew so too did the way we celebrated those important days, and indeed the days themselves changed; as other key events occurred they were added to the calendar (important Saint days for example) or as the church perceived a need to to mark occasions they were added too (Remembrance Day for example) or the example that inspires this post; Mothering Sunday (a more specifically mothering Sunday post may follow).

But in the same way that the church developed to add these festivals, the church is still developing; maybe we’ll add a new festival sometime, but certainly the way we mark these occasions is changing.

They key moments in the church year were, and still, are marked as “feasts” the church would gather and mark the occasion by having communion.  Depending on where in the Christian tradition one lies depends on how one marks these feasts, what one calls them, and which ones are observed, I do not see this practice of feasting changing.  But there is a technological development that I see occurring alongside this.  As an increasing number of Christians blog we, I believe not too intentionally, mark the church calendar and these feast days in our blogging; mainly because the feast days have an important meaning to us and we blog about things that are important; a great number of my Methodist friends blogged about Covenant services they’d attended, there are a few Mothering Sunday blogs knocking around, and I intend to add one, Christmas and Easter obviously get blogged about, as does Pentecost, those with a higher churchship may blog about key saints too.  It all makes sense.  If something is worth celebrating physically then it is worth marking in the virtual world as well, it is a natural progression.

In a number of things, we benefit from what comes naturally, but benefit more so if we consciously decide to do something. So I am consciously deciding to blog on feast days.  It won’t be every feast day (there’s at least one saint to commemorate each day) but the ones that I find important, given where I am in my faith tradition, and invite other bloggers to actively seek to do the same.

some greyness around labels

In the vestry of the chapel I grew up in, from conception through til I was 10-ish there was a poster that said “Labels tie your child down” and had an image with a child struggling to walk because there were lots of huge luggage labels tied to him.

Labels, when applied to us, and as a way of meaning that people don’t have to get to know us, are a bad thing, without a doubt.  But I also think labels can be a good thing, as a means of self-identification, and specifically within the Christian world I think labels, when we apply them to ourselves help us in the cause of Christian unity.

In most cases, labels highlight differences.  I am an Arminian because someone else is a Calvinist; Someone else is conservative because I am liberal; someone is a complimentarian because another is an egalitarian, some are charismatic because others are not, I have a friend who needs to say he’s an inerrantist because not everyone is.  I don’t know about other people, but often me and my friends will pre-fix a statement during a chat with “Well, I believe xxx, so” usually the xxx is something the other doesn’t believe. (for example a Roman Catholic might say to me “I believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary”).

I see two key advantages in describing ourselves in this way 1) it keeps our disagreements graceful 2) it reminds us of what we agree on

Disagreement is a natural part of life, and it is as natural part of being in a faith community.  I am reminded of the clips from The Life of Brian where there are disagreements over what various items Brian leaves mean, and how his “disciples” ought to follow him best; Christianity is no different, we produce a variety of of biblical interpretations, a range of doctrines and numerous ways of running churches.  No doubt somewhere in that melee is “the right answer” but there is no way of knowing for certain.  Using labels reminds us of that; it highlights that there is disagreement and that we cannot know the answer.  When someone introduces their ideas by saying “I’m a Universalist, so …” it reminds me that there are ways of reading the bible beside my own, and so inspires me to extend grace and courtesy to their ideas.

The use of labels also helps us recognise our own tendencies or preferences.  Whether it is because when I acknowledge I am an egalitarian I have to admit to myself at times this will colour my understanding, or whether it is because when someone describes themselves as Charismatic it pushes me to recognise I am not that Charismatic and so acknowledge I am more skeptical than others.  These tendencies or theological preferences are not necessarily bad things (although we need to check they don’t over-colour things) but we need to be aware of them if we can learn from other Christians and so we can make sure that they don’t affect things adversely.

Secondly, labels remind us of what we agree on and they do so by highlight divergent opinions.  If you can put a label or a caveat on it, then there is a range of opinions on it.  If not then it is something we can agree on.  You don’t get “Jesusists” – those Christians who believe in Jesus as opposed to those who don’t; because we all believe in Jesus.  If we can’t label it, then it must be pretty commonly shared, at least as a rule of thumb.

So what of those who reject the use of labels?  There are plenty of them “well, I’m just a Christian really” is a common phrase.  Sometimes this comes from a desire to be known for making individual, evaluated decisions, rather than accepting the normal position of this group or that group.  I know Calvinists who agree with all of TULIP but who don’t call themselves that because their doctrines were reached by reading scripture rather than working through mnemonic.   Which is a very reasonable position to take.  Although, of course those of us who use labels tend to have gone through the same process.  In these situations I respect people’s decision not to label themselves, but hope they can acknowledge how their position affects their understanding of biblical texts or of life situations.

Another, more worrying, situation, which thankfully is rare, is that people reject labels because of a narrow view of what we must agree on, or a short-sightedness of how we disagree.  They think that because they believe x, or y, everyone else must also, and to not brings into doubt whether they are a Christian.  This is a slim but worrying trend we must oppose.

790 words later, and this all sounded a lot greyer than I thought it would, but oh well, I have said I’ll try and embrace that, so feel free to use the comments button lots.  How am I wrong? Where do you disagree with me?  What do I take too far or not acknowledge?