Why I don’t talk a lot about feminism, and why I should

It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged two days in a row, but I just couldn’t not join this week’s synchro-blog on faith and feminism. I don’t know most of the other bloggers listed as part of #FaithFeminisms, and most of them have probably never heard of me.  We quite likely differ on all kinds of things from our favorite foods to our favourite books, our ways of expressing faith and theology. But since the invitation was made, I couldn’t resist including myself in the discussion and adding my voice to the chorus.

I don’t talk a lot about feminism.

I serve my congregation as lead pastor, having grown from not at all thinking about pastoral ministry to being called and curious, and now having been in ministry for over 20 years. From my initial call to ordination to increasing responsibility with other staff, I feel as if my church has been one step ahead of me, more ready for me to take on leadership than I envisioned for myself.

The congregation had worked at their understanding of women in the church back in the 1980s well before they became “my” congregation. And even though not everyone was quite on the same page, by the time I arrived, it didn’t seem fruitful to keep belabouring the point. After all, the church had a woman pastor and a woman council chair. Women and men were already taking responsibility as deacons, council members, worship leaders, preachers, and in other leadership roles. So instead of talking about gender — or for that matter, talking about any of the many things that could divide us, like race, age, language, education, socio-economic and other differences — I chose a different approach to focus on our commonality in following Jesus.

Of course, as I understand it, following Jesus includes valuing the presence, participation, gifts, and leadership of women as part of his body. It means that some of our church members are active at the Warm Zone which provides support for street-engaged women, and others connect with women at the second-stage Christine Lamb Residence for women and children. Beyond our own community, the G12 project enables girls in Guatemala to get an education, and was developed as a response to the discrimination they faced.

Instead of talking a lot about feminism, I see these as some of the different ways we embody it in practical, lived expressions of faith. I know that’s partly my own bent. By temperament I’m more diplomat than rebel, more peacemaker than prophet, more likely to quietly do something than to talk about it. Then too, on the continuum between contemplation and activism, I tend toward contemplation. I value being grounded in worship and having a sense of the sacred for its own sake, not primarily as a tool for activism.

That’s why I don’t talk a lot about feminism. Not that we’ve already arrived, but my immediate environment has generally been supportive, there is some good work being done, and more broadly, I tend to focus on the big picture of what we have in common and to locate my understanding of faith and feminism within the broader framework of what it means to follow Jesus.

I’m extremely thankful for the freedom and support to do this, but I also know that feminism is about much more than my personal experience in the microcosm of my own church. So I also know that

I need to say more.

Why?

Just as contemplation is not simply a tool for the activist, so activism is not simply an option for the more contemplative. Being grounded in worship and having a sense of the sacred will also mean valuing and honouring the image of God in others, including women. Not only by quietly living that out, but by saying it out loud. Contrary to the quote often (mis-) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi to “use words if necessary,” words are necessary.

While women may hold up half the sky, they are 70% of the world’s poor. They face discrimination, neglect, sexual assault, spousal and other abuse, violence, famine, war, lack of health care and other resources, and many more challenges.

Even in a wealthy country like Canada, women are still disproportionately affected by poverty. For example, 23.6% of female lone-parent families live in poverty compared to 10.8% of male lone-parent families. What’s more, statistics indicate that women’s experience of poverty tends to be harsher and more prolonged.

There have been 1200 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada in the last 30 years. While Aboriginal women make up 4% of the population, they account for 12% of missing women and 16% of murdered women.

A Bible College student tells me her adviser discouraged her from taking a Bible major because “you’ll never be called as a pastor anyway” — perhaps a small example compared to the others on this list, but it reminds me that for all the progress that’s been made, we can and should do more.

A high school student asks to interview me about women in ministry because her teacher disagrees with it, and she wants to know what I think.

Years ago, when I preached my first sermon at a church that had never had a woman preach before, the pastor who invited me said, “You’re our first woman preacher, but we’re not going to introduce you that way, or explain it to people, we’re just going to do it as if it’s part of our theology and understanding of church — because it is. You just go ahead and preach it, sister!”

For all the above, this is why I don’t talk a lot about feminism, and why I should. I’m standing at the intersection of faith and feminism — living, working, writing, and serving there.



Categories: Church and Ministry, Theology

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12 replies

  1. Thank you for the pingback. I am glad you are taking up the mantle of ‘speaking truth’ to the powers that be about feminism and women.

    • You’re welcome — I appreciate your observation: “What I have seen in my past spiritual community wanderings are extremes; either a congregation of believers is so spiritually focused they are no good in the community OR they are so community and activist oriented that the Spirit has leaked out like a slowly whistling balloon. It would seem that neither has room for the other. Why must these extremes exist?” As women and men together in the body of Christ, I pray that we may embody a more wholistic community that is well oriented inwardly, upwardly, and outwardly..

  2. Your experience is pretty much my recent experience, regarding feminism and women in church leadership. However, you make some excellent points, regarding the wider community. Even points that trouble me deeply, concerning the world community. I’m convicted.

    You go, April! @chaplaineliza ayearofbeingkind.wordpress.com

    • Thanks, Eliza – I’m glad for your experience, and to know that I have company on the path of ministry. In the world community, faith and feminism have critical roles to play, so much so that it can feel overwhelming. But each of us can take a step and speak out in our own way. I think of your year of being kind as an example of that.

  3. We are quite alike on this, and the approach of our congregation, which had a female as pastor for the last 24 years (she just retired). Early on, she experienced some reactions to her being female in a job/calling dominated by men but she never made a big deal about it. I’ve never been a pastor (I have thought about it) but in my writing ministry I would say this has been my approach and reasoning. I enjoyed reading this.

  4. Thanks for this April. I am a feminist, but do not take up the label in every context. I do not feel my role is, right now, to dramatically stir up my church community. Though I do not hide it, I didn’t buy a t-shirt.
    But my views soak through all my work. Indeed, my biblical understanding of men and women is consistently critiquing me and the hidden beliefs I have.

    • Thanks, Melodie and Brenton – One of the things I appreciate about #FaithFeminisms is that there is an “s” on the end that recognizes the many different expressions of faith and feminism. I think we need the prophets who urge the church forward, the pioneers who forge new paths, the pastors who shepherd everyone along, and many others. Sometimes I wear the t-shirt, and sometimes I don’t.

  5. This is something I don’t usually talk about either April. But maybe I should.

    For years I’ve wanted to write a book called “When God Calls and the Church Says No.” That was my experience and the experience of other women I knew as a seminary student 30 years ago. My denomination ordained women but churches were reluctant to call them. Ordination councils for women were also much more difficult and the attacks were often extremely personal. I was not trying to stir anything up, I was just trying to follow a deeply felt call to serve God. Over the years I have realized that I can do that better outside the “church.”.

    I am glad your experience and that of other women in ministry has been different, but my heart still aches for the women clergy (and those who were turned away) with sad stories and a call that won’t go away.

    • Yes, there are so many sad stories from years ago and even now. If you would ever write “When God Calls and the Church Says No,” it would still speak into our situation today. What a loss for the church when women need to go elsewhere to exercise their gifts.

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