Of church, feminism, and safety.

Of church, feminism, and safety.


This week has been Fem­i­nisms Fest, a syn­chroblog host­ed by J.R. Goudeau, Danielle Ver­meer, and Pre­ston Yancey in which blog­gers were encour­aged to write about what fem­i­nism is to them, why it mat­ters, and what the week has taught them about fem­i­nism. I haven’t been able to par­tic­i­pate until now, nor read very many of the excel­lent offer­ings from our won­der­ful com­mu­ni­ty of writ­ers. But there have been two posts that stuck out to me more than any oth­ers, and I’d like to talk about them a lit­tle bit.

Shaney Irene wrote a post on Wednes­day called “Why does fem­i­nism mat­ter?” in which she explained why she need­ed to embrace fem­i­nism out­side the church in order to pur­sue jus­tice and show love. She says:

…the truth is that fem­i­nism is hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that the church is not.

The church is not yet a safe place for vic­tims of abuse. The church is still blam­ing women for caus­ing men to stum­ble, think­ing that “What were you wear­ing?” is a per­fect­ly okay ques­tion to ask a vic­tim of rape, and refus­ing to believe women when they come for­ward about being sex­u­al­ly assault­ed by Chris­t­ian men.

The church is not yet ask­ing ques­tions about priv­i­lege, and seems to think oppres­sion is some­thing that hap­pens out­side its walls. The church needs the frame­work that fem­i­nism is pro­vid­ing.

Then today, Emi­ly Joy Alli­son wrote a fan­tas­tic piece enti­tled “What I Learned: Like a fish needs a bicy­cle,” in which she not­ed com­mon (and sad­ly expect­ed) Chris­t­ian respons­es to the posts that Fem­fest was pro­duc­ing: “The first step to recov­ery is admit­ting you have a prob­lem. But the church can­not even do that.” She fur­ther com­ment­ed:

I am already a Chris­t­ian. I have been for much of my life. And even I had to look for val­i­da­tion and affir­ma­tion out­side the doors of the church. There was none to be found with­in. With­in, I was less than. With­in, I was restrict­ed because of my gen­der. With­in, I was not respect­ed or tak­en seri­ous­ly. The most painful rejec­tions, abus­es and injus­tices I’ve expe­ri­enced have been at the hands of church peo­ple. Even the peo­ple inside the church who love me are usu­al­ly peo­ple who have been reject­ed by the church them­selves and who, like me, for what­ev­er rea­son, are still in it.

Why would I want to invite some­body to that?

Read­ing these posts made me feel under­stood. Val­i­dat­ed. They helped give me the vocab­u­lary I need­ed to write this post today.

I am a fem­i­nist. And I am a Chris­t­ian. I think these are com­plete­ly com­pat­i­ble sys­tems that ought to go hand in hand.

But I do not — can­not — will not — go to church. Not in the fore­see­able future.

Church as I know it, as I have expe­ri­enced it — whether in a Ply­mouth Brethren chapel, inde­pen­dent fun­da­men­tal Bap­tist church, Pres­by­ter­ian gath­er­ing, or non-denom­i­na­tion­al con­tem­po­rary ser­vice — is not a safe place for me.

It is the church that told me that my intel­lect, writ­ing, teach­ing, and lead­ing abil­i­ties are not wel­come with­in its walls unless I am teach­ing those they con­sid­er less than men (i.e., oth­er women or chil­dren).

It is the church that told me that I had to remain silent, cov­ered and hid­den both in body and in spir­it.

It is the church that told me that my body is tox­ic poi­son to any and all men, to the point that I’ve heard it hint­ed that per­haps breast reduc­tion surgery could be in order for women endowed the way I am, to help broth­ers in Christ not stum­ble.

It is the church that told me to for­give my attack­er, use my sex­u­al assault as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to wit­ness to him, even rejoice in my assault because there are many who would give any­thing to suf­fer for the Lord the way I did.

It is the church that told me that per­fect love casts out fear, so if I am afraid then I am in sin for not accept­ing God’s per­fect love.

It is the church that told me that because I was not a vir­gin on my wed­ding night, that I am ruined for­ev­er, that my rela­tion­ship with my hus­band and even my rela­tion­ship with Christ will nev­er be whole or healthy.

It is the church that told me that my depres­sion is a sin against God, and that if I just trust­ed Him enough — put my hope in God — all of my anx­i­ety and depres­sion would dis­ap­pear.

Is it any won­der the church is not a safe place for me?

Safe­ty is a big thing for sur­vivors of all kinds of abuse. It’s a big deal when some­one con­fides their pain in anoth­er indi­vid­ual. And when that indi­vid­ual turns around time after time and clings to rules and reg­u­la­tions, idioms and clich­es, proverbs and para­bles, it inval­i­dates the expe­ri­ence and pain of the per­son who trust­ed them. It is a deep betray­al of trust. And when the Bible is used as a tool to shame peo­ple for their emo­tions, silence their pain, and brow-beat them back into line, all in the name of God…if that is not tak­ing His name in vain to hurt the least of these, I don’t know what it is.

But you know what?

It’s been out­side the church, among “god­less” lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I have been giv­en the tools I need to heal. (I put “god­less” in quotes, because I was always taught that lib­er­als and fem­i­nists are god­less, when in fact I’ve dis­cov­ered quite the con­trary.)

It’s been out­side the church, among these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I’ve learned that it is okay for me to exist.

It’s been out­side the church, among these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I’ve been allowed to grieve when I hurt, rage when I’m angry, dance when I’m hap­py, and expe­ri­ence human emo­tions ful­ly for the first time in my life.

It’s been out­side the church, among these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I’ve tru­ly heard for the first time that there is noth­ing I can think, say, do, or wear that can pos­si­bly jus­ti­fy sex­u­al, phys­i­cal, spir­i­tu­al, or emo­tion­al vio­lence against me.

It’s been out­side the church, among these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I’ve been told that my voice is impor­tant.

It’s been out­side the church, among these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I’ve been told that my entire worth isn’t locat­ed in my vagi­na or con­nect­ed to any activ­i­ty that hap­pens there­in.

It’s been out­side the church, among these won­der­ful, strong, brave, com­pas­sion­ate lib­er­als and fem­i­nists, that I have found safe­ty. Under­stand­ing. Friend­ship. Love.

I still love Jesus. He is pret­ty much the only part of Chris­tian­i­ty that makes it seem worth­while to still con­sid­er myself a Chris­t­ian. And I’m pret­ty sure He under­stands where I am right now. I think He’s okay with it. I think He hates that I hurt the way that I do, but He’s wait­ing for me.

I also have hope for the church. It’s been these lib­er­als and fem­i­nists that have giv­en me this hope, iron­i­cal­ly. It’s also been won­der­ful friends who have giv­en me that hope.

Hope for real church.

Real church is when Michael and I can sleep in, tan­gled up in each oth­er while talk­ing and laugh­ing and sim­ply being togeth­er, joy­ous­ly togeth­er.

Real church is when Paige comes over and we watch Com­mu­ni­ty, or a Dis­ney movie (while quot­ing it and singing along to every song), or we make art or talk about life or cook good food.

Real church is when Lind­sey notices that I’ve been down late­ly and texts me her love.

Real church hap­pens every day, in every rela­tion­ship where open­ness, com­pas­sion, hilar­i­ty, love, and kind­ness are the order of the day. It hap­pens out­side the church walls, where life is not san­i­tized or silenced.

So until church in gen­er­al stops doing things like choos­ing to believe the best about abusers rather than their vic­tims, telling the lie that love is a choice that can be made regard­less of emo­tion­al con­nec­tion, forc­ing rape vic­tims to con­fess sex­u­al sin while for­bid­ding them to talk about the rape, telling women that they can cause men to sin by exist­ing in a female body, demo­niz­ing men and women who divorce abu­sive spous­es, and any­thing that val­ues rules and reg­u­la­tions over peo­ple that the church is called to love with the ten­der love of Christ…I’ll be chill­ing out here, out­side the walls where life is messy, I can set my own bound­aries, and I can final­ly be safe.

NOTE: There’s been a bit of a ker­fuf­fle in the com­ment sec­tion here. As a result, I’ve updat­ed my com­ment pol­i­cy. I’m not clos­ing com­ments at this time, because I have hope that con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion can still take place. How­ev­er, I will close com­ments at the end of the week (March 8).

NOTECom­ments are now closed. I’m sure I’ll revis­it this top­ic again, so stay tuned.

Relat­ed on this blog: Hes­i­tan­cy and gen­tle­ness | Fight­ing the sad­ness | The body I have | Exis­ten­tial per­fec­tion, prob­lem­at­ic cul­tur­al sys­tems, and being okay | On stunt­ing emo­tionsWhen something’s not okay: pon­der­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion & rela­tion­ship

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