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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