Feminism and Christianity
Feminist roots in the Bible
Analysis of Literary Structure
Critical analysis of the theology and practice of the Sacraments
On defining feminism, Harrison & Boyd (2018) point out that that feminism is essentially the advocacy of equal rights for women and the eradication of gender-based discrimination. Even though feminism may appear to be a thing of modern-day liberalists, it is, however, deeply rooted in ancient human times. Women have been known to have faced a myriad of social issues, obstacles, and barriers. Women, especially those who wish to occupy important positions in society are often subject to much moral scrutiny by society. However, much began to change towards the end of the eighteenth century and the French Revolution. With the French Revolution came an age of Enlightenment that influenced women in France and others across Europe with regards to equality and liberty. Since Feminism is a challenge to the established patriarchal system, it is, therefore, a challenge to all segments of society and the practices of those living in society. This paper aims to study how changes in social consciousness with regards to feminism critically challenge the theology and practise of the sacraments.
The Christian Anthropology of the sexes is far more profound than the biological reduction of the term and the social constructivism asserted by modern-day feminists. When understanding the Catholic perspective of the sexes and their significance, an important distinction is made in the uniqueness of each gender. In Catholic anthropology, the male and female sexes complement each other not only in a biological sense but rather in the totality of life. In this sense, then, when a man and a woman become parents, their roles are different not in the biological sense but rather in what they mean as a father and a mother and their complementary unity are profound for their children. In this context, the point is completely missed by those who limit the difference of the sexes to their biological difference only.
Modern-day feminists are often found to advocate for equality within a family with zero gender roles – this is especially true in homosexual couples lobbying for the redefinition of the family. They are also often successful in their endeavour since more and more people seem to be drifting far away from why the sexes differ from one another. The difference between the two genders in the Christian context is aimed at the imitation of Christ through the act of self-giving and being of service to others. However, this is not often realized in many relationships as there appears to be a significant mark of power struggle and conflict in this regard. The Church reiterates that these conflicts and struggles can be overcome if the ideal remains the norm.
A woman's capacity for pregnancy and giving birth is a classic example of self-giving as childbirth and caring for an infant hold is indicative of a woman's capacity to give herself to another being and this is the essence of feminism and an example of true Christian behaviours. However, lies not in the difference of the sexes but rather, in that God or Christ is both male figures. Critiques of the Bible and Christian construct argue early Christianity shaped the Christian understanding of God as a male figure and therefore completely disregarding women. Additionally, the problem with the interpretation of Christ as male is that his maleness forms the basis of who he is seen as a redeemer and thereby excluding women simply based on their sex from participating in the image of Christ.
The image of Christ and that of God are both male and apart from this segregation based on gender which is prevalent in Christianity, Harrison and Boyd also point out that women are expected to keep mum during church gatherings and are not allowed to speak but rather take a subordinate place according to the Law. Additionally, if women of the Church wish to acquire any information, they are expected to ask their husbands in the confines of their home since they are considered disgraceful for women to speak in church. In advocating for the concept of feminism in Christianity, Mardi Keyes in the article Can Christianity Feminism Agree (1993), reaffirms that Jesus was a feminist since feminism advocates for women’s rights and equality. In other words, Jesus was in favour of equality for women with men and he treated women primarily as human beings and not as sub-species of men. Justifying this further, the Church Fathers argue that that which is not assumed by Christ is not redeemed by him. Hence, since Christ advocated for equality among the sexes, he does not redeem sexist Christians.
Christian feminism is a belief system that aims to combine established Christian beliefs and ideology with feminist theory. In Genesis 1:27 one reads: “and God created them male and female, in God’s image God created them” (Bible Ref, n.d.). In other words, men and women were created equally in the eyes of God, and men were not created to rule over women. Mena and women were created with the responsibility to care for each other and the earth together.
The first wave of feminism was dominated by liberal feminists during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These feminists raved about the equal rights of women in terms of being recognized by the law and legislation. However, King (2017) argues that feminism has been rather largely influenced by Christian ideas and that the contemporary secular debate on woman’s movement is largely different from those of committed Christian feminists.
Feminists have not been seen to have a problem with Jesus of Nazareth and him being historically male, however, the problem lies in how the church has interpreted the maleness of Jesus of Nazareth (Tennis, 1978). Furthermore, the maleness of Jesus is rather a characteristic that constitutes his personality, something which is part of his identity, his perfection along with his limitation in his historical reality. His sex is as much a part of his character as is his race, his culture, Jewish religious faith, class, his Galilean village roots, etc. Therefore, to remove Christ’s maleness from him is similar to removing all the other intrinsic parts of what has built his image and without which he would cease to exist.
The Catholic tradition is firmly tied with the issue of the sacrament and views of ordination. However, the problem with the historical understanding of Christology is its association with a patriarchy framework (Veeneman, 2017). This framework has developed a sense of male privilege in the church. This patriarchal framework takes its roots from early Christianity because the Greco-Roman age builds its image of God in a patriarchal society and household along due to the Roman Empire. Hence, Christ went on to take the image of one who is the head of the house and the absolute ruler of early Christianity. Since this image entailed Christ being the absolute power, the head of the household, head of the family, and the absolute king, his image lost its subversive significance. Additionally, it is important to consider that with regards to ordination, not all Catholic feminists see the ordination of women as the ideal goal as some believe that by simply ordaining a woman, she will not gain full membership in the church. Although the ordination of women should provide ordained women with full and equal participation in the church the current hierarchal and patriarchal system prevents this from being possible
The issue with the second wave of feminism is the misinterpretation of its actual context. In this regard, the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s significantly represented a privileged class of women. These women belonged to the upper-middle-class segment of the society, were well educated, white in the race, and belonged primarily to Western Europe and North America. As a result of this, the second wave of feminism was a lot more relatable only to these minority group of women and not to all women of all class, race, and privilege, and diverse backgrounds as this wave of feminism failed to recognize the diversity of the background from which women hailed. However, this was readily rectified by the third wave of feminism which paid a lot more attention to diversity where women from diverse groups and backgrounds could actively participate in the movement.
When looking back in history too, women did not have many rights the right to vote for women is a relatively new phenomenon in some countries even in the twenty-first century. The condition of women can be traced as far back as to the medieval period and even classical antiquity. When it comes to Christianity, many feminist Christians advocate for feminism existing in the Bible, however, it has been largely misinterpreted by Christians across the world. Jesus was a feminist as he believed in equality for women and treated each person as an individual and not based on their sex.
Bibile Ref. (n.d.). Genesis 1:27 parallel verses. Retrieved from https://www.bibleref.com/Genesis/1/Genesis-1-27.html
Harrison, K. & Boyd, T. (2018). Feminism. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327129468_Feminism
Holcomb, J. & Johnson, D. (2017). Feminism and womanism. In Veeneman, M. (Eds.), Christian theology of the sacraments: A comparative introduction, 352-363. NYU Press.
Mardi, K. (1993). Can Christianity & feminism agree? Journal of Christian Nursing, 10(3), 11-17.
Tennis, D. (1978). Reflections on the maleness of Jesus. Cross Currents, 28(2), 137-140
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