Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Christian Feminists vs. The World

I was hungry and thirsty, were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won't matter, Were you there?

Wherever you travel I'll be there, I'll be there,
Wherever you travel I'll be there.
And the creed and the colour and the name won't matter, I'll be there.

That's the general gist of what was my favourite hymn in primary school. I couldn't choose a favourite hymn now, but this one is important to me from a moral rather than a musical perspective.

Something that has been bothering me a lot lately is the hypocrisy with which some people still interpret the Bible despite all the well-meaning hymns and love my neighbour malarky. For example, the oppression of women is nothing new, it's not as old as time itself but it's getting pretty old now. Many Christian Feminists look towards the female leadership of Deborah, who was a judge, warrior, and leader (Judges 4, 5) and the confident Shulammite woman who overcame Eve’s curse (Song of Solomon) of the Old Testament. From the New Testament feminists argue that ''Jesus affirmed a discipleship of equals, one in which Mary Magdalene was central.'' They have also identified Paul’s female co-workers, such as Junia the prominent apostle (Romans 16:7) and Phoebe the minister and leader (Romans 16:1-2). [1]

These examples pale in comparison to the rest of the Biblical literature which is incredibly andocentric. As observed by Sheila Klopfer, ''there is the sickening silence of women such as Dinah (Genesis 34) and the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), both of whom were raped by men and presented by biblical narrators as merely male property. And in the New Testament there are passages such as Ephesians 5:22-24, which calls wives in the Church to be subject to their husbands and 1 Timothy 2:11-15'':

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

None of this is surprising given the Bible's historical context. It is however ASTOUNDING that an all-too-significant number of people are not willing to examine the oppression of women in relation to its historical context. Only last year, Bristol's Christian Union tried to ban women from giving talks without their husbands present. Just a few months ago, a good friend of mine said she agreed with the proposal, and another good friend told me he didn't believe women should be Ministers etc. When I questioned him, he said he hadn't actually examined the case so he was in no position to answer my questions but he simply felt it would be incompatible with his beliefs because he takes the Bible text literally. A few minutes later, when asked about some other Biblical topic, he said 'no that's not what I believe because I look at it from a historical context' (or words to that effect). Clearly not. It's a well documented topic, easily accessible to anyone who's interested. I would be interested to know if my friend ever took the time to sufficiently examine the case. Then again, I'd like to remain friends.

This leads me on to gender equality from an atheist perspective. Basically, because I don't have a text to interpret, I am free to establish my own version of 'equality' and, just like the hymn, the creed and the colour and the name doesn't matter. Whether you're a Manfred or a Margaret, I would let you teach and I would let you learn. I don't think your lack of penis makes you more or less competent at any given subject, nor do I think that your uterus makes you more sensitive to emotions (societal expectations might, but your uterus certainly won't). Apparently, neither do all Reformed Presbyterians but they still wouldn't want to hear a woman preach. That must simply be because she's a woman. Ladies and Gentleman, here you have the definition of sexism. Amen.

I have spent a good deal of time studying the Bible in order to understand how such intelligent friends of mine can make such offensive statements without feeling ashamed. I have come to the conclusion that when they examine a subject, they generally only look at what their religion has to say about it. They're missing out on a lot. Learning about a different perspective won't do you any harm; if anything, it ought to reinforce your own beliefs. But when I say examine another perspective I don't mean read a few quotes from someone you disagree with. It's not something you can do over night, you have to adopt a new perspective, live with it for a little while, see how fits in to your world view. You don't just knock on someones door and give them what you have to offer. Even travelling to a different continent to do missionary work doesn't cut it (and that will probably be my next post).

I'm not saying all atheists are Feminists. Not by a long shot. Just that as an Atheist and a Feminist, I don't have to struggle to find examples of real women in a text that has been written during the popular subjugation of my gender. I never have to feel the way this Christian Feminist does: https://www.bible.com/en-GB/notes/7929478 or get into the following argument: http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223065/k.91B2/Im_a_Feminist_and_a_Christian_and_I_Didnt_Like_Your_Article.htm
(Where the anti-Feminist states that it is important NOT to see things from a worldy perspective but from a biblical one. Interesting.)

[1] Klopfer, Sheila. 'Feminist Scholarship on Women in the Bible'. The Centre for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2013.

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