I was one of those “bossy” girls. In my privileged, white Durban North family, I was the oldest of three daughters and inevitably my little sisters were expected to follow my lead. I still maintain that my leadership style created an adventurous and lively childhood – I was a benevolent dictator with a great imagination. Although I had never heard the phrase itself, my parents modelled an egalitarian marriage – equal partners both within the home and beyond.
Assuming leadership positions during my girlhood was natural for me. In my all-girl high school, during my formative years, I simply went on to do what I was both passionate about and skilled at doing – having strong ideas, and telling people about them.
In fact, I only found out that feminism was a “thing” in my twenties, blissfully unaware that my life was not the norm. I then left the sheltered world of liberal white suburbia in pursuit of my education and my calling. So, where did I discover the belief that men are superior to women?
In the Church.
As my faith matured from a familial obligation into a personal spiritual pathway I had intentionally chosen to follow, I just assumed I would serve my faith community with my gifts of leadership and communication.
Women can lead and teach – only other women.
Women can lead and teach – only children.
Women can lead and teach – only if they’re married.
God had supposedly created me in His image, but apparently I needed a man’s oversight to express that design appropriately.
As a teen in a group of young Christian surfer friends, I was often told the saying: “Boys are dogs, but girls are dog food”. Well I guess that means I’ll have to stop wearing a bikini so you can keep your thoughts pure.
When I was hired as a youth pastor at the age of 27, I was asked, “Is your husband going to help you?” No, because he has no interest in working with teenagers and he didn’t interview for the job.
When I was applying for my Master’s degree, I was interrogated, “But what if you have a baby?” I’m sure I can read and breastfeed at the same time, but thanks for checking.
I had always believed that the local church, when working healthily, was the hope of the world. But how was this story of Jesus “Good News” for women? Or black people? Or anyone who wasn’t a white male, for that matter?
I’m not an academic, or even a theologian. I am a storyteller, and the objective of my stories is always that they would bring transformation on the journey – spiritual, personal and communal. Thus, wrestling with how I could authentically live as strong female in the context of Protestant Christianity was a journey that would consequently change the story of my own life forever.
Much has been written on gender roles and faith by people who are smarter and more articulate than me, but allow me to share with you the story that set me free to call myself a Christian feminist.
Whether you believe the first chapter of Genesis to be a Hebrew poem handed down orally for generations, or a literal account of the origins of life, consider the Biblical context of humanity’s origins:
“So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”
In that ideal state,
In the context of blessing and the refrain “it was good”,
Before creation was distorted,
God gave a dual mandate to both men and women. They must be fruitful. They must govern.
This was God’s mandate to humanity – to both male and female. However, after sin entered the world, the consequences of choice resulted in a splitting up of this dual mandate. We find singular burdens instead of plural blessing.
Man becomes a slave to the earth; “governance” becomes his burden to bear.
Woman becomes a slave to childbirth; “go forth and multiply” (childbearing, the domestic home life if you will) becomes her burden to bear.
This is not God’s original design, but a distortion of God’s goodness and a consequence of sin.
In my opinion, the way this manifests today is that men are absent from the home and family life, as they are burdened with the labour of work. Women are absent from governance as they are burdened with the responsibility of home, the labour of childbirth. I believe we find this physically, emotionally, spiritually. I would suggest that this theory is at root of most of society’s gender inequalities.
Both areas of life are the worse off for the loss, as I think we can all see. The home suffers not for the lack of leadership, but the lack of partnership and engagement from men. Areas of governance in both Church and (often to the shame of the Church) to a lesser extent general society suffers because of the lack of partnership and engagement from women.
So where is the “Good News?”
The Story of Jesus is one of redemption – putting things back to the way they were meant to be. Restoring the goodness and oneness that humanity was designed to embody. For the church, and for all Christ-followers, redemption and restoration of God’s Kingdom calls for partnership once again in both arenas – that men will take ownership of their role in the family, and women will take ownership of their role in the governance of society. If this partnership is not reflected in Body of Christ, then how can the greater creation be redeemed to reflect how God intended things to be?
Along the way, I have learnt to acknowledge that our theological frameworks have immense consequences. No one “just does what the Bible says” – we all interpret through certain lenses. And if we do not question these lenses, we run the risk of expressing the design of humanity rather than the design of the Triune God. Examining our hermeneutics, or interpretation of Scripture, is critical.
Today, I can thankfully say I am a more conscious and vocal feminist because of my faith. I am married to a pastor who believes not only in women’s rights but in their power as well. I lead and preach in a church that encourages all believers to express their gifting, no matter what their gender is. I am also doing my best to raise my two sons in the way of Jesus.
How did I become a feminist?
In the Church.
For your consideration:
a) How were your theological frameworks and presuppositions were formed?
b) What are their historical origins?
c) Who has shaped your beliefs on gender?
Jess Basson – Izwe Lethu