I’m one of those women who casts a side-eye when I hear words like feminism. It’s not because I am against women’s rights. Anyone who knows me understands that I am a strong woman, and I highly respect women and God’s purpose for them. However, I don’t like all of the negative connotations and assumptions that accompany loaded words like feminism. Yet, I am inspired by women, both in and outside of the Church, who have paved the way for me to live as I do and fully embrace the person God created, along with providing the encouragement and confidence of knowing that God’s creation of me—a woman—is very good. Since I felt pretty inadequate to communicate this tension and how I struggle to live through it, I’ve invited Dr. Pam Rossi-Keen to share with us. Pam and I are on the National Board of Advisors for the Synergy Women’s Network. What a gracious and excellent heart and mind this servant is for God’s kingdom! Please hear her words to the Church.
Dr. Pamela Rossi-Keen reads, writes, and thinks about the intersection of the arts, theology, and women and gender studies. She teaches humanities at Robert Morris University and homeschools two of her three children. Pamela lives with her husband and children in Aliquippa, PA, where she serves as a Senior Research and Teaching Fellow at the Aliquippa Center for the Study of Culture and Belief.
Often in Christian settings, I sense an air of discomfort when the issue of women’s history is mentioned. It’s as if somehow the church will be infected with feminism, and we in the church should nestle our heads in the “biblical view of womanhood” and not bother with all that bra-burning stuff. This is understandable when you consider that the rise of women’s liberty has been blamed for the breakdown of marriage and family, increase of pornography and same-sex attraction, and consequently, the weakening of a nation.
I must admit that there have been many misguided moves in the name of women’s liberty. Hatred is not part of freedom, and many women in pain have turned down this path. I agree that freedom without Christ’s model is not free. When we become self-focused instead of others-focused, and when we lose sight of the fact that a life of service is the only way to fulfillment, feminism becomes, in the end, self-defeating. After all, if we as individuals shore up walls around ourselves, resisting inconvenience, humility, and discomfort at all costs, what is our legacy?
But there’s something we miss in the alarmist rhetoric of the church when we assume that all versions of feminism are, and only can be, self-serving. What we miss is a turn toward the historical record and the historical Jesus that renews my exhilarated faith in a feminism inspired by my liberating Savior. As believers, as faithful servants, we can confidently look at the direction of women’s history, the undeniable march toward widespread dignity and freedom, and say that it looks a lot like Jesus.
As I look back over the last few hundred years, what I see is a growing tide of rejection of captivity when women have agitated for the rights of slaves, demanded women’s suffrage and education, and yes, in some ways, lobbied for reproductive rights. It says that we are increasingly aware of our dignity. With each new demand that we make on behalf of women, we are saying, even when the answers we devise are not always right, “There must be more than this!” And now, with the global perspective afforded by technology, we say that on behalf of the still voiceless women of the developing world and in our own back yards. There is more than this.
When I look at the cultural setting of scripture, I see a time of bondage from which God through history has delivered us. I see Jesus himself pave the way when he refuses to judge the adulterer, when he advocates for Mary’s discipleship in the face of cultural mandates, when he sends Mary Magdalene as the first evangelist, when he gives Lydia to Paul to found a church. This is Kingdom Come: freedom to be who you were created to be, which, in God’s economy, is always in service to God and others, and which often does not fit within the limits prescribed by a repressive culture.
And so, to my sisters who fear the tide of feminism and who cling to what they perceive as biblical roles under patriarchy, I ask, please look again. Allow yourself to be excited by women’s history and increasing dissatisfaction with bondage. Celebrate heroines who paved with difficulty and grit a path that allows us to live more fully than women ever have. And take that passion and conviction and speak for those whose voices are not heard. You don’t need to burn a bra, but when you advocate for others the way Christ did, I daresay you join our foremothers who hungered for more. Women’s history month becomes a celebratory way of proclaiming how Christ’s gospel calls for restlessness within captivity.