Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Religion And My Call To Feminism

One of my favorite blogs is The Dirty Rotten Feminist.  Every Sunday she posts a question to her readers that usually leaves me twisting, and full of thought. This week was no exception.

"What is your religious persuasion and how does it affect your feminist world view," she asked her readers this week?

I grew up in an extremely religious family. My mother is Pentecostal, and my father is Seventh Day Adventist. This meant that I had to attend church on Saturday and Sunday.  Due to this exposure, today I no longer attend any religious services  unless it is for a wedding or a funeral, though one of the most defining moments of my life occurred in a church.

On mothers day each and every woman that attended my mothers church received a beautiful rose corsage. That same year on fathers day all the men over 18 received a pen and pencil set, whether or not they were fathers.  The minister felt that it was really important to acknowledge how much all men contributed to the world.  I remember sitting next to my mother with my head down, thinking about how unfair this was. It seems like a small over sight at this point doesn't it? Well to top off the gift giving inequality, the minister proceeded to give one of the most anti-woman sermons I was ever to hear in a church. I still remember it almost verbatim to this day.

"I am tired of all of those Godless women", he said "announcing to the world that it is their bodies. Why didn't they think about their bodies before they decided to get pregnant, surely temptation thy name is woman. Abortion is a sin against God."  I was 14 years old, and in that very moment I became a feminist. Something inside me boiled with a rage that I could not even put a name too. I had never read a single feminist book, or even heard a feminist speak on TV, but I knew that I wanted to be part of a group that said that I was equal, and thought my body belonged to me.

I remember being so angry that I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream at this man, this thing, that had just announced that not only was I less than, but that I could only be redeemed by being pure. He made no such overture towards the men in attendance, oh no only the women needed to remain chaste. This message compounded with the fact that it was fathers day, made it very clear to me that men were what mattered. I an insignificant young woman, could never hope to wash away the filthy stain of my sinning femininity to achieve the same kind of moral standing as a man. 

This sermon irrevocably severed my parents sense of morality from my own. To this day, my mother and I have never talked about this sermon. My feminism is a deeply personal thing to me, it effects how I raise my children, the relationships I choose to maintain or sever, and forms the basis of all of my political beliefs, you might say it is my religion. Though I no longer attend church services, I have a firm and abiding belief in God, but had it not been for the work of feminist phenomenological theorists that might have evaporated forever.   Feminism not only helped me to understand the world as it is, but too envision the world as it could be.  Though many years have passed since that faithful day, perhaps I owe a nod of thanks to that misogynistic preacher, because his sermon is what started me on the road to who, and what I am today.

3 comments:

Sandalstraps said...

I appreciated this entire post, but especially this:

My feminism is a deeply personal thing to me, it effects how I raise my children, the relationships I choose to maintain or sever, and forms the basis of all of my political beliefs, you might say it is my religion. Though I no longer attend church services, I have a firm and abiding belief in God, but had it not been for the work of feminist phenomenological theorists that might have evaporated forever.

I'm currently wrestling with the tension between my commitments as - as you put it - a "feminist man" (I haven't claimed that label for myself, mostly because it hadn't occurred to me to do so; I'm a man attempting to subvert patriarchy) and my religious commitments.

I encountered feminist and womanist thought in seminary, and so a critique of patriarchy is connected to my theology. However, even though my church has a feminist woman as a pastor, since we are a part of a mainline Protestant denomination our liturgies and our corporate prayers are full of exclusively male images of the divine. Such images, as they are connected to patriarchy and deny women participation in the image of God, cause me and others great pain, and serve as obstacles to worship.

From my own position in that church I've taught and preached on female images of God. I've written liturgies and prayers that uplift, affirm, and pray to such female images of God. But, because - even though those images are contained in the scriptures we Protestants affirm as authoritative - those liturgies and prayers are at odds with the bulk of the Christian tradition, I don't feel like my efforts are getting anywhere.

Even though my church is as feminist as it can be within denominational confines, I often just want to leave. I wonder if Christianity can ever disentangle itself from patriarchy. But, then again, it was from Christian theologians, preachers, Bible scholars etc. that I first gained exposure to feminist and womanist thought.

I'm not sure I have a point here so much as a struggle, and a stab at solidarity. Hopefully I can offer you some affirmation and encouragement. Your words have power, and your experience has value.

Kacie said...

I find your memory of that sermon and the disconnect between the treatment of men and women in your church very telling. I am, however, in awe that at such a young age you were able to even be aware of the injustice of the situation.

Great post!!! <3

Philomela said...

Hiya
Myself and a friend have just set up a blog carnival for progressive Christians
The home page is here http://withoutachurch.wordpress.com/ Someone pointed me in your direction and I thought you might want to participate.I'd really like it if you submitted this post