Christianity and Feminism (Part II)

A few weeks ago, when it was my turn to post a blog piece, I wrote on Feminist Theology and how Christians can be feminists by fighting sexism as a sinful tendency (find it here).  I was dancing on rainbows when readers commented with their thoughts and their challenges to the idea.  (Please, please, please keep doing that.)

But I wondered why Christians get uncomfortable with the feminist movement. What’s wrong with advocating equality of the sexes?

In my research of feminism, I keep coming up with articles and social media discussions about the movement to reclaim the female body, particularly through fighting against female objectification in media and in our own human relationships.  From Cosslett and Baxter’s feminist book ‘the Vagenda’ which “asks real women everywhere to demand a media that reflects who we actually are,” to Chicago’s SlutWalk that challenges persisting misogynistic attitudes in rape culture – campaigns which argue that a person’s body is not an object are a big part of feminist discourses.  Feminists argue that women’s bodies – well, nobody’s bodies, really – belong to anyone else.  No human should have the right to say what to do with someone else’s body.

I personally stand by this and I would like to think many Christians would as well.  We should resent human objectification and oppression.  It is sin.  As I’ve written before, quoting feminist theologian Phyllis Trible, “Subjugation and supremacy are perversions of creation.”

However, I think the thing that hinders Christians is the alternative mindset: if our bodies don’t belong to someone else, then they are our own.  In Emma Watson’s speech for the “HeForShe” campaign, the actress said, “I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body.”

Yes, our bodies don’t belong to someone else.  But do they belong to us?

This is where Christian values don’t easily align with this particular feminist discourse.  The Bible teaches that our bodies don’t belong to us.  1 Corinthians 6:19, for example, says, “You are not your own.”

If you don’t believe in a God, it makes sense for your body to belong to no one else but yourself, in which case, you are in charge of the decisions that you make about your body.  But if you are Christian, you understand why this is not so simple.  Our bodies are created by God, for God.  They are a gift.  They are meant to glorify God which means using “your body in ways that will show that God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the body craves.”*

And how the body craves!  I heard a pastor once say, “There are three things that cause us to sin: the Devil, the world, and our own flesh.”

Putting God’s desires above our bodily, or fleshly, desires is one of the many struggles that Christians face, especially because we have the free will to not do it.

Christians can agree with the feminists who believe that we have a right to make decisions about our own bodies.  But how should we respond to that right?  Or more importantly, who are we accountable to when we make those decisions?

For me, I’ve been raised to believe that I’m accountable to God.  I’m accountable for what I do with the body that He gave me.  And I’m not always happy about that.  Most times, I’d rather just do what I want to do.

Ellie's Photo

Last Saturday, my body craved some red wine.  So I drained half a bottle and fell into a wine coma on my sofa.  I woke up two hours later, stumbled to the bus stop, and got to work 30 minutes late.  To some people, this might not sound so scandalous.  But for me, I pride myself on being punctual and professional.  Afterwards as I walked home, gorging on McDonald’s fries in an effort to dull the pain in my head, I thought to myself, “I am such an idiot.”

I don’t want to be a slave to my bodily desires.  I don’t want to be in charge because I’m a fallible human being like everyone else.  But it’s okay.  1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “I will not be mastered by anything.”  Not only am I not mastered by other people, I’m not mastered by myself.

For me, feminism is freedom from other people.  Christianity is freedom from ourselves.



Feature Photo Credit: Seol Song

Photo taken at art installation: Teamlab, Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year, Dark, 2015, interactive digital installation, endless. Saatchi Gallery, London.

Inline photo credit: Ellie Howell

*John Piper:

2 thoughts on “Christianity and Feminism (Part II)

  1. Rachel,

    Yay, I’ve been meaning to respond your feminist posts, and I really like this thoughtful addition. It’d be great to keep reading more of your thoughts on the subject.

    You’re right, one of the biggest challenges of being Christian is that we must walk a fine line between what we want for ourselves/what the world tells us we should want and what we think God wants for us. Yes, it’s easy to say God wants the best for us, but we can never claim to know exactly what God thinks about our individual actions; in my opinion, another consequence of our Fall from Grace. Therefore, all people, but especially women, should do what they believe is in their best interests and if they have faith, trusting in God’s mercy if they mess up. It’s so easy to judge each other for actions we perceive are wrong or ugly, but in the end God has the final say.

    Though, going back to your first post on Feminism, to use your phrasing, I “feel itchy” when you claim the Bible isn’t sexist. Here’s why. Though I believe in God and the miracles of Christ, I also recognize and appreciate the Bible within its cultural context(s). Over the many years that it was written and collected into canon, sexism toward women was socially acceptable, and that sexism made its way into the text we have today. Vergangenheitsbewältigung – a German word often used when describing how Germans are tasked with accepting the events during the Nazi period which literally means “coming to terms with the past” – is a process we Christians must do ourselves. We must accept the text that was written by *many authors* to document God’s people, to glorify God, and to spread the Good News is multifaceted, imperfect, and a cultural artifact. And as such, it documents a fallen humanity which accepted and promoted sexism against women with pervasive cultural implications for modern women: including slut shaming, pay inequality, and economic insecurity especially for divorced or widowed women with children. While I agree with you and Phyllis Trible on Genesis’ “‘condemnation of [the male supremacy] pattern,'” the book’s author(s) may just be an exception to other biblical authors’ sexism when read with a feminist lens rather than a traditional one. Regardless, we can’t ignore the very real implications of the Bible’s sexism and the sexist interpretations which followed. Not ignoring those implications is the first step toward coming to terms with our tradition and pushing for an “equally fallen” reality.

    That’s what being Christian AND feminist means to me.

    Love, Katie

    P.S. Thank you for including me in Part I.


    1. Hay Katie,

      Yaayy! Such a thorough response, keep it coming!
      I know what you mean about that fine line between doing what you want and doing what God wants. I think we should always look to what God wants but, at the same time, it’s not easy to do this (what does that even look like??) and I agree with you that it has a lot to do with the Fall. Before the Fall, Adam could have conversations with God but afterwards the relationship was fractured. So now we mess up and do things that we mistakenly think God would be pleased with, or we easily become distant to God and comfortable with doing our own thing. It’s definitely a consequence of sin. I wonder if most Christians would agree with us on this.
      Yeah, I totally agree that the Bible depicts humanity which means it depicts imperfect patterns of human behavior, which most definitely includes sexism. I agree that it is written by humans, so each book has its own specific historical, cultural context that cannot at any cost be ignored when studying the text. And I also believe that the humans who wrote the Bible were inspired by God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” 2 Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” I wager you would also agree that the Bible is a God-breathed text.
      Maybe when I said “the Bible isn’t sexist,” I really meant to say, “God isn’t sexist” (thinking of John 1:1: “the Word was God” – maybe I shouldn’t take it so literally.) Basically, when I read verses from the Bible, I read them as not only, for example, the Apostle Paul’s words, but also God’s words. So moments when the Bible not only depicts sexist behavior but also appears to promote it, is quite discomforting. I mean, is God sexist?
      Obviously, I don’t believe He is but I guess that’s a whole other discussion. Basically, you and I probably agree on the same thing, we’re just looking at it from different angles. When reading a book from the Bible, how much of its cultural, historical context seeps into the text and makes it inherently sexist and how much of it is actually left up to our own sexist readings? Ahh…mysteries we may never find out.
      I think you’ve become another source of blog ideas, Katie. Let’s keep discussing and I’ll never hit a writer’s block 😉
      Love, Rachel


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