Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My hopes.

Yesterday, one of my closest friends asked me quite directly why I continue to care about what very conservative parts of evangelicalism have to say about women and gender roles. My friend wonders why I continue to read certain blogs and leading male evangelical figures who constantly offer a patriarchal understanding of the relationship between men and women within the family unit, the Church, and society at large. I often feel this implicit pressure to simply "give up" on more conservative sects of evangelicalism that are insistent upon proclaiming a complimentarian view of gender. Afterall, I'm a feminist now. Why should I waste my time on preaching to those who refuse to engage with any understanding of the Gospel that is not directly tied to previous commitments of Calvinism (read: limited atonement), complimentarianism, and biblical inerrancy? Don't I know that the fight is useless and I am better to not waste my time on those who think I'm wasting their time with my liberal feminist anti-biblical views?

I want to give up sometimes. I am often so discouraged that I forget why I started on this road from the beginning.

But my response to my friend was finally this: I can't ignore these movements because I once believed this stuff. If it wasn't for the various witnesses in my own life that didn't waiver in their commitment to serve those within these conservative populations, I would have never come to believe what I do. I would still believe that to be a "faithful biblical Christian", I must be a complimentarian regardless of how much I hated it. Even more, I wished so often as I began to study this stuff more deeply in graduate school that I had female leadership and role models inside evangelicalism to model myself after. To be honest, I never once found an evangelical female theologian, ethicist or systematician to follow after. They didn't exist for me. Don't misunderstand me - I am so grateful for the male leadership that I found within evangelicalism that encouraged me to realize the freedom of the Gospel from traditionally conceived (and socially constructed) gender roles - but I really wish I would have found a female role model. So I had to be creative. I found a refuge in women like Judith Butler, Sarah Coakley, and then other individuals from different disciplines like Kasemann, Gaventa, Martyn, etc. And of course, there was Barth as well. Ironically, even though Barth is a complimentarian, it was Barth's overall theological vision that enabled me to read Barth against Barth and have a specific view of the Gospel that allowed me to reject his specific gender views. Slowly, I began to construct my own views of gender with all of these sources that were largely a direct product of my understanding of the Gospel.  It is also important to note that while I want to study and do theology for the rest of my life, Lord-willing, I see this sort of feminism as sort of a consequence of my theology, rather than that which constitutes my theology. Because in the end, even the notion of feminism itself rendered in a specific way, is indebted to a sort of essentialism that I think can not be sustained in light of the Gospel. All that is to say, it took years to form my beliefs about these issues, and I'm still figuring it out, but there was a definitive break with previously held views. And this is due in large part because of theological mentors that refused to believe that individuals like myself were simply a waste of time and hopeless causes.

I guess I keep telling myself that if I can encourage one woman inside of evangelicalism to see that they do not have to believe that fidelity to the Gospel must necessarily mean a commitment to certain views of gender, I will feel like all of my education and work has been worthwhile. Said another way, I hope women don't believe that embracing "feminism" (whatever that means) and saying no to complimentarian is not necessarily a denial of the Gospel, a rejection of the biblical witness, and an abandonment of faith. Because let's be honest, most of these complimentarian circles tell men and women that in order to take the Gospel seriously and to understand the Bible as authoritative, we must render a sort of complimentarian account of gender.

My hope is that such fear-tactics can be dismantled and exposed for what they are. My hope is that women within evangelicalism will realize that the Gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures is a liberation from these sorts of identity-markers that seek to define and ultimately divide us. My hope is that more women within evangelicalism will be encouraged to become whatever the Lord might be calling them to be including a preacher of the Word of God and an administer of the sacrament regardless of their biological sex. My hope is that more women who come to disagree and break with conservative evangelical conceptions of gender will not give up on these circles in this respect, but will remain committed to these people in order to encourage more women to see the liberation that is offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all persons. I have so many hopes for evangelical women. And I refuse to allow the conservative evangelical male leaders who are yelling the loudest to silence me.


Jon Coutts said...

Press on Kait.

Benedict Periodically... said...

amen and amen. Blessings, Kait. An important and courageous post.

Adam said...

I agree with your thoughts. Not only about women's issues, but political, biblical (exegesis issues), and more. I am no longer a part of my historic Christian community (but probably closer than you are) but I still care deeply about those that are still there. My problem comes in that I often feel better off because I have escaped in some part. But I am still trapped in so many others ways. Keep on.

EmJayArre said...


Thank you for your determination and hope. I am currently at a theologically and socially conservative seminary, and it's opened my eyes to quite a lot, both the good and the not-so-good. I frequently feel the tension of gratitude for all the wonderful male mentors I've had so far, and frustration at the lack of female mentors, at least where theological and biblical studies are concerned. I join you in the hope that all who follow hard after God will know the liberation that Christ brings.

Morgan Guyton said...

Judith Butler was a huge influence on me. Precarious Life is one of the most important books I've read in coming to understand the body of Christ. Galatians 3:28 is the paradigmatic verse for gender; everything else is pastorally contextual. My wife and I preached a sermon together on Ephesians 5 in light of Jesus' exhortation to be the servant of all in Mark 10:42-45. In the kingdom, submission IS leadership so gender hierarchy is meaningless. Here's a blog I wrote about that: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/submission-as-leadership/

Anonymous said...

Kait, I think that the reason you don't find women mentors in conservative evangelical churches is because the structure doesn't allow for them. Complementarianism means not just that women are only allowed to teach women and children, but that the women's bible study group is relocatable, cancellable and generally considered a bit of a joke. Women are constantly the butt of jokes that put them down in many subtle and not so sublte ways and they are expected to laugh and be good sports about it. And they do, but over time they start to internalise the idea that they are stupid and incapable and by the time they are in their 50s and 60s, they generally believe that they are not capable of making decisions by themselves, even about running cake stalls (bake sales). Either that, or it becomes obvious that we need to leave for our own spiritual and emotional health and in order to become the people that God created us and gifted us to be. Staying friends with women inside the movement can result in some seeing that there are other ways, but I really don't see the likelihood of there being women mentors from within any time soon. :-)

Anonymous said...

Bother - that was supposed to be a :-(

Elena said...

Yet somehow despite all the structural impediments, there always have been those women... few and far between, perhaps, and not always there when we'd like them to be. The call to sit at the feet of Jesus is not given by any church structure, and it will not be taken away.

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