Rachel Held Evans recently wrote about becoming an “Accidental Feminist“—i.e., she found feminism through Christianity rather than finding secular feminism first and trying to integrate it with her Christianity. While I’m not certain it was the point of Rachel’s post, I think her approach to this issue highlights an interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered several times over my first ten years as a feminist: Christian feminists’ emphasis on the Christian part of their feminism rather than the feminism part. Obviously loyalty to God should come before loyalty to other groups or ideologies, but I still want to push back against this emphasis a bit.
In many ways, I think my journey towards identifying as a feminist was similar to Rachel’s: I experienced certain things in the church, I explored the biblical issues surrounding women’s ministry and gender roles in the home, and I only later began to read things written by non-Christian feminists. However, I don’t feel the need to constantly clarify this fact or point out that I’m a “Christian feminist.” I am a Christian. And I am a feminist. To call myself a Christian feminist makes it sound like I believe they don’t really go together or something and need to create all kinds of caveats around my use of the label “feminist.” And to point out that I found feminism through Christianity makes it sound as if a different path would have somehow been “bad” or proven certain conservative nightmares about egalitarian evangelicals are true (“they really are just influenced by culture!” etc.).
But I don’t think that’s the case. One of the things I’ve always loved is seeing people who love justice first find Jesus second. While Jesus may have introduced Rachel to feminism, I am even more thrilled to see feminism lead people to Jesus. I think this is just as valid a journey as my own, and I don’t want to devalue it in any way. While it might bother certain conservative Christians, I don’t think such stories should be hushed or treated as less than ideal in any way. It may comfort people to think that ideas in the Bible led people to new ways of thinking about gender rather than such ideas about gender pre-existing someone’s reading the Bible. However, if we really think all truth is God’s truth, it shouldn’t matter where or how someone learns to care about the issues God cares about. If we believe God cares about women, then it’s fabulous for us to care about women, however we come to do so.
I also don’t think we should have to call ourselves Christian feminists, as if the only other sort of feminist is an evil feminist. Feminism is incredibly diverse. If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t understand that and seems to lump all feminists together under negative stereotypes, the answer is education, not labels that distance you from the rest of feminism. During one summer in college, I was a part of a feminist book club with all sorts of feminists. We had LGBT feminists, male feminists, very politically active feminists, artsy feminists, feminists who thought porn was freeing, feminists who thought porn was objectifying, etc. And nobody assumed being a feminist meant you had to stand with them on every single issue because it was widely acknowledged that that diversity existed. I don’t call myself a “Christian feminist,” as if I need a code for “good feminist” to differentiate me from the worst of feminism. I simply call myself a feminist because it shouldn’t box me in any more than calling myself Christian should make you think I’m automatically a fundamentalist or a charismatic or a Catholic or a Presbyterian.
Additionally, I think it is counter-productive to talk about being feminist and Christian in a way that cuts ties with other feminists. Many “Christian feminists” focus exclusively on issues relating to gender and Christianity and have little contact with feminists of other religious backgrounds or no religion at all. I think this is a mistake. Just as combatting poverty needs to be a group effort, challenging sexism needs to be a group effort. Only when you are willing to work alongside others with similar concerns and goals will you really achieve your maximum potential. And only when you’re willing to work with them can you become true friends with them, and only friendship with them can break down the walls between other feminists and the church (which have unfortunately been erected by other Christians).