Faith and Feminism

I am a feminist.  I am also a Christian.  My feminism and Christianity have co-existed in isolation from each other, and if push came to shove I’m not sure which I would more closely identify with – being female or being a Christian.  Last week I had an opportunity to think about them together when Rev Dr Susan Durber, Christian Aid’s Theology Advisor, came to the Southwark Feminist Theology Group.  The story she told of her journey through faith and feminism so far was illustrated by the parable of the lost coin and her developing understanding of it from the reality of a poor woman’s life.

What woman, having ten drachmas, if she loses a drachma, doesn’t light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And finding it, she calls together her female friends and women neighbours, saying, ‘Celebrate with me, for I found the drachma that I lost.’ I say to you, such joy there is among the angels of God over one sinner repenting.  Luke 15: 8 – 10

On an immersive trip to India last year, it became clear to Susan why the woman experienced such joy when she found her lost coin.  In a culture where violence against women is common, losing money that belongs to her husband may make him very angry and so she is filled with dread.  As she carries out her daily sweeping she fears that if she doesn’t find the coin she may go to bed hungry and with new bruises on her body.

But she finds it!  And it is with female friends who understand her relief at finding the missing coin that the woman celebrates.  This fear of violence and the powerless, voiceless situation of women around the world is not hyperbole; as Christian Aid say ‘poverty has a woman’s face’.  Rather than despairing, Susan concluded that the good news of the radical liberating life-giving message of Christianity is seen in stories like this as God uses vulnerable people to describe his love and joy as we turn to him.

From the group discussion, what really resonated with me was the idea of doing theology from the objectivity of sufferers, the importance of listening, the value of women-only spaces, and that what we think of as an objective human viewpoint is often male. As always it is encouraging to hear the experience of a Christian who continues to learn, question and be challenged.

Three challenges have stuck with me over this week:

  • through whose gaze am I looking?
  • listen for silences - whose voices aren’t I hearing?
  • don’t be afraid to discuss difficult ideas, to say when I don’t understand or to ask other people!

Related to this is a challenge to Christian leaders and thinkers who have thought about gender and Christianity – please share and discuss it!  There appears to be a reluctance to do that, not only in respect of gender roles but other topics, and instead to leave the majority of us floundering about in the shallows. So we look for those who are thinking and speaking about the topic outside of our tradition, hence my feminism being mainly separate to my faith.

Finally, I am left with hope that gender justice is not only an idea of the secular realm but is part of God’s love for the world.

Christian Aid’s report and facts about how poverty disproportionately affects women can be found on the Christian Aid website.

Jane Hodgson is a member of the SCM group at the London School of Economics.