Feminism and Faith

I've spent this past year really developing a firm sense of where my faith interacts with social justice, and in particular, feminism.  My church particularly has really supported my growth and quest for gender equality, and in conjunction with my graduation from Just Faith, this past Sunday I was asked to give a mini-sermon reflection on how I view the interaction of social justice and spirituality, so of course I talked about my passion for feminism.  Here is my mini sermon (of which I'm quite proud!):

Just Faith has done wonders for my life. It has completely changed the way I act and think.  At the root of this lies a large change in the way I view Jesus. During one of our classes we watched an interview with Shane Claiborne, the author of Irresistible Revolution, who framed the question:

What if Jesus actually meant what he said?

What if he did?  That changes everything about the way I read this evening's scripture.  Let's look at it again:

Matthew 25 34-40:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Previous to Just Faith I would have interpreted this passage as Jesus telling everyone that we should be nicer and care more for others.  But what if Jesus actually meant what he said? Anytime I encounter a hungry person, it's my job to feed them. Anytime I notice someone feeling left out, it's my job to make them feel welcome. If someone is sick, I should bring them soup.  And to the least of these - that means not just my friends, but people I don't know, and maybe don't want to know.  This is a really incredibly daunting task.

Just Faith takes this idea to heart - changing your life to better serve the least of these and therefore God - and breaks it down into steps and ideas that aren't as overwhelming.  The two main ideas that I have found most compelling are as follows: 1. I have learned to lead a more compassionate life in order to better to see the value of every individual and 2.  I have become incredibly empowered to take action and change the injustices that I see around me.

I'll start with the first: compassion.

Just Faith has exposed me to the heart of social justice, which in my opinion, lies ultimately in compassion towards others.  It has really opened my eyes to the incredible importance of leading a compassionate, God-centered life. This class has placed me in the shoes of others, with whom I would never otherwise encounter or even hear about, and has opened my eyes to their lifestyles and unique experiences which have broadened my perspective on humanity.  Compassion asks that when I meet someone,  I meet them where they are in their life without expectation.  It is expectation that leads to judgement and exclusion. When I can look beyond that and recognize the true value of every person I encounter, I in turn help them to then recognize their own unique worth.

Now for the second: empowerment.

Just faith has really empowered me to tackle the social injustices that I'm most passionate about changing, which mostly revolve around the equality of women in our society.

I didn't really discover my passion for feminism until this past year.  Actually, this past year has been the most stressful, anxiety ridden year of my life.  I have never had lower self esteem, or cared so much about what other people think about me.  I'm very lucky in that these have never been problems in my life before, but they have consumed me this year.  And all at the same time, I've had a really good year.  As I've tried to reconcile these two things - high stress and a good year - I've had to take a step back and look at the greater picture of my life. I've spent my whole life in school, which is a structured, open minded institution that promotes personal growth and acceptance.  This is the first year I've had to really search for my place in the greater world, and it's been really daunting, particularly as a woman. Sadly we still live in a very sexist society, and women are still treated like second class citizens.

Cate gave a wonderful sermon last week highlighting this problem in our society, so I wont go into too much detail.  But just to give you a few ideas - candidates for government office are looked negatively upon by the voting public if they possess feminine characteristics.  As most of you have probably heard in the news lately, women's health rights have been under severe attack with states passing horrible body-invasive laws, because according to our society, women's bodies are public property.   And I could go on for days about the objectification and sexualization of women in the media.

It is no wonder that I have felt consistent stress and low self esteem when society is constantly telling me that as a woman, I am not good enough, because my value lies in my body and not my intelligence or character.

This epiphany has absolutely broken my heart, and at the same time set it on fire.

John Wesley himself said: "Herein there is no difference; “there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus. “Indeed, it has long passed for a maxim with many, that “women are only to be seen, not heard.” And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings. But is this doing honour to the sex? Or is it a real kindness to them? NO; it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty. And I know not how any woman of sense and spirit can submit to it."

Well I for one will not submit to it.  I am furious, and luckily am also empowered enough to do something about it.  Just Faith has really shown me that when I see an injustice, it is up to me to change it.  I can't wait for someone else to do something.  I've made a real effort to cut out sexist rhetoric from my vocabulary by making simple changes like saying "everybody" instead of "you guys", or making sure I say "God" rather than "Lord" or "He".  I've used my consumer power to take my support away from celebrity gossip magazines, reality tv, and biased news stations.  This past Thursday I organized a screening of Miss Representation, a movie that addresses how women are portrayed in the media.  And in the fall I will be participating in and helping to organize two small groups that will address women's and girl's issues.

It is no coincidence that many of these amazing opportunities, like screening Miss Representation, have all originated from this church.  I have come to learn that Jesus and God are truly at the center of social justice.  I am doing my best to take Jesus at his word, and not only treat everyone around me with the compassion that they deserve, but fight for it for the least of these.  And as a spiritual person, I can now clearly visualize my ultimate goal in leading a Christian life - which is to be the compassionate change I want to see in the world.

The End.

I don't know of many church's that would allow ANYONE, ordained or not, to stand up in church and say something as radical as this.  I am really quite proud to be a member of LAUMC right about now!

2 thoughts on “Feminism and Faith

  1. Amen! So well written, Marissa! Perhaps you belong at International Justice Mission or another such organization? You are on fire, girl!


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