I challenge gender bias in religious institutions?
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I am a Christian. As such, I have encountered problems
with the idea that I am feminist as well. Where I fellowship, women
are held to the duties outlined for them in the Bible, which puts
them in the submissive role. Although I recognize not all churches
exclude females from their ministry positions, I want to challenge
the faith as a whole on their discriminatory policies regarding
Their main argument is that God did create us equally, but of course,
that we are different for a reason and that trying to fit into
the opposite's place is going against nature, thus against the
Lord consequently. Scripture does agree to this if interpreted
very literally, but historical context says otherwise. Unfortunately,
raising that issue to them is almost pointless because they want
to view it in such a manner, without questioning.
Is there a way that you know of to reach these conservative, religious
patriarchs, or should I just give up on altering their beliefs
entirely? I should also inform you I want to be a pastor and was
rejected on the basis of my sex. Do I need to "fight the power" so
to speak or cave and attend another church in order to fulfill
my dream? —Brooke
Our Inner Lives team members Amy Richards
& Rev. Kanyere Eaton answer:
Amy Richards answers...
Thanks so much for reaching out to Feminist.com and one of the
lectures I give on college campuses is: Can I be a Feminist And....Be
Religious, Date Men, Be Pro-Choice....Your question seems very
much in line with that. Essentially -- as you experienced -- many
people have a hard time reconciling their feminism and their commitment
to organized religion. In past generations, women felt they had
to choose one or the other. Luckily over the past 2-3 decades feminist
theologians in particular have done a great job of underscoring
that it isn't the religions that are inherently sexist, but the
interpretation of them -- thus it's feminism’s responsibility to
uproot more inclusive understandings of the religions. There are
great resources -- such as books by Karen Armstrong, Auburn Theological
Seminary, Catholics for a Free Choice and other places that provide
a more expansive definition of religion -- and specifically a more
woman friendly one.
Starting with those resources might be good and then I would recommend
starting something at your church -- a women's group. It's very
likely that others feel the way you do and important that they
know there is a shared community there for them. And from there
perhaps you can use that critical mass to leverage more resources
within the church - at least more attention to women as an equal
part of that community.
I understand there is a new report conducted by The
White House Project: "Benchmarking
Women's Leadership" — I'm told that there are some really fascinating
sections about women and religion in terms of leadership,
pg 12 and then from
I hope that helps. Good luck.
Rev. Kanyere Eaton answers...
Your letter raises an issue that has been a bone of contention
for the Christian church for centuries. Countless women have been
silenced from public proclamation, shut out of pulpits, denied
ordination and overlooked for positions of leadership for which
they were well-qualified because of gender alone. at The Sister
Fund, it breaks our hearts to see women kept from answering God’s
call on their lives because the patriarchy of our culture is supported
by some individuals who choose to interpret particular scriptures
using a narrow, literal, uninformed lens.
Brooke, you asked if you should give up. We ask you not to. You
are among a great company of feminist Christians who have elected
to stay in the church despite sexism, believing that transformation
and equality are not only possible, but immanent. These women,
who refuse to abandon their faith traditions to those who assert
that God only calls and appoints sons and not daughters, are waging
a righteous struggle. The church won’t change if those of us who
stand for gender justice abandon it to those who prefer the status
quo. This struggle calls to mind the theme used by the Lotto: “You
have to be in it to win it.” The church won’t change unless we,
by our presence, prayerfulness and power, insist that it become
a more authentic reflection of God’s beloved community.
We believe change happens when we pray and act strategically. You
have several recourses. You can stay in your church and engage
those who are against women’s ordination and leadership in dialogue,
using the tools for scriptural interpretation we list below. You
can also seek ordination in a denomination that has a good track
record of appointing clergy women to pastoral posts. An increasing
number of Christian denominations and churches are overtly seeking
to be more egalitarian and would welcome a gifted, called woman
into their ranks. If you are inclined to stay in the church you
describe in your letter, you will want to be equipped to talk with
those who oppose the full expression of women’s voice and vision
in the pulpit by engaging them with biblical literature and interpretation
that affirms women’s pastoral leadership.
One of the first tools you might want to consider in your quest
to better address the biased interpretation of scripture in your
church is the plethora of theological and biblical literature written
by feminist theologians and Bible scholars. One resource we have
found useful is the Women’s Bible Commentary edited by Carol Newsome
and Sharon H. Ringe. It is clear that women played leadership roles
as queens, judges, warriors, mystics, pastors, preachers and teachers
in the Ancient Near East. However, many women are unfamiliar with
Biblical references to women’s influence and power because they
are rarely taught from the pulpit.
Among the most valuable resources on the subject is the literary
library of the organization, Christians
for Biblical Equality (CBE).
They have extensive book lists by male and female authors who write
about God’s call on women’s lives. Among our favorites are:
Paul Really Said About Women by John T. Bristow;
• 10 Lies the Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady;
• Good News for Women by Rebecca Merrill Groothius;
• I Suffer Not A Woman by Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark
• Women in Ministry: Four Views by B.T. Roberts; and
• Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry by Aida Besancon Spencer
periodicals, entitled “The Priscilla Papers” may also be a great
help. And, of course, you can always visit The
Sister Fund’s Web
site to find more books, organizations, educational
institutions and other resources to help you as you walk your path.
All successful social justice struggles are waged
over time, by determined people who believe that their cause is
worth fighting for. Whether you remain in your current church or
transition into a more supportive religious community, we support
you in your call to preach and teach and come to full voice in
the work of proclamation. Know that you are not alone in this quest
for right relationship in the church. God is with and for you,
as are countless sisters all over the world.
Rev. Kanyere Eaton
The Sister Fund
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