The bible says that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbour as your love yourself (Matt 22.36-40). Therefore, any teaching which is unloving towards women, is not Christian teaching.
Feminism is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Any message suggesting that women are better or more important than men, clearly isn’t stemming from a belief in equality of the sexes and is not, according to the dictionary, feminist.
Why the church needs feminist values:
The church needs feminist values because they’re in the bible.
Research by Rape Crisis suggests that one in five 16-59 year old women in the UK have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales alone (Office of National Statistics, 2015). Globally, one in three women will experience violence at the hands of a partner (State of the world fathers report, Mencare, 2015). These things can happen to men too, of course, and we must also speak up against that, but statistically it is much less common. For example, in the US, one in five women will experience rape their lifetime, compared to one n 71 men (National Coalition Against domestic Violence). It’s obvious that Jesus cares about women. It’s obvious that women are suffering. What, then, should followers of Jesus be doing about this?
The church needs to adopt the feminist value of defending women’s rights and start speaking up against these things. We need to campaign against them. We need to provide funding for women's refuge centres. We need to realise that the way we talk about and treat women within our churches affects the way that people see women, and we need to use that platform for good. We need to realise that women around the world are suffering and we need to start doing something about it.
Why feminism needs Christian values
Feminism, according to the dictionary, stems from the belief that men and women are equal. If feminists start hating men or trying to make men suffer more than women, as some kind of pay back, then feminism is no longer feminism. As feminists, we need to take back feminism when so-called feminist movements are telling us to hate, discriminate against or verbally abuse men. The value of equality is a core value of feminism and it mustn’t be lost. This is where we need Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies, pray for those who persecuted us and (this is controversial), forgive.
It’s understandable that the feminist movement don’t want to advocate forgiveness. As women, we have been treated as inferior citizens, across the world, for thousands of years. For some of us it is “just” lower pay, offensive jokes, objectification, a lack of opportunities and a general lack of respect. For others it has been being locked in a basement for over a decade by a husband. Being raped by a father. Being killed for refusing to wear a head scarf. Who could forgive these things? Why should we?
Let me be clear, I’m not for one moment suggesting that we women should put up with these things, or remain in abusive relationships. That’s not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness, in some cases, is to say “What you did was horrifically wrong. It is never ok to treat me like that and I am going to get away from you so I can be safe, but I do not hold it against you.” I have never been in the position that these women have, so it is not my place to say who should forgive what.
What I will say though, is that sometimes forgiveness has benefits.
- For the woman. Research from The University of Missouri found that forgiveness has psychological benefits for the forgiver and can reduce the chance of depression. When I worked as a counsellor for women who had been sexually abused, it was not uncommon for them to want to explore whether forgiveness might bring them healing. I never once suggested that they try forgiveness. Who am I to suggest something so difficult? But they often decided it themselves. I don’t know how they did it, and I’m not sure I could do it, but for women who do, I believe it can be a healing tool.
- For all women and for women’s rights. Sounds crazy, but historically, it’s worked. One powerful example of forgiveness conquering oppression is the black people in America and South Africa. Many people fought for freedom, but who brought change that benefited black people? The ones who forgave white people. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Junior learned that you won’t get anyone on your side by fighting against them. They taught and lived forgiveness. Mandela said “you can’t fight hate with hate, only love can do that”. Feminists need to learn to forgive men, because historically, forgiving the oppressor helps end oppression.
- For men. Men matter too. We’re equal. That’s part of feminism.
Equality, loving women and protecting the weak are Christian values, according to the bible. Equality is a feminist value, according to the dictionary definition of feminism. We cannot risk losing these values. Maybe Christians and feminists can remind each other of that.