I loved those students. Back in the 90s, I taught “Christianity and Feminism” as campus pastor at the University of Montana. Asked why they had signed up, one said “I can’t imagine how these two ideas could possibly be related!” He wasn’t alone. Most were confident that the feminist gains of the last century had been secured, and were nearly complete. I was skeptical, but hoped they were right.
How naïve we were! If we are now living through patriarchy’s last gasp, it continues to shout and demean, pinch and leer, punch and rape. Often with impunity. What does this do to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment or violence of any kind? (I have not had this conversation with any woman — any — who hasn’t.) For me? Rage burns barely below the surface. Not kidding. I pray that the Spirit of Christ might use my rage as fuel for good purpose, to keep me in the struggle.
Here’s where I start as a feminist Christian: the creation stories in the Bible. They have been central in shaping women’s secondary status and men’s power in Western culture. Some people of faith feel stuck with traditional readings, as if God mandates patriarchy. Not so. Here are two now–common, scholarly, not wacky interpretations that have not yet made their way into mainstream American culture, or the pews of many churches.
1. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind [the Hebrew word here is inclusive] in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion….’ So God did, ‘male and female he created them,’”(Genesis 1: 27-27). Women and men alike are created in the image of God, with inherent dignity and power. There is no trace of gender-based hierarchy in Genesis 1.
2. The Adam’s rib story would seem to undermine this, but it doesn’t. Adam is Hebrew for “human,” not a guy’s name. In this second creation story, God’s goal is to make “a helper as the adam’s partner,” (Genesis 2:18). None of the animals quite do. So God takes some of the same stuff out of which the first human was made, and makes another. Voila! “Helper” (ezer in Hebrew) is not a subservient word. Most often in the Bible, God is our ezer. Women are in good company.
Feminism stands or falls on women’s inherent and full dignity and authority. The Bible has been wrongly used to undermine them both. It is essential for us to get this right. How anyone who claims to be a Christian can minimize raping the image of God tears my heart out. People of faith can do terrible things, but we have an ancient process for remedy. A violent, drunken frenzy calls for confession, repentance, and what we used to call “amendment of life” — including accepting the consequences. Then new life can happen. This is how it is designed to work.
And it all starts with humans created in the image of God — which has been trashed in full view during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. But that’s not the only story here. In her testimony, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford showed what being created in the image of God really looks like — vulnerable, honest, humble, powerful. Thank you, Dr. Ford. Now Lord, give us what we need to set your record straight. Stoke our fire.