Of church, feminism, and safety.

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This week has been Feminisms Fest, a synchroblog hosted by J.R. Goudeau, Danielle Vermeer, and Preston Yancey in which bloggers were encouraged to write about what feminism is to them, why it matters, and what the week has taught them about feminism. I haven’t been able to participate until now, nor read very many of the excellent offerings from our wonderful community of writers. But there have been two posts that stuck out to me more than any others, and I’d like to talk about them a little bit.

Shaney Irene wrote a post on Wednesday called “Why does feminism matter?” in which she explained why she needed to embrace feminism outside the church in order to pursue justice and show love. She says:

…the truth is that feminism is having conversations that the church is not.

The church is not yet a safe place for victims of abuse. The church is still blaming women for causing men to stumble, thinking that “What were you wearing?” is a perfectly okay question to ask a victim of rape, and refusing to believe women when they come forward about being sexually assaulted by Christian men.

The church is not yet asking questions about privilege, and seems to think oppression is something that happens outside its walls. The church needs the framework that feminism is providing.

Then today, Emily Joy Allison wrote a fantastic piece entitled “What I Learned: Like a fish needs a bicycle,” in which she noted common (and sadly expected) Christian responses to the posts that Femfest was producing: “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But the church cannot even do that.” She further commented:

I am already a Christian. I have been for much of my life. And even I had to look for validation and affirmation outside the doors of the church. There was none to be found within. Within, I was less than. Within, I was restricted because of my gender. Within, I was not respected or taken seriously. The most painful rejections, abuses and injustices I’ve experienced have been at the hands of church people. Even the people inside the church who love me are usually people who have been rejected by the church themselves and who, like me, for whatever reason, are still in it.

Why would I want to invite somebody to that?

Reading these posts made me feel understood. Validated. They helped give me the vocabulary I needed to write this post today.

I am a feminist. And I am a Christian. I think these are completely compatible systems that ought to go hand in hand.

But I do not — cannot — will not — go to church. Not in the foreseeable future.

Church as I know it, as I have experienced it — whether in a Plymouth Brethren chapel, independent fundamental Baptist church, Presbyterian gathering, or non-denominational contemporary service — is not a safe place for me.

It is the church that told me that my intellect, writing, teaching, and leading abilities are not welcome within its walls unless I am teaching those they consider less than men (i.e., other women or children).

It is the church that told me that I had to remain silent, covered and hidden both in body and in spirit.

It is the church that told me that my body is toxic poison to any and all men, to the point that I’ve heard it hinted that perhaps breast reduction surgery could be in order for women endowed the way I am, to help brothers in Christ not stumble.

It is the church that told me to forgive my attacker, use my sexual assault as an opportunity to witness to him, even rejoice in my assault because there are many who would give anything to suffer for the Lord the way I did.

It is the church that told me that perfect love casts out fear, so if I am afraid then I am in sin for not accepting God’s perfect love.

It is the church that told me that because I was not a virgin on my wedding night, that I am ruined forever, that my relationship with my husband and even my relationship with Christ will never be whole or healthy.

It is the church that told me that my depression is a sin against God, and that if I just trusted Him enough — put my hope in God — all of my anxiety and depression would disappear.

Is it any wonder the church is not a safe place for me?

Safety is a big thing for survivors of all kinds of abuse. It’s a big deal when someone confides their pain in another individual. And when that individual turns around time after time and clings to rules and regulations, idioms and cliches, proverbs and parables, it invalidates the experience and pain of the person who trusted them. It is a deep betrayal of trust. And when the Bible is used as a tool to shame people for their emotions, silence their pain, and brow-beat them back into line, all in the name of God…if that is not taking His name in vain to hurt the least of these, I don’t know what it is.

But you know what?

It’s been outside the church, among “godless” liberals and feminists, that I have been given the tools I need to heal. (I put “godless” in quotes, because I was always taught that liberals and feminists are godless, when in fact I’ve discovered quite the contrary.)

It’s been outside the church, among these liberals and feminists, that I’ve learned that it is okay for me to exist.

It’s been outside the church, among these liberals and feminists, that I’ve been allowed to grieve when I hurt, rage when I’m angry, dance when I’m happy, and experience human emotions fully for the first time in my life.

It’s been outside the church, among these liberals and feminists, that I’ve truly heard for the first time that there is nothing I can think, say, do, or wear that can possibly justify sexual, physical, spiritual, or emotional violence against me.

It’s been outside the church, among these liberals and feminists, that I’ve been told that my voice is important.

It’s been outside the church, among these liberals and feminists, that I’ve been told that my entire worth isn’t located in my vagina or connected to any activity that happens therein.

It’s been outside the church, among these wonderful, strong, brave, compassionate liberals and feminists, that I have found safety. Understanding. Friendship. Love.

I still love Jesus. He is pretty much the only part of Christianity that makes it seem worthwhile to still consider myself a Christian. And I’m pretty sure He understands where I am right now. I think He’s okay with it. I think He hates that I hurt the way that I do, but He’s waiting for me.

I also have hope for the church. It’s been these liberals and feminists that have given me this hope, ironically. It’s also been wonderful friends who have given me that hope.

Hope for real church.

Real church is when Michael and I can sleep in, tangled up in each other while talking and laughing and simply being together, joyously together.

Real church is when Paige comes over and we watch Community, or a Disney movie (while quoting it and singing along to every song), or we make art or talk about life or cook good food.

Real church is when Lindsey notices that I’ve been down lately and texts me her love.

Real church happens every day, in every relationship where openness, compassion, hilarity, love, and kindness are the order of the day. It happens outside the church walls, where life is not sanitized or silenced.

So until church in general stops doing things like choosing to believe the best about abusers rather than their victims, telling the lie that love is a choice that can be made regardless of emotional connection, forcing rape victims to confess sexual sin while forbidding them to talk about the rape, telling women that they can cause men to sin by existing in a female body, demonizing men and women who divorce abusive spouses, and anything that values rules and regulations over people that the church is called to love with the tender love of Christ…I’ll be chilling out here, outside the walls where life is messy, I can set my own boundaries, and I can finally be safe.


NOTE: There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the comment section here. As a result, I’ve updated my comment policy. I’m not closing comments at this time, because I have hope that constructive conversation can still take place. However, I will close comments at the end of the week (March 8).

NOTE: Comments are now closed. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again, so stay tuned.


Related on this blog: Hesitancy and gentleness | Fighting the sadness | The body I have | Existential perfection, problematic cultural systems, and being okay | On stunting emotionsWhen something’s not okay: pondering reconciliation & relationship

42 thoughts on “Of church, feminism, and safety.

  1. While the church was telling women to “submit” more to abusive husbands, feminists and liberals were setting up domestic violence shelters. While the church was asking rape victims what they were wearing, whether they were flirting and why they were drinking, feminists and liberals got rape shield laws passed and set up rape crisis hotlines. While the church was sweeping child sexual abuse under the rug, feminists and liberals got mandatory reporting laws passed.

    Of course feminism is a dirty word in the church…feminists and liberals have thwarted their control of marginalized groups at every opportunity.

  2. One more thing… it’s so ironic how much these comp dudes like to talk about the protection of women and children as a primary characteristic of male headship. If women will simply give up their personal autonomy and submit to the leadership of a man, we can all rest assured that should our lives or welfare be threatened, they’ll come riding in to the rescue.Just a few months ago, all the comp dude blogs talked a mean talk about what they would do if they encountered an abuser in their midst. Mark Driscoll has videotaped himself screaming at would-be abusers. And yet where are they on this SGM thing? They’re hiding under the bed, that’s where. Or actually colluding with the abusers.

    If this is what you call “protection”, then I will graciously decline, boys. And I think I’ll hang on to my autonomy, too.

    • That’s what I was always taught. If the man wasn’t protecting me, either I wasn’t submitting, I had chosen the wrong man, or God was testing me. Grim, despicable, no-win situation. Thankful for a partner who is NOT complementarian and never has been in our marriage.

      • Exactly. It always has to be your fault. It can’t possibly be that the structure of a patriarchal marriage is harmful and dangerous.

        And I’m glad you got a fella that values you as an equal partner. That’s a major score. :)

  3. “It’s been outside the church, among ‘godless’ liberals and feminists, that I have been given the tools I need to heal.”

    This is amazing, Dani. This is the heart of what I think all of us have been trying to articulate this week, and you’ve said it in a raw and powerful way. Thanks for putting your heart out there for us. Bravo.

  4. Jesus, yes. I think he’s right there with you.

    I am so sorry for the hurt you’ ve suffered at the hands of people in and from church. I’ve seen it over and over myself. Now, I have been invited in leadership at a church that strives to undo pain and soak us all on grace. The church you describe is not our church. We want to be different; not perfect, but better, and more loving.

    We hear you. God is with you.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  5. Food for thought: “Feminism is mixed up with the muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

    On a different note, you are right about something – He is waiting for you. And when you return to Him there will be great rejoicing.

    • Food for thought: Membership in a local church is not required for membership in the Church Universal. Fellowship happens between brothers and sisters in Christ online as well as in person.

      On a different note: who are you to judge Dani’s relationship with Christ or her walk with Him?

    • Actually, feminism is “mixed up” with the idea that women are free to choose the life path that best suits their interest and talent (just like men are)–whether it is to serve an employer, help their husband or start a business and become their own damn boss.

      But it is very telling that both of the options for women presented in your quote are “subservient” roles, as if the idea of a female employer or business owner is not even conceivable. Female independence is obviously very threatening to some people.

    • You’re demonstrating a pretty fundamentally flawed argument against feminism. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” You’re also drawing a correlation between the employer/employee relationship and the intimate partner relationship that I think is extremely unhealthy.

      “And when you return to Him there will be great rejoicing.”
      I find that extremely insulting. The inferred belief seems to be that I have walked away from Him (what else could “return to Him” mean?). Walking away from corporate church is not walking away from God. And considering you don’t know me (or if you do, clearly you don’t know me very well) implying that I need to return to God is not a proclamation you get to make with any credibility, nor do you have a say in how I live my life, including acting out my faith.

      • Feminism now is not what it started as. What began as equal rights for women has evolved into what appears to be feeling superior to men and non-feminists.

        And I didn’t intend to insult you. But you did say that He is waiting for you. Why would He be waiting for you if you were already walking with Him?

          • This post credits feminism with giving women freedom to choose. This is, of course, completely ridiculous, as the Author of life created us with free will. I know what you’re all getting at though. But I repeat -feminism began as equal rights for women. I don’t have a problem with that as much as what feminism has evolved into, as I previously mentioned. I just don’t think you’re understanding me. All that being said, Scripture says that women are to be keepers of the home. And there simply is no legitimate argument with that.

            And I fail to see how the Light of the world could be sitting in the dark with you. The original statement was more accurate. He is waiting.

          • Okay. I’m done. If you wanted to have a discussion, it would have happened already. As it is, you’re only concerned with letting me know how wrong I am in your eyes, and I will not deal with it. You’re no longer welcome on this blog.

  6. I never said people can only fellowship in person. Actually, I never mentioned feloowship at all. So I have no idea where you came up with that. For the record, I wholeheartedly agree that fellowship occurs online, on the phone, etc.

    As for judging her Christian walk, I’m not doing that either. She said herself that He’s waiting for her. I was only agreeing. He is waiting, and He will wait.

  7. Some women may be threatened by the idea of independence. Just as feminists are threatened by the idea of having anyone tell them what to do. It seems that the majority of them have a problem with authority. I’m not threatened by the idea of being an independent woman because I actually am independent. I freely choose to serve my husband and children.

    • “I freely choose to serve my husband and children.”

      I’m so glad you do. You should hug a feminist for giving you that choice. Because if it were your only option, you’d hardly be able to call it a choice.

        • What do you think your goal is here? Are you encouraging Dani? Are you loving her? Are you being her “friend”? No. You are once again putting your ideals and expectations and theology above her needs as a human being.
          Regardless of your standpoint on feminism (which, for the record is fraught with inconsistencies), you have no say in what she believes or how she behaves.
          Can’t you see? That is the freedom she is writing about! She has made it clear time and again that her world is no longer made up of the expectations of others. This is the freedom for which feminism has taken an unshakable stand. You are exemplifying the precise structure of expectations that Dani has so eloquently rebuked in this post (among so many others.)
          Responses like this are the easy way out. It is very simple to hold something up as a standard and tear down (or guilt-trip) anyone who dares to defy it. Try, for once, the difficult path that is loving someone without agreeing with them. It’s ok! You won’t get their “unholiness” all over your clean white garments. Unless, of course, you *want* to. :)

  8. Dani, you’re such a wonderful voice to have. Thank you for writing this.

    Everybody else: back off and let the poor woman be. You’re not helping your cause or her fears.

  9. Dani, this is hard, important stuff that you’re dealing with. And you’re never alone.

    “I still love Jesus. He is pretty much the only part of Christianity that makes it seem worthwhile to still consider myself a Christian.”

    I am right there with you! :)

  10. Hi savedbygrace –

    I wanted to make a distinction to your earlier post:
    “This post credits feminism with giving women freedom to choose. This is, of course, completely ridiculous, as the Author of life created us with free will.”

    This is very, very true. The beautiful thing about Jesus is His gift and respect of free will. However, we know that the world is fallen. Because of this fallen world, humans have been ever trying to gain and keep power over others. Jesus may give us the inherent ability to have free will and make our own choices, but when the earthly institutions prevent people (historically women and other minorities) from having the economic and social opportunities to exercise their free will… that is where feminism comes into play.

    PS – Could you please elaborate on how you feel feminism has changed to something other than equal rights for sexes?

  11. “This post credits feminism with giving women freedom to choose. This is, of course, completely ridiculous, as the Author of life created us with free will.”

    Free will as understood in theology gives us the ability to choose between right and wrong, to follow God or not follow him. It has nothing to do with choosing one’s occupation or vocation. By your own logic, the civil rights movement didn’t give any freedoms to people of color, or the American revolution didn’t give freedom to Americans. The simple fact of the matter is that for many years, women had no real choices in life other than to be wives and mothers (other than spinsters and prostitutes). Feminism, the movement, gave them options.

    “But I repeat -feminism began as equal rights for women. I don’t have a problem with that as much as what feminism has evolved into, as I previously mentioned.”

    You’ve done a lot of repeating. Are you here to have a discussion? To listen and learn? To actually contribute something helpful? Because repeating your same points over and over does none of that. If you’re not here to do any of those things, why are you here?

    Also, by your logic about feminism, Christianity is about feeling morally superior to everyone else and condemning everyone else to hell. It’s not? Oh, but based on your logic it would be.

    ” I just don’t think you’re understanding me.”

    No, we understand, and we disagree. Please do not insult our intelligence. If you’re here to have a discussion, discuss. Don’t insult.

    “All that being said, Scripture says that women are to be keepers of the home. And there simply is no legitimate argument with that.”

    Really? I’ll give you a few: Galatians 3:26 and Genesis 1-2, 1 Corinthians 7. Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Junia, Mary and Martha, Phoebe, Lydia, the queen of Sheba.

    “And I fail to see how the Light of the world could be sitting in the dark with you. The original statement was more accurate. He is waiting.”

    Oh, you’re God now? Because that’s the only way you could know her spiritual journey well enough to determine which statement is more accurate. Enough is enough.

  12. “All that being said, Scripture says that women are to be keepers of the home. And there simply is no legitimate argument with that.”

    There is totally a “legitimate argument with that.” The Bible is mistaken, wrong, in error and reflective of some primitive bronze age tribal men’s thoughts. It has no place in modern life beyond that we give to the Iliad or the Odyssey. It is also riddled with contradictions, and this issue of women being “keepers at home” is one of those. You’re just choosing one verse that supports your narrow view of the world.

    If you choose to be a “keeper at home,” bully for you. I’m happy that you’re happy with your chosen role and that your husband makes enough money to allow you to stay home. But everyone doesn’t choose that role, nor is it required that they do.

  13. Dear Dani, I stumbled upon this beautiful post after reading your comment on “Stuff Fundies Like.” Like you, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church that perpetuated violence and injustice in spite of their best intentions. Like you, my conscience led me to leave that community for my own intellectual and spiritual health. Since then, I have found peace and freedom as a follower of Jesus in a United Methodist church, where I now serve as a minister. We, along with other mainline Protestants – Episcopalians, Presbyterians (USA), Lutherans (ELCA), and Congregationalists (UCC) – affirm the sacred worth of all people and the gifts that women have to offer the church at every level of leadership. While you may certainly experience God’s presence outside the church, if you ever feel safe journeying back into a Christian church, I hope you’ll consider visiting a nearby mainline Protestant church. We would welcome you with open arms!

    • Thank you, Paul. The two churches I am thinking the most about are Episcopalian or Unitarian Universalist. In theory I really like PC(USA), but the ones nearby that I’ve visited aren’t quite what I need. I figure once the thought of entering a church building doesn’t make my heartrate skyrocket, I’ll consider it further. :) Thank you.

  14. I understand. I am one of those who really does believe a Christian should be in church. But I know the price. I was the teenaged rape victim who was told men just can’t help themselves (or my personal favorite, men don’t understand “no” unless you say it exactly right). I was the girl who was ostracized because I was now a slut. And like you, it was the “godless” liberal feminists who came in and told me that wasn’t ok, that I didn’t ask for it by being alone with a man or dressing immodestly or not saying no loud enough or often enough, and that I wasn’t ruined for life because of it.

    And I walked away for several years. I walked away from the church, from Christianity…and yet I think God did not walk away from me in those years, even when I did not believe in Him. I saw how badly the church has failed to live in God’s love, how much it has preferred its easy comfortable legalism, no matter who is hurt by it. In the church, I know that I’m what’s commonly derided as “liberal” as though it were a bad word. I hear people like me spoken of as not real Christians, or not serious Christians, because we don’t take everything we’re taught on board. I think I made the right choice, but I know it’s not an easy one. And I understand why someone else wouldn’t want to.

    • When you’re brought up to believe that other believers have got it wrong or do the whole “professed Christians” thing in which the implication is clear that those who disagree aren’t REALLY one of us…it’s hard when you realize that you disagree. This post by Grace on Dianna Anderson’s blog talks about it well.

      …the God I wanted to believe in, a loving, kind God who was slow to judgment, was still haunted by the God I was taught to believe in. I couldn’t shake off the message drilled into my head as a child, that people abandon “difficult” and “challenging” faith in a divine judge because they want a God who signs off on whatever they do…

      The God I was raised to believe in was an abuser wrapped in the trappings of divinity. I couldn’t believe in him. But I couldn’t believe in a God who was anything else, either. The faith handed down to me was a house of cards that threatened to blow over if any single tenet was less than entirely true, and its cornerstone was a poisonous image of God.

      So that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m clinging to the vision of a truly loving God anyway, because it gives me hope. But it’s far more accurate to describe myself as an agnostic deist in the Christian tradition, though much easier to just say that I’m a Christian.

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