I'm thinking this morning about feminism, Christianity, the death of Tom Fox, and what it means to always be "getting in the way." Bear with me.
Over at Feministe, there's a heated discussion of feminist inter-necine warfare. If you've been reading regularly over there, it seems the feminist blogosphere is going through one of its periodic rounds of soul-searching, where we all debate one another's feminist credentials. As always, some (including this blogger) want to define feminism broadly; we're the "big tent" folks. Others worry that we big tenters are "dumbing down" feminism, or setting the bar so low that virtually anyone (even those with ugly sexist rhetoric) can define themselves as feminists. It's an argument as old as feminism itself, and it's probably healthy -- if painful -- to have it from time to time.
The Christian blogosphere is having the same sort of discussion about who can call himself or herself a Christian. This essay at Counterpunch by an atheist who calls himself a Christian inspired a couple of solid responses from the Feminarian, a feminist seminary student at Fuller. This one is particularly vehement; she makes the case that the Counterpunch dude claimed too much:
The first rule of being a Christian, which means being like Jesus, living the way he lived, is that you subject your entire life to the mission of GOD in the world. Not to helping people or being nice or even healing or bringing justice. Jesus' primary loyalty was to God. A person can not possibly follow Jesus without following this absolutely central aspect of who he was. Period. If you just follow the teachings, you're a nice person, you're in step with the universe, you'll be well-liked. But if you do not acknowledge that it is all God's story and you are doing these things because you are first and foremost a servant of God, then you cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus.
Following the message of Jesus is not the same thing as serving as he did.
I love the Feminarian and I share her theology --- but this sends chills down my spine. Not the good kind, either.
Somehow, we seem to be in the time of year when folks want to draw distinctions and decide who's in and who's out. As someone who operates in both the feminist and Christian world, I'm struck by the fact that we're having similar discussions at the same time. I'm also saddened, at least in part because I so regularly have to defend both my Christian and my feminist credentials.
When I make it clear that I am an evangelical Christian, in love with Jesus and confident that I will spend eternity in His embrace -- and all the while defend a modern and inclusive sexual ethic -- conservative Christians question my salvation. When I refuse to ban the likes of Mr. Bad and Gonzman (as long as they avoid nasty, profane personal attacks), my commitment to listening to women is called into question:
when male feminist bloggers entertain notably sexist debaters who spout the same shit over and over again, it makes that space safe for them and unsafe for women. But, hey, the worst sexist trolls are other men. Maybe that’s the appeal. Maybe women just don’t matter that much. Maybe banishing the male trolls will raise the bar too much for it to be comfortable. Maybe you’d have to listen to women.
Mind you, I'm not complaining because I'm thin-skinned. In both the church and in feminism, we have an obligation to wrestle with definitions. No one wants the terms "Christian" or "feminist" to be so broad and watered-down that they have ceased to have any meaning. Categories are important. Furthermore, it's important for believers and feminists alike to challenge one another to improve, to grow, to become better followers of Christ and better advocates for radical sexual justice. We need to give and take criticism.
But at the same time, we also have to accept the good faith of those with whom we debate. I have never told anyone "Sorry, I don't think you're a Christian" or "Sorry, you're not a feminist." I've told people "Gosh, your view is incompatible with mainstream evangelical thought" or "Well, that's probably a minority opinion in contemporary feminist circles". But I never, ever, question the right of others to define themselves as they so choose. It's one thing to challenge someone's ideas -- and another thing altogether to challenge their self-identification. That may seem a meaningless distinction to some, but to me it's everything.
Somehow this is all getting wrapped up in my thoughts about Christian Peacemaker Teams and the murder in Iraq of Tom Fox, a Virginia-based Quaker and pacifist. What I love about CPT is that they reject the "either-or" duality of the secular world: "Either you're with us, or you're with the terrorists!" Before he died, Tom Fox wrote of resisting "both the soldier and the kidnapper." He was committed to doing what CPT has been committed to for over two decades: getting in the way, standing in the middle, bearing witness to love while refusing to use the weapons of war for any cause or for any reason.
Tom Fox refused to choose who it was that he should love. He loved American soldiers and Iraqi insurgents equally. He resisted to his death the culture that requires we choose one side or another. Tom Fox wasn't interested in the causes for which people fought as much as he was interested in the tactics people use. And as a peacemaking Christian, he believed -- as I believe -- that God cares little about why we fight but cares everything about how we fight. The morality of any cause is ultimately judged by the methods its adherents use. What makes a Christian is not just one's assent to certain propositions, but one's tactics.
I'm not daring to compare myself to Tom Fox. I honor his faith and his service and his willingness to lay down his life. But one of the many lessons I draw from him is applicable to this ongoing struggle I'm having with various folks over the terms "Christian" and "feminist." I've long insisted that Christianity and feminism are compatible because they are both fundamentally concerned with the dignity and value of the human person; male and female and intersexed, we are all not only equally beloved of God, we are all called to equal (and interchangeable) service in the Kingdom.
And as we work together to build a more just and peaceable world, we need to be infinitely kinder and more charitable to both our allies and our enemies. And one way in which we live out that charity is by acknowledging that both Christianity and feminism are like bodies -- with hands and feet and lungs and hearts and myriad different organs and bones. As the apostle reminds us:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
To my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ -- and to my brothers and sisters in the feminist blogosphere -- I implore you to remember that we are indeed one body with many members, struggling and working together towards a common (if vaguely defined) goal. In the spirit of Tom Fox, let's be committed to resisting the temptation to draw artificial distinctions, to exclude, to set up boundaries, to question credentials, and to say to our allies in the struggle, "I don't need you."