Women and The Reformation Part 4 – Always Reforming

This is part four in my series on the Reformation and it’s impact on women. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

The Counter Reformation

The Counter Reformation is the name given to the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. Even before Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was starting to adapt and change – this was certainly made more necessary, however, with the advent of the Reformation. Recently, historians have revealed the importance of women to the Catholic revival after the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent has been called the launch point for the Counter Reformation – the Catholic Church declared a number of the Protestant beliefs as heresies, as well as revising and confirming the Catholic liturgy. It shaped and defined the future of the Catholic Church.

In this period of history, women often used their social status to negotiate their own spaces for religious expression. Where the traditional institution did not make room for them, the women forged their own groups and positions. For example, women in the Benedictine convent of Überwasser used their elite social status as ‘members of the noble class’ to challenge the reform of their convent. The nuns revealed themselves as more than silent brides of Christ. As another example, the group of pious lay women known as the Lichtmutter (light mothers) were overseers of the provision of candles in the parish church, but who came to fulfill a range of duties including the collection of alms and church maintenance.

At the close of the Council of Trent Catholic society offered two respected roles for women: wife and cloistered nun. By the end of the following century women had numerous other roles available to them, such as nurses, teachers and activists. They were integral parts of the new Counter Reformation society.

Where are we now?

The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation changed society for all people. As we have looked at, it’s easy to notice the changes it brought to the lives of women, for better and for worse. But where are we now? What difference has it made?

Most Western Protestant Churches are still dealing with the ‘women’s issues’ and struggling to find answers. This is telling; women are still seen as an issue. The leadership of women, the place for women as teachers and preachers is still contested and viewed by many (both men and women) as unbiblical.

Of course, some denominations have embraced the idea of female pastors – though sometimes for societal reasons rather than the conviction of scripture – and even in these churches, women are still facing struggles their brothers in Christ are not. Women often still feel like second class citizens in the church family.

Always reforming

I think the Reformers would be horrified if the Reformation had stopped with them. Reformation is not a one time event in history, but an ongoing attitude and process as we look at the Bible as we make decisions around how we do church and how we follow God.

The world is changing – it was changing for the Reformers, and it hasn’t stopped since. We will always be reacting to events around us as a Church, and we will always be tempted to both cling to old traditions out of fear and to leap ahead without stopping to check before we jump. Instead, we must turn again and again to God’s Word, just as the Reformers did, as we evaluate where we are heading as a Church.

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Review: Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Private and Public Worlds (Social History) by Sherrin Marshall

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

A Key to Counter Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director (Journal of Feminist Study In Religion) by Patricia Ranft

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

More Than Footnotes: Part 3: http://juniaproject.com/more-than-footnotes-part-3-women-reformation-era/

Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1688

Women and The Reformation Part 2 – Women In Action

This is part two in my series on the Reformation and it’s impact on women. You can read part one here. 

What The Reformers Thought About Women

Before continuing to examine how the Reformation changed things for women, I want to pause and take a look at what the Reformers themselves thought and said on this issue. As always, there is a mixed bag of opinions, with contradictory opinions sometimes expressed by the same Reformer. This is a very quick overview, not a detailed analysis, but is neccessary to show the framework the Reformers, including female Reformers, were often dealing with.

John Calvin saw the commands given by Paul about women remaining silent in the church as coming under adiaphora or ‘things indifferent’ – things that could be changed as circumstances also changed. While he did not have women taking on roles of leadership, he was opened to the possibility that churches in a different culture might permit it, or that it would be necessary in times of crisis.

Luther held seemingly contradictory views on women – naming them flighty, vain and weak, yet loving and valuing not only his wife and daughter but many women he worked closely with, as well as defending women publicly, advocating marriage to take more of a shape of a partnership and working to increase educational opportunities for women. For example, he once proclaimed “would that every town had also a girls’ school, in which girls might be taught the gospel.” He established a school in Wittenberg to train young girls in reading, writing, mathematics and music. But Luther viewed education not as a pathway to other vocational opportunities, but as a way to train girls to be good mothers and wives.

Writing

The translation of the Bible into ‘common’ languages (not Greek and Latin) meant that theologians and preachers began preaching and writing in the vernacular as well. This made thoughts on theology available to women for the first time, as previously not even wealthy women were educated in classical languages. This also enabled women to become more involved in writing and publishing because of the Reformation. The Reformation allowed women to write about a ‘masculine’ subject: theology.

Katherine Zell wrote at length about clerical marriage, having married a priest herself, she corresponded with leaders of the Reformation throughout Europe and she wrote a book of meditations on selected Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. Marie Dentiere is another example of a woman who was writing at this time – she published the first Protestant history of the Genevan Reformation. More importantly, she wrote to Marguerite of Navarre, asking her to protect the persecuted Calvin and Farel, and included a detailed explanation of the woman’s right to read and interpret the Scriptures, which will be looked at in detail in the next section of this series. These women are examples of what was happening all over Europe – women were reading the Bible for themselves, and were able to write and speak on theological subjects, expressing their thoughts and opinions on important matters in a way that had not been available to them previously.

High Profile Protestant Women 

High-profile women were also becoming more involved in writing and reformist thinking. Marguerite of Navarre, the sister of Francis I of France, wrote the Mirror of a Sinful Soul. Similarly, Katherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII, wrote a book called the Lamentations of a Sinner which was the first devotional text written in English by a woman.

Marguerite of Navarre had reformist leanings but saw herself as orthodox – Katherine Parr, on the other hand, maintained that people needed live their lives according to the doctrine of the Gospel. She wrote on the evils of the Papacy, and promoted the reading of Scripture and the marriage of priests. She was also around at the same time as several key Protestant woman in England, such as Anne Seymour, the Countess of Hertford, Katherine Brandon, the Duchess of Suffolk and even the Protestant martyr Anne Askew.

Anne Askew was a female preacher, who explained the word of God in English to any who would listen. She was arrested and tortured. Despite this, she refused to recant or name others, and eventually was burnt as a heretic.

Katherine Parr went on to help pave the way to a Protestant regency for her stepson, Edward the Sixth. She also had a key role in guiding Elizabeth of England’s education, teaching her to value the Scriptures. Elizabeth translated Marguerite of Navarre’s Mirror Of The Sinful Soul into English as a present for Katherine, and then the following year translated the first chapter of John Calvin’s Institutes into English. Clearly both women had a shared interest in reformed theology.

Katherine Parr also influenced Jane Grey, who was her ward for a time after the death of Henry VIII and Katherine’s remarriage. I’m going to finish this section of my series on Women and the Reformation with Jane’s story.

She was intended as a Protestant bride for the new boy king, Edward, but when the Edward’s health failed, the succession was rewritten to place Jane next in line – as a great niece of Henry VIII and a great granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The events of Jane’s short-lived reign generally show a young girl placed in an impossible situation by adults who should have known better. But her faith in the period after this was truly remarkable for a girl only sixteen years old. Mary, the new Queen, daughter of Henry VIII, promised to pardon Jane from the sentence of treason and the punishment of death if she converted to the Catholic faith. But she was staunch in what she believed, knowing that faith and Scripture alone were enough to save her from a fate worse than death. She is a true example of the kind of education the Reformation opened up to women – if Jane had lived a hundred years earlier, she never would have had access to the tutors, books and learning she did. These things gave her confidence in Christ and certainty in what she believed about his death and resurrection to face turmoil and death without fear.

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

Women and The Reformation Part 1 – The Ordinary Life

The Reformation changed the landscape of faith in Europe and worldwide. Plenty has been written on the history and stages of the Reformation, and I will not try to rehash what has been said already by those with a better understanding of the topic. But for the context of this post, I will summarize the Reformation briefly.

The Reformation was a movement in the 15th Century, in Europe, where preachers and thinkers began to move away from the traditional structures of the Catholic Church, towards an idea of the priesthood of all believers, with a focus on the Bible being available to everyone in their own language, and of salvation coming through faith in Jesus rather than the offices of the church.

How did this massive shift affect the lives of women? The question of whether it was good or bad for women is too simplistic. I want to explore how it changed things – then we have a starting point to evaluate the merits and drawbacks of this new way of Christian life.

This is not an academic essay, but I will list at the end of this piece the main books and websites that helped my thinking. These would also be good starting points if you wanted to explore this subject further.

Identity

The introduction of the concept of a ‘priesthood of all believers’ was a huge one. This was the idea that all believers had direct access to God through Jesus Christ. All people could have direct access to God through prayer and reading his Word (the Bible). While previously people’s relationship with God was mediated through a male priest, now all were equal before God through grace. Women were being encouraged, for the first time, to read the Bible for themselves. With this came an increased level of education and general literacy for women.

In terms of identity, the Catholic Church had previously portrayed women as saints such as the Virgin Mary, or as temptresses and the root of sin, like Eve. Now, women were grasping a new identity for themselves – redeemed children of God, part of his church family and valued as believers.

In addition, the Reformation placed a stronger emphasis on the whole church body being the ‘bride of Christ’ – a female role, in relationship to Christ Jesus as the bridegroom. This raises other ideas about the different roles in marriage – the bride as subordinate to the husband, the head of the wife.

 

Education

The Reformation changed the nature of Education drastically, especially for girls. Previously, the school system of the Middle Ages relied on parishes or convents running schools. But the Reformers put forth the notion of unrestricted education that was open to all young people, regardless of gender or social class. This transferred the responsibility of education to the political authorities. There was also a new focus on the importance of family education, which gave women a new role as they began to take responsibility for educating their children in Scripture and doctrine. Luther in particular believed it was the parents’ responsibility to bring up their children to become well-read Christians, and that domestic education and schooling went hand in hand for the process of raising educated believers.

This approach to education meant many girls were attending school for the first time, and the question of how to approach the teaching of girls was being asked by more and more people. One interesting sign of the new interest in female education was that people were writing and publishing books on the subject.

Luther and other Reformers felt that girls as well as boys should learn not only religion but also history, classical and modern languages, literature, music, and mathematics. Programs that balanced work and study were proposed for students without academic ambitions. Students were encouraged to spend part of the day studying the rest of their time learning a trade or skills to help them in keeping a home and raising children.

Some Reformers and schools also encouraged intellectually-qualified girls to study the liberal arts, like their brothers; at this time there was also a need for female teachers. However, Luther’s focus on education for girls was primarily to train them to be well rounded mothers and wives. We will look more at the Reformers’ attitudes towards women in the next section of this series.

Home Life

The Reformation placed an emphasis on the family unit as a household of faith. Marriage was viewed as a tool designed by God for the sanctification of Christians. In some ways, this elevated the traditional roles of wife and mother as supremely valuable and integral to the life of the home. Virginity and chastity, while still valued, were no longer idealized and glorified. The role of women in the family was acknowledged and praised in new ways, which some have interpreted as being liberating for women.

The flipside, however, is that choosing a celibate life dedicated to God became much harder to pursue, and was much less valued. No longer was the convent and veil a choice for women who did not wish to marry. In some ways, the changes made life more restrictive for women, in that there was less choice available.

Marriage and motherhood carried intrinsic risks for women; death in childbirth was a reality, as well as the heartbreak of infant mortality. Nuns had traditionally lived longer, not only by avoiding childbirth, but by avoiding the diseases of the masses.

For the ordinary women, the Reformation brought about many changes to their lives, from their identity as children of God, to their increased access to education and the new value placed on their roles in the home. However, things were still a long way from being ‘equal,’ and there were certain disadvantages and restriction of choices that came with these social changes. I’m going to keep exploring wider aspects of how the Reformation changed things for women in the next few parts of this series.

 

 

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

Imagination – Part 2 – Escapism

Hiding from reality in books, tv shows and other alternative worlds is a common tactic people use to unwind. It’s so common, we gave it a name – escapism. We disappear from view, from ‘the real world’ for a few hours, to live through characters with more interesting lives, or worlds with more exciting adventures. We lose ourselves in the make believe. We escape.

Why do we like escapism? Wherever it is that we prefer to escape to, there’s a pull towards leaving our own world and problems to dwell in another world. We are attracted to worlds where the problems are usually easier to solve, or at least, there’s different problems to solve. There’s a clear issue or tangle to sort out. There’s a more obvious divide between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies.

The good guys are good and motivated by honor and charity and justice, and the bad guys are bad and motivated by greed and hate. Even when the good guys mess up, it just makes them more relate-able, more like us – and in the end, they still sort it all out anyway.

That last part is the key – the thing that draws us towards these stories is that we know there will always be a resolution. The story line finish, the plot points will resolve and there will be a clear solution to the problem. Most of us will be dealing with the same stressful things next week, or even next month, as we are today. Our problems are generally ongoing and exhausting, without a clear end or fix in sight. Not so in the fantasy lands we escape to.

Of course it’s not just fiction that we can use as an escape. Some people use work or their area of expertise or a hobby or interest area. They spend all their time reading about it, or only interacting with others who share this niche interest. Of course, when you only spend time with people who share this hobby, and never talk about things other than the hobby, there’s no risk of deep friendships developing. It’s emotionally safe – and it’s escaping true emotional connection and accountability.

So there are many forms of escapism that different people use in different ways to cope. Is that so bad? Well, like most coping mechanisms, what is helpful in small doses becomes unhelpful when we rely on it and use it constantly. Finding the balance between disappearing to other places to recharge, and living more in fake worlds than in the real world is a tricky tightrope to walk. Generally, when you’re consistently avoiding your real life problems by investing emotionally in fantasy worlds, storylines and characters, there starts to be a problem.

I have certainly spent times in my life on the wrong side of that balance – where the stories I am viewing and reading seem more real and important and interesting than the real people I see day to day. When life is hard, it feels like, well, why not? Why not escape for a while and check out emotionally until things are better? But of course, the difficult things don’t just go away. They will still be waiting when I get back. They still require my time and energy to tackle and solve.

So I’m trying to be more aware of my flights of imagination and the joy of escapism as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to avoid the difficult things in my life all the time. I am trying to find that delicate balance between enjoying something and being consumed by it.

There are times when it’s okay to use escapism as a temporary form of coping. Sometimes, you can’t deal with the difficult thing or react to the hard conversation straight away. Sometimes you need to pull yourself together for a few more hours of class or work or social interaction. Sometimes, if ten minutes of escape into a book or to your Instagram feed is what you need, it’s okay to do that. Sometimes that is what will help you keep it together until it’s an appropriate time to process what has happened emotionally.

However, spending hours in these escapes, constantly checking out from real life and avoiding work and responsibilities in favor of an alternative reality is where you run into a problem. It’s where I can see I am struggling, if I’m spending all my time in the fantasy world of a book or tv show rather than staying on top of my uni work and talking to my family.

There’s a big difference, at least for me, between watching the new episode of a tv show I am watching and then talking to someone about it, than spending hours scrolling through the internet for more gifs and reviews of the latest thing I’ve watched. This is when I need to stop, take a break and start focusing where I am right in the moment, and what demands are making me want to run.

Everyone deals with these things differently. Maybe escapism isn’t the temptation you face or maybe you find it easier to visit these make believe worlds without neglecting real life. But i think a lot of us still have work to do in finding that balance between a healthy coping mechanism and an unhealthy avoidance strategy. I know I do. I’m going to keep working on it.

Things I liked on International Women’s Day

You’re getting a special edition of ‘things I liked’ – not tied to a month or a time frame, but a particular day. Lots of people I like wrote good and interesting articles, from all kinds of different perspectives. I might not agree with all the things in all of the articles below, but each have important and valid thoughts and points of view.

I don’t have the time to write my own thoughts on International Women’s Day today (in fact, I’m writing this in a break between uni classes). I have assignments to write this week, and I plan to enjoy the privilege I have here in Australia to learn and teach and write, a privilege that should be a right, a right that many girls around the world are denied. But I don’t have the time to write an insightful blog post before. I don’t need to – many other people already have.

The truth is, International Women’s Day is often a hard day for me. Isn’t ironic that a day meant to be for the good and empowerment of women, is a day that causes me a lot of angst? It’s a day when the internet doesn’t feel like a safe or welcoming space. It feels that even drawing attention to the countless issues facing women worldwide is too confronting for many people.

It makes me angry that a day like this is even needed. That again, my gender is an issue, a problem, a crisis to be solved. Then there’s the countless cries of ‘what about International Men’s Day?’ (by the way, it’s November 19th). The protests that women are equal now and there’s no more work to be done. I want us to be able to move away from a focus on our own privileged western experience, and be able to see the wider picture, the ‘international’ aspect of International Women’s Day.

Okay. I’m going to hand over to these articles now, who have lots of helpful things to say about these issues.

Loving People Deeply – Five Things To Love Women You Don’t Know

Short and sweet – practical tips on how to know and do more written by a friend of mine.

Melanie Pennington – I’m a Privileged White Women. But Today Isn’t Just About Me.

Another friend of mine, with a clear insight into how lucky we are in Australia and how not everyone is as privileged (bonus: you can read her awesome blog from last year’s International Women’s Day here).

Creek Road – How might the church #beboldforchange this International Women’s Day?

My pastor wrote this post for my church’s blog. It acknowledges how churches haven’t done enough in the past, and can do more in the future.

Sarah Bessey – A Prayer for International Women’s Day

Sarah Bessey wrote a prayer for the women who read her blog, praying we would know God’s love first of all and that it would make us brave.

 

Want to know more? Don’t pay attention just one day a year. Visit the official site for International Women’s Day and learn how you can take action, all year round.

Snapshot: Steinhof

As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt. 

Warning: this post talks about things like Nazis, tortured children and deliberate extermination. If you aren’t up for reading about these things, skip this post.

During my course in Graz, we had a weekend trip to Vienna. On the Saturday afternoon, we went to Steinhof.

When Steinhof opened in 1907, it was a fairly progressive mental health hospital, at least for it’s time. It had a park where patients could walk and a church where they could worship. They were housed and treated in the rows of pavilions that make up the bulk of the hospital.

However, when Austria was annexed just prior to the Second World War, the function of the hospital started to change. Soon, not just the mentally unwell but many types of ‘socially undesirable’ people sent to Steinhof. Communists, the same-sex attracted, women who gave birth outside of marriage, children with autism or other behavioural disorders – anyone who didn’t fit a narrow criteria of ‘normal.’

The Nazi Government did not want to waste food or medicine on these people, so treatment was stopped, which killed many patients, and food was scarce, which killed even more. Then the experiments started. Over half of the hospitals’ patients were children, and a number of the doctors, led by Heinrich Gross, began carrying out experiments on the children’s brains. These experiments often led to agonizing deaths for the patients.

Of course, patients there didn’t just die from starvation, a lack of treatment or experimental torture. Some were very deliberately killed. If their file was reviewed by the head office of T4, the Nazi extermination program, and it was decided they weren’t worthy of life, they would be injected with a cocktail of drugs that would slowly kill them over the next few days.

Obviously, visiting this site was an intense and slightly horrible experience. I think the worst part was knowing that those running this hospital of death were never brought to account for it. Heinrich Gross, the main instigator, didn’t face trial until the early 2000s, and it was never concluded as he died in 2005. After WWII he had a successful career as a psychologist and university lecturer in Vienna.
Visiting was one of the most emotionally intense and awful experiences I have been through, but it feels even worse knowing most of those running these experiments and death hospitals got away with it and never faced a trial. The sense of injustice overwhelmed me.
When we labelled people as ‘other,’ when we begin to think of people as different and not like us, we run into trouble. It’s easy to dehumanize other humans if we’ve already convinced ourselves we don’t have that much in common with them anyway. It’s easy to forget that we are only who we are through God’s grace and luck. If we were the other, the marginalized, the forgotten and despised, how might we view things differently?
I am still figuring out what this experience has taught me, but most of all I think it has served as a warning – that to be human does not always mean we act humanely. That mercy and compassion do not come naturally and can be waylaid easily. That justice does not always happen this side of heaven, and we cannot assume things will work out for the best if we do nothing. That horrors happen, often behind closed doors and with the approval of the state.
How do we react to the things humanity is capable of, both in the past and the present? How do we deal with the darkness in us, collectively and individually? I’m not sure. We look to Jesus, who is light and grace and mercy, the perfect example of humanity. We try to live like him, treating others with compassion and grace, whether or not we think they deserve it or not – for if Jesus loved us at our worst, how can we deem anyone unlovable?
These things help. But they don’t solve the reality of living with the knowledge of what humans do to each other. I don’t know how to reconcile that. I don’t think we are meant to be able to reconcile these horrible misdeeds though. It should hurt. It should make us uncomfortable and angry. It should make us feel awful. Maybe these are the only right reactions to injustice and suffering. Maybe we need to grieve, despair, and then get up, fix our eyes on Jesus, and try to do better.

What I’m Learning About Ethical Fashion

Two months ago I started a capsule wardrobe, which you can read about here. My goal was to keep the selection of clothes and shoes I wore for three months to 35 items.

Well, now I’m reporting back on what I have learnt from this experience. I’ve previously read and thought a bit about ethical fashion but during this fashion fast from our consumer habits of fast fashion I did more research about the true costs of cheap clothing.

I’m a student on a budget, so previously I have been all about the cheap deals. A t-shirt for $5? Yes please. Nice dress for $20? Winner. But the reality is, it takes more than $5 (or should) to make a t-shirt. If I wasn’t paying the full cost of the materials, labor and shipping involved in the production of my clothes, it meant someone else was paying that cost instead.

Often, it’s the most vulnerable people who are paying that cost. The underpaid cotton pickers. The workers forced into working for a wage so low it’s essentially slavery. I know this. I knew this when I was buying mass produced cheap clothes, yet I still bought the $10 jeans.

The ugly truth is that I didn’t and don’t, particularly want to pay more for the clothes I wear. I wanted ethical fashion at an unethical price. I cared, but not enough to change my habits and to let it hurt me where it counts – my bank balance. Paying more for clothes meant less money for other things. Less outings with friends. Less coffees to assist my assignment writing. Less of the other things I like to waste my money on.

So why fight this battle? Why make this moral dilemma the hill to die on?

It’s true that there are a lot of problems in this world. Most days, it feels hard to know which battles to fight. Which causes are most worthy of my attention?

So I could give up. I could say that one person will never make a difference, and so it doesn’t matter how I spend my money and what clothes I buy. But the reality is that I would still be funding the greed of this companies and allowing workers to be taken advantage of. I would still be giving my hard earned money to a cycle of poverty I am morally opposed to.

So I am trying to make better choices. Partly because I want to change the system, but also partly because I need to be able to sleep at night, and I can’t square my conscience with being a part of this system of exploitation. I am trying to buy from stores with good ethical ratings, even if it means spending a bit more. I am trying to buy less clothing overall – because my capsule wardrobe experiment showed me that I don’t need anywhere near as many clothes as I might have thought I did.

Trying to buy clothing ethically? This guide is very helpful. The Baptist Church of Australia puts out an updated guide every year, and on page six of the 2016 guide, they have rated a number of popular brands in Australia by categories such as policies, knowing your suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships and worker empowerment.

 

Why Do We Still Need Feminism?

We don’t need feminism anymore. I have access to education and feel like I am treated equally by the people around me. I can vote. What more do you want?

Have you heard a statement like this expressed recently? Is it something you think? It’s something I hear a lot from women (and men) in Australia. The opinion that the need for feminism (or gender equality activism, or whatever you like to call it) is over.

Sidenote: for the purpose of this blog post I am defining feminism the same way Sarah Bessey does: as the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. 

But this is to look only at our own situation and assume that everyone else experiences the world the way that we do. It’s to assume that because we are lucky, others are as well.

Not every woman in the world is fortunate enough to live in Australia, in a society where women can vote and are legally free. (Though, being able to vote and being legally free are not the same as being equal, they are two huge steps in the right direction).

Let’s look at the situation of women worldwide. These statistics come from the UNPF’s research on gender inequality.

6 out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women. Most unpaid work within communities and families still falls to women, often preventing them from reaching economic independence and stability. Two thirds of the illiterate adults worldwide are women. This restricts access to information and opportunities, and when women are the primary caretakers, also limits the educational opportunities of their children. High levels of women’s education and lower infant morality rates go hand in hand. Speaking of which, childbirth and pregnancy complications together are the number two killer of women of reproductive age. Often these deaths are a direct result of a lack of access to important health information and medical services.

On top of everything else, changing things for the better is often slow going, as women only make up 22% of governments globally – the ones making decisions, distributing funding and choosing which battles to fight.

This hasn’t even touched on issues such as sex trafficking, the practice of selling girls as child brides, domestic violence, rape, abuse, honour killings and freedom of speech.

All over the world, girls are being told they are less important than their male peers, are being treated as though they are less than human, and are believing they are inferior, unworthy or deserving of these conditions.

God made us in his image, male and female. All men and women have a right to live free from oppression, fear and persecution – especially when it is based only on their gender.

Why should Australians, or others living in safety and (relative) equality care about feminism? Why should especially Christians get on board with promoting equality? Well there’s a few reasons.

First of all, it wasn’t always like this in Australia. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was expected to give up work when she married, and not long before that women weren’t even allowed to vote. I don’t always buy the story of history as a progression from worse to better, but certainly for women in Australia, things have improved with time. We have freedoms and opportunities than many women in the past or in other parts of the world could only dream of. To take it for granted is an insult for them and all the women (and men) who worked so hard to bring us to where we are today.

Secondly, our western world is run successfully on the exploitation of many of these women. Our clothes, our food, our entertainment, is all produced by those living in slavery or economic bondage. You can take this survey to find out just how many are working to maintain your current lifestyle. The International Labour Organization estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labor victims with 11.4 million trafficked victims (55%) compared to 9.5 million (45%) men. We benefit from their suffering and exploitation. We have a responsibility to care about their plight and to minimize the damage our lives in this world cause.

Thirdly, as Christians, I believe we have a calling towards compassion and justice – especially for those no one else cares about. In Deuteronomy 10, God outlines the way Israel, his nation, are to care for those who are vulnerable and in need.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lordyour God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. – Deuteronomy 10:18-22

Now, not all of God’s commands to Israel are still applicable to Christians today, but the spirit of this section is certainly backed up by Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself – especially when he defines ‘your neighbour’ as any fellow human.

Showing love to those who have felt no love from those who should protect and care from them is a very real, concrete way that Christians can actively demonstrate God’s love. How can people understand God’s love and his sacrifice for them at the cross without having ever experienced love or kindness from other people?

As Christians, our feminism will look different to how the world might express it, but the world still needs our feminism. Jesus shapes and defines how we love people, and caring for those who are in need, and fighting for justice where we can, is a key way we can love people – especially women, especially vulnerable women. If we don’t show them that God loves them, who will?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Sarah Bessey, my favourite expert on being a Jesus Feminist.

When I say “Jesus made a feminist out of me” it also means that Jesus shapes my feminism, rather than the other way around. When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus, it meant that I wanted to live into my right-now life the way I believed Jesus would do it–that included my passion for and advocacy for women’s voices and experiences, healing and justice. It’s precisely because I follow Jesus that I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice.

Gifts, Fellow Workers and Mutual Submission

When I talk about gifts in the setting of advocating an approach to church that involves men and women, I am not talking about a new hierarchy based on gifts. I don’t think church should have a hierarchy at all really, at least not one that looks anything like a worldly hierarchy.

I think the important of talking about gifts in this context is twofold.

  1. Gifts are not distributed based on gender. Though males and females are biologically different, the differences do not always extend to what they are gifted in. For example, it’s been a common belief that because men were historically stronger because of the work they did, they were more equipped for leadership, and because women were responsible for childrearing, they were more equipped for caring and nurturing roles. Both roles are equally important: but what you are gifted with is not dependant on your gender. I know plenty of caring, nurturing males and strong, fearless women.
  2. We have been sent on a mission for God, to share his good news and redeeming love with the world. In this task, we should be using all the gifts and resources at our disposal. To not do so is not honouring to God and is not productive to the church.

I also think that valuing gifts to an extent is important. We want skilled preachers, talented musicians and kids church leaders with the right qualifications. We don’t want to be asking people to step up to tasks they aren’t capable of. It’s not fair to them and it’s not honouring to God.

God gives us gifts to serve the church with. Using those gifts well is honouring to God, as it shows we value what he has given us and how he has made us in his image. We want church to be good and to do community together well. That means using what God has given us.

We are all on mission together. To an extent, it doesn’t matter who is ‘in charge’ or directing things. It only matters when the ‘hierarchy’ is being exclusive and not involving the whole church, or when the ‘hierarchy’ is moving in a direction away from what Jesus commanded.

In Jesus, the Church, the people of God, has been transformed. Instead of a temple with priests and sacrifices, with layers and barriers to God, we now have free and open access – for everyone. We don’t need a priest to intervene, and women don’t need a male ordained minister to intervene for them. We are a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-9) and we are fellow workers in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). We are a team. If someone takes the lead, it is out of necessity and a desire to see the Gospel work continue.

A Church where everyone is battling for their right to be part of the team and to participate isn’t going to work. Which adds insult to injury when women are left out of the work. We have been commanded by God to do this task: we must answer to God about what we did with our time on earth just like men will. To put us in a position where we must argue for our right to participate in God’s mission is unfair, it’s disruptive to the Church and it distracts everyone from the bigger picture.

I don’t like talking about this issue. I don’t know a single woman who would rather argue about gender roles than get on with serving God. But when roadblocks are put in the way of us joining in God’s mission, we have no choice but to slow down and dismantle them.

What do I think the answer is? Mutual submission.

There’s an imbalance in the system. Mutual submission is needed to clear the playing field, set up an equal footing for everyone, and then we can continue. When we have a mutual playing field, where everyone is submitting to each other out of mutual respect and humility, we can get on with the business of serving God.

Servant leadership and a community based on mutual submission leaves no room for jostling for the chance to use our gifts. Instead we can step back and make room for each other’s’ gifts. It means when someone is appointed in a position of authority, we submit to them – not because they are male or because they are more gifted, but because it is what God commands. It means that in different contexts, we submit to whoever is appointed over us, male or female. This doesn’t mean boosting someone out of a role when a better equipped person comes along. It means at times the person in that role of authority won’t be the most gifted or smoothest looking, and that’s okay. We submit to each other out of love anyway.

Mutual submission means working together as a church to do the task God has given us.

When Equality isn’t Equality

This post is a follow up to this post which explains why I can’t reconcile a gender hierarchy in the church with the nature of God displayed at the cross. It address the most common point raised when I talked about gender hierarchies – ‘but different doesn’t mean unequal,’ and ‘women who want equality just want glory for themselves.’ 

Different doesn’t mean unequal, I think we can all agree. We all play different roles in our church family, and all are important. When I advocate for egalitarian theology, and an approach to church that sees men and women as equal, I am not advocating for a free for all in who gets to do what. I strongly believe in putting the right people in the right roles in how we do church and ministry together.

I just don’t think a prerequisite for any role should be your gender.

If you do think that some roles in church are only for males or only for females, and you genuinely, after thought and consideration, believe this is biblical and God’s plan, I can respect your convictions, even though we disagree.

But you cannot say it is equality. You cannot say it is equal but different.

Definition of Equal: (of people) having the same status, rights, or opportunities.

Definition of Gender Equality: the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.

If you are barring roles in the church, whether it’s leadership, preaching, teaching or anything else, based solely on gender, you can’t claim to be treating everyone as equal. If you are passing over qualified women purely because they are women, you are discriminating, plain and simple. Even if you think it’s biblical or right, you can’t say it’s equality.
The different by equal argument might work better if there wasn’t a ongoing trend – anything visible, anything with authority or power, anything that represents the church to the world, is given to men. Women are left without a voice, invisible in the background.
When you walk into church as a women and see all the people preaching, leading and teaching are male, it sends a message. Whoever speaks up the front is speaking on behalf of the church, and when it’s only men speaking, it tells women that their voices aren’t wanted or valued.
If we truly are a church of male and female working together, then it’s important our services and ‘public face’ represents that, or we aren’t representing God’s church accurately. We send the message to the world that we are okay with inequality.
Personally, the character of God as I see him in the bible and especially at the cross doesn’t seem to me a God who would be okay with inequality. As my previous post outlined, I can’t reconcile a God who pours out love freely and without hesitation with a God who would install a system of discrimination in his Church.
Then there’s the second issue: that women who argue for equality want the power and equality for themselves. They want attention and authority. I know a lot of women who have stopped talking about this topic because of this. When they say ‘we should have a women leading the service’ people assume they were signing up for the job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am speaking up and arguing for inclusion and equality because I see so many talented women around me with amazing gifts that are being overlooked by everyone – including themselves!
I see women who think that using their God-given gifts to tell people about him is an act of disobedience and it breaks my heart – especially when we need their gifts so badly! When women are silent and believe their ideas and opinions are worth less than a man’s, the whole church misses out and the mission of God suffers a setback. I don’t want that to happen.
So many women struggle with this issue – and I am all about opening up spaces for women to talk and discuss and wrestle it out. I’m not about argument for the sake of argument or controversy for the sake of controversy. I’ve heard men tell women that this is a ‘side issue’ distracting them from Jesus – well, it might be a side issue if you’re a man. If you’re a women, it’s your whole life, your whole faith and your whole purpose that’s being debated. It’s pretty hard for me to see that as a side issue.