Is There a Litmus Test for Christian Feminists? Should There Be?

A ViewPoint by Melanie Springer Mock

Tent ApexHere’s an honest admission. Sometimes, when I’m with a group of progressive friends, and they begin bashing Republicans, arguing that all Republicans are backwards, woman-hating, unthinking rubes, I get a little uncomfortable. Scratch that. A lot uncomfortable. Such characterization might have a whiff of truth to them—certainly there are Republicans who fit those traits—but lumping all Republicans together troubles me, especially because of this:

My husband is a Republican.

He is a careful thinker, someone who believes strongly in justice, a pacifist who for many years ran our university’s Center for Peace Studies. He has his reasons for being a Republican, and while I may not agree with all his reasons, I admire the strength of his conviction and his willingness to have constructive discussion with those who might disagree.

But sometimes I wonder: are Christian feminists willing to accept someone like him into their fold because of his political affiliation? How about someone whose views on reproductive rights are different than the majority opinion held by most feminists? Would Christian feminists be able to accept someone at their table who hadn’t yet embraced the idea that using inclusive language is vital to our worship?

Just how big is our Christian feminist tent? In other words, is there a litmus test for Christian feminists?

I wondered about this especially after reading “10 Signs That Feminism Might Not Be For You,” written on The Outlier Collective site. The article is fascinating, well worth the read. The author, who goes by the pseudonym belljarblog, outlines reasons why the feminist movement “might not be” for some people who identify as feminists. Even though I’ve believed myself a feminist for some years now, if these ten signs were some kind of measure of my own strength as a feminist, I would surely fail. This woman’s feminist tent is not big enough for me.

Consider, for example, her point that a feminist must be pro-choice in all cases, no exceptions. She writes, “You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.” And on this, I’m not so sure. Do all feminists really need to have such a black and white view of abortion to identify as feminists?

I’ve written in a FemFaith post about my own complicated understanding of abortion, and my belief that the issue itself demands nuanced thinking. While body autonomy is important, surely there are instances when a woman’s choices affect others in her community, and those others deserve some consideration, don’t they?

Callout 1Else we come to a place where feminism demands autonomy in all things, so that when I want to blow cigarette smoke in a random child’s face, that’s my choice; and when I want to make poor dietary choices, thereby making myself sick and putting extra burdens on the health care system, that’s my choice; and when I want to drive recklessly, so I can get to work on time, that’s my choice. There has to be limiting factors in all our actions, including abortion, because we are not solitary beings.

The writer of The Outlier Collective blog seems to suggest that feminism means complete autonomy, in all things. She argues that a “real” feminist demands that a woman can do whatever she wants with her body, including filling it with McDonald’s hamburgers or, conversely, getting breast augmentations. It is her body, after all, to do with as she pleases.

Hopefully, Christian feminists would struggle with this claim, understanding that our bodies are made in God’s image, and in reflecting the Divine Creator, we are called on to love our bodies as they were made and to treat ourselves kindly and well. If that’s the case, though, at least in the mind of belljarblog and many of her 500-plus commenters, we would not be considered true feminists.

The writer’s last point claims there is no one right way to be a feminist, which is puzzling, since the entire blog post outlines the one right way to be a feminist. Still, this idea is the writer’s strongest, since I agree—at least in theory—that this is no right way to be a feminist.

Or do I agree with this idea? How many times have I assumed someone couldn’t be a feminist

  • Because of his political affiliation.
  • Because she wore a bikini on the beach, showing off her new boob job.
  • Because she talked about God’s kingdom in her Facebook post, instead of addressing God via inclusive language.
  • Because she worked at home, enjoyed the domestic arts, raised a large family.

So I come back to my original question. Is there a litmus test for Christian feminists? Should there be? Or can we create space at our communion table for women and men of all kinds, who are at different places in their own life journeys, but who believe fundamentally that we are created in God’s image and called by God to be all we were meant to be?

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Melanie Springer Mock
Melanie Springer Mock is a professor of English at George Fox University. In 2009, she won the university’s Faculty Achievement Award for Undergraduate Teaching, and in 2015 she received the school’s Faculty Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. She is the author or coauthor of four books, including, most recently, If Eve Only Knew (Chalice Press, 2015). Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Mennonite World Review, among other places. She lives in Dundee, Oregon, with her husband, Ron, and their two sons, Benjamin and Samuel.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Women have struggled to become independent thinkers, not thinking what their families, schools and culture dictated. I don’t think we want to give that up for our feminist sisters who are also thinking independently and arriving at conclusions different from our own. I thought of myself as a feminist before I ever came to EEWC and learned that gays and lesbians were people who had much to teach me about love and life. If I had been rejected by my feminist sisters, how would the Holy Spirit have brought me to repentance for my judging and self righteous spirit. I am terribly convicted about abortion and would say that all things may be legal but not expedient. If I accept you with your opinion about abortion on demand, can’t you accept me with my confused opinions. Thank you EEWC for accepting me and teaching me that I don’t have and don’t need to have answers. It is enough to keep searching for the questions.

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