I am a christian. I am a feminist. And guess what? In my life, these two identities go together like peanut butter and jelly. Because feminism asks where the obstacles to deep equality are, and searches out ways for all of us to overcome these barriers together. And overcoming barriers is what Jesus’ life was all about! Jesus’s radical way of doing life constantly broke down barriers between genders, between cultures, between socioeconomic levels. Through his resurrection, Jesus showed that even the barrier of death cannot contain God’s expansive and inclusive love.
I had a dream once that the folks at my church were ripping out all the pews in our sanctuary. We worked hard together, unscrewing each pew from the floor and carrying them all away. When it was all over, we stood together in a circle in that empty sanctuary. There were no barriers between us.
I’ve never felt that this dream was about church infrastructure or sanctuary layout or even about my congregation specifically. I awoke from this dream longing for the barriers that keep all of us from deeply experiencing each other’s full humanity and the presence of God in our midst to be torn down.
The gender of God has been this sort of barrier in my life. In settings where God is referred to exclusively (or almost exclusively) as male – He, His, King, Father – a great big wall seems to spring up in front of me. If God is a man, then in the divine hierarchy, men are closer to God, more like God. And those of us who don’t identify as men are left on the other side of that great big wall.
Of course, I know many people (wonderful people I might add) who will readily profess that although they believe that God is beyond genders or encompasses all genders, the male God language is what feels familiar and sacred to them. I have no agenda to take their sacred language away! But as we teach our children and each other about who God is and who we are, what message does our language send? How might bringing words like Mother, She and Hers into worship enrich our understanding of God’s radical love for all people?
A few weeks ago we stood to sing a familiar song during Sunday morning service. You might know it. “In your sickness, your sufferings, your trials and pains, he is with you all the time.” Except, this time the song leader invited us each to use a pronoun or a word for God that felt right for us that morning. As I sang “she is with you all the time…she is there with you, she is there with you, she is with you all the time,” I felt new life being breathed into what had been for me a tired song. God felt near and intimate for me in that moment. Around me some sang “He” and others simply “God,” and somehow it all came together in a beautiful mess.
For those of you who have been wondering, these are the sorts of things we talk about in our weekly Feminist Bible Study. We are an eclectic intergenerational group of women (though people of all genders can be feminists!) who gather in a circle to read the bible together and to discuss issues of faith and feminism in our lives. Each week the circle looks different as we come and go in the business of life, but each week there is a lot of wisdom and support present in that space. We are figuring out together as we go what it means to read the bible from a feminist perspective and what it is we might take back from these gatherings into our churches, communities and families. We don’t agree on everything (feminism is a big tent!) but most of us would say that we need feminism and church does too.