On Twitter, I recently participated in one of the fun little meme games and asked a simple question of my followers: Why did you decide to follow me? I didn’t expect the dearth of heartwarming responses I received, but was delighted nonetheless. Most people commented they followed me for my Narnia tweets, my thoughts on C.S. Lewis, my love of stiff drinks and goofy movies. But someone said something that intrigued me. They were curious about the descriptor in my profile: “Bible nerd, feminist.” They followed me because they wanted to see how I reconciled this.
The question is a good one. From a feminist perspective, the Bible isn’t super woman friendly. Most of the stories are from a male perspective, star male characters, and more often than not, the female heroes of the Bible get the short end of the stick. I’ve waxed poetic on Twitter about my favorite Bible heroine, Hagar, Abraham’s second wife. Although I consider her story’s end a happy one (she is banished from her abusive masters, her son grows up and starts a new nation), it sure took a lot of rape, slavery, and abuse to get there.
From the other side of things, Evangelicals and feminists have always squarely side-eyed each other. I think Christianity and feminism have been intertwined for a lot longer than people realize (Shoutout to my girl Julian of Norwich! Hell yeah Junia!), but Evangelical Christianity, i.e., the Christianity that raised me, has always been a little suspicious of feminism. Reproductive rights and social equality are pillars of feminism, after all, while Christians…well, Christians are still arguing about that.
I can only speak from my perspective. I identify as a feminist, though a feminist with a lot of privilege, seeing as I’m white and straight. I no longer identify as Evangelical and though I wrestle with the Lord like Jacob wrestled with Him on a near daily basis, I do consider myself a Christian. And despite how often I yell about Evangelical doctrine, fundamentalism that hurts the people I love, and conservative politicians claiming to speak for God…I still really love the Bible.
I didn’t always. I remember the days of “Memory” classes at my LCMS Lutheran elementary school. We would be given little blue booklets at the beginning of the year, filled to the brim with Bible verses that we were to memorize. I hate being forced to memorize things. As an autistic person, I can quote most of Beatrice’s lines from Much Ado About Nothing, recite the film “The Mummy” word for word, and sing all of Kate Voegele’s catalog, but if you sit me down and tell me to memorize something I don’t want to memorize, my autistic brain will REBEL.
I don’t have fond memories of Memory class, particularly when we got older and were required to memorize sections of Luther’s small catechism. My brain still automatically goes “We should fear and love God…” in response to the question “What does this mean?” This is also why I’m not sure I could be Lutheran, even ELCA Lutheran, because of how many times I had that damn catechism knocked into my head.
But I do have fond memories of the Bible. I was a total nerd about the Bible, actually. I read faster than most of the kids in my class and would inevitably get bored in my countless religion classes. So I would read ahead and find obscure, gory, sexy, and passionate stories that terrified and fascinated me. We had chapel three times a week and since I am not an auditory learner (I need to be doing something with my hands, like knitting or drawing, if I’m to listen to a sermon or a podcast, but I didn’t know this as a child), I would flip through my Bible instead.
I was always crafting stories and when the Bible came into my life, it was no exception. There was just something about it that sparked my imagination. I have an early memory of my freshman year in high school, when we watched some silly cartoon about Abraham and Isaac. I was shocked and angered at how villainously Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, was portrayed. The cartoon animated her like a wicked witch and even included a scene where Hagar nearly murdered Isaac—all in an attempt to frame Sarah as the heroine. I was so outraged at this unfair and unbiblical treatment of a character who was so obviously blessed by God (and who named Him!) I immediately started scribbling my own story about Hagar.
I was enamored with the Bible. I took it to Girl Scout camp with me and when my uber conservative father warned me that the Liberal Brainwashed Girl Scouts might not take too kindly to my Christian leanings, I hid in the woods and studied my Bible there. (In actuality, I doubt a single one of my camp counselors would’ve cared, but there was something marvelously thrilling about sitting in a thicket, pretending you’re persecuted by evil liberal girl scout counselors that might take your Bible away if they catch you.)
And yet, it seemed I was always arguing with pastors. I would haunt them after church, and pepper them with questions—why does God allow evil? Do we believe Genesis or evolution? If we believe Genesis, what about that very convincing documentary on evolution I just watched on PBS? Can women be pastors or not? Do animals have souls and will we see them in Heaven? I’ll note the Methodist pastors (I attended Methodist churches on Sundays with my mother, while the rest of the week was inundated with LCMS Lutheran school) enjoyed my questions and thought I was cute, but a couple of the LCMS pastors took to avoiding me. Precocious ten-year-olds can be threatening to the faith.
This didn’t change when I went to high school and was required to take four years of religion class to graduate. Old Testament my freshman year, where I wrote my impassioned fictional defense of Hagar. New Testament my sophomore year, where I argued with the teacher and demanded how a Mayan twelve-year-old was supposed to hear the Gospel in 300 AD. Lutheran Doctrine my junior year, where I argued about whether women could be pastors and Christ in Culture—World Religions to the secular world—my senior year.
This leads me to why I’m a feminist.
Even at my most conservative (and oh, how I was conservative), I was always something of a feminist. It was a Methodist female pastor who baptized me at eight years old. And we had multiple female pastors at the various Methodist churches I attended. So much so, that it was startling to come to an LCMS Lutheran school and be told in the third grade that women should not lead or teach in the church.
This struck me as grossly unfair. I’d been raised to believe I could do anything I wanted to do if I applied myself and to never consider my gender an inhibitor at anything. And thus, I spent the next several years arguing with whatever poor religion teacher came my way about female affirmation in the church.
It was disheartening at times. I remember a flier being handed out, an invitational retreat for male students who intended on becoming pastors. I remember feeling crestfallen—I didn’t necessarily want to become a pastor, but the idea that this retreat excluded women on principle filled me with righteous indignation.
It was in the Evangelical church I discovered sexism. And it was in the Evangelical church I vowed to do everything I could do correct this injustice.
But the thing of it is, the more you immerse yourself in injustice, the more you start to see it other places too. I started pointing out sexism in the church and loudly advocating for female affirmation as a child. As a college student, I noticed more and more how misogyny and sexism were dismissed.
Like the time a stranger slapped my ass in a club while I was dancing. When I became upset about it, I was told it wasn’t a big deal. After all it, wasn’t a real assault.
Or the time a student on a bike did the same thing to two girls who were walking to class. It became a campus-wide joke—“The Ball State Ass Slapper”—and it seemed like I was the only one who felt horrible for the girls, who were upset enough to report it.
Or the time my interest in C.S. Lewis and gender was questioned. Why was that important? It was a dismissive, belittling comment that seemed to indicate that there was more important things to discuss in Lewis scholarship. Why should I care what my favorite writer thought about women and equality?
I care because I’m a woman. I care because I’m a Christian. I care because I love reading feminist literature and talking about the Bible, and I’ve never found these two interests to oppose each other. Even better, I’ve rather found they work well together, like a harmony. Feminism helps me to consider the women of the Bible and to see the stories through their eyes; the Bible grounds me and reminds me to stay humble and pursue justice in my identity as a feminist.
The Bible points to the world and says “Hey, there’s something wrong here!” So does feminism.
Harmonizing the two isn’t as tricky as people think.