Sometimes Feminism and Christianity Forget to be Strange Bedfellows…
I think it is safe to say that Jesus was a queer brown feminist no matter how much those facts boil the blood of anti-poor, anti-feminist, and anti-women rights Christians in the United States.
I say this because the patriarchal narratives of Christianity often take priority over messages of justice for all, parity between genders, and service to the poor. Where many Christians focus on the central theme of love running throughout the Word, some wield the text against women, LGBTQ folks, and other people on the margins who don’t necessarily fit into their narrow conception of righteousness. But, a feminist sermon recently reminded me that there are clear and easy ways that these very anti-oppressive and empowering ideals can (and should) stand shoulder to shoulder with all the messages of love and grace present in the Christian Faith. This is true even when folks try to push patriarchy and structural inequality as the true foundations of the religion.
About a year ago, I became disillusioned with the happenings at the local churches where my family and I were attempting to find a church home. I wrote at length about how we kept attending churches where male pastors would shame Black women’s and LGBTQ folks’ sexuality from the pulpit. Sometimes they would call names and other times they would insinuate that women, Black women in particular, were inclined to using their bodies to trap poor, unsuspecting Black men. I sat in service after service wondering what Bible these people were reading which led them to believe that the Christian faith was mutually exclusive with women’s liberation from patriarchal and gendered systems of oppression. But, instead of giving up altogether, we continued to search for churches within our denomination that were inclusive of the totality and diversity of the Christian body.
That brings me to the church we regularly attend now. Recently, while listening to a sermon there on the parable of the “woman with the issue of blood” (Mark 5:21-43), I witnessed the pastor perfectly weave narratives of feminism and gender equality in with the anti-patriarchal messages so many forget actually exist in the Bible.
He started by noting that the woman in the story had been shunned by so much of her community for having an ‘issue of blood.” Concerns that her condition was contagious resulted in the surrounding community forcing her to live on the edge of her town, never allowed to enter the social circles they all enjoyed. Like many people who are forced to the margins of society today because they aren’t “normal,” the woman with the issue of blood was denied equal citizenship. Her condition was criminalized and stigmatized in ways which left her unable to have a full life in the public realm.
Understanding this parable in this context makes one wonder how so many Christians find it plausible to exclude women and LGBTQ folks from full personhood both within the walls of the church and in the communities they call home. This woman’s story seems almost identical to so many we hear about queer and trans persons of color who are denied equal access to facilities like restrooms, to legal services like driver’s licenses, and to social inclusion and safety in public spaces. In many ways, Christianity is propped up as a sort of gatekeeping process but only insofar as it is used to control the bodies of women and silence and erase the lives LGBTQ persons. Meanwhile, like I noted in my article about the Kentucky clerk who denied licenses to queer couples, most other deviations from the singular patriarchal narrative are largely ignored including Jesus Christ’s own dissimilarity from this ver conservative notion of Christianity.
The preacher went on to explain that this woman’s story is particularly important because of the actions she took on her own behalf to get healing from Jesus Christ as he walked through the crowds in her town. Since he was flanked on all sides by disciples (his entourage), this woman knelt down to the ground and touched them hem of his garment. She didn’t touch his actual body. Instead, she touched his hem and was fully healed.
In explaining this to the congregation, the preacher noted that in this region at this time, women were not permitted to move freely throughout society. They weren’t allowed to approach men unless they had a man working on their behalf. At this time, women would have to be accompanied by husbands, brothers, fathers, or uncles to receive attention or acknowledgement from the Church. But, this woman, even though she had already been cast away, ignored that.
This point resonated with me so much because of the societal gag order we see on people on the margins. It reminds of the ways that oppressive people require that oppressed people “phone a friend” in order to speak about their own oppression. Like I have written before, this is the phenomena wherein White people don’t believe racism exists until a White person says it does. Like we saw in the mass killings in Paris, Beirut and Nigeria this past week, it often seems like even Christians fail to see pain in the world unless it is happening to others who look, speak, or behave like they do. But, the woman with the issue of blood just wasn’t checking for that. She pursued her faith and sought after her moral beliefs no matter what others said, and she wasn’t concerned about having male (or White or affluent) representation there to operate on her behalf.
Perhaps the most riveting point the pastor made was that once this woman was healed, Jesus noticed that some of his power had been drained. Upon finding that it was the woman who touched his garment, he referred to her as “daughter.” In that moment, Jesus’ reference to this woman as one of his own meant that she could no longer be shunned, mistreated, and excluded from society. It meant that she had a place in Christ, a place that no man could deny her.
I found this point so poignant because it says that those marginalized groups who have been told that they are unworthy, unwanted, and unwelcome still have a place. By working on their own behalf, challenging systemic oppression and operating in ways that run counter to the narratives of mainstream society, they can supersede the artificial limits and boundaries placed upon them by others.
I find this passage so important when thinking about how we see Republican candidates for the presidency continue to use language that marks certain groups like women, the poor, LGBTQ persons, the mentally or physically disabled, those of diverse body types and those whose systemic oppression has remanded them to the margins of society. Repeatedly, these people use biblical concepts to adjudicate the moral quality of those who are different from themselves. But, this couldn’t be further from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I guess what I am saying here is that Christian faith and feminism, or the fight of racial parity, or any other form of social activism just don’t have to exist in opposition. In my judgment, they just shouldn’t.
While we are all working toward our own versions of righteousness, we must understand that we won’t get there as long as we are devoting energy toward the exclusion and isolation of others. Based on this parable, it’s clear that isn’t what Jesus would be doing right now anyway.
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