Faith and Feminism: Rooted in the Spiritual




When you read this word, what picture comes to mind?

More than likely, some of you have pictured an aggressive, angry woman standing beside a raging fire of bras with her fists clenched.  She is also covered in hair: hair on her legs, hair in her armpits–just loads and loads of hair.  There is probably a sign next to her proclaiming the inferiority of the male gender.  Gasp!

You may laugh at this extreme portrayal, but unfortunately this is a common perception of a feminist.

When I talk to others about feminism, many cannot see past this extreme image.  I tell them about my belief in the interconnection of faith and feminism, and they immediately are up-in-arms about it.

“A woman of faith should not find a friend in feminism,” some would say.

What I find to be so ironic about this statement is that many of the founding mothers of feminism were also great women of faith.  Their activism was simply an outpouring of the Divine at work inside of them.

These women did not find their belief in feminism and their faith at odds because their understanding of God propelled them into the realm of social justice.  (And just as a side note, these women were not “man-haters”.  The Abolitionist Feminists, as they were known, were fighting for the equality of both genders; they believed in the freedom for the male just as much for the female.  The Declaration of Sentiments, which many of these Abolitionist Feminists took part in creating, proudly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal).

One of the greatest Abolitionist Feminists was Lucretia Mott.

Through her study of scripture, she found that part of Jesus’s identity was found in his actions; through meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the people around him.  Jesus sought to bring freedom to the oppressed, to bring good news to the poor, to recover the sight of the blind, and so forth.

Mott saw how God’s kingdom was brought to earth in Jesus‘ time through said actions, and acknowledged that we are vessels called to continue this good work in our own day and age:

In the same way that Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking of the reign of God to be possible and real in his time, Mott expected evidence of it in her time. Mott’s reference to proclaiming liberty to the captive was a repetition of the Gospel of Luke’s words describing Jesus’ mission. “. . . The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, . . . he hath sent me to . . . preach deliverance to the captives, . . .” (Luke 4:18ab KJV, in turn a quotation from Isaiah 61) By referring to this passage Mott implies that “we ourselves” may be the ones upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is. Those engaged in reform movements were to be as active as Jesus in ushering in the kingdom of God,” (Eppinger, Messiahs of Every Age: A theological Basis of Nineteenth-century Social Reform).

Lucretia Mott was known for making statements such as, “Let us not hesitate to aspire to be the Messiah’s of our age.”  At surface level, some may view this as heretical, but this is more of a call to action to all believers.  Through her own encounter and understanding of the person of Jesus, Mott realized that she must participate in lived actions just like Jesus.  And we must do the same if we call ourselves Christians.

Mott’s activism was a direct result of her faith.  Reflecting on Mott’s work, Helen LaKelly Hunt states:

We can infer that her sense of justice comes from her understanding of what kind of Creator is bestowing the gifts of creation.  In other words, her politics and her feminism stem from her faith in God-given equality, (73, Faith and Feminism). 

The stereotypical image of the man-hating, bra-burning, angry woman has somehow become the face of the “equality” movement, and therefore many persons of faith cannot connect their faith with feminism.  Historically though, feminism’s roots are grounded in the spiritual.  Women like Lucretia Mott were not a rare commodity. Many of the early feminists found a friend in the equality movement because of their understanding of their God.

For me, feminism is about the equality of and for all.  As I continue to gain a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and what it means to be Christian, I can’t help but feel myself propelled into this realm of social justice.

So as I pray and ask God for His kingdom to come to earth, and as I reflect on the actions of the Messiah to bring God’s kingdom to mankind, I find myself compelled to tangibly partake in lived actions, so that what I pray for may become a reality.