black feminism Christianity Feminism shaming the black church
Deconstructing Why The Church Needs Feminism8/22/2014
Every Sunday, millions of young women sit down to a church service and hear sermons that are inten...
What happens, then, when the messages they hear fail to encourage their spirit and lead them to believe that the often-toxic traditions are for their own good? For many, the idea that one can embrace both feminism and Christianity is an absurdity. Some people believe that the two are unable to coexist, and the name itself prompts confusion and a myriad of other reactions. However, I firmly believe that the church needs feminism.
But here’s why the church – especially the black church – needs feminism: critique. The church desperately needs a critique of all of its traditional, misogynistic practices and interpretations of The Bible. For most of my life, I was afraid to critique the very foundations that made the church such an unwelcoming place. The teachings of shame and guilt made me feel as though I was a godless “heathen” if I questioned why most renowned bishops/pastors/ministers weren’t women, or why there was so much emphasis placed upon what a woman wore to church or wherever she went.
And indeed, many of these traditions come from a time when women didn't have the option but to be submissive to a man. Since society has progressed, however, it is time to retire the adage of the "wives, submit unto your husbands" used by churchgoers who do not wish to see a happy home, but rather a woman they can control. On the issue of a woman’s role to submission, I am exhausted of the promotion of the “submissive wife” role and how the church emphasizes how much of a blessing it is for women to be obedient, but my issue is not with the women who choose for themselves this role: my issue is with the people who act as though women who do not wish to conform to these gender expectations are somehow less worthy than the women who do.
Perhaps the most disturbing example of why the church needs feminism are the words assigned to the roles of men and women in the church. At my childhood church, women could buy pink t-shirts that proclaimed them "Women of Virtue", while men could buy t-shirts of a various array of colors proclaiming "Men of Valor". Women are designated to be virtuous - synonymous with purity - while men are given the glorious task of being valorous: the denotation for it being, "Having great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle." Synonyms for this word are bravery, courage, fearlessness, boldness, backbone, heroism, and audacity. Again, the emphasis on women to be pure is the exact opposite of what church deems exceptional behavior for men.
As a sidenote, the church's obsession with gender roles and patriarchy places undue stress on the men of the congregation to perform to a certain standard of masculinity. This leads to men being less able - or completely unable - to express their emotions in a healthy way. Due to the prevalent use of the terms "Man up!" or "Be a man!" in sermons, the not-so-subtle message is that in order to be a "real man", one must confine themselves to the aforementioned hypermasculine tropes, and never stray from them. This leaves no room for those who do not desire to fit into these roles.
It is clear that “not all” churches subscribe to these beliefs, but it is important to remember that the beliefs of some are still quite toxic. Instead of focusing on saving the reputation of the face of the church by saying "Well, not ALL churches do this", focus instead on deconstructing the harmful imbalance of power given to its male members and the glaring lack of support it gives its young women. Why does the church need feminism? The answer is simple: the church needs feminist intervention in order to free both men and women from a cycle of oppressive traditions.
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Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here.