It’s fair to say the response I’ve received to that piece of information has been mixed, at best. From my mother: regular outbursts of pride. From some friends: amusement and teasing (‘Someone is letting you preach? In an actual church?’) From others: confusion and rejection (‘You’re preaching on Sunday.” “…why?!”)
To the conservatives, the ‘complementarians’, the men-in-leadership-ians among, you, I want to offer an olive branch. I really, truly believe that one can hold to the theological position that men should take leadership in the Church, rather than women, and still be a feminist. I really believe that. I might disagree with your theology, but I don’t think that position must be linked to sexism. There’s a clear line there.
But – and here’s the thing – that clear line is very, very fine. I believe that being feminist is like being polite. It’s just something you should be. And just as you have to fight against your instincts and learn what ‘polite’ means when you enter a new cultural environment, so all of us have to re-learn the attitudes and behaviours reflecting a belief that men and women are truly equal. We fight against an instinct which tells us that men occupy a default position of superiority, in all walks of life, whether we are conscious of it or not.
As a perpetual student, I find myself doing it in academia. I instinctively trust a male voice more, or consign a female voice to a ‘woman’s perspective’ before I’ve had a chance to stop myself – and I’m a woman who spends no small amount of time considering my female voice in the world.
And this, conservative brothers and sisters, is where I submit a plea. The Church has been so busy debating the role of women in church life that, when it comes to honouring and defending the dignity of women, we’ve failed to take up a call to represent Christ in all things. If you want to defend yourself against the cries of ‘sexist!’ when it comes to church leadership, the onus is on you to demonstrate your above-and-beyond concern and compassion for women in the whole of life. All of us must take up the cause of women, but it is very much in your conservative interest to make a particular point of it.
If you’re in an office, take extra time to listen to and defend your female colleagues. Trust me, it has most likely been much harder for them to get where they are. Call men out on sexist jokes. Invest in promoting and supporting campaigns against the mistreatment of women. Call for more female voices in government, the media and business. Challenge any instincts you have concerning female theologians. Do you ‘contextualise’ them in a way you don’t for men? Speak more loudly, more clearly, against the global epidemic of rape and sexual abuse.
You might find, then, that it is easier for others to believe you when you declare ‘equal but different!’