Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Christian and Feminist--Is it Even Possible?

I've been sitting here all day trying to think of something profound to write about. My blog is usually a pretty quite place where I write about everything that crosses my mind, so guest-blogging for Feministe is "hitting it big" for me. There were other subjects that I started to write about but something has been bugging me for awhile now and I think that means I need to write about it. The problem is, well, it's sort of embarrassing for me.

You see, up until about two years ago, I was a member of a cult. I was born into a family where almost everyone was a member of this religious group that dictated almost every aspect of our lives. I'm not using this label casually. Cults kill. Sure, they may not wield any guns but when you're working with true believers, you don't need to get your hands dirty in order to control people's lives. I was fortunate. I was removed from approved status with the organization because I am a serial fornicator.

Back in the crazy nineties, when I was a teenager, I had sex. When I became pregnant (a situation that could have been avoided if it had been possible for me to be honest with my parents about being sexually active), I had to go and confess my sins to the church authorities. Because I was young and showed sufficient penitence, I wasn't kicked out of the religion completely. They imposed several restrictions/punishments but allowed me to remain a member while I proved to them that I was willing to be obedient to their direction.

A few years ago, I received my cancer diagnosis and needed immediate treatment in order try to extend my life a bit. During the radiation therapy and subsequent surgeries, I was unable to care for my daily needs nor could I handle those of my elementary school-aged daughter, so someone had to be there to do it all for me. My life partner stepped in and became my full-time caretaker which necessitated his move into my apartment.

Now, it's not like we asked for this to happen. It wasn't my choice to have to ask someone to be there to pull up my pants when I went to the bathroom and I think common sense should tell people that when someone has a fifteen inch slit down their back, it's going to be impossible to engage in anything the average person might consider to be sex. Even stretching out my arms in the normal motions needed to put on a shirt could have opened up the surgical wounds and exposed my spinal column. However, to the organization's leaders, none of that was relevant. I was living with a man who was not married or related to me, ergo I was a fornicator deserving of ostracism from everyone who wished to remain a part of the religion.

Even after they made this announcement to the entire congregation, I still wanted to work towards bringing my life into alignment with the groups' expectations and regain my former status as a member in good standing with the organization. However, that never happened. Instead, I became a feminist.

I began to see that I had been a victim of clergy abuse. Never again will I sit in front of a group of men and answer to anyone about the details of my sex life. You simply can't convince me that these guys weren't getting their jollies off while convincing people that they were only doing it because God commanded them to. Thankfully, I found feminism before my daughter reached an age where they could warp and abuse her too as they surely would have had I remained a part of the cult.

However, as empowering as my post-cult life has been, I still find myself yearning for some sort of connection with the divine. I know there are some folks who've had similar experiences and sworn off of religion altogether but maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. I've really wanted to believe that just because I had one truly horrific, quarter of a decade-long association with a group (whose name I am reluctant to use here due to the harassment that I've seen others subjected to online), that doesn't mean that all organized religions are evil.

A couple of years ago, my life partner met a guy at work who was the pastor that had relocated to our city in order to build a local congregation of an association of churches that originated back in the seventies out on the west coast as part of the Jesus Movement. When my partner was invited to speak to the people at his work place about how the United Way has helped our family, the pastor came to him and asked if we'd mind if he put us on his church's prayer list. Later on he invited us to visit his church and we eventually decided to do so.

Since then, we've visited several times, enough times for me to begin to feel like I was a part of the congregation. I never did agree with everything they taught but the great thing about them was that they didn't require you to do so in order to be accepted as a part of the church. It was one of those "Come as you are" places where even the pastor wears jeans most Sundays.

Coming from a religion that raked in millions of dollars every year and sent missionaries to witness in impoverished countries across the globe but never saw fit to build so much as a single school or water pump in any of them (an injustice that always reminds me of an article that I read on The Onion last year), I loved the fact that their ministry work was focused on feeding and clothing the poor and homeless. Every three weeks they go out to the FEMA trailers where thousands of displaced New Orleanian victims of Hurricane Katrina are still living and feed anyone who wants to come and get a hot meal or two and then take some food back to their trailers for later. They also bought and renovated a house where they provide housing and employment to guys who are trying to reintegrate into society after stints in drug rehab centers and/or prison.

I thought I'd found a place that reflected most of my values. Though my partner and I have very different religious and political philosophies, I thought we'd finally found a place where we could go without either of us feeling totally offended and out of place. Just when I had become fairly comfortable and settled in, things took a turn.

One Sunday, the pastor was in the middle of a sermon about how we should not condemn others since the Bible doesn't spell out absolutely everything we should believe. He goes into this spiel about how, during Bible times, some of the Jewish Christians used to criticize Gentile Christians who didn't get circumcised or follow kosher dietary restrictions. Then he talked about how the Jews were wrong because they should have recognized that the Gentiles didn't need to do any of these things and the Gentiles were wrong because they weren't acknowledging the fact that the Jews were and are God's chosen people. In fact, he added, as Gentiles we are commanded to pray for and support the state of Israel even today.

Okay, he didn't exactly say that this means we're supposed to be okay with everything that the Israeli government does but I know enough about Christian Zionism to get nervous when I hear this sort of talk. I made up my mind to give the guy the chance to explain exactly what he meant by what he said before I just wrote him off.

Not long after that, I was in a conversation with one of the guys at the church about whether Christians should carry guns and fight in wars. Though I didn't know it, the guy I was talking to used to serve in the U.S. Navy. He didn't see anything wrong with participating in wars. My view was that it would be immoral to do so for many reasons, the fact that innocent people are always killed being a very important factor for me. The pastor of the church overheard us talking and remarked that fighting in the military was a part of being obedient to our government so Christians needn't worry about that.

I tried to reason with him by pointing out the fact that if all Christians took that view, one could very well wind up killing their Christian brethren fighting on the other side of the conflict. In answer he stated that it would make him feel less worried if he knew that the people he killed were Christians too because he'd know that they were "right with the Lord" and had gone to heaven. He'd be a little more sad if the people he killed were non-Christians since they'd have gone to hell because they weren't "saved" (i.e. born again) before they died. This response left me truly gobsmacked.

At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the specific religious groups that are the problem. Perhaps it's the actual religion itself. Or maybe it's just religion itself. I don't know. I used to be among those who take the Bible as infallible. However, it seems to me that no truly righteous God would really command people to do some of this stuff. So where does that leave me? Where does it leave anyone who thinks that imitating Jesus might not be a bad way to go but just can't find any justification for a lot of the actions and views that go along with Christianity?

10 comments:

FIONA said...

I'm so very sorry about your ordeal. I was raised in a strict "religious" houshold, but I was able to get out at 19.

I have been able to find comfort through my faith--yes, I am a Christian--but that does not mean giving up thinking for yourself.

I heard the other day that churches should be hospitals for sinners--to heal our hurts; too many churches have turned into museums.

Think about who Jesus ministered to. The fallen woman, the tax collectors, etc. He was trying to heal those who were hurting,and teach the rest of us how to live with our fellow humans.

Yes, you can be a feminist and a Christian. A feminist belives that a woman has equal worth as a man. A Christian sees the value of all people. Remember the good Samaratain?

I hope you find a way to heal. :-)

Kristy said...

Imitating Jesus isn't necessarily a bad way to go until you do it in a group. But I have a definite anti-religion bias,, really for anything that emphasizes obedience over critical thinking. I was raised Catholic. Excellent post. Saw it at Feministe, not sure I can meet their comment policy.

kactus said...

bint, you could be telling my own story here. I spent all of my teenage years in a pentecostal church, and finally had to leave after intense disillusionment involving my own sexuality, my feminism, my desire for an education (it was frowned upon for women) and my pastor's own hypocritical serial womanizing.

when I left the church I tried several times over the years to reconcile being gay with christianity, but I never could. The belief that you can't be both gay and christian was too ingrained. Finally I realized that I no longer had any interest in christianity or any religion at all. It was incredibly freeing.

I also think I know the second group that you are talking about. My oldest daughter got involved with them for a while in california, but alas she is her mother's daughter and is also highly skeptical about religion.

Anonymous said...

i am a catholic feminist. it may sound a bit like an impossibility but i decided after years of catechism not to let anyone define what religion means to me. i refuse to believe that religion is all about hate.

i have the same conflict you have - reading through the bible sometimes makes me sick to my stomach. what i tend to do (and ironically i have my catechism to thank in part for this) is go by the two great commandments jesus taught. everything else that doesn't fall into line with that i will not apply to my life.

- marie

laurajanine said...

Bint-

I read your journal via feed (and have for awhile), and am constantly inspired by what you share. As someone who is in a community of ritual abuse survivors, I want to say that it takes super-gigantic-guts to be honest and open about cult stuff, and to remain vulnerable and real, even virtually.

As an Arab Jew (with a family full of Orthodox Christians from Albania and Egypt), I constantly try to reconcile the real and tangible benefits of spiritual practice that is from my culture (I don't feel ok trying to cram someone else's ancestors into my stuff) with all of the bs that is contained in the spiritual practice from my culture. I've not got any answers, just letting you know that I'm searching, and that hearing about your search is meaningful to me.

Veronica said...

I wrote about this entry on entry on my blog.

hermitcl said...

Hi Bint.

I don't believe Christianity is necessarily incompatible with feminism, depending on how you practice it! However, it HAS been around for 2000-odd years, and has collected some very odd baggage along the way. It has been twisted and prodded and guided on its way to justify just about anything, from murder to war to rape to ritual (and not just ritual) abuse to slavery to just about anything you can think of. It has also inspired many many people to bring beauty into the world in the form of art and music and wondrous discoveries, or just to do the best that they can. In other words, it provides a mixed message at best, as do other religions. My advice to you would be to keep the parts you like and throw out the rest.

Sara said...

Holy crap (no pun intended)! "Obedient to our government"? Really?

Since when are Americans supposed to be obedient to government? And just how widespread do you suppose this concept is among modern Americans who identify as Christians?

Anonymous said...

*delurks*

Hi Bint.

You wrote: At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the specific religious groups that are the problem. Perhaps it's the actual religion itself.

I think it is the actual religion itself.

Okay, so. I'm not Christian -- all my ancestors and family as far back as I know are Jews. I'm a cultural/ancestral Jew but not religious Jew.

My girlfriend (I'm a lesbian) was raised Southern Baptist and was a Baptist for a while in her early adulthood before leaving that and going on to other denominations of Christianity, from pentecostal to Methodist (last stop was Episcopalian). She also studied Christian theology pretty intensively.

From conversations with her, as well as from living in a Christian-centered society here in the US, I feel like I have learned a fair amount about the underlying theology/worldview of Christianity.

And from what I see: I believe that Christianity is flawed at its very core. Here are some of the reasons why I feel this way:

1. It is an individual-based form of spirituality. The focus is not on some sort of collective interconnected group with shared responsibility, but on each individual soul seeking its individual salvation. Some people might like that sort of thing. I find it really ugly -- spiritually disconnected and not in line with a reality visible in contexts like ecosystems, which is that we are all interconnected.

2. It is based (more or less depending on the denomination but still based) on the assumption of original sin. It promotes the myth that human beings are flawed by nature.

3. The actual practice of Christian institutions both currently and historically is pretty hideous.

Now, bringing this one up may lead to some Christians thinking or telling me that other Christians or institutions aren't "really Christian."

As an outsider to this religion, I see a whole lot of Christian evasiveness and not taking responsibility for what Christian groups and institutions do. Critique of the actual practice of Christianity and its institutions opens up this dance of "that's not really Christian."

Historically and currently, a tremendous, tremendous amount of violence has been done through and in the name of Christianity. BUT because Christianity is an individualistic religion, it is extremely easy for Christians to evade any collective responsibility for other Christians and institutions.

From a perspective of collective responsibility, this makes no sense. From a perspective of attending to what actually happens rather than ideals that aren't in practice, this makes no sense. But mostly, it is so horribly ugly to me to see the evasion of responsibility that seems so easy for people.

Okay now, *relurks*

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