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Christianity and Feminism Can Coexist in Harmony

By the Rev. Susan P. Thomas
Lutheran Chaplain

Last August, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my call and ordination as a pastor in the Lutheran church. The Lutheran church body of which I am a member has ordained women since 1970, although some other Lutheran bodies have yet to take this step.

Female Lutheran pastors have "come of age," I suppose, having passed the 21-year milestone. We are no longer utter curiosities, no longer pioneers in a formerly all-male domain, no longer under a "prove yourself" scrutiny by our colleagues and the people we serve. In fact, entering classes at many Lutheran seminaries are now very close to a 50-50 ratio of male and female students (as is the case, as well, in numerous other Protestant seminaries and university divinity schools). Since 1972, the campus pastor of the Lutheran Ministry at MIT has been female -- a rather remarkable 20-year heritage right here.

I am a Christian and a feminist, as were my two female predecessors. Both of these appellations have undergone attack in our society in recent years, occasionally with good reason. (I must admit, however, that I am more frequently embarrassed to be aligned with "Christians" who too often seem to present themselves as self-righteous truth-holders in public discussion than I am embarrassed to be aligned with feminists. This is a great grief to me as a Christian. I'm sure this frank admission will be misconstrued by exactly those folks who know they have the truth and who are ready to discount the ministry and the message of someone who sees more ambiguity.)

But, back to the title question: Can you be a Christian and a feminist? I believe the short answer is "yes" -- and I would love to discuss the longer answer with any comers, a discussion that would need to touch biblical interpretation, church history, our naming of God as mostly male (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and our own experience.

Part of that longer "yes," however, comes to me from Dorothy Sayers, a Christian thinker (and mystery writer) to whom I will be forever grateful for the following insight in A Matter of Eternity:

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man. There never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as He found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.

As a Christian, I take Jesus very seriously. As a woman and a feminist, I believe I can do the same.