I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen. — Anne Rice, author of the Vampire Chronicals
Continuing my series of posts in reaction to this quote, today I will write about Rice’s second complaint — that Christianity is anti-feminist. This is actually a tougher task than it might seem, not because the Church is inherently anti-woman (it most definitely is not, as will be seen) but because there are so many different brands of feminism. For simplicity, I will deal with the definition of feminism as found in Webster’s Dictionary:
- the theory of the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes.
- organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.
Let me begin with the radical equality found in Christ:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28
This reality is ultimately found in the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ — an activity in the Orthodox Church that is open to every member of the Church, regardless of age, sex or ethnic background. Beyond this, women have been specifically highlighted in the life of the Church:
- the first person to hear the Good News of the Incarnation: a woman (the Virgin Mary — Luke 1:31)
- the first sign performed by Christ in His ministry: done at the request of a woman (the Virgin Mary — John 2:5)
- those who were brave enough to stand by Christ at the Cross: women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, Salome, the Virgin Mary, etc. — Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:55, John 19:25)
- those who were first given the Good News of the Resurrection: women (Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome and others — Mark 16:6, Matthew 28:6, Luke 24:1)
- the first person to witness the Resurrected Christ: a woman (Mary Magdalen — Mark 16:9)
- the first apostle: a woman (St. Photini the Samaritan Woman and Equal-to-the-Apstles — John 4:39)
- the first European convert: a woman (St. Lydia — Acts 16:14-15)
- the Saint the Church invokes more often than any other: a woman (the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary — of the Twelve Major Feasts, five are Mariological: Nativity of the Theotokos, Presentation of the Theotokos, Christmas, Annunciation and the Dormition of the Theotokos)
All of this is rather significant, given the context within which Christianity arose. In the ancient world, women were second class citizens. An institution dedicated to making women second class citizens in a world that saw women as second class citizens would never rely so heavily upon the testimony of women, nor raise women to such a degree of honor. Thus, Christianity fits both definitions of feminism according to Webster’s.
Additionally, there is no other philosophy, religion or political entity that can justify or defend the equality of women better than Christianity. Divorced from the radical equality found in Jesus Christ, all of these quickly fall apart in the face of the real objective inequality between men and women (men are definitely not the equals of women in terms of childbirth, for example). In order to justify equality in the face of this objective inequality, one must in some way deny reality and force a false reality upon oneself and others. The beauty of Christianity is its acceptance of these objective differences and, at the same time, the miracle that in Christ we are radically equal despite these differences.
UPDATE: I just ran across a sermon by St. John of Damascus on the Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. I share this quote, because it flies in the face of any notion that Christianity is anti-woman or anti-feminist:
There is no one in existence who is able to praise worthily the holy death of God’s Mother, even if he should have a thousand tongues and a thousand mouths. Not if all the most eloquent tongues could be united would their praises be sufficient. She is greater than all praise.