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A Feminist Agenda for Biblical Men
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I am a Christian feminist, utterly convinced that gender equality—in privilege, responsibility, service and ministry—is as essential to biblical faith as is a conviction of racial equality. I have studied the scriptures, read the literature, and talked to the wisest and the best I know. When it is all done, no other conclusion makes sense.
But if I tell the truth, I am a feminist not simply because "the Bible tells me so." The communities in which I grew to be an independent, thinking adult were ones in which the equality of women was taken for granted. The old established "roles" had, for the most part, been broken down. Women freely pursued whatever vocation, task, ministry, or ideas they wanted. My professors were women, as was the leader of our Bible study/small group and the pastor of worship at the church I attended. Feminism was not an idea, it was a fact.
But I must go deeper still. I am a feminist because I have experienced the power of strong women. Though I never met her, my maternal grandmother, Mabel Jones, was present in our home every time my mother sensed a hint of middleclass indolence from my sister or I. Cursed with a weakness for violent men—a dangerous trait in the Great Depression, especially for a deeply committed fundamentalist Christian—Grandma Jones divorced her first husband, remarried a pathologically unfaithful man (Mr. Jones) who violently abused both her and their children. She left him in 1940 (though she refused to divorce him), staying just long enough to let my seven year old mother recover from polio. My grandmother died thirteen years later, at the young age of 45.
Those thirteen years were ones of bitter struggle. My grandmother held two, sometimes three jobs in order to support her daughters. She was driven—at times hard—living her life with almost no thought of herself or her needs, committed, in the worst of situations, to being a provider and parent, no matter what. The Jones' were the quintessential feminist victims, but my grandmother refused to let her daughters believe it. Instead, she insisted that while they could not be responsible for what happened to them, they would be held accountable, both in this life and the next, for what happened in them. For her sake I am a feminist.
But I must go deeper still. I am a feminist for my gentle, gracious, stay-at-home mom. Though deeply scarred by the abuse she suffered as a child, she refused to allowed it to control her. She has never spoken of it publicly (in spite of her speaking and writing gifts). Instead, she told me once in a letter, she asked her Heavenly Father (what hard words those must be for her and those like her) to allow her to use her awful past if she could not understand it, to share his healing love.
What came of that prayer is over forty years of ministry alongside my father (a pastor), one in which she quite naturally became a safe place for women facing every imaginable crisis. Her gentle voice, and her heart swift-to-break have been a means of all manner of graces with such effectiveness that one rarely hears talk of simply the ministry of "Pastor Ozard"—it is always "Pastor and Dorothy." In no way a denigration of my Dad's ministry, this is simply a tribute to her remarkably significant, tireless and selfless contribution. While she herself is uncomfortable with the word "feminist," she typifies to me all the reasons women can and ought to claim full equality. Her grace, gentleness, and faithfulness taught me women must be listened to. Though it will make her shudder, I must say it: My mother made me a feminist.
But I must confess that I am a feminist for yet another reason. Theological, social, and contextual considerations aside, I am a feminist because failing that, I surrender to the very worst of my nature. You see, when I am alone with myself, I know that I am a chauvinist. Despite all my protestations, rationalizations, and argumentations, despite my best intentions, deep convictions, my mother, and even my new wife, I am a man capable of the most vile objectification, abuse, and hatred of women. I have oggled, fondled, betrayed and ignored. I have cursed women for not fulfilling me, then cursed again for their demands on me. I have not listened. I have, in so many ways, refused to treat women as "neighbors" to "love as myself." And in doing so, I have betrayed my Lord.
There, at the ugly core of my being, is why I am a feminist. To follow Jesus faithfully demands much more than a promise to be faithful, kind and compassionate to my wife and those around me. I must do more than not do harm. As an agent of the cross, and a member of Christ's church, I must actively seek reconciliation with all whom I am estranged. And that reconciliation cannot be on my terms, but on those of the gospel—"In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free."
For that reason, in spite of myself, I am a feminist.