Panel discusses Christian feminism for Sexuality Series

Voices from both the Christian and the feminist community argue that the two groups are separate, even in irreconcilable conflict. The Christian Feminism? Panel hosted at Calvin as the second event of the Sexuality Series, provided an excellent counterexample. A diverse group of over 120 students gathered in the Commons Annex lecture hall to listen to and participate in the event. Pastor Mary Hulst moderated the discussion between History chair Kristin Du Mez, professor of philosophy Matt Halteman and Austin Channing Brown, speaker, writer and the Residence Director of Boer-Bennink Hall. The conversation was rich and amicable, peppered with poignant quotes and humor.

Pastor Mary started the discussion by asking, “When were you first introduced to feminism?” She explained that her first introduction to the term came in high school, when she said to a teacher, “I think women should be able to do whatever they want.” Her teacher responded, “That’s feminism.” She remembers thinking, “really? That sounds like life.”

Du Mez also expressed her surprise in realizing what seemed like rational, even obvious thought, was deemed radical by others. In describing her mother’s rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment she says that her mother’s tone was negative but the terms she stated “sounded like good things.”

Although coming from distinct backgrounds of a Black Baptist Church and a Mennonite community, Brown and Halteman both shared the experience of growing up around feminist influences. Brown mentioned several female pastors ordained by her male pastor.

For Halteman, “[Feminism] was part of the air I breathed.” But both soon became aware that people outside of their circle, even within the wider Christian circle, acted and thought very differently.

Du Mez acknowledged this tension while answering the question, “When did you become feminist and what does it mean to you?” She states plainly that she is a feminist and resists the implied expectation to qualify with a “but…”

“I am a feminist because of my faith,” she declared, which was a sentiment shared and expounded upon by the whole panel. Halteman explained, “All human beings are worthy of unconditional love … the world has conditionally valued women so men have had unearned privileges … Anyone who is captured by a vision of shalom will want to see the patriarchy disabled and women get the unconditional love they deserve.”

All this begs the question, if true feminism is an expression of the freedom and equality found in the gospel, why do some Christians campaign vehemently against it? Pastor Mary answered that some Christians have embraced the caricature that feminism is pro-abortion, man-hating, angry women, when, in truth, women and men are invited to engage in the church and “the best version of the Kingdom is when men and women work side by side.”

So, what does a feminist informed by Christianity look like in practice? Brown advocated for asking important questions and pointed out that much of her work in feminism is directed toward the residents she serves in answering their questions and striving to instill a right sense and value of self, especially in her female residents. She recalled that her own early feminist questions were, “What kind of relationship do I want, and who do I want to be in that relationship?”

Her statement of refusal to reduce “what it means for me to be a human being for the sake of someone I love,” was heartily applauded. She also advised students to read the Bible for themselves and examine what it truly says about women and men and carefully measure opinions and arguments against it. In response to opposition she recommended offering examples, evidence and resources and asking that those who disagree examine these things and then, “meet for coffee,” making the issue a dialogue.

Du Mez also encouraged the audience to “find people to ask these questions with you.”

Halteman urged male students not to fall into “toxic masculinity,” because truly strong people challenge and stretch themselves and strive get outside the “bubble of your own experience.” He also reminded listeners that activism strives to de-radicalize that which it advocates for.

“The goal … is to have our intuition [what we know to be true] shared by everyone, “ Halteman said.

Far from tense, conflictual or homogenous in its appeal or attendance, the conversation itself debunked stereotypes and falsehoods left and right, an example supporting its argument for Christians to unite as social activists informed and inspired by their beliefs.