Christian, or Feminist? by Emma Green
(Link): Christian, or Feminist? by Emma Green, March 4, 2015
- A new book about purity culture shows the difficulty of reconciling women’s liberation with evangelical faith.
- But the tension between political feminism and political Christianity is fundamentally philosophical, Anderson argues: Whereas feminism relies on the idea that individual women should have control over their bodies, certain Christian theological traditions have more of a communal focus.
- By way of example, she points to the theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who wrote in 1991 that Christians “do not believe that we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies … because when we are baptized we become members of one another … In the church, we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals.”
- Despite being at odds in their politics, evangelical Christians and feminists share a fixation on sex. Arguably, the focus on “purity” in evangelical culture arose in response to a secular, sex-obsessed American culture; for example, the first purity ball was hosted in 1998 by a Christian family in Colorado Springs as a celebration of father-daughter relationships and girls’ virginity.
- “Endeavoring to claim the title of counterculture, the modern evangelical church responds to what it sees as a sexually permissive culture by locking down on purity and virginity,” Anderson writes.
- Yet even the language Christians and feminists use to talk about sex is different. While being “countercultural” in the 60s might have involved orgies and free love, in the evangelical world, it means preserving one’s emotional and sexual purity despite the mores of “mainstream” culture.
- For that matter, “the way we talk about intimacy is less about physical intimacy—it’s about emotional intimacy,” Anderson said. “When people talk about affairs [in secular culture], they usually mean the physical relationship, but in evangelical culture, there’s a discussion of the emotional affair, the emotional giving-away-of-yourself.” Growing up, Anderson’s youth-group leaders would warn against the temptation of sexual “petting,” and they cautioned against “solo sex”—”Christianese for masturbation,” Anderson writes.
- Although her book is all about sex and sexuality, Anderson maintains that a single-minded focus is counter-productive. “Sexual purity—rather than a relationship with Jesus, caring for the poor, or loving one’s neighbor—has become the marker of a good Christian,” she writes. Conversely, at times, “sex becomes the god we worship, and we will go to any length to obtain it.” The solution, she writes, is to recognize that “sexuality is not the center of a person’s life, faith, or health.”
- … But it is probably more honest. Anderson really wrote Damaged Goods because, as she puts it, “I felt like a freak because I was a feminist, a Christian, and a virgin.” For the next generation, this might be a useful framework for engaging with both Christianity and feminism, and one that will probably resonate: understanding the work of Jesus and the identities of women not in abstract political terms, but as glimpses of truth people use in shaping their own lives.