What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Feminist Society (Part II)

As I’ve asked myself this question over the past few days, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mary. As in Mary-and-Martha Mary. When Jesus went to Mary and Martha’s house and Martha was all frantic and nervous about dinner getting on the table and the candles being lit just right, or the oil lamp, or whatever, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet, literally. Like he was her teacher, and students were only male then, mind you. She was sitting by his feet, listening to him while chaos was occurring in the next room. Then Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). The best reward. And she was a woman. She was not praised for her work, for her social status or ability to rise above female oppression and be highlighted in the most important literary work of all time.

What was she praised for? Her ability to be oblivious to all but Jesus.

Seeing as how Mary has exemplified the Christian life ever since she appeared in the gospels, I think that’s what being a Christian in the midst of feminist society is supposed to look like: to be so obsessed with Jesus, we just don’t care about much else. And to be so steady at his feet that we find ourselves able to love as he did. Love ourselves, love our gender, and love men, even the ones we think should value us a little more.

One of the most destructive attitudes of feminists is anger. It weakens the argument. Who wants to listen to someone who’s mad at everybody? Their words don’t make sense. They’re self-righteous and annoying. But what if we as Christian women who believe in our ability to be educated and have careers (a simplified definition of feminism I mentioned last week) stopped letting anger or self-righteousness drive that belief and started being oblivious to our entitlements and, instead, focused on Christ, our teacher?

That’s harder to do than striving to prove ourselves—something I do often and perhaps you do too. It takes more strength to relax and get over myself and admit that in reality I am nothing. Not because I’m a woman, but because I am human.

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16 thoughts on “What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Feminist Society (Part II)

  1. Very well put! And applicable to so many emotions/behaviors/attiitudes that we cling to that keep us from sitting at Jesus’ feet. Or keep anyone else from wanting to join us there.

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  2. Great perspective. It seems like there is a pressure to speak up and advocate for ourselves- and indeed there are times that we must do so. But I would hope that more and more we could set our striving to the side and let our Christ-focused lives speak for themselves.

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  3. (In response to the closing sentence,) Finally! Thanks for this astute post, and a rare, humble perspective of a woman. Not a popular message in a time when women are defensive about their authority because they’re entitled and men are [still] defensive about their authority because of…always. Refreshing to find allies in putting Christ first and living a lifetime of service to God and others.

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  4. I’m not one to claim feminism by any definition but I do feel that it is challenging to be consumed to that extent like Mary. There are moments this seems impractical in times such as these, but God has been rearranging my posture to that where the laundry and cleaning can wait as I prioritise my time with Him! Thank you for your insight.

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  5. I really appreciate that someone is talking about this subject that I myself have always struggled with. I was actually very excited when I saw a link to this article. I truly tried to keep an open mind about your article and reread it multiple times trying to make sure I did not miss any of the key points of your message.
    That being said, I am completely bewildered by your assertion that Martha’s focus on what is essentially housework and ‘women’s duties’ in a patriarchal society equates to the independent employment espoused by feminism. Martha is not “proving” herself by the standards of feminism, she is simply obsessing over the absolute only functions she is given in the male dominated society in which she exists. I am equally unable to understand why you propose that Mary’s interactions with Jesus do not seem to support the feminist ideal of equal education. You especially pointed out that “students were only male then, mind you,” which highlights Christ’s apparent support for equal opportunity between genders, at least in this situation.
    How is Martha the feminist when she is simply fulfilling the long held home bound position that was the only opportunity for women of her time period when Mary is the one breaking her gender role and daring to seek the education and spiritual teachings that were only afforded to men at the time?
    Also, your supposition that feminists are angry, “self-righteous and annoying” is particularly grating. As a fellow follower of Christ, I feel the need to point out that a substantial amount (if not the majority) of people who are not believers tend to view the stereotypical Christian in the exact same light. Promoting old stereotypes against other communities and movements will do nothing but make those against our own harder to combat.
    If I have overlooked some key point or misunderstood any part of your argument, please let me know. As I said before, I am extremely interested in the interaction between Christianity and feminism and do not want to walk away from this without fully understanding this viewpoint.

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  6. I ve gotta say I feel like andrea misses the point of the scripture. It’s true that feminism has gone awry in many ways and I think many Christians try to blame increasing troubles in our society on the fact that women are doing things traditionally relegated to men as careers and being mostly equally treated in those newer roles. First, the scripture is not about poor Martha being a driven FEMALE, it’s about someone, who just happens to be Martha here, missing the point and having forgotten what her priorities should be! this is a message for men and women alike. The priority should be spending time with Christ in relationship-not to just try to please him with your deeds. Martha was focusing on getting together the meal-trying to please Christ and her guests;dealing with crisi-she just had a bunch of hungry people show up-how was she going to feed them and nobody else was helping… But Christ here doesn’t smack her down so to speak, he gently corrects her by reminding her what is the most important when life happens–spending time with Christ. There will always be bumps and unplanned events in our days. Be first with God. He knows its hard. But we must try.
    As far as the feminist aspect, Julie above is correct in that historically women hearing these teachings and ministering would be the more feminist appreciation of the story. Christ treated women whatever their walk in life in a new way. They are not property. They are called. They play important and prominent roles.
    I once met Betty Friedan, the author of the book that “pushed a movement forward.” She is often misquoted later in her life saying she did not think feminism had been correct. what she was saying is that feminism is failing because now women instead of respecting other women are cutting each other apart.
    Feminism was really about giving women the opportunity not to be just housewives and mothers but anything. It’s about respecting the calling in all of our lives and respecting that. Please remember while feminism has existed for many years since the mid 1800s, as an arguably “successful” social movement it’s relatively young. After women got the vote, it was 40 years until the work home mother issues started heating up. Now 40 years again have passed and we as women and Christians, as a society, are reviewing some of the consequences of the good and the bad changes in our society.

    We are reviewing our priorities. Just the way the scripture calls. Let’s not bash the Martha’s. Because we all can be her. Let’s not bash or idolize the Mary’s. She made the right choice. She had her priorities in order. Her place was not in the kitchen, but at the feet of her Lord! And it is freeing! Striving to do good or find success (however u define it) is not whats being condemned except if u are doing that at the expense of listening or being with God (as Martha did). Christ is saying don’t miss the opportunity to put God first in whatever you do and to listen and be willing to put down what u r doing to make Christ your priority. Trust God it will get done if it is His will. Take the time to be with God in your strivings. That brings freedom. Readjust your priorities. Thanks again for putting your views out there and for encouraging us all to add.

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  7. [Julie & Lindsey: Andrea will have to speak for herself, of course, but just so you know: I didn’t read the post as applying feminist or not-feminist labels to either Mary or Martha. I understood Andrea’s point as applicable regardless of the ideology under discussion. I.e., the point isn’t to be Republican or Democrat, or to be an environmentalist, or a humanist, or a … — regardless of what ideology you’re examining, pursuing, debating, or following: being like Mary, and choosing Jesus first and foremost with wild abandon, is the best choice.]

    Andrea. I don’t think I can debate this. I could quibble about things (like, I think Republicans are angrier and meaner than feminists, on average) but it’s not important. I think you’re making an argument for perspective. (Yes? No?) Like, “needing” an iPad is selfish garbage once you understand that other people can’t put food on their tables. Arguing over feminism is kind of irrelevant once you remember that our purpose and value is in Christ. There’s merit to that.

    The question that comes to my mind is, if we’re going to dismiss feminism (maybe “dismiss” is too dramatic) because we’re focused on Christ, does that mean we also dismiss social justice and governance and the environment and issues of war and peace? I wish I was more articulate today, so I could come up with a brilliant explanation for how unsettled that leaves me. If we’re so wrapped up in Christ that we’re not being useful, if we’re not bring light to the world because we’re shut away in Christian corners, isn’t that also wrong? But how can I possibly argue that you can be too wrapped up in Christ? It’s got to be in the balance, but where do you find that?

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    1. I think Andrea said something in her post that can possibly be a reply to your last question: “And to be so steady at his feet that we find ourselves able to love as he did”

      I don’t think loving and focusing on Jesus should ever make anyone neglect acts of justice and loving this world. There are so many verses in the bible that promote faith and works going hand in hand and letting our faith speak with our hands, time and money.

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    2. I agree with Kerry’s closing statements. I was deeply disturbed by this line in particular “Love ourselves, love our gender, and love men, even the ones we think should value us a little more.”

      Is this what civil rights activists should have done? Should Martin Luther King have simply focused on his ministry, ignored the plights of those among his community, and continued to love the racists in the bigots that wished would have valued him “a little more”?

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    3. So many interesting comments while I was away! (Traveling then got sick so haven’t even been able to look at these.) You’re right about my not trying to label Mary and Martha in their story. Really I wanted to take Martha out of the equation completely but I totally understand how it looks like I labeled her the “bad feminist” or something. Not my intention.

      Anyways, you bring up a really good point. I think social justice is pretty much the most important thing. I’m just starting to see how it needs to be done out of an overflow of my love for Christ rather than out of anger towards the wrongdoer. I think that anger will not always be possible to get rid of but it shouldn’t be my drive. This principle would go for the other things you mentioned too. Does that make sense? (My head’s been in a fog the last several days :))

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  8. I agree with Kerry’s closing statements. I was deeply disturbed by this line in particular “Love ourselves, love our gender, and love men, even the ones we think should value us a little more.”

    Is this what civil rights activists should have done? Should Martin Luther King have simply focused on his ministry, ignored the plights of those among his community, and continued to love the racists in the bigots that he wished would have valued him “a little more”?

    Like

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