Written by Leigh Bancroft
Religion might be the last frontier for the feminist movement. Or, I should say more specifically religions with a patriarchal framework. This framework is the barrier that stands between us and the liberation of our minds, spirits, and bodies.
We scratch our heads at why so many women in the church are actively fighting to take away women's rights to bodily autonomy in the name of religion. Female subjugation is deeply entrenched and normalized. The divine feminine is effectively erased through the paradigm and language used by many religions, especially Christianity, and this erasure directly impacts the attack on women's bodily autonomy we are currently experiencing after the overturn of Roe v. Wade. How can we expect the right to bodily autonomy if supreme divinity is thought to be male? How can a woman expect to secure the right to plan her own journey with motherhood if this being is the primordial parent, born without a mother and no reference to motherhood or womanhood? How can a woman expect to advocate for women if a spiritual daughter was never born to guide us towards liberation? In a patriarchal paradigm, the man has ultimate authority over wife, mother, and children. The spiritual trilogy dominant in Christianity is all heteronormative male--the father, the son, and some genderless holy spirit. Sure, some brave theologists have reclaimed the holy spirit as a metaphor for the divine feminine. But this is a sad second to ultimate authority over body, soul, and mind, and is still an unpopular view. Some might say Mary is the divine mother, but she isn't divine. She's merely a vessel for the divine. No possibility of female divinity exists within most people's orientation to Christianity.
Perhaps I am asking the wrong question here. Maybe the better question is how did women become okay with this framework? Women in the U.S. have shattered glass ceilings in almost all arenas that were previously dominated by men. Yet, we still normalize and accept the absence of the feminine from the infinite, universal power. At what point did we give up our power and succumb to the view that women are not the ones that create life, at least not on a cosmic level? Where is the blood in the manger, the midwives' tools?
Of course, assigning a gender to a supreme power is a political move. The minute we try to counter the divine Him, people quickly respond with an accusation that to make god female is sexist. Of course it is! Can't we also say that making god a male is completely sexist? In most cases, mothers are the primary caregivers, and yet we worship male paternity on a global scale? Never mind the crisis in increased single-motherhood and poverty women currently face. We give all paternal power to the father because for thousands of years, fathers have been the parental archetype for spiritual rearing. So, the more pressing question is why are we still here after all this time and despite progression in nearly every other realm?
We are here because too many women still do not know or acknowledge the history of our subjugation by the church. We are here because Christian supremacy and White supremacy effectively disputes the efficacy of any spiritual practice that includes Goddess worship or any number of alternatives to an all-powerful, male god. Our history is fragmented and complicated and involves ongoing discussions about colonization, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and patriarchy. Too many still do not know the battles we have fought and still fight to take leadership roles in spiritual houses, to be able to interpret spiritual texts for ourselves, to be able to direct spiritual conversations? Women are used to being told what to do and what to think by male preachers, pastors, interpreters, theologians, and scholars. What recourse do women have in their church to suggest alternative readings of the bible or alternative language for the divine? Very little, if any at all.
So to my progressive Christian friends, I am writing this as a non-Christian in support of your efforts to stop being silent on this issue because too much is at stake when you support an institution that is actively working to oppress us. I know many Christian feminists, womanists, LGBQT+, and non-binary are speaking up and creating alternative communities and networks, rewriting narratives, and pushing back in your realm of influence, especially the de-colonizing work started by indigenous women and WOC. This letter is more to my friends that are still in the dark, on the fence, don't have access, or feel disempowered. I imagine more than half the congregation of any given church is female. Is it just naive to think we cannot be intimated any more to giving up our power? Perhaps, I am asking for too much, but nothing will change if we do nothing. I'm not advocating anyone turn their back on the religion they care about. But, religious women must ask some tough questions right now and push back. Our battle for reproductive justice must be fought in churches as well as the streets.