Women and the church. I cringe. I close my eyes. I suddenly wish I was not in the feminist group….
As a woman whose spirituality was created, handled and fostered in a patriarchal and legalistic church community, I have not stepped into a church building in quite some time. Still weary of the all the unprocessed messages and instructions placed upon my femininity, I know the effect continues to permeate my womanhood.
As I began reading “In Memory of Her” by Fiorenza, I was reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, “And compassion is something that is possible only when you have understanding. Understanding brings compassion. Understanding is compassion itself. When you understand the difficulties, the suffering, the despair of the other person, you don’t hate him, you don’t hate her anymore.” Oh, how I have hated men in church leadership, and will be the first to take a punch. You would not see sitting across from a man, seeking to understand his experience (rather, strategically forming my next defense). Fiorenza says that in order for the ekklesia (NT term for the church) of women to exist and gain movement, it cannot be reverse sexism. As much as I wanted to claim this as my own truth, there remains a part of me that wants to see my femininity rise so far above masculinity in the church. Here is where I see my deep lack of compassion and suppressed anger toward my own masculinity. I find my desire for liberation to be so strong, it has blinded my capacity to sit with and care for both men and women who claim religion and enter a church building each week.
Fiorenza claims that, as women, we must collectively grieve and find solidarity with one another. This notion took me back to the women’s march last month, and the hallmark of intimacy and community I had not experienced before. Can this be named as church? Could moments like these be the fullness of feminism Christianity has lacked? If so, I will stand next to and beside this community.
Feminism and the church will be a continual heartache in my narrative. What I most long for is gentleness for other women who have experienced pain and silencing, as well as honor and joy in the church. It takes compassion for self in order to give to those who have most harmed. Will I be attending church in the near future? Probably not, and that does not diminish or restore one’s process for healing and liberation. Freedom demands communal grief, and I believe this is the core of Fiorenza’s work. Whether mothers, therapists, chefs, single and dating, Amazon account manager or artists, we can only survive through claiming how womanhood defines each of us and honoring one another’s story.