Saturday, December 01, 2012

A Brief Rant Against My Own Interests, but for My Own Beliefs

Katha Pollitt, a critic, feminist, activist, and liberal who I greatly respect and admire, posted this on Twitter this morning:

Half of laity members who voted against women bishops in Anglican church were women.
And I wanted to say, "Sister, please." Because that "#slavementality" hashtag reflects a fundamental misunderstanding -- or perhaps better put, a fundamental willful blindness -- on the part of my fellow liberals about the way that my fellow people of religion or faith sometimes think or behave . . . and in particular, a willful blindness by my co-feminists toward women who make choices that don't advance the cause.

Those women who voted against women bishops were quite likely ladies who read 1 Timothy 2:12* literally and who find that more important or compelling than their own rights. This is a perfectly valid way to think and behave in the private sphere. It may not be the way we feminists personally would interpret Scripture or vote -- but other people's religious beliefs aren't any of our business, and liberals have fought long and hard to make sure everyone's religious beliefs stay their private business and don't come into the public sphere.

All of this goes ditto for women who vote, based on religious grounds, for a candidate who opposes abortion rights**. That does come into the public sphere, as those women's choice of a candidate can influence all women's choices about life and death, literally. But that's still a valid belief and choice, and the work of those who support abortion rights then is to argue better and either change their minds or convince other people to outvote them. Same goes for the Anglican vote:  The work lies not in insults, but in a more wide-ranging theological discussion that might open up these women's minds, if they're willing to go there (which they may not be). It's complex and hard, but not cheap, as Ms. Pollitt's comment felt to me.

[A side note if you're interested in issues of Biblical literalism and religious mind-changing:  The New Yorker from November 26 has a terrific, thoughtful, even-handed profile of Rob Bell, the founder of Mars Hill church, and his journey from strict evangelical to someone still faithful but rather more nebulous in religious definition.]

Feminism is, or should be, nothing more and nothing less than the fight for the rights of women to maximize their personal choices and opportunities within a culture that often represses them -- including those choices and opportunities some feminists might disagree with, such as those that reinforce the repressive culture. Calling those women who make different choices idiots does not advance the cause here, and I wished we did it less and argued for complexity more.

* "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet," as quoted in the New Yorker article. 
** I should note that my own feelings about abortion are extremely squooshy, so I will not argue it one way or another, nor do I welcome arguments about it in the comments (goodness, no).


  1. Beautifully put fellow liberal, feminist, person-of-faith!

  2. Thank you for this. Politics, traffic jams, schoolyards, and The Internet would all be so much nicer and more interesting if Some People could embrace the complexity of Other People. Seconding that "sister, please" (though a big fangirly fan of Katha Pollitt).

  3. Well said. I'd also like to add that voting for women simply because they're women isn't always the right choice. Ann Coulter and Cokie Roberts are both female political pundits, but I'd be willing to bet Ms. Pollitt might have a problem voting for one of them regardless of her gender.

    1. You know what? I misread the original Twitter post. And while I stand by my statement, I acknowledge that it doesn't apply to this situation. Mea culpa.

  4. Interesting. I admit I have not given this much thought and I do not have any stake or axe to grind. I do have a question. People who say they take scripture literally or strictly confuse me. The scriptures they choose to follow to the letter vary and, on some issues, the Bible changes its stance (like slavery and treatment of slaves). So, this is an honest question: how does one react to someone who takes some scriptures word-for-word, but ignore lots of others? I ask this as someone with friends who tend to be much more conservative and religious, and I am trying to understand their position, which they cannot always articulate. I am trying to get in their shoes a bit and understand.

  5. Interesting viewpoint put forth.

    My views on abortion are somewhat squishy (pro-life except in certain instances, and if the woman is going to have one, I believe that the man should be involved with the end result as well) but I will say it's refreshing to read a balanced/non-rigid response to this particular hot button issue.

  6. I so appreciate you speaking up like you do. We liberal-people-of-faith really need to speak up more often! I love the way Catherine says it above, "embrace the complexity of Other People."

  7. Enjoyed this, the more because I was holding a Rob Bell bk (Jesus Wants to Save Christians) while checking email, where I found your post. Am supposed to be reading a chapter for a study group. Will get my chapter read, but this gives me something extra to bring to that meeting today.

  8. Great post, Cheryl.

    Have you listened to This American Life's story on Carlton Pearson? ( It's an amazing story of a pastor who, like Bell, comes to the conclusion that Hell doesn't fit into his understanding of God. He loses his church and many of his friends, but emerges with a new life that feels more full of love.

  9. I find all of the above thought provoking and I firmly believe in the right of everyone to make their own decisions. But I do have one question: was Timothy "talking" or was it God? Makes a big difference.

  10. Very well put, Cheryl. Everyone has a right to their opinion- its one of the fundamentals of a true democracy. It's often so difficult for people of faith and people not of faith to understand and therefore respect each other- posts like this is exactly what's needed to form the bridge. Thanks for posting.

  11. Thank you, Cheryl. It's important for we-who-consider-ourselves-faithful to speak up, lest it appear that all people of faith have identical political views - or that God is a member of any particular party!

    @Pat - actually the writer/speaker in Timothy is Paul. . . just to complicate your point.

  12. What a great post. You have so many good points. Everyone should be able to make their own decisions. I use a web content filter when I browse so I can only read certain material. I look forward to reading more from your blog! :)

  13. "Feminism is, or should be, nothing more and nothing less than the fight for the rights of women to maximize their personal choices and opportunities within a culture that often represses them -- including those choices and opportunities some feminists might disagree with..."

    Thank you for saying this. This is a wonderful post.