By, Kathleen Murphy
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1
In 1837, a coalition of women who had created local, female abolitionist societies came together in New York, forming the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. It was the first national political women’s meeting in American history. Both black and white women met and began to break the taboo of speaking in public and petitioning in the political arena. Calling their work “the cause of God,” this courageous band of 180 women saw themselves on a mission to unite Heaven and Earth, in the form of a society that would live the democratic and religious ideals it espoused.
The response to the meeting was outrage. At the next convention, a mob of 10,000 surrounded the building throwing stones at it, and eventually lighting it on fire. The demoralizing reaction seemed only to galvanize these pioneers.
With deepened resolve, the women continued to meet. In 1848, five religious women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, a Quaker Minister, would meet in Seneca Falls, New York for the infamous tea party during which they would plot a revolution.
These women were both revolutionaries and visionaries who had their eyes on a truth that transcended man-made religious or governmental law.
By contrast, modern feminism has grown in opposition to religious authority, becoming a totally secular movement. In January, feminist organizers of a Women’s March even banned Pro-Life women from sponsoring the march. This is just one very prominent manifestation of the resistance the modern Women’s Movement has to religion and religious women.
Faith, generally, is based on a connectedness to a higher power. While I understand that organized religions have often been fierce opponents to women’s social and political equality, I consider it an enormous loss to separate the women’s movement from faith entirely. As Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D, author of Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance writes, “the crimes of any religious institution do not negate the value of universal love and the religious ideals at its core. Sadly, human institutions will always be flawed reflections of the values they hope to embody.” Hunt goes on to explain that women’s groups – and I would add, most political organizations and movements – fall short of their stated values and ideals, as well.
In 2017, the feminist movement seems to have been commandeered by those on the partisan Left, who find it politically effective to create division instead of healing. They advance a depressing view of women as helpless, isolated wards of the state, who always benefit when government grows and assumes power, and always suffer when government frees them to make their own decisions.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Women’s March organizers reveal the goals of the movement include not only an end to “male violence,” and protection of “reproductive rights” (by which they mean the right to have a taxpayer-funded abortion), but also “anti-capitalist” feminism.
This interpretation of feminism seems a far cry from the faith-fueled activism that was aimed at healing a broken and disconnected culture. The religious energy of women such as Stanton, Mott, Susan B. Anthony, St. Joan of Arc, St. Theresa of Avila, Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, and Dorothy Day was grounded in the conviction that their calling was an extension of divine order and virtue. That connection to spirit is absent in the modern feminist movement.
Personally, I believe the feminist movement’s goal of protecting women from violence or discrimination is noble and important. Yet, I find the movement’s secular, almost atheistic sentiments run in contrast to both my beliefs and my experiences.
On a dark night in 2011, I found myself moving back into my parent’s house, a single mother of two young children, clothes and toys in trash bags, $100 in cash and a part-time job. I was no one. And, I had nothing to my name. I was strengthened by family and faith. It was often a struggle, but I chose to believe that there was a plan for me and that it was good. I took each step – big and small – that appeared on my path. Despite mistakes and missteps, I have moved out of that dark night. Not only would it be wholly disingenuous for me to ignore God’s hand in my life, it would be an act of tremendous ingratitude.
I have known the protection and power that comes through my faith. I want my daughter – and my son – to know it, as well. I want to create a world for my daughter in which she will hold equal standing with her male contemporaries, be cherished by her husband, and valued as much as her male colleagues. I cannot, however, be a part of a movement that ridicules her belief in the source of connectedness and love that we understand as God.
Is it possible to reconcile Faith and Feminism?
The two strike me as manifestations of the same yearning. I am Catholic. While I have great esteem for the accomplishments of other faiths, we speak most authentically from personal experience. So, I use the example of Christianity.
The inception of both Christianity and Feminism did more than just pose a few new ideas to a dominant world view. They shook things up until a new social order emerged. In their pure form, both are revolutions of consciousness; both challenge comfortable beliefs; both seek to enlarge our capacity for empathy; and both demand deep and critical thought.
Today, we are in need of a new social transformation that strengthens the work of feminist revolutionaries. If we resist the opportunity to form this unique and truly inclusive relationship, we do no better than those who uphold fixed models of division and antagonism.
It is time to renew the call for an intentional dialogue between people of faith and the feminist movement. Both sides call for connection, compassion and advancement. Yet in cutting the other off, both fall short in their mission. If political or religious leaders will not take up this call, then, as Mother Teresa recommended, “Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person to person.” After all, just look at all that was created by five women at a tea party in 1848.
LaKelly-Hunt, Helen Ph.D. Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance. Atria Books, 2004.