Friday 15 July 2011

On Being A Christian

Posted by Jenni

Today, I’m going to discuss something I’ve mentioned in passing before – the fact I’m a Christian. This is a very important part of my identity, and it’s also the part that gets questioned most – even more than my being asexual. You see, to many people being Christian, queer, feminist and liberal is a contradiction. I’m not going to go into lots of detail for you all, and I’ll try to keep the bible-talk to a minimum (references will be given if you want to look up the verses in question), but I’m just going to share how the Christian part of my identity fits in with everything else. And maybe give you a view of a Christian you might not have seen before.

Background first then. I was raised as a Christian, specifically, Church of England. My mum volunteers at a Sunday School, and in fact, so do I. However, between the ages of 13 and 16 I had a bit of a crisis of faith. You see, around this age I had my first experience of fundamental evangelicals, and it terrified me. There were a couple of things (sermons, prayer situations, etc) that made me cry. This, combined with the attitude I witnessed (outside of my Church, my Church is lovely) towards non-heteronormative identities, made me pretty sure I was in the wrong place. But, being famously stubborn, I decided I would go back through the Bible and related texts, and make my own decisions.

Considering I’m currently studying Theology, and writing this article, so you can guess how that went.

Firstly, being Christian and being a feminist. The Bible isn’t nice to women. Plenty of rules about selling them, or their obligations, or worth. But it’s a book written in a male-dominated society. And though some modern Christians may take it in this vein, I believe the Bible does have some elements of a feminist narrative. In the Old Testament, God often talks directly to the women (especially if something bad is happening to them) in a way he doesn’t with the men. A good example of this is Sarah and Hagar in comparison to Abraham. Whilst what happens to Hagar is awful, it’s made pretty clear that the mistreatment is a human act, and not necessarily condoned. There are less female ‘characters’, yes, but each one is interesting and worthwhile mentioning. ( has a great introduction to them!) Plus, God is commonly described with feminine characteristics in a positive manner – there are references to ‘his womb’, for instance.

And as for the New Testament, well, here’s where it gets really interesting. We all know the disciples were men, right? It seems there’s a lot of evidence that Mary Magdalene and the others were disciples too – they know things that were described as being ‘told only to the disciples’. The women are important to the movement – the rich ones are usually the main source of support for the community. And finally, the really important part – it’s a woman who is the first witness of the resurrection. She doesn’t doubt it, but the men do. And if you’re wondering why this is important, it’s because a key part of faith is belief – take a look at the story of Thomas in John chapter 20. Also, the men doubt her potentially because she is female, and they are then proved wrong in that they should have trusted her. If that’s not a positive statement for the role of women in Christianity, I don’t know what is.

To me then, the attempts to keep Christianity a male-dominant religion isn’t the faith I identify with. The Christianity I identify with is the one that recognises the worth of women, that gives them important roles and hopefully the one that will come to move away from gender as a marker of, well, anything.

Being Christian and queer is a little more difficult. In my case, being asexual and Christian is quite easy – though I don’t like a lot of Paul’s attitude to sex (and seriously, there are Christian writers contemporary to him who were far less prudish), he does give justification to my existence in the concerning passage that states you should only marry if you get those desires. (In Corinthians, he states “I wish that all of you were as I am” in reference to being unmarried and not experiencing sexual desire.) Not when, if. But what about anything else? We all know the quotes from Leviticus (Leviticus 20:13), but I bet we all know the responses too (you know, you can’t eat shellfish, wear mixed fibre clothes, shave - try Leviticus, chapter 20, verses: 9 and 18, and all of chapters 11 and 15.) It’s here I’ll turn away from the Old Testament and look at the New, which is where I find the comfort for my identity. Jesus says nothing on non-heteronormative roles, but he does say a lot about not judging others. (Matthew 7, v. 1 -5) I apologise if you were hoping for something deeper here, something more explanatory, but to me it’s as simple as this: don’t judge others. Even if you disagree with something about them, it’s not up to you. To claim that you know God disagrees with something is worrisome. Now, I realise that this doesn’t necessarily argue that non-heteronormativity is not a ‘sin’, but I think it’s a good starting point. (I don’t think it’s a sin, obviously, but I’m still working on explaining this in a simple manner, hence why I’ve stopped here).

And finally, on being Christian and liberal. Honestly, it confuses me when people don’t get this. I struggle to understand how you can be Christian and conservative, if I’m honest. Jesus was a radical – he preached equality, the separation of religion and state, healed outcasts, associated with the lowest classes, and generally was pretty, well, liberal I would argue.
(For quotes to support this, try the following:
- Matthew 5:44
- John 8:7
- Matthew 5:7
- Matthew 6:24
- Matthew 22:21
- Matthew 19:21
- Luke 14:13-14)

I can’t understand how it’s possible to be a Christian and want the death penalty, or to limit healthcare, or to believe we can tell others what to do, because it just doesn’t fit. Rather than ranting, I found a lovely picture to show you:

Finally, two questions I often get asked – firstly, how do I deal with the worrying passages and my views? For me, it’s a question of context. You simply can’t take a text away from its context and expect it to make sense. For a quick and easy example, let’s look at marriage. I can reconcile my view that sex before marriage is okay, despite apparently contradictory verses, because marriage then was not the same as marriage now. Marriage then could be between one man and many women, it could be a forced thing, and often the woman could be sold into it. Marriage today is different, and hence, we cannot define things the same. So I try and look into that. It’s not perfect, and that’s why I’m choosing to study theology, and why this article is short and not-so-detailed, but there we go. (Another example could be Leviticus 14, a clear example of how rules are made to fit society (we no longer need to act this way because society has moved on))

And question number two – why am I a Christian? Two reasons. Firstly, I agree with the basic teachings of Jesus – “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” (Matthew 22:36-40) and the morals of the New Testament. Secondly? Well, it’s a case of personal experience. I believe I’ve experienced something I would call God, and hence, I would call myself Christian. Simple as that.

And that’s it from me today. If you have questions, feel free to ask – I’m aware that in some circles it’s surprisingly uncommon to come across Christians, so I don’t mind at all! Plus, I’m aware I’ve not gone into lots of detail here, so if you want more detail, fire away.

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1 comment:

  1. I'm an atheist, but I'm also a former ancient world student, so I always think that well-thought out analysis of the material and an understanding of the socio-political difference between then and now by Christians is not only worthwhile, but more representive of the genuine positives that come from this faith. Monotheism has often been hijacked and unjustly pushed towards the right by self-interested individuals.

    It's also worth noticing that when Christianity was first gaining a foothold, many of the initial supporters (and indeed, financiers of the movement) were Roman women - often wealthy widows. Women have played an important role throughout the Church's history, even when people have sought to undermine it.