Friday, November 8, 2013

Am I A "Jesus Feminist"?

Sarah Bessey's new book, Jesus Feminist, came out this week to some pretty heady acclaim--good reviews from her friends in the blog community, as you'd expect, but also good critical reviews from Booklist and Publisher's Weekly (Kirkus hasn't reviewed it.).

I haven't read Jesus Feminist, but I've read a lot about it, and it got me thinking--am I a 'Jesus Feminist'?

Can I be?  I'm Catholic.  I love being Catholic, I don't want to be anything else.  But 'Catholic feminist' sounds like an oxymoron.  I'm also a graduate of a fantastic women's liberal arts college, so I know full well that I'm not nearly as much a feminist as those who prefer the spelling 'womyn' (doesn't contain "men").  Can you be against abortion and still a feminist?

Now there are plenty of people who view the Catholic Church as intensely patriarchal, and, in many respects, they're right.  The rules are all made by men who don't want to share their power.  They like having power.  I bet some priests might disagree with me--but I've never met a priest, even those I've been close to, who didn't insist on being called Father Joe, Father Fred, Father whatever, even in close conversation on my living room couch, while at the same time, from the first instance of knowing me, calling me from the start of our aquaintence only by my first name.  No Mrs. Bradley until I suggest otherwise.  Not even the perfectly polite Southern honorific Miss Kim.  It's a subtle thing, but it's a power thing, and it does get under my skin.

(Pope Francis seems to be shedding the trappings of papal power as fast as he can:  no red shoes, no living in the luxurious papal apartments, washing the feet of non-Christian women.  It'll be interesting to see where he goes.)

But--and this is a big but, at least for me--the center of the Catholic liturgy is the Eucharist, not the priest.  The Eucharist, holy and all-encompassing, male and female both.  So while I did feel slighted in the sixth grade, when my church wouldn't let me be an altar server (most churches now open this to girls), I don't feel slighted that I'm not a priest.

On the other hand, I don't understand why Catholics limit priesthood to men.  I've never heard a single argument that made sense to me.  One of my best friends on earth is a cloistered Episcopalian nun who is also an ordained Episcopalian priest.  I've worshiped in the pew beside Sarah countless times, but I also participated in her ordination.  I've received Eucharist she consecrated, and knelt to receive her blessing, and neither the Eucharist nor the blessing felt less valid for passing through the hands of a human who had ovaries instead of testicles.

Once, when I was at Smith, someone asked me how I could support the idea of an all-women's college but not an all-men's college.  I replied, "In the same way I can support an all-black college, but not an all-white one."  Even if your true position is in the center--equality--you might have to shift to the side of oppression just to create enough momentum to swing the scales.

I guess that does make me a Jesus Feminist after all.

This is part of the Jesus Feminist synchroblog.  Read more contributions here.