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I joined the debating team today. Yay! I have always wanted to be on a debating team. One, because I love the exchange of ideas and learning to see different sides of the same whole and two, because in the movies, the debaters are always the nerdy, geeky, clever kids into which bracket I would love to cast myself.

Of course, I may no longer be a ‘kid’, (or be particularly clever) but to a be a full time student at this (ahem) mature age means I can use coloured pens, doodle in class and be geeky and nerdy and so I am channeling my inner geek and it feels … awesome!

So I joined the debate team.

As part of our initial meeting we had to prepare a 3 minute topic for assessment.

I chose women and the church.

Specifically: The Methodist Church of South Africa pays ‘lip service’ to the issue of gender equality.

When it came time to prepare, I found myself wishing I had chosen something else. This is such a contentious issue and women avoid this topic in order to avoid being called, feminist!

There is such a negative association with the word feminist. When you say you stand for women’s rights, people expect you to be militant, angry and … manly. I would hope I am none of those things, and I have to confess up until now I have not come up against overtly sexist behavior, but, in the church there is still some way to go when it comes to equality. For instance, since being here, I have been served communion by an all male clergy (the women communion servers are lay people or probationers). I have been accused of being ‘unbiblical’ when I challenged someone on his stance that the man is the head of the woman because the bible says, ‘women submit to your husbands’. And of course, I see all around me my female colleagues being made to ‘serve’ our men folk. Now I am not against any of those things, in fact I hope one day to be able to ‘serve’ my man, just as he serves me, equally and with love and mutual respect, submitting to one another.

What I want to see happen is a change in consciousness around the idea that the woman is second to a man. In our country, (and in fact the world over) gender violence is very real and very scary and until we stop thinking of anyone (be it male, female, black, white, yellow or pink) as being less than anyone else, that oppression and suppression will continue.

The point I made in my talk is that the church has a prophetic role to play in overturning this idea and so in order to lead people to transformation we need to actually SHOW that women are valuable by affirming them in positions of leadership and including them at the table, both theologically and practically and not just as bringers of the food. (I should just say, that I am encouraged by the strides we have made and many of the male clergy I come across are also feminists, but I have a feeling they are the minority.)

In sharing my view and my stance with fellow female seminarians I was (not really) surprised to hear stories of oppression and repression from many of them. A fellow minister here in PMB had a member of her staff resign when she took her position, because ‘he doesn’t believe in female clergy’, this in 2012! Another sister took 11 years to get here, ELEVEN YEARS, to be accepted as a candidate for full time ministry and it was only when someone from outside her circuit (and within this Seminary) intervened on her behalf that they allowed her to move forward in her journey. One of my other incredibly dynamic and outspoken friends told me she has high ambitions, she’s going to marry a Bishop. I said to her, ‘why don’t YOU become the Bishop?’ Women do not believe they can achieve those roles. Why not?

But … as they told me … they do not want to be labeled as feminist and so will avoid speaking up against gender inequality.

And this is what I find so interesting … consider this passage:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:28

Liberation theology at its best.

Anyone who has worked to free us from the first two points of view has a positive word attached to their struggle. People are proud to be called, freedom fighters, activists, liberationists, but feminists? Women do not want to be called feminist.

I love being a woman. I love women. I think women have beautiful, tender, loving, kind, nurturing, creative hearts (I know some men like that too). But women have a uniqueness that makes us brave and courageous and yet tender and loving at the same time. So to be a feminist in my book is to be brave and courageous and tender and loving … working with strength and fortitude to be heard for who we are, the beloveds who be-love. Equally gifted and yet unique.

Just because I have not experienced radical gender oppression does not mean I am not aware that it happens to my sisters all around me and because I have been gifted with faith, I want to use my faith to work to raise women’s standing and sense of self-worth. I want us to be called feminists, because we ARE feminine and strong and because God has called us to serve alongside our men.

I am proud to be a woman, I am proud to stand next to other women who have fought bravely to stand shoulder to shoulder with our men and I want to encourage us all, to be proudly feminist, proudly who we are and who we are called to be and to our brothers who stand with us on this issue, thank God for you! One of the male debaters this morning asked me for a copy of my talk. A proud male feminist. That is so encouraging!

So here’s to partnering with God to free all people from oppression, be they Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female and to raising society’s consciousness to the point where anyone would be proud to call themselves a feminist.