In a recent interview over at RedLetterChristians.org, Margot Starbuck asked popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans, whose egalitarian views have been known to ruffle the feathers of her more conservative evangelical peers, “Do you readily identify as a feminist? Have you always? What does it mean to you?”
Identifying as a feminist can be a lot like identifying as an evangelical. There’s baggage associated with each term, so it’s easy to give people the wrong idea. My favorite definition of feminism is that it is the “radical notion that women are human.” In this sense, I didn’t learn to be a feminist from Margaret Atwood or Simone de Beavoir. I learned to be a feminist from Jesus: who defended Mary of Bethany as his true disciple, even though women were prohibited from studying under rabbis at the time; who refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery to death; who looked to women for financial and moral support; who bantered with a Syrophoenician woman, talked theology with a Samaritan woman, and healed a bleeding woman; who appeared first before women after his resurrection; and who charged Mary Magdalene with the great responsibility of announcing the inauguration of a New Creation, of becoming the Apostle to the Apostles.
This is by no means the juiciest part of the interview—no controversy here—but I share it because it is foundational to who Jesus is. So many non-Christians are turned off from Christianity because from the outside it appears as if it puts women down; these people must know that if ever a Christian fails to affirm the dignity and worth of women, they do so in direct opposition to Jesus, who throughout his life treated women as the spiritual equals of men, spending time with them, theologizing with them, sticking up for them, and trusting them with important tasks. Christians often fail to see how countercultural such attitudes and behaviors were at that time.
Sometime in the future I hope to do an art series on women in the New Testament, because it’s wonderful how so many artists have recognized the beauty of their contributions to the faith and have fixed them in a visual medium, by way of honoring these women’s legacies.