My few encounters with male church leaders and feminism in the same room were not pretty.
It amazes me how angry some Christian men get about the idea of gender equality. I understand discomfort and awkwardness and concern if you feel the Bible conflicts with Christian feminists’ vision of gender equality. But angry? Particularly red-in-the-face angry? Belligerent angry? Shut the woman down and up angry?
Psst, I want to whisper. You’re looking like a male chauvinist pig. Do you want to try this conversation again?
You would think that, as men, they would try their best to come across as understanding, loving, and calm when they’re talking to women, as women, about things women cannot do because they’re women but they can do because they’re men.
If I were in their shoes, I would hem and haw and try to make the issue as palatable as possible and emphasize that the gender disparity in church leadership isn’t what it seems. I would try my hardest not to come across as a jerk who has zero compassion to a woman concerned that God, the Bible, and the church is oppressing her and her spiritual gifts.
Of course there are compassionate male church leaders who speak graciously on women’s issues from a complementarian perspective. But that hasn’t always been my personal experience, particularly when it comes to the Orthodox church.
One pivotal conversation nearly scared me off from Orthodoxy (and long story short, Christianity) altogether. I asked a male church leader about feminism in Orthodoxy. Immediately his demeanor changed from kindly and witty to defensive and sarcastic.
“I don’t want to debate it, I don’t want to change your mind,” I kept cheerfully reminding him as he kept punching the naive idea that Scripture supports feminism. I got backed into a corner and forced to share that I believed women ought to be priests too. That didn’t go over well.
Because I really didn’t want to debate it, and I really wasn’t interested in changing his mind, and I was really, really uncomfortable with this entire situation, I gave halfhearted answers and prooftexts for him to go at. I kept my real reasons, hurts, and passions hidden away. I made a mental note not to trust this guy again.
I got reading material thrown at me so I could learn what feminism actually was and what the Bible actually taught. I put on a good front, thanked him, and gave it to my friend to return the next time she visited the church. I wasn’t going back.
That happened a while ago, enough time for wounds to scar over. I found myself sitting in a church pew, facing another male Orthodox leader, saying the same scary, awkward thing: “So, I’m a Christian feminist, and…”
“Oh, that won’t be a problem here,” he chuckled.
There are lots of women in that church who feel the same way, he explained, women like his daughter, who identifies as a feminist and defended laws protecting trafficked minors in Illinois. He himself politically identifies as a feminist and actively encourages women in his parish to perform roles often reserved for men in other Orthodox parishes.
“There’s no real reason why girls shouldn’t serve at the altar,” he said, which, if you know anything about Orthodoxy and the priesthood, is a huge thing for an Orthodox priest to say.
“There are many things we don’t know about God and morality,” he said, “many issues that haven’t been fully discussed because they haven’t come up before. Besides, gender and sexuality aren’t the only moral issues to talk about.”
Imagine. Real hurts and abuses to be angry about that aren’t a woman desiring equality.
I’m in the official inquiry process for the Orthodox faith, and I am relieved to do so with a male church leader who doesn’t get angry against women’s issues.