Perhaps one of the most often-asked questions of a child concerns what he or she wants to do or be upon growing up. While many of us probably did not fulfill our own childhood expectations to be president of the United States, a supermodel, a superhero, a professional athlete, or an astronaut, the topic of one’s calling – of which career is an aspect – still warrants consideration in adulthood. In the realm of theology the doctrine of vocation comprises such reflections. Defining this area of study, Nancy Duff states, “The doctrine of vocation affirms that every individual life with its unique combination of gifts and limitations has divinely appointed purpose and that we are called to glorify God in all that we do.”1 Every individual has a divine calling and is to give God the glory in the pursuit of this life mission. In considering the applications of this doctrine, Christian feminists have a twofold charge, both in understanding their own vocations as well as in service to others who are attempting to discern and fulfill their own life purpose given by their Creator.
Christian feminism is first a calling, a divine summoning to speak and apply the truth about the God-given worth of all members of the human race – and specifically women. Christian feminists acknowledge that the experiences of women are both unique yet incredibly diverse and should be explored, not minimized. Thus part of the vocational task of the Christian feminist is to theologically reflect on such experiences, not for the sake of affirming these experiences in and of themselves, but rather because in this reflection we can explicitly submit the experiential realm of our lives to God and thereby give our loving Creator, in whose image we were made, all the glory. In this exploration Christian feminists consider, for example: how the feat of childbirth is a unique act of worship to the Ultimate Giver of life; how a woman battling an eating disorder may struggle to see her body as a beautiful aspect of God’s creation and the temple of the Holy Spirit; how women are to be intimate imitators of their Savior, who was born male and not female; or how general differences exist between women and men in their encounters with temptation.
Experience indeed shapes theology, but it should not determine it. Instead it is God’s truth that defines theology. Theological reflection on the occurrences, events, thinking, and encounters in the lives of women allows the light of truth to shine on such experiences for the sake of refinement, reorientation, and clarification with the foremost goal of worship of our Triune God.
Such a vocation must be received not out of a desire to champion one’s own experiences but rather because God has called the Christian feminist to minister to a particular people group that has historically been marginalized in patriarchal cultures. The Christian feminist is called to advocate for the millions of women today who are oppressed, voiceless, impoverished, or living in fear. A reality of our global, contemporary context is that blatant and horrific injustices are still committed against women at alarming rates. For example, rape, domestic violence, and sexual abuse remain incredibly common in the United States and around the world. The statistics are saddening and shocking; it is commonly estimated that 1 in 4 women will be sexually abused or raped in her lifetime in this country. While many men and boys are sexually violated, primarily it is women who are the victims of such violation. If individual Christian feminists simply labor for their own personal experiences to be heard and included at the theological table, they have failed to remember a crucial aspect of their own vocational call – to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
It is important to note that in such advocacy the Christian feminist is not minimizing other experiences or needs within the body of Christ or the larger world but rather is being responsible to the area she or he has been divinely called. In a similar way for example, for the health of our physical bodies we often rely on a variety of professionals whose attention to a particular specialty does not discourage or compromise holistic health but rather promotes it. The task of the optometrist is to monitor and appropriately treat developing problems in the eyes of his or her patients for the promotion of excellent eyesight. In so doing, the optometrist is not implying that other parts of the body, such as the teeth or heart, are insignificant or should be neglected. Rather the optometrist is doing what he or she has been charged to do, which complements the care of other specialists concerned with other aspects of the wellbeing of this patient’s body. The Christian feminist is called to care for a particular aspect of the body of Christ, that being women. In doing so, he or she is not intimating that another marginalized people group should not be acknowledged. On the contrary, for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ as a whole, Christian feminists affirm the sanctity of women’s lives through reflection and action.
Second and following, a primary aspect of the vocation of the Christian feminist is to help others discern their own vocations and the God-given gifts they are called to steward. As the apostle Paul describes in Romans 12:3-8, every woman and man is called by God to serve as a member of the body of Christ. Gender does not predetermine whether one will be called to act as the hands or the feet of this community; it is the living and active God who calls the individual for the service of the Kingdom in a unique time and place.
Often, it is in the context of the Christian community that one’s call is recognized and affirmed. Thus the charge for the Christian feminist – and all people who confess Jesus as Lord – is to encourage one another to seek after God’s will in their lives. Some women are called to be pastors, and for the glory of God, Christian feminists are called to prayerfully support their ministries. Some women are called to be biblical scholars, medical doctors, or accountants, and for the glory of God, Christian feminists are called to prayerfully support their ministries. Some women are called to be in the home fulltime as caretakers of their children, and for the glory of God, Christian feminists are called to prayerfully support their ministries. As Christian feminists, we are called to act as the priest Eli did and direct the Samuels of this world to God; we are to encourage women to listen intently for God’s voice and be ready to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
It is easy to claim and employ the title “Christian feminist.” Perhaps for some it has an edgy appeal that makes them feel progressive. For others it may be an easy way to negatively characterize a group or movement with which they disagree. Yet in actuality, it is hard to live consistently as a Christian feminist. It requires us to be humble servants to women in need; it requires us to boldly and constantly seek after the will of God. May we all be given the grace and perseverance to walk this road, to pursue the vocation set out before us by the merciful Lord we serve.
- Nancy Duff, “Call/Vocation,” Letty M. Russell and J. Shannon Clarkson, eds., Dictionary of Feminist Theologies (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. 34.