Celebrating Life and Liberty
March 25, 2020, the Feast of the Annunciation, marks the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II's encyclical The Gospel of Life. This same year also marks the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in America.
The intersection of these two anniversaries provides a special opportunity to contemplate the modern feminist movement. Much like our current political climate, the modern feminist movement is polarized. Radical secular feminists propose abortion as essential for women's liberation. Consequently many devout Christians fear the mere mention of the word feminism, and believe that it cannot be accepted without sexual liberation ideologies. Rather than remain in the extremes, radical feminists and devout Christian feminists could dialogue and find common ground.
Hanging in the balance of the abortion debate are the women who are sexually abused, the women who experience domestic violence, the women are are underpaid and underemployed.
I believe we can forge a true solidarity with all women. Furthermore, if women become more united, not only can we make more progress in the pursuit of justice, but we could achieve greater social influence. There are far too many men who do not take women's issues seriously, and the reality is that men continue to enjoy more positions of privilege and power in society. Last year I submitted an article to a conservative Christian magazine on Christian feminism. The editor of the magazine rejected my article with a 300 word rant that included the following assertion:
Since women now have an advantage over men in the developed West, it is unrealistic to expect men to defend a movement that causes more harm than good. Most women don’t identify as feminists for this reason. “Feminism” carries with it a lot of baggage.
This assertion is staggering in how false, out of touch and ignorant it is. As a female it's business as usual that I penned an article that was well researched and it was rejected because of the bias of a male editor. It is telling that I submitted the same article to theYoungCatholicWoman and it was accepted by their female editor with the following remarks, "This is beautiful! We'll have this uploaded this week...thank you so much for sharing your wonderful talent with us and our readers!"
Feminism is within the scope of conservative Christian ethics because it is a movement to honor the God-given dignity and worth of female persons. Domestic violence, sexual assault and injustice in the workplace are critical issues that cry out to God the Father for justice. In 1995, Pope St. John Paul II made a direct appeal for women's issues in Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life encyclical. An encyclical is an official communication from the pope to the faithful. In this particular encyclical John Paul II wrote
In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.
Far too many Christian men and women stubbornly refuse to claim the feminist movement. JPII demonstrated the necessity of remaining in solidarity with the historical movement in order to combat discrimination, violence and exploitation. The Gospel of Life demonstrates the theological basis for a consistent ethic for all human life.
Respect for human life is rooted and grounded in a belief that God created individual souls of infinite dignity and worth. Both theology and ancient Greek philosophy identify the powers of the soul as the foundation of human dignity. These powers, the intellect and the will, are what distinguish human persons from all other creatures. These differences are so self-evident that ancient philosophers were able to categorize them through mere observation.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the foundation of America's independence and civil liberties, and our foremothers used the same logic to appeal for suffrage. Women are human persons that are to be honored and respected, they should not be denied civil liberties. The 100th anniversary of 19th amendment to the United States' constitution is a valuable opportunity to give thanks for the sacrifices made to secure these basic rights. However the vast majority of suffragettes explicitly stated that it would be hypocritical to offer their children on the altar of sacrifice in order to achieve their goal. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the primary author of the “Declaration of Sentiments” from the Seneca Falls Convention, wrote, “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” From the very beginning this recognition of person hood included unborn children.
It is historical fact that suffragettes were pro-life. Therefore empowering women does not have to come at the expense of conservative Christian ethics. In fact, Christian ethics makes it evident that one cannot honor the humanity of Jesus Christ without acknowledging the dignity and freedom of women.