Sandra Beardsall, feminism and the church: Freethinker meeting part 4

On Sunday morning, the Saskatoon Freethinkers had a terrific meeting and this is my fourth post describing what Pastor Sandra Beardsall had to say about the history of the church and women within it. Parts one, two and three are probably worth reading first but if you’re starting here, it’s no big deal.

To reiterate from earlier posts, Sandra is a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College at the U of Saskatchewan. She participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. We were glad she was willing to come and chat with us on this topic. We kept our claws in when it came to discussion time, which is what this final part looks at. To restate this as well, if anyone who reads this was in attendance and wants to add some notes in the comments, go ahead. I don’t guarantee I paraphrased everything accurately and others might remember differently, or recall things I failed to mention.

Sandra started at the history of the Enlightenment, the creation of Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Orthodoxy and others. Then she explained the differences in roles given to women between those factions, the Roman Catholics and the United Church, which is where she’d be preaching if she weren’t teaching. I like how that rhymes.

I’m actually going to skip her reasons for why she can be both feminist and active like she is in her church. Basically it comes down to her thoughts about the necessity of her faith even if the parts of the bible deserve to be questioned and what membership in the church brings to her life, and thus improves what she can bring to others.

Case in point: dialogue, which is which is where our Q and A comes into play, as it happens. The willingness to talk to others, get their input and witness their points of view is truly a strength and one more people should be trying to develop. Yeah, there’s a risk that what you learn will impact and even change what you believe, but it’s still worth doing. We asked a lot of interesting questions, some for clarity and additional information about things she already said, and other things we wanted her opinion on. I won’t include every one, but I did write them all down. This is more than long enough as is, really. You’ll be glad when I go back to my rinkydinky posts tomorrow.

Did the United Church open more doors to women because they as a church decided it needed doing, or was it more a reflection or reaction to the strides women were making in the secular arena? Sandra admitted it was likely a touch of both. There had been instances of early American slave women gaining power within the realm of their churches, unlike their luck in other areas of the society they were stuck in. The induction of women was hardly an overnight thing, but secular influences certainly helped to hasten it and created a bandwagon of support for women’s rights in all kinds of ways.

She reminded us that the first wave of feminist thinkers were incredibly religious women and that “secularism is a child of Christianity” so it’s an illusion to think they’re entirely separate, independent entities. Each affects the other all the time. Parents always know where the buttons are, after all.

Someone asked her opinion on whether religions really promote togetherness or do more to separate people. It depends on where everyone sits in terms of social issues, is what her answer boiled down to. She brought up missionary work here (expanding on an earlier question) and she used the LGBT movement as another example, some churches being very open to gay ministers and the like and others still fiercely loyal to the scripture that condemns it all. There’s worry that those who believe they hold “moral authority” are going to make enough inroads into politics to affect the gay right laws in place now.

She talked a bit about oppression in Islam here, too, but apologized for not having a good handle on the religion and didn’t want to misrepresent herself in any way. She did suggest to us a likelihood that increased western influence is what’s made those fundamentalists worse than they might have been otherwise. Our ideologies threaten what they’ve built, just like the Enlightenment felt so threatening for churches at the time.

Related to this, at one point Sandra brought up the fact that she shows Monty Python’s Life of Brian to her class every year. They did such a good job of showing how divides crop up between believers and how the schisms relate to each other and the power struggle it can become. I guess I’ll have to watch the movie myself again now.

In terms of Paul’s views on women and the United Church’s position, again she notes the likelihood that the original texts were altered at some point so what the United Church tends to follow is a “Canon within a Canon” – that being, accepting the fact that some of the bible is better off ignored. They’re willing to concede that it’s been tampered with by earlier writers with an agenda to push beyond what the book was intended for. She also notes that “Red Letter Jesus” stuff (finding the exact words he used) is not necessarily important. The “truth” will still be evident without knowing for sure if any verses are direct quotes. There was a related question, wondering if the drive to interpret scripture is part of the problem. She agreed to a point. Why do people have to pick at it? They can’t really fix the mess that it is, but even so, the book is still going to be necessary to believers just like fixing a mess in society might be hard to do but dealing with conflicting people is just as necessary in order to attempt it.

I think I’ll quit there. Word count at this moment for this post is a bit over 900 and across all four it’s over 3500. Considering it’s all my words and not me quoting the work of other writers, it’s kind of shocking. I forgot I had it in me, I guess. Hope you got through to the end and enjoyed the reading of it.

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3 Responses to Sandra Beardsall, feminism and the church: Freethinker meeting part 4

  1. Janet K says:

    Good point re: Islam, that they’ve never gone through an “Enlightment” like Western civilzation.

  2. ken j says:

    Great posts. Thank you for doing this!

    I wish I could have made this discussion. I love the idea of having open dialog with knowledgeable people of different philosophies. It sounds like a lot more than feminism in the church was touched on.

  3. koinosuke says:

    Thanks Monique for doing this. Now I know what I missed. It sounded like a great discussion.

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