Natalie Collins blogs on why she’s worried that the Guides’ move away from a faith basis and towards feminist activism makes it seem like the two can’t go together.
Last week an article in The Guardian detailed Julie Bentley’s first year as the Head of Girlguiding UK. The article focused on the organisation’s “split from God” and recent protests against sexism. The article seems to suggest the two are linked, as if it’s impossible to be a faith-based organisation, and engage in feminist activism.
Personally, I don’t have an issue with taking God out of the promise for girls who don’t believe in God, or who don’t want to make a promise to serve God. This, for me, is the same as struggling with Godparents who are agnostic or atheist stating that they believe in God and making commitment to raise a child in that knowledge. The measure of a faith-based organisation isn’t whether people who are engaged with that organisation make a pledge to God or not.
However, it seems that Girlguiding distancing itself from a promise to God is not about the guides moving towards having more integrity in their practice, but is actually about distancing themselves from being a faith-based organisation. It also seems that there is a direct correlation between asserting the lack of any faith basis in the organisation, and the increasing amount of feminist activism done by the organisation – something which seems to further validate the idea that faith and feminism don’t go together. This both saddens and angers me.
As a feminist, the work I do to address inequality and work towards gender justice comes out of a deep prophetic tradition within the body of Christ to “proclaim good news to the poor…to bind the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”. It saddens me that an organisation that began so rooted in this tradition has needed to move away from a connection with Jesus in order to engage in such actions, and it angers me that it is most likely Christians, rather than non-Christians, who have perpetuated and possibly been responsible for the perception of many that feminism and Christianity are not compatible.
I don’t blame the guides from stepping away from their Christian roots in favour of a more multi-cultural, multi-faith image, and recognise the many challenges of being a person of faith in feminist spaces, but I wonder at the lost opportunity of this organisation which has equipped and valued girls around the world for over 100 years, to show that faith and feminism are compatible, or as we like to say at the Christian Feminist Network, that it is Christian patriarchy that is an oxymoron, not Christian feminism.