Christian Feminist Q & A – Sally Rush

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a lay free church chaplain, a mother, a wife. I’m also a Methodist lay preacher. My husband happens to be f to m trans & I happen to identify as queer. Beyond all those labels I’m an avid reader who loves wandering around art galleries.

Tell  us a bit about your faith background. How long have you been a Christian? Do you attend church and if so, what denomination/church group/expression of church?

I’ve been a Christian since I was a child, although I grew up in a house which was not at all religious and my parents didn’t go to church. When I was quite little a neighbour took me to an Anglican Church; by the time I was 9 or 10 I’d decided to go to the local Baptist Church that had really good youth facilities. I moved from Baptist to Methodist in the late noughties when I moved to Durham and needed a church within easy reach of public transport links. I’ve been going to Methodist Churches ever since, although a couple of them have been URC/ Methodist combined and because of my husband’s studies I live in an ecumenical Christian college.

Tell us about how you first came to identify as a feminist.

I came to identify as a feminist when I was a teenager. It was when I read Elaine Storkey’s What’s Right with Feminism I began to identify as a Christian feminist. I am not sure how I first came to own the general feminist label. I think it may well have been because growing up I supported the aims of the women at Greenham and I knew they were feminists.

Have you ever struggled with perceiving a conflict between your feminism and your faith? Or for you, have the two always naturally sat together? How did you come to reconcile the two?

I think certainly since I was in my early twenties, the two have naturally sat together. Whilst I had gone to evangelical Baptist churches the first one had women acting as deacons and the second had a female minister and so the leadership question was never a big one for me.

Also Elaine Storkey’s work had been such a big influence on me whilst I was studying sociology at university and so I could articulate why I identified as a Christian feminist as opposed to any of the other strands. For me it was to do with holding with the idea that men and women were of equal worth because of what the bible and my faith said not in spite of that.

Are you/have you been involved in feminist/gender equality activism or initiatives?

I’ve never been heavily involved in feminist/ gender equality activism or initiatives but I have been more on the edge of those things. I have attended various demos and conferences and when I did a M Lit study into single parents in churches I tried to take some of the findings of that (which said the experience of single parents actually had to do with views of women in leadership more broadly as well as a few other reasons) into the public sphere, by occasionally preaching on Hagar for example.

With regard to gender equality more broadly I have been involved in helping support Trans Day of Remembrance events and so on. One issue I do fight for which is not gender specific but is more likely to impact women is trying to get people to identify the impact of loss and grief on the cis partners of trans people who are transitioning. So far that’s just involved giving some conference papers and writing on my blog.

Which feminist issues would you say are a key focus for you and why?

The key issues for me are to do with recognising the way in which churches particularly often exploit the unpaid labour of women when paying men for their involvement and talk about the Sabbath but often add demands on to women doing the “triple shift” already. I feel passionate about this because what the most recent stats are saying but also the number of women I know basically being exploited by the church.

The other key focus for me at the moment as I say is the recognition of invisibility in relation to cis women, particularly, whose partners are transitioning. Part of this comes from personal experience but also because I think there is a whole set of support starting to be put in place for people who are transitioning but not for their partners.

Has your feminism changed over time? If so, how?

I have become far less militant as I have got older and more aware of how men suffer too, often because of the same root causes as women. When I was younger, patriarchy was the obvious cause of gender injustices to me but now I am more sympathetic to the impact which wider structural issues related to the economy and environment have. Whilst still taking a Christian perspective I have read more womanist material and am much more conscious of the role of intersectionality.

Are there any particular women (‘famous’ or not) who you consider an influence or inspiration? What about women in scripture?

Hagar was a huge inspiration to me when I was a single parent, and became a central figure when I was doing my theology research. I think the way white majority churches particularly make her invisible through not including her in lectionary readings is absolutely awful.

The other big influence for me has been Antoinette Brown-Blackwell who was the first female ordained by a mainstream denomination in America. She was a feminist who felt herself to be a stranger in a strange land. I can really relate to the way she felt that she didn’t fit into the secular liberation movement or the church fully.

What attitudes towards feminism have you experienced from other Christians and the church?

I think that my being a feminist is just viewed as part of the mix which is me. In some churches it was just one part of my faith mix which was probably viewed as a bit dodgy but nobody really referred to. More recently I’ve been in churches which have encouraged engagement with feminist thinking.

What do you think about the current ‘state of feminism’? The last decade has seen the movement gain higher profile again and we’ve seen a lot of successful activism. What’s your take on it all?

I think there has been a lot of really, really good stuff happening in Christian Feminism through the work Natalie Collins, Kristin Aune and others have been doing and in secular feminism through the Everyday Sexism projects. There has been the development of activism which has sought to deal with the variety of problems that women are suffering with.

To be honest for me that has been a relief after the focus within Christian feminism seemed to be middle-class women going on about leadership in the Anglican church whilst ignoring the experience of women for whom that wasn’t a calling.

I do worry about the rise of the feminists who are seeking to undermine trans rights by their insistence on using biological understandings of what it means to be male or female based on similar understandings as the most Conservative Christians, where it’s all linked to genitals and reproductive ability. For me those feminists are dangerous and reinforcing binaries.

What do you think the church could do better on in terms of gender issues? Are there any particular issues you would like to see more of a focus on?

As I’ve already indicated I think the way women are being exploited and working “triple shifts” or even “quadruple shifts” where they often work, do household chores and have primary carer responsibilities for children or elderly relatives and then do a lot of unpaid work for churches without being able to take a Sabbath themselves as an area the church could do so much better on. I was really interested in the gender breakdowns linked to fresh expressions in the recent Church Growth data. For me that really highlighted a lot of the problem.

I’d also like to see churches engaging with trans issues fully and coming up with ways for the cis parents or partners of trans people (often women) to acknowledge their feelings of loss.

Finally with regard to domestic abuse churches are getting so much more right but I think they still have some way to go.

FB_20151121_13_24_02_Saved_PictureSally Rush lives in Birmingham and works as a lay free church chaplain.


Twitter: @Aston_Chaplain2


Reclaiming the F Word conference – talks now available!

An inspiring and wonderful time was had at Reclaiming the F Word on Saturday 8th March and we are excited to be able to provide you with some recordings of talks from the day. Whether you were there or not, we hope these talks will be a valuable resource to you. Do pass them on and share them with anyone who may be interested!

Reclaiming the F Word – Kristin Aune

Kristin started the day off by exploring what feminism is and sharing some of her research about feminists and faith.

Listen here

Is there a feminist preaching style? – Revd. Dr. Terry Biddington

It may be that the time has come to ditch the sermon as an out-moded and ‘masculinist’ form of communication. Or perhaps there is a fresh approach drawing on the work of so many feminist thinkers.

Sermons both occupy and create what the Scottish poet Don Paterson calls “the space between us.” They occupy a particular space in the worship: different perhaps according to religion, religious denomination, or indeed each specific liturgy. But they also create a space: a space for listening and hearing, a space for speaking and thinking aloud, a space for dreaming and imagining “what-if?”; a creative-regenerative space in which the Spirit can operate. A space that is between:

• the preacher and the congregation

• the preacher, the congregation, and the text

• the gathered community and God

• the present moment and the past, the future, and all eternity

How can we make the “sermon space” a welcome opportunity for collective lingering: an invitation to take a sideways glance, a seeing out-of-the-corner-of-an-eye, and, perhaps, the occasion to catch a glimpse of something unexpected and potentially life-transforming?

Listen here

Bring on the Crones – Rev. Pam Smith

Wisdom has sometimes been defined as “the knowledge of the elders” and in a time where many seem to believe feminism began in 2010, the crones (wise women) are often silenced in favour of younger women. Revd. Pam Smith shares her experiences of feminism over the last 40 years, and considers the ways feminism can really honour and listen to its foremothers.

Listen here

Men and the Feminist Struggle – David Benjamin Blower

Why are men rarely feminists?

What is the state of masculinity today?

What kind of masculinity helps men rise to the feminist struggle?

Listen here

Poetry as Liberation – Christian Feminist Poetics in Action – Rev. Rachel Mann

A combined poetry reading and reflection upon how poetry can be location for feminist liberative praxis.

Listen here

My Privilege Trumps Yours – Natalie Collins

Michael Kimmel states that “privilege is invisible to those with it”. This session looks at the interaction of inequality and privilege, how each of us may be implicated in and perpetuate oppression, what a right use of power looks like and how to make visible to each of us the water that humanity swims in.

Listen here

Feminist Liturgy – Rev. Anna Macham

Listen here

Weekly round-up 4

How to raise up women leaders – Jenny Baker for IDEA magazine

Ask women in your church what they need to grow in leadership and what their aspirations are. What’s stopping them being leaders at the moment? Identify women who you feel have an aptitude for leadership. Team them up with more experienced women who can mentor them, even if you have to look outside your congregation. Create opportunities for them to take on small projects with support and feedback, and build on that.

Porn: the shocking truth – TES magazine

The effect that mass exposure to pornography is having on teens’ emotional well-being and self-esteem will take time to gauge properly as it is an unprecedented phenomenon happening in real time. However, the impact it is having on the way they view their bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex is already very evident.

The Jane Austen banknote victory shows young women are packing a punch – Zoe Williams

Two things are unarguable about this century; the first is that it is more sexist than the end of the last, raunch and postmodernism having converged to normalise the presentation of women as meat; the second is that the internet has had profound consequences for privacy and, inevitably, personal freedom. But pause to consider the vivacity of the feminist fourth wave, its energy and victories, the way it has honed and deployed the power of social media rather than surrendered to the misogynist tropes it throws up. It is fearless and pugnacious and alive with a sense of possibility.

Danielle at From Two to One is running a Q&A on Christian feminism as a series of blog posts. She can also be found at SheLoves magazine writing on The difference between sex and gender roles in marriage.

Although I’m sure she’s heard it all, I skirted around the specifics with my pastor-friend, blushing while explaining that, “Um, well. In some parts of our marriage, it is quite clear who is female and who is male.” I was not only stating the obvious, but also was referring to something more mysterious, more sacred.

FAQs: Feminism, sexism and intersectionality – The Quail Pipe

So, what is intersectional feminism? Well, quite simply, it’s feminism taking other causes of oppression into account and including all women, whether they are trans*, non-Caucasian, disabled, working class, middle class, upper class. Essentially it’s the recognition that other people’s experiences are different to our own, but equally and sometimes more valid. We can have feminism without intersectionality, but as I said, this is not good feminism. If the only oppression you face is due to gender inequality, then you are extremely privileged and need to understand that this is not the same for other women.

Restored’s In Churches Too campaign, about domestic abuse in Christian relationships, is now up and running – watch the video below.