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Student Blog Series: Christianity & Feminism

Hi there! We’re beginning a new blog series on the BCFU website where team members share some of the great experiences they’ve had on the team. Since I’m the PR assistant for BCFU, I get to be the guinea pig. This is a lengthy blog post, but I encourage you to hang with me until the end as I share what I’ve been working on this year and reflect on my time as a member of BCFU.

I’m a sophomore here at Berry and am majoring in communication with a concentration in public relations and a minor in political science. This is my second year being a part of BCFU, and so far, so good, I would say. Although I could use some more sleep. But I think that goes for every college student.

This 2017-2018 school year, I am working on two events for the forensics season. My first one is a prose, titled “Clean, Cleaner, and Cleanest” by Sherman Alexie, published in the New Yorker. My second is a Rhetorical Criticism of the Southern Baptist Convention’s response to the “gender neutral” Christian Standard Bible. This blog post is devoted to my rhetorical criticism. I’ll be explaining my speech and my own personal connection to it.

Let’s dive in. This summer, the Southern Baptist Convention released their latest translation of the Christian Standard Bible. Atlantic also published an article in response. The Atlantic and other media outlets claimed this latest CSB translation uses “gender-neutral” terms and praised this progressive move by the SBC. Interestingly, despite all the praise, members and leaders of the SBC are speaking out, saying this translation is NOT gender inclusive. The SBC has also made no official comment concerning the translation and their membership is rapidly decreasing.

So, the question I am asking in my rhetorical criticism, is how has the Southern Baptist Convention’s adoption of the latest Christian Standard Bible translation altered their collective identity? To answer this, I chose the rhetorical methodology of Limit Work by Michael Bruner from his paper “Limit Work as Rhetorical Criticism.” I chose this method because it looks at how what a group is rejecting can actually define the group’s identity. Limit work seeks to map the limits imposed by identity formation. Bruner was difficult to decipher and I was grateful for a coach that helped me understand the basics behind the method.

I applied these steps of the limit work method to the Southern Baptist convention to understand how the SBC is negotiating its identity. For a very long time, the SBC has said the gender-inclusive Bibles are inaccurate. They even made their own Bible back in 2003, the CSB, because they were fed up with these other translations becoming more gender-inclusive. I imagine the SBC was just like, “Fine, we’ll just make our own Bible!” When the Atlantic published their article, people thought that the SBC was changing their traditional standards and embracing more progressive ways. But leaders in the SBC are rejecting the characterization that adopting this translation is a step toward gender equality by making it clear that this translation is not “gender inclusive” at all. To affirm this, I read several different pastors and members of the SBC’s opinion pieces and blogs. It was interesting to see this intense disagreement with the Atlantic article. Looking at some context can help to explain that disagreement, though. The SBC created the Colorado Springs Guidelines in 1997 to make sure they will always uphold the most accurate translations. The group references 2 Timothy 3:15-16, which says “all scripture comes from God.” This extreme dedication to accuracy can mean women are excluded from the narrative. In 1984, the SBC resolved that offices requiring ordination are for men only. While they believe women play important roles in the church and are equal in the eyes of the Lord, the pastoral positions are better left for the men.

Based on my analysis, I draw implications about the role of women in the church and the declining relevance of the SBC in today’s society. Basically, in 2018, we as women still have not gotten to the point of being treated and given opportunities equally within the church. This means that the SBC is keeping this traditional and conservative perspective to the point they are not progressing, but almost regressing. The SBC is losing membership. The Atlantic article could have actually helped them out and attracted more people to the SBC. But the lack of response from the SBC and the outrage from members proved The Atlantic got the story wrong.

Let me be clear, I am not trying to personally attack the Southern Baptist church. I know this speech can make it seem like I am against them, but in reality, I am simply attempting to critique a rhetorical situation by applying a communication method and looking at what this can mean for others. And that’s why this speech is so interesting to me.

I am a Christian. I grew up in a Christian home and committed my life to the Lord at a young age. There were rough patches, but I am thankful to be at a place now where I am learning my identity in Christ. While I am a Christian, I am also a feminist. I don't think those have to be mutually exclusive. That is why the implications of this rhetorical criticism, I think, are very important. We cannot continue to leave women out of the church.

I recently read some of the book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and it really helped me with questions I had been struggling with. I recommend the book for everyone, but her blog post about Christianity and feminism is very interesting and a great way to understand the intertwining of Christianity and feminism, so if you do not have time to read the book, the blog is a great summary.

Bible translations can seem like a minor problem, and to be entirely honest, I read the NIV mostly because that was the first Bible I was ever given. But what can become a problem is if we are sticking to a standard that doesn’t include women. There are so many issues within the church, and, in light of recent events, things such a sexual assault are happening within a religion we are claiming is inclusive and caring and loving. But people are turning a blind eye and not speaking out. I believe that every individual is loved by God: women and men. We should make our churches an example of that love and inclusion.

I’m thankful that BCFU has provided me a platform to negotiate my own identity as both a Christian and a feminist. This speech is an opportunity for me to connect my passions and beliefs with something bigger, and that’s one of the things that I appreciate most about being a member of BCFU.

Berry College Forensics Union, Bailey Dingley

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