During my first semester of college, one morning during a devotional in the religious studies building (like every good Christian should do), I stumbled upon a verse I had never encountered, 1 Timothy 2:9,
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing (English Standard Version).
I felt like I had just been slapped across the face. How could this God of loving kindness that I had grown to intimately know and love through out my entire life allow for such a misogynistic verse to be included in the scriptures. Anger, passion, heartache and fear overtook me; I became consumed with reconciling this Christian God I loved with feminism, something that I instinctually knew as intrinsic to the liberative heart of God. I threw myself full force into a sincere pursuit for truth, for God, for understanding how, and with trepidation if, God was compatible with feminism. The feminism of 2012 seemed to me to be an abstract complex of ideas that subjectively differed from person to person. Even so, I knew down to my bones that feminism’s basic tenets of fighting for the social, political, and economic equality of the genders is a movement that the radical Jesus of Nazareth would have lead.
I joined a Christian fellowship and became the token liberal from San Francisco with my butch-cut hair and hipster style. To be fair, I may have played up that stereotype. It seemed as if every conversation I had with someone would result in a discussion of women in religion. With my religious friends I gleefully played the part of the feminist kill-joy by asking “hard hitting” questions about the bible. This was engendered by the simple fact that I could not bear to be alone in my questions. Yet often I was placated with rehearsed answers that I tried desperately to believe but could not. It was a lonely road. Did others not care about the contradictions? Were they not similarly propelled towards understanding truth? I felt disillusioned.
The Bonhoeffer House, a gem hidden amongst the vibrant Christian fellowships, quickly became a place of refuge for my many questions. This was a space where I learned that I am not the first person to ask my questions. Here I realized that I was allowed to question everything, down to the very tenants of my faith, and know I was still loved by a God who loved the long history doubters that came before me. I was able to question along with the great thinkers of Christianity, both living and dead. At the Bonhoeffer House, I heard talks from inspirational activist nuns, successful women in politics, and prolific ladies who wrote on the very topics I had questions about. Here I found solidarity among academics, lay people, professionals, and students- bound together by our pathological consumption for needing to engage with some 2000 year old dead man from Nazareth.
As a Fellow, I was able to meet up once a month with a phenomenal woman who is a pastor in Charlottesville. Thirteen years ago, she felt God’s call to start a Church in Charlottesville for those who suffer from homelessness, substance abuse, who have a history of (or are in the cycle of) incarceration, and other vulnerable populations. In Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, he speaks of questions. He says that questions are good and dandy to have, but they become problematic when they interfere with loving people. Because of my questions, faith had been difficult for me. However, I learned through my mentor what it means to express faith through acts of love. Through the Bonhoeffer House, I have been exposed to not just academic theology, but how to live out theology through acts of love- this is perhaps the greatest gift I could have received.