Preferring God: Being a Feminist in my Church

I am utterly and continually amazed by what my Loyola community is capable of; how we lift each other up in the darkest of times, and exalt and rejoice with one another in times of celebration.  I value community like I value the air that I breathe – sometimes I take it for granted, but without it I don’t think it would be possible for me to be truly alive. What I love so much about Catholicism, and what keeps me coming back for more is the community. The word, “catholic” itself is derived from the Greek word, “katholikos” meaning “universal.” That’s what makes the Catholic Church so great – the hands of global solidarity in which it holds. On any given Sunday, I can hear the same Gospel reading at 9:00pm mass at Madonna della Strada, that my cousins are hearing in France, that pilgrims are hearing in the Vatican, or that the refugees in Europe and South America are hearing in their satellite chapels. I take the same communion that those around me take. The beauty of the Eucharist is that it isn’t tainted by any societal discords, it doesn’t discriminate based on the color of the hands that it touches, and it worries not of income or race –or gender. The Catholic Church, and Jesus as our savior share a common identity as universally accepting of everyone, and that’s what I believe that is what it truly means to be a Catholic.

Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with Dr. Michelle Nickerson entitled, “Can I Be a Feminist in My Own Church?” Dr. Nickerson is a professor of history at Loyola with research interests in U.S. Women’s and Gender History in the 20th century. Dr. Nickerson gave us an insight into her life as a woman, as a woman in the Church, as a feminist, and as a feminist in the Church. There are definite (and obvious) inequalities in the way women are treated in the church – specifically the Catholic Church – and the way men are treated. There is endless research and discussion in both the feminist and religious spheres to argue any claims either party may present – delving into that wasn’t the intent of the night. Dr. Nickerson’s personal beliefs, along with her academic scrutiny on the topic, are what made the night’s conversation so compelling. As an educated woman in a first-world country, Dr. Nickerson has the opportunity – or the privilege rather – to unpack and analyze any religion in which she identifies with. Her own theology is rooted in the fluidity between her own religious preferences and her obligation to tradition. For women to be ordained, for priests to remain celibate, to condone the usage of contraception – these are all issues within the church that people feel so strongly for or against due to their personal preferences. One could say our preferences are dictated by our identities and our privileges – however many of those we may have or choose to embody.

There are challenges in being a feminist in my church – it oftentimes feels as though I am sacrificing my catholicity for my feminist values, and vice versa, and it upsets me that the two cannot coexist as complementary as I would hope. Preferences aside, we are all united under the same umbrella of universal love and grace that God gives us. As Catholics, it is our duty to see past a person’s preferences in exchange for seeing them as God would see them. In the way the Church serves us as equals and in a universal manner, it is likewise our duty to serve God by upholding and enduring the Catholicity of the Church that embraces its foundational identity.

Alexis Hayes and Dr. Michelle Nickerson prior to Catholic Q and A
Alexis Hayes and Dr. Michelle Nickerson prior to Catholic Q and A

By Alexis Hayes


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