Well, you see, that’s a good question. I could start by pointing out that I seem to have developed an affinity for combined words (take my last name: Heinz + e + Kehr = Heinzekehr). But more than that, when launching a new blog, I wanted a title that would hold together so many of the things that I care about: the Mennonite church, (young) womanhood, feminism and theology. Hence, Femonite.
Partly because at this point in my life, I am not sure that I know how to be a Christian and not a Mennonite. Growing up within this church, I have 27 years of input, spiritual formation, and experiences that have been rooted in Mennonite congregations, organizations and educational institutions across the United
States. But more than that, I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death; because of its organic, grassroots structure which, at its best, allows congregations to discern their own calls as local communities; because of the commitment to social justice, peace-building and nonviolence that is woven throughout the church’s history; and because of the hope that I feel when I continue to encounter new individuals and groups who have discovered the Anabaptist story and been drawn into it.
But lest you think that all this waxing poetic about love for Mennonites has blinded me, I want to be up front about the fact that I know this church, just like any other, is not perfect. My entrée into the world of church politics began in earnest when I was 22 and beginning my first job with a Mennonite organization. It’s definitely a testament to previous generations of feminists and to the privilege that I experience as a white, heterosexual, middle-class young adult that I did not experience oppression in earnest until I entered the work world. But, to my surprise, my very first work experiences, within church organizations no less, also turned out to be the first place that I encountered sexism or a sense that what I could achieve or how I was heard was dependent on my sex.
This experience led me to a deeper understanding of the ways that other systemic “isms” were at work throughout the church: sometimes in sneaky, crazy-making ways and other times in blatant and overt forms. It led me to want to work to help make visible these systemic injustices and to work against them. And it also led me to a commitment to feminism, and to resolutely affirm the full humanity of women. During grad school, I have continued to be impressed by the ways that feminist scholarship calls us to relationship, and opens up doors of possibility for conversation and change-making. I have known for quite some time now that this is one label that I’m happy to take on.
The answer to this simple question could be the subject of a whole slew of blog posts on its own, but for the purposes of introduction, I’ll say this: encountering radically open forms of theology was the saving grace that pulled me out of deep spiritual rut. At the end of high school, I said goodbye to one of my best friends whose life ended after a two-year journey with cancer. This event rocked my world, and with the theological tools that I had in hand, I could not make any sense of God’s place in this event. I was angry with the church and with God for what I saw as a failure to adequately address this situation.
But in college, thanks largely in part to several key mentors along the way, I discovered feminist and womanist theology, which raged against ideas that God could ever sanction death, let alone the death of God’s own son, and liberation theologies, which planted God squarely on the side of the suffering. I discovered process theology, which described God’s work in the world as co-creative and not controlling, and showed me a God who wept alongside me and all those who loved my dear friend at the injustice of an 18-year-old’s life ending too soon. And because these discoveries were so freeing to me, I wanted to share them with others, and I wanted to know more.
So, there you have it: the rationale behind this blog and the reason it has come to exist. I hope that this will be a forum that will allow for a new kind of conversation to emerge that grows out of Mennonite, feminist and theological streams, but that inhabits space with many others, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts about feminism, Mennonites and theology, too. Why do these themes matter to you?