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Baptizing Feminism

Kathy Barbini
Kathy Barbini, Simon Weinberg
A young Caucasian woman with a pixie cut adjusts her black sunglasses. There is a cross symbol in her left sunglass shade and a female gender symbol in the right sunglass shade.

Baptizing Feminism, an in-progress feature documentary, explores the rise of contemporary evangelical Christian feminism and Christian feminists today who oppose an influential movement of evangelical Christian right leaders who promote traditional gender roles.

At the heart of the documentary is a heated debate about what the Bible teaches about the roles of women and men. On one side, evangelical Christian right advocates believe the Bible says that God chose men to be leaders in the church, the family, and, according to some, in society overall, with women created to be helpers of men and subordinate to them. On the other side, Christian feminists believe God ordained the full equality of women and men in all areas of life.

Baptizing Feminism turns the spotlight on bold Christian feminists, both conservatives and progressives from the movement today who bring to life the resilience, questioning of tradition, and fearless spirit of feminist women of faith who came before them—women who helped pave the way for women's voting rights and other social justice efforts to expose and dismantle patriarchal belief systems and power structures that diminish the opportunities, voice, and dignity of women and girls.

Each of the women featured in the documentary plays a unique activist role: investigating and challenging abuses of power within church networks; uncovering mass dissemination of male dominance/female submission theologies globally, exposing the implications of these theologies in United States politics; and revealing little known truths and controversies about biblical interpretations and Bible translations written by men that have diminished or erased women over history.

At the same time, the documentary underscores the staunch anti-feminist and traditional gender role beliefs held by the opponents of Christian feminism, and their passionate claims that God designed men and women to be and act in specific ways that they believe God appointed for the well-being of families and society.

Baptizing Feminism also highlights the veteran evangelical feminists who in the 1970s spearheaded the contemporary Christian feminist movement, flourishing alongside other second wave feminist leaders such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. This evangelical feminist movement ignited a subsequent anti-feminist backlash when a group of conservative Christians leaders forged strategic and effective efforts that catapulted a movement to promote traditional gender roles and family values, giving rise to many modern day patriarchal movements we see thriving today.

Baptizing Feminism takes viewers on a journey across America to the home towns and cities of the featured feminists — areas rich in Christian and feminist history and captured through archival footage and cinematic images of landscapes, landmarks, music, and people. The documentary paints a vivid portrait of a diverse and divided country, revealing a fervent debate that continues between the featured Christian feminists and those who condemn and oppose their movement.

As feminists from many different backgrounds are resisting and protesting sexism in all its forms today, Baptizing Feminism is a timely, universally relevant documentary, telling the lesser known story of one subgroup of feminists and thereby disclosing how religious beliefs and practices in the United States are shaping our wider culture and profoundly affecting the lives of women and girls.