By Emma Buchanan
The Ryerson chapter of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) hosted its first feminist bible study this Monday at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Bond Street.
Caroline John is founder and president of the feminist bible study group, and an environmental applied sciences and management graduate student at Ryerson.
John was the only Ryerson student in attendance at their first meeting, but she said she hopes the new bible study can provide undergraduate students at Ryerson with the resources and inclusive community she found in SCM that helped her in her early 20s.
SCM became an official Ryerson affiliate group on January 20, and is a religious student group focused on activism and social justice.
Dawn Ledger is the Pastor of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church. She said it’s important to “acknowledge that coming into a Christian space can be really hard for people.”
“This a place where we bring our objections, our questions, our doubts. You bring all of those things and we’ll work on them together.”
Pastor Ledger said that the group and SCM value “being confrontational with Christianity.”
“This a space to do that, because there’s a lot in our history that needs to be confronted.”
John said that it was important to communicate that this bible study is “anti-racist, interfaith, [and] including [of] all religions and spiritualities.”
John said that because of her upbringing in India, the link between colonization and Christianity proves there’s “trauma in [her] blood.”
“This a space to do that, because there’s a lot in our history that needs to be confronted”
“So I find myself quite triggered by Christianity, but at the same time, it is the space that I’ve used to explore spirituality and my relationship with God,” she said.
John said that because of this, she is sensitive to demographics that might feel apprehensive about Christian ideology. She said that because of this sensitivity, she wants “to counteract and communicate” to make it clear that the group has other values.
Both attendees and organizers said their approach is different from a traditional understanding of bible studies.
“The answer isn’t pre-supposed,” said attendee and U of T graduate Janhoi McCallum.
“The direction of the bible study isn’t pre-supposed. You bring your own experiences to the table.”
Their type of study is different in the way it values criticism and “invites the perspective of everyone, whether or not you even like the Bible, [or] like the characters”
McCallum also said the studying is applied to real world issues.
“We’re not talking about salvation and getting out the world, as important as salvation is. What we do in this world, how we treat our neighbour, that’s really important as well.”
Peter Haresnape was an attendee who’s been working with SCM for several years.
Haresnape said that it’s easy to find bible studies “that would be queer-exclusive, that wouldn’t challenge… racism and patriarchy.”
Haresnape says that their type of study is different in the way it values criticism and “invites the perspective of everyone, whether or not you even like the Bible, [or] like the characters.”
“We talk about the ancient jerks. It’s a freedom I feel like I have to talk about the characters in my own tradition, in my own way. I don’t have to have necessarily like them, and I’m free to give my opinions and know that that’s going to be okay,” he said.
Esther Townsend was an attendee that works for SCM at York and U of T. She said she remembers feeling very “isolated and anxious” in bible studies early in her life where “the goal was for everyone to walk away believing the same things, and feeling the same things.”
She said that when she started working for SCM, she didn’t expect to be doing bible studies, but has enjoyed doing them twice a week for the past three years because of the different approach.
“It’s a space for worldview reconstruction, and people come in with their life experiences and with the things that they’ve been taught about the bible. Things that make sense to them, things that are comforting or encouraging to them, and also things that have been oppressive, things that have been dehumanizing, and we take it all apart and look at it.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the SCM became an official affiliate in February, but it was actually January 20. The Eyeopener regrets this error