Liberation Theology Part II

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Feminist Theology has offered some of the most devastating critiques of the patriarchal legacy of theology from Augustine to Barth. Before I explore some questions about God and gendered language, I’d like to address two possible responses more progressive Christians often have when their religion is accused of misogyny. The scholarly Christian might say, “Oh well, yes there are certain verses in the Greek Bible that paint women in a negative light, but those weren’t actually written by Paul.” Mary Daly’s response was that even If it was not written by Paul, that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s been appropriated for years by men in the church to subjugate and oppress women. Another typical response is, “Yes, yes good point feminists” we’ll start using the words “her” and “she” more often for God. In fact, we might even consider praying, “Out Mother who art in Heaven if we’re really feeling dangerous”. What bothers me is that while we change the immediate content, the existing structure does not change. That is to say, although we might recognize the church’s mistreatment of women, we’ll still maintain a structure and church where the vast majority of leaders and pastors are males. It’s akin to where Zizek argues that every sensitive liberal male prof at your local university will always make the concession at the beginning of his course, “this semester we’ll be studying the history of western philosophy, which unfortunately has been written by white males because of sexism”. Of course his acknowledgment fails to change the fact that the legacy is being continued. So yes even though male theologians recognize the sexism of the church, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually have to forfeit their jobs to aid in the struggle.

My question is this: to what extent does changing our language about God serve to maintain the status quo when it comes to the interface of theology and gender? God doesn’t have a penis even as much as Mark Driscoll would like him to (probably a large one at that), but nor does he possess a vagina.  My friend at Duke seminary told me that they had to use the s/he fifty-fifty for God so as to keep the peace. Again this does not change a damn thing in my opinion. The main issue I have with God being colored in masculine light is that it often associates characteristics with God that I find to be unsupported by the  God’s self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. The male god might be vengeful, violent, sovereign, and omnipotent. The female god might be nurturing, creative, loving, and intimate. How about as opposed to merely changing pronouns we actually rediscover feminine imagery and descriptions of God and challenge violent masculine imagery?

Another issue (especially with Protestantism) is its lack of feminine role models. Considering Mary’s diminished status in Protestantism and Eve’s colossal fuckup, it’s clear younger girls often have difficult identifying with any of the religious figures. Now, if we could re-articulate the intimate interactions of a relational Trinity, and a Christian doctrine of creation that was true to the Genesis story and not the fabricated creation ex nihilo, then maybe we could begin to rediscover important and often repressed aspects of God. This of course returns to my discussions on atonement, and why I believe an updated Christus Victor theory is the most promising alternative, not the ‘divine child-abuse’ theory.

Secondly, I’d also encourage anyone who cares for women’s rights to rebel against any institutional church that fails to recognize the equal status of men and women. Unless Paul was lying when he said, “In Christ there is no longer male nor female” it seems obvious to me that the Spirit of God doesn’t discriminate based on genitalia, so neither should we. The critique Jesus offers strongly against the family should lead us to the conclusion that gender roles likewise will dissolve in the Kingdom. Ultimately, talking about God won’t change the systemic injustice in the church. We will not realize the evils of gender discrimination until we begin to recognize the destabilizing effects of the in-breaking Kingdom. While becoming increasingly conscious of the issue of gendered theological language is a step in the right direction, it’s likely worthless and perhaps detrimental if we think that merely reforming our pronouns for the divine will effect change. We need to protest strongly and loudly unless we are going to allow this violence against women in the church and homes continue. Of course the God of oppressed is on our side, as Jesus said to the women oppressed and immobilized in the sins of her patriarchal society, “Go and sin no more”. That is be free of the shackles of misogyny and live your life abundantly!

[Aside, read Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk]

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