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Jane VanderburghMarch 26, 2015


As a female Bible major, I often cringe whenever I hear the words feminist and theology used in conjunction with one another. People often twist these words to mean things that are not true or in accordance with their original definition and to mean something that will fit their agenda or their ideology. The word feminist simply means a person who advocates for women, whether male or female. In some regard, I feel that all women are feminists in that definition of the termvery few women would claim that they are anti-women or believe in gender inequality. However, there are many ways to contort this meaning, which is broad and typically good-natured to begin with, that can make it narrowed and with ulterior motives. For instance, people often use the word feminist to label something or someone in a negative connotation or use it as an insult towards someone. Or, even worse, they use it to push their own personal agenda to the extreme. In this paper, I will be discussing one of two thingshow the feminist movement began in America, and how that movement potentially affected theology or, more specifically, Christology. It can be, as previously stated, good-natured in its beginning, it has often been misconstrued into a wrongful or even heretical scheme. The feminist movement has had a positive impact on Western society in countless ways, but it has also forever changed culture in such a way that women can never return to their former place.

History of the Secular Feminist MovementFeminism finds its roots in the 1940s and 1950s; it was coming off a time period in which men were predominately absent, thanks to the Second World War, which resulted in a boost of female pride. Posters of Rosie the Riveter saying, We can do it! impacted women everywhere as they searched for a renewed purpose. Ideas began to evolve and women became radical in believing they were equal to men and deserved the rights that men found themselves automatically receiving. As time went on, women became more and more restless with their alleged appointed place in society. Feminist writings began to emerge from Europe as well as America, and the movement began gaining strong momentum. A European philosopher named Simone de Beauvoir published a book entitled The Second Sex in 1953. It was not an immediate bestseller but quickly gained attention in the mid 1960s as the ultimate liberator of women[footnoteRef:1]. She argued that women, as an entirety, were subjected to second-class citizenship of the world and were viewed as an inferior species. She also claimed that women were made to fit a mold that had been established and enforced by men and was called the eternal feminine[footnoteRef:2]. Newspaper articles published in the late 1950s-early 1960s told of a syndrome that reporter Betty Friedan claimed women experienced. It encompassed a variety of symptoms, including dissatisfaction, yearning, emptiness, and a longing for a greater purpose. This so-called syndrome became known as trapped housewife syndrome and Friedan claimed it was very common among women[footnoteRef:3]. American author Kate Millett described the problem without a name (CITATION) as patriarchy, and she used it to describe the societal dominance of men and the submissiveness of women in the late 1960s[footnoteRef:4]. As more and more authors began to speak out and voice their opinions on female submission and inferiority, it gained more and more attention. These writings would be widely distributed for common use to rally up the women to stand proud for what they believe in and how they planned to take back their rightful place as a equal partner to males. [1: Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture (Wheaton, Good News Publishers, 2005). 18. ] [2: Ibid. 20.] [3: Ibid. 23.] [4: Ibid. 27. ]

Overall, these women, who were key figures in the early feminist movement in society, felt that women were called to a greater and higher purpose than being the ultimate housewife or the ultimate mother. They wrote of discontentment, anxiety, purpose, and destiny. They were determined there was something more for women than to sit at home and be submissive to their husbands all day. However, these were the secular feminist views. It is surprising to see that the feminist wave in church establishments and various denominations was rising at the same time the secular wave was.History of the Religious Feminist MovementIn the early 1950s, as Simone de Beauvoir was gaining recognition for her book The Second Sex, an American named Katherine Bliss was administering a survey entitled The Service and Status of Women in the Church with direction from the World Council of Churches. It reported some fairly surprising newswomen were actively involved in the community outreach and upkeep of the church family, but were limited to smaller leadership roles within a congregational setting, such as teaching a Sunday school class or serving on the missions committee. Women were not leaders in areas of administration, church growth, preaching, or teaching, even though survey results indicated many of these women were in fact gifted and capable of performing in some of these areas. Bliss concluded the survey by arguing for a re-evaluation of gender roles in the church by saying, we must begin to ask seriously what the will of God is concerning the diversity of gifts of men and women and concerning the spirit in which they are to serve together their common Lord[footnoteRef:5]. It did not receive nationwide recognition until the early 1960s when the civil rights movement was garnering national attention as well. Many used Blisss survey results as an argument for reformation of gender roles and to, as Bliss suggested, conduct a serious re-evaluation of womens roles. Articles in the Journal of Pastoral Psychology at this time were touching on the trapped housewife syndrome epidemic[footnoteRef:6]. Mary Daly, another outspoken, prominent figure in the feminist movement, observed that a layman may be a member of the laity by choice; a woman is this by necessity[footnoteRef:7]. Dr. William Douglas, one of the authors of the journal articles on this subject, claimed that women were patronized for saying they felt called to ministry because it is not, as defined by society, in their gender to do so. He said women wanted a stronger input in churches of the day and did not wish to spend their time serving behind the scenes or in the kitchen.[footnoteRef:8] A periodical titled Christianity and Crisis requested that there be fairness for the fair sex in a article in 1962[footnoteRef:9]. The Union Seminary Quarterly Review asked for a radical new order to discover ways in which women could revive their roles and status within the church in 1964[footnoteRef:10]. That same year, the World Council of Churches, the same group under which Katherine Bliss conducted her survey, published a pamphlet titled Concerning the Ordination of Women and pleaded with churches to reconsider their traditions and law for the sake of equality. An editorial in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in 1967 asserted that the question of womens roles in the church was the ecumenical question of the decade[footnoteRef:11]. Catholics quickly joined in the conversation as well, and sooner it became clear among Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Baptists that the second gender needed an evaluation and liberation in the church[footnoteRef:12]. [5: Ibid. 29.] [6: Ibid. 30. ] [7: Ibid. 30.] [8: Ibid. 30.] [9: Ibid. 31. ] [10: Ibid. 31. ] [11: Ibid. 31.] [12: Ibid. 31.]

Interestingly enough, there was a religion affiliation that resisted this controversial topic, and many might argue they still resist it today. Evangelical Christians, as a majority, disapproved of this being a sensitive subject within the church. An article in Christianity Today from 1971 claimed, women possess second-class citizenship in the Kingdom of God[footnoteRef:13]. Though some bypassed this and agreed with other denominations, others resisted this wave of potential change and would like to still resist it today. [13: Ibid. 31. ]

Once these various denominations and churches recognized there was potentially a gender problem within their midst, the next obvious question emergedwhat do we do about it? Author William Douglas offered two alternatives. First, he suggested that churches could try to recapture the New Testament pattern which appears to be lost in contemporary Protestantism[footnoteRef:14]. These churches could try to return to their roots and do away with a hierarchy within their congregation and establish a priesthood among all believers and observe no distinction between the ministers and the laity. Secondly, he offered the option of clinging to the churchs current structure but allowing women to enter these ordained roles so they have the option to not be a part of the laity if they feel called to do otherwise[footnoteRef:15]. Naturally, this would be much easier said than donehe was asking some churches to do away with their structure that has mostly been successful for hundreds of years. If not that, he was asking churches to completely rearrange this structure, and their mindsets, to allow women to become ordained and serve above men. Most believers opted to agree with Douglass second option, in that it was only one significant change and it was not to the system that had worked for them thus far[footnoteRef:16]. [14: Ibid. 31.] [15: Ibid. 31.] [16: Ibid. 32.]

Meanwhile, while Douglas attempted to correct churches, other Christian feminists aligned themselves on a trajectory that was parallel to secular feminists. Overall, they sought to tear down gender barriers in roles within the church and recognize that ministerial roles could be gender neutral. They simply believed that women were able to do everything a man could do, and this included leadership roles within the church. They were so strong-willed in their desire to bring women out of oppression into leadership roles that they did not turn to Scripture to search the Word for validation for their beliefs. They were so headstrong in striving for gender equality that they seemed to ignore whether these new roles would be in alignment with any Biblical principles or patterns. Christian feminists chose to blindly see the church as sexist and proposed an immediate response to that, rather than attempting to see if they were following scriptural guidelines or not[footnoteRef:17]. [17: Ibid. 32.]

Defining Feminist TheologyThe ultimate question feminist theologians have had to address in the recent decades since their boom is, what is feminist theology? There seem to be three specific strands of feminist theology, which range from normal to the extreme. It could be someone arguing for more equality or leadership in the church for women, or theology number one. Theology number two is posing the questionis Jesus male or is Christ male, or can we even separate the two beings genders? And, if Christ is deemed male, how can this male savior save women[footnoteRef:18]? Finally, theology option number three, is a rather radical approach to feminist theorythese proponents are calling for a gender-neutral language, both in the Bible and in church settings, to recognize that God identifies with male and female alike. This would mean referring to him as Leader or Ruler, rather than Father, since the latter implies a male gender. This paper will go in depth to these three explorations of what feminist theology might contain and if there is a clear right or wrong direction to be heading in. [18: McGory Speckman, Feminist Notions in Christian Portraits of Jesus: Implications for a Gender Inclusive Christology, Acta Patristica et Byzantina, 12 (2001) 158. ]

Gender Equality in the ChurchMany Evangelical Christians today would argue that either there must be more gender equality in their churches or that plenty equality has already been made. It has been a very strong argument about progressive and conservative churches and faith systems alike, but more prominently since the 1960s when the secular feminist movement took full force in popular culture. One of the most well known religious feminist writers would be Mary Daly. She published a book titled The Church and the Second Sex in 1968. It caused an uproarshe was fired from her teaching position at a Jesuit college because they felt it was too progressive and violated their beliefs. Feminists took this as a personal attack as to undermine their movement and picketed the college to support Daly and her views[footnoteRef:19]. Regardless of her career status, or lack thereof, she prevailed and became a strong leader for the religious feminist movement into the 1970s. Daly did not view the churchs current system as overall hopeless and wrote that it was indeed redeemable. [19: Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture (Wheaton, Good News Publishers, 2005). 41.]

She began her arguments by saying that religion had always been using as a tool to oppress women, especially during the Middle Ages. To keep women in an eternal position of servitude, she argued, was a powerful trump in [the churchs] hand[footnoteRef:20]. She accused the church of conveying, or at least not denying, the idea that men were superior to women. In pagan religions before the establishment of Christianity, many cults worshipped mother-goddesses of various backgrounds. Simone de Beauvoir had argued that that Christianity continued this mother-goddess idolatry by some denominations venerability of the Virgin Mary. Daly continued this argument by claiming that churches wished their women to view the Virgin Mary as the ultimate housewife who was passive and submitted to the men in her life without question[footnoteRef:21]. She also said that the church encouraged this mindset in order to keep women in this position of servitude and inferiority in the passive role of housewife[footnoteRef:22]. [20: Ibid. 43.] [21: Ibid. 43.] [22: Ibid. 44.]

Perhaps most controversial, Daly persisted that the churchs moral code even violated women and was extremely harmful to them. She argued that too much influence from Hebrew tradition and Greek philosophy had shaped the views of those writing the Bible, and so they twisted some of the stories or contexts to be male-superior and female-inferior. She argued that the Bible read as man is the embodiment of pure spirit, while woman was the embodiment of the accursed flesh[footnoteRef:23]. This carried into present day thinking, Daly claimed, into the mindset that it was the womans job and duty to keep her marriage together and whole. She was to be a faultless and virgin bride, but her husband to be was not necessarily punished for his previous sexual escapades. A promiscuous woman might face severe penalties, if not death, for her actions, whereas a sexually active man might be viewed as a true man for participating in the same actions[footnoteRef:24]. [23: Ibid. 44.] [24: Ibid. 45.]

Finally, Dalys fourth argument she made within her book was that the inclusion of women from leadership roles in the church led to natural feelings of inferiority among women. She believed that women had been conditioned to feeling inferior and the pressure to submit to men in any circumstance. The biggest shortcoming she faced here was that all of Gods representatives here on earththe pope, the bishop, the priest, the pastorwere male[footnoteRef:25]. Regardless of a womans religion, according to Daly, the head of that faith orientation was male. Therefore, it was natural for those women to feel inferior when they have no leadership examples of women or role models to aspire to emulate as men do. [25: Ibid. 45.]

Once Daly and finished taking apart the church for its shortcomings concerning women, she preceded to build it back up. She wrote that the believed the church would be the vehicle that would bring about womens liberation[footnoteRef:26] and that they were capable of providing the means necessary to build women back up to an equal status. Five years after she published The Church and the Second Sex, she wrote a book titled Beyond God the Father in which she attempt to marry the ideologies of feminism and religion and saw them as interchangeable[footnoteRef:27]. [26: Ibid. 46. ] [27: Ibid. 46.]

Despite Dalys arguments and whether the church agreed or disagreed with her thoughts at the time, it is very clear to see that she was striving to come to a resolved outcome in the situation and proposed solutions on how to go about that, rather than simply deeming the church and feminist theology a lost cause. It is evident how impactful Greek philosophy was upon the early churchreading Acts 17 is enough of an example to use that those who were influential first believers were very familiar with Aristotle, Plato, and their contemporaries. Perhaps this is where we sense the gender bias among men and women. Greek thought had a very low view of women that could have easily influenced the New Testament. A common reading of the creation story in pre-feminism times would have been that, since Adam was created first and Eve was created from Adam, she is meant to be a secondary role or of a lesser status[footnoteRef:28]. [28: Natalie Watson, Feminist Theology: (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003). 26.]

Other questions feminist theologians who adhere to option number one might ask themselves questions such asDoes the fact that women have been marginalized, silenced, and oppressed by the Christian churches throughout most of their history mean that Christianity as such is bad for women, or is it possible to write theology in a way that advocates the full humanity of women in the image of God? Is it possible to write a theology in which women are seen as those without whom the body of Christ is incomplete? Could the message of Christianity in fact be interpreted in a way that advocates womens experience and equality?[footnoteRef:29] [29: Ibid. 27.]

While some of these are rhetorical questions with no legitimate answer, they all raise one key pointis it even possible? Have we become so engrained in our traditions and our standards that the possibility of changing them is far-fetched at best? It is important to remember Mary Dalys thoughts herethe church is redeemable[footnoteRef:30]. One scholar raises an important point in acknowledging that, even if gender equality is taken in its entirety, male and women are still different. Instead of arguing and fighting over who can and cant perform which role, we should celebrate the differences that make us male and that make us female and learn to work together in order to produce the most desired effect[footnoteRef:31]. [30: Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture (Wheaton, Good News Publishers, 2005). 46. ] [31: Natalie Watson, Feminist Theology: (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003). 28. ]

Some of this first feminist theology is neither here nor there. Though it is important, I feel as though every Christian, for the most part, would agree that women are not the same as men, both physically and mentally. However, instead of chastising one another for these differences and scolding the other sex for their short comings, we should celebrate and worship that we have a creator who was good enough to make us different so that we can be strong where the other lacks and vice versa. Though topics and discussions on womens role in the church are important and, especially in certain circumstances, might be urgent and needed immediately, there are also greater things at hand than discussing whether a woman should be allowed to lead a song or a prayer when we are gathered as the body of Christ. Women are invited to partake of the body of Christ, just as men are. There should be no different in how they choose to worship or serve that body of Christ as well.Can a Male Savior Save Women?Men are just capable of misinterpreting scripture as women are; there is no claim that either gender is superior at understanding Gods Word over the other. However, an interesting question arose within the last century or two, based upon overwhelming theological facts and ideologies that have been, predominantly speaking, introduced by males. Some theologians began to claim that since Jesus was male; Christ is male and is a savior to males. Some went as far to the extent of claiming women, as an entire gender, are not included in the saving act of Christ[footnoteRef:32]. Author Jennifer Illig claims that the role of feminist theologians is to push back this mindset that women are unsaved members of the body of Christ and rise to an equal status with men, as we are in Gods eyes. She argues that yes, although we possess biological differences, our God views us as his creation, neither as male nor as female. He is not a dominating or overbearing overlord but rather an intimate and loving being that invites men and women into a relationship with him. Illig points out how often Jesus used women in his ministry, both in parables and miracles or simply involving them in his teachings. After all, who were the people to first discover the empty tomb? Would God have allowed the inferior gender or second class citizens to discover the tomb unless he was trying to make a point that the current, worldly way to handle women is completely upside down? Jesus challenged the view of women multiple times throughout scripture, such as allowing them to study and learn from him, as recorded in Luke 10:38-42, when women could not learn under a rabbi at the time. Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:20-28 record the same story of a women who challenges Jesus to heal her daughter because she knows she is not one of the lost sheep of Israel. A woman is the person who anoints Jesus with oil, signifying the preparation of death but also recognizing him as the Messiah. The women stayed at the cross until Jesus had died, and as previously mentioned, women were the ones who found the empty tomb. Surely then, Illig argues, Jesus came to save women as well as men if he chose to involve them and purposively include them as often as he did. Women were seen as the milestones or connecting points between Jesus ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and the foundation of the Christian churchclearly these was not reserved for the second best[footnoteRef:33]. [32: Jennifer Illig, Feminist Christology: Remembering Jesus, Re-Envisioning Christ, Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 31 (2007): 33.] [33: Ibid. 35-36.]

Illig does make a point that many progressive Christians could learn from today. Even though women were actively involved in Jesus ministry and the advance of the Gospel throughout the world, women are not recorded as being their equals within the church body. The early communities of Christians sought to live as freely and equally as they were able, but they still adhered to Jesus teachings that taught against women have equal authoritative or leadership status in a church. Jesus chose twelve apostles; they were not assigned to him, nor did he pick them randomly. So, then, did he not have the chance to choose a woman if he wanted to? Although we cannot put words in Jesus mouth, we can assume he did not place women among his apostles because he knew they were already viewed as lesser than men. He wanted to choose the superior race in their culture, but even then he chose the lowly, the scum of the superiors. Why? He wanted to make a point that the kingdom of God welcomed everyone; male, female, high in authority, low in influence, rich, poor, etc. By choosing women to be among his twelve, he might have been written off immediately as being another religious teacher gone astray. But choosing twelve men who had less than favorable jobs and were not among the favorites of their community? Now he had people intrigued. Now he had his audience with which to transform the world with. However, this is all much easier said than done. Even by the close of the first century, at the most seventy years removed from the burial and resurrection Jesus, Christians were misinterpreting scripture to believe that women were saved in a different way than man and submissiveness played a key factor in their salvation. They used 2 Peter 2:13-15 to illustrate their argument; Adam was created first, Eve second. Eve sinned first, Adam second. Eve could only salvage her relationship with God and redeem herself to her former equal status through childbirth and subordination and that they persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. Some early Christians began to claim this passage was evident that women were not automatically saved through Jesus blood and Gods grace, but they also had to work at it themselves in order to achieve salvation. For men, however, since they did not sin first and they were created first, they did not have to do anything extra to please God and win his favor back[footnoteRef:34]. As the centuries continued, Christs image became more and more associated with his gender while he was a human on earth and he became represented on earth through religious men in a position of power. Therefore, many believed that Christ was male and was only concerned with male salvation[footnoteRef:35]. [34: Ibid. 37.] [35: Ibid. 38.]

Augustine, a Christian writer from the late fifth-early sixth centuries, wrote that although a soul is non-gendered (and that soul is what is the image of a non-gendered God), the body that soul inhabits does have a gender. As with many others of his time, he accepted that, since male was created first, he was a superior being than the woman, who was created second as a after thought. Augustine did not think that sin is what caused the superiority of male over femalecreation order is what caused that, but the difference in the two genders was only worsened after the sin was committed and its consequences began[footnoteRef:36]. [36: Ibid. 39.]

Thomas Aquinas wrote in the thirteenth century that Christ has to be male because the male represents the fullness of the image of God, in himself, and as head of woman Since woman cannot represent headshipeminence, leadershipeither in society or in the church, it is ontologically necessary that Christ be male[footnoteRef:37]. [37: Ibid. 39.]

It is interesting to note, however, that both Aquinas and Augustine maintain the idea that there will be no gender hierarchy in heaven and women, as part of creation in the image of God, will be able to stand equally next to men in worship in heaven. Despite this belief, they continued to maintain there was gender inequality and superiority/inferiority on earth, but none in heaven[footnoteRef:38]. [38: Ibid. 39. ]

So what can be done about Christ as a male? Or Jesus as a male? Illig writes that some feminists take one look at how Christianity has been used to oppress and confine women to specific social standings and they throw their hands up and declare Christianity to be hopelessly irredeemable[footnoteRef:39]. Christology has often been the weapon of choice of those who wish to oppress women and take them out of any leadership positions they might hold within the church. [39: Ibid. 39. ]

There are some feminist theologians who chose to see Christs message, not as one of submission and dominance but one that calls all peopleGalatians 3:28to wholeness and unity in Christ[footnoteRef:40]. This brand of feminist theology is called feminist liberation theology. They dont believe that Jesus or Christ himself is the root of the problem, but rather how people have interpreted, or misinterpreted, his teachings and message throughout the centuries[footnoteRef:41]. [40: Ibid. 40. ] [41: Ibid. 40.]

BibliographyIllig, Jennifer. "Feminist Christology: Remembering Jesus, Re-Envisioning Christ." Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 31, no. 1 (2007): 33-51.

Kassian, Mary A. The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture. Rev. ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005. 336.

Speckman, M. "Feminist Notions in Christian Portraits of Jesus: Implications of a Gender Inclusive Christology." Acta Patristia Et Byzantina 12 (2001): 158-78. Accessed February 18, 2015. New Testament Abstracts.

Watson, Natalie. Feminist Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.