Religious feminists, at the same time as diverse in their approaches, are united in the conviction that both feminism and religion are important for the lives of women and men. That shared concern comprises both feminists who work for the reform of traditions–Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, mainline or evangelical Protestants–and those who, having affirmed Judaism and Christianity eternally biased against women, find religious homes elsewhere.
Feminist writers within the Christian background, for all their variety, agree that sexism is a huge distortion of the historical and theological tradition, a distortion which methodically denigrates women, openly or secretly asserts women’s inferiority and subordination to men, and excludes women from full contribution in church and society. These writers as well aspire to free women from ideologies and structures that obstruct their self-actualization as full human persons and their self transcendence as completely religious persons.
They all agree as well on the significance of the interpreted experience of women as a source for theological reflection, particularly as such interpretation-whether secular or religious-reflects the diversity of women’s experience in terms of race, class, ethnicity, or nationality. Differences within feminist thought as it relates to Christianity reveal different perceptions of the depth of sexism within the historical custom and in current structures and practices. At one end of the spectrum, some argue that the inherent character of the major Jewish and Christian symbols is patriarchal and detrimental to women.
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At the other end are those who assert that sexism and patriarchy are not inherent to Judaism or Christianity: These traditions have to be purified to permit for the full participation of women within them. In terms which are useful but perhaps as well too simple, these groups have been labelled “revolutionaries” and “reformists. ” Somewhere between the two groups are those who believe some feminist claims, however not others. Furthermore, though all Christian feminists assert the “equality” of women and men, they do not all assert women’s “sameness” with men.
Positions that endorse some model of “complementarity” between women and men are seen by some thinkers as disguised forms of patriarchy that merely appear to praise women by affirming their special virtues or their “essential motherhood” as allegedly built into the created order for marriage and family. Others are more sympathetic to the “dimorphic” views of gender advanced by secular feminists. (Burton H. Throckmorton, 1993).
Theoretical Perspectives and Methods of Feminist Christianity Feminist Christians are not colossal in their understandings of “feminism,” “Christianity,” or the construction of a feminist Christianity.
Differences extend to tactical questions and to basic practical and theoretical issues. As secular feminists incline toward liberal Marxist, Freudian or other modes of diagnosing and ending patriarchy, so too feminist Christians are not undisputed in favouring one or another school of feminist analysis. Some feminists fear that hypothetical differences are profound enough to intimidate the progress of the feminist movement; others have called into question the very project of classifying feminists at all.
In the first place, Christian feminist theorizing starts and ends in experience. Two millennia of mainly male church leadership-with men writing and canonizing scripture, devising liturgy, preaching, writing history, and theorizing regarding God and God’s relations with the world–have in subtle and obvious ways neglected the experiences and contributions of women and continued women’s subordination. However feminist Christians as well think there are elements of Christianity, past and present, that endorse the liberation of women and the reconciliation of men and women.
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The task is therefore not merely to criticize, it is as well to identify, retrieve, and develop these elements while simultaneously reconstructing Christian practice in the church, society, and home. In recent times Christian feminists have become more aware of a class and race bias beneath earlier understandings of “women’s experience. ” African-American women, Asian women, Native American women, as well as impoverished women–in the United States and around the globe-have pointed out that “women’s” experience frequently meant white, middleclass, educated, Western women’s experience.
What might be liberative for women of privileged class and race might be destructive for women whose experience was shaped by class and racial oppression. To signal these concerns several black and Hispanic women, for instance, recognize themselves as “womanists” or “mujeristas” rather than feminists. Additionally, particularly absent from much of the feminism of the 1970s was a positive revaluation of women’s matemat and domestic roles. Now a broader range of women’s experiences is incorporated in feminist writings.
Tensions among different views concerning the nature of “women’s experience” can intimidate the unity and effectiveness of feminism, Christian and secular. However these tensions have as well brought about a more self-critical stance among feminists, who recognize that just as hegemonic men used the idea of “humanity” in ways that excluded women, so too economically and ethnically privileged women used the idea of “women’s experience in ways that excluded poor women and women of colour.
Such tensions as well inspire efforts to explore the interlocking nature of sexism, classism, and racism within the common project of challenging women’s subordination. Even though women of varied ethnic, racial, and economic groups experience systemic injustice in different ways, women’s socially and culturally subordinated status, and their maternal capacities and functions, offer a common ground that spans other differences.
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Feminist Christianity aims to remove women’s subordination and restore dignity and value to maternal and domestic spheres as well as to the characteristics which thrive in those spheres. In the second place, feminist Christianity is inclusive in its approach to faith and life in the world. The powers that contribute to the neglect, subordination, plus abuse of women are seen as psychological, cultural, social, political, and religious. Efforts to transform the church and Christian theology are therefore closely bound up with an inclusive transformation of all institutions.
Church leadership must comprise women as well as men; church worship must use inclusive language for God and God’s people and express the experiences of women and men; patriarchal patterns of thinking have to be challenged in every theological field of study–biblical, historical, systematic, moral, and philosophical. Although there is debate regarding exactly how to revise patterns of Christian thought and practice, the impact of feminist concerns on religious institutions has been extensive.
As patriarchy permeates the family, the paid workplace, culture, and society, and since God’s will for gender understanding and justice reaches beyond the church into the world, feminist Christians have a transformative mission in the world. Feminists of the 1960s and 1970s concentrated mainly on simple equality–women’s equal access to jobs, equal pay for equal work, equal prospect for advancement, and all that. The feminism of the 1980s and 1990s is engaged in a more thoughtful critique of the cultural, domestic, economic, and political systems that have hindered as well as devalued women.
In the academy this calls for a transformation of natural, social, plus humanistic disciplines. In society it calls for the reformation of institutions in order that women can thrive and their concerns be respected. Feminist Christians supporter active engagement in the broader social and cultural orders to bring about transformation of institutional powers in order that they serve gender justice, rather than mere equality of access to male-defined activities. In the third place, feminist Christianity is ecumenical denominationally, spanning Catholic, Protestant and, lately, Orthodox Christianity.
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Particular concerns may differ Catholic feminists, for instance, confront the ways that hierarchical patterns of Church leadership endorse sexism, while evangelical Protestant feminists are more concerned with patriarchal patterns in the Bible and its interpretation. However their shared commitment to the transformation of ecclesial and societal institutions forms a basis for ecumenical relations. However feminist and antifeminist viewpoints now divide Christians in ways that denominational boundaries once divided Christians, feminist Christian concerns unify members of many denominations.
Feminist Christians are as well ecumenical in looking for interrelations among multiple modes of oppression, particularly among sexism, hetero- sexism, classism, and racism. However it is probable to trivialize more severe modes of oppression by grouping them all together. The oppression and struggle of an impoverished, single mother of four living in a crime-infested inner city, for instance, is more severe than the subordination experienced by wealthy suburban women.
Although analysis of gender must not be omitted in such situations, the analysis must comprise attention to the primary cause of harm. There is an developing consensus that to treat one mode of systemic injustice, one have to treat them all, and that in resisting patriarchy one is as well committed to resist all that opposes God’s shalom, mainly poverty, racism, and heterosexism. There is as well a rising interreligious ecumenism among feminists. Feminist Christians find conversation partners, for instance, among Jews, Muslims, and Hindus.
The rising interest in interreligious dialogue and the growth of feminism in many countries and cultures of the world unite religious feminists of several kinds to work against sexism at the same time as maintaining loyalties to their respective faiths. Feminists are as well ecumenical in using resources from secular disciplines as they try to analyze and dismantle patriarchy and to work for a more just and comprehensive society. Christian convictions are combined with insights into the causes and symptoms of patriarchy developed by psychoanalytic, socialist, Marxist, deconstructionist, liberal, and other schools of feminist scholarship.
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Fourth, feminist Christians struggle to actualize a new humanity in which women and men build up and use their gifts for the well-being of the human and nonhuman communities of life. Minimally this calls for justice in the ecclesial and social orders, a justice which respects both equality and the pertinent differences between women and men. In its fullness it calls for mutual dependence and delight between women and men as they develop their God-given potential in all relational and institutional contexts.
Since gender relations are so pervasively infected by sinful cultural, social, and personal attitudes and practices, and since many are unaware of this fact, feminist Christians expose sexism and criticize it. However the objective of this criticism is the transformation of church and society toward a way of life in which women are no longer silenced and oppressed however rather recognized and celebrated, and in which women and men are reconciled as partners serving God’s creative and redemptive purposes.
Feminist reconstruction of the church and Christianity is one significant part of this larger aim. (Burton H. Throckmorton, 1993).
Christian Ethics As feminist theology arises out of women’s experiences of oppression, and theorizes regarding God, humanity, and world with a view to changing personal consciousness and the social order. Feminist theology is part of a worldwide movement whose objective is a transformation of the social, cultural, ecclesial, and political orderings of life in order that women and men might live together in mutual respect, care, and delight.
It consequently rejects ethics as a sequestered category of Christian thought, insulated from other branches of theology. Feminist Christians enter debates characteristically related with Christian ethics, together with issues such as war and peace, domestic abuse, reproductive technology, bioethics, pornography, and social policy. They as well reconsider foundational ethical matters for instance moral reasoning, moral agency, the relation of public to private life, and norms of justice and love.
Feminist understandings of agency are shaped by their vision of God. Protestantism characteristically portrays the divine-human relationship as a conflict over whose will shall prevail, the divine or the human. As a substitute to this “masculinist” view of agency feminist Christians view relations between God and humanity, among human beings, and between humanity and the natural environment in nonhierarchical, equally dependent and interactive ways. For feminists, this relational view of agency is beached in the communion of the divine persons.
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Others establish theological bases in relational imagery for God drawn from the Bible or tradition. The corresponding view of human agency is one of “co-capacity-in-relationship,” which asserts moral agency, however within the context of a mutually dependent community of divine and human persons whose mutuality allows effective agency in the world. This emphasis as well leads feminist ethicists to heightened awareness of the relational contexts of moral problems and of the moral reasoning which is used to examine them.
Some feminists agree that descriptively there are characteristically “feminine” and “masculine” affective, intellectual, plus social characteristics. Ostensibly women more than men tend to be nurturant, relational, and intuitive, and men tend to be active, independent, and sensible. Debates emerge regarding how to identify these characteristics, and how to find out the blend of genetic, hormonal, and social factors that cause these differences.
The normative question is whether there ought to be an androgynous ideal that combines or transcends the best “feminine” and “masculine” virtues, or a dimorphic ideal which celebrates the “feminine” virtues alongside the “masculine” ones. Even as African Americans struggle between the “integrationist” ideal of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the “separationist” one of Malcolm X, so too many tactical differences for social reform will be shaped by whether the “difference” or the “sameness” is stressed as the normative ideal for moral character relative to gender.
Feminist ethics is significant of dualisms of all sorts: God/world, humanity/nature, men/women, soul/body, reason/emotion, and all that. The two sides of these binary constructions of reality are conventionally asymmetrical, for the first element in each pair hierarchically rules the latter one, keeping it controlled within its subordinate place. In its most damaging forms, this dualistic worldview loathes the second element in each pole by construing it as demonic or sinful: therefore women and women’s bodies are seen as sinful, unholy, and polluted.
In place of this dualistic worldview, feminist ethics puts a multi-faceted, interactive, mutually dependent set of agencies and forces. It asserts the complexity and necessary goodness of creation in all its parts, thus avoiding the “demonizing” of women. (Burton H. Throckmorton, 1993).
This critique of dualism shapes much of feminist ethics; however it has particular significance in challenging the “public/private” split that functions as an ideology to keep women in their (domestic) place and to segregate victims of domestic abuse from public help they might receive.
In North America it is conventionally estimated that physical abuse and sexual abuse each involve as many as one in four women. Legal, political, cultural, as well as economic structures unite in a vicious cycle to strengthen men’s control over women’s bodies. Universal in its scope whereas variable in its expression, patriarchy is said to have controlled women’s sexuality to men’s advantage through institutions as varied as prostitution, pornography, rape, sexual harassment, battering, foot-binding, suttee, purdah, clitoridectomy, witch-burning, plus reproductive technology.
Feminist Christian revision of the relations between “public” and “private” spheres is a response to the call for justice and care in both these domains. Feminists illustrate how sexism co-opted the split so that it paradoxically and unfortunately serves to isolate victims of domestic abuse from outside assist and keep women in their economically and socially subordinated place. According to the “public/private” ideology, women are “naturally” fitted for the “private” spheres of marriage, family, and friendship; men are “naturally” fitted for the “public” spheres of the marketplace, academy, and politics.
Agape, understood as self-sacrificial love, then becomes the suitable standard for women’s action and character in the private sphere, justice, understood as receiving what one fairly deserves, becomes the moral norm for men’s action and character in the public sphere. As agape is unsuitable to public life, so justice is unsuitable to private life. The family is then idealized as a haven in a heartless world; public life is viewed “realistically” as a harsh, competitive zone where self-assertion somewhat than self-sacrifice is appropriate, although this self-assertion is restricted by justice and fair play.
By insisting on the “public” nature of “private” life, feminist Christians reject the split that several place between these domains. They as well oppose gender-based role assignments that assign wholly private roles to women and public ones to men. They call instead for men to become more implicated in domestic activities, and for women to develop gifts and interests that can be exercised in the spheres of the marketplace, academy, law, and politics. Self-sacrifice may be essential as a means to mutuality and justice; however it is not the goal of Christian love.
This objective is mutual care, respect, and delight–a participation in the divine life and cooperation with God’s activities in the world. (Burton H. Throckmorton, 1993).
In their work to break the barriers erected by the public/private split, some feminists completely accepted the devaluation of domestic life perpetrated by patriarchal economic and social systems. Antifeminists hence accused feminists of neglecting the family and marriage, and simplistically blamed feminists for all major ills of society.
However, feminists are re-evaluating marriage and family life and celebrating maternal powers and functions even as they carry on to work for expanded opportunities for women outside their conventional domestic roles. Feminist Christians as well call on men to surrender economic and social power to women, to oppose the ways in which the gender system constricts their relationships and experiences, and to contribute more fully in the responsibilities of marriage and family life.
Feminist Christians call the church to be both instance and agent in the process of societal transformation. By asserting and celebrating women’s gifts and leadership as pastors, priests, and bishops, the church can model the mutuality and equality between women and men conferred in baptism. Comprehensive language in the liturgy and hymnody of the church light up the depths and riches of Christian speech about God and acknowledge the female in God and in ourselves. The church has to serve the larger mission of God in this world.
That mission is the inauguration of God’s shalom, the blessed condition in which all relations-between God and humanity, among human beings, between humanity and creation–are marked by justice, flourishing, and delight. The subordination and domination of women and the patriarchal systems that strengthen them are obvious violations of God’s shalom. The church, as harbinger of the eschatological fulfilment of God’s promised shalom, is called to bear witness to God’s redemptive mission by its instance and action.
(Burton H. Throckmorton, 1993).
Conclusion This sketch of feminist Christian thought samples merely a few practical and substantive themes. The intellectual vivacity of feminist Christianity is born of moral and religious passion springing from the depths of human experience. As in any fundamental intellectual tradition there is variety of opinion and debate; there is self-criticism and prophetic critique of patriarchal institutions and theory.
The diversity finds its unifying centre not in one or another strategy or dogma however rather in the certainty that the patriarchal structures that harm women are part of a sinful, fallen world which God wills to redeem, and in the ambition that feminist theology become part of God’s redemptive energies which will one day renew heaven and earth and bring about shalom in its fullness. References: Burton H. Throckmorton (1993).
Bible: New Revised Standard Version Gospel Parallels (Bible Students) STL; 5th Ed edition