Knowing Our History

There’s a great post over at her·meneutics written by Sandra Glahn on “The Feminists We Forgot.”  In the article, Glahn stresses the importance of knowing our history, and in particular, the importance of the church knowing feminism’s Christian roots.

This “new woman” is not an invention of second-wave feminism either. Betty Friedan did not start the “woman movement;” Christians did. Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God’s image to “rule the earth” together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social power.

I’ve stressed this before in my post on Cruciform Feminism, and it serves as a good reminder to me that I need to keep digging and learning more about the history of feminism within the church.  The more we understand the historical role of the church in the work towards equality between men and women, the better we can dispel misconceptions about feminism and the church.  This is one reason I plan to start including women from church history in my weekly Frauen Friday series.  Women have had a far more influential role in the church throughout history than we are usually given credit for… again, a lot of this comes from an unfamiliarity with our own Christian history (I am obviously speaking from my own experience here with roots UMC, SBC, and A29 traditions).  I want to do my small part to help change that… starting with the woman in the mirror (cue awesome MJ song)!

As Glahn concludes:

The teaching that women’s involvement is a new phenomenon in church history has been used to silence those whom the Spirit has gifted for leadership. And advances made on behalf of women have been attributed entirely to secular feminism. We ourselves have been complicit, because we haven’t known our own history.

Be sure to read the full article here.  I also highly recommend Julie Clawson’s five part series on Discovering Christian Feminism.  Feel free to list any other references in the comments below!

Introducing ‘Frauen Fridays’

I haved decided to start a weekly series here at Cataclysmic titled ‘Frauen Fridays’.  I am working on my German (slowly but surely!) so I opted for ‘Frauen Fridays’ instead of ‘Women Wednesdays’… alliteration being a must.  Alas, this is the best I could come up with so far, forgive me! 🙂  Each week I will introduce a woman who is a theologian, biblical scholar, and/or other prominent figure in the Christian church or academy.

Why Frauen Fridays?  Well, as I said on Twitter last week, this is more for my benefit than anyone else.  I simply want to know more female scholars.  I remember being an undergraduate Christianity and Biblical Languages major wondering if there were any women at all working in these fields.  Even after starting my MA in Biblical Languages I could only name a handful of women in the Christian academy and had read very few books by female scholars.

The thing is–and this is important–it wasn’t for lack of women scholars!  I just didn’t know who they were.  This was partly due (I think) to the academic setting I was in.  In my 10 years at my current school I have not once had a female professor for theology or language class… the only exception being the Christian worship and music class I took as a sophomore which was co-taught by one of the music teachers.  I think of all the textbooks I had for classes only two were authored by women (both biblical languages scholars).  This has long been a personal frustration for me as I have desperately desired female role models to learn from, and to know that my hopes and dreams of becoming a professor were actually realistic goals… to know that I, and the other female students with academic ambitions, were not alone.  It could be done, right?

I was also struggling to fit into a complementarian mold for much of this time.  I wasn’t as worried about reading female scholars… theology was the responsibility (read privilege!) of men, after all.  So where did one go to learn about theology? Men. (Usually the old, dead guys… how happy I was to eventually learn that there were old, dead gals, too!)

Having since embraced the freedom of egalitarianism/mutuality and Christian feminism–because yes, for me I am certain this is God-given freedom–I have been more intentional of reading and learning about women in theology and biblical studies.  And I’m happy to say that, although there are still no women teaching theology or biblical languages at my school (though I do have the privilege of subbing for my profs every once in a while!) (edit: my horrible mistake, there actually is a really awesome women who is co-teaching one of the theology classes this semester… I forgot they were offering this particular class so that’s my mistake), there are several women teaching in the School of Christian Thought, specifically within the apologetics department.  Furthermore, from my own experience, my professors have been nothing but encouraging in my academic pursuits.  I am certain that my profs, both comps and egals alike, have played a formative role in who I am today as a young (cruciform Christian feminist) scholar.  I’ve also learned about more female scholars through my classes.

It seems to me, however, that it is still a rare or somewhat odd thing to be a feminist at my university… but I supposed I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post! 🙂 

Back to the topic at hand.  There have been, are, and will continue to be some amazing women doing great work in theology, biblical studies, biblical languages, and the church.  I want to get to know more of them and I want to get more people to know them.  So, every Friday will be Frauen Friday and will feature women from the Christian academy, church history, all across the theological spectrum, and probably some from non-academic backgrounds (in the technical sense).

First up is Mercy Amba Oduyoye, an African womanist theologian, followed by Beverly Roberts Gaventa, currently a professor at Baylor and one of the key note speakers at HBU’s theology conference next month (I’m currently reading her book Our Mother Saint Paul).  And three weeks from now, since we will be in the season of Lent, I’m planning on featuring one/some of the Desert Mothers.  Stayed tuned!

I’m looking forward to learning as well as raising awareness.  If you have any recommendations feel free to leave them in the comments section.  What is your experience?  Have you always been familiar with female scholars?  Is this a localized phenomenon or a widespread epidemic?

A Cruciform Christian Feminist Credo

For my systematic and biblical theology class last semester, I got to write up a personal credo as well as a catechism.  The intention of both the credo and the catechism was for me to develop material from which I would be able to teach others about a particular topic in theology.  I chose to focus on questions of gender as it relates to theology (since I was working on other projects on a related topic) and came up with this credo which I have dubbed ‘A Cruciform Christian Feminist Credo’.

It’s a work in progress, and much of it needs to be refined and/or flushed out, but I think it’s a good start.  I really enjoyed this project because it forced me to begin refining my own thinking, especially when it came to the catechism and proposing specific questions and crafting specific answers.

I based the structure of my credo off of the Nicene Creed.  I sat down to write this without any sources, except for the Nicene Creed for reference, but as you can tell I’m largely influenced by the work of Michael Gorman, particularly with reference to his work on cruciformity.[1]  While this credo reflects my own personal beliefs (hence, “I believe…”), I am thankfully indebted to others who have shaped my own thinking.  In addition to my own reading of Scripture, this credo represents years of thinking influenced by a number of teachers, authors, bloggers, etc.  Additional influences (as it pertains to the topic of this credo) include Elsa Tamez, Sarah Coakley, Rachel Held Evans, Philip B. Payne, Beverly Gaventa, Carolyn Custis James, Christians for Biblical Equality, N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, my fellow Cataclysmic bloggers and friends, a number of other bloggers, and more… and of course my extremely gifted and learned HBU profs, past and present!

A CRUCIFORM CHRISTIAN FEMINIST CREDO

I believe in the triune God of Scripture, three in one and one in three.
I believe in one God, maker of all creation,
whom we call Father and who is also to us like a mother;
God is our heavenly parent.

God made humankind in his image, both male and female God made them,
to be equal bearers of God’s image and equal caretakers of God’s creation.

I believe that man and woman are equally responsible for Sin,
and both experience the corruption of the Fall.
Woman is no more prone to sin than man, nor man than woman.
The Fall resulted in broken relationships between God and humanity,
woman and man.
Patriarchy is a reflection of a fallen world and
not Godʼs original design for creation.

All of creation is in need of redemption.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Humankind,
who for men and women came down from heaven
to bring salvation, redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.
I believe both genders, male and female, are fully represented in the Incarnation.[2]

I believe Jesus is the revelation of God, and in him all the fullness of deity dwells.
God is like Jesus, for when we see Jesus we are seeing God.
Jesus demonstrated the character of God
in his cruciform living, cruciform loving, and cruciform dying.
God vindicated Jesus, our cruciform Lord,
by raising him from the dead–we now await the resurrection to come.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives life to all
and power to those who are ʻin Christʼ

to live life ʻin Christʼ which is to live as he lived–
cruciformly, cross-shaped, self-denying, radically-loving, God-glorifying.

I believe that Godʼs new creation– inaugurated by the Son and activated by the Spirit–reestablishes the equality of all women and men.
Within this new creation, Godʼs people, the church, actively seek out justice
for the oppressed and reconciliation for all
through the proclamation of and participation in
the gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I believe that cruciformity, that is, living and dying like Christ,[3]
can and will transform this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

1.  See also my earlier post Kenosis, Cruciformity, and Feminism.
2.  This idea comes from Thomas C. Oden’s discussion on “Was the Incarnation Sexist?” in his Systematic Theology.  See my earlier post Gender and the Incarnation.
3. Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (p.48).

Kenosis, Cruciformity, and Feminism

When I think about feminism, I refer back to the simplest definition of the movement that I know.  Feminism, as I understand it, is primarily about establishing and defending equal rights for women in the social, economic, and political spheres which in turn leads to the empowerment of women.  There is certainly a lot more that goes into feminism, a rather kaleidoscopic movement with a complex history.  However, at its most basic level, feminism is about affirming the equality of women and men and thus advocating for women and women’s rights so that this equality is actually lived out.

Today, many see feminism as an enemy of the Christian faith, or vice-versa.  In many ways this is downright odd considering many of those involved with the early feminist movement were Christians.  And yet there certainly are variations within feminism that are ardently opposed to the Christian faith and message, as well as those within the Church who are zealous for the eradication of even the mere whisper of the word feminism.  In terms of theology and biblical studies, traditional theologies of the cross and suffering have been found lacking or to be destructive to the lives of the oppressed, women being an historically oppressed people group.

While feminism is largely about empowering women, the Christian life is described by Paul as Christlike suffering and self-denial.  To borrow a term from Michael J. Gorman, the Christian life is one of cruciformity.  Gorman describes cruciformity (as demonstrated in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ) as “the rejection of selfish exploitation of status in favor of self-giving action” (Michael Gorman, “Paul and the Cruciform Way,” Journal of Moral Theology 2:1, [2013], p. 69)  This cruciformity should then characterize the believer’s participatory life ‘in Christ’.  To be Christ-like is to be “radically self-giving.” (p. 70)  This idea of cruciformity is most evident in Philippians 2.1-11 in which Paul exhorts his readers to be like Christ who ‘emptied’ (εκενωσεν) himself.

Cruciformity, then, is cross-shaped existence in Jesus the Messiah. It is letting the cross of the crucified Messiah be the shape, as well as the source, of life in him. It is participating in and embodying the cross. (p. 67)

If feminism is about empowerment and the establishment and defense of equal rights for women, can it at the same time be cruciform?  If the Christian life is a call to reject “selfish exploitation of status in favor of self-giving action” how does the Christian participate in (what I would argue is) the necessary work of feminism?

For a while now I have been thinking about this question: can feminism be cruciform?  Gorman’s book, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (2001), has a section discussing some objections to cruciformity, including those from feminist and womanist theologians.  Gorman explains:

Many feminist and womanist theologians have drawn the conclusion that because the doctrine of atonement and the corollary call to “take up one’s cross” have been used against women, these remnants of an oppressive, patriarchal Christianity need to be abandoned. (p. 373).

Furthermore, feminist theologians have pointed out how the call to imitate Christ-like suffering has been used to force women to endure domestic abuse.  Obviously, this is a valid and important concern.

So, I’m working on a paper for my Paul class in which I aim to describe what a distinctly Christian and cruciform feminism looks like.  I’ve had this (rather broad) question in mind for a while, wondering how I can be actively working for women’s rights while at the same time laying my own rights down.  I’m still working on my thesis but you’ve probably already guessed that I think the answer is “yes.”  Feminism can be cruciform.  In fact, I hope to argue that feminism (namely, a distinctly Christian and thus cruciform feminism) is necessary because the world at large is not (yet) cruciform.

In researching the question, I’m pulling from a number of different topics and authors.  I’ve been reading books and articles from the likes of Sarah Coakley, Beverly Gaventa, Richard Hays, Elsa Tamez, Rosemary R. Ruether, and of course Gorman.  Confession time: though I’ve always considered myself a feminist, until recently I just hadn’t read a lot from authors who specifically identify themselves as feminist theologians.  A few semesters ago I read some articles by Mercy Amba Oduyoye, an African Womanist theologian (whose work I really enjoyed), for a hermeneutics paper but since then I’ve not read much else.  I am learning a lot, which includes discovering areas in which I actually do not identify with other feminist theologians.  Nevertheless, I certainly appreciate their work and find myself asking a lot of the same questions.

I’m particularly interested in what Sarah Coakley, a feminist theologian, has to say in her book Powers and Submissions.  Yesterday I read one of the essays, titled “Kenosis and Subversion”, in which she argues,

kenosis [is] not only compatible with feminism, but vital to a distinctively Christian manifestation of it, a manifestation which does not eschew, but embraces, the spiritual paradoxes of ‘losing one’s life in order to save it’. (p4)

Truth be told, I need to reread the essay a few more times to get a better grasp of her argument but I’m looking forward to learning from her on this subject.  Hopefully it will help me with this paper!

I’m sure some of you out there have thought through this subject before.  Do you have an comments, questions, or helpful insights to share?  Are there any sources you would recommend?  I look forward to sharing more in the next couple of weeks as my paper (hopefully) comes together.  Most of all I look forward to learning more and being challenged in the way I think.  Paper writing is a very strenuous process for me but after all the agony and pain I have always come out on the other side thankful for what I’ve learned.  Godspeed to all you who have papers due this month!  And especially for those who are gearing up for presenting at SBLAAR!!