REVIEW: New Feminist Christianity
New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views
ed. by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu
Skylight Paths Publishing 2010, hardcover, 350 pages.
This is an extraordinary anthology in its depth and breadth. And, especially if like me you're not usually involved in feminist Christianity, you're probably in for some surprises. Though written by writers who consider themselves Christian feminists, a number of the essays in this book also discuss the contribution of feminists of Jewish, Pagan, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, and other traditions. The editors, Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu are co-founders and co-directors of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), where I attended a circle once many years ago. Both Hunt and Neu come from Roman Catholic backgrounds. Hunt is a theologian, with particular interest in woman-church, ethics and liberation theology. Neu is a feminist liturgist, minister, and psychotherapist.
The expansiveness and inclusivity of this book begins in the Acknowledgments, where the editors state: "This anthology owes its existence to Jewish women." They tell why, and thank—in 8 languages—the contributors to the anthology. The Introduction includes as part of feminist Christianity: "Catholics to Unitarians, Baptists to African Methodist Episcopal Zion members." (Let me drift for an instant to say that as a Unitarian Universalist (UU) [among other things], I am surprised to see "Unitarian" included as "Christian." Although there is an subgroup within UU called UU Christian Fellowship—there is also a group of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS)—and although both the Unitarians and the Universalists (the denominations merged several decades ago) long ago grew out of Christian sects [In the U.S.,Unitarianism grew out of New England Congregationalism], the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has long since parted ways with Christian dogma and considers itself non-creedal. Individual UUs define themselves spiritually as humanists, agnostics, atheists, pantheists, panentheists, goddessians, atheists, theists, deists, and no doubt others, plus an assortment of specific religions including Buddhist, Christian, and Pagan. One survey of UUs, showed the following percentages: Humanist, 54%; Agnostic, 33%; Earth-centered, 33%; Atheist, 18%; Buddhist 16.5%, Christian, 13.1%; Pagan, 13.1 [note: since respondents were allowed to specify more than one choice, it's impossible to know whether, for example, Earth-centered and Pagan should be added together to get about 44%, or whether each of these contained some respondents choosing both]. At the very least, according to these figures it is just as valid to characterize UUism as Pagan as it is to characterize it as Christian. IOW, it is neither.)
The editors go on to review the roles of first wave feminists "Matilda Jocelyn [sic] Gage" and "Elizabeth Cady Stanton" in pointing out the relationship of politics and religion and assert:
From the beginning, feminist Christianity has been and remains a political as well as a religious movement.This is followed by a summary of the history of feminist Christianity from the 1960s to present, which includes the statement:
Feminist Christianity is but one religious approach. Feminists in Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, pagan, and Wiccan traditions are exerting similar pressures in their circles. Religious pluralism is a given in the United States such that the new gold standard for feminist work in religion is multireligious.(You may notice that "pagan" is the only religious path not given an initial cap in the above quote. A typo? My guess is no, but neither do I think it's an intentional slight. Blogger Hecate has had much to say about Pagan and Paganism not being granted an initial cap by the press and others, and I agree with her and capitalize it when I write. However, since this practice is not universal even among Pagans themselves, it's perhaps understandable that the editors weren't clear on its capitalization.)
The editors also write short intros to each of the five sections of the book which encompass Christian feminist theological visions, scriptural insights, ethical agendas, liturgical and artistic frontiers, and ministerial challenges.
The book's first essay is "A Postcolonial Feminist Vision for Christianity" by Kwok Pui-Lan, professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at Episcopal Divinity School. Pui-Lan begins:
You may wonder whether Christianity has any future, since membership in mainstream denominations in North America and Europe has been in decline, and the churches seem to care for nothing else except human sexuality.Pui-Lan writes that this demographic shift to the global south "affects what a new feminist Christianity would look like." Her essay touches on feminist Christianity in Latin America, Asia, and Africa and asserts the importance of developing rituals that will "honor our bodies and rejuvenate our souls."
Next is Rosemary Radford Ruether's "Feminist Theology in Theological Education." Ruether, author of 40 books, the most influential of which is probably Woman-Church, teaches at Claremont Graduate University and is an emerita professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union. She begins her essay:
In the 1960s feminist theology did not exist. A small but growing number of women worldwide began to invent it.She names several feminist theologians of that beginning time, including herself, who were influenced by the civil rights movement. However, she goes on to say, what they were unable to do was to actually "speak for black (or Latina or Asian) women's experience." Writing about spiritual feminism in the especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Reuther writes:
The Christian context of feminist theology also saw its critics. Carol Christ and Naomi Goldenberg embraced the Wiccan religious perspective that saw Christianity itself as part of a history of patriarchal religion, beginning sometime in the fourth millennium BCE, which had repressed an earlier religious worldview based on an immanent, earth-centered Goddess.Ruether's intent here may have been to be inclusive. Nevertheless, to me this characterization of the influences on Carol P. Christ's and Naomi Goldenberg's works is misleading. To say they "embraced the Wiccan perspective" gives the impression that "Wicca" is the main—or even only—influence on these two authors. The perspective Ruether describes regarding Goddess veneration before 3,000 BCE is not specifically "Wiccan." Rather it is a point of view accepted by non-Wiccans (like me), who are familiar with archeological and anthropological findings substantiating it. Carol Christ received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale. To me, the views reflected in her work (for example, her still-relevant and profound 1978 essay, "Why Women Need the Goddess"; two anthologies she co-edited with Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow, as well as her more recent books, including She Who Changes, a melding of Goddess thought with process theology ) reflect influences on her work other than "Wicca." Further, as far as I can tell, the influence on Christ was not Wicca in general, but rather feminist forms of Witchcraft (as propounded in the ‘80s and earlier by, for example, Starhawk and Z Budapest). Other important influences on Christ's work appear to be her own study and analysis of Christianity, feminism in general, Jewish and Christian feminisms, and the work of archeologist Marija Gimbutas. Why mention Wicca and not mention these? Similarly with Naomi Goldenberg, another Yale Ph.D., who currently is a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa: In her 1979 book, Changing of the Gods, although Goldenberg drew from the work of feminist Witches, she also was influenced by both Christian and Jewish feminism as well as strands from other religions and Jungian psychology (she also refuted some Jungian concepts). Why not mention those? Ruether does list of several of Carol Christ's works, as well as the work of Starhawk, whom Ruether refers to as a "Jewish Wiccan priestess," and credits them with influencing both American and European feminists. She then goes on to discuss the contributions of Christian feminist Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a number of Latina and Asian Christian feminists, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu feminists. She also refers to the rediscovery of "earlier feminist religious writings that were unknown to us in 1970" including those of Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Quaker Margaret Fell, the Shaker tradition that considers Mother Ann Lee to be a Christ figure, and the religious critiques of first wave feminists. She then assesses "the status of feminist theology and feminist women in theological education today," appearing to include "Unitarian" among the Christian denominations, per Hunt/Neu. Near the close of her essay, she alerts us:
Women wrote theological critique in the past and it was forgotten. It is crucial that the work that has been done in our time not suffer the same fate.The next three essays are by Latina feminists. "Latina Feminist Theology," by Nancy Pineda-Madrid, an assistant professor of theology at Boston College, gives a fascinating history of Latina Christian theology and theologians beginning in the 1980s, and explains why they prefer to be called Latinas rather than "Hispanic" and other terms. She discusses the difference between "patriarchy" and "kyriarchy," and their relevance to the Latina experiences and theories, and then explores three topics of focus particularly for Latina theologians: suffering from violence, immigration issues, and cultural diversity. She also explains marianismo, which promotes the veneration of Mary in a way that persuades women that the path to "superiority" is to be submissive and invisible.
In her essay, "Crossing Borders," Wanda Deifelt, associate professor of religion at Luther College, writes:
As a Brazilian teaching in the United States, I find myself constantly crossing borders. . . .These borders, she continues, are not just geopolitical, but also include borders between theory and practice, activism and academia, and "North Atlantic and Latin American theology." She uses the metaphor of border-crossing throughout her essay, exploring feminist Christianity in academia, and both in and outside of churches.
"Analysis, Interconnectedness, and Peacebuilding in a Just World," by Maria Pilar Aquino, professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego, and at one time a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School, begins:
No future is possible without justice for women. No future is possible without human rights for women. . . . No future of feminist Christianity can flourish without a just world.She thus introduces the major theme of her essay, that fair treatment of women and justice in other sociopolitical interactions are interwoven with feminist Christianity, and with a peaceful world, since peace is the outcome of a just world.
"Race, Class, Gender Sexuality" by W. Anne Joh, associate professor of theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, focues on the importance of including in "feminist theological vision" gender, race, sexuality, class, and globalization. Joh discusses how these are interwoven. For example, in her discussion of sexuality, she writes:
Not only are other racialized and gendered people then constructed as non-heterosexual, but so too are those of other religions constructed by heteropatriarchal ideology as sexually deviant.Rather than building "unilateral global feminist theologies," she advocates building coalitions across differences.
I found this section's closing essay, "Why We Need Evangelical Feminists," to be one of the more riveting in this engrossing book. Letha Dawson Scanzoni, an independent scholar and author, points out that evangelism and fundamentalism are not synonymous, and traces the difference in the shifting place of women in evangelical denominations over the years. She discusses efforts to discredit her work by other evangelicals, describes a number of different groups of evangelical feminists, including a split between the more progressive Evangelical Women's Caucus (EWC) and the Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) which split from EWC after EWC affirmed the rights of lesbians and gay men. To explain why she thinks "evangelical feminists have an important role to play in the overall mission of feminist Christianity," she expands upon a previous 3-stage theory of social movements (awakening, building, influence) to a 5-stage cycle, which "happens over and over again." These stages are awakening, building, catalyzing change, backlash, awakening again. She describes the relationship of each stage to evangelical feminism. I found very interesting her attitude that the emergence of opposition and even backlash is a positive facet of this process.
The second section opens with "Where Are You Really From? An Asian American Biblical Scholar Reflects on Her Guild" by Gale E. Yee, author and professor of biblical studies at Episcopal Divinity School. A third generation American, she uses the perception of "otherness" as a way to approach the shifts in feminist biblical scholarship, one of which lead to "the startling discovery that the Bible is open to multiple interpretations, just like any other work of art." She goes on to discuss her feeling of being an outsider at a 1989 meeting of Christian feminists:
It was an explosive occasion during which black feminists confronted white feminists with their racism, and white feminists were plagued with white guilt. Everyone was weeping. I was crying too but for different reasons. . . .I belonged to neither group, black nor white. . .Yee later uses this experience to understand Asian-American blblical interpretation and to predict the path of feminist biblical criticism in the 21st century. She encourages scholars to "leave the ivory tower," writing:
Particularly when religious discourse in our country is being held hostage by the religious right, the more we can make our work intelligible. . . the better able we will be to break this stranglehold. . . .The next essay is by Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, professor at Harvard University Divinity School, founding coeditor with Judith Plaskow of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, and author, whose most widely known book is probably In Memory of Her. Fiorenza's contribution to this book, "Critical Feminist Biblical Studies," which became one of my favorites as I read it, begins by quoting one of the passages in Proverbs that characterizes Wisdom as divine female. In this essay, she uses several newly invented words/spellings: malestream—which I read as a combination of male and mainstream; G*d—which in an endnote, she explains indicates "the brokenness and inadequacy of human language to name the divine "; the*logy—which, since it is about G*d, also needs an indication of brokenness; wo/men—which she uses to replace the generic use of "men." About this usage she writes:
Wo/men includes men, she includes he, and female includes male. . . .To use wo/men as inclusive generic term invites men to learn how to . . . experience what it means not to be addressed explicitly.Fiorenza is also credited with coining the term kyriarchy, based on the Greek kyrios (lord) to signify the interrelationship of oppression based on sex, race, class, affectional orientation, gender identity, and other biases. She writes:
Malestream historical scholarship has prioritized men's history over wo/men's, white history over history of people of color, the political history of Western domination over the history of struggles against it. thus malestream historiography has produced..."facts" about wo/men that construct wo/men's historical absence and second-class citizenship. Church teachings and religious dogmas have equally relegated women to the fringes. . .She believes she has found a history within Christianity that moves women to the center. She explains two feminist frameworks she has proposed for "reimagining" Christian beginnings, and warns against following "the androcentric and kyriocentric" Jesus-centered qualities of the Gospels that make "an elite man" the center of attention and define "wo/man in relation to him as either subordinate or secondary." She recommends instead imagining "a discipleship of equals in which Jesus was first among equals." She explains that the term "basileia of G*d" reflects "a Jewish religious-political vision" that expresses freedom from domination and is common to a variety of groups in "first century Israel." This framework includes 4 assumptions: (1) "anti-Judiasm is contrary to feminist Christian the*ology. . . . (2) "who Jesus was and what he said can only be glimpsed. . . . "; (3) the "emancipatory movement of Galiliean Jewish wo/men" should be understood as part of a variety of similar movements that "in the first century fought for the ‘liberation'of Israel from imperial exploitation"; (4) the "variegated, predominantly Galilean, movement in which Jesus and Mary of Magdala had leadership may have understood itself as a prophetic movement of Divine Wisdom. . . . The discipleship of equals is thus best understood as a Wisdom/Sophia movement. . . ." And with this my mind goes back to her opening quote from Proverbs 9.
The next contribution, "Inclusivity and Distinctions," is by Surekha Nelavala, who received her doctorate from Drew University. Nelevala, identifies as an Indian Dalit and holds that future feminist scriptural work "must keep people and justice at the center." In discussing the status of Dalit women, she uses the combination of milk and water an a metaphor for the type of uniting in which one element loses its identity, and the metaphor of a salad to represent the way combining can retain identity and be inclusive. She discusses how a feminist interpretation of the Bible might be helpful to (originally Hindu) Dalit women because it could provide "a forum for the issues of Dalit women to be discussed by hearing the stories of Dalit women."
In "The Future of Feminist Scripture Studies," the last essay in this section, Shelley Matthews, an ordained Methodist minister and associate professor of religion at Furman University in South Carolina, writes from the view of a "teacher of undergraduates in...a region where a fiercely kyriarchal reading of biblical texts holds sway." Like Fiorenza, she uses the term "wo/men," with, I assume, the same intent, in her several recommendations for ground rules for future feminist Scripture studies. Matthews would include some texts not presently included in the Christian Bible, such as the Gospel of Mary and the Acts of Thecla. She notes, however that these writings have kyriocentric viewpoints. She writes that
While forward progress is possible, it is not inevitable. What is inevitable, at least in the place where I stand, is kyriarchal resistance to feminist work.From her observations, she feels that the most difficult "roadblock" to remove may be the doctrine of wifely submission.
Part III of this book, begins with Traci C. West's "What Does Antiracist Feminist Christian Social Ethics Look Like?" One of the first black women to be ordained in the United Methodist Church and now a church elder and professor of ethics and African American studies at Drew University Theological School, West speaks to both feminist and womanist ethics. One of her focuses is encouraging a more adequate response to violence against women of color of all sexual orientations and gender identities. She also encourages a wider base for womanist and feminist Christian ethics, which, she writes, "must now find a mode of articlulation that allows for the possibility of consultations with Hindu, Sikh, or Muslim women. . . ." She advocates liberating social ethics, taking into account both "universal" aspects, such as crossing cultural boundaries, and "particular" aspects such as "the intimate violence against impoverished U.S. immigrant women," and "incidents . . . perpetrated in foreign nations by male U.S. military and civilian contractor personnel against local women." She hopes that Christian ethicists will recognize the
long, troubling history of global struggles where Christian culture supremacy has been wielded as a strategic weapon. This history includes claiming Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament of Christianity and a Jewish man as God, while committing genocide against Jews, Muslims, and indigenous peoples all over the globe in the name of the Christian man-God.West includes bisexuality and transgender identity among the issues with which feminist Christians should be concerned in expanding "previous feminist assumptions about the immutable, singular nature of women's gender identities and sexual orientations."
"Trans-forming Feminist Christianity" by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott neatly follows. Mollenkoff, a retired university professor of Milton and 17th century poetry, begins her essay by quoting from one of my favorite poems by 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty." She writes that Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, was "a closeted gay man," and probably also transgender (by current understanding) because he disliked being called by his middle name. She says "Pied Beauty" acknowledges
that in all our uniqueness we are embodiments of a Creator who likes diversity so much that She created all sorts of spotted, freckled, in-between, counter-expectation, original, unusual and strange landscapes and creatures.Raised a Protestant fundamentalist, Mollenkott now considers herself a left-wing or progressive evangelical, identifies as transgender and includes a discussion of Hermaphroditus, offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite. She writes:
Our society desperately needs healing from its illusion that there are only two "opposite" sexes, male and female. . . .humankind exists on an ever-changing continuum, with varying degrees of masculinity and femininity, maleness and femaleness. . . . I hope that trans-formed feminist Christianity will support everyone's right to wholeness . . . .and proposes ways this might be done, including an end to banning "nongenetic women," such as transwomen and some intersexuals from women's events, and ceasing to withdraw support "from lesbians as they decide whether to transition into transmen." She gives examples showing that "both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are far more LGBTQ-friendly than anyone had heretofore imagined," and a discusses other well known historical persons who were likely/possibly LGBTQ.
Seeking Justice and Healing" by Marie M. Fortune introduces "Violence against Women as an Agenda for Feminist Christianity." Fortune, ordained in the United Church of Christ, is founder of the FaithTrust Institute which addresses sexual and domestic violence and is author of several books on the subject. Her essay beings in the 1970s when women began to come forward to tell about domestic violence but were ignored by many male theologians and pastors. When she was a young pastor she realized it was unacceptable
that many battered women and children heard justification of their abuse preached from the pulpit. . . .that clergy husbands were sometimes the abusers. . . . that Scripture was casually used to deny women and children the right to say "no" to abuse. . . .Though she recognizes changes have in the last 40 years, she maintains that violence still is "a shared experience of women of every ethnicity, class, age, sexual orientation, ability and faith tradition." She sees as parts of the problem Christian "Atonement Theology," which holds that since Jesus suffered and died on the cross, his followers should accept pain and suffering, and that the burden to forgive is solely the responsibility of those who have suffered, rather than the perpetrators of the suffering. She writes:
In Judaism the burden rests with the one who causes harm. . . . sins against one's neighbor (or intimate partner) are not pardoned unless the offender compensates the victim and apologizes. . . .The teachings of Jesus . . .are congruent with the teachings of Judaism on this issue.But among Christians today, she continues, forgiveness is placed in a framework of "forgive and forget," which is not bibilical. She then outlines the harm caused by passing the responsibility from the person causing harm to the person being harmed.
The next essay, "Feminist Theo-ethics in Remix Culture" by Rachel A. R. Bundang, a Asian/Pacific-American Roman Catholic ethicist who teaches at the Marymount School in New York City, presents three areas she considers important for the future of Christian ethics and uses as metaphor a term from hip-hop, "remix," which refers to a DJ's combining music from various artists into a "new musical experience." Among the items Bundang says should be remixed are increasingly complicated differences among generations, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations and other categories of feminists; and understanding the structural violence of empires. She suggests that the "anti-imperial rhetoric in early Christianity and the Christian Scriptures" be brought "to bear on how we think about and address structural violence. . . ." Also part of this remix would be the concept of "personhood," which includes acknowledging the importance of the body.
The final essay of this section, "Searching for An Ethic" by Kate M. Ott, explores "Sexuality, Children, and Moral Agency." Ott, an ethicist, activist, educator, and author, advocates for a way to educate children about sex that is both "sufficiently complex" and "realistically simple." She disagrees with the approach of many Christian churches which accept sex only within marriage and withholds information due to abstinence-only education or silence. She writes that children and youth are suffering from these attitudes which foster "sexual abuse and violence, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, poor body image, and growing rates of HIV. . . .", and that those who are suffering most are "poor girls of color." She calls for a feminist approach that both breaks the silence about sex and "expands the notion of how our sexuality develops. . . ." including not limiting sex and gender to a male/female, masculine/ feminine binary and to claiming that God ordained heterosexual, male dominant relationships. Further,
. . .we should not immediately seek to shove intersex babies or gender-variant children into one category or another. . . . "nature" gives us a wider sexual and gender diversity than we had originally conceived. And, "nurture" seems to matter most with respect to acceptance of individual sense of self and fostering relationships that model love and justice.Based on these observations, she then proposes a sexual ethic for children and youth.
Liturgical and Artistic Frontiers
The opening essay of this section, Jeanette Stokes' "The Feminist Face of God: Art and Liturgy" was for me one of the most moving in this anthology. Stokes, a Presbyterian minister and founding director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South (RCWMS), begins by telling about a recent memorial service for a female clergy colleague at which the feminists were essentially shut out and shut up. She contrasts this with an example of "what ‘we' do now": an interfaith celebration she has led for at least 15 years in Durham NC in December where people sit "in a circle with candles in the center" and honor winter holidays of a variety of religions. On at least one occasion, it included "a teaching by a Zen priest, a presentation on God as Mother in the Hindu tradition," Native American songs sung by Native Americans, and a Middle Eastern dancer. Stokes recounts the beginnings of her interest in feminist Christianity in college, where she had what she calls her only conversion experience, "a conversion to feminism. . . ." Her interest in feminist Christianity began while she was a seminarian at Duke Divinity School. She recalls how women students gathered and "dared to tell one another of our personal images for God: roaring wind, mother's arms, mother, presence, lover, friend." At RCWMS conferences of women from various Christian denomination,
it became clear that the real priestesses of the women's movement were not the ministers and theologians but the artists, writers, and musicians.Stokes goes on to discuss the increase in women's spirituality groups, the publication of Starhawk's The Spiral Dance, Ruether's Woman-Church and other influential texts, and the invention of feminist liturgical forms in Judaism as well as Christianity. She recalls the anger of conservative Christians at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, which included a ritual involving milk and honey, a large mural showing a half-naked woman, and the use of a Sophia chant. In explaining where she is now regarding Christianity, Stokes writes:
. . .I choose to be a heretic, to remain within the bounds of the Christian faith, to create new forms, and explore new practices. . . .Some of my feminist colleagues have turned in their ordinations. I have no instinct to do that. I still love the religion of my childhood; it is just that when I step into it these days I tend to freeze. I do not want to say some of the words anymore.Some of the Christian practices she is no longer comfortable with include baptism, communion, forbidding certain types of art and forms of love-making, and "the focus on Jesus' suffering and dying."
In the next essay, "More Than Words," Deborah Sokolov, an artist and director of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, observes that feminist values have become evident mostly in church leadership, but also in some of the songs and prayers in mainstream Christian worship. She notes, however, that many recently ordained or soon-to-be ordained women "do not know the history and do not understand themselves as feminists" and that many of them "associate the term feminism with a kind of radicalism that is at odds with their own understanding of Christian discipleship." She tells of teaching a recent class in which she felt the students
seemed to have given not thought to what inclusive language for God might sound like. When I asked them if they would be willing to address God as anything other than Father or Lord, most of them looked bewildered or shocked, assuming that the only alternative would have been to be Mother or Goddess, which were obviously unacceptable to them.Her solution to such problems is to seek a "God that is beyond gender. . . ."
"Feminist Eucharists at Wisdom's Many Tables," by Diann L. Neu, co-editor of this anthology, opens with the quotation from Proverbs 9 as a call from Divine Wisdom to celebrate feminist Eucharists. In this eloquent essay, Neu tells us what a feminist Eucharist is, how she began this tradition more than 40 years ago, and how it has grown. After completing the same work and being "equally called" as the men in the class accepted for ordination, she and her six female classmates were refused ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. Those women were then "ordained" by the women and men who shared her spiritual community. Of this ordination, she writes:
I am called forth by my community for feminist ministry in the church of Divine Wisdom.But her call to begin feminist Eucharist might be said to have begun she during her studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley in the 1970s when the group that met in homes to celebrate Eucharist was stood up by the invited priest. The group asked Neu to conduct Eucharist and she spoke the traditional words,"This is my body. This is my blood." Though she recognized it as a breakthrough,
something did not feel right. . . . this eucharistic form did not nourish my spirit or feed my soul. The order of the liturgy did not feel alive. Its focus was death, the death of Jesus.She revised the interpretation of body and blood to include women's, added the elements of "air, water, fire, soil," but sensed something more was needed. That something was a meal. She found confirmation of this in Greco-Roman customs, early Christianity, and in Judaism, discovering that the standard eucharistic form used today didn't take shape until the 4th Century and that it originally was centered around a meal not specified as the "Lord's Supper." The essay continues with experiences at various feminist Eucharists she has attended or led, both large and small, many of them ecumenical and international in scope and discusses the implications of this practice for church, families, communities, Catholic women, and all Christians. Here is part of a quote she includes from from "Commissioning for Feminist Ministry":
Let us go forth in the name of Divine Wisdom,In "The Road is Made for Walking," Janet Walton, professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary and author of several books, gives examples of the various rituals and liturgies developed by the group she works with, the New York Liturgy Group. The liturgies often deal with specific issues such as justice, women's and bodily empowerment, rage, and abuse. She writes of the importance of language in liturgy:
The God of love and liberation,
The Goddess of power and justice. . . .
It is still common for leaders of worship to use male-biased language. . .What seems so obvious---inclusive, nonjudgmental language---continues to be resisted vehemently. . .we encourage images and language in our churches that permetuate an understanding that God is male. This is idolatry in its most formative expression.In the next essay, "This is My Body," Victoria Rue, a Roman Catholic womanpriest shows how her work and teaching in theater connect with liturgy creation. She describes "A Critical Mass: Women Celebrating the Eucharist," a public celebration in a "inner-city park," on the spot where the Oakland Cathedral collapsed in a 1989 earthquake. Before each Mass they cleaned the park and fed the homeless there. The Mass
opened with a spiral dance that charted the perimeter of the park. . .Readings were not only from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles but also from contemporary women writers. . . .Different kinds of breads and several pitchers of wine and grape juice were danced around the park. . . . Turning to one another, taking one another's hands, and looking directly at one another, we would say, "This is my body. This is my blood." For this is how we understood Eurcharist. It was an incarnation of the Holy in the Christian community, humanity itself, and in fact, all of life.She goes on to discuss signficance of her becoming a woman priest and of the Womenpriests movement.
Closing this section is Marjorie Procter-Smith's "‘The Ones Who've Gone Before Us': The Future of Feminist Artistic and Liturgical Life." Procter-Smith, author of several books and professor of Christian worship at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, opens her essay with memories to inspire the next and future generations of feminist liturgists. Among the memories are lyrics from songs she sang with groups when she was a seminarian, and the recollection of a choral reading "A Collage of Concerns," in which the participants read from church and other material and banged on pot lids with wooden spoons every time "man" or "men" was used generically in the text or when male nouns were used for the Divine. She recalls other events and important figures in feminist Christianity and sets out challenges for the next generations. She writes:
Much of the work of the early 1970s is at risk of being lost, and some is undoubtedly already lost because it was kept within women's groups, albeit often for very good reasons. But it is often the case that what we do to survive in the short run is the opposite of what we need to do to survive in the long runShe encourages making this material available in print and other media to prevent their loss even though it "is a thankless, painful, arduous task. . . ." She points out, nevertheless, that feminist Christians have brought about "significant changes" in liturgy, language for God and humans, and understanding "our mutual interconnectedness with the creatures of the Earth."
The last section of this book begins with Barbara Brown Zikmund's "Women in Ministry in a Postfeminist Era." Zikmund, ordained in the United Church of Christ, is a church historian, former president of Hartford Seminary, and taught in a number of theological schools. As far as I could tell, she doesn't think we are presently in a "postfeminist era"; rather she envisions what such an era might be like. First she reviews the past several decades of Christian feminist progress. She writes that
definitions of ministry and the meaning of ordination have changed. . . .The language of "feminism" is fading, but feminist values have infiltrated our society and are supported by most women and men—even when they eschew all connections with "feminism". . . .New forms of church are emerging.She then goes back even further, to the beginning of U.S. history, and explains why certain forms of church, leadership, thinking, and language emerged over the centuries. She concludes by speculating about what will happen in the part of the 21st century before us, which she see as a "postfeminst era."
The next essay, "Asian American Women and Renewal of Preaching," is by Eunjoo Mary Kim, a Presbyterian minister of Korean heritage, associate professor of homilectics and director of the doctorate of ministry program at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She recalls that while studying for her Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1991, a visiting Korean male minister told her that she had stepped out of her place by planning to preach. Five years later she became associate pastor of a Korean American Church. Ten years later the erstwhile visiting pastor's seminary invited her to preach there. Kim then reviews the history of "the place" of women in Protestant Asian American congregations, how female ministers cope, and the "significance of communal personhood" in leadership roles. She re-visions preaching as shared ministry, and gives as examples of this new paradigm. In "Balancing Power and Humility: Feminist Values in Mennonite Ministry"
In "Balancing Power and Humility: Feminist Values in Mennonite Ministry," Cynthia Lapp, a Mennonite pastor in Maryland, begins by stating:
Feminism is a Mennonite value.She admits that many Mennonites would not use the term "feminist." What she means is that in her view, many Mennonite values are consistent with feminist values. She outlines how Mennonite women become ministers, the reluctance of Mennonite women to identify as feminist, and her own mother's "struggle in the church." She contrasts her parents' positions in the church—her mother as songleader, her father as pastor—with her own current position as lead pastor with a male associate pastor in charge of music. And she discusses the importance of "humility" as a source of power in the Mennonite faith and its effect on feminist identity and values.
"Our Voices Loud and Clear," by Eleanor Moody-Shepherd, focuses on the womanist movement among African Americans. A Presbyterian minister, Moody-Shepherd is vice president of academic affairs, academic dean and professor of women's studies at New York Theological Seminary. She writes that
self-identification as a womanist is still primarily the language of the academy. Most women in the black church still do not fully identify with womanist theology even while they are using the language and strategies developed by womanist scholars and practitioners.Her essay is based on the opinions of female ministers in the New York City area. According to Moody-Shepherd, particularly when they are "heads of household, single or divorced," these women feel they are living their lives "under clouds of suspicion," experiencing "loaded questions about their morality" based on "codes of abstinence" and the double standard that expects women in the ministry to forego sex until marriage. She presents inspiring stories of 3 categories of women represented in her essay. She describes women in the first category as having been "steeped in their tradition to such an extent that their minds have been colonized by patriarchal ideology and culture." Those in the second category are ministers who are trying to change traditions in which they are marginalized or excluded from full participation, often by "gate-keepers" who are other women. The third category she calls "church-hoppers," who often describe themselves as "ecumenists." She feels this group is "on the brink of organizing a new movement, and that they are waging "a not so quiet revolution."
"New Feminist Catholics" by Mary E. Hunt, co-editor of this anthology, is a strong, clear, bold statement of the situation in the Roman Catholic Church and of remedies being developed by Catholic feminists. She writes that Catholics' response to "the epidemic of priest pedophilia" has resulted in feminist work for change being taken more seriously. She continues:
I am not naive about how long it will take for the corrupt Roman Catholic kyriarchy to crumble. But the reality is that many leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have been involved in one way or another in a systemic and wide-spread problem.Countering this problem, she reviews the contributions of Catholic nuns, feminist theologians, the Women-church movement, and the Roman Catholic Womenpriests. She describes the situation in which women oppressed by the church become oppressors and gives three examples of this phenomenon. She suggests that
it is time to use new language—to leave aside the differences between clergy and lay, and instead speak of ourselves simply as "baptized Catholics," with the implication that all baptized people are priests according to the sacrament.The book's last essay is by Meg A. Riley, who, since Aug. 2010, has been senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, a Unitarian Universalist congregation without building or geographical location for people who identify as UUs, but who are unable or unwilling to affiliate with local congregations. As I noted at the beginning of this essay, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) doesn't identify itself as Christian. So I'm surprised to see a UU minister included in this anthology—unless she is one of the small percentage of UUs who identify as Christian. But she gives no indication of that in her essay, "Signs of Hope, Signs of Dismay." Nevertheless, because UUism is not tied to any dogma or biblical texts, I think Riley's contribution makes an interesting comparison to the essays preceding it. In the section of her essay devoted to "Signs of Hope," she discusses the increased number of ordained women, which in the UUA "surpassed the number of ordained men more than a decade ago." She notes the evolution of UU vision to include not only women's rights but also LGBTQ rights, and the development of an interfaith outreach program for people to use "as they respond to instances of exclusion, oppression, or violence." Under "Signs of Dismay" she includes a growing complacency among UUs, which she traces to "the absence of overt or pernicious discrimination." She feels UUs are "losing ground to hierarchy" both in the UUA and in individual churches and societies, particularly those with large congregations. Another cause of dismay is the habit of "silencing ourselves" about sexist behavior of UU leaders out of fear that speaking out will damage "the larger movement." She gives several examples of situations in which this type of self-silencing has occurred. She also claims
There is a lack of depth, focus, or momentum of feminist theology and praxis within Unitarian Universalism.Though this criticism seems to be aimed mainly at ministers, I find it odd that in this entire essay she does not mention the very influential UU feminist spirituality courses, "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven" and "Rise Up and Call Her Name," first offered as a UU adult education courses about 15-20 years ago, and the laudable efforts by Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion (UUWR) to develop an updated "Cakes" , released in 2009 and if our monthly Events Coils are any indication, being used both within and outside of UU congregations.
I think you will find reading this book valuable whether you are Goddessian, Jewish, Christian, or some other religion—or no religion. You might learn something. I know I did!
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