Caroling for Justice and Peace

Words matter. Recent events in our country show the power of words to incite prejudice and hatred. Words of love, justice, and peace have greater power. Words we sing have the greatest power to bring transformation because the music embeds the words in our memories.

This is the season of carols. We can contribute to justice and peace on earth by singing carols with words that include all genders and races. Theologian Mary Daly wrote, “If God is male, then the male is God.” I would add, “If God is white male, then the white male is God.” When we include female names of Deity and diverse races in our divine imagery, then all genders and races are held sacred.

Below is an Advent gift of several inclusive carols. Happy caroling for justice and peace!

O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb

Recording artist Shannon Kincaid sings “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb,” with pictures from various artists, to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This song symbolizes darkness as creative bounty and beauty, and connects darkness to the Sacred Feminine, empowering us to end injustice and heal the wounds of Earth. “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb” contributes to gender justice by including female names and images of the Divine. This carol also contributes to racial justice by changing the traditional symbolism of darkness as evil or ominous to darkness as creative bounty and beauty, affirming the sacred value of people of color through these positive images.

O Holy Darkness, loving Womb, who nurtures and creates,
sustain us through the longest night with dreams of open gates.
We move inside to mystery that in our center dwells,
where streams of richest beauty flow from sacred, living wells.
 
Creative Darkness, closest Friend, you whisper in the night;
you calm our fears as unknown paths surprise us with new sight.
We marvel at your bounty, your gifts so full and free,
unfolding as you waken us to new reality.
 
O Holy Night of deepest bliss, we celebrate your power;
infuse us with your energy that brings our seeds to flower.
The voice out of the darkness excites our warmest zeal
to bring together dark and light, true holiness reveal.
 
O come to us, Sophia; your image, black and fair,
stirs us to end injustice and the wounds of earth repair.
The treasures of your darkness and riches of your grace
inspire us to fulfill our call, our sacredness embrace.
 

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006)

Performed by: Shannon Kincaid

Visual Artists:

Stacy Boorn: “Mystery,” “Smokey Sky,” “Mother & Child,” “Dancing after Work at ‘Speak I’m Listening,’” “Streams,” “Sunset,” “Feather Dance,” “Sunrise Crete,” “Holy Night,” “Addis Ababa Market Vendors,” “Seeds to Flower,” and “LightDarkness” © Stacy Boorn. Used with permission http://stacy.awegallery.com/;   http://www.awegallery.com/index.php?page=artists&aid=1

David Clanton: “Garden for Good or Evil” © David M. Clanton. Used with permission.  http://www.davidclanton.com/http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Mirta Toledo: “Sophia” © 2003 Mirta Toledo, http://www.afrolatinart.com/#/mirta-         toledo/4532396991; http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/books.php#book3

Shannon Kincaid: “Oprah & Child”

Elizabeth Zedaran: “Flow”

Instrumentalists:

http://www.thecrawfishband.com/

Keyboard: Ron DiIulio

Guitar: Danny Hubbard

Bass & Percussion: Jerry Hancock

Music Producer/Arranger: Ron DiIulio

Midwife Divine Now Calls Us

One of the female divine names and images in the Bible is that of Midwife. “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me, you have been my God” (Psalm 22:9-10).  Another image of the Divine Midwife comes in Isaiah 66:9: “’Shall I open the womb and not deliver?’ says God; ‘shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?’ says your God.” The biblical image of the Divine Midwife provides an intimate picture of Divine care for us. This carol contributes to gender and racial justice by affirming the sacred value of females through naming Deity as female and by affirming the sacred value of people of color through the image of “holy darkness.”

This carol invites us to join with the Divine Midwife in bringing new life to birth within ourselves and throughout the world.

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006). Contact for permissions.

Midwife Divine now calls us forth from our safest place,
beckoning always forward out into unknown space.
She sings a birthing song
to calm our fears and help us
through days so hard and long.
 
Midwife Divine inspires us through holy darkness deep,
moving through realms of mystery to wake all dreams that sleep.
Her loving plan unfolds
as tenderly She guides us
through pathways new and bold.
 
O may we join Her labor to bring new life to birth;
crowned in Her ancient splendor, we claim our sacred worth.
Our Midwife shows the way
to worlds of love and beauty,
more than our words can say.
 

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006). For permissions, contact: www.jannaldredgeclanton.com. For additional inclusive music for all ages, see: http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/music.php

Performed by: Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (http://www.pullen.org/). Conductor: Rev. Larry E. Schultz

Visual Artists:

Stacy Boorn: “Her-Galaxy” © Stacy Boorn. Used with permission. http://stacy.awegallery.com/http://www.awegallery.com/index.php?page=artists&aid=1

Mary Plaster: “Sophia, Divine Wisdom” © 2003 Mary Plaster. Used with permission.  http://www.maryplaster.com/mary.html

Alice Heimsoth: photo of drummers and dancers, Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco (http://www.herchurch.org/) © Alice Heimsoth. Used with permission. http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/Other/Faith-and-Feminisn-Conference/20163387_3JtgVM#%21i=1593178442&k=ZFmSvRF

David Clanton: photo of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Choir, Orchestra, & Congregation © David M. Clanton. Used with permission.  http://www.davidclanton.com/http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

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A Deacon in Heaven

mother1-copy

For more than 30 years my mother, Eva Aldredge Henley, advocated for the ordination of women deacons and pastors in her West Texas Baptist church. But that still hasn’t happened. She didn’t live to see this happen—at least not on earth. One of her church friends wrote in the memorial service guest book: “She’s a deacon in heaven!”elh-32

For 90+ years Mother prayed, along with Christians around the world, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our Creator’s will for her was finally done in heaven. But why not on earth as in heaven? Why didn’t the churches she served so faithfully for so many years give her the freedom to become all she’s created to be in the divine image while she was on earth? Far too many churches still deny the divine image in women by denying them the right to be deacons, pastors, or priests.

motherpreachingAll her long life Mother was a dedicated Christian and faithful church member. She taught Sunday school for 82 years. The Sunday before she went to heaven, she even taught her class. Her class, “Any and All,” is aptly named because she not only welcomed all to her class but actively sought them out. She invited anyone she saw—from the grocery store casher to waiters at restaurants. Her class members have been of 5 different races, various ages, genders, and economic backgrounds—many who don’t feel comfortable in other Sunday school classes and churches. She lived Jesus’ words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). She ministered to a diversity of people also in her role as pastor’s wife in four churches. Like my father, she had a seminary degree and abundant pastoral gifts. Her gregarious personality, dynamic speaking voice, and exceptional leadership skills made her every bit as qualified as my father to pastor a church. But she served churches as an unpaid, untitled outreach worker, events organizer, educator, and development officer. She co-founded a missions organization and led mission trips to eight countries, including 46 mission trips to Ukraine. She raised money for missions around the world. In addition, she ministered to students for 25 years in her position as a high school English teacher.

In spite of her long, faithful service, churches did not consider her “qualified” to be ordained as a deacon or a pastor because she was a woman. They ordained men half her age and younger with far fewer gifts and far fewer years of dedicated service. They counted them worthy and qualified because they were men. But no woman, no matter how gifted or called or how faithfully she served the church, was deemed worthy and qualified—simply because she was female.

Sadly, churches’ discrimination against women is still widespread. This discrimination has consequences. In a Baptist Standard article titled “How Do Evangelicals Enable ‘Locker Room Talk’ about Women?” editor Marv Knox calls out “male-dominated patriarchal” evangelical churches who contribute to “rape culture” by treating “women as objects” instead of as “creatures of infinite worth who bear the image of their Creator.” He writes: “Women are the backbone of the church, but in most congregations, they are not allowed to exercise leadership equal with men. Few allow women to be deacons; fewer still allow them to be pastors. So, no matter how many times they tell their daughters, ‘God made you, and you can be anything God wants you to be,’ they don’t mean it. Girls and women have their limits.”

President Jimmy Carter writes in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power that “discrimination and violence against women and girls is the world’s most serious violation of human rights,” and he points out the religious basis for this discrimination and violence. “There is a system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.” A Baptist Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, Carter gives thorough biblical support for the equality of women. “There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times. The four Gospels were written by men, but they never report any instance of Jesus’ condoning sexual discrimination or the implied subservience or inferiority of  women. It is ironic that women are deprived of the right to serve Jesus Christ in positions of leadership as they did during his earthly ministry and for about three centuries in the early Christian churches. It is inevitable that this sustained religious suppression of women as inferior or unqualified has been a major influence in depriving women of equal status within the worldwide secular community.”

Churches’ discrimination against women has consequences. Our recent Presidential election is a striking example. The majority of evangelicals and Catholics voted for a man who denigrated and abused women through his words and actions, even bragging about sexually assaulting women. This majority of evangelicals and Catholics didn’t value women enough to find this candidate’s behavior reprehensible enough to keep them from voting for him. Their churches have taught them that women are not really worth that much, not worthy enough to be ordained deacons, pastors, or priests. So it’s little wonder they don’t think a Presidential candidate’s misogynist words and deeds are a big deal. And since their churches have taught them that women are not qualified and worthy to be deacons, pastors, or priests, they don’t believe a woman, no matter how qualified, is worthy to be President either. They have learned well what churches, through words and actions, have taught them about the inferiority of women.

How long, how long will churches contribute to discrimination and violence against women by denying them freedom to fulfill their calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests?

MakeVisionPlain

Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross

Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross

Now more than ever, I feel the urgency of the mission of Equity for Women in the Church, an organization I co-chair with Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross. Equity for Women in the Church is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Since the fall of 2013 this ecumenical, multicultural organization has been working towards justice and equality for women and girls. We work to tap all the unused talent and training of culturally diverse women. We advocate and network for women across denominations and cultures so that they have opportunities to fulfill their calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests. We work to change churches so they affirm the divine image in women and girls as making them worthy and qualified to be included as equals in every aspect of ministry. Love demands it. Scripture teaches it. Jesus modeled it.

 

As a “deacon in heaven,” Mother continues to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—our Creator’s will for women to have equal freedom to become all we’re created to be. I’d like to believe that as Mother now has this freedom in heaven, she may be able to help make it so on earth.

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“A Paradigm Shift”: Women of Spirit and Faith Fall Newsletter

wsflogo

Kathe Schaaf

Kathe Schaaf

Kay Lindahl

Kay Lindahl

My good friends Kathe Schaaf, Kay Lindahl, and others in the Core Circle of Women of Spirit and Faith give us an inspiring message about “a paradigm shift that will embrace women’s leadership and strength.” This shift is happening because “both men and women are standing up for the dignity and respect of all women.” Read the full message in their Fall Newsletter.

womenspiritfaith

Women of Spirit and Faith

FALL NEWSLETTER 2016 

 www.WomenOfSpiritAndFaith.org
 
Enjoy the book  
 

Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership
Available from Amazon and SkyLight Paths. 

Now in Paperback!

Book cover

SPECIAL PREVIEW! 

 READ THE INTRODUCTION!

Inspiring Videos  

 Enjoy these inspiring videos created for WSF by Alison Fast with grants from Odyssey Networks.

 

 

Kay Lindahl

Ayesha Mattu

Laura Paskell-Brown

Valarie Kaur

Courtney Martin

Adelia Sandoval

Kathe Schaaf and WSF 

Women of Spirit and Faith offers a safe and sacred space where women can explore the edges of women’s spiritual leadership. This vibrant community of intergenerational women from diverse spiritual traditions is engaged in a bold experiment to discover new ways of doing things that are in alignment with feminine principle, always remaining open to guidance from Spirit.wsf_dec2014slider4d

 

Hello to our lively community of Women of Spirit and Faith,

It feels really important to reach out to all of you … to take a pause to reflect together for a moment on the cusp of our Presidential election here in the U.S.

First, and most importantly, please exercise your hard-won right to vote. In fact,you still have a few days to take advantage of early voting which is available in most counties.

Kathe Schaaf and Kay Lindahl were recently asked to review a remarkable book – Women, Religion and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen, edited by Susan Hayward and Katherine Marshall, for an upcoming issue of The Interfaith Observer which will be available online November 15 at http://www.theinterfaithobserver.org/.

The courage and stamina of the women profiled in the book inspired this reflection on the ‘movement moment’ opening up for us now as women:

As we write, we are living in an amazing moment in the United States, when demeaning and sexist attitudes toward women are being illuminated. Social media is buzzing, and both men and women are rising up in a myriad of ways to demand a paradigm shift that will embrace women’s leadership and strength.

But what does that shift look like? And why does it seem so hard to step into doing things in a new way? Dena Merriam begins to explore this dynamic in her chapter about women and peacebuilding. “We have seen in women political and business leaders that women who achieve positions of power have had to compete so intensely that they often follow the same behavioral patterns as their male counterparts.”” (p. 111). She continues by wondering what would change if half the world’s religious and political leaders were women, who have demonstrated globally that they are more likely to weave the needs of families and children into their decision-making. We join her in curiosity about what women’s leadership might look like if women felt safe enough to step out of old patterns of hierarchy and began to experiment with new forms and structures.

What we see happening at this potential movement moment is that women are breaking through the code of silence that has been our pattern for survival. We are finding out that when one courageous woman speaks out she is no longer alone. Both men and women are standing up for the dignity and respect of all women. We can reclaim our voices and our wisdom. As we step into the opening created by this conversation we look for possibilities, not problems; we pay attention to the questions arising – seeking to open up rather than close down; and we listen before we speak. This is how the shift happens.

We encourage you to breathe in the most powerful message of this book, one that is being lived into by women around the globe as they do their diverse work on behalf of a better world:

We are here – now.

We are not going back and we are not going away.

We are awake and alive, passionate and skilled.

We are the good news that many of you

have been waiting for.

We are so grateful to be in community with you.

Women of Spirit and Faith Core Circle

Kathe Schaaf

Kay Lindahl

Anne Fitzgerald

Mohini Mundy

Laura Paskell-Brown

Alison Fast

Originally published in Women of Spirit and Faith Fall Newsletter 2016. Reposted with permission.
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Workers’ Rights Event

workersrightsworkers-rightsThe Dallas Workers’ Rights Board hearing this fall brought hope and challenge.

The Workers Defense Project, one of the organizations in collaboration with the Dallas Workers’ Rights Board, has achieved many victories. Among these are recovering more than a million dollars in back wages for low-wage workers, training thousands of low-wage workers about their employment rights, monitoring construction sites to ensure fair working conditions and workers’ compensation, contributing to the creation of a nationwide safety program for workers, and co-founding the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Rev. Diana Masters

Rev. Diana Masters

Rev. Diana Masters, pastor of Warren United Methodist Church, challenged all of us gathered at the Workers’ Rights hearing to be voices for voiceless workers who suffer injustices. Throughout her talk she connected unjust treatment of workers today with the Egyptian Pharoah’s ordering the Israelites to make bricks with no straw (Exodus 5:6-18). “There are many Pharoahs today,” she said. These current-day Pharoahs make people produce products without the resources they need. Current-day Pharoahs make people work every day without healthcare, without needed equipment, without fair wages. Many people work 55 hours or more a week without minimum wages and benefits. “Our society continues to ask people to make bricks with no straw,” Diana said. “That’s why we need to stand up for them and work in solidarity with them.”

Herb Keener

Herb Keener

Herb Keener, from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) labor union, spoke on the pay gap between CEOs and workers and the connection between racial and economic injustice. He referred to the book Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice by Les Leopold. In 1970 in the US, the ratio of pay between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker was 45 to 1. Today it is 829 to 1. Herb also illustrated the intersection of racism and economic injustice. A Pew Research Center study revealed the disparity in wealth (household median net worth) by race and ethnicity: white—$141,900; African American—$11,000; Hispanic—$13.700. wealthgroupEven without finishing high school, whites on average have more wealth than African Americans or Latinos/as with college degrees.educationwealth

 

Victoria Neave

Victoria Neave

Dallas attorney Victoria Neave brought hope and challenge together in her talk. Growing up in the barrio in Pleasant Grove, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college. Her dad came to the US as an immigrant with a sixth grade education and a dream of a better life for his family. Victoria says she received this message from him: never forget where you came from. In high school she became involved in civil rights advocacy groups, including League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). She went to law school so she could fight for justice in the courts. At Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Victoria worked for comprehensive immigration reform. She started her own law firm and serves in community groups to continue to stand up for those without a voice. She is Vice President of the Board of La Voz del Anciano which serves the elderly population of Dallas and serves on the board of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association. She is currently running for Texas State Representative, hoping to have the opportunity to write legislation and advocate for laws that benefit working families. At the Workers’ Rights hearing she spoke about raising wages, especially working for equal pay for women. She lamented the inequities in women’s wages: white women make 79 cents for every dollar made by white men; African Americans women make only 59 cents for every dollar made by white men; Latina women make only 44 cents for every dollar made by white men. Also, Victoria spoke about expanding Medicaid that would also add thousands of jobs, and increasing funds for the college education of low-income students. Education, she said, helped her out of poverty, and so she wants to make education available for everyone.

jobswithjusticeThe Dallas Workers’ Rights Board also collaborates with North Texas Jobs with Justice to bring change that benefits workers by combining communications strategies and solid research and policy advocacy with grassroots actions and mobilization. Jobs with Justice brings together labor, community, student, and faith voices to improve workers’ lives and shape the public discourse on workers’ rights and the economy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Developing A Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament,” workshop presented by Mark M. Mattison at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Mark M. Mattison

Mark M. Mattison

One of the workshops I wanted to attend at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, but couldn’t because of a schedule conflict, was “Developing a Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament,” presented by Mark M. Mattison. I’m grateful, however, for the opportunity to read the transcript of his presentation that he generously provided for publication in Christian Feminism Today. Now I’m sharing this opportunity with you.

It’s been a joy to get to know Mark through the Christian Godde Project, which he co-founded, and through Christian Feminism Today. One of the most ambitious initiatives of the Christian Godde Project was the development of a Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament. Mark served as one of the editors of this new version. An independent writer and astute scholar, Mark describes himself as a “pro-feminist man and aspiring feminist ally.” In my interactions with him, I’ve found him to be a strong feminist ally. Mark’s fascinating story is included in my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World and on my blog.

DFV copyThe Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament is a much-needed version among the myriad Bible versions with exclusively male references to the Divine. I’m delighted to use it and to recommend it to others. It’s wonderful indeed to see “Mother,” “She,” and other female references to Deity included in this new version.

The editors have been generous to provide the Divine Feminine Version free online, and to give paperback copies to all those who attended the Christian Feminism Today Gathering. I share Mark’s hope and prayer “that this translation will provide a much-needed tool to integrate the Divine Feminine within the church.”

Below is the transcript of Mark’s presentation at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering: LogoTrans

“The problem of language and gender is perhaps nowhere more pronounced in Christian faith communities than in the experience of reading authoritative scripture. Gender-inclusive hymns and liturgies are a critical step toward addressing feminist concerns in the experience of worship, but when it comes to the reading of scripture a fundamental disconnect is often unavoidable. Fortunately, many contemporary Bible translations address the problem of masculine generic language by using gender-inclusive strategies instead. Translations like the Contemporary English Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and Today’s New International Version avoid the masculine generic, often by either changing singular pronouns to plural, rendering third-person singular references as second-person, and in some cases employing the still somewhat grammatically controversial ‘singular they,’ as well as the obvious move away from terms like ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ in favor of more appropriate terms like ‘human,’ ‘humankind,’ ‘mortals,’  and so on. But when it comes to language about God, even Bible verses which are otherwise gender-inclusive usually disappoint. We almost always encounter the God of the Bible as ‘Father,’ ‘he,’ ‘him,’ and so on, rarely as ‘Mother’ (only in some metaphors) and never as ‘she.’

In the Women’s Biblical Commentary, Sharon H. Ringe directly addresses this pressing issue. She writes that:

‘A theological issue of great importance in feminist interpretation that was not addressed by the translators of the NRSV is the problem of language about God. All pronouns referring to God in that translation are masculine singular. The explanation given is that these pronouns (or verb endings, as pronouns are often conveyed in Hebrew) are found in the original languages and that therefore the translation is accurate. In both Greek and Hebrew, however, all nouns have grammatical gender, which governs the gender of pronouns used to refer to the nouns. In that sense, those languages are like such modern languages as Spanish, where, for example, “table” (la mesa) is a feminine noun, requiring a feminine pronoun (ella, “she”). If one were translating from Spanish to English, however, where pronouns convey biological and not merely grammatical gender, the pronoun that refers to “table” would be translated with the neuter “it.” The same freedom prevails in rendering pronouns from Greek or Hebrew. Thus, the decision about which pronouns to use for God is one that cannot be made on grammatical grounds alone. It is a theological decision, and one whose resolution affects the way one views God. An interpretive decision that many women make is not to use any pronouns to refer to God (simply to repeat the word “God” or to use the unvocalized “G-d”), thus conveying the theological affirmation that God is beyond human categories of gender.’ [1]

Two contemporary Bible versions exceed all other gender-inclusive Bibles by employing that very strategy. The most well-known version, The Inclusive Bible by Priests for Equality, [2] judiciously avoids divine masculine pronouns, usually by rendering the text in such a way as to make pronouns unnecessary. A less elegant but more precise approach is taken by An Inclusive Version: The New Testament and Psalms, [3] a lightly revised version of the New Revised Standard Version which replaces divine pronouns with the word ‘God’ or ‘Christ.’ Of course there are other problems these versions have to address, such as the use of the word ‘Father,’ which they manage with different strategies. The Inclusive Bible uses the awkward phrase ‘Abba God’ and An Inclusive Version often replaces ‘Father’ with ‘God,’ although in texts where ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ language is more ubiquitous, particularly in John’s Gospel, it pursues the more bold strategy of using the term ‘Father-Mother’ to balance out gendered language. However, while mitigating the impact of divine masculine language, these versions don’t move very far toward balancing out gendered divine language with divine feminine terms. The term ‘Father-Mother’ is a notable exception, providing more balance (although awkwardly; one of those terms has to come first in the phrase, and why should it be ‘Father’ instead of ‘Mother’?). Another notable exception in The Inclusive Bible involves the pronouns for the Holy Spirit, consistently described as ‘she’ rather than ‘he.’ But for the most part God remains gender-neutral.

Another problem we may note about the approach of these gender-neutral Bible versions is that although they may be considered gender-inclusive, they could just as well be regarded, at least to some degree, as gender-exclusive. That is, rather than include feminine-gendered language alongside masculine-gendered language in an effort to find balance and inclusion, they simply eliminate gender altogether. ‘Fathers’ and ‘mothers’ often become just ‘parents’ and ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ just ‘children.’ In An Inclusive Version, Jesus is often inelegantly ‘the child of God.’ But people aren’t just parents or children or people; they’re women, men, transgender; people have gendered identities which need to be affirmed and supported. Why not reflect that diversity in the text of scripture, including texts with divine pronouns?

Because of all those concerns, but particularly because of our need to be nourished by gender-inclusive divine language and the healing love of the divine Mother, four other editors [4] and I collaborated to engage in what we regarded as an essential project, the development of the first-ever Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament. Divine feminine translations of scripture aren’t new; our work was preceded by divine feminine versions of the Book of Psalms, Marchiene Vroon Rienstra’s Swallow’s Nest [5] and Dr. Laura M. Grimes’ Sophia’s Psalter, [6] a more literal divine feminine version.

As a pro-feminist man and aspiring feminist ally, I worked together with the feminist scholars Rev. Shawna R.B. Atteberry and Dr. Grimes, among others, to reimagine the entire New Testament text in a way that builds upon the feminist theological vision of scholars like Elizabeth Johnson. Imagine a New Testament which doesn’t just use words like ‘Abba God’ or ‘Father-Mother’ (or more usually, just ‘God’), but words like ‘Mother.’ What would our encounter with scripture be like? How might that nourish us and impact our spiritual lives? Those are the questions that drove us as we worked from one end of the New Testament to the other.

Of course we were confronted with innumerable problems and questions as we worked through the text. We understood that our task had to be about more than simply swapping out a few words and changing some pronouns. We carefully and painstakingly reviewed each text, following the United Bible Society’s Fourth Corrected Edition of the Greek New Testament. We wrestled constantly over the best strategies to deal with patriarchalism, anti-semitism, ableism, homophobia, and other social concerns. The Inclusive Bible and An Inclusive Version both provided considerable guidance and inspiration for many of our strategies, but often we felt we had to find our own way. As you may imagine, at times we found that certain texts were so inherently problematic that all we could do was blunt the impact somewhat in our word choice.

I’m sure time will tell how effective our editorial strategies were. We engaged in a lot of experimentation. I have no doubt that some of our strategies will ultimately be found wanting, while others, I hope, may inspire continued reflection on ways in which scripture may be reimagined in order to consistently provide increasing affirmation rather than affliction.

Before outlining some of our editorial strategies, I should note that we made the Divine Feminine Version publicly available on the internet under a Creative Commons copyright. So not only is the entire text available free of charge in both PDF and Word format, it’s also available to be edited and altered for free use by anyone and everyone. So anyone interested in the idea of a divine feminine version of scripture who nevertheless finds one or more of our editorial choices to be lacking is free to download the Word version and change the text as much as they like. You can find it all online, along with supporting essays and detailed descriptions of our deliberations.

Now about our word choices: Using divine feminine pronouns and using ‘Mother’ instead of ‘Father’ was easy. And using feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit was clearly a no-brainer. But what about Jesus? Although some feminist scholars have proposed at least androgynous depictions of Jesus, we agreed to portray the incarnate and risen Jesus in masculine terms, although we made the conscious decision to portray the preincarnate Word in feminine terms. For example, the Divine Feminine Version of John 1:3,4 states that:

All things were made through her.
Without her nothing was made that has been made.

In her was life,
And the life was the light of women and men.

And Philippians 2:7 states that she:

emptied herself,
taking the form of a bondservant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself.

But depicting the historical Jesus in masculine terms not only provided gender balance in language about ‘the Mother’ and ‘her Son,’ it also had the benefit of not reinscribing the idea of violence against women in the narrative of the crucifixion. It avoided a narrative about the divine Daughter being abducted, abused, and killed, arguably providing instead a narrative about a privileged male voluntarily laying aside his privilege in order to uplift those who are marginalized. As Elizabeth Johnson has written in She Who Is:

‘Feminist hermeneutics has blazed a trail showing how the gospel story of Jesus resists being used to justify patriarchal dominance in any form. His preaching about the reign of God and his inclusive life-style lived and breathed the opposite, creating a challenge that brought down on his head the wrath of religious and civil authority. They crucified him, but Sophia-God receives that death and transforms it to life. When the story of Jesus is told in this way, a certain appropriateness accrues to the historical fact that he was a male human being. If in a patriarchal culture a woman had preached compassionate love and enacted a style of authority that serves, she would most certainly have been greeted with a colossal shrug. Is this not what women are supposed to do by nature? But from a social position of male privilege Jesus preached and acted this way, and herein lies the summons.

Above all, the cross is raised as a challenge to the natural rightness of male dominating rule. The crucified Jesus embodies the exact opposite of the patriarchal ideal of the powerful man, and shows the steep price to be paid in the struggle for liberation. The cross thus stands as a poignant symbol of the “kenosis of patriarchy,” the self-emptying of male dominating power in favor of the new humanity of compassionate service and mutual empowerment. On this reading Jesus’ maleness is prophecy announcing the end of patriarchy, at least as divinely ordained.’ [7]

A more difficult challenge for us was how to render the word ‘Christ.’ We struggled with that one. My own preference was to use either the literal meaning ‘Anointed’ or to take a more metaphorical approach and use the term ‘Sophia’ instead. Though she declined to join our editorial team, Jann Aldredge-Clanton provided much encouragement and provided some input, suggesting we consider the term ‘Christ-Sophia.’ But what we initially ended up doing was following the lead of one of our earlier editors, Julie Sweeney, and using the term ‘Christa.’ However, some time after Julie ceased working on the project, and as Shawna and Laura and I workshopped the text by sharing it with friends and colleagues, we found the choice was not widely embraced even by many who were otherwise open to divine feminine language, so we agreed to return to the word ‘Christ.’

An even more difficult question we faced was how to render the word ‘Lord.’ At least one commenter on our weblog suggested the alternate word ‘Sovereign,’ which was also the strategy of An Inclusive Version, but we didn’t find such impersonal and imperial language to be much more appealing. We finally decided to leave the word ‘Lord’ when referring to Jesus and to use the word ‘Lady’ when referring to the Mother. Though that editorial choice didn’t expunge the concept of royalty, and though some were initially uncomfortable with ‘Lady,’ the fact that language of ‘Ladies’ and ‘Lords’ has some resonance among neopagans, and the fact that at least it preserved a balance of gendered language, made the choice palatable for us, even though the choice was far from perfect. It also presented more of a challenge when we encountered texts in which it wasn’t clear whether the word kyrios was used of Godde or of Jesus, but the policy we ended up adopting was to use the word ‘Lady’ when the subject was uncertain.

At times our team was divided. One of the more notable disagreements involved our approach to the word doulos. We were evenly split between ‘slave’ and ‘servant.’ That was one we were unable to resolve, so we ended up splitting the difference and agreeing to ‘bondservant’ as something stronger than just ‘servant’ but not as strong as ‘slave.’ However, we found strong consensus more often than not. One strategy that we consistently pursued was reinserting matriarchs back into the narrative by simply inserting their names alongside those of patriarchs, irrespective of whether their names appeared in the text. So for example in Matthew 1:1 (and elsewhere) we don’t just read that Jesus was the son of David, but that Jesus was the son of Bathsheba and David; and not just that Jesus was the son of Abraham, but the son of Sarah and Abraham. In the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 we inserted every matriarch and queen whose name we could locate in the Tanakh. Women are named much more frequently in the Divine Feminine Version.

Another of our consistent strategies was to avoid religious jargon in favor of terms that we hoped would bring out the fuller meaning of the text. For example we never used the word ‘righteousness,’ using instead ‘justice,’ which both brought out a more textured meaning of the term and emphasized its continuity with the word ‘justify.’ We used ‘wrongdoing’ or ‘offence’ instead of ‘sin,’ ‘change’ instead of just ‘repent,’ and perhaps most significantly, ‘trust’ instead of ‘faith.’ That suggestion also came from Julie, who early on pointed us to the work of Art Dewey and the Westar Institute in their work on The Authentic Letters of Paul. [8] We also avoided the word ‘church,’ using ‘community’ instead, and used ‘Torah’ instead of ‘Law’ for nomos. We experimented with many strategies.

Instead of ‘Savior’ and ‘salvation,’ we used words like ‘Life-Giver,’ ‘life,’ ‘rescue,’ and ‘healing.’ In this, again, we were not only trying to minimize religious jargon, we were trying to emphasize (and maybe even recover) a significant, positive aspect of that terminology. The Greek word itself has a wide range of meanings. To underscore this point, scholars like Gabriele Winkler have pointed out that early Syriac versions of the New Testament commonly used the word ‘life’ to translate ‘salvation’ and ‘Life-Giver’ for ‘Savior.’ [9]

We considered not only strategies for re-envisioning the texts of the canon, we discussed the shape of it too. We agreed early on not to revise the order of the books of the New Testament. But what about additional texts? Shawna and Laura agreed to the Gospels of Thomas and Mary, but not right alongside the canonical four. Personally I would have been comfortable placing Thomas between Luke and John as a bridge between the parable-laden Synoptic Gospels and the more discourse-laden Gospel of John, and placing Mary between the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts as a Gospel whose setting is post-resurrection. But the other editors preferred them in an appendix, which is where we placed them, so the Divine Feminine Version contains the canonical 27 texts plus two additional Gospels in the appendix.

Interested readers will doubtless notice many other rhetorical strategies. Though you may find some of them not to be compelling, hopefully you will find others liberating and refreshing. We cannot pretend that our interpretative choices were the only reasonable choices or even the best possible choices; undoubtedly many strategies are desirable, especially given the great diversity of readers of the New Testament. Doubtless no one size will fit all. But hopefully this work will provide some comfort, relief, and affirmation for many who yearn for a better biblical approach to gender and language, among other things.”

[1] Third edition, Westminster / John Knox Press, 2012, p. 6.

[2] The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation (Sheed & Ward), 2009.

[3] Oxford University Press, 1995.

[4] Julie Sweeney, Timothy Victor, Rev. Shawna R.B. Atteberry, and Dr. Laura Grimes.

[5] Swallow’s Nest: A Feminine Reading of the Psalms (Eerdmans), 1992.

[6] Available at http://lauramgrimes.blogspot.com/2014/06/sophias-psalter_10.html.

[7] She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (Crossroad), 1992, pp. 160,161, emphasis mine.

[8] Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, Lane C. McGaughy, and Daryl D. Schmidt, The Authentic Letters of Paul: A New Reading of Paul’s Rhetoric and Meaning (Polebridge Press), 2010.

[9] Cf. “The Origins and Idiosyncrasies of the Earliest Form of Asceticism,” The Continuing Quest for God: Monastic Spirituality in Tradition and Transition, ed. William Skudlarek, O.S.B. (The Liturgical Press), 1981, p. 26.

Mark M. Mattison, “Developing a Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament,” originally published in Christian Feminism Today.  Reposted with permission.

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