“This is What Feminism’s All About,” The Christian Feminism Today 2014 Gathering (cont.)

Abigail Pope

The Christian Feminism Today (CFT) Gathering continues to energize and inspire me. One of the fascinating people I met there in St. Louis this summer was Abigail Pope. We talked about her call to ministry, and she asked me to recommend some progressive seminaries.

This was Abigail’s first time at a Gathering, and I asked her how she found out about CFT. She told me that she’d googled “feminist theology” and “Christian feminism,” and that one of the first names that popped up was “Letha Dawson Scanzoni,” a co-founder of Evangelical Women’s Caucus, which later became Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT). Abigail then found the Christian Feminism Today website and news of the Gathering in St. Louis.

Many people, including women, still misunderstand what feminism’s all about. Popular culture and the church continue to scare people away with negative definitions of “feminism.” Abigail reflects on her experience of the CFT Gathering, and in this article she gives one of the best definitions of “feminism” that I’ve seen.

This is What Feminism’s All About

by Abigail Pope

From the moment I arrived at the registration table for the 2014 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, I knew I was in a good place with good people. I was made to feel so welcome and important. I mean the word important in a sense that the capitalist patriarchy doesn’t teach us about. I didn’t feel like I was better than anyone, or deserved special treatment. No, what I mean is, I felt like I was treated as if just being human made me valued and respectable, and none of the specifics of my status and identity could take that away. It’s how people should be treated, and it made me breathe easy, feel relaxed and free, for one of the few times in my life.

This is what feminism is all about, and it is so important to me to have found a group of people, “the sisters of summer,” who can bring that principle into the real world.

I’m new to EEWC-CFT, and I hope I’m not too forward in saying I really do feel like the people I met during the gathering; they are part of my family now. I didn’t want the weekend to be over, but now that it’s over, I can’t wait until the next one. I’m hoping everything will work out so I can go back again!

As much as I love meeting new people, making friends, and building a new family for myself, I have to admit I can sometimes be a bit of an introvert, and along with that, a big old bookworm. I have to gush about the books available at the gathering. I wanted to buy all of them! Every single one. I tried to limit myself to four, but, of course, I cheated and bought five. Each one was worth it! I haven’t read many feminist books, so finding a whole bunch on this new (and now, favorite) subject was like finding the gold at the end of a rainbow. Can you tell I’m just feeling really gleeful about owning all these new books?

Special thanks to all the authors for creating such excellent books, especially Susan Campbell, who gave a brilliant talk on Friday night, and who signed my copy of her book Dating Jesus; and Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti, whose book Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers discusses a subject that I thought a lot about during my own feminist awakening.

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/Conferences/2014#abe Reposted with permission.

 

 

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The Christian Feminism Today 2014 Gathering (cont.)

 

Ashley Cason

 

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering in St. Louis, Ashley Cason gave an outstanding presentation titled “Human Sexuality and Women in the Church: Past Policies and Future Prospects.” Among the current trends she noted is that one in three U.S. Catholics are leaving the church because of their disagreement with church policies, especially those related to women’s rights, abortion, and sexual orientation.

Ashley Cason graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 2013 where she earned her B.S. in Women’s and Gender Studies with a focus on human sexuality. The time she spent organizing events and rallies on campus to address topics of gender, class, and sexuality gave her the tenacity and tools to branch out of advocacy work and into academia. Ashley is currently earning a M.A. degree in Sociology and is using the discussions between Sociology and Feminism to develop sexuality education programs. Ashley’s passion for social justice and progress drives her dream to become a director of a non-profit organization.

 

Ashley wrote this reflection on the Gathering for Christian Feminism Today.

A Beautiful Day

by Ashley Cason

When I was asked to write a reflection about my experience attending the Christian Feminism Today 2014 Gathering, I was more than thrilled to do it, but I found myself asking several dozen times, “What do I want to write about?” Do I want to talk about the thrill of stepping into a room full of strangers to deliver my first conference presentation? Do I write about the overwhelming academic support I received from a group of professionals who saw me as a peer?

I decided to write about the love that was sent my direction in waves. I decided to write about rediscovering my faith in God. I decided to write about experiencing beautiful moments in which I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, something I had not felt in years! Thinking about all of these good times is fabulous.

But as strong as the feelings of love, support, and happiness were, I still spent a good portion of my time crying from pain and sadness. Discussing topics such as homelessness, racism, economic disparity, hate crimes, oppressive social structures, and numerous other challenging topics for an entire weekend can be taxing on even the most emotionally steadfast individual, and I am not an emotionally steadfast individual. I wear my heart on my sleeve and speak sometimes before I can think better of it. But the tears I cried served to remind me why I am now a “Sister of Summer.”

My empathy for life allows me to be passionate about the work I do but also highly cynical of the world in which I live. Small town Missouri is not exactly a mecca of social activism, and my support system is small. But in EEWC-CFT I have found a whole new group of wonderful, like-minded people to work with in the quest to achieve social justice and equality.

In St. Louis, I woke every day and shared my mantra with my sisters: “Isn’t today a beautiful day?” I share that mantra daily for the benefit of myself and others for two reasons:

(1) To remember my blessings with gratitude, including: the opportunity to receive a wonderful education, my supportive family, and the privilege to begin a career doing what I love while trying to make a difference in the world.

(2) To remember how very few people share in this kind of privilege. For a lot of people in this world, their day means surviving bomb raids, finding a place to sleep, or figuring how they are going to make it until tomorrow with no groceries and very little money. It humbles me as it breaks my heart.

I owe my best efforts to my fellow human beings, and that means trying to make a difference even when it feels like a losing battle. Every day, I think about the people who have to struggle to get by and I tell myself that it can be, and is a beautiful day.

Those who work for justice know that, while having the ability to make a difference in this world is incredible, it is also heartbreaking and exhausting. It ultimately impacts every aspect of your life. Every woman and man I had the privilege of meeting at the gathering understood the internal and external strength needed to do the work that I want to do. My tears were not only understood but also whole-heartedly supported.

The memories of my first EEWC-CFT Gathering will always be filled with the joy and love that I shared with countless beautiful people. But I will also remember the tears that led me to commit to work harder than ever to make a difference in the world. Christian feminism and EEWC-CFT have helped bring about amazing changes over the past 40 years, but there still so much more that can be done!

I loved my experience attending the EEWC-CFT 2014 Gathering and I look forward to my future with the organization, but I also dream of a world where organizations like ours have become unnecessary because the unconditional love that Christ shared with humanity prevails at last.

Until the “Sisters of Summer” meet again, I’ll keep asking myself and each one of us, “Isn’t today a beautiful day?”

Jennifer Newman, Ashley Cason, McKenzie Brown, Jacinda J. Thomas

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/Conferences/2014#ashley. Reposted with permission.

 

 


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“Let Justice Roll On Like a River!” The Christian Feminism Today 2014 Gathering

 

The annual Gathering of Christian Feminism Today in St. Louis, Missouri, was amazing beyond my expectations! For three days we celebrated the 40-year history of this organization’s work for justice and equality. For three days we celebrated the Female Divine in story, song, scholarly presentations, and group conversations. It was clear how vital She is to living the words of our theme scripture: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV)

Anne Eggebroten, one of the founding members of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT), wrote this vivid account of the Gathering, published on the EEWC-CFT website.

 Yes, We Gathered at the River: EEWC-CFT in St. Louis 

by Anne Eggebroten
 
How do you mark the passing of 40 years?  How do you celebrate a mission that began so long ago and outlived so many predictions of its demise? 

With laughter, of course.  And wonder.  And a strong sense of God’s gracious presence.

Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC), now more popularly known as EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, celebrated its 40th anniversary on June 26-29 at the Sheraton Westport Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.

I’ll start with wonder over the changes between then and now: In 1974 that archaic phrase “God the Father” was good enough for us.  Our founding mothers, Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, routinely referred to the Creator as “he” and “him” in All We’re Meant to Be. We bravely asserted that Bible-believing Christians could also be feminists—against all the messages of church and culture. Popular culture derided feminists as lesbians—and I for one tried to defend our new organization against accusations of harboring what we then called “homosexuals.”

At our gathering in 2014, language was transformed, biblical feminism was taken for granted, and support for LGBTQ folk was celebrated. The Creator/Redeemer/Comforter was most often called “Christ-Sophia,” “Godde,” “Ruach,” or “She.” Our speakers held degrees in international feminist theology or feminist theory—or they had written the books used by younger ones to earn their degrees. Two women shared news of their legal marriage in a county courthouse a few days earlier—and we all applauded with joy.

Laughter joined wonder at every turn in St. Louis. If a “Most Hilarious Speaker” prize had been awarded, Susan Campbell and Letha Dawson Scanzoni would have tied for it.  Susan regaled us with tales of her early life in small-town fundamentalism in Missouri.  To read them, see her memoir, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl. She also described accepting an invitation to defend her book at a conference of her childhood denomination, expecting to be dis-fellowshipped, but finding acceptance and reconciliation. In a sober moment Susan recalled her brother’s assessment: “Fundamentalism is like a sword that broke off in us.”  After 25 years as a columnist and feature writer for the Hartford Courant, she now co-writes Hot Dogma: The Belief Blog with former AP religion writer Tom Breen.

Letha’s humor began with her reaction in 1963 to an article titled “Women’s Place in the Church” in Eternity magazine.  She decided to write a letter to the editor, but the letter became an article and then a decision to invite a complete stranger (Nancy Hardesty) to write a book with her on women’s issues in the church, home, and society. That book led to the founding of EEWC-CFT.  After a few hilarious quotes from anti-feminist books—The Total Woman, Fascinating Womanhood, and others—Letha brought down the house by holding up her 1975 centerfold in The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine.As it turned out, Letha and Nancy’s book, All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation, was named by Christianity Today in 2006 as one of the “top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals.”

The Troubadours of Divine Bliss added to the comic-tragic depiction of the good old gospel days with a Saturday evening performance of their folk-bluegrass-gospel songs introduced by personal histories. Aim Me and Renee grew up together in a Pentecostal church in Kentucky led by their fathers.  Now they have released six albums and sing all over North America and Europe. Visit their website.

“Let Justice Roll On like a River!” was the recurrent theme at this year’s gathering near the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, echoing the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” 5:24 (NIV).

The river is indeed rolling on: a passel of young biblical feminists showed up and dazzled us with their feminist theory and passion for change.  McKenzie Brown, Ashley Cason, and Jacinda Thomas did student presentations with impressive feminist theory and historical research.

In addition, the first Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Jennifer Newman, double majoring in politics and in philosophy at George Fox University with a minor in women’s studies.

Professors Kendra Weddle Irons of Texas Wesleyan University and Melanie Springer Mock of George Fox University did the outreach that led to these young feminists connecting with EEWC-CFT.  Thank you!

Kendra and Melanie dealt shock and awe by presenting their research on oppressive teachings in fundamentalism today and the ongoing need for healing of binary oppositions based on fear.  To deconstruct these erroneous teachings on “women’s role,” they’re working on a book together.  In addition to their many publications, check out their joint blog, Ain’t I a Woman.

Another plenary speaker, Dr. Sharon Groves, works for the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the US, the Human Rights Campaign.  She shared her personal story.  Raised in a nonreligious family, she came to have a longing for God and faith; she also had a passion for justice.  Realizing that religion is behind much opposition to gay rights, she quit her tenured academic job to develop the Religion and Faith Program for the HRC. She now has conversations with Southern Baptists and others about pastoral responsibility: “What do you do if a person shows up at your church who is gender-nonconforming?” Of her work, she says, “There’s no more powerful place than right here, right now.” Her advice?  Avoid arguments that boil down to “My Leviticus is bigger than your Leviticus.” Her reason to keep going?  People like the youth pastor who told a gay young man, “Better if you got a gun and shot yourself than if you corrupt others.”

For the first time in our nearly parallel histories, Dr. Mary E. Hunt of Women-Church and WATER (the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) gave a plenary speech at EEWC-CFT.  Her talk partially filled the intellectual gap left by the first-ever absence of her friend Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, another of our founding members, from an EEWC conference (for health reasons). Mary gave us an overview of 1) the “feminist-ization” of religion, 2) backlash, and 3) next strategies.  As a Roman Catholic theologian, she is not too impressed with Pope Francis: “He hasn’t changed one thing structurally.” She’s also not too focused on women’s ordination.  “Women are entering ministry in record numbers in mainline denominations,” she notes, “but those denominations are shrinking.”  Women have low pay and low stature; they do “mop up tasks as churches decline and decay.” Fight “kyriarchy,” Mary urged us, by saying “we—not they” with Catholic and Protestant women, with Jewish and Muslim women, with women in cultures around the world.  “Together we’re a genius.”

God’s gracious gifts were evident not only in the presence of “the young ‘uns” but in the many other new-to-EEWC women.  Old timers had 25-30 new names and faces to learn; the stories and talents of these women and men gave an exciting energy to the weekend.  Thank you to Marg Herder, who made contacts at other conferences; to Letha and others, who brought friends; and to God working through search engines, which brought many to www.eewc.com.

Here’s a sampling of the newcomers:

Susan Cottrell, who wrote “Mom, I’m Gay”–Loving Your LGBTQ Child without Sacrificing Your Faith.  She introduced us to her healing ministry with LGBTQ kids, with their parents, and with churches—called to embrace all who are marginalized or oppressed.  Her husband Robert also joined us. Visit FreedHearts Ministries on the web.

Deb Vaughn, who gave a workshop on current grieving therapies. Visit her blog.

Peg Conway, whose workshop was on bringing theology to the experience of childbirth to empower women; see her website.

Paula Trimble-Familetti, who wrote Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers: Questioning Teachings about Biblical Women and presented a workshop giving voice to these women; read her blog.

Esther Emery from rural Idaho on finding our most authentic voice; she too gave a workshop and blogs at Church in the Canyon and writes for A Deeper Story.

Criselda Marquez, blogger and photographer. Visit her blog.

Besides an abundance of bloggers, EEWC-CFT has so many ordained women—another big change since 1974. Four of our women pastors brought their talents to the Sunday morning worship service: the Reverends Jan Clark (North Carolina, Baptist), Leslie Harrison (New Jersey, African Methodist Episcopal), Shawna R. B. Atteberry (Illinois, Episcopal), and Jann Aldredge-Clanton (Texas, Baptist).  There was also music performed by Vickie Bragg of Oklahoma, The Troubadours of Divine Bliss, and Marg Herder.  See Marg’s blog on the EEWC-CFT website.

God’s gracious presence shone in the hymns with inclusive-language lyrics by Aldredge-Clanton, which we sang on Sunday morning, in other plenary singing, and in her workshop.  Jan Clark led the singing with Janice Pope on the piano.  I bought the CDs and can testify that these songs sure transform Los Angeles traffic jams.  Imagine hearing “Come unto me, you weary ones, and I will give you rest…” to the tune of “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Read more about Jann Aldredge-Clanton’s inclusive language hymns here.

Back to the laughter:  Reta Halteman Finger’s workshop on violence against women in the Bible produced howls of laughter, as those of us in adjoining workshops can attest. It turns out that Reta had divided her group into clusters assigned to examine a list of passages with either violence or patriarchal attitudes.  When Jacinda Thomas, Margaret Arighi, and Barbara Branum tackled Sirach 25:13 through 26:18, they found descriptions of “an evil wife” and “a good wife,” culminating in what really counts: “shapely legs.”  Ah, the jewels in God’s Holy Word.  Formerly a professor at Messiah College, Reta now writes books and teaches part time at Eastern Mennonite University and Theological Seminary; her Reta’s Reflections blog of Bible studies from a Christian feminist perspective is on the EEWC-CFT website.

More wonder:  EEWC-CFT doing yoga first thing in the morning instead of more traditional devotions?  Led by Lisa DeWeese, this time was very peaceful and meditative—I tried it (my first yoga ever). Visit Lisa’s website, Mama Lisa Yoga.

Over the past 40 years, there have been many predictions that EEWC would not survive.  Usually the problem was financial, but our 1986 decision to support civil rights for gay people also caused some problems that seemed to point to collapse.

God’s grace and sustenance are the only reasons we are still carrying on and celebrating 40 years.  Once again, however, our budget is in the red.  Some of us have less income and are not as able to give as in the past.  Please help out by making an online donation or a monthly pledge.

Join our important work of educating and community building.  Stay in touch and reach others by blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and going to the website for news and commentary.

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/Conferences/2014#anne Reposted with permission. Photos by Criselda Marquez, Anne Eggebroten, Marg Herder, and Abigail Pope.

 

 

 

 

 


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“Our Strong and Tender God We Praise” Video

Rev. Larry E. Schultz conducts the Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in singing “Our Strong and Tender God We Praise” to a tune he composed, with pictures from various artists.

This hymn draws from the imagery in Psalm 138: 2-3, 7: “I give thanks for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.”

Scripture gives a multiplicity of divine names and images to suggest this steadfast love and faithfulness of God. Here are a few:

Mother: The Bible uses the word picture of God as a loving Mother who not only gives birth to Her children, but also comforts and nurtures them toward their full potential (Isaiah 66:13).

Father: The Bible uses the metaphor of God as a tender Father, loving and caring for his children (Psalm 103:13).

Friend: The Bible gives the picture of Jesus as a Friend to everyone (Matthew 11:19).

Divine Midwife: The Bible gives the picture of Divine Midwife to reveal God’s tender care beginning at birth (Psalm 22:9-10).

The Bible includes female, as well as male and gender-neutral, images of the Divine. But most worship services use exclusively male language and imagery for Deity. This exclusivity lays the foundation for male domination and female devaluation. Including biblical female names and images of the Divine affirms the equal value of everyone and the biblical truth that all are created in the divine image (Genesis 1:27).

This hymn, “Our Strong and Tender God We Praise,” refers to God with female pronouns. Most people still think of God as male and refer to God as “He.” Because of centuries of association of “God” with male pronouns and imagery, this word generally evokes male images. I refer to God as “She” and “Her” not because I believe that God is literally a woman, but in order to balance male with female.

Also, I balance the word “God” with female pronouns to include people of all gender identities in the divine image. Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (http://www.virginiamollenkott.com/), author of The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female and Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach and co-author of Transgender Journeys, states: “When we use the male term ‘God’ along with the female pronoun ‘She,’ we are also including the people among us who are transgender: who feel they are both female and male inwardly, or who were born intersexual, or who have crossed over from one gender to the other in order to match their inner understanding of their gender identity. . . . since Genesis proclaims both female and male to be made in the image of God, inevitably that image is inclusive of both female and male. Transgender people are often attacked, abused, and even murdered in our society; so including them as sacred beings along with women and men is important to our Christian witness.” (Christian Feminism Today, “Why I Believe Inclusive Language Is Still Important,” Responses: http://www.eewc.com/inclusive-language-still-importan)

This video comes with the prayer that it will inspire us to love all people as sacred beings and to join with God in spreading Her steadfast love, justice, and peace in our world.

Our strong and tender God we praise;
She dwells within our souls,
to strengthen us throughout our days,
and make us fully whole.
 
And when we pass through troubled lands,
no foe can bring alarm.
God stretches out Her mighty hands,
and shelters us from harm.
 
God speaks to us with gentle voice;
She hears us when we call.
Her comfort makes our hearts rejoice;
She is our all in all.
 
God’s steadfast love and faithful care
renew our hearts each day.
She gives us bold new dreams to dare,
forever with us stays.
 
Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton   Music  © Larry E. Schultz  BLACK POINT CHURCH
 
from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006). Recording © Jann Aldredge-Clanton & Larry E. Schultz, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians CD (Eakin Press, 2007). For permissions, contact: www.jannaldredgeclanton.comfor 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:

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber: “SOPHIA” © Angela Yarber. Used with permission. http://angelayarber.wordpress.com/artist/

Alice Heimsoth: two photos inside Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco (http://www.herchurch.org/); http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/gallery/258290http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/Other/herchurch-Easter-2012/22366832_Whhj3j#%21i=1792348850&k=DT4MQbt

Shannon Kincaid: “Oprah & Child” © Shannon Kincaid. Used with permission.  (http://www.shannonkincaid.com/)

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

 


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The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female, by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

 

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s The Divine Feminine and All We’re Meant to Be, by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, are the two books that have had the most profound influence on my pastoral vocation that includes writing feminist theology and worship resources. The Divine Feminine opened my mind and imagination to female divine imagery in the Bible and to the importance of this imagery to an ethic of equality and justice in human relationships. I have referred often to this book in my writing on expanding images of the Divine.

The Divine Feminine provides concise, accessible, convincing biblical support for including female names and imagery for the Divine in worship. Mollenkott makes clear that this female divine language and imagery are vital to social justice and peace: “Whereas many religious leaders lament their inability to do more to alleviate world hunger, the nuclear threat, and other economic and racial inequities, their own language is something they could control almost immediately. By recognizing the female presence in their grammatical choices, and by utilizing biblical references to God as female, they could demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to human justice, peace, and love. Mollenkott not only sounds this challenge to religious leaders but also discusses plenty of biblical female references to use: Dame Wisdom, Woman giving birth, nursing Mother, Midwife, Shekinah, Female Pelican, Mother Bear, Female Homemaker, Female Beloved, Ezer, Bakerwoman, Mother Eagle, Mother Hen, Dame Wisdom, God-in-Naomi. The Divine Feminine concludes with helpful suggestions for implementing gender inclusive language in worship and with a challenge to use the “full range of biblical imagery for God.”

It is exciting to see this outstanding book, first published in 1984 (Crossroad), now republished by Wipf & Stock with a beautiful new cover. Even though the contents are the same as in the earlier edition, this book is still timely and greatly needed. In 1984 Mollenkott wrote: “It seems natural to assume that Christian people, eager to transmit the Good News that the Creator loves each human being equally and unconditionally, would be right in the vanguard of those who utilize inclusive language. Yet a visit to almost any church on Sunday morning indicates that alas, it is not happening that way.” Thirty years later in 2014, it still is not happening. The language of litanies and hymns and visual images in the majority of churches reveal worship of a male God. Biblical female divine names and imagery are still sadly missing, and all people and all creation suffer from this injustice. This book is needed now as much as it was in 1984. Mollenkott was also ahead of her time in writing about environmental concerns and encouraging use of biblical images from the natural world to support caring for creation. She shows the intersection of social justice issues and the importance of gender inclusive language as a foundation to social justice and peace.

I highly recommend The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female to individuals and groups, laypeople and clergy. This book is ideal for use in churches, workshops, conferences, retreats, academic classes, and personal exploration. I am delighted that it is back in print in this beautiful new edition.

Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today, published this outstanding review by JoMae Spoelhof:

Blind Spots and New Vision: Virginia Mollenkott’s The Divine Feminine

Reviewed by JoMae Spoelhof

Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s book, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female, has recently been reissued, and I am eager to recommend it. It beautifully illuminates the feminine images of God as portrayed in the Bible. First published in 1984, it remains a valuable tool for glimpsing a view of the Godhead that tends to be glossed over and invisible in traditional Christianity. As Mollenkott writes, “For those who accept trinitarianism, it will be striking that all three persons of the divine triad [the Creator God; the eternal Christ; and the Holy Spirit] are depicted in feminine as well as masculine images”(p. 4).

The author guides the reader through familiar scripture passages, pointing out an underlying presence of God’s feminine face.  For people like me, raised in a deeply embedded patriarchal/hierarchal mindset, Virginia Mollenkott is a godsend.  She addresses the power of such patriarchal teaching, power to keep one from being able to see the feminine in God. She helped me grope through layers of my own blind spots to recognize that our Creator does not recoil from language referring to God’s womb or labor pains or countless other examples of identification as female, as I once believed. Our God loves us as Mother as well as Father.  And Mollenkott doesn’t just tell us this, she shows us, carefully referencing each passage that points to this truth.

Her book discusses numerous instances in the Bible where God is spoken of in feminine terms. She cites many references to God as giving birth, nursing an infant, and carrying out other maternal activities. Referring to Acts 17:28 (where Paul explains to the Athenians that God is not far from anyone for “it is in God that we live and move and exist” as God’s offspring), Mollenkott points out that “although the apostle does not specifically name the womb, at no other time in human experience do we exist within another person” than our time in our mother’s womb (p. 16).  Another motif the author examines is God as midwife, actively involved in delivering new life (chapter 6). And the whole of chapter 7 is devoted to teaching about the Shekinah, a grammatically feminine term referring to God’s glorious presence, as manifest in the tabernacle (and temple later on), and as the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day that guided the Israelites out of slavery.

Along with showing Christ’s affirming and empowering interactions with women, the book is full of both familiar and less familiar images unpacked to reveal fresh meaning, including Lady Wisdom, God as female  homemaker, the bakerwoman God, and analogies from nature (mother eagle, mother bear protecting her cubs, mother pelican).  Mother Hen, for example, so familiar to Christians from Jesus’ desire to protect Jerusalem’s children “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34), is especially underscored. Through the highlighting of several Old Testament passages such as “I take shelter in the shadow of your wings” (Ps 57:1), we are reminded that Jesus’ words would have been very familiar to his Jewish listeners. Ruth and Boaz lived with that familiar image as well, and I was delighted to read of Ruth’s wonderful response to Boaz’s blessing, in which Boaz had praised Ruth for caring for her mother-in-law Naomi. “May the Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).   Mollenkott writes, “Later, Ruth takes Boaz up on that blessing, urging him to “spread your wing [Kānāp, the same word used in 2:12] over your maidservant, for you are a redeemer” (p. 94).

New to me was the prevalence of early church leaders who addressed and referred to both Creator God and Jesus Christ as Mother, embracing rather than avoiding feminine images and metaphors for God.  I’d heard some of this, but the names and quotes documented in this book surprised me, as did how long this practice  went on— beyond the early centuries of Christianity and well into the Middle Ages.  However, while these leaders spoke of God as both mother and father, they still considered female qualities to be inferior to the male. Writes Mollenkott, “But if we can teach ourselves to value the roles traditionally associated with the female on a truly equal level with those associated with the male, the result will be the enrichment of all humanity. Inclusive God-Language is a step in the direction of that enrichment” (p. 13, italics added). She then challenges religious leaders to recognize “the female presence in their grammatical choices” and to utilize “biblical references to God as female.” She sees this as a way for these leaders to “demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to human justice, peace, and love, and therefore to psychological and social health” (pp. 13-14).

Virginia Mollenkott later explains how we see what we expect to see in Scripture.

“All of us approach any written text with certain expectations and those expectations govern what we are able to see in what we are reading.  Perhaps it is helpful to think in terms of an interpretative grid, a grid that gives clear focus on some things and blocks us from seeing others. A patriarchal interpretative grid has simply made it impossible for most people through the ages to be able to perceive the many images of God as female which are the subject of this study.”  (pp. 64-65)

She further reminds us that for those whose expectations have been blocked by language teaching the exclusive maleness of God, many layers of misinformation will need to be peeled away. Looking back, I can see how true this has been in my own life. When I first read The Divine Feminine several years ago, it addressed questions I barely knew to ask. It began to open a new understanding and to bring some clarity to my questions about God and gender. But moving beyond deeply instilled patriarchal teachings took a long time.  After living with these new ideas and letting them percolate, while gradually increasing my comfort level with loving God as both Mother and Father, I picked the book up again some years later. By then I was ready to take in more details, better understand my yearnings, and thereby gain the confidence to speak out. Each time I read, its message met me in a new place on my journey; and at each reading, more layers of patriarchal “blindness” fell away so that I could notice truths I hadn’t been ready to absorb before.  It takes a long time for old layers of thinking to fade away and a new reality to feel normal.

Now, having read it a third time to prepare this review, even more has fallen into place. If you are grappling with lifelong patriarchal teachings about God and Christianity, pick up this gentle book!  It is packed with information that will help. It will enrich your life.  It has truly enriched mine. Through these pages, I see that my precious God and Savior not only is reflected in my father, but is also a God who “looks” like my mother —and me!  Both male and female are created in God’s image, an image that is both masculine and feminine. I’m so glad this book is available again to enlighten the lives of a new generation.

JoMae Spoelhof

JoMae Spoelhof lives in Rochester, New York, with her husband of 55 years, John Spoelhof.  There they raised five children and cared for several more as foster parents.  Reading and writing have long been her mainstay for sorting out life’s questions— whether exploring her faith or raising a family.  In another piece on this blog, JoMae relates more of her journey toward embracing female images of the Divine: http://jannaldredgeclanton.com/blog/?p=1382. More of her work on gender equality can be found here.

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/BookReviews/the-divine-feminine Reposted with permission.

 

 

 

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