“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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“At First Blush,” sermon by Rev. Erica Lea at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Rev. Erica Lea

Rev. Erica Lea

LogoTransAt the Sunday morning worship service of the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Rev. Erica Lea preached a powerful, prophetic sermon titled “At First Blush.” It was great to get to know Erica at the Gathering and to hear her preach for the first time! I was impressed and inspired by her words of wisdom.

Rev. Erica LeaErica received her bachelor of arts degree from Texas A&M University with a major in psychology and a minor in women’s and gender studies and her master of divinity degree from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University with a concentration in spiritual formation. She has continued her studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She has served as pastoral resident at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.D., interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church in Houston, Texas, and as pastoral intern at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco.

Learn more about Erica through her blog.

CFT altar



I’m delighted to share with you Erica’s sermon, delivered at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering worship service.

At First Blush

by Rev. Erica Lea

First, thank you. It really is an honor to have the opportunity to share my voice today among so many important voices that we have heard this weekend.

Allow me to start this morning with a confession. When I came here on Thursday, I wasn’t exactly sure, yet, how I felt about you. I have known you to be an encouraging and supportive collection of email addresses and names online. I knew you were eager, particularly, to welcome more young people. Even so, I honestly wondered if I would see anyone who looked like me.

Then, I saw Reta, a familiar face from a previous Mennonite event. I learned more about Deb and her heart for pastoral care. I felt one of Marg’s famous bear hugs. I attended Alicia’s session about sensitivity to gender and pronouns. I read Elisabeth’s imaginative poetry. I heard Jann’s familiar yet new music. I stretched my limits and more with Lisa’s gentle yogi encouragement. I tasted Becky’s gifts for hospitality. I prayed with Leslie and her soulful, contemplative spirituality. I have seen different parts of myself in all of you. I have seen the imago dei, that Divine Image, in all of you.

Our primary passage this morning comes from Wisdom of Solomon chapter 7. Some scholars believe the intended audience of this book was Jewish young people in Alexandria, Egypt, who were surrounded by messages that were contrary to Jewish faith and customs. In context and in essence, the Wisdom of Solomon was intended to be not only counter-cultural, but a reminder to the audience of what they already knew deeply about themselves.

When I conceptualize wisdom, this breath throughout Creation, I visualize a chubby owl with glasses on, “hooooing” with a long trill like the owl on Winnie the Pooh. There are many artistic depictions of Wisdom, including some beautiful icons. Perhaps more than visually, I have experienced Wisdom in an auditory way.

When I think of home, I think of my cottage in the forest in central Texas where I lived during seminary. Not long after I moved in, I noticed, on occasion, an owl “hooooing” in a particular and recognizable pattern. I named her Sophia. I only saw her a few times, but I often heard her. I knew her voice.

In chapter 7:22–26, we see two lists. A friend once described me as Type A-minus. I can be mellow, but when something needs organizing, I am cheerfully on it with a chart and a color-coded system. I love it! These lists are more than a convenient way for the author to throw in some information. The first list, in particular, in verses 22b–24, is a poetic device utilizing Jewish mysticism. If you count the number of attributes of Woman Wisdom in this list, there are twenty-one. Twenty-one is not just a good number in Black Jack. No, twenty-one is a multiple of both seven and three. Both seven and three are mystical symbolic numbers of completeness and perfection.

Another understanding of complete completeness is shalom. Shalom is more than peace. I got my favorite belt buckle in Jerusalem. You know you’re Texan when you go to Jerusalem and come home with a belt buckle as your prized souvenir. This belt buckle made my Mennonite heart beat wildly—a black and bronze rectangle with Peace, Shalom, and Salaam written on it—each word flowing into each other word. Like people flowing into one another.

In the Holy Land, official signs are written in all three languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and English—reflecting the history and the residents. If you are an Israeli Jew, you may be fine with only Hebrew. If you are an Israeli or Palestinian Muslim, you may be fine with only Arabic. If you are one of the approximately 200,000 American or British immigrants since 1948, you may be fine with only English. To not include all three of these languages on the signs, and on my belt buckle, would certainly be a statement.

This list of twenty-one attributes for Woman Wisdom—intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, clear, steadfast, overseeing all, intelligent, and more—come together to give a more robust and tangible description of Woman Wisdom so that we can attempt to wrap our heads around Her. If this list were twenty or twenty-two, it would lose its poetic and mystical power. There must be twenty-one attributes on the list for the full power and weight.

As I consider all of the meaningful work and amazingly far reach of EEWC-CFT, I see us at twenty. What are we missing so that we can be our full selves, living into full potential, being completely complete, a model of shalom? Who are we missing? I know some people are not here this year because they have died, may their memory be a blessing. Others are not here because they are ill, may they experience wholeness however possible. Who else are we missing? Later, when we gather around the Table, consider who is not at the Table with you. Where are we missing?

It is only after this full list of twenty-one attributes that Woman Wisdom, the second list, appears, in verses 25–26, showing all She is capable of:

25 For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. 26 For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of goodness.

For those of you keeping score at home, that is: breath, emanation, reflection, mirror, and image.

She must be whole in order to fulfill her potential.

The journey toward shalom and wholeness, both on individual and collective levels, can be difficult and long. We do not make this journey alone. Verse 27 says she is one and can do all things. When we are one, we can do all things together.

If earlier, when we considered the attributes of Woman Wisdom, those verses echoed Proverbs 31 to you, then you are good company. I understand Proverbs 31 to be an ode to the women, the community of women, rather than one individual woman. Proverbs 31 is not a checklist. It is a wake-up call that wisdom is daily and cannot be done alone.

Proverbs 31 is, as Kathleen O’Connor writes, “an invitation to search for wisdom as if for a precious stone, to live committed to the path of wisdom with the utter loyalty and allegiance of the person setting out in life with a beloved partner.” We are partners with Woman Wisdom and we are partners with one another.

Though the journey to shalom and living fully into all we can be is difficult and long, for some of us more than others, there is sustenance.

Have you ever played the road trip game? You know, I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing ____ and ____. For example, I am Erica Lea and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing eggs and lettuce. I may go. If Marg were to play, she might say I am Marg Herder and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing juice and ham. She may not go. But if she said, my name is Marg Herder and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing mustard and ham, she may go. If you don’t get it, ask whoever you rode with or whoever you will share a van with to the airport. Ya’ll will have a good time.

God is with us. Sophia is with us. Woman Wisdom is with us. We are with each other. We can continue to move forward together on this journey of shalom as we lean on God and lean on one another.

Verse 29 says, “She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior.”

Did ya’ll see the strawberry moon last week? Full moon and summer solstice came together to show a pinkish moon. It was beautiful. If you garden, as so many of you have shared that you do, you know the power of sunlight and photosynthesis to feed plants. Light is energy. Light is food for growth. Woman Wisdom is superior even to light. As the Inner Light grows in you, your connection to that power will grow. The light, this provision, is grace.

Finally, the text says that wisdom will prevail over evil. I don’t know about you but it is often difficult for me to believe that wisdom will prevail against internalized homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and racism. It is often difficult to see wisdom prevailing over injustice and social evils.

We will be most effective bringing forward justice in our time when we are whole, when we are whole together, and when we trust in the Light that Woman Wisdom brings. Kenneth Carter Jr. writes that “wisdom may be defined as a life well lived, a life that matters . . . wisdom is a way of life that includes justice, righteousness, humility, compassion, and fairness.”

Today is the one-year anniversary for the Supreme Court ruling in support of marriage equality. Yay! However, in the past year, there has been an uptick in hate crimes, including violence, especially against trans women of color. There has been conservative panic in many forms, especially so-called religious liberty bills. So many of us felt like we were truly moving forward, but these anxiety-motivated and anxiety-producing roadblocks stop us. We must continue to move forward. Our voice for justice and equality will continue to be heard most effectively as one unified voice. It may appear that we are sliding backward from the progress won by decades of work. All progress meets resistance. We will continue to move forward. Together. Wisdom will prevail over evil.

Rev. Erica Lea & Rev. Leslie Harrison, worship leaders at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Rev. Erica Lea & Rev. Leslie Harrison, worship leaders at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering

It is tempting to be discouraged sometimes. It is tempting to look around now and ask, “Where are the younger generations?” We are here. It is tempting to say, “I don’t feel like I have Inner Light.” The Inner Light has you. It is tempting to think, “I’m not enough.” Enough of an expert or enough outspoken or enough young or enough old or enough . . . whatever. We are enough with Woman Wisdom. We are enough. Together.

Remember, Wisdom is a spotless mirror and you and I seem only dimly into a mirror. Let us continue to look into the mirror together. Amen.

Rev. Erica Lea’s sermon, “At First Blush,” originally published in Christian Feminism Today. Reposted with permission.

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Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s Letter to Younger Christian Feminists

Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Divine FeminineVirginia Ramey Mollenkott has had a profound influence on my pastoral vocation that includes writing feminist theology and worship resources. Virginia’s book The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female, first published in 1984, 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. In my worship resources I have drawn from the biblical female names for Deity that she explores in the book, such as Dame Wisdom, nursing Mother, Midwife, Shekhinah, Bakerwoman, Mother Eagle, and Mother Hen.

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.”

Virginia has continued to expand my mind and contribute to my justice activism through her other books, including Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?: A Positive Christian Response, co-authored with Letha Dawson Scanzoni; Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach; and Transgender Journeys, co-authored with Vanessa Sheridan. Virginia’s prophetic work is also included in my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World and elsewhere on my blog. Is the HomosexualOmnigenderTransgender Journeys

I first met Virginia when I went to hear her preach at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. After the service, I stood in the long line to shake her hand. She warmly greeted me, and we talked about our shared experiences as English professors and Christian feminist writers. I thanked her for her major contributions to my writing and other ministries. I’ve delighted in the opportunity to continue connecting with Virginia through Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today.

LogoTransVirginia was not able to go to the Christian Feminism Today Gathering this summer, but she wrote an inspiring letter for the printed program and for publication in Christian Feminism Today. Below is Virginia’s letter to “Younger Christian Feminists.”

“Warmest greetings to all of you who were able to attend the 2016 gathering of Christian Feminism Today!  And if you are under 84 years of age, be assured that, from my angle of vision, you are the younger generation. And this is my message to you.

My favorite Shakespeare sonnet is number 116, which begins, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments.’ Shakespeare has borrowed the word impediments from the Anglican wedding service, where the officiant asks the witnesses to ‘speak now or forever hold their peace’ if they are aware of any impediments to the marriage.  But Shakespeare is not writing exclusively about weddings based on physical attraction.  No; his focus is on ‘the marriage of true minds.’

What does it mean to form a lasting connection between and among true minds?  I would define it this way: the people involved sense the eternal oneness that is created within them and between them by ‘the Spirit that flows through all things’ (Wordsworth’s phrase). They are able to feel what others are feeling because the Spirit has enlightened their sympathetic imaginations, a universal empathy that does not value anyone more than anyone else but rather honors the sanctity of every thing and every being—female, male, cisgender, transgender, whoever, whatsoever. And in that sense, by the authority vested in me by my 84½ years of living, I hereby pronounce the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus a collective marriage of true minds.

As such, we call ourselves feminists, but not because we think women are superior to men, or that feminine women are better than masculine men, or for that matter better than queer people or people of any other variety. We are feminists because we are universally egalitarian, and because girls and women have been for centuries excluded from ‘equal justice for all.’ In other words, we took the name of the marginalized and exploited gender only in order to expedite the justice that would ensure decent minimum wages, equal pay for equal work, opportunity for religious and political leadership, freedom of reproductive control, and the like.

Rather than cringing from the label feminist, you younger feminists will (I hope) continue to use the term to correct erroneous assumptions about its meaning. Just as ‘Black lives matter’ does not mean that white lives don’t matter—only that, to date, black lives have not been cherished equally along with all other lives—in the same way, feminism does not exalt some people above others but instead pushes toward universal and equal justice. Of course we could call our Christian feminist movement Christian humanism; but that would be like substituting ‘All lives matter’ for ‘Black lives matter.’ It is important to name specifically those who have been marginalized in order to end that trivialization. Female lives matter. Black lives matter. Queer lives matter. Only by insisting on naming unjust exclusions can we hope to do away with these exclusions.

For this reason it is vital that you younger feminists continue to challenge Christian congregations to speak of God as our Mother, Sister, Friend, Beloved, She Who Is, both male and female and neither male nor female. Frequently! Such insistence does not imply that ‘If God is female, then females are God,’ as our sister Mary Daly rightly declared about men and exclusively androcentric God-language. No; we lift up female, trans, and neuter God-language in order to raise the formerly excluded images to a healthful and balanced inclusion in our imaginations. In this way we honor girls and women and transpeople and the natural environment on an equal basis with the androcentric bias that has supported male supremacy for centuries. Our only ‘bias’ should honor universal equality!

Make no mistake: if Christian pastors and priests refuse to use inclusive God-language, they do not sincerely care about justice for every body and every thing. Language is free, whereas fair practices entail a great outlay of energy and money, and for some, a significant yielding of previous power. So if Christian leaders will not make use of inclusive God-language to the degree that it becomes ‘usual’ and ‘everyday,’ they are denying the importance of the Bible’s gendered symbolism. Either from sheer ignorance or stubborn bigotry, they are actively denying equality and blocking universal justice. We cannot give up until the Divine Presence is honored as truly omnipresent.

Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 asserts that ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds / Or bends with the remover to remove.’ So when you younger feminists encounter disagreements within your ranks, I hope you will continue cherishing your connectedness until you can reach a fair and workable consensus. Like the stars that provide guidance for ships at sea, our Christian feminist commitment can keep our ‘marriage of true minds’ steady and ‘on course.’

I love you and wish I could be with you.  But part of old age is learning to ‘let go’ gracefully. And I am hugely thankful for the younger leaders who have sprung up to take the place of the leaders from my generation. At one time, years ago, feminists shied away from leadership, as if it always implied inequality. But it implies no such thing as long as opportunity remains open to all who are willing to do the work that leadership requires. I thank God for each of you who have demonstrated that willingness!”

Virginia’s Letter, “True Minds,” originally published in Christian Feminism Today Reposted with permission.


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Letha Dawson Scanzoni’s Welcome to Christian Feminism Today

Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Letha Dawson Scanzoni

All We're Meant to BeLetha Dawson Scanzoni transformed my life with new revelations. My epiphany came through All We’re Meant to Be, which Letha co-authored with Nancy A. Hardesty, first published in 1974. This was the first book I read that gave biblical support for gender equality in the home, church, and society. All We’re Meant to Be also expanded my images of the Divine to include more than male. As I read All We’re Meant to Be, I discovered more than enough biblical support for the equality of women and men in marriage, in church leadership, and in all areas of life. In addition, this book introduced me to the “radical” notion that God might be more than male. Although Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had come out in 1963, I’d never heard of the book or raised any questions about women’s traditional roles. The call to gender justice could reach me only through the Bible and interpretations of it.

Is the HomosexualSince then, Letha’s work for LGBTQ justice has also inspired me. Another of her groundbreaking books Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, co-authored with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, applies the liberating message of Jesus to justice for LGBTQ persons and has contributed to my pastoral counseling and to my justice advocacy.

Letha has also become a supportive colleague and friend. As one of the founders of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT) and editor of its publications, Letha has invited me to write articles for the organization and to serve on the EEWC-CFT Council. She has challenged me to grow as a writer and justice activist.



Letha’s letter that I include below is printed in the program of the recent Christian Feminism Today Gathering and published in Christian Feminism Today. Her letter gives not only a welcome to the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, but also a concise history of the organization and a compelling invitation to join our ongoing work.

Welcome to the 2016 Gathering of the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today! We’re so glad you’re here—whether you’re attending for the first time or back again after many times.

Some of you weren’t yet born when our organization formed in 1974. You may wonder what to expect from a group that began so long ago. Others, remembering a time when most people considered the words “Christian” and “feminism” incompatible, may wonder what this organization has to say to today’s changing world. Have we kept up so that we can speak to the challenges of 2016 and beyond?

Some of you may be concerned about the word “evangelical”— part of our official name. It meant “good news” when the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC) was incorporated but has now become a victim of identity theft by the religious right, which has appropriated it as a political tool for promoting “bad news” for women, LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, poor people, people of color, and the earth itself as our planet suffers the effects of climate change.

Twenty-six years ago, at one of our biennial conferences, I presented a plenary address titled “Back to the Future: Forward to the Dream.” At that 1990 gathering in Chicago, we would be voting on whether to add another “E” to our name, changing it from the “Evangelical Women’s Caucus” (EWC) to the “Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus” (EEWC) to reflect the greater religious diversity of our membership. (Currently, we often use the organization’s “doing business as” name, Christian Feminism Today, or EEWC-CFT.)

But leading up to that 1990 conference was the concern of some people that our organization was changing too fast from its original vision of women’s equality in the home, church, and society—that we were getting involved in too many additional justice causes and driving other Christians away. The most controversial of these justice concerns had been our 1986 resolution supporting civil rights for homosexual persons. We had lost many members over that resolution, particularly because we acknowledged that our membership included a small number of lesbians. Such opposition to our standing up for fairness and justice seems so absurd now. But there were serious consequences, making us outcasts in some Christian circles.

And so, in my 1990 speech, as our organization was acknowledging our expanding vision once again by adding another “E” to our name, I pointed out that since we seemed to show a penchant for the letter “E,” I would “use alliteration to compose a variation on an ‘E’ theme.” It would show that EWC’s vision has always been one of equality, empathy, education, empowerment, and expansiveness.”   And it is this same constellation of five “E’s” that I want to share as we think about another “E,” expectations.

Expectations: What we hope you’ll experience at this 2016 gathering

Equality. You can expect an emphasis on equality here because we’re convinced that roles and responsibilities in the church or any other religious body should not be assigned according to gender but based on the gifts and calling the Spirit has given to individuals. We’re also called to practice a spirit of equal respect and mutuality in all our human relationships, which we trust you’ll sense here. We strive to follow what Jesus said about not lording it over others or judging anyone, remembering we’re all siblings together in the family of God. We want this gathering to be a safe place where you can feel at ease.

Empathy.  Many of you have come to this gathering with heavy hearts, longing for someone to listen and understand. You may be experiencing physical or emotional pain. Maybe you’re grieving someone you loved. You may be facing financial distress. Perhaps you’re trying to decide what to do about a relationship that appears to be ending or has turned abusive. Maybe your children are facing difficulties, or you have decisions to make about aging parents. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and aren’t sure where to turn next. You may be struggling with personal issues of faith, or sexual orientation, or career choice. Maybe you’re lonely. We trust you’ll feel accepted here just as you are, knowing you’re loved by people who care and empathize. EEWC-CFT is a place where deep friendships are formed, many of them lasting a lifetime. We’re also a group that prays for each other and keeps in touch through a group email list.

Education. We like to learn and aren’t afraid to ask questions and even express doubts, so you can expect to find your mind stimulated by what you learn at this conference. We’ve been a studious bunch from the beginning, caring about serious scholarship in biblical studies, theology, hermeneutics, and other areas of the humanities, as well as the social, behavioral, and physical sciences. We believe in integrating our faith and our intellect, loving God with both heart and mind. That’s why we feature workshops and speakers who stretch our minds as well as warm our hearts. We’re exposed to new ways of thinking about the Bible, the world, and God, including biblically-based new names and images for the Divine, reminding us that God is beyond gender classifications and that referring to our Creator as She is just as biblical as the traditional He. And in view of new understandings of gender fluidity and a gender continuum, we may gain new language and understandings about each other as well. Learning is empowering.

Empowerment. From its beginning, this organization has stressed empowerment. We’ve encouraged each other to be all we’re meant to be, not held back by assigned roles, assumptions, attitudes, and actions of a patriarchal system that limits and restricts. We hope this gathering will help you feel empowered to find your voice and use it, unafraid to be assertive, to confront bigotry, to stand up against discrimination, and to channel your anger against injustice by working for change.

Expansiveness. This final “E” word is not primarily about numerical growth, although we do want our message to reach as many people as possible and hope to see EEWC-CFT grow. But it’s also about not letting our minds and hearts shrivel into complacency but rather opening them ever wider to a broadening vision of the Holy One and the work She has entrusted to us.

So we hope each of you will approach this gathering expectantly, enjoy your experience enormously, and leave here energized!”

Letha’s Welcome Letter, originally published in Christian Feminism Today.  Reposted with permission.




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“Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” workshop facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene

Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene

Another creative workshop I attended at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today (CFT) Gathering was “Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh.



Elisabeth sets the stage for their dramatic presentation of poems from her book Lady Midrash, explaining that midrash is the ancient Jewish storytelling tradition that asks “what if?” to fill in the gaps in scripture. In the introduction of her book Elisabeth writes: “Lady Midrash is inspired by the question, ‘what if?’ If women were important to scripture’s writers, or if the authors themselves were women, what would their stories reveal? How would received narratives change? Would we think about religion differently? As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb asks in She Who Dwells Within, ‘How might women have told their stories if they were central, rather than peripheral, characters in the Bible?’”

In her foreword, religion professor Kendra Weddle Irons writes: “In Lady Midrash, Greene uses sounds scholarship, attentiveness to details, creativity, and imagination to listen to women who are in the Bible but who have mostly been lost to us. This is accomplished in a number of effective ways from changing or providing new names, to bringing focus to cultural identity, to shifting the attention from male autonomy to female actor. The result is that women who usually are unnamed, unexplored, or even erased, are brought to our awareness so that we might hear their voices, might consider what they would have told us if they had been given a chance.”

At the CFT Gathering, Mitra Motlagh joins Elisabeth to perform dialogues and monologues from Lady Midrash. Here are two of the poems:


(The first woman)

Eve knew what she was doing.

She saw the knowledge—

life, breath,

and understood the love,

that it was good.

And there was evening

and morning

the seventh day.


On her way out of the garden,

done picking fruit

and naming things,

she picked up a flaming sword

of truth

to crush a snake,

realizing she’d never kick the habit

of discovery

or names.


Woman she was,

she called the other, man,

since he was part of her

but not all.

She learned to cover herself

against the world’s thorns

and saw to the care of its creatures,

its landscapes;

she walked with Wisdom,

she considered the universe

and love,

and saw that it was good.


(The prophetess)

With experience

taking out of the water,

and assuring safe passage through,

Miriam sang with tambourine,

before she introduced

red algae into the Nile.


Her brothers could argue over

who stood on the shore

with arms outstretched,

but meanwhile Miriam

felt the gale force winds

begin to sweep the sea

and the reeds.


As they crossed,

Miriam led,

following the Shekinah.

Had God spoken only

through Moses?


Elisabeth invites workshop participants to ask “what if?” about the stories of biblical women. We form small circles to explore questions such as: What if Eve meant to take the apple? What if Miriam led the slaves through the Red Sea? What if Rahab wasn’t a prostitute? What if Jezebel wasn’t evil?

In another small group activity we use our imaginations as we work together to write a midrash. Elisabeth invites each circle to choose a biblical woman such as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Lady Wisdom, Bathsheba, Mary, Priscilla or any other woman in scripture and to emphasize a neglected part of her narrative, reverse her reputation, change the ending of her story, or in some other way change the way she is characterized in scripture.

Back in the large circle we take turns reading the poems we’ve created. The room is filled with excitement as we take part in reclaiming and recreating the stories of biblical women through midrash.

I had the honor of writing an endorsement for Elisabeth’s book Lady Midrash: Poems Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women. Here’s what I wrote that’s on the back cover of the book:

“With creative imagination and careful scholarship, Elisabeth Mehl Greene reclaims the sacred value of biblical women. These compelling narrative poems give honor to the cursed, voice to the voiceless, names to the nameless, agency to the powerless, recognition to marginalized females and the Female Divine—thereby affirming all women in the image of Divine Wisdom. The enlightening foreword, introduction, and end notes also make Lady Midrash ideal for church study groups, academic classes, and personal exploration.”

Read a review of Lady Midrash by Presbyterian minister Jean Rodenbough, published in Christian Feminism Today.




Elisabeth Mehl Greene is a writer and composer working in a variety of creative writing and musical genres. Greene’s work of poetry, Lady Midrash, is published by Resource Publications. Greene received her doctorate from the University of Maryland and is currently a fellow at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. On her website you will find her blog and some of her music.




MitraMitra Motlagh received an M.A. in Counseling from Western Seminary in Portland, OR and a B.A. in Theatre and B.A. in Writing/Literature from George Fox University. She has contributed her poetry and theatrical knowledge in collaboration with Elisabeth Mehl Greene on various projects, including a libretto adapted from the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran and several musical pieces. Mitra is honored to continue this collaboration by performing selections from Lady Midrash, and she looks forward to using diverse approaches to helping people embody a more empowering narrative.

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