Jann Aldredge-Clanton guides people in small or large groups to explore new ways of seeing Deity and interpreting Scripture so that the spiritual gifts of everyone are equally valued and nurtured. Jann helps groups explore connections between sacred symbols and social justice ministry.
Contact Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton to schedule speaking engagements on topics such as expanding imagery for God, biblical female divine names and images, inclusive hymnody, sacred symbolism empowering social justice ministry, and gender-balanced worship resources. Jann is available for church and community groups, Bible study series, workshops, conferences, ritual groups, retreats, and academic classes.
Below are excerpts from Dr. Aldredge-Clanton’s seminars, workshops, and presentations.
Singing Justice and Peace
Northaven United Methodist Church and the Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance Faith Voices
At an Alliance of Baptists Gathering, Larry E. Schultz, minister of music at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC, the composer whom I collaborate with, and I led a workshop titled “Inclusive Song! Let Your Worship Catch Up with Your Theology.” We’ve found that many progressive churches of various denominations still sing hymns that don’t support their inclusive theology; in fact, they may be singing words antithetical to their theology.
Words matter. Words we use in our faith communities carry great power because of the sacred value given to them. Words we sing in worship have the greatest power to shape our beliefs and actions because the music embeds the words in our memories.
For many years I have researched, preached, taught, and written books to persuade people that we need to include biblical female names and images of God in our worship if we are to have social justice and equality. I’ve quoted chapter and verse to support the inclusion of female divine names and images.
As you can imagine, I’ve had a variety of responses. Even many church groups who have enthusiastically responded to my message and who have prided themselves on their open-mindedness, have opposed inclusive language in their worship services. They wanted to learn about inclusive theology in their Bible study groups but not practice it at the high holy hour, 11:00 on Sunday morning. I soon discovered that biblical support and theological explanation could go only so far, that the resistance to change came from deeply ingrained emotions. So I realized even more the need to go beyond biblical and theological explanation to ritual experience, to engage the imagination as well as the intellect in order to bring change. I realized the need for more inclusive worship resources, especially in hymnody. I remembered the prominent place given to hymn singing in the Baptist church where I grew up and how much I loved singing hymns. So I began writing lyrics to familiar hymn tunes with the hope of contributing to an expansive theology and an ethic of equality and justice.
When I first took my hymns to our clergywomen’s group, I saw tears stream down their faces as they sang these hymns that included female divine names; some told me that this was the first time they had truly felt they are created in the divine image. Other faith communities have also enthusiastically sung my hymns. So I’ve felt that Ruah, the Creative Spirit, has continued to call me to write hymn lyrics with expansive language, most to familiar hymn tunes, some to tunes composed by Larry E. Schultz.
Some people use the term “inclusive” to mean “gender-neutral,” but I use “inclusive” and “expansive” and “gender-balanced” to mean language inclusive of female and male and more. To be truly inclusive, I believe we need what Presbyterian pastor Rebecca Kiser calls “gender-full” rather than “genderless” language for Deity. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us that, though all lives matter, we need to name that black lives matter because they have not mattered enough in our culture, so we need to name females in the divine image, though all genders are all in divine image, because the Female Divine has not been named and valued. We need to name that which has been unnamed, demeaned, devalued, oppressed.
The hymns we’re going to sing resurrect biblical female divine names, such as “Wisdom,” Sophia (Greek word in the New Testament for “Wisdom”), Ruah (Hebrew word for “Spirit”), Shekhinah (Hebrew word for the dwelling presence and glory of God), “Mother,” “Mother Eagle,” “Midwife.” Multicultural female visual images and names of Deity help to transform patriarchal structures that continue to oppress women and girls of all races, LGBTQ people, and all people of color. When we include multicultural female images of Deity, then females and all people are seen in the divine image and thus respected and valued. By singing of Her justice and peace and love, we contribute to transforming our world.
Faith and Feminism/Womanism/Mujerista Conference
The School of Theology for the Laity
Our Milky Way Galaxy contains over 100 billion stars. The Milky Way is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. How could we ever limit the Creator of so vast a universe to a single gender? Divine Mystery exceeds our thoughts. All our language for divinity is metaphorical. Biblical revelation gives us a wide variety of metaphors for deity to suggest the vastness, the all-inclusiveness of divine reality. I invite you to come with me on a journey of discovery, of exploring sacred symbolism that supports shared power and contributes to peace, justice, and wholeness for all creation.
Our sacred symbols reflect and shape our deepest values. If we listen to the language of our hymns and liturgies and look closely at the pictures in our worship centers, we see that we worship a white male God. We’ve created God in the image of a white masculine human being to sanction the dominance of white males.
Some support their use of exclusively male language for divinity with the Bible. As with the social evil of racism, the Bible has been used to sanction sexism. The prophetic tradition in Scripture, however, has always pointed toward liberation and justice. The same Bible that some still use to sanction discrimination against people of color and women provides powerful challenge toward human liberation and dignity of all.
Women’s Week Presentation, Perkins School of Theology
We can never be all we’re created to be in the divine image until we expand our image of the divine. We live in a culture which denies deity a female face, diminishing the sacred value of females. Men as well as women suffer in this religion and culture. A masculine God gives powerful sanction to the dominance of men, stifling their emotional and spiritual development. The earth and all living beings also suffer from this patriarchal theology and culture. References to the earth are feminine, but the feminine is not given sacred value. We are all in deep need of recovery.
Reclaiming the Divine Feminine holds great potential for healing women, men, children, and the earth, for empowering us all to claim our sacred value. A sacred symbol that holds possibility for balancing the Divine Feminine with the Divine Masculine is Christ-Sophia. This new theological name and paradigm holds great potential to help us move from patriarchy to egalitarianism. Christ-Sophia reclaims a lost biblical image and reveals a wholistic picture of divinity. Christ-Sophia overcomes dualisms and makes equal connections between male and female, black and white, thus providing a model for a society based on partnership instead of dominance and submission. Rooted in Judaeo-Christian Scripture and tradition, the symbol of Christ-Sophia offers new possibilities for wholeness.
American Association of Pastoral Counselors Annual Conference
“Happy are those who find Wisdom, and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace”
(Prv. 3:13-15, 17)
New divine images lead to new horizons in healing. One of these divine images is Wisdom. Wisdom is certainly not a new image of divinity, although She may seem new to us. The Hebrew Scriptures record Wisdom’s saying, “From everlasting I was firmly set, from the beginning, before earth came into being” (Prv. 8:23). But Divine Wisdom has for the most part been stifled, demeaned, or ignored for centuries. Wisdom is Hokmah in Hebrew, Hikma in Arabic, Sophia in Greek. Although for almost 20 years I’ve been researching and writing about Her, Divine Wisdom continues to be new in my experience of healing. Our world is in deep need of the healing that Divine Wisdom can bring. Bill Moyers recently wrote, “The news is not good these days. What we need is what the ancient Israelites called Hokmah, the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on us.”
Wisdom leads us on healing paths of peace. “All Her paths are peace,” according to the book of Proverbs. In our pastoral counseling, how often we’re called on to be peacemakers. As we try to mediate in conflicting relationships that may seem hopeless, we need Divine Wisdom. Wisdom will also show us ways to use our unique gifts as pastoral healers to contribute to peace in our communities and in our world wounded by violence.
Wisdom, a feminine divine image, can help to overcome injustice and to create a world of shared power. Including feminine divine images gives sacred value to women and girls who for centuries have been excluded and ignored, even cursed and abused. In the U.S. alone, every seven seconds a woman is battered. One in three women experiences some kind of abuse. Seventy percent of the poor are women. Only 14% of members of the current U.S. Congress are women. In our pastoral counseling we see too often the results of this injustice and abuse. By balancing feminine and masculine names for God, we give strong support to the equal value of women and men. When God is seen as feminine, then women and girls are seen in Her image and thus respected and valued. Including feminine divine images in our pastoral counseling and in our worship can lay a foundation for change that contributes to equality and justice.
Come now, O Wisdom, we need your clear voice;
Speak and awaken our hearts to rejoice.
Gracious Creator of more than we know,
In your own image may we ever grow.
Come now, O Wisdom, abide in our souls;
Stir in us visions of life free and whole.
Wisdom, our pathway to justice and peace,
With you our dreams find their fullest release.
To schedule speaking engagements contact Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton