On this mountain the Holy One will provide for all peoples
. . . She will destroy
The veil that veils all peoples . . .
She will wipe away
The tears from all faces;
The disgrace of Her people She will remove . . .
This is the Holy One for whom we looked;
Let us rejoice and be glad that She has saved us! (Isaiah 25:6-9)
In this passage from Isaiah, Jeanette Blonigen Clancy converts traditional male references to Deity to female references. Jeanette believes that calling God “’She’ jolts us into realizing that exclusively male God-talk diminishes God.”
Changing language and symbolism to include the Divine Feminine, though slow, is vital, Jeanette says. “Words and symbols shape our minds and attitudes, which drive our actions. For this reason, change is impossible without language changes. If we talk about the highest value imaginable with exclusively male terms, we give males the right to act as lords over females—exactly what we experience around the world.”
On her website (http://www.godisnot3guys.com/bio.htm), Jeanette writes that she was “brought up in a blanketing Catholic atmosphere.” She grew up in Stearns, County, Minnesota, a German-Catholic county, where she still lives and teaches. One of her brothers was a priest. She comments, “The tiny parish of 200 families where I grew up in our farming community produced over 100 religious.”
In her book God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, she writes: “Every school I graduated from—grade school to grad school—was Catholic. A student of mine years ago was surprised to learn that most Americans are not Catholic. Of course, this has changed a lot, but in small towns of the county, the Catholic Church still dominates architecturally.”
As she was growing up, Jeanette began to question exclusively masculine language for divinity. “Two tracks led me to my present stance against sexist God-talk—recognizing the error of worshipping a man-god and recognizing the injustice of elevating one gender over the other. The first realization began in my youth, when I tried to follow religious teaching by getting ‘close to Jesus.’ Even then, in high school and college, I resisted. Something in me said, ‘God is not just a man’ and ‘a man is not God.’”
“The realization of gender injustice happened later as a result of the feminist movement. I like to use the word ‘feminist’ to push back against the right’s corruption of good words like ‘liberal’ and ‘feminist.’ To my shame, I first scoffed at ‘the crazy bra-burners,’ but soon I could see the justice of their statements. And then I read feminist theologians, for whom I have tremendous admiration. No one understands theology better than women theologians who explain that all God-talk is figurative.”
While studying at St. John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, for her master’s degree in systematic theology, Jeanette had the idea for her book God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity Without Its Exclusive Claims. “I was annoyed by naïve questions and comments from seminarians. That’s when the statement, ‘God is not three guys in the sky’ blurped up in me. I resolved to write a book ‘someday.’ It took more than twenty-five years.”
“In the meantime, I educated myself past the traditional Christian mindset by exploring feminist theology, comparative religion, Eastern spirituality, pagan and atheist spirituality. I also try to keep up with mainstream Christian writing and bridge the disparate thought frames.”
In addition to providing this interfaith bridge, Jeanette bridges traditional Catholicism and the progressive Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. She regularly attends Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, close to her home in Avon; she has relationships with Franciscan sisters, School Sisters of Notre Dame, and St. Joseph sisters; and she writes letters in the National Catholic Reporter. As a member of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, a womanpriest community, she changes the language of monthly Mass readings from patriarchal to inclusive.
She states that rational arguments for justice accomplish little. “We have to shake things up by actually changing things—thus the need for Roman Catholic Womenpriests and feminine names for the Holy. Feminine names for the Holy force the realization of new possibilities. Women priests provide evidence that cannot easily be dismissed. Actually experiencing services with women priests builds the attitude that they are competent, normal, proper, and right.”
In the conclusion of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, Jeanette gives further support for including women priests and the Divine Feminine in church in order to change the wider culture:
“I don’t want to finish this book without mentioning the unique set of attitudes, skills, and perspectives that women contribute toward healing the world from the patriarchal bias of several millennia. To the independence-seeking male, let us add the connection-seeking female. To counter the adversarial inclination, let us apply relationship building. To counter war-making, competition, and domination, let us apply peacemaking, cooperation, and partnership. To the image of a God or Gods up above, let us add that of living within the womb of Mother Earth, whose air, water, and soil we strive to protect. Barred from power for many centuries, women are able to practice power with instead of power over and against, as demonstrated by their disproportionate presence in peace advocacy. This has implications for global politics and economics as well as religion.”
In a blog article on Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Jeanette continues to illuminate religion’s role in changing patriarchal culture. “The book’s detailed evidence of sexual violence against women and girls—honor killings, bride beating, bride burning, genital cutting, forced prostitution, rape as a tactic of war, acid to disfigure, and selling of 7- and 8-year-old girls into sexual slavery—tells us that gender violence and discrimination is the paramount human rights problem of our time. Indeed, it tells us that nothing would do more to ameliorate the problems of the world than raising the status of women. I invite readers to consider the pain of these women and also the hope of real transformation, only possible if we allow women to become confident and powerful. In churches, we need to change the talk about a lord or lords in the sky. Women of the world have too many lords lording it over them—they don’t need a god-lord besides.” (http://godisnot3guyscom-jeanette.blogspot.com/2012/03/rule-by-rape.html)
Through her writing and speaking, Jeanette challenges all language that perpetuates male dominance. “It’s an uphill battle against rigidified structures of thought,” she says. “I look for ways to disturb comfortable acceptance of the repetition of ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ ‘Lord.’”
For her womanpriest community, Jeanette changes scripture readings to include female names for the Divine. She also writes prayers, such as these:In the spirit of Lent and Women’s History Month, may our religious leaders humbly grow to understand how religion contributes to sexual stereotypes that contribute to sexual violence against women and girls. we pray . . . In the spirit of Lent and Women’s History Month, may secular leaders raise every countries’ prosperity by educating and empowering women, we pray . . . In the spirit of Lent and Women’s History Month, may the world grow in awareness of the many ways that confident and powerful women can bless all relationships to transform every aspect of society, we pray . . .
In spite of Jeanette’s deep roots in the Catholic Church, she left for a while. She returned through her relationship with the sisters at St. Benedict’s Monastery. “What brought me back is a nearby monastery of Catholic religious women who formed my spiritual home in my youth and continue to model the best of Catholicism while feeding me spiritually. They even include me on the lector schedule for their liturgies, and some of them see things as I do. My association with the community of religious women tempers my speaking and writing. Without their friendship I might have become caustic in my critiques of the Catholic Church, reducing their effectiveness. Too bad the world doesn’t know how cool nuns are!”
Jeanette draws strength from her relationships with Catholic sisters, from her womanpriest community, and from the many affirmations she receives from her writing. She takes every opportunity to challenge the patriarchal language, leadership, and dogma of the church because she believes in the power of religions to bring transformation.
On her blog, she gives this invitation: “Interested in religions and spirituality? You’ve come to the right place. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet says, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ This is a two-edged challenge. It invites believers to rethink their dogmas, and it challenges people without faith to rethink their certainty that everything religious is bunk.”
Although she acknowledges the slow process of changing church, she expresses optimism. “My writing is deliberately provocative because I am impatient with the glacial pace of change and want to shake things up. My letters to National Catholic Reporter are often published and articles in that paper show that change indeed is happening. Despite the rule of aging, ultra-conservative men in Rome, thoughtful theologians, religious leaders, and ordinary Christians continue to question and dissent, indicating an evolutionary shift in consciousness.”
Jeanette Blonigen Clancy’s powerful, prophetic writing and speaking are contributing to this shift in consciousness. In addition to her active blog and book God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and her letters in the National Catholic Reporter, she contributed an essay to the anthology The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy, edited by Cristina Biaggi, and frequently appears on the opinion pages of the St. Cloud Times. Through all, she strives to build global justice, spiritual understanding, and cooperation among nations and religions.
Jeanette expresses a hopeful vision for the future. “The unmistakable trend is toward feminine equality and power. When ignorance, bigotry, and cruelty rear their ugly heads, I look at the wide sweep of history and take comfort in the clear direction shining over the long term and in the counsel of wise persons who know that.”