feminist theology

   Feminist theology is a blend of the secular feminism that emerged in the 1960s and liberation theology. Modern feminism is a massive critique of male-dominated structures in Western society; it was built on several centuries of women's activism that took organized form in the United States in the 1840s. In the intervening years, Christian feminism worked to open leadership roles in the church for women, especially in the ordained ministry
   When African-American theologians began exploring the theological implications of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Christian feminists were inspired to relate their issues to this liberation theology. Galatians 3:28, where Paul tells the church that there is neither male nor female within the fellowship, but all one in Christ Jesus, became the most frequently quoted scripture of the movement.
   Like liberation theology, feminist theology claimed that all theology was created at a particular location in time and space. They argued that the church emerged in a patriarchal society dominated by males and that Christian theology had been dominated by males. In fact, they claimed, both liberation theology and black theology perpetuated male dominance and did not really deal with women's issues.
   During the 1970s, a host of books began to call for a revision of theology with feminist insights. Among the outstanding Protestant voices who joined the debate were Sheila Collins, Virginia R. Mollenkott, and Letty Russell. Of particular importance was Rosemary Ruether, a Roman Catholic who taught theology at the United Methodist Church's Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. She was the author of a series of books starting with Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power in 1972.
   Ruether's position as a Catholic teaching at a Protestant seminary was symbolic of the pluralistic atmosphere within which Protestant feminist theology developed. Women were exploring the question of a female aspect to God and thus paid attention to pagan and Wiccan feminism and the development of a new community of Goddess worshippers. They read the writings of Mary Daly, a Roman Catholic theologian whose radical critique led her into conflict with the Catholic university in which she taught and eventually led her out of the church altogether. They made common cause with Jewish women who were simultaneously seeking to open Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jewish communities to the acceptance of female rabbis. They also debated the role of lesbians within the church and ministry.
   it was widely recognized that the initial phase of feminist theology was somewhat negative. It focused on demonstrating how patriarchal structures had oppressed women, distorted the picture of women in biblical literature and church history, and generally denied them their rightful place in God's kingdom.
   Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father discussed the male gender language by which most Christians addressed God, and the maleness of Jesus Christ. She claimed that "God talk" led to male rule in society and that the male gender of Jesus was used to justify male-dominated family life. The use of male pronouns in the Bible when the reference clearly included women as well as men obscured the female presence in the Gospel story. This early critique led to demands for a new translation of the Bible, new liturgies, and revised hymnbooks. In 1989, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. authorized the publication of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, notable for its attempt to replace masculine nouns and pronouns when both males and females were indicated by the text. The New RSV, while not granting all that feminists wanted, represented a singular triumph of the first two decades of work.
   Meanwhile, within the Evangelical Protestant community, a feminist community emerged around organizations such as the Daughters of Sarah and Christians for Biblical Equality. These conservative feminists insisted that the Bible, correctly interpreted, supports the fundamental equality of men and women, a position outlined in the early text by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We're Meant To Be (1974).
   Feminist theology found an immediate response in Protestant churches internationally. One result has been a steadily growing number of denominational bodies admitting women to ordination and a full spectrum of lay leadership roles. As the 21st century begins, a new generation of formally trained female theologians have taken their place within the theological community and have begun the work of producing a new theology that integrates feminist insights. Female church historians have picked up the task of documenting the neglected story of leadership by women through the ages of the church, and female biblical scholars are presenting their findings from considerations of the biblical text. In the meantime, some black feminists, perceiving the lack of an African-American voice in feminist theology, have begun to explore what they call womanist theology.
   Further reading:
   ■ Sheila Collins, A Different Heaven and Earth. (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1974)
   ■ Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1973)
   ■ Virginia R. Mollenkott, Women, Men and the Bible (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1977)
   ■ Rosemary Ruether, Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power (New York: Paulist Press, 1972)
   ■ ----, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983, rev. ed., 1993)
   ■ Letty M. Russell, Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective - A Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974)
   ■ Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We're Meant to Be (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1974).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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