One of the great human rights movements of our era, has been THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT. This social movement has won equal rights for women, giving them equal status with men and freedom to decide their own careers and life patterns.
1. THE RISE OF THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT.
Concern for women's rights dates from Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", published in England in 1792. She challenged the idea women exist only to please men and proposed women receive the same opportunities as men in education, work, and politics. From 1860 many Christian women fought in the suffrage movement to obtain voting rights for women, first granted anywhere in the world in South Australia.
From the 1880'S a few women began to work in the professions. Women achieved the right to vote in the first half of the 20th century. Slowly limits on women's participation in the workplace, and social attitudes confining women to their traditional roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers, changed. With reliable contraception, fewer children, greater social acceptability, the economic necessity for two incomes a family, and more jobs for women meant most women today have combined family life with career development. "The Feminine Mystique", published in 1963 by Betty Friedan, attacked the conditioning of women to accept passive roles and male dominance. In the 60's and 70's in Western countries, Feminism sought to achieve greater freedom for women to work and to remain economically and psychologically independent of men.
2. THE FEMINIST PHILOSOPHY COMES TO THEOLOGY.
Some, like Bishop John Shelby Spong, have adapted feminist philosophy to Christian theology which he sees oppressing women. He states: "It is only a matter of time before all ecclesiastical oppression of women will come to an end. A woman bishop of Rome, sitting on the throne of St Peter as Pope is inevitable." p6
Since 1980 we have seen feminist theologians like Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In looking at differing views of modern scholars seeking the historical Jesus, we now look at the feminist theologians. It is the opinion of some that "we still do not have an adequate full study of the historical Jesus by a feminist scholar." Witherington p277. If women theologians view Jesus the liberator through feminist spectacles, it is interesting to consider Him through the eyes of black African American feminists. They differ from white feminist theologians. I presented the Jessie Bader Lectures in Canada with womanist theologian, Dr Cynthia Hales. Womanist theology has received little attention in Australia, but in the Seminary where I lecture in Tennissee, Dr Hales and other womanist theologians are carefully studied. The African-American women see Jesus the liberator through black feminist spectacles in a unique and insightful view of the historical Jesus.
Most feminist theologians start their quest for the historical Jesus in the Old Testament Proverbs and the "Wisdom Literature." Here, God is described as Wisdom, the term used of the Egyptian and near-East goddess Sophia. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza wrote "In Memory of Her" in 1984.
She distinguishes between the Jesus followers in Palestine and everything that happened since, especially the development of Christianity under Paul in the Gentile world. Fiorenza's view is that in Galilee, Jesus involved women in his band and in his teachings, but Paul did not. Jesus certainly ate and drank with the marginalised in society, including the poor, the morally unclean, sinners and women. Fiorenza says that only a few texts support this because the Gospels writers were men and they wrote from a male point of view omitting this. Jesus was in fact, a modern, politically correct liberationist. But the Gospel writers were men who only saw life through men's eyes and heard His teaching through men's ears. Their work is not to be trusted, for the real Jesus was more liberating of women than they.
There are problems with this approach, not the least is the total lack of evidence to show that Jesus was a radical reformer of the patriarchal society. Furthermore, you cannot take the evidence of the worship of a female God in Egypt and apply it to women in Palestine. There were women prophets in Israel in the thousand years before Jesus, and one fictional book about a heroine Judith, but there is no evidence that Jesus promoted them and sought to radically reform patriarchal society. Further this view does not accept that the scriptures are inspired of God. They are rather just the product of some prejudiced men.
Jesus did elevate the position of women. He did have an open table to which they were invited. Jesus did treat women as equals, and some women travelled with the band of disciples Lk 8:1-3 although some like Peter, had wives who lived at home.
Jesus teaching gave women greater security within marriage and taught men to respect women. He gave single women new roles and stressed the family of faith was the new basis of the church not biological families. Jesus never put down a women. Jesus entrusted to women some of His most precious teachings as with the woman at the well at Sychar. John 4 Discipleship involved women and men. Jesus revealed Himself as Risen Lord to women.
But He also spoke of "Abba" Father as God, and taught us to pray to "Our Father". He did use the phrase "Son of Man" about Himself. He did teach that we should honour and support both mother and father. Mark 7:9-13 And He chose twelve men to be the foundational Apostles. The attempts of the writers of pop musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" in elevating the importance of Mary Magdalene are no more convincing than that of feminist theologians. We cannot make Jesus into a contemporary feminist reformer!
Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza took feminist theology further with her book "Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet." This argues that Jesus was a prophet of Sophia, Wisdom. She believes God is the female personification of Wisdom. A number of Jewish texts personified Wisdom, and the Egyptians thought of Wisdom as a goddess. Jesus was a radical prophet who fought for the rights of women seeing God as Sophia, and He was her prophet. The titles of Jesus as Lord and Saviour were really titles of the Egyptian goddess Sophia which were transferred to Jesus. But there is no evidence to suggest Jesus ever considered God as Sophia and much to say He called God "Father".
Fiorenza believes the voice that spoke from heaven at the baptism of Jesus was the female voice of Sophia, and the descending dove is the symbol of the Near-Eastern goddess. God is not "Abba" Father, that is patriarchal and demeaning of women, but the feminine goddess whose descriptions as Wisdom were found in some of the Proverbs of Solomon and ascribed to God. She claims Jesus taught God was Sophia, not Abba Father. We are wrong because the texts were written by men.
Fiorenza seeks to find in non-Christian writings and in a supposed community of believers of which we have no evidence, that Jesus was a feminist liberator, the one who taught God the Father was really Sophia. There is no evidence that Jesus saw Himself as the incarnation of Wisdom. The New Testament rarely uses the word "wisdom" and does not quote the Wisdom literature.
John chose the word "logos"-"Word" to describe Jesus, not wisdom. Paul does refer to Christ as both "the power of God and the wisdom of God", but this is speaking of two attributes of God not His entire being. The problem is this feminist picture of Jesus is not recovered from either the Gospel text or other writings about Him or His era. This picture of Jesus is composed by the humanist philosophy of feminism that sees Jesus as a radical liberator and then goes back to the scriptures to dismiss anything that does not fit the image.
This is not discovering from the scripture (exegesis) but reading into the scripture (eisegesis). The feminist philosophy determines what is acceptable or not. A personal agenda twists the evidence.
Ideology dictates theology. If Jesus is the great liberator of women, most of His teachings have been butchered by Gospel writers who interpreted them from their male viewpoint. To discover then their real Jesus, requires dismissing most of the New Testament as male-centred and patriarchal. In Goddess worship is the female-centred focus for spiritual expression of those who seek a deity other then God the Father, and a faith less patriarchal than that of the Judeo-Christian faith. Terms like "Goddess" "Mother God" "Divine Sophia" "Mother Earth" are used inter-changeably. Merlin Stone in "When God was A Woman" says "The goddess is just not a female version of the Christian God who is transcendent. The goddess is located within each individual and all things in nature." The goddess followed by such feminist theologians is not the Christian God, but a New Age gender substitute!
What has that to do with us today? Little if you are a Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Churches of Christ, Salvationist or Presbyterian. But a lot to do with you if you are a member of the Uniting Church.
3. FEMINIST THEOLOGY IMPACTS THE UNITING CHURCH.
Feminist theology is taught in the United Theological College and the work of Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and other feminists is central. Feminist theology is closely associated with the rise of the Lesbian presence within the Uniting Church and is found in some of the liturgies circulated within the denomination. One book has devotions about the crucifixion where the man Jesus is replaced by Sophia, the Goddess. What is questioned is the inspiration of the scriptures and its description of God.
Like all movements rejecting the Bible as the basis of faith and behaviour, we are left with the winds of fancy and trendy social fashion. The Scriptures alone are the basis of our faith and morality. These feminist theologians modernise Jesus, making Him more of a social radical and liberator than He was, turning Him into a modern, western, liberating, twentieth century feminist.
It seems strange that on Fathers Day we should have spent time examining the Quest for the Historical Jesus from a feminist perspective. But in an era when many men are not coping well with social trends, it does help to realise Jesus was a man who is our role model in developing our masculinity, and yet who at the same time gave women every opportunity for personal growth, responding to women with respect and equality and who wanted God's kingdom to grow without barriers of race, colour, gender, or social and economic privilege.
There is a seat at the Table of the Lord for all who come to Him in faith, who live according to His teachings, and who base their faith and behaviour upon the written testimony to Him. Jesus is found to be Saviour and Lord. He is not the result of some politically correct trend. The scriptures bear witness to Him and we come under their authority and guidance. Our own ideas may change with every wind of doctrine, but the scriptural image of Jesus is the true and living one.
It is not demeaning of women to acknowledge Jesus Christ is both Lord and Saviour who reconciles us to the Father, who loves us each, regardless of gender. Each of us can be a child of God by faith.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
IN MEMORY OF HER: A FEMINIST THEOLOGICAL RECONSTRUCTION OF CHRISTIAN
ORIGINS E S Fiorenza 1984 Crossroad (New Ed 1994)
JESUS: MIRIAM'S CHILD, SOPHIA'S PROPHET: CRITICAL ISSUES IN FEMINIST CHRISTOLOGY E S Fiorenza Continium 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington 111 IVP 1995
SEEKING SOPHIA J Griffiths Millennium 1997
RESCUING THE BIBLE FROM FUNDAMENTALISM J S Spong Harper 1991
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