Sunday, November 19, 2006

Feminist theology: the most pressing question

After I read Ben Myers' interview with Meehyung Chung in which she said that feminist theology has neglected the everyday voice of women in the church, I wanted to address some of the ways I had seen that to be true. As I wrap up the series with this post, there are other topics that could possibly be considered, but won't be covered in depth. For example, there seems to be a need for Christian feminism to find a role for dignity in service, to break the worldly pattern of always equating service with oppression, to reclaim service as a Christian vocation and humility as a Christian virtue, with lowliness as an honored path. These and other such things are implied in what has gone before, and it would be tedious to pursue every angle, and besides merciless to catalog every fault. I would like to close with what is, in my mind, the most pressing question.

Meehyun Chung commented that feminist theology had neglected the everyday voice of women in the church. While I believe this to be true, there is something which concerns me more, and I expect concerns the everyday women in the church more, than whether feminist theology is neglecting our voice. Is feminist theology -- at least in some strains -- neglecting God's priorities in favor of their own agenda?

That brings us to the question, what is theology supposed to do? If the purpose of theology is to know God, to bring the knowledge and presence of God to our lives and to our world in a redemptive and creative way, if we see this active presence and knowledge of God as the crowning blessing among all possible blessings, that is one vision of theology. It will necessarily lead to all kinds of redemptive and creative work in the world, wherever the presence of God and knowledge of God are treasured by his children and incarnated in our lives. This redemptive and creative work will include women, and will see people especially called to serve women, just as it will see people especially called to serve men, or serve children, or serve certain cities, or serve the homeless. It will also see theologians called to consider justice for women just as surely as all matters of justice are matters for God's people.

But there is a concern here that feminist theology is not always about the things God. There is a concern whether feminist theology has at times been divisive and partisan, whether pride and competitiveness and self-centeredness have crept into the conversation, whether the cause of women has been given higher place than the cause of Christ. When feminism becomes an end in itself, God becomes a pawn in a political argument. When God is a pawn, then God is no longer the source of blessing; without a source of blessing, such theology is stripped of its power to redeem or transform. Anything which exalts itself above God eventually defeats itself for that reason. For feminist theology to maintain its perspective -- and its promise of being a redemptive power in the world -- it must remember that it is part of the larger framework of God's transforming presence in the world.

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