Wednesday, November 08, 2006

When feminist theology re-invents the Trinity ...

This continues a short series on whether feminist theology is neglecting the everyday voice of women in the church.

It is common for the egalitarian camp to offer assurances that placing women in key roles does not amount to throwing out historic Christianity wholesale, but instead is simply correcting some misunderstandings and misapplications. Some noteworthy public examples have not been very reassuring. The PC-USA recently approved referring to the Trinity as "Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb." Let's begin, here, with the Life-giving Womb. I can only imagine what the feminists would say if the Trinity were ever referred to as "Father, Son, and Live-giving Testicles" or something along those lines. To put it more plainly, this seems to be an example of over-stretching the study of the Holy Spirit beyond reasonable bounds, with an aim to make a merely human point. In theology -- particularly incarnational theology as we Christians practice -- there's always the careful distinction whether we sinners are remade in God's image (restoration) or whether God is remade in our image (idolatry or blasphemy on the extreme end, or petty presumptuousness and rank silliness on the low end). I don't see that referring to the Holy Spirit as a womb has any Scriptural merit, but instead it seems a fairly transparent effort to thrust our self-image onto God. I don't think it can be taken so seriously as to amount to blasphemy, but I expect it does amount to rank silliness. That an early, conspicuous contribution of the new leadership to church life is something both misguided and frivolous comes as something of an embarrassment to the average woman in the pews, possibly to women in theology in general. It comes across as a nearly childish form of the "me too!" argument, and the focus comes across as less on God and more on women seeking to call attention to themselves at a moment in the worship service when the focus ought to be on God.

It's very likely that "me too!" needs to be said. It is always reassuring of our shared human dignity that the Bible names both men and women as being made in the image of God. Still, I would be less embarrassed if this point was made with a little more tact than that, and if the image of God did not seem to be used as a pawn in the gender wars. The image of God should be one thing men and women have in common; when we use it in a divisive or narrowly sexist way (as in "Life-giving Womb"), that's an improper use of the doctrine. It is not for us to remake God after the image of only one sex.1 If the image of God bestowed on us is to be a heartening and life-giving teaching, then it is to be seen as a gift of God to us, the hope of glory, and the dignity of humanity, both men and women in common.

Which leads fairly directly to my next post on the subject ...

1 - It is likely enough that some of the people recommending "Life-giving Womb" for use in the Trinitarian formula recognize it as narrowly sexist, and see the narrow sexism (let's be charitable) as corrective, rather than such a low thing as payback or liturgical revenge. But I'm skeptical that language of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost was ever meant as narrowly sexist; adding something to the mix that is hard to interpret otherwise than narrowly sexist in its reference to reproductive organs introduces a pointed narrowness and explicit divisiveness that was not there before and is not helpful to introduce.


codepoke said...

I have an uncle who believes that he invented the personal urban monorail, and that if the big three in Detroit did not have it in for him, he would be a rich man today. He lives in a house that he built himself. If you lean up against a wall in the house, you will literally set the whole thing to swaying, but don't dare say a word when it happens. The stories go on.

If a friend is going to talk about my family name, he can certainly talk about several of my forebearers, and everything he says will be true. Nothing he says about them will be heart-warming, but if he endeavors to give the subject a thorough treatment, I will endure the shame.

When the PC-USA made this announcement, my heart sank. And I know they are not alone. The litany of egregious errors made by cheerful or determined or bitter or even unredeemed feminists is deeply disheartening.

And the most disheartening thing is that my uncle believes that he is a misunderstood genius. Do I not feel the same way about myself? If I can see the log in the PC-USA's eye, does that mean that my eye is clear? The fact that I believe I'm right does very, very little to assure me that I am.

I wish I didn't have so many guesses as to what your next post might be.

codepoke said...

How do you like the beta so far?

Weekend Fisher said...

The beta kicked in while I was asleep, though I'd put in for it a few hours before that. So I haven't actually had a chance to try it yet.

As for the "feminist theology" series, I think I might actually have to follow it up by notes on positive contributions that women in theology either can make or have made, since this series is admittedly one-sided, having been sparked by a comment about feminist theology ignoring the women's mainstream.

Picture this series as a response to the question, "How does feminist theology ignore the women's mainstream?", which was voiced by a woman theologian in the interview that I originally linked. That's not to say that feminist theology is worthless, and I'm sure when I'm done some balance will be in order.

As for your uncle and me and our glass houses, I know that I've got genuine faults. I also know that, if it weren't for some groundbreaking work by some egalitarian-minded folks awhile back, I could hardly support myself financially in the world.

Still, what you said about "the litany of egregious errors made by cheerful or determined or bitter or even unredeemed feminists being deeply disheartening" -- it's more disheartening if you're a woman and they somehow represent your team. If someone is going to call them on it, better be a woman; some chance it might be heard. So my prayer for this series is that I do a Christlike job of gentleness and respect.

Take care & God bless

codepoke said...

I always know the moment I go to a beta site. IE complains that some of the items on the page are coming from a secure site, and asks whether I really want to load them. :-(

... this series is admittedly one-sided ...

One-sided posts are my favorite! Even whole one-sided series. If I want the other side's perspective, I will find someone who embraces it. I'd much rather hear exactly what each blogger thinks, than hear a recitation of what every blogger thinks.

You will notice that I tend to assume that what a person says is what he believes, full stop. I think most people are like me in this (which is rare, and nice!) Of course, I understand that your position is not simple or one-sided, so I look forward to any balance to your position you will offer.

... our glass houses ...

I did not intend to infer that you were throwing stones inappropriately. I meant only to say it is unpleasant to have indefensible uncles. The PC-USA may as well have built their crystal palace at the 150 yard marker of a golf driving range as make that statement. They are brothers and sisters, but even brothers and sisters can be uncles at times.

it's more disheartening if you're a woman and they somehow represent your team

[Bowing in deference]

Weekend Fisher said...

ROFL. My son has recently taken up golf. He has more luck with the 100-yard marker right now but I got the picture pretty vividly.

I think the thing that has troubled me most about the criticisms of old PC-USA's glass house at the 150-yard mark is that the criticisms have seemed to come from hostiles. Every camp is better off policing their own. Were there comments from within PC-USA that this was over the line? Did I miss them? It could happen, PC-USA is not my camp ...