Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is feminist theology neglecting the women in the pews?

I'd like to recognize Ben Myers for his part in my next series, particularly an interview he conducted with Meehyun Chung, a woman who recently received recognition for her theological work. In response to an insightful question of Ben's, she answered (in part):
Feminist theology has achieved various things in the academic sphere, but the voice of women in the church has not actually been accepted – or rather, feminist theology has neglected the everyday voice of women in the church.
That very well sums up many of my objections to feminist theology. What is meant to be a representative voice in the academic halls can actually be a misrepresenting voice. I set out to type up a single post reviewing the points where I think feminist theology often misrepresents the everyday voice of women in the church. It soon became clear that I was looking at a series. Here is the first installment.

Priesthood of all believers
The egalitarian camp has spent a certain amount of time and energy making a case that women belong in the higher echelons of church leadership. For just a moment, let's set aside the question of whether this is good or Biblical. Instead, let's suppose that the egalitarian efforts towards ordination and promotion of women were instantly, completely, uncontestedly successful in their aims, and ask ourselves: how much good would this accomplish for the average woman? To put it another way: To what extent is the average man elevated by the fact that his pastor or priest is male? How does this compare to the extent to which we are lifted up by forgiveness when we are humbled, or the extent to which we are lifted up by being a member of the priesthood -- not the priesthood of the elite, but the priesthood of all believers? Did feminist theology take a wrong turn in aiming for membership in the elite rather than restoring full membership in the body of Christ to all believers?

In some sense this is an unjust criticism in that the pastoral role is a legitimate role within the church. All the same, I'd submit that when women looked around and saw ourselves marginalized, it was too small a thing to notice our own marginalization, and not also notice the marginalization of all the laity together. Neither will breaking into the elites, even with complete success, be enough to change the fact that most of the women -- and men -- are still marginalized within the church.


Kevin Knox said...

I applaud you for attacking the clergy/laity division. But I have to question your rejection of feminist theology because it has not addressed this problem (called nicolaitanism in Rev 2 at Ephesus and Pergamos.)

That the clergy should rule over the laity is dead wrong.
Discussing how the gifts of pastor/ elder/ deacon/ teacher should be exercised is absolutely a good thing. I'm with you, if that's where you're going.

But what does that have to do with feminist theology?

... ask ourselves: how much good would this accomplish for the average woman?

Can it be in question that a balanced leadership has a much better chance of correcting this error than an unbalanced leadership? The question of feminist theology is whether an all male-leadership is what the Lord calls balanced, or a mixture of male and female. I contend that our leadership is imbalanced, and therefore making imbalanced decisions.

"Breaking into the elite" may not be a solution, but your post tends to suggest that maybe it is. If you, a woman, were in leadership would you or would you not work to end the clergy/laity divide?

I suggest that your viewpoint is not coincidental. Men see the world in a more hierarchical way, and women less so. If I am right, and if we had more women in leadership, all ya'll just might organically address the problem.

That would be a big benefit, indeed.

Weekend Fisher said...

I hope I'm not doing anything so broad and sweeping as accepting or rejecting feminist theology. This post (and a few more behind it) are the things that came to mind when reading the interview over at Ben M's blog. The observation she made was that feminist theology has neglected the concerns of the average churchwoman. I really have to agree with that. While I'm agreeing with that, please don't think I'm dismissing all of women's theology outright.

Oloryn said...

Sounds to me like WF is saying that the feminists are just as centered on the pursuit of power that characterizes the worlds view of authority and leadership as anyone else, and this in the church, which is called to servant, not selfish, leadership. And I agree. The issue of Christians learning how to exercise leadership and authority in the servant manner Christ calls us to (and this isn't just a matter for the 'elites' - just about all of us exercise authority at some point in our lives, and need to know how to do it in a Christlike, servant manner) is, to my mind, of far higher priority than the egalitarian vs complementarian debate, yet it seems to receive much less attention. I'm beginning to wonder if the whole complementarian vs egalitarian bit acts as something of a practical red herring - we're kept arguing over who should be allowed into leadership when we should be concentrating on making sure that those who are in leadership exercise that leadership in the servant manner Christ commands. If we actually dealt with the latter effectively, the whole egalitarian vs complementarian would likely be rendered semi-moot. As it is, we argue over who should be allowed in leadership, and then let that leadership operate pretty much the same way worldly leadership operates. I'm afraid we do that because we have so far lost sight of what servant leadership would be like that we have no idea of how to make it practical - we spend too little time paying attention to the issue and hardly know where to begin.

Kevin Knox said...

Hehehe. Yes, I do tend to sweep. Objections do not constitute rejection, so I rescind my overstatement. My apologies.

I will repeat that I agree with you on the leadership direction you seem to be taking. That is why I did not do my feminism series until I first did a leadership series. The leadership problem is more critical, but the egalitarian problem may be more foundational. The egalitarian solution could address the leadership problem, even if it has failed to do so thus far.

I look forward to the series. :-)

DougALug said...

Hello WF,

As usual, you're really making me think here. This is some really great thoughts.

The these women driving this are Christians, then the converse of 'feminist' theology is NOT 'male-driven' theology. Hopefully it is atheism.

The feminist theology movement is not really a shift in outlook, but a backlash response to the oppression of one.

To me, our job in the church is not to embrace the feministic theology, but rather to reflectively look at our theology, and make sure we have not excluded a group of our body based on cultural biases. This isn't solely for this issue either, but for all things. Tradition is not always correct.

Here is the quickest analogy I can come up with. Do you remember watching the Andy Griffith show when Otis would come into town drunk, riding a mule? I know my parents and I would laugh at the absurdity of it all. Today, that wouldn't be tolerated. Why? Because it is completely irresponsible for Otis to do that (Barney was right about this). Has our culture become anti-drinking? Obviously not, alcohol seems to pervade everywhere. Our culture has adopted a pro-responsibility stance, and in doing so, villified drunks.

If the goal is power by the feminists, then I am opposed to it. If the goal is truth, I see no reason not to have this discussion.

God Bless

Weekend Fisher said...

That's interesting about the town drunk on the mule. But I could draw a few different conclusions from it. I wonder which one you had in mind?

I think the conversation should be had. I think the conversation's going to be had, whether we want to have it or not. I'd have wanted to have it anyway, but I'm not everybody.

My main hope is to get the conversation over onto grounds that might possibly be productive or edifying.

DougALug said...

My main hope is to get the conversation over onto grounds that might possibly be productive or edifying.