Thursday, November 09, 2006

When Christ is de-emphasized for his maleness ...

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

If traditional theology has been accused of a discomfort with women, it seems that some feminist theology has a discomfort with men. The discomfort can range from neglect and disinterest to blatant antagonism. If feminist theology makes the argument that the man's discomfort with women is a theological shortcoming and possibly moral shortcoming, the same must apply to instances of women's discomfort with men. Feminist theology does remind us that women bear the image of God just as surely as men do, drawing attention to something the Bible has always affirmed. However, a certain strain of feminist theology aims to portray God almost solely in female terms, with the results (as we have seen) that are sometimes embarrassing, which is not necessarily a strong first showing in theology. Simple embarrassment is not a cause for excess concern; many male theologians have embarrassed themselves over the centuries and foolishness is no novelty in theological studies. But there is a more serious consequence of a theology that tries, as one of its goals, to be scrupulously female-oriented instead of simply Christian with our own voice. That more serious consequence is the neglect of Christ. The feminist may see God the Father as God the Mother, or may see the Holy Spirit as female, and there is probably relatively small harm to their theology (other than ethics, generosity, and charity towards men) from so studiously ignoring the masculine. But among the ways in which we know God, Christ in particular is intractably male. So Christ, as an adult male -- which is to say Christ in his ministry -- is seldom encountered in his full humanity in feminist theology. Women in position of church authority have been known to speak of "mother Jesus"; this is better than discarding Jesus entirely but still comes across as a willful distortion.

Attempts to feminize Christ, neuter Christ, or ignore Christ do irreparable harm to the knowledge of God. Some branches of feminist theology are more comfortable with Christ as child (neuter) than with Christ as son (male). This risks losing sight of Christ's adult life; it risks marginalizing the miracles, the compassion, the teachings, the crucifixion and resurrection that occurred in Jesus' adult (human male) life. Christianity with a missing or half-hearted Christology is devastatingly handicapped. It is flatly impossible for any full-fledged theology to come from a perspective which is so narrowly feminine that it avoids the full realities of Christ's incarnation.

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