Ever heard the phrase “contextual theology?” A contextual theology is a theology done from the perspective of a certain people group with the issues and problems of those in that group as the aim and theme. Since most theology in the West over the last few centuries has been done from the perspective of rich white men it isn’t hard to believe that the theology they produced may be most concerned with the values and problems of rich white men. So really in a way much of what we call theology proper in the West could be thought of as contextual toward rich white men.
Contextual theologies come in all varieties including (but not limited to): Black theology, South American theology, African theology, Liberation theology, Postmodern theology, and Feminist theology. Recently I was researching and writing a paper about Feminist Christology. This is basically the study of the person of Christ from a feminist perspective. I was very surprised by what I found and wanted to share some thoughts with you.
God is Not a Man
Feminist theologians are fundamentally reacting against the treatment of woman in the church. They feel that because God is personified as male the oppression of women appears justified as a patriarchal mechanism. The concern is that the consistent reference to God as male has actually shaped the Christian psyche to consider males as divinely superior to women. The goal of feminist theology is not to argue that God is a woman but instead to embrace the truth that God is not gendered and that words like “him” have only been applied to God as a conventional way of referring to him. Still the problem remains that the exclusive use of masculine terms to refer to God results in subconscious misappropriations of God’s character. Feminist theologians seek to find ways to talk about God in feminine terms in addition to masculine terms in order to more fully express God’s character.
Here are some Bible verses that talk about God using feminine characteristics:
- Hosea 13:8 God described as a mother bear “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…”
- Deuteronomy 32:18 God who gives birth “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
- Isaiah 66:13 God as a comforting mother God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
- Isaiah 49:15 God compared to a nursing mother God: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
- Isaiah 42:14 God as a woman in labor God: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
But Jesus was a Real Boy! Right?
However, a problem is represented when Jesus’ own embodiment is considered. Jesus was a male with male genitalia and male chromosomes. Some believe that this tension is too much to overcome and that the feminist movement must disengage from the Christian narrative as far as Christ is concerned. Others suggest considering more inclusive images for Christ. I really didn’t think that a good case could be made for using feminine language to talk about Jesus. It turns out that there is actually a long tradition of doing just that. Feminist theologians point to writings from the early church fathers that depicted Christ as mother. These include, Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine. In the middle ages it was popular, even for the likes of Bernard of Clairvaux and Anselm of Canterbury, to refer to Jesus in feminine terms. The fourteenth century figure Julian of Norwich would often refer to Christ as “Our true Mother Jesus.” Therefore many feminist theologians conclude that it is appropriate to consider Christ as a female and in doing so they can identify with him as savior.