by Kate Hanch
I received some feedback from people wanting to know more about Christian feminisms. Oftentimes, Christian feminisms are harmfully characterized or dismissed as secondary. I hope to provide a brief survey about why I think Christian feminist theologies are vital to the Christian faith.
Just like there are many denominations and streams of theologies, there are multiple Christian feminisms. My professors, along with the plethora of voices coming from Christian feminisms, continue to remind me of this reality. Thus, it’s probably best to say “Christian feminisms” over “Christian feminism.” My voice isn’t representative of a singular Christian feminism.
For many Christian feminisms, language matters. Oftentimes, we use certain language, pronouns, metaphors, etc., without realizing far reaching ramifications. Language forms thought and culture, and vice versa. Only using male language to describe the divine limits imaginative possibilities of who the Triune God is, and could close minds to the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. The bible gives us a multiplicity of metaphors in describing God, and ultimately, as Sallie McFague reminds us, all language is metaphorical. While some metaphors don’t need to be discarded altogether, they need to be utilized with care and discernment, subverting harmful interpretations.
While men can’t be feminists, they can be sympathetic to feminist causes. This might seem offensive to some. But, as Mary Hinsdale notes, men don’t have the lived experience that could make them a feminist. The caution in men claiming to be feminists is the history of patriarchy and misappropriation of women by men. If men claim the title for themselves, they could begin to identify it based upon their own experiences, and unintentionally uphold some values that keep harmful patriarchal structures in place. Men can learn from Christian feminists, advocate for Christian feminist causes, teach Christian feminisms in their churches and schools, and study the work of Christian feminism.
Christian feminisms have political ramifications. By political, I mean that they function to critique larger structural systems. For example, Christian feminisms may question lack of affordable child care or quality maternal health. In the church, Christian feminisms query liturgical practices or church governance, especially when they limit the roles of women in the life of the church and inhibit the flourishing of all.
Just because one is a Christian woman, one is not necessarily a Christian feminist. Christian feminism is something that’s claimed, and it’s a commitment to the flourishing of women.
Christian feminisms aren’t just for the academics or clergy. Christian women who may be wary of the designation of Christian feminisms may do things that reflect Christian feminisms’ values, such as advocate for the homeless or make meals for the sick. I know of a church where the older women in the congregation spearheaded efforts to make the church more green. They advocated for people to bring their own coffee cups to worship, and brought real plates and silverware for potluck dinners and community gatherings. While they wouldn’t identify as Christian feminists, their concern for the earth (and future generations) reflect Christian feminists’ commitment to the flourishing of all humanity.
Women have been a part of theological construction and guiding the church since the days of Jesus. While it would be anachronistic to apply Christian feminist titles to women in history, women have had valuable roles to play in theological construction. In the 11th century, Hildegard von Bingen strongly influenced the pope, wrote hymnody still utilized today, and risked excommunication to provide pastoral care. Seventeenth century Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote theological poems and essays, and advocated for the education of women. Sojourner Truth’s legacy of preaching as an itinerant, advocating for abolition and women’s rights, and working to provide jobs and assistance for African Americans is astounding in the 1800s United States. Her famous “Aren’t I a Woman” speech continues to have lasting influence.
Christian feminisms continue to go grow as critiques and challenges arise. Christian feminisms do not occupy a static space. Critiques serve as a growing edge for Christian feminisms.
Christian feminist theologies cannot be seen as an appendage to mainstream theologies. ALL THEOLOGY IS CONTEXTUAL but not relative. Being aware of one’s context allows the consideration of one’s biases, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, allows one to speak, act, and think about the Triune God in ways that are care-full and just. To identify Christian feminist theologies as appendages to, for example, Paul Tillich or N.T. Wright, implicitly upholds patriarchal structures where men are the dominant voices and women are supplementary. Of course, these theologians can and should be consulted, but with the awareness and reality that they are only one out of many voices who give witness to the Triune God.
A Few Resources reflecting Christian Feminisms (Again, this is a partial list and doesn’t necessarily cover the diversity of Christian feminisms)
New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views. (I recommended it in the last blog post).
Aquino, Maria Pilar and Maria Jose Rosado-Nunes, ed. Feminist Intercultural Theology: Latina Explorations for a Just World.
Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology.
Kelly Brown Douglas, What’s Faith Got to do With it?
Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.
“The Future of Catholic Feminist Theology”, a lecture on YouTube with Prof. Mary Hinsdale.
Faithinfeminism.com This site explores multiple faiths’ intersection with feminism, and is not limited to Christianity.