Is Feminist Theology ‘Dead’?

It is, along with feminism, according to Professor Stephen Prothero of Boston University.  I like Prothero.  His American Jesus is one of the most interesting books I’ve encountered about American religion.  But I think he may have spoken too soon here.

There are a variety of feminisms and thus a variety of feminist theologies. Are all of them dead? And if so, did they all die at the same time? My own thinking is that the current trends of feminism in academic circles (represented by works such as Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble) have left behind the equality-centered and issue-driven feminism of previous waves of feminists such as Steinem.

There is an odd kind of totalitarianism among academic feminists, though. In my course work, it often seemed that some women in the class were simply not content until we looked at everything from a “feminist” point of view. The most egregious example of this was in a class I took on Christianity and Masculinity, in which the female graduate students began to complain that we were “not talking enough” about women’s concerns. Eesh.

In some respects, I often found academic feminism to be silly because, in my experience, it consisted of elite, privileged (and often white) women sitting around and wallowing in their own oppression. If you’re in an ivy-league PHD program, odds are you haven’t suffered massive injustice! And if you want to do justice, go work for Habitat for Humanity, because teaching a bunch of other women to see themselves as oppressed doesn’t really do much to make the world a brighter or more truthful place.

Nevertheless, feminist theology has some important contributions to make. Male theologians need to be called out for their unrecognized bias on occasion. As a pastor, my own view is that feminist theology stops being theology altogether when the identity “woman” becomes more important the One worshiped – the Holy Trinity, God in three persons. The gospel, after all, is not a call to self-actualization but a call to die to self and live to God.

Read Karl Barth – it’s all about Jesus!

2 thoughts on “Is Feminist Theology ‘Dead’?”

  1. I read an article years ago in which the author, a woman, contrasted liberal feminism and gender feminism. Liberal feminism pursues equal rights for all, regardless of sex; a critical goal in a democracy, she said. She approved of liberal feminism. But gender feminism, which she didn’t like, gets hung up and obsessed with seeing gender in everything. I appreciated the distinction, and it helped me sort out the good and the bad in feminism.

    Actually, the book that helped me most in understanding feminism was Middlemarch. One of the key themes in that novel is the limited sphere of opportunity for women in the 19th century. Walking with the protagonist Dorothea as she struggled with her options and choices made me more aware of the real need for liberal feminism. That novel made me sympathetic to the changes in the rights and roles of women that took place in the 20th century.

    Feminist theology falls too much in the gender feminism sphere. Advocating women’s ordination is a good and necessary thing — it falls under liberal feminism. But advocating God as mother is different; it’s gender feminism, and it runs against Jesus’ clear teaching of the Fatherhood of God. Jesus’ mother was Mary.

    My wife and I are in a small group that is about to read Prothero’s book on Religious Literacy. I’m looking forward to it.

  2. Chris, good to hear from you as always. That is indeed a helpful distinction; I’ve read a similar one in the work of Christina Hoff Summers. I’m with you on this one; clearly, at its most basic and original level, feminism is merely the insistence that women and men are to be regarded as equals by the body politic. Gender feminism has completely different goals; not simply the equality of the sexes, but the eradication of the distinction is in view. Such a feminism, I believe, has little to offer real women in the world.

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