A quick trip through a Christian Book Store or the Christianity-focused portions of a major book store makes it clear that women buy a lot of the books sold there. Sometimes, the aisle is as clearly for women as are the bright pink aisles of a toy store. But I rarely find anything there that appeals to me.
Why? Because the shelves seem dominated by a traditional patriarchal view of Christian theology and it praxis. In more direct terms- I don’t see me or my faith reflected in the writings of these women (or men) whose books are purportedly aimed at my demographic. My mainline upbringing didn’t require women to teach children or other women only. There were as many men as women in the kitchen prepping for coffee hours and fellowship dinners. I knew plenty of women pastors, just like I knew women doctors, lawyers and professors. It’s not just that I didn’t hear sermons about submission and spiritual head of the household… The faithful, long-standing marriages I saw modeled by my parents friends were all about healthy strong relationships based on mutual respect and shared responsibility and power (and fighting fair when conflict came). So I just can’t relate to much of the writing that comes out of the conservative evangelical stream that still promotes a highly male-dominated family, church and society.
Not only can I not relate, I have a hard time accepting the patriarchal approach to theology. This does not mean that I am ready to re-imagine the whole of Christianity into a matriachal culture patterned after Xena Warrior Princess. Nor do I expect feminine-only pronouns for all persons of the Trinity. Nor do I imagine that we should replace all of our symbols with feminine imagery.
But I would love to see a a woman who is smart, funny and accessible get some airtime and shelf-space to speak about WHY women have grown up hearing “and women” in our heads when we sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Why that needs to stop being just in our heads and only in our heads. Someone who can say to men and women alike – “it’s not ok to tell our kids that “since it’s easier, you can just talk about the Holy Spirit as ‘he’ like God the Father and Jesus the Son…” Someone who can help us move beyond discomfort on Mother’s Day and Proverbs 31 because it’s not about serving the husband by being a perfect wife (actually it’s more like a sermon illustration on vocation, but that’s a whole ‘nother post).
There are certainly brilliant women writing well about feminist theology in academia. And many of them have written books that are accessible while challenging the reader to consider new angles from which to read and take hold of scripture. And yet small groups and Sunday School classes continue to reach for studies by women like Moore and Meyer.
The problem seems to be that our religious discussions in America have become so bogged down in our political drama that the only women with a platform to speak are those who represent social conservatism wrapped in the Republican party. Women from the more liberal wing of the political divide tend to keep faith private- perhaps out of a desire to respect others’ faith traditions which may differ from her own. Or perhaps, like former UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjold, their faith is demonstrated in the work they choose to prioritize and champion (caveat being that we never perfectly embody Christ this side of paradise but especially not in politics).
Maybe this hasn’t been a felt need until now. The first generation of women ordained to serve in mainline denominations is giving way to new waves of women who are ready to serve in places our colleagues did not reach. Perhaps the rising generation of women theological writers will do the same- finding new platforms and opportunities to speak to a broader audience. Hey- Oprah’s got a lot of hours to fill on her network…