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Christian Feminism Basics
Have you ever wondered:
- What does it mean to be a Christian feminist?
- What are the essential teachings of Christian feminism?
- What happens in the life journeys of some Christian women and men that leads them to embrace the egalitarian concepts of Christian feminism, while other Christians live their lives convinced that the Bible teaches a hierarchical, patriarchal, “complementarian” view of gender?
- What does the term biblical feminist mean?
- What is inclusive language, and why do those who call themselves Christian feminists place so much emphasis on it?
- What are some good Christian feminist books?
- Where can rituals, liturgies, music, and other resources be found for use in Christian feminist gatherings, special meetings, or retreats?
- How can I start an EEWC-CFT chapter so that I can work with other Christian feminists for gender justice and equality?
- How is gender justice related to other forms of social justice throughout the world?
If these are the kinds of questions you’ve wondered about, you’ve come to the right place.
1. Reflections of a Christian Feminist: On Being All We’re Meant to Be
by Letha Dawson Scanzoni
I know that some people think that the words Christian and feminism are as incompatible as oil and water, but that’s because of a misunderstanding about both Christianity and feminism.
Christianity is built upon the gospel message, a message that’s supposed to mean “good news”—glad tidings of great joy to all people, not just half the human race. It’s a message about a God who’s involved with us, who cares about each one of us. And it’s a message of freedom from all that would oppress us, all that would block us from living up to our full potential, all that would keep us from being all that we were meant to be.
The goal of being all that we can be is what feminism is all about, too. . . .
— to continue reading this article, click here
2. Being a Feminist or Being a Christian—Must I Choose?
by Reta Halteman Finger
I must have been born a feminist—can one be something without knowing its name? Even as a toddler, my mother said I would rarely cuddle up on her lap but kept sliding off to explore the next new thing. My earliest memory of girlhood rebellion concerned climbing trees. In our mid-20th century Mennonite community, girls and women did not wear pants. It is not easy to modestly scramble up tree branches and skin-the-cat in a skirt. Though I did these things anyway, I considered it grossly unfair that girls were handicapped in a way boys were not. . . .
- to continue reading this article, click here
by Nancy Hardesty
This article by the late Nancy Hardesty, posted here in 2010, stresses the importance of making sure that the way we speak and write does not indicate bias, exclusion, and insensitivity toward any person or group with regard to gender, racial or ethnic identity, or any other identity. This includes avoiding language for God that implies God is literally male, since both female and male are created in God’s image.
— To read this article click here.
by Jann Aldredge-Clanton
Some seminary students believe that inclusive language is no longer an important issue
to be raised in churches since seminary and church leadership are no longer exclusively
male domains. Those who think this way view efforts to raise consciousness about male
imagery and exclusively masculine language for God as having been important at a time
when women were still striving for equality—an equality that in their minds has now been achieved. Not so, says Jann Aldredge-Clanton, as she presents arguments to show “why inclusive language it still important.”
— To read this article click here.
3. Commentary on “We Sound a Call to Freedom” Video
by Jann Aldredge-Clanton
Jann Aldredge-Clanton describes the meaning, biblical background, and symbolism of her song, “We Sound a Call to Freedom,” as featured in this video. It illustrates key points of her article, “Inclusive Language Is Still Important,” by showing the interconnection between an expanded understanding of the Divine to include female imagery, on the one hand, and the goal of human justice, equality, and freedom, on the other.
— To read the commentary and view the video click here.
A Resource for Women’s Gatherings
Empowering One Another as Women
by Rosemary Catalano Mitchell and Gail Anderson Ricciuti 1
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:5-7)
Leader: Have participants read this Scripture passage in several Bible translations.
Fearfulness is a significant spiritual and social issue for women in our culture. Crime statistics teach us that we dare never take it for granted that we are altogether safe on the street. From childhood, our mothers taught us certain rules for survival because we were female, and those recorded themselves like a mantra in the depths of our consciousness: Do not walk alone at night…hang on to your purse…be courteous but don’t speak to strangers…lower your eyes when approaching strange men, but always be alert…The contradictions inherent in these cautions often created a tightrope of dissonance in us.
We also learned timidity because of our gender: Better to downplay your intelligence…ladies never make the first move…don’t speak up for yourself and risk giving offense…it is up to us to keep the peace…anger is dangerous. The rules we internalize with the air we breathe serve to cripple our spirits, hobbling us as if we walked on tiny, bound feet. Research by Dr. Carol Gilligan has yielded unexpected data concerning the psychological development of young girls that underscores the detrimental effect of timidity in women’s lives: Girls up to approximately eleven years of age experience a healthy integration of integrity and intimacy, asserting themselves freely and expressing feelings openly without fear of conflict. In adolescence, however, girls begin to lose confidence in their own voices and feelings, to fear that their opinions will anger others, and to silence themselves in favor of “acting nice.” The challenge for women, Gilligan theorizes, is not (as formerly thought) to reach a developmental stage of strength and autonomy, but to reclaim something we have lost.2 We need to recover our identity as authorities on our own experience.
Theologically and spiritually, the message of the Gospel is that the “spirit of fear” or “spirit of timidity” is not God’s intention for whole human beings; rather, the divine gifts already in our grasp are “power, love, and a sound mind [self-control].” With that in mind, we set out in this gathering together today to “re-empower” each other to let go of fear and reclaim our strength!
FACING OUR FEARS
1. Each person chooses a colored index card from a basket containing equal numbers of five different colors and is asked to list on the card ten things she fears most.
2. Cards are collected.
3. Leader shuffles cards back into the basket.
4. Cards are redistributed, one to each person (making sure that no one receives her own card this time).
5. The women are asked to form five groups according to color of the cards. One person in each group is appointed to serve as facilitator, and is given a list of the questions below for group discussion.
6. In these groupings, each woman reads aloud the fears listed on the card in her hand.
7. Group discussion (allow 20-30 minutes):
- What similarities do you recognize in the lists?
- How do these fears relate to being a woman?
- Which fears are most limiting to women’s power?
- Thinking back on the research findings of Dr. Carol Gilligan, can you think of an example from your own pre-teen or early adolescent years when fears began undermining confidence?
8. End the meeting by re-reading 2 Timothy 1:5-7 together. Other Scripture passages that might also be used are: 1 John 4:18; Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 13:5-6; Psalm 91; Philippians 4:13. Scriptures could be written out in advance from translations using inclusive language. The Contemporary English Version (CEV), for example, translates Phil. 4:13, as: “Christ gives me the strength to face anything.” (The NRSV renders it, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.)
Close with a time of meditation and listening to Kathryn Christian sing, “Shelter Me under Thy Wings” from the audio section of the EEWC website.
1 Adapted from Birthings and Blessings: Liberating Worship Services for the Inclusive Church, by Rosemary Catalano Mitchell and Gail Anderson Ricciuti (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1991, 1992), pp. 175, 178. Used by permission.
2 Carol Gilligan, Nona P. Lyons, Trudy J. Hamner, eds., Making Contact: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at EmmaWillard School (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press,
Gail Anderson Ricciuti, who adapted this excerpt from her coauthored book with Rosemary Catalano Mitchell for use as part of Christian Feminism Basics, is associate professor of homiletics at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York, where she has taught for the past 12 years. Before that, she served as a Presbyterian pastor for 25 years. She serves on our EEWC-CFT Council as Northeast regional representative.
Christian Feminism Basics Book List
Influential classics, primarily (though not exclusively) from second-wave Christian feminism’s early period (1970s through 1980s)
Compiled by Nancy A. Hardesty, Professor of Religion,
Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985.
Bristow, John Temple. What Paul Really Said about Women. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
Bushnell, Katherine. God’s Word to Women. Privately published, 1912, 1923. Reprint available from God’s Word to Women Publishers, P.O. Box 315, Mossville, IL 61552.
Crawford, Janet, and Michale Kinnamon, eds. In God’s Image: Reflections on Identity, Human Wholeness, and the Authority of Scripture. New York: Friendship Press, 1983.
Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.
Daly, Mary. Women in Church History.
Finger, Reta Halteman, and Kari Sandhaas, eds. The Wisdom of Daughters: Two Decades of the Voice of Christian Feminism. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 2001.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her: Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad, 1983.
Gundry, Patricia. Heirs Together: Mutual Submission in Marriage. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.
Gundry, Patricia. Woman Be Free! Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977.
Hagen, June Steffensen, ed., Rattling Those Dry Bones: Women Changing the Church. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1995.
Hardesty, Nancy. Inclusive Language in the Church. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986.
Hardesty, Nancy. Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984. 2d ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 19
Hassey, Janette. No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.
Hearn, Ginny. Our Struggle to Serve: The Stories of 15 Evangelical Women. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1978.
Jewett, Paul. MAN as Male and Female. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Jewett, Paul. The Ordination of Women. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1980.
Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
Kalven, Janet, and Mary I. Buckley, eds. Women’s Spirit Bonding. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984.
Mercadante, Linda. From Hierarchy to Equality: A Comparison of Past and Present Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in Relation to the Changing Status of Women in Society. Vancouver, B.C.: G-M-H Books, Regent College, 1978.
Mickelson, Berkeley, and Alvera Mickelson. “Does Male Dominance Tarnish Our Translations?” Christianity Today, October 5, 1979, pp 23-27.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female. New York: Crossroad, 1983.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Godding: Human Responsibility and the Bible. New York: Crossroad, 1987.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Speech, Silence, Action! Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Women, Men, and the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1977. Rev. ed. New York: Crossroad, 1988.
Moltmann-Wendel, Elisabeth. The Women around Jesus. New York: Crossroad, 1982.
Morton, Nell. The Journey Is Home. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
Otwell, John. H. And Sarah Laughed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977.
Penn-Lewis, Jessie. The Magna Charta of Women. Bournemouth, UK: The Overcomer Book Room, 1919. Reprint ed., Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975.
Ruether, Rosemary. Disputed Questions: On Being a Christian. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982.
Ruether, Rosemary. New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation. New York: Seabury Press, 1975.
Ruether, Rosemary. Religion and Sexism. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
Ruether, Rosemary. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1983.
Ruether, Rosemary. Womanguides:Readings Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
Ruether, Rosemary. Women-Church: Theology and Practice. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
Ruether, Rosemary, and Rosemary Skinner Keller, Women & Religion in America: A Documentary History. Published in three volumes. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981, 1983, 1986.
Russell, Letty, ed., Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.
Russell, Letty, ed., Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective — A Theology. Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1974.
Russell, Letty, ed., The Liberating Word. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
Sayers, Dorothy L. Are Women Human? Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1971.
Scanzoni, Letha Dawson, and Nancy A. Hardesty. All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974. 2d ed., Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986. 3d rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
Scanzoni, Letha Dawson, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978. Rev. ed.
Scholer, David. “Feminist Hermeneutics and Evangelical Interpretation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (December 1987): 407-20.
Solle, Dorothee. The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984.
Spencer, Aida Besancom. Beyond the Curse. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985.
Swartley, Willard M. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.
Tennis, Diane. Is God the Only Reliable Father? Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.
Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks. Sex, Race, and God: Christian Feminism in Black and White. New York: Crossroad, 1984.
Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.
Wahlberg, Rachel. Jesus According to a Woman. New York: Paulist Press, 1975.
Weems, Renita. Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Version of Women’s Relationships in the Bible. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1988.
Weidman, Judith L., ed. Christian Feminist: Visions of a New Humanity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984,
Wilson-Kastner, Patricia. Faith, Feminism, and the Christ. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.