Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Library of One's Own: Feminist Theology Not Only Has Helped Women Recover Their Voices and Their Stories, It Has Called the Church to Recover the Feminine Face of God. (Culture in Context)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Library of One's Own: Feminist Theology Not Only Has Helped Women Recover Their Voices and Their Stories, It Has Called the Church to Recover the Feminine Face of God. (Culture in Context)

Article excerpt

WHEN VIRGINIA WOOLF WROTE A ROOM OF One's Own she argued that any woman trying to find her voice as a writer required an income and a room. But in 1929 a Catholic woman who wanted to write about theology would have found neither a position nor a place to do so. Theologians then wore soutanes, not skirts, and nearly all of them were celibate males living and teaching in seminaries. Theology used male language and images to speak about a male God to a male-dominated church, and accepted Augustine's and Thomas Aquinas' views that women were mentally, ethically, and spiritually inferior to men.

Seven decades later women have not only joined the ranks of theologians, they have brought a new set of concerns and perspectives to God-talk (theo-logos). Adding the voices of women to the theological conversation is awakening the church to the experience, humanity, and holiness of half the human race and forcing us to reexamine and discard assumptions about God, the Bible, church, gender, and family. Feminist theologians are not just adding a new wing to the theological library. They are giving birth to a theological revolution in Christianity bigger than Saint Paul's opening of the church to the Gentiles.

Today even Catholics who don't think of themselves as "feminists" reject any talk of a "second" or "weaker" sex, believe that women are as holy, smart, and moral as men, and affirm that women are made in the image of God (not men) and called to full partnership in the Body of Christ. And every day fewer Catholics are comfortable with a church that clings to sexist language in its public worship or argues that males are better at representing Christ at the Eucharist. Feminist theology has not only helped women find their voices and recover their stories, it is calling the church to recover the feminine face of God.

The basic story and tenets of feminist theology are outlined in Anne Clifford's concise and wide-ranging Introducing Feminist Theology (Orbis). In a richly informative and thoroughly accessible text running just under 300 pages, Clifford sketches out the history, shape, and insights of feminist thought. Beginning with an explanation of what feminism is and a discussion of the feminist method, the Duquesne University professor offers a brief but illuminating survey of feminist thought and movements over the past two centuries. In succeeding chapters she examines feminist thought on the Bible and hermeneutics, unpacks feminist reflections on God and the language we use to describe God, discusses feminist positions on the role and place of women in the church, offers a survey of feminist approaches to spirituality, and describes the concerns and perspectives feminist writers bring to discussions about nature and the environment. Clifford's small volume gives plenty of room to African American, Hispanic, African, and Asian women and offers readers a shelf full of feminist thought.

As Clifford and others point out, feminist theology is more than women doing theology. It is theology fashioned from women's daily bread and salted with their tears. It is a leaven, a reforming and liberating theology that seeks to awaken and free women and men from sexism and patriarchy.

FEMINIST THEOLOGY BEGINS WITH THREE ASSUMPTIONS: First, women are human beings and sacraments of God with the same dignity, sanctity, and worth as men; second, at least half of what we know about God and humanity is revealed in the distinctive but overlooked and ignored experience and stories of women; and third, traditional theology has been distorted by sexist and patriarchal perspectives.

Doing feminist theology means uncovering the pervasive and unnoticed sexist bias that distorts our language, worship, and biblical stories of God and oppresses, marginalizes, and belittles half of humanity. And it means recovering the stories and experiences of women and discovering in the work, joy, suffering, and bodies of women fresh paths to the wisdom and holiness of God. …

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