Feminism and Christian Tradition: An Annotated Bibliography and Critical Introduction to the Literature

By Mary-Paula Walsh | Go to book overview

13
Feminist Theology and Christian
Worship

The literature gathered under the heading, "Feminist Theology and Christian Worship" is multidimensional and reflects the many ways in which controversy can come to surround religious symbols. On the one hand, it is a literature which celebrates the role of women in rites and rituals, with clear attention to the prophetic power of religious language as a vehicle of social change. At the same time, it is a literature often reduced--and almost mockingly so--to "debates about inclusive language," as antifeminists trivialize feminist efforts to mirror the fullness of historical and denominationally grounded communities of worship (cf. Stroup "844").

Overall, two issues continue to be in conflict. The first is the ongoing question of liturgical language and its "gendered" theological width. That is, should language, as a medium for speech about God, be used minimalistically? That is, should liturgical language be geared only to the use of "non-sexist" or "non-androcentric" theological constructs and images? Or alternatively, might it not also be focused to its maximal potential, through the use of "female," and ultimately "feminist," language for God: viz., the use of female nouns and pronouns such as "Mother" and "She," and in the long run, such specifically feminist biblical appropriations as "Sophia" and "Holy Wisdom." While much current theology supports and indeed advocates such a maximal linguistic usage, there are few churches able to sustain such a vision and move comfortably to its social--and sociological--implications. Hence the absence of denominationally published congregational resources.

The second issue at play in the feminist liturgical literature is the driving issue of power: both in the conventional sense of "Who shall control the language of the liturgy?" and more widely, the institutional sense of "How can communities become more empowered toward inclusive belonging?" This is an obviously important issue, for given that churches typically require theological rationales to make changes in their organizational and liturgical structures, power here is tied to a variety of methodological, doctrinal, and other symbolic issues, including those of trinitarian and Christological reflection, the significance of ordained women, and last but by no means least, the communal experiences of "women-church" and women's spirituality groups. Hence, the potential for controversy surrounding the role of women in rites and rituals and the attempts of antifeminists to reduce feminist liturgiology to a seemingly trivialized "debate about inclusive language."

In the literature below Collins ("517", "518") and Procter-Smith ("521", "522") consistently present cutting edge discussions on the prophetic and performative capacities of feminist language and liturgy, while early sources (e.g., Neufer-Emswiler and Neufer-Emswiler "525" and Swidler "529") illustrate the gradual incorporation of women's experience into congregationally rooted worship settings. In turn, various resources indicate the media of transformation in church liturgical organization (e.g., The Inclusive Language Lectionary"524", Schaffran and Kozak "527", Throckmorton "530" and Winter "531") while the chapter's closing entries evidence both the institutionalization of womanist and feminist homiletics (cf, Cannon "532", and Procter-Smith "533" and Smith "534", respectively) and a selection of sermon collections ("535", "536", "537") published early in the development of the literature.

A few final notes: First, it is obvious that the literature of this chapter should be read in conjunction with sources for other sections, but particularly the general literatures in Section II and

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