Theology,Feminism and Traditional perceptions
Fromancient history, many religions have been patriarchal, with authorityresiding in the hands of men. Patriarchal regions such asChristianity base their religious beliefs and practices on male powerand authority. It has been evident that the patriarchal mentality andorder centers the figure of authority and knowledge in the masculine.Their belief is n the notion that God is exclusively male, and so isJesus as he is referred to as the ‘Son of God’. This belief andperception simply imply that a particular gender should be excluded,discriminated against and dominated since they are less superior tothe male. As a result, the dominance on men in religious places suchas church, as well as the role of women. However, the patriarchalorder, especially in Christianity, has recently been challenged byargument that claims that God is genderless since he is a spirit. Forthis reason, the patriarchal tendency in Christianity is said topropagate injustice.
Manyfeminist theologians propose that the structures in faithorganizations and traditional perceptions need to be transformed.This is because women continue to face the limitations imposed onthem by their lack of inclusion in leadership bodies, in mostreligious organizations and communities. In their efforts to shapemodern perception and overcome traditional beliefs, feministtheologians have focused on contemporary women experiences andaddressed the silenced voices and outcast lives of women inpatriarchal religious history. These female theologians havechallenged the primacy and authority of male-defined dogma, as wellas male controlled religion. For this reason, they have workedtowards transforming patriarchal religion from within and outside thetraditions to build women’s spiritual communities. This researchfocuses on patriarchal religion, as well as, traditional beliefs andperception that are influenced by the interpretation of Jesusmaleness as view by the feminist theologians.
Religionhas given rise to patriarchy and sustained its existence into moderntimes. Religions that include Islam, Christianity, Judaism andHinduism, led to the development of tenets and practices thatenhanced existence of patriarchal ideologies. Religiousfundamentalists created patriarchal male gods like Allah, God thefather, or Jesus the male son because they were male, and as men ofantiquity they based their beliefs on the patriarchal order, wherebywomen fell for the male domination of organized Religion. In manyinstances, the man has been declared as the head of the house, whilethe women should be subordinate. This causes women to desist fromleadership, teaching or usurping position of authority, causing themto maintain silence in church. For this reason, many religiousbeliefs and traditional perceptions hold that God ordained maledominated hierarchy that is vested in senior male members of thefamily.
Manytime, privileging of male leadership is justified by appeals to thehigher authorizes of scripture and tradition. In this relation,religion and traditions have focused on the idea that male creationwas a primary act, while the female was secondary in nature, sinceshe was created to serve the male and bear children. As evident inChristianity religion, women have often been excluded from leadershiproles on grounds that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, whichimplies that women are derivative and inferior. They add that thebible portrays Eve as being the first to sin. As a result of thesebeliefs, most religious practices have denied women opportunities tobe ordained as priests, positions of sacramental celebrants, whilesome are forced to veil their heads, especially in religiousgatherings, to signify male authority.
Aconsequence of male dominance in the public sphere of religion hasbeen allocation and confinement of all positions of prestige within areligion to men. The denial and exclusion of women to these positionscontinues to have far-reaching social and spiritual repercussions,not the least of which is that the ideal religious person is alwaysmale including the priest, the monk, and the sage among others. Insupport of these, many religious beliefs hold that even the primarydeities, especially in monotheistic traditions, are all male. Thishas left women with very little social and religious power, becauseregardless of how well they fulfill the expectations of theirreligion, they remain inferior, and thus, excluded on the idealsocial and religious level.
Patriarchalsystem and authority has also resulted from the traditionalperception of uncleanness, particularly in connection to femalefunctions of menstruation and childbirth. Various parts around theworld, there is a widely held belief that a menstruating woman canpollute men as well as temples or other sacred places. Theconsequence of contact with a woman in a state of pollution isbelieved to render a man incapable of communicating with the sacred.This belief has continued to persist mostly in the Hindu and Jewishtraditions, where there are specific instructions relating tothe two female functions, with recommendation for purificationfollowing the termination. Priests and rabbis are known to handlesacred objects, especially scripture, and in this case, women arelikely to defile when pregnant or when menstruating. Therefore, manychurch leaders contend that, because one cannot be certain of theonset of menstruation or pregnancy, is safer to confine women andensure that do not have responsibilities.
Traditionalistsalso maintain that Jesus’ twelve disciples were exclusively maleand that the early church established the traditional practice of anexclusively male priesthood. Women were not admitted to thepriesthood, or allowed rabbinic status especially when the synagoguemovement took its rise. Similarly, spiritual teachers or guru iscentral to many form of Buddhism, and historically most spiritualleaders have been men. Most feminist theologians counter this view byusing the historical Jewish tradition in the Old Testament, whichacknowledges the status of women occasionally as prophetesses andpolitical leaders. Miriam, in the Old Testament, is described as aprophetess (Exo 15:2), while Deborah combined the roles of aprophetess and a judge over Israel (Judges 4:4).
Formany centuries, the failure and disobedience of eve in Eden isperceived as an indicator of innate nature of female moral weakness.Thus, it is from the time of Eden onwards, that women were viewed tobe under the dominion and subjection of man in every culture andsociety, including the ancient Israel. The fact that men received aphysical marker of their bodies through circumcision was viewed as asign of the covenant with God. For this reason, only men could becomepriests, and could enter in the Holy place to offer sacrifices.However, the perceptions began to change when Jesus appeared on thescene, especially the status of women. Jesus seemed less concerned onemphasizing and following social mores, which secluded anddiscriminated women from his interaction, and direct involvement inhis teachings and spiritual authority in public or in private, aswell as, in mixed settings. This was evidence when he overrode thelaw`s interpretation of work by healing people on Sabbath. Throughhis interaction and ministry with women, he elevated the status andperception of women higher than any other time since Eden.
Solutionto traditional perception
Womenhave started to see that their continuous oppression in the churchand society has its basis in the patriarchal religions. Religiousfeminists, while diverse in their approaches, have similar convictionthat religion and feminism are significant for the lives of women andmen. The shared concern includes feminists who continue to advocatefor traditional reforms to reclaim participation and reassessreligious concepts about gender. One way of reassessing religiousconcepts about gender requires distinguishing between the functionsof women in religious imagination from that of women in religiousreality. Most often, male imagination of women often blind them tothe realities of women’s lives and what they can achieve. However,feminist theologians view that the society should be conformed tomodern approaches to include full participation of women in churchleadership. There is a crucial in influencing the distinctive shapeof religious life in the modern world.
Mostimportantly, Jesus does not conform to patriarchal concept of gender,as observed through his remarkable interest in women, and theirinterest in him. Women were not only his followers, but were labeledas the most faithful of Jesus` disciples, because held onto theirrelationship with him than most men did. When male disciplesabandoned Jesus after his arrest, or even deny him as peter did,women were with him until his death and resurrection. Mostsignificantly, Jesus revealed himself first to a group of thesefaithful women after his resurrection. Most importantly, Jesus sentthe women to tell his other disciples about his resurrection, whichmade the women become the first proclaimers of the risen Lord. Thefact that Jesus sent women as his personal eye-witness to theresurrection challenges age-old prejudices and firmly planted astandard, which establishes women as witnesses and spokespersons to the works of God.
Christianfeminism urge that male incarnation of Jesus is historicallycontingent. It is evident that the patriarchal system use Jesusmaleness to their advantage. However, Jesus redefined malenessthrough his ministry by radically opposing many patriarchal powerstructures. There is no essential connection between Jesus malenessand the character of God. In fact, to make such a connection is toremove women from the plan of salvation and deny their full humanity.Furthermore, such as connection negates the significant liberationtradition in scripture. For this reason, most feminist theologianshold that complementarians have based the necessity of Jesus malenesson an inadequate use of analogy, a patriarchal mindset, andunbiblical dualistic tendencies.
Mostoften complementarians focus on the maleness of both the father andthe son to promote male hierarchy. However, it has been establishedthat God is not a gendered being, but a spirit being. Although mostoften, God is described through masculine images and through variousmetaphorical images, it is meant to help us understand His nature1.McFague adds that there are various female metaphors that have beenseverally in the scripture to describe the nature of God such astravailing and birth among others. This implies that travailing andthose loud cries evoke a God who is also in hard labor, pushing forthjustice for he is a companion to the oppressed. There are variousscripture references that support that view of God with feminineimages, for instance, He is as a mother who gives birth, groans inlabor, nurses a child, cares for children, and provides comfort amongothers. Therefore, the fact that God is referred to as a father doesnot indicate God is a male. It is a metaphorical image that helpsbelievers to see that God wants to have a more close relationshipwith his people. Pushing the father image to promote male hierarchysadly takes us far away from the true intention of God’s word.
Inconclusion, religious discourse on gender discrimination isfundamentally flawed since it does not help in distinguishing betweenbiological sexual characteristics and gender roles, but ratherconflates them. At root, earliest religious discourses on gender werebased on observations and interpretation in terms of status quo. Inthe recent years, the number of people who think that religiousbeliefs and perceptions can answer all or almost all of today genderrelated problems has significantly reduced. For this reason,traditional practices and beliefs of patriarchal order has continuedto transition with time. This has been influenced by the womenliberation movement advocate for women rights in religiousinstitution, advancing technology, easy access and availability ofinformation. It is also evident that today most women haveeducational achievement that has increased their leadershipcapabilities and, therefore, are promoted in high ranking positions.The current modern society has supported the women education leadingto a transformation from the patriarchal belief to something new thathas gone beyond cultural and religious barriers. Thus, religiousbodies should resolve the conflict of gender right, and ensure thatwomen find support rather than contradiction from their source.
McFague,Salie. 1982. Models ofGo.Theology for anEcological Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
1 McFague, Salie. Models of Go.Theology for an Ecological Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.