1. The Religious Roots of Gender Violence
Violence Against Women|
in Contemporary World Religion:
Roots And Cures
Daniel C. Maguire
Professor of Moral Theology & Ethics, Marquette University, and President, The Religious Consultation On Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics
Note: The following is quoted (with permission) from Violence Against Women in Contemporary World Religion: Roots And Cures, Daniel C. Maguire and Sa'Diyya Shaikh (Editors), Pilgrim Press, 2007, 248 pages.
Excerpts from Chapter 2, "The Courtroom and the Garden: Gender and Violence in Christendom," by Grace M. Jantzen, pages 46- 48:
"Gardens are grown for many reasons, some of them for their utility, for the fruit that they bear. But central to the idea of a garden, from the garden of Eden to paradise, is beauty. The plants and trees of the garden are pleasent to the eyes, a delight to the senses. Now, beauty has not played a large part in Christian theology in modernity. This is true not only of conservative and masculinist theologies: where are the liberationist or progressive of feminist theologies that take beauty as a central theme?
"There are many books on the arguments for the existence of God or the correct way to understand religious doctrines, but very little on beauty. Yet surely more people are drawn to the divine and to spirituality through the beauty of nature than are ever convinced by arguments or creeds. Chruches and theologians have got things the wrong way around; and it is hard not to draw the conclusion that this is yet another manifestation of the implicit masculinism of Christendom. After all, truths ane beliefs are standard technologies of mastery, which have served through the millennia as justificatin for holy war and violence of every kind.
"Christendom has made much of covenant, holy war, and sacrifice. From the slaughter of animals to the holcaust of Auschwitz and hiroshima, to the killing fields of Iraq, the world is strewn with the ashes of violence in the name of a jealous God or his self-appointed secular surrogates. Women are disproportionately the victims. But in the Christian tradition, too, is the insistence that God desires mercy, not sacrifice; that God is a gardener who delights in the flourishing of his creation; that God wil give
a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning ...
that they may be called oajs of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord ... (Isaiah 61:3)
"Progressive Christians would do well to appropriate these organic metaphors and develop their resources for change. The beauty of a garden, the flourishing of its plants, bring joy and delight rather than the ashes of sacrifice. Unless we learn to value this beauty, only ashes will be left."
Editor's Note: It would be wise as well to examine the impact of patriarchal religious practices on boys and men. The symptoms may be different but, directly or indirectly, religious patriarchy harms men as much as it harms women. Recent examples include the incredible cases of child abuse in several Christian churches and the bellicose fundamentalism that persists in some Islamic cultures. Violence begets violence. What goes around comes around. In both religion and society, when 50% of the population dominates the other 50%, 100% of the population is bound to suffer in one way or another. A civilized transition from consumerism to sustainability requires the talents and collaboration of all men and women, heterosexual or homosexual, in all dimensions of human life and across the full range of the gender continuum.
For further study and reflection on religious violence:
"What I want is mercy, not sacrifice." Matthew 9:9-13
Colloquium On Violence & Religion (COV&R), Official website for exploration, criticism, and development of René Girard‘s Mimetic Theory.
Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay, James Alison, Crossroad, 2001.
The Masculinity Conspiracy, Joseph Gelfer, CreateSpace, 14 August 2011.
The Forgiving Victim, James Alison, The Raven Foundation, forthcoming July 2012.
2. Heterosexuals and Homosexuals in Religion
Patriarchy preceded all the major religions that exist today, and biased them all from the beginning in favor of heterosexual male hegemony and domination (Cf. Genesis 3:16). This section is a synopsis about the universality of the deeply ingrained prejudice - undoubtedly based on male-only images of God - that must be overcome if organized religion is not to become an obstacle to integral human development.
Two Wings of a Bird: The Equality of Women and Men, Bahá'í International Community, 1999.
- Religious Tolerance, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995-2011.
This web site offers an excellent synopsis (with passage quotations, annotated citations, and links to other web sites) about the status of women in the Bible and in early Christianity. It is structured as follows:
- During Old Testament times, when the roles of women were severely restricted
- Hebrew scripture passages treating women as generally inferior to men
- Hebrew scripture passages treating women as property of men
- Hebrew scripture passages describing women in other negative terms
- Hebrew scripture passages describing women as equal to men (very few)
- Hebrew scripture passages describing women as leaders (but not as religious leaders)
- During Jesus' public ministry to the people of Israel, when the roles of women were severely restricted in accordance with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) traditions and practices
- Changing roles of women after the execution and resurrection of Jesus (circa 30 CE)
- Regressive statements by Christian religious authorities (all male) after the 2nd century CE
By following these lists of biblical and post-biblical statements, the reader is able to verify the descriptive versus prescriptive passages about women, and the significant discontinuities that must be researched, as pointed out in Section 1.
- The emerging field of women and gender studies now includes issues of men, masculinities, and spirituality. See, for example:
- Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, Deborah Blum, Penguin, 1998.
- Does Masculinity Thwart Being Religious?, Edward H. Thompson Jr. and Kathryn R. Remmes, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, September 2002.
- Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace, Judith L. Hand, Questpath Publishing, 2003.
- Biological Differences Between Men and Women With Respect to Social Stability and Aggression, Judith L. Hand, 2006.
- Young Men, Religion and Attitudes Towards Homosexuality, Yasemin Besen and Gilbert Zicklin, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, Novermber 2007.
- Guide to Graduate Work in Women's / Gender Studies, Joan Korenman and NWSA, 2009.
- Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy, Joseph Gelfer, Equinox Publishing, 2009.
- The Patriarch's Nuts: Concerning the Testicular Logic of Biblical Hebrew, Roland Boer, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, June 2011.
- The Other Side of the Gender Equation: Gender Issues for Men in the Europe and Eurasia Region, Susan D. Somach, KDID Social Transitions, July 2011.
It is important for gender studies to be balanced and include the study of both men and women, heterosexual and homosexual. Gender studies, if properly integrated along the gender continuum, can provide crucial insights to help foster gender equality and gender balance.
- What "America's Pope" thinks of gay marriage, priestly celibacy, and women priests, CBS Sixty Minutes Overtime, 21 August 2011.
On the ordination of women:
Archbishop Dolan: "Jesus gave women positions of responsibility. The only ones at the foot of the cross except for St. John? Women. The people that discovered his resurrection? Women. The people that were with him on his journeys? Women. People say, 'This guy was kind of a pioneer in women's rights.' So, if he were going to intend them for the priesthood, he woulda done it. And he didn't."
Mother Pelican's Response: The good archbishop is offering a specious argument based on a literalist interpretation of gospel texts
taken out of context. There are many things Jesus did 2000 years ago that he wouldn't do today. Would he, in the globalized society of the 21st century, select twelve Jewish men to represent the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel? Likewise, there are many things Jesus didn't do 2000 years ago that he would do today (such as including women among the apostles, since the credibility of women as witnesses now has as much credibility as that of men) and he warned his disciples about thinking that they already knew everything he might do in the future (John 16:12-13).
The Bahá'í religion is a shining exception to the phallic syndrome that prevails in many religious institutions: "The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is essential to human progress and the transformation of society. Inequality retards not only the advancement of women but the progress of civilization itself. The persistent denial of equality to one-half of the world's population is an affront to human dignity. It promotes destructive attitudes and habits in men and women that pass from the family to the work place, to political life, and, ultimately, to international relations. On no grounds, moral, biological, or traditional, can inequality be justified. The moral and psychological climate necessary to enable our nation to establish social justice and to contribute to global peace will be created only when women attain full partnership with men in all fields of endeavor." It is noteworthy that the Bahá'ís do not have clergy, so it may have been easier for them to avoid the trap of a male-only hierarchy.
In brief, since their inception most religions have absorbed the patriarchal mindset of male hegemony, and awareness that this isa prejudice to be overcome - rather than a sacred tradition to be conserved and transmitted - is a new phenomenon. Perhaps the impending economic and ecological crises, and the unavoidable need for all humans to collaborate in transitioning to a world of solidarity and sustainability, will induce a religious renewal and help to overcome pseudo-dogmatic resistance to change.
3. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Judaism
Wikipedia article on Women in Judaism:
The role of women in Judaism is determined by the Hebrew Bible, the Oral Law (the corpus of rabbinic literature), by custom, and by non-religious cultural factors. Although the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature mention various female role models, religious law treats women differently in various circumstances.
Relatively few women are mentioned in the Bible by name and role, suggesting that they were rarely in the forefront of public life. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, including the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, Miriam the prophetess, Deborah the Judge, Huldah the prophetess, Abigail who married David, and Esther. In the Biblical account these women did not meet with opposition for the relatively public presence they had.
According to Jewish tradition, a covenant was formed between the Israelites and the God of Abraham at Mount Sinai. The Torah relates that both Israelite men and Israelite women were present at Sinai, however, the covenant was worded in such a way that it bound men to act upon its requirements and to ensure that the members of their household (wives, children, and slaves) met these requirements as well. In this sense, the covenant bound women as well, though indirectly.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
The Wikipedia article includes a very comprehensive bibliography and a directory of links to Jewish religious sources. With regard to current trends on the role of women in Judaism, the following articles are very instructive:
Disturbing recent news on religious violence against women:
If this is the situation today, imagine how it was 2000 years ago!
4. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Christianity
Wikipedia article on Gender Roles in Christianity:
Gender roles in Christianity vary considerably today as they have during the last two millennia. This is especially true with regards to marriage and ministry.
Christianity traditionally has given men the position of authority in marriage, society and government. This position places women in submissive roles, and usually excludes women from church leadership, especially from formal positions requiring any form of ordination. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and many conservative Protestant denominations assert today that only men can be ordained—as clergy and as deacons.
Many progressive Christians disagree with the traditional "male authority" and "female submission" paradigm. They take a Christian egalitarian or Christian feminist view, holding that the overarching message of Christianity provides positional equality for women in marriage and in ministry. Accordingly, some Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership.
Despite these emerging theological differences, the majority of Christians regard women with dignity and respect as having been created alongside men in the Image of God. The Bible is seen by many as elevating and honoring women, especially as compared with certain other religions or societies. Women have filled prominent roles in the Church historically, and continue to do so today in spite of significant limitations imposed by ordination restrictions.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
The Church of England’s decisions about women bishops are likely to have a major impact on its mission as well as its ministry. If the church appears to be reluctant to accept and fully use women’s gifts, attempts to attract and involve more people across a wide age-range may be undermined.
Research findings: cause for concern
Findings from the 28th British Social Attitudes survey were published in December 2011. It showed a serious decline in religious belief and practice in recent decades. 31per cent in 1983 did not belong to a religion, compared to 50 per cent now (64 per cent of those aged 18-24).
There are various reasons for this. But evidence suggests that the widespread perception that Christianity treats women as inferior is one of the factors.
For instance in 2008, Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization, edited by social scientist Kristin Aune of the University of Derby and two others, was published by Ashgate. This revealed that, in England, Christian churches had lost over a million women worshippers since 1989, in part because of their perceived attitudes.
“Because of its focus on female empowerment, young women are attracted by Wicca, popularised by the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Dr Aune observed. “Young women tend to express egalitarian values and dislike the traditionalism and hierarchies they imagine are integral to the church.”
In contrast, there is evidence valuing women’s gifts has a positive effect on mission. For instance, a 2010 University of Warwick paper, 'Statistics for evidence-based policy in the Church of England: Predicting diocesan performance', by Leslie J Francis and colleagues, examined the factors linked to differences in diocesan performance during the Decade of Evangelism, from 1991-2000. In dioceses with a higher proportion of women clergy, the Church of England tended to enjoy more growth or slower decline.
Taking into account the fall in church membership and involvement, and even nominal Christianity, such findings deserve serious consideration.
The debate over women bishops
There is wide public support for allowing women to be bishops in the Church of England. A YouGov online survey in July 2010 of Britons aged 18 or over found that 63 per cent were in favour and only 10 per cent against, while the remaining 27 per cent expressed no opinion. By the end of 2011, after dioceses had discussed the issue, it had become apparent that there was overwhelming support among churchgoers too.
Moving forward on this matter would greatly assist the church in mission and ministry in England today. The decision on whether women should be eligible to be bishops in the Church of England (or senior clergy or elders in other churches) does not simply affect potential candidates, but has far wider implications.
The role of bishops is not merely administrative: they are there to nurture and support other clergy in their calling and, most importantly, to enable the priesthood of all believers, in all their diversity, so that the whole people of God in each locality can witness in word and deed to the good news of Christ.
The exclusion of any section of the Christian community from being even considered as bishops can have a demoralising effect on those who, at parish level, are seeking to live out their faith within an often sceptical society, and to help to build God’s realm of justice and peace in an deeply unequal and sometimes harsh world.
There has been growing recognition that both men and women are made in God’s image and that, in Christ, barriers are broken down: in the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Yet the church has often failed to communicate this effectively to the wider world, in part because this is not fully reflected in its own life. Some churches seem unsure how to respond when the Holy Spirit calls and empowers women.
There is an understandable wish in church circles to accommodate the small minority of churchgoers who still do not accept women’s ordained ministry, and proposals have allowed generous provision to enable them to be ministered to by solely male clergy, including the delegation of pastoral functions to male bishops.
Some are uneasy with this but have accepted it because of the desire to move forward together. However there is a risk that concessions could be extended so far that the role of women bishops was seriously undermined, and ordination of women to the episcopate might become unworkable. This would be a tragedy, not only for the Church of England but also for Christian witness nationally.
However, a positive decision by the Church of England to open up all orders of ministry to women as well as men could promote mission, especially if used as an opportunity to share the theological reasoning behind the move. For, now as much as two thousand years ago, Christians believe that the living Christ continues to invite men and women, people of different ages, ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds, to follow, be transformed, join in changing the world and become inheritors of eternal life.
© Savi Hensman is a respected Christian commentator on religion, politics, theology and social policy. She is an Ekklesia associate.
5. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Islam
Wikipedia article on Women in Islam:
The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam. The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world. The Qur'an makes it clear that men and women are equal, however the Qu'ran states in 4:34, "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard." Although the Quran does say this, the superiority of men is interpreted in terms of strength by the context - men maintain women. This verse however refers to a relationship between a husband and wife, not in society as a whole.
Sharia (Islamic law) provides for complementarianism, differences between women's and men's roles, rights, and obligations. However neither the Quran nor Hadith mention women have to cook or clean. The majority of Muslim countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations. Scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
Some additional references:
The Women of Islam, Lisa Beyer, Time Magazine, 25 November 2001.
Mauritanian Islamic leaders ban genital mutilation, Mohamed Abdel Wedoud, Magharebia, 15 January 2010.
Women in Islam, Catherine of Siena Virtual College, 2010.
Gender Equity in Islam (Foundations of Spiritual and Human Equity), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 29 March 2011.
Gender Equity in Islam (The Economic Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 30 March 2011.
Gender Equity in Islam (The Social Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 4 April 2011.
Gender Equity in Islam (The Legal/Political Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 7 April 2011.
Gender Segregation and Inequality inside Israel and Palestine, International Middle East Media Center, 30 November 2011.
International conference calls for gender equality in Muslim societies, Today's Zaman, Istanbul, 23 December 2011.
Within, Without: Dialogical Perspectives on Feminism and Islam, Sara Ashencaen Crabtree and Fatima Husain, Religion & Gender, February 2012.
6. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Buddhism
Wikipedia article on Women in Buddhism:
"Women in Buddhism is a topic that can be approached from varied perspectives including those of theology, history, anthropology and feminism. Topical interests include the theological status of women, the treatment of women in Buddhist societies at home and in public, the history of women in Buddhism, and a comparison of the experiences of women across different forms of Buddhism. As in other religions, the experiences of Buddhist women have varied considerably.
"The founder of the religion, Gautama Buddha, permitted women to join his monastic community and fully participate in it, although there were certain provisos or garudhammas. As Susan Murcott has commented: "The nun's sangha was a radical experiment for its time" [Murcott, Susan (1991). The First Buddhist Women:Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha. Parallax Press. page 4.] Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu says of the First Buddhist council: "Perhaps Mahakassappa and the bhikkhus of that time were jealous of the bhikkhunis being more popular and doing more teaching and social work than the bhikkhus. Their anti-women prejudice became institutionalized at that time with the eight garudhammas, the eight weighty restrictions. We must discontinue that prejudice. There is no anti-women prejudice in Jainism and they survived in India; whereas Buddhism had prejudice and did not survive in India" [see The First Council and Suppression of the Bhikkhuni Order]. Although it must be said that this is factually incorrect, because there are jain sects like the Digambara sect, which believes that women are capable of spiritual progress, but must be reborn male, in order to attain final spiritual liberation. It is also highly doubtful that the garudhammas were motivated by Mahakaasapa's being jealous, as he is said to be an enlightened one and one of the principle disciples of the Buddha. Furthermore there's no support within canon, to suggest that the bhikkunis were more popular, taught more or that they did more social work than Bhikkhus.
"The various schools and traditions within Buddhism hold different views as to the possibilities of women's spiritual attainments. Feminist scholars have also noted than even when a woman's potential for spiritual attainment is acknowledged, records of such achievements may not be kept - or may be obscured by gender-neutral language or mis-translation of original sources by Western scholars. According to Bernard Faure, "Like most clerical discourses, Buddhism is indeed relentlessly misogynist, but as far as misogynist discourses go, it is one of the most flexible and open to multiplicity and contradiction."
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
Some additional references:
The Place of Women in Buddhism, Swarna de Silva, Enabling Support Foundation, 1994.
A Grand Declaration of Gender Equality, Writings on Buddhism, Soka Gakkai International, 1996.
Full Ordination of Women in Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, 2007.
An Argument Against Gender Discrimination Within The Buddhist Sangha, Anthony Burns,
International Buddhist College, Thailand, 2007.
Buddhism and Women, BhudaNet (with links to other resources), 2008.
The Position of Women in Buddhism , L.S. Dewaraja, Buddhist Pub Soc, Sri Lanka, 2011.
Ordination of Women in Buddhism, Wikipedia, 2011.
Buddhism Gender and Sexuality, Patheos, 2011.
7. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Hinduism
Wikipedia article on Women in Hinduism:
The role of women in Hinduism is often disputed, and positions range from equal status with men to restrictive. Hinduism is based on numerous texts, some of which date back to 2000 BCE or earlier. They are varied in authority, authenticity, content and theme, with the most authoritative being the Vedas. The position of women in Hinduism is widely dependent on the specific text and the context. Positive references are made to the ideal woman in texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, while some texts such as the Manu Smriti advocate a restriction of women's rights. In modern times the Hindu wife has traditionally been regarded as someone who must at all costs remain chaste or pure. This is in contrast with the very different traditions that have prevailed at earlier times in 'Hindu' kingdoms, which included highly respected professional courtesans (such as Amrapali of Vesali), sacred devadasis, mathematicians and female magicians (the basavis, the Tantric kulikas). Some European scholars observed in the nineteenth century Hindu women were "naturally chaste" and "more virtuous" than other women, although what exactly they meant by that is open to dispute. In any case, as male foreigners they would have been denied access to the secret and sacred spaces that women often inhabited. Mahabharata and Manusmriti asserts that gods are delighted only when women are worshiped or honoured, otherwise all spiritual actions become futile.
There is a wide variety of viewpoints within the different schools and sects of Hinduism concerning the exact nature and gender (where applicable) of the Supreme person or being; there are even sects that are skeptical about the existence of such a being. Shaktism, for example, focuses worship on the goddess Devi as the supreme embodiment of power, or Shakti (feminine strength; a female form of God). Vaishnavism and Shaivism both worship Lakshmi with Vishnu and Parvati with Shiva respectively as beings on an equal level of magnitude (the male and female aspects of God). In some instances such as with Gaudiya Vaishnavism, specific emphasis is placed on the worship of God's female aspect (Radharani) even above that of her paramour Krishna. Thus it could be said that Hinduism considers God to have both male and female aspects, as the original source of both.
To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.
Some additional references:
Landmark Step to Gender Equality, Bina Agarwal, The Hindu, 2005.
Women in Hinduism, Hindu Wisdom, 2008.
Gender equality is passé, let us usher in gender partnership, V. N. Mukundarajan, The Hindu, 2010.
Shaming numbers, Editorial, The Hindu, September 2011.
8. The Resilience of Patriarchy in Religious Institutions
This section examines the vexing resilience of patriarchal structures in most of the world religions:
Sharia Law - Source: Author Unknown
Papal Apology - Source: Kirk Anderson
Patriarchy's Persistent Bastion? Religion
Felice Lifshitz, Sightings, 22 March 2012
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
In a March 8 Washington Post article ("Feminism's Final Frontier? Religion"), Lisa Miller predicted that American women would soon abandon the Republican party in droves, just as they are reportedly quitting conservative Christian churches in historically large numbers. In both cases, women's disaffection appears to be fueled by the disrespect shown to them by male leaders, a disrespect revealed in the ecclesiastical sphere by evangelical minister Jim Henderson's new book, The Resignation of Eve, and visible in the political sphere to anyone who has followed the recent debates over access to birth control. As "the men of the right" (as Miller calls them) insult women of faith, many of the latter are rejecting the communities that demean them, and creating leadership roles for themselves elsewhere. She suggests that a similar dynamic will soon govern American party politics. However, the implications of the current situation may not be that clear-cut, religiously or politically.
Miller believes women's disaffection to be a new phenomenon, spurred by the incongruities between a newfound economic independence and an old-fashioned gender hierarchy: "In churches (and synagogues and mosques) across the land, women are still treated as second-class citizens. And because women of faith are increasingly breadwinners, single moms and heads of households, that diminished status is beginning to rankle" (emphasis mine). The assumption that previous generations of women of faith uniformly accepted an inferior position, that is, that religion constitutes "feminism's final frontier," leads the author to predict a major break with the patriarchal past due to a novel combination of propitious circumstances and female aspirations. But the "resignation" described by Henderson is not a new departure potentially signaling a major break with tradition; rather, it is the latest permutation of the gender conflict that has been part and parcel of the Christian tradition from earliest times.
Indeed, the struggle over gender and spiritual authority set in early enough to affect the canon of the New Testament. Many women supported Paul, the greatest early Christian missionary, including Prisca (Priscilla), who was instrumental in the apostle's successes at Corinth and Ephesus, and whom he ordained as a congregational leader along with her husband Aquila (Acts 18). Yet, misogynistic editors of biblical manuscripts successfully obscured Paul's respect for female religious leaders by falsely attributing to him (either through misplaced punctuation or outright interpolation) the sentiment that women should be silent in churches (1 Cor. 14:33-36). Nevertheless, women persisted by (among other things) writing or supporting the composition of egalitarian texts, founding and governing monastic communities, pressing the liberationist claims of virginal feminism, exercising a number of liturgical (at times sacerdotal) functions, articulating a whole range of new theologies (including feminine theologies of the godhead), and establishing innumerable beguine communities that were absolutely independent of male ecclesiastical authority. In sum, women consistently found ways to control their own religious destinies, and to assume leadership roles within Christian contexts, including during the European Middle Ages, a period popularly (albeit erroneously) conceived as particularly repressive of women. Yet, none of these activities ever fully erased the persistent commitment to gender hierarchy cherished by the "men of the right" whose values have determined the character of most mainstream hegemonic institutions.
Christianity has consistently been open to pro-feminist movements, but this has resulted neither in a fundamental egalitarian transformation of Christian institutions, nor in a mass exodus of disaffected women. The current wave of "resignations" fits squarely into a 2000-year-old tradition of tension over gender and spiritual authority; if proponents of patriarchal forms of religious organization do not feel particularly threatened by the alarm bells Henderson has rung for them, it is because historical precedent encourages complacency on their part. After all, their predecessors always managed to hold on to power. "The men of the right" have found, in every generation, a substantial number of Christian women who considered the limited roles and secondary status allotted to them to be quite comfortable. It is certainly easier to execute simple, circumscribed tasks such as meal preparation than to shoulder the responsibility for major policy decisions. But every generation has also witnessed rebellion and discontent.
Today's feminists of faith can draw on a rich heritage to stake out positions that might ultimately justify both Henderson's warnings and Miller's optimism. Success may well depend precisely on an awareness of that inspirational heritage. A radical egalitarian transformation will require an unprecedented struggle; it will not be the inevitable result of the rise of the female breadwinner.
Lisa Miller, "Feminism's Final Frontier? Religion", Washington Post, March 8, 2012.
Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980).
Kim Haines-Eitzen, "Engendering Palimpsests: Reading the Textual Tradition of the Acts of Paul and Thecla" in William Klingshirn and Linda Safran, eds., The Early Christian Book (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2007) pp. 177 - 193.
Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
D. W. Odell-Scott, "Let the Women Speak in Church: An Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:33b-36," Biblical Thinking Bulletin 13 (1983): 90-93.
Sara S. Poor, Mechthild of Magdeburg and her Book: Gender and the Making of Textual Authority (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
Joyce Salisbury, Church Fathers, Independent Virgins (London: Verso Press, 1992).
Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565 (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).
Felice Lifshitz earned a PhD in History from Columbia University and currently teaches in the Program in Women's Studies at the University of Alberta. She has published numerous books, articles, and essay collections concerning medieval Christianity.
9. Amrutha - A Theological Novel by John Wijngaards
From the book's website:
"The areas of Christian sexual ethics and the role of women in the Church both touch on natural law. In recent decades Pope after Pope has appealed to natural law to impose painful prohibitions. Contraceptives may never ever be used in planning the family. Why? They ‘go against the law of nature’. Homosexual intimacy is always ‘intrinsically evil’ as a sin against natural law. Women’s nature defines and restricts their role.
What is at stake?
"Theologians in the Middle Ages revamped the notion of ‘natural law’ already discussed by the Greeks and the Romans a thousand years earlier. The idea was: when God created humankind, he/she laid down a law in their nature. And no one may ever transgress the law of the Creator. In our time the principle resurfaced as the dignity of the person, as human rights; becoming a useful starting point for international agreements. However, the problem is: what does fall under natural law?
"The traditional norms for deciding what is natural and what is not, are purely arbitrary. Thomas Aquinas, for example, worked out that polygamy, a husband marrying more wives, though not ideal, does not go against natural law, while natural law totally forbids a woman to have more husbands. Surely mutilating the male sexual organs is against natural law, you would think? No, not so obvious. Enter the castrati, male singers castrated before puberty so that they retained their high soprano voices. Pope Clement VIII declared it was not against natural law. The ethics of natural law have in past centuries mistakenly been used by the Church to justify slavery, the colonial conquest of nations, the inferior statusof women, torture no less than wars of aggression.
The origin of the story
"Wijngaards wrote the book thinking: what would happen if a naïve monsignor from Rome would try to implement utter fidelity to natural law in everyday life? Also: what do the celibate lawgivers in Rome really know of the lives of ordinary people, especially the lives of women?
"The main character in his story - Mgr. Shamus McKenna - demonstrates what might take place. His quest for the truth brings him to explore options that he never considered before. He meets extraordinary women who invariably push out his boundaries. At every point his determination to follow natural law leads him into more murky and untested waters of sex, morality, heroism, and women’s lives.
"His salvation lies in Amrutha whose name means: nectar & immortal. She is a fighter: resourceful, intelligent, able to overcome incredible challenges. With her he eventually finds out that for human beings 'natural law' is the use of reason, that is: of our conscience.
"But will he ever escape the menacing, stifling, suffocating stranglehold of the LAW OF NATURE?!"
To get a copy of the book, click here.
"Past Catholic morality has been tainted with negative views on sexuality. On this site we present a balanced view, supported by modern Catholic theology. We try to preserve a healthy balance, asserting that sex is good & sacred, avoiding left and right extremes:"
New Focus in Catholic Sexual Morality
- 1. The shift from ontological constructs of gender, marriage and sexuality to the experiential discovery of gender, marriage and sexuality.
- 2. The shift from 'Augustinian' dualism to celebrating the marvelous gift of body, gender and sex
- 3. The shift from law-centered sexual ethics to person-centered sexual ethics
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The Controversy about Natural Law
- Background information about 'Natural Law'
- Medieval views based on the work of Thomas Aquinas
- The natural law of sex
- The tyranny of the Catholic Church's sexual ethics
- The thinking of Church leaders fails
- Human intelligence is natural law for us
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