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Sunday, June 25, 2006
Are We Helping Our Own Cause?
I recently attended a symposium at Regent Univ. Divinity school which presented a variety of workshops on leadership in the church. The lone female presenter, Dr. Estrelda Alexander, presented an excellent critique of the lack of weight currently given to social justice issues in the Pentecostal slice of Christianity despite the fact that it was an integral part of the response to the Azuza Street revival. She argued for the need of a resurgence of female voices in leadership in order: 1. to recapture the egalitarian leadership that was integral during the whole 1906 revival and 2. to bring, once again, the needed attention to social justice issues that so very often encompass women and children. Then, a response was given by a female, divinity PhD candidate and in her prepared response, she used King David repeatedly as the example to give support to Dr. Alexander's argument. Don't get me wrong ... I'm glad she was in agreement, but if we don't give voice to the female biblical characters in our sermons, our examples, our conversations, our prepared responses, who will? These biblical women are our first role models and if we don't give them their spiritual place of leadership, who will? When given a chance to preach do we give voice to the marginalized women of scripture? What are your thoughts?
posted by From the Margins at 6:57 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 6/26/2006 10:18:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Its hard to do that. I'm all for learning from all examples - male and female. But a lot of the women whose stories we have in the bible are kinda disappointing, or at least have traditional interpretations that reduce the women to their bodies (apparently women can't serve God unless sex is somehow involved). And with the minor characters there are a lot of blanks to fill in. I've found that people, especially women, are very resistant to alternative interpretations of traditional characters and question your sources when the minor characters are brought up. Does that mean we should not ty - of course not. But its an uphill battle. unlike with the men, we can;t just learn about them or learn a spiffy life lesson from them - we have to fight the whole sexism battle first, then learn.

  • At 6/26/2006 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    To be honest, I am the worst about knowing all the details in the Bible. However, I do think you make a point. We should try to use women as an example. Jesus certainly held them close to his heart and there obviously are women throughout the Bible, that can be used as wonderful examples.
    I can hear it already, if it became nothing but the female perpective! Unfortunately, I think it might have to be a gradual thing. My experience is that sometimes if it trickles in, it's accepted over time, more so, than if it came in with a bang!
    I have laughed inwardly (maybe not real nice) a few times watching these kind of situations in my family. If you hit them hard, they fight like crazy! If it trickles, the next thing you know they didn't even realize that their thinking evolved.

  • At 6/26/2006 11:15:00 AM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    I think you make a very good point. I wonder if there is another way to help this cause? What if we walked away from the idea of a strictly "male" God. Though most agree that god is neither male or female, he "see there I go" is nearly always referred to in the male gender. In my faith community, we are trying more to refer to God less in terms of gender and more in terms of the mystery that God is. God is referred to many times in scripture with female language, yet we mainly refer to him as male. It's kind of hard to get used to...instead of always referring to God as God, we sometimes hear "Great Mystery" or "The Divine." Gosh, I wonder if anyone would freak out if someone started a prayer with "our mother?" Yet, we have no problem with "Our Father." I'm sure some of the envelope pushers in our community will probably give that a try.

  • At 6/26/2006 04:06:00 PM, Blogger Jessica


    I think you bring up a great point. Changing our theoretical understanding of an issue such as women in leadership is easy to do, on paper. With proper hermeneutics many people have no problem saying they see how tradition has been wrong in understanding the role of women in the church. However, theories are only a step in changing practices and then culture. So we're all fine with "saying" God is neither male or female and that God created male and female in "His/Her" image but as a culture we're not ok with allowing that to change our practices to include the feminine vernacular expressions (and neuter is out of the question: God is not an "it!") and we find ourselves with a catch 22. Most are ok with the theory which should lead to a change in our practice eventually influencing our culture but the culture doesn't seem to be ready for the change in practice. I find myself continuing to refer to God with masculine terminology though increasingly bringing in a balance of non-gender references while using feminine terms to speak of what some would consider God's more feminine traits. I have no idea when this may change but at least the conversation is happening in many circles.

    I'd like to know what Scripture references you are thinking of when you say "God is referred to many times in scripture with female language, yet we mainly refer to him as male." Would you mind sharing those?

    It would be great to see more female examples used in teaching, particularly when the topic is one such as this. Over all though, when I teach I am not willing to select a character to prove my point but would rather the character and what Scripture has to say about them, male or female speak for themselves and the truths found in their story should apply to everyone, regardless of gender.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • At 6/26/2006 09:03:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Julie - I hear you! But, once away from some traditional teaching, it's amazing how many blanks have been filled in by men about male Biblical characters and we believe they are facts! Geez... a whole book was written about Jabez from one verse! Talk about fill-in!! An appreciation of Jewish midrash and the important role it plays in Jewish religion has also helped me on this subject.

    Sylvia - I agree it would help to expand our metaphors about God. Ironically, this past Sunday our emerging community spent a wonderful hour exploring new, current metaphors to replace "Good Shepherd" (not a top 10 profession of our day.) Our community came up with, "a really commpassionate,dedicated nurse, the perfect Kindergarten teacher, the perfect Mom, a body guard like one of President's Security Team," I encouraged the community to spend time this week rewriting Ps. 23 in the context of one of these professions and what we would believe to be a 'perfect' example of each and post it on our church blog site. (www.gqtalk.blogspot.com if interested.)

    Jessica - Prov. 9 "Lady Wisdom" and the metaphor of hospitality. Wisdom is personified as feminine in lots of places.

    El-Shaddi literally means 'mountainous breasted one!'(Bet ya haven't heard that in many sermons! Way to go 'Amy Grant!' HA)

    The Hebrew term for Spirit, "ruha" only appears with feminine endings in the whole O.T. (In the N.T. all three gender endings are used for Spirit)

    N.T. ... Jesus expresses his sorrowful passion for Jerusalem when He yearns to protect them from harm "like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing"

    Just a start ... :-)

  • At 6/27/2006 06:23:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    and neuter is out of the question: God is not an "it!

    I think what the english language needs, Jessica, is a gender-neutral pronoun other than "it."

    It would help to solve a lot of the language problems surrounding our use of masculine (and to a lesser degree feminine, if only because it's much more rare) pronouns in describing a being that is beyond gender.

  • At 6/27/2006 06:26:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    I'm sure some of the envelope pushers in our community will probably give that a try.

    Actually, this is something that I occassionally play with in my online (and face-to-face) conversations.

    So far I've only done it with people who would understand, though.

    Great conversation, everyone. :)

  • At 6/27/2006 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Jessica

    Margins (I don't know your real name) I loved your point about the fictionalized portions of the male characters in Scripture, Jabez is an excellent example! Thank you.

    Thanks for some of the references on Scriptural examples of feminine language used when speaking of God. I hate to admit this but this is one area that I believe and know is there but I always have to go look it up because it doesn't just pop into my mind. The only one I have used in conversation before was about Lady Wisdom and I got an earful on how that and other feminine references to God were really just metaphors that spoke nothing to God's gender. I just let it go. There are only three people that I regularly use feminine pronouns with when referring to God and surprisingly, two of them are male.

  • At 6/27/2006 09:21:00 AM, Blogger Jessica

    I agree Lydia, would that there was another gender-neutral pronoun other than "it!" In this area I'm not sure which is stronger, Latin languages or Germanic Languages. It would be interesting to see if there are other languages that have such a pronoun.

    BTW, my husband has enjoyed reading here, would it be ok if he left a comment sometime?

  • At 6/27/2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger From the Margins

    Jessica and Lydia - I'm guess I'm glad that we don't have a neuter pronoun in English. I like the didactic tension of grasping humanity, both male and female in the image of our God. How would we see sexuality as Divine with a neuter image of God? It's okay with me that we struggle with understanding God as being somehow able to be expressed in both masculine and feminine terms. I believe a serious study of the community of the Trinity gives us some space to explore both male and female in God.

    Don't let the metaphor excuse deter you from exploring the feminine images that the biblical narrative provide us! It is crucial to our identity that we, (Divinely created females that happen to make up 1/2 of the human population by God's Purpose Driven Life, :-) ) are not relegated to a "mere metaphor."

    Jessica ... we'd love to hear your husband's voice!

    From the Margins ... Sherri!

  • At 6/27/2006 11:43:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Hi ladies,

    Julie's husband, Mike, here (aka Gandalf at the Ooze). As far as biblical imagery goes don't forget all the rich imagery in Isaiah 66. In verse 9 he compares himself to a female midwife when he says:

    "Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD.

    "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God."

    and then a few verses later God actually compares him/herself to a mother as it says in verse 13:

    "As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."

  • At 6/28/2006 09:46:00 AM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    from the margins--I went to your profile to find your name...I feel badly not calling you by name! Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your experience of expanding (and exploring) new metaphors for "The Good Shepherd"). It brought tears to my eyes as I read the different descriptions. These are meaningful to me in my context--a shepherd really is not! (I don't know any sheep herders, actually.)

    Mind if I share that with our worship design team? What a great idea! I have so enjoyed this conversation!


  • At 6/28/2006 05:05:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Welcome Mike ... great scriptures shared! I just finished a new text entitled, Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Ekblad and he describes himself as a midwife! to those he leads in conversation...the extremely marginalized! (I think there is such a thing!) The text is full of fresh readings of the biblical narrative! Have you read it by any chance?

    Good to hear your voice ...

    Sylvia ... sorry that I didn't have all the boxes checked to reveal my name, but I've changed that and have filled in a few more of the blanks! Please check again so we can know each other a little better.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the fresh writing and reading of Ps. 23. Please use anything at your pleasure!

    I too love the new and fresh dialogue that we are creating each week/day.

  • At 6/29/2006 01:08:00 AM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    Nice to meet you Sherri! I shared the reading that was on the blog you referenced with a friend. It was too cool. It really did bring such a fresh understanding of Psalm 23. I think we will probably be reading that in one of our services sometime soon! It is just beautiful. It is a stretch for me to reference God in the female--mostly because it was so engrained in my spiritual formation growing up that you just don't do that because it has to be some form of heresy--but I can't believe that the renewed affection I felt for God and for his tender care for me could possibly be wrong by changing the context/gender--isn't that the intention of the Psalm in the first place? For us to to know and feel the tender loving care of the Almighty?? Seems like a rhetorical question to me. Yet, I still hear the voices in my head that are sometimes so hard to drown out.

  • At 6/29/2006 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Min76

    I think this is an interesting point. As a woman in ministry, I think there has been a lot of pressure to quiet the spirit of women in ministry. Men in the pulpit and some women do like to draw on the negative attributes or traditional roles of women in the Bible. However if we don't bring up dialogue about the power that was inside of Esther, the women that supported the ministry of Jesus and who were the ones that He revealed himself to first when resurrected for them to tell the men, and women like Deborah, we do a disservice to these pillars of the faith in our Christian history. It is the same that I found out in beginning to study the women of the Azusa Street revival. These women were leaders and responsible for teaching the men about the Holy Spirit which led to this awesome revival. It is time for the women of the Bible and women in leadership to take their place. God is seeking for the women to stand up and let their voice be heard in these last days.

  • At 7/02/2006 07:00:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    min76 .. thanks for sharing your insights into the necessity for sharing biblical stories with an equal amount of time and importance given to the female characters of God's Story. I have observed many times that female characters are used to 'feed into' or 'as a tease' for a male character, but they themselves are never allowed to have their own voice and faith story that has intersected with God's redemptive narrative.

    We, as woman ministers, have the privilege of giving them voice.


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