Donna F.G. Hailson
There are many “brands” of feminist theology and the following must be read
with this fact in mind. Some of those, to whom we are referring under the
broad designation of “radical spiritual feminists,” might be particularly
influenced by goddess theology. Others might identify themselves as process
theologians or socialist feminists or ecofeminists radical womanists
(African-American) or mujeristas (Latin American) . . . Thus, the following
themes are broadly stated and may not apply to all.
*Experience over Revelation *
Most radical spiritual feminists view the Bible as male-produced.
Traditional Christian theology is seen as a “masculine theology,” permeated
by patriarchal and dualistic understandings of God and God’s creation. Some
believe the Bible and traditional Christianity cannot be redeemed and so
must be re-imagined to reflect feminine experience. The process employed to
accomplish this involves a good deal of deconstruction — the questioning of
traditional assumptions about meaning, identity and truth — and
depatriarchalization reinterpreting the Bible “to free it from the
patriarchal bias of the societies that produced and transmitted it” (Russell
and Clarkson, 64).
*Marginalization and Victimization*
Particularly problematic for radical feminists is the maleness of Jesus and
the symbolizing of God as male/as Father. Radical feminists resent women’s
subordination and exclusion from power and see women as victims of
patriarchal systems and male oppressors. Jesus is also seen as a victim and
some radical spiritual feminists will identify with Him as victim. Radical
feminism also stands in solidarity with other liberation theologies that
stress God’s preferential option for the poor, viewing “community” as
salvific. The cross is also often seen as legitimizing the suffering and
victimization of women and the need for resurrection as an undervaluing of
the body in life.
*The Deity of Jesus is denied or Jesus is equated with Sophia or Jesus is
said to be Sophia’s prophet (Wisdom tradition) *
Sophia is the Greek for “wisdom” (Hebrew: hokmah) — See especially
Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus and Baruch. See _Wisdom’s Feast_ by Cole,
Ronan and Taussig.
*Jesus did not need to die on the cross *
The cross is viewed as a symbol only of torture and destruction. The cross
is “tied to the patriarchal exaltation of Jesus as historically male” the
cross is rejected as a symbol for the Christian life as it is believed only
to have functioned “to promote oppressive beliefs and practices.” Salvation
is said to be found in nurturing community rather in the death of a “male
victim crucified 2000 years ago.” Radical feminists say we learn from Jesus’
life not from His death, thus, salvation is found in righting relations
between body, mind and spirit through an ethical ministry of words. (Russell
and Clarkson, 62)
*Jesus opposed male-focused, patriarchal culture/He was a feminist and a
For example, Jesus is said to have been alerted to the evils of patriarchy
by women and thus experienced healing through women.
*Holy Spirit as “it” (divine energy) or “she” *
Many believe everything has the “breath of God” or the “divine spark. Thus,
rejected is the idea that the Spirit resides only within those who have
accepted Jesus as Savior. Rather, the Spirit is said to move in all things
(not just humans).
*The Virgin Birth *
Differing interpretations — some “reject the virgin birth as an
androcentric Christian myth that supports patriarchy and denigrates women.”
Some say Mary was seduced or raped. Others applaud the “legends of a birth
without masculine begetting” especially when the Spirit is viewed as a
feminine creative power (Russell and Clarkson, 311).
Panentheism: God is in everything and everything is in God. God is “in
process”: evolving. Related to this: prayer as self-fulfilled, the notion of
co-creation with God . . .
*Creation Spirituality over Fall/Redemption Theology *
*Original Blessing over Original Sin *
The “Cosmic Christ” as archetype. Rejection of the belief that sins are
forgiven only through repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Savior. The
cross and fall/redemption theology are seen as linked with patriarchy,
shame, abuse and fear. Some have objected to various aspects of “the Genesis
accounts” as they believe Eve has taken too much of the blame for “original
sin.” So, some stress the “primacy of women” or look to “Sophia as the
divine mediator in creation” or suggest “the birth of the world from the
body of the Great Mother” (Russell and Clarkson, 60).
The Immanence (nearness of God) stressed over Transcendence (the otherness
of God) to the point where, in the minds of many, the human being becomes
God (in the panentheistic or, sometimes, pantheistic, sense). Pantheism is
the belief that God is all that exists and all that exists is God.
Some seek to find mutuality in terms such as “male-female, self-other,
God-world, and humans-nature.” Some are critical of what they see as the
anti-body dualism of dominant Christianity they claim this “false dualism”
has sustained misogyny (hatred of women). Male-female and spirit-body
dualisms, they say, are predicated on the view that maleness is superior.
They assert that women have traditionally been associated with the body and
men with the spirit. Hatred of the body is coupled with hatred of women.
(See Russell and Clarkson, 74.)
*Rejection of hierarchy/patriarchy*
It is the desire of many radical feminists to replace patriarchy with
matriarchy in all systems not just the church. This matriarchy, they say,
would not embrace violence, hierarchy, or oppression of men but would offer
a nurturing environment for all. (See Russell and Clarkson, 177).
*A Focus on Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Jung) *
Jung’s thesis is that: “In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is
of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only
empirical psyche (even if we tack on a personal unconscious as an appendix),
there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and
impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective
unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of
preexistent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious
secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents”
(Campbell, 60). In other words, Jung posited that all human beings share a
collective unconscious wherein is found archetypal images from which we draw
our myths and ideas about divinity and human interactions.
*A Focus on the Feminine Qualities of God or God/dess or God/ess *
Deity/ies is/are often seen in terms of metaphorical images ala Jung’s
Understood as a means of power over another person or object (Adam naming
the creatures) — “Naming” is now used to refer to “the necessity to
identify those areas that need women’s worldview and the designing of ways
for women to become part and parcel of the shaping of the world
agenda.”(Russell and Clarkson, 191). Thus, many are calling for a paradigm
shift away from patriarchal ways of thinking, hierarchical ordering, the
marginalization of women . . . The stress is on “power with” or “power to
“rather than “power over.”
*The existence of the biblical heaven and hell is rejected or reinterpreted
The argument is that God wouldn’t be so abusive as to send anyone to hell –
so the focus is on the here and now — Few tend to write about the hereafter
— if they do, much of the thought is universalistic or panentheistic
*A Focus on Medieval Women Mystics *
Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, et al.
*Focus on the body, sexuality, eros*
Some seek to reestablish pride in the woman’s body which they believe the
Church has denigrated — Eros is viewed as the source of creative power
(look for this and the concept of Christa in the writings of individuals
such as Rita Nakashima Brock and Carter Heyward) — Note the focus in ritual
on menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, women’s bodily fluids.
*Influence of Native American, New Age, Ecofeminist, Gnostic and other
spiritualities/religious systems *
Womanist (African American), Mujerista (Latin American), Asian,
Eurofeminist, North American Feminist . . . Each may blend the myths,
symbols and legends of its originating culture with biblical stories –
starting with the experience of the culture and then syncretizing. All focus
on liberation from their particular starting points: sexual and/or racial
discrimination, exploitation, colonialism . . .
Drawn from especially in three areas: “(1) Gnostic use of feminine names for
the divine; (2) the social role of women in Gnostic groups; (3)the Gnostic
identification of the locus of religious authority.” (Russell and Clarkson,
*Support for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender causes.*
Some women have joined together to form CLOUT (Christian Lesbians Out
Some have begun to make the argument that “the patriarchal worldview recalls
itself symbolically through meat eating . . . Eating animals [is seen as] a
form of institutional violence . . . [Some see] solidarity with the
oppressed as necessarily including solidarity with oppressed animals.” This
is also linked with “body-affirming theology.” To be anti-patriarchal is to
be vegetarian. (Russell and Clarkson, 307).
*Value of the older woman *
The “crone” or older woman is linked with wisdom and the Wiccan trinity of
Maiden, Mother, Crone.
*Truth is neither objective nor relative *
Instead, some argue, it is contextual so each community determines its own
Tend to work with “the body and images of the natural world; “themes of
woman as oppressed. “[T]hey take place in circles where the hierarchy of
leadership is either modified or abolished altogether.” Often reworked are
existing rituals such as the Lord’s Supper wherein, for example, the
contents of the cup may be said to represent the blood of women’s monthly
cycles mingled with the tears of the victimized. (See Russell and Clarkson,
Either denied altogether or relocated from the individual to the system
Women being “heard to speech” (Nelle Morton). Women’s stories are seen as
necessary in “doing theology.”
Resources: Campbell, Joseph, ed. _The Portable Jung._ New York: Penguin,
1976.Russell, Letty M. and J. Shannon Clarkson, eds. _Dictionary of Feminist
Theologies_. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.
Donna F. G. Hailson is Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Renewal and
Director of the Doctor of Ministry in the Renewal of the Church for Mission
at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She
co-authored _The Goddess Reviva_l (a 1996 Christianity Today Book of the
Year) and has written a new book about radical spiritual feminism, _From
Truth to Myth: The Trojan Horse of Unsound Doctrine_, to be released by
Bristol House this winter.