Here we go, Marc. This is what my tweet a few days back was referring to.
Warning: this is long.
One of the books I am reading as part of my Theology class this term is Freeing Theology edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, a book of essays by some leading female theologians who are attempting to look at theology from a new perspective – that of women in the Christian faith. These women are all of a Catholic persuasion, interesting enough since the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches take the most conservative and restrictive view of women in ministry. Out of adversity comes great strength; or maybe one could say that God uses what is of little account to confound the wise. That would be fitting with God’s economy I think.
These authors discuss a number of theological issues. The one we have been dealing with this week is the Trinity. The author discusses the historical background which gave rise to this doctrine and the heresies which they were addressing by their formulation. She gives a beautiful discourse on Rublev’s icon and states that the figures in the icon sit in a circle around the Eucharistic cup with space in this circle for the one meditating on the icon to enter into the communion of the three. She states, “This icon expresses the fundamental insight of the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, that God is not far from us but lives among us in a communion of persons.”(p.84)
Later she goes on to state, “The point of Trinitarian theology is to convey that it is the essence or heart of God to be in relationship to other persons; that there is no room for division or inequality or hierarchy in God; that the personal reality of God is the highest possible expression of love and freedom; that the mystery of divine life is characterized by self-giving and self-receiving; that divine life is dynamic and fecund, not static or barren (p.106)
As she discusses the doctrine, she also engages us in a rethinking of the creeds which describe the Trinity using very patriarchal language. It was, of course, the language and thinking of the era in which they were written but this language poses problems, namely the idea of God being masculine and of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit being hierarchical. The early church fathers may not have intended to overlay the theology of the Trinity with hierarchy or solely masculine images for God but their language and thinking was patriarchal and so it reinforces this.
Not everyone in this class comes from a middle class, white North American culture and so there was some discussion as to the validity of LaCugna’s arguments and whether they really conformed to what has been said in the Scripture regarding the Trinity and the relationship between the three. Part of our discussion was an attempt to help this person see that disunity and inequality is more a sign of brokenness and sin than of some design by God for the way things should be.
I can’t repeat all the discussion but part of my response to this fellow was: “As to gender equality, I do believe that God created both the male and the female versions of humans in God’s own image(Gen 1:29). I think that God’s image is much more than a gender thing. You said, “maybe God planned this patriarchy on this physical earth, but once we are in the presence of God (spiritually) we will be equal.” I consider the institution of hierarchy to be a man made archy as LaCugna also states and part of the brokenness in relationship introduced into the picture with the entrance of sin. I believe that patriarchy is a structure that demonstrates the power of Satan to distort human relationships and that our freedom won by Christ should change the way we interact as males and females, as different races and cultures. I, as a woman made in God’s image, can enter into that circle of relationship with God that is so beautifully portrayed in Rublev’s Icon; not only can I enter but I must if I am to know God. I believe that you too, as a man, must enter into that same relationship with God. We are equally needy and we are equally loved, valued and gifted by God to be used in the work of God’s kingdom.”
I did not want him to think that I was terribly offended but I did voice my disagreement with his interpretation of both scripture and the author’s essay. So further along in our discussion I stated, “You did not offend me but I could also not agree with you. That said, I think I understand where you are coming from. I am aware of the cultural background you bring to the discussion. It is similar to our First Nations culture and to the culture in the Congo. It is a culture that I believe values taking time for relationships and family in ways that we could all learn from. But there is no doubt that these cultures are very patriarchal. When the patriarch is a benevolent one, things can go well for women but if not, abuse is often an issue because the patriarch feels a right to lord it over the lesser beings under him. Abuse of anyone who is weak is a huge issue in my city particularly in the First Nations people where there is a strong patriarchal culture. The church needs to demonstrate a better way of relating.
If God designed us to live in nurturing and loving relationships where we respect each other as equals because we all bear God’s image then I think we need to ask ourselves if the tendency to lord it over another person isn’t sinful and a result of the entrance of sin into the world rather than being a system put in place by God? As I said above, I believe we stand equally in need of God’s grace, we are equally invited into communion with God and God equally bestows a variety of gifts on men and women to bring others into fellowship with God. I think that a strong church of men and women who respect each other as equals before God can demonstrate some of the goodness of the kingdom of God no matter what culture we live in.”
And now this has gotten way to long for any normal person to read. If you have arrived at this point then I declare you somewhat off balance like me.