Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Accusations of "goddess worship" by biblical egalitarians? Yeah, Right!

When it comes to women's issues, I guess you could say I'm a little bit Pavlovian. The reasons for this have become clearer to me as time passes. In shorthand, as an American white male, I somehow got the idea that I was priviledged. Call it a cultural virus. And as the layers of this misperception have slowly been peeled back (always to expose another layer, alas) I find myself less and less patient with myself, sometimes to the point of despair. And then I repent... take a breath... start again. So take the below with that in mind.

Bad doctrine can, and often does, come from those claiming to protect Christians from "liberal" and/or "feminist" interpretations of Scripture. For instance, in an article attacking Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), of which my wife and I are members and for which we are occasional speakers, Mimi Haddad (CBE's president) is accused of having taught "goddess worship" at Cornerstone Festival. As one of the speaker coordinators for that festival, I booked Mimi, proudly I might add, for Cornerstone. Further, Jesus People USA (the inner-city intentional community of which I am a part) co-sponsors with CBE a "Gender Revolution" Tent at our Cornerstone Festival each summer. So if Mimi's teaching goddess worship to our attendees, I'm also to blame.

The fact Mimi has not and never has taught such things did not stop Ms. Dwayna Litz from making such accusations against Mimi, CBE, and (by extension) myself:

"He is a Spirit with a male gender, and that is perfectly fine and non-offensive to any redeemed, wretched sinner at the foot of the cross! And woe to the people who are trying to rename him."
Really? God has a male gender? Does he have a penis? Does he have testosterone? Scripture itself teaches that God is not mortal, that he does not have flesh. God certainly does NOT have a male, or female, gender. The statement "He is a Spirit with a male gender" is self-refuting, since by definition God is beyond biology -- he invented biology but is outside of it, just as he is outside all creation even though also nearer to us than we are to ourselves. One could argue that Jesus had maleness, which of course was true while he was here on earth. But we are talking about God the Father here...

In short, it is a grave error to think God is gendered at all. "God is not a human being ['man' in KJV], that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind." (Num 23:19, NRSV)

Genesis records that God created humankind thusly:

Gen 1:26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."Gen 1:27 So God
created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. [NRSV]
Note that God speaks of Himself in the plural. This verse, along with many others, is often cited by Trinitarians wanting to establish the "three Persons" aspect of the Godhead. In the next verse, God creates humankind "in his image" -- and "male and female he created them."

The lovely interblending of so many deep threads of meaning can hardly be touched here. But just to note the sociological significance of male and female being equal as the members of the Godhead are, or to note that by inference it is easy to find that if God made male and female in his image, then both male and female in some sense exist in Him... is this going too far? I think not. So though God is not "gendered" (as in being male), there is a very deep, and not wholly transparent to us, sense that He contains aspects of both the masculine and feminine in His Being.

But back Ms. Litz's defense of orthodoxy from the heretics (as opposed, I suppose, to himetics?):

"Mimi Haddad, the president of Christians for Biblical Equality (claiming to be an evangelical organization) spoke at Cornerstone, an annual arts festival attended by thousands of evangelical youth, on the feminine images of God. In her lecture she taught that God could be called 'Mother' as well as 'Father.'"
Hmm. Well, how about the bible's own words?

Isa 66:13 "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."

And as an Australian Christian comments:

"What needs to be brought back into focus is that the Bible presents both paternal and maternal images of God. For example, God is portrayed as a mother who nurses and comforts us (Isaiah 66: 12-13). God is likened to a midwife (Psalm 22:9), and as a seamstress (Luke 12: 27-28). God's wisdom is characterised as a woman (Proverbs 8). The imagery of a female eagle is employed to show God's tender support for us (Deut. 32: 11), and similar bird-like imagery is employed in Psalm 91 with us sheltering under God's wings. In the New
Testament Jesus likens his concern to that of a mother hen gathering in her chicks (Matthew 23: 37).

"In Church history some leading figures, male and female, have not hesitated to refer to the motherhood of God. Such figures
include John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard of Bingen and Anselm. Even the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, spent time discussing the feminine images undergirding the Hebrew language used there. As God is a Spirit, both masculine and feminine elements are found. This does not mean that the Bible sets forth an androgynous deity. The creation narrative avers that in God's image both male and female are created (Genesis 1: 27), so that the two genders are equal reflections of the creator."

So much for Christian worldviews allegedly being "defended" by the champions of orthodoxy. I remember when Jim Sire's book, The Universe Next Door, introduced that concept to me. I found it quite handy, "it" being the idea that we each have a set of beliefs both examined and unexamined which constitute a "worldview" or way of seeing the world.

But worldview apologetics have fallen on hard times. For one thing, it has
increasingly become evident that worldviews are just what they sound like -- constructions. And for another thing, it is painfully evident that anyone who wants to can construct their own version of a "Christian worldview" and slap it in the faces of those they happen to disagree with. Never mind that these worldviews are all too often terribly short of intellectual or biblical content, or (even worse) that they invariably major on cultural misinterpretations of Scripture.

The 1970s era evangelical experiment with rationalism (which one could probably credit in significant ways to Francis Schaeffer) has been exposed along with rationalism itself by the post-moderns. Those, like me, who find existential difficulties with Schaeffer and his progeny also find difficulties with the culturally constructed, anti-female, anti-multicultural, and anti-human (ah, a bit of rant, Trott?) vibrations continually emanating from this structurally rigid and intrinisically unstable edifice.

As Ms. Litz unintentionally illustrates:

"To the biblical feminists like Mimi Haddad: While you are busy renaming God as 'mother' and reinterpreting Scripture, why not rename and reinterpret yourself? Call yourself a goddess worshipper. But don't call yourself a Christian. Christians don’t call God 'mother.'"

The carelessness with which terms such as "goddess worship" are tossed about in this above example are only part of a larger carelessness of vocabulary the post-moderns ably critique. Language is used to belittle, demean, dechristianize, and in the end figuratively (or even literally) murder one's percieved opponents.

If the alternative is to worship the white male phallic deities so often offered to us via the Christless christendom currently so popular from White House to Focus on the Family... Dang if I don't think we could use a little goddess worship. More accurately, and with a little less irritation, I suggest that calling God both the Father who Begot us and the Mother who bore us is not inaccurate at all biblically. In fact, the Holy Spirit as Mother, God the Father, and Christ the Son can be viewed as the Divine Tri-Unity mirroring their collective image in us.

I don't find such ideas threatening, or new, or unorthodox. What I do find unorthodox, yet also not new, is the raging nonsensibility of those who continue to make of God an Imperialistic, Paternalistic, and actually quite arrogant deity far removed from the Merciful, Long-Suffering, and Holy (and Wholly) Other of Scripture.

A final note: calling God "Father" -- which Scripture does do the vast majority of the time -- has to me a very sensible, though sad, set of reasons behind it. God is indeed our Divine Parent. But on a planet where so much violence -- both individual and social, overt and hidden, criminal and culturally permitted -- faces all of us in varying degrees, a Father God powerfully appeals to our ideas of being protected as well as nurtured. I know I personally find tremendous comfort in praying the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

But praying to our Father does not, nor should it, negate God as Mother, the Spirit who births us, nurtures us with the milk of his/her merciful kindness, and yearns over us as a mother over her children. God is not a "neither/nor" but a "both/and".... He, God the Father, is also our Mother.

I can see nothing heretical at all in such an idea. And it frankly baffles me that others do. Sure, emphasize what Scripture emphasizes: God as Father. But do not forbid someone who is loved by a biblical God who has feminine attributes, lest the doctrinal error be yours rather than hers.

Okay, I've had my say. Now club me like a baby seal.

Suggested Reading:
Mimi Haddad's article on language and gender.
Rebecca Groothuis' short, pithy treatment of gender-inclusive bible translations.
Kevin Giles dismantles hierarchical belief regarding both members of the Trinity and male and female. (His book on this topic is incredible!)


Elaine said...

Excellent post, Jon! Definately a keeper.

BTW, I am in the process of finishing my thesis on the decline of women ministers in Pentecostalism. Would you be interested in seeing it when it's finished?

Jon Trott said...

Yes, I'd like much to see that. Blessings!

steve said...

Jon: you are really quite far afield of the current Chritian worldview. It feels guilty due to my programming to read this stuff...then I feel duped. Maybe I will just leave the feelings behind and go for truth.

Do you think suggesting that the Holy Spirit might be the "embodiment" [sic] of the feminine in the trinity might appease the traditionalists? It seems to me that the preponderance of direct and oblique references to this person are feminine. Like Wisdom personified in Proverbs, and bearing "fruit" in Galatians. Or do you think they are stuck on all three persons as having ... let me be delicate here...hairy chests?

Jon Trott said...

I can't say what they're stuck on... but I wish they'd get unstuck!

Mundane Egg said...

Right on, John.

As Jesus told the woman at the well, "God is spirit and those who worship him do so in spirit."

I agree the aspects of both mother and father are inherent in God. We are the only ones that limit God by gender and don't you think that that in itself sounds a little like idolatry?

Just a thought - keep up the good work been reading you for years...

CT said...

I think this young gal hangs with John MacArthur. It's really very sad. I also wish she'd stop ending every other sentence with an exclamation point. It gives me soul burn.

Tamara Jaffe-Notier said...

Hey Jon.

Preach it. Our limited theological boxes have got to be busted wide open. This winter I led a women's retreat for our church where we focused on the creation story in Proverbs 3:19--where God laid the foundations of the earth through Wisdom. Hokmah (I don't know the officially accepted spelling for this word), Wisdom, is a feminine noun for the Wisdom of God. Proverbs 3:18 "She is a tree of life to those who embrace her," and it's by Her agency that the Holy One "laid the earth's foundations." That's a creation story that I never studied as a kid.

Keep being crazy. Happy Fool's Day!

(The Wittenburg Door)

Jon Trott said...

Good to hear from you! As far as being crazy... I'm afraid that is more or less my permanent state, even in my redeemed nature!

Beyond Words said...

Jon, so glad I found your blog! I missed C'Stone last year-my father died on June 30--Think I'll hang out in the Gender Revolution tent, God willing, this year. I am drinking in your poetry and your discerning words, from this desert place I live where women are always submissive and God pulled the cosmos out of a hat in six days. Blessings!

Jon Trott said...

So sorry about your father! Yes, come over to the Gender Revolution and hang out with the usual suspects. We'll all be there. Also, JPUSA is doing a tent called "Project12," so come over and meet the other usual suspects there... so many suspects, so little time!