Is Christianity anti-feminist

Antje Schrupp online

Feminism in Christianity

Lecture in Neu-Anspach, March 26th, 2014, and (in an older version) in the international women's meeting place in Ludwigshafen, June 8th, 2011

Christianity, like practically all organized religions, is a patriarchal religion with a history in which, in the name of religion, the supremacy of men over women has been preached. Evidence for this can be found in the Bible - the famous Paulist phrase "Let woman be silent in the church" - as well as obvious facts in church history, such as the fact that women are not allowed to hold spiritual offices in almost all Christian denominations cannot be priestesses.

For example, not in the Roman Catholic Church, which with a good 1 billion people are about half of all Christians, nor in the ancient Oriental and Orthodox churches, which have around 300 million believers. About 900 million belong to a Protestant, Anglican or Pentecostal church, and in some of them there is now women's ordination, but since these are split up into many very different more or less regional churches, one cannot say exactly how many of them are women Know pastors.

But despite these patriarchal roots and some of the patriarchal organizational structures that still exist today, women have always been very active.

I would like to tell you about them in my lecture in three parts:

  1. Women in Christian History

  2. Theological problems of a patriarchal religion

  3. The god of women

Women in Christian History

The Bible already reports of numerous female disciples who went about with Jesus and of female apostles who preached the new doctrine of the kingdom of God after his death.

We have not known anything about these women for very long; most of it has only been researched by feminist theology that has emerged in America and from there also in Europe and Germany since the 1980s. It emerged, for example, that some women have been specifically wiped out of tradition through incorrect translations. For example, the apostle Junia, mentioned in the Bible, has long been mistakenly made an apostle of Juniah.

But not only a careful study of the source texts - of which not many have survived - has produced many more women than the male tradition had handed down. An important technique used by feminist theological research was the so-called “hermeneutics of suspicion”, as the theologian Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza called it, meaning that one tried to read behind the lines of the traditional texts. A good example of this method is the sentence “The woman be silent in the community” - because, as the researchers asked: If the men had to issue such a rule at the time, then the other way round one can conclude that the women were in reality have not kept silent. Otherwise they wouldn't have had to be forbidden.

One of the important figures of the early Christian movement, for example, was Mary Magdalene, about whom there is an apocryphal gospel, the gospel of Mary. Apocryphal means that this text was later not included in the "canon", that is, in the series of texts that became part of the official Bible.

Here, too, it is interesting what church history has made of Mary Magdalene: namely a prostitute. She has been identified with the adulteress who saved Jesus from being stoned.

If one researches these older texts, one can conclude that there was already a lively discussion of the role of women in the early Christian communities. Many things were debated at the time, and it was only in the course of time that what was then considered to be the content of “Christianity” crystallized. For example, one argued about the divine nature of Jesus - was he God, was he human, and if he was both, was he both at the same time or alternately? Such questions.

And one of these questions at that time was the role of women, which was probably stronger in the early churches and was then pushed back in the 2nd or 3rd centuries. There are certain parallels to revolutionary or social movements in general. There seems to be a regularity according to which women are very actively and significantly involved in such upheavals that question old traditional orders, but the moment they become established institutions and organizations, they take a back seat, partly because they are are pushed out by the men, but partly also because they may not appreciate this type of institutionalization that much.

In the course of church history, the relationship between the sexes in the church has been discussed again and again. I limit my presentation to Western European history because I only know my way around here, but I am sure that the topic has come up again and again elsewhere.

Again and again there were women who openly challenged the church hierarchy, such as Wilhelmina of Milan, who had a vision in 1280 that - while Christ represented God in the male form - she was now the female incarnation of God on earth. Before she died in 1282, she appointed her student Mayfreda as her successor with the task of founding a church under a female hierarchy. However, Wilhelmina's followers were denounced at the Inquisition and Mayfreda was burned as a heretic in 1300.

In general, since the 13th century there has been a growing need among women all over Europe for communal life beyond marriage and monastery. Women lived together in pairs or in smaller groups and farmed together, but there were also larger organized conventions with up to a hundred members. Others wandered the country individually or in groups.

The generic term "Beguines" was soon created for this. Some communities had no set rules at all, others worked out precise contracts for their coexistence. Most convents for beginners were financed by the work of their members, be it in handicrafts, in nursing or in trade.

One of the most famous beguines was the French Marguerite Porete (approx. 1260-1310), whose book “The Mirror of Simple Souls” was the first spiritual textbook in the vernacular (instead of Latin). In it she describes that "God" can only be found through love - not through the church, but also not through reason or virtue. Everything depends on the ability of the individual to “love”, i.e. to do the right thing in a certain, concrete situation. Laws and abstract rules do not contribute to the good in the world - seen in this way one could even see Margarete Porete as an early anarchist.

The "mirror" is not a philosophical treatise, but describes a practical, experimental path (very similar to the later literature of the women's movement in the 1970s). The Inquisition declared the book heretical, and on Pentecost 1310 Porete was burned at the stake in Paris. In spite of this, her book was distributed more widely, with translations into Latin, English and Italian as early as the 14th century.

While the Church initially tolerated the Beguines, they were increasingly persecuted in the 14th and 15th centuries, the communities either broken up or forced to transform themselves into church-controlled monasteries. Even so, some of these communities survived into the 19th century.

From the 14th century, there was a veritable “Querelle des femmes” in Eropa, a “dispute about women”, which was carried out in public. Women also took part very actively in this discussion, especially Christine de Pizan, who wrote a book entitled “The City of Women”, in which she defended the dignity of women even then and referred to positive examples from history and also related to biblical female figures.

But there were also independent female traditions within the official women's monasteries. The Spanish abbess Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), for example, drafted her own rules for the monasteries she founded because she was of the opinion that the religious rules designed by men would not be useful for women. Inquisition proceedings were initiated against her as well, but her teachings were finally recognized as orthodox and Teresa canonized in 1622, and in 1970 she was even made the first woman to be a doctor of the church.

It is important not to look at the quality of feminist ideas through the lens of ruling ideologies. Just as the church burned some original thinking women at the stake and declared others saints, today some feminist ideas are incorporated into neoliberalism and others ridiculed as utopian.

When, with the Reformation in the 16th century, many women's convents were forcibly closed and the women living there had to marry in order to survive, in many places this also meant the smashing of independent female traditions and ways of life.

It was not until feminist theology in the 20th century that many of these traditions - which did not appear in church historiography written by men - were rediscovered.

Theological problems of the Christian religion

In these disputes, therefore, one cannot really speak of a contradiction between a “male” and a “female” theology; it is rather the case that the arguments somehow move on different levels. Feminist theology therefore approaches the writings of women regardless of their judgment by the official church.

They were also quite “feminist” inasmuch as they took their womanhood and the gender difference as an opportunity for their theological work. But for them it was and is not just about the position of women in the church, about the demand for equality and emancipation. Rather, it was and is primarily about the question of how we speak of God at all and what we understand by religion.

So it is not about the integration and equality of women within the church, but about the question of what kind of church we actually want. An example where this is controversially discussed is the question of access to office. In the Catholic and Orthodox churches there are many women who ask the question whether it is at all desirable to become a “priest” as the office is now defined.

The Italian philosopher Luisa Muraro once said that the greatest sin of men was to have sat in God's place over women, and the greatest sin of women that they allowed it to. That means, above all, we first have to clear this place of "the other", that is, of God, and of course there are other challenges for women and men. As long as the other person's place is occupied by something inner-worldly, it is not a post-patriarchal church, not a church that I can love.

This question arises even more in Christianity than in other religions, because the founder of a religion, Jesus Christ, is not just a man, as in other religions, but God. The great feminist theologian Mary Daly, who later left the Church, coined the phrase: "If God is a man, then the male is God". Exactly this intermingling is a big problem. In the Catholic tradition, the masculinity of Jesus is one of the reasons women are denied access to the priesthood.

That means, in church tradition, the fact that Jesus was a man - which is initially a coincidence, since people never exist “gender-neutral”, but always only in the variant woman, man, or possibly other sexes - was not a coincidence seen, but as a principle from which the men’s higher claims to the official “religious administration” were derived.

The problem begins with the interpretation of the creation story, which - according to Jewish interpretation - describes the creation of the gender difference: God created man in his own image, and he created them as man and woman. Or, in the second variant of the creation story: He first created Adam, i.e. a gender-neutral “human being” (the Hebrew word Adam means “human being” and is by no means a masculine proper name), and then she created a second human being, namely Eve and with it the gender difference and the fact that plurality is part of the essence of human beings. God created Eve by no means as an “helper”, as many Christian Bible translations claim, but as a “counterpart”. Because: "It is not good that the person is alone".

But this mixture of “God” and “man” and of “man” and “man” shaped the entire history of the church. To make matters worse, there are problematic designations for God as “Lord” and “Father”, which over time have assumed a different and distorting meaning, so that they are actually no longer in use today.

The designation of God as "Lord" used to mean, in feudal times, that God stands above everything, that we are subordinate to her, just as subjects are to their masters. That also had a resistant aspect: It is not the “masters” in the world by whom we orientate ourselves, because our real “master” is God. This image made sense at a time when the vast majority of people, men and women, were subjects - and by no means masters. With democracy, however, all men have become masters - and not all women. If "Herr Gott" sounds exactly like "Herr Schmidt" - then something is wrong.

It is similar with the designation of God as "Father". Originally this should mean that the relationship between humans and God is a loving, trusting, intimate one. But in the course of the patriarchal supremacy of fathers over women and children, this meaning changes. Ina Praetorius describes this in her interpretation of the creed using the example of a well-known Christian prayers at the table: "Father bless this food, us for strength and you for praise" - what confusion it causes when it is spoken by the mother or children at the table who also has a real "father"? How can you tell God and man apart?

The god of women

Indeed, women have opened up new spiritual spaces within the Church. They invented new liturgies, new forms, new ways of arranging space. But what is the implication of that? Have they really changed the church, the religious institutions?

My impression is that the efforts of feminist spirituality are primarily aimed at creating a place within the church for women interested in religion. To change the rigid traditional church forms so much that women feel comfortable in them. That is not a little.

But that is not enough. The impulses radiating from spiritual women into the political arena and into the public are barely audible. This gap between a post-patriarchal ecclesiastical reality and what arrives “outside” of it became very clear in the debates about the Bible in righteous language. What we had long taken for granted in our “niches”, such as the talk of the disciples, appeared to those “outside” like a scandal. Apparently they hadn't noticed anything we'd been doing in the Church for decades.

In public, men continue to dominate the debates about religion and church, for example if you look at the interreligious dialogue forums and so on. Margot Käßmann broke the pattern, but her interlude was short. I think it is a big mistake that the Church let them go. She won't get such a chance again anytime soon (the church, not Käßmann).

Because women like her are not standing in line. The Protestant church parliament in Frankfurt, which was reconstituted last year, consists of 76 percent men again. And I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. There is a growing unease among women about church office. Everywhere people complain that women are not ready to run for offices and committees, I've heard that there is even a special program for this in the Northern Church.

I think this is also due to the fact that these church structures have changed little, at least not enough, in terms of their culture.Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter, one of the first German bishops, said in a lecture shortly after her retirement that she only played the bishop for long stretches. Perhaps we have relied too much on the fact that the presence of women there would automatically bring about change.

This would be a point at which I have fundamental questions to the Christian women's movement. In a way, we are still suffering from the division of the feminist-theological movement from the 1980s into a faction that is “loyal to the church” and one that has moved away from the church, keyword for example Mary Daly or Christa Mulack. In a somewhat simplified way, one could say that the “escapists” have since then condemned the institution of the church as patriarchal, while those who “stayed in” tend to have - in my opinion - too great a loyalty to the institution of the church. Or be satisfied with too little of what has been achieved.

I do not mean that as an appeal to go out as such, but to keep this option open in the debates. As far as my own career in the church is concerned - when will the point be reached that I am so dependent on its worldly resources that I have to wish the institution to be preserved out of self-interest? As for the lines of argument: I still sometimes find myself in discussions where it looks as if “the church” is doing me “as a woman” a favor by discriminating against women less than, say, the Catholics . That church representatives boast, for example, that "with us" women are allowed to be ordained and that they have allowed us to bring out a Bible in righteous language. In truth, of course, it is the other way around: That at least that is possible is the only reason why I am still in this church at all. Many other wise and, I would say, godly women have long since left the Church. And the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult to find women who want to get involved in church offices should not give women food for thought - but the church.

The difference between the traditional men's church and the post-patriarchal women's church is evidently much more profound than just the question of the institutional integration of women. It cannot therefore be achieved through formal integration - legal equality. Rather, we have to get down to business.

My thesis is: When women talk about God, it is fundamentally different from what is administered in religious institutions. And we should actually work on and address this conflict if we not only have “niches” in the church as an institution that we can love. Namely, these niches can also be a trick. They prevent a rupture from occurring without the church as a whole having to really address the concerns of women.

But what would a “God of women” be? Luisa Muraro gave the title of a book in which she examined the knowledge and experiences of late medieval mystics. She writes: “According to my current understanding - that is, that of a woman who in turn does not believe in God and reads those texts not as testimony to a belief, but rather as documents of a knowledge that concerns her very closely - God was for those women here and there, he was very far away and very close, he was the other and the relationship to the other. "(96)

Isn't God perhaps “the great Zampano” to whom male codified theology has made him, the Almighty, the creator of the universe? A point of view from which the theodicy question arises directly, i.e. the question why such an omnipotent type can allow suffering in the world, and which, in my opinion, male theology cannot answer satisfactorily despite all the subtleties?

That the mystics might mean something completely different by the word “God” first struck her when she read Margareta Porete's “Mirror of Simple Souls”, writes Muraro: “I began to hear words from a conversation, not just a new one, but a new one an outrageous conversation between two whom we briefly call a woman and God. A woman, that was certain, God, I don't know, but the woman was certainly not alone. There was someone else whose voice did not get to me, but which I heard because it caused an interruption in the woman's words, or rather, a cavity that transformed the reading. "

What fascinates Muraro about it is the other way in which man and God, inside and outside, subject and object, body and soul are related to one another here. Not as opposites, as Western philosophy has taught. Male theology has dealt a lot with the epistemological problem that God is not tangible, not recognizable for people.

“This order did not apply between the woman and God,” writes Muraro, “between the two of them there was an uninterrupted movement, from one to the other, sometimes the woman disappeared (and was somewhere else), then there were two, soon she was alone ... Yes there was no confusion ... There was something like the opening of a great game, a kind of negotiation about what is real and true, in which the wishes freely participate, without censorship and limits, without everything being drowned in madness. In the real that has become fluid, Margareta teaches us, one does not drown. ”(14f).

The relationship between woman and God is not about faith and religion, but about an orientation in the given reality that is not content with pursuing one's own interests or with what is feasible and feasible according to the logic of this world and its systems seems realistic. The relationship to God, to the other, is not to be understood as a systematic treatise, but it is experimental, a game in which everything is uncertain.

This "God of women", this spirituality invented, longed for and hoped for by women (which is of course not exclusive to women, but a suggestion for everyone), faces the problem that the problems of this world are unsolvable. This feeling of the insolubility of problems arises again today with great force, keyword climate change, oil spill, Afghanistan, Palestine-Israel, financial crisis and so on.

Another witness to this image of God is Simone Weil. Originally she was not a religious person, her parents were intellectuals of Jewish origin, she herself was an anarchist socialist. But she found that a purely inner-worldly, humanistic position is not enough to be active in the world. She lived in an extreme situation, confronted with National Socialism, and came to a point where she saw with absolute clarity that Hitler would come to power and that the political commitment of the left would not be enough to prevent this. This hopelessness has led them to believe that God must exist.

Weil was right when she realized that Hitler's seizure of power was inevitable. What does your conclusion mean that there must be God? Certainly not that it actually exists, so not in the sense of a proof of God. Rather, the necessity of God arises from my desire, from my neediness, from my “begging”, as Margarete Porete puts it. God exists because I cannot live without God. And that is not meant psychologically, but philosophically, politically, real.

Also Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew who saw very consciously where the Holocaust was leading. She wrote in her diary:

“These are bad times, my God. Tonight it happened for the first time that I lay sleepless in the dark with burning eyes and many images of human suffering passed me by. I promise you something, God, just a trifle: I don't want to hang my worries about the future as heavy weights on each day, but it takes a certain amount of practice. Every day is enough for itself. I want to help you, God, not to leave me, but I cannot vouch for anything from the start. Only one thing becomes more and more clear to me: that you cannot help us, but that we have to help you, and that's how we ultimately help ourselves. It is the only thing that matters: to save a piece of you in ourselves , God. And maybe we can help resurrect you in other people's tormented hearts. Yes, my God, you don't seem to be able to change much about the circumstances either, they just belong to this life. I am not holding you accountable, you will hold us accountable later. And with almost every heartbeat, it becomes clearer to me that you cannot help us, but that we have to help you and defend your residence within us to the last. "

Doesn't God help us, but do we help God? In a free exchange between us humans and God, the other? In kind of, to quote Muraro's interpretation of Porete again, “a big game, a kind of negotiation about what is real and true, in which the wishes also freely participate, without censorship and boundaries, without everything being drowned in madness. In the real that has become fluid, Margareta teaches us, one does not drown. ”(14f).

Theology, religion, church would not have the task of contributing even more or different content and positions to the respective contemporary debate, which would then have to be added as “religious” or “Christian” values ​​to secular politics and its ethics and morals. Rather, the orientation towards God describes a completely different attitude towards the world, the attitude to desire more, to be surprised by God, without security, without it being plannable or explainable.

It is an attitude that is not satisfied with what this world has in store for standards and guidelines. People with this attitude do not understand “politics” to mean “representing” and “enforcing” certain ideologies or positions or interests. But they are also not interested in a mere moderation between different parties or views. But they long for more, something deeper, higher, different. It is not a question of whether there is this lower, higher, other (which one can call God or not), but rather whether it is longed for.

Once we have discovered this gap, at least the experience and teaching of the mystics (and also my own experience), if we relate to it, then there is actually an answer. One that doesn't come from myself, that isn't a projection. For example, when I recognize what is necessary here and now in a situation. It is a conversation with God, the admission that I need the other, my desire for it, and it is this attitude that is at stake. Whether the word “God” is used for this experience, for this attitude, is unimportant.

Ultimately, religious practice means recognizing the “begging” that there is more, who is open to the other, which we can call “God”, as a political practice. It is not God who speaks to us, but we, by desiring God (or whatever we want to call this other), call God into existence. It is therefore superfluous to prove God - or to refute God - which male theology has dealt so extensively with.

Ultimately, it is about a paradox: that people can have a relationship with God, with transcendence, with the other, with the true, with the truly good, although there is actually no connection or although the establishment of this connection is not instrumentally available for people. God-fearing people are those who have questions about their being-in-the-world, real questions, not rhetorical ones. One of the most important experiences of mysticism is that there can be answers to these questions that are independent of one's own intellectual eloquence. You don't have to be a confirmed Christian or have a minimum of basic religious knowledge or even be a studied biblical scholar to know God's will. If you are all of that, it just means that you express it in turn in certain vocabulary.

It is not thinking about God that brings us closer to it, but being open to it, begging for it. Just as we cannot act with presence of mind in a situation by applying abstract ethical rules, but rather by recognizing what is necessary in that situation. Andrea Günter puts it this way: “Mysticism is about the possibility of recognizing something without us having to know the reason, the cause, the substance of it. We recognize something by being with it. "

Simone Weil pointed out that this is only possible in the mother tongue. One cannot speak of and with God in philosophical-scientific jargon, because God is not an abstraction, nothing that can be generalized, but an experience that is or is not made in a certain concrete situation. For Simone Weil, the mother tongue is the place where the concrete and the transcendent come together. Because the mother tongue is precisely not a closed system with fixed definitions and rules, but basically open to the other, the new. It is the place where the exchange of experiences, negotiations, and mediation of the difference can take place. The simple, beautiful language, which is not easy to dispose of, which eludes the system, is, so to speak, like a game that is permeable to the contingency of God. This “theology in the mother tongue” produces knowledge, but none that can be “secured” or that are “generally valid”.

There are of course many ways to arouse attention for God, for the "God of women" who is the other and love for the other. The politics of women, the theology of the mother tongue, is at the same time more complicated and simpler than the usual struggles for power, for influence, for revolution. It consists in having a different political practice. A practice that does not neglect the specific struggles and projects, but does not indulge in the illusion of being able to have definite answers and absolute truths to anything. Women (and men too, because this is not a truth that only applies to women, but a truth that was discovered and formulated by women) - that is, people who seek dialogue with God, writes Muraro “With the certainty in the world that the impossible also has or can find space in the world. ... There is something real in this world that is not entirely of this world. "(81)