Friday, 27 June 2014

Sophia and the 'Pink Church' - the opening shots!

A friend has asked me about 'Sophia' as they are struggling with friends who are seeking to redress the  'male dominated theology and language' of Church and society.

I often find myself rather frustrated when certain friends talk of the male domination that is Church especially when they descend into talk or 'rights, positive discrimination and redressing the errors of the past!' One of the biggest issues I encounter is the increasingly 'Pink Church' - that place which, as one clerical colleague put it, 'Seeks to undo all the misogyny of the past two thousand years!' (something for another day)

We need to be affirming all people and to be a truly inclusive entity and yet, as the tide turns, this is not the reality and I think we might be in danger of entering into something that might be somewhat terminal.

But back to the 'Sophia' issue:

Whilst at college I had many conversations with a feminist who asked why she should be expected to be celebrating God as man. Her position (in a nutshell) was: 'I am woman, what does Jesus 'the man' have to do with me and what does he know of my experience?'

She was heavily taken up by three main themes:
i. God as 'She'  (but if pressed would retreat to 'He, She or It')

ii. Sophia as a remedy to the 'God is male 'heresy

iii. A female Apostle by the name of Junia (whose name had been diminished by other apostles to oppress women).

It is the Sophia issue that is the focus of today's perambulations - it's an opening shot in the discussion and will be followed by some Bible references and related material later (for I think we often fail to establish concepts and points of agreement before we rush into what is often mere prooftexting):

I know 'Sophia' is Greek for wisdom but rather than being an actual person have seen this to be an anthropomorphic construct. War is male, beauty and wisdom are female - trains, cars and planes are 'she' - you know what I mean I'm sure!

Thinking of the female names we have with such roots: Grace, Chastity, Patience, etc. I find many confuse this, giving it the attribute of personhood and this is what I have found with Sophia. For it appears than many are so keen to have something upon which they can hang their argument and pin their hopes that their theology, and thinking, is rather slipshod and shoddy (now that's an invitation to a fight I'm sure). What makes challenging the views dangerous is the fact that any challenge is often met with the ad hominem that is 'sexist' or 'misogynist' rather than a robust and tight response.

I am of the opinion that the Sophia route is not only fraught with danger but leads those who embrace it into a place where the Wisdom literature is corrupted, bringing into being a new deity and denying the sex of Jesus, the Christ, the incarnate man. It is not a remedy for those who who claim that a male Trinity is offensive, divisive and even cruel for those who struggle with fathers or males but a denial of something important.

I have been challenged by many who bring cases of women who were damaged by men as evidence that we need to rethink God as a women to make the God character acceptable to them. The problem is that this is a wrong position to be taking for the issue is not how to compensate or impart some divine CBT (where coping mechanism and accommodation are sought) but to seek healing and wholeness in person and Church too! One (feminist) lecturer of mine once followed an extremely misandrist comment with the coup de grâce*, 'After all, all men are potential rapists!' Me, being me, and always up for a conversation added, 'And of course, conversely, all women are potential whores!'

Now although I thought that levelled the scores, the head of department cautioned me for 'sexist language' and discounted the lecturers comments with, 'Well that's who she is!' Now tell me that that wasn't a prime example of sexual inequality :-) !!!!

And back on track.

As we look at this area, of which I know absolutely nothing, I'd love people to point me to the bits they know and observations from their own experience and theology. My premise it that God embodies both male and female and that changing the gender to accomodate issues with the male changes neither sex (for gender is not 'sex' - sex is biological, gender is sociological and not transferable, unless you have an agenda!). we need to seek unity, equality and inclusivity and this demands healing, wholeness and orthodox thinking - all else is error.

Looking forward to this (gulp)

* perhaps that should have been  coup de main :-)


Sophist said...

How would you feel if you were a woman and yet god was always male and never female? How can you say you support incisiveness and equality when you won't consider god as she?

Words are fine but unless you are willing to act and change to include women and others who are different to you (I'm assuming youre also also phobic in other areas as well) you are condemned to die as a church.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Did you mean inclusive rather than incisive?

Show me where God is ever responded to as a 'she' and I'm happy to use it! I'm happy to welcome and be one with those 'who are different to me' and I'm happy to say that I am phobic in no areas - unless you want to include 'stupid' and then I will plead guilty!!

So you're a woman - congratulations. I am a man and that's rather cool because there are parallel and complementary skills which strengthen and bless the other (and the whole).

Equality is about right behaviour - now a statement of power or father of politics (sic).

Happy Friday

JS said...

Just read your blog, don't have google account to respond though. Far too many people focus on "Rights" within feminism.Often what underlies the responses I see are the need/desire for power.

Qualities - for whatever reason then are seen as powerful but actually often very ugly. Changing the gender of God helps no-one.Some people do struggle with gender after abuse, but that doesn't mean we have to change God's gender.What needs to change is abuse.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Excellent comments - Thank You

Jude said...

Not all those abused by males struggle with gender ...I am one who doesn't. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, a follower who is committed to obedience to him, I pray "Our Father..." and call God "Abba" just as Jesus taught us, and believe it is not my calling to change any of that but to seek to be transformed by God through a relationship that transcends any human obstacle related to gender. God doesn't have a gender like we do, but it is a language issue as we don't like calling a person (let alone a Person, the Divine Person) by the pronoun "it".

JonG said...

Quite early on, the Bible talks of our origins like this:
"So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

Which suggests to me that a view of God as a human male is too simplistic. However, the human writers of the Bible have always used male forms of address, and as they almost certainly each knew Him better than I currently do, I cannot see any justification for me going against that.

I didn't have a great relationship with my own father. He was not physically abusive, but was an alcoholic who pretty much abandoned my mother and me when I was quite young; years later, after there had been a fair degree of reconciliation, he rather spoilt it all by complaining about how badly He had been treated in the divorce.
Despite this, I neither have a problem with a mental image of God as male, knowing that all such images are greatly limited, nor do I have a problem with equating maternal characteristics with Him.
Also, professionally, I have met many people who were treated as badly by their mother as others were by their father. Human parents are inevitably flawed to a greater or lesser extent, and to judge the perfect by the imperfect will not allow safe conclusions.

Graham Criddle said...

One of the things which I see referred to in Vic's original post and in some of the comments is the idea that we can make God in our own image - and this, while not an uncommon view, concerns me.

Vic refers to the times he has been challenged to "rethink God as a woman"

Sophist sees considering "god as she" as a requirement for inclusiveness and equality

JS recognises that we don't have to change God's gender

JonG correctly referred to people viewing God as a human male as simplistic. But this doesn't stop people doing it.

There is a great danger of losing the sense of God as "other" and not seeking to understand Him as He is - the one who said of Himself "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14)

(Sorry, Vic, not directly linked to "Sophia" but seemed relevant!)

Martin Johnson said...

I thought the quote was "All women are whores, except my mother." Not being confrontational, just picking up on your comment.

JonG said...

I wasn't meaning that a mental "image" of God is automatically wrong for being simplistic. Indeed, All our images have to be, by comparison with the reality, simplified. The important thing is that we recognise and acknowledge that our limited minds can only conceive images that reflect only a part of that reality.
Which is why I am more than happy to go along with those images the Bible presents to us, whilst understanding that in other places the Bible may use a rather different image.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Jon - Thanks for comments. Continue to agree with you (and the clarification) ;0)