Goddess Worship and the BWF
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 08:04:59 AM EST
John Dorhauer, Talk To Action writer
Thirteen years ago, a Conference was held in Minneapolis. Over 2,000 women gathered to explore what re-imagining God would look and feel like if the long-standing façade of patriarchy in the church was ignored, and the feminine side of God was explored.

The Biblical Witness Fellowship has never stopped using that time of exploration as a launching pad for fear, anxiety, and the continued instantiation of patriarchal hegemony.

Thirteen years later, they post on their website their own twisted perceptions of this event as if it were fresh news.

They write:

"It has been the source of conflict, pain, and controversy ever since. Evangelicals both within and outside the mainline denominations have called what happened there vivid evidence that ancient paganism has resurfaced as a virulent, new strain of old heresy in the very blood stream of the church."

Imagine that: "ancient paganism has resurfaced as a virulent, new strain."

Don't miss the irony evident in that statement: a self-proclaimed "Renewal Group" stands staunchly opposed to the exploration of any emerging theology - and when those who actually invite the church to moments of reflection and renewal experiment with theologies and liturgies that just might renew the church, these bastions of rigid orthodoxy spend the next thirteen years baiting narrow-minded misogynists into frothy fits of vitriolic and dyspeptic tirades that effectively shut down renewal of any kind.

About the report found on the website (which is actually advertised as one of their "Publications," a booklet that can be ordered or downloaded), the author writes the following:

"This is not an attempt at scholarship."

No kidding? It is anything but. Quotes pulled out of context, void of their intent and meaning, chosen specifically to shock the readers, fill the page.  

They go on:

"Our role is rather that of Paul Revere and John Dawes on the dark ride from Boston. We report that those who would subject the church to further tyranny of human ideology over our freedom in Christ are indeed on the march."

More irony: a church that permits such exploration and experimentation is accused by the narrow-minded who would keep every new thought and theology tightly clamped under the lock and key of their orthodoxy of subjecting the church to "further tyranny of human ideology."

There is a lengthy list of quotes from those who spoke at the Conference, from those who defended the right of the women in attendance to speak freely, and from those who believe a new heresy was emerging. It has the air of balance about it - but the publication is anything but. Perhaps the lowest moment in a page that is "anything but scholarship" comes with this quote:

 "The living world is the womb of the high human mind. The All-Mother gives birth to Knowing, Being and Mind. The concept of mother-child is therefore, the correct expression of the God-world secret. We speak of a modern nature religion when we speak of the Mind-child God, who lives in the womb of the All-Mother. The basic religious feelings are Union, Holiness, and Blessedness. On the other hand, the Christian sentiments of Sin, Guilt, and Repentance are not really religious feelings. They are artificially engendered complexes in man."
Professor Ernst Bergmann, German Nazi Faith Movement: 1934  

Ernst Bergmann was a proponent of the National Socialist German Workers Party whose theology was viewed by many as extreme. In time, he did come to support the rise of Nazi Germany. He would go so far as to claim that Jesus was not a Jew; that he in fact was an Arian - a true blue-eyed, blond-haired German.

I am not sure what descriptive word would be appropriate here. The author is correct: it would not be scholarship. To sink so low as to imply (threaten?) that any one who uses feminine imagery to express their understandings of how one may relate to God must, like the one quoted here, be a Nazi supporter just might be the nadir of this organization that purports to "renew" the church, and yet sinks to new depths in its zeal to silence new voices and to shut down the kind of dialogue that might bring renewal.

I did not attend this event in Minneapolis. I cannot speak specifically to its merits or its detriments. But I am not frightened by the thought of women gathering to imagine ways to speak to the feminine side of a God whose own creative energies brought forth man and woman in the image of God. For two millennia we have reduced this God to a creature with a penis. That women at the end of two millennia, having endured the shame and ignominy of patriarchal rule throughout, would convene to help us all discover new truths and - please, God - new rituals and new behaviors should be enthusiastically embraced by us all.

Was everything uttered or practiced there good theology and liturgy? I can't say - I wasn't there. I would suspect not - but in time we will all be able to separate the meaningful and eternal truths therein from the empty and temporal. That is how the church has functioned throughout the ages. It has proven itself flexible enough to tolerate such experimentation; and proven also that its rigidity has almost always engendered those moments that history has proven to be its most shameful.




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Considering that gender is culturally defined (read largely created by man), think about their patriarchial view of God.

They have taken a mirror and place it in Heaven and  said "That is God"...

... and tried to replace "I AM" with a pale imitation of only PART of humanity.

God transcends gender.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 08:07:41 PM EST

I could not have said it better myself.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 08:13:36 AM EST
Parent


...the Biblical Hebrew expression for the Holy Spirit is "ruah," a feminine noun.

by Tenoch on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 01:18:47 PM EST
when the image and language around the Hebrew conept of Sophia was used in the liturgy, all the fundies jumped to the conlusion that they were worshipping some goddess named sophia. Your point about the spirit may seem flippant to some, but it is directly to the point. Incorporating language from sacred texts that imply more feminine characteristics of a multi-faceted deity only enrich our understanding of theological development. Reducing all of the text's langauge and manifestations of the divine to masculinity is demeaning and lacks a good deal of integrity.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 03:45:29 PM EST
Parent

I've always had a touch of cognitive dissonance regarding the use of the name "Sophia." Maybe it's because it's so common in the Greek-language Gnostic texts as well as in Greek pagan philosophical writings, and that's where many of us (myself included) first encountered it. I've had to keep reminding myself that "Sophia" is also firmly rooted in the Septuagint, which uses it to translate the Hebrew "da'at" - another feminine noun! Personally, I prefer to use "da'at" - it carries a lot less excess baggage.

(BTW, one of the pastors of my former church did attend the Re-Imagining conference and came back all excited - she said it was one of the best conference experiences she'd ever had.)


by anomalous4 on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 03:24:56 PM EST
Parent

This is new information for me - I will explore further that hebrew etymology.

I have personally spoken to many who attended, most of whom were tranfsformed by the event and found their faith life deeply enriched by the opportunity.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Thu Jun 29, 2006 at 12:00:39 PM EST
Parent




The author of the BWF piece is using the rhetoric of the right very intelligently.  One of the right wings most consistent strawmen are the anti-Christian college professor or scholar who just won't let people believe - he/she is always questioning and attacking faith - and the rabid feminist who hates anything and everything male.  The BWF piece is a textbook (albeit not terribly sophisticated) example of right wing rhetoric.  

By claiming up front that this is not a work of scholarship, the author is inviting his intended audience to identify with him - he is implicitly identifying himself as an "ordinary every day Christian" which is how his intended audience sees itself.  He is activating the right wing frames about college professors and scholars and feminists and doing so in an effective way.  He's claiming that the use of feminine images of the Divine are not Christian.  His audience is likely to agree; he's giving them rhetorical tools to use in their local congregations, associations and conferences.

He is also attempting to force anyone who wishes to use feminine images of the Divine to defend their identity as Christian.  If you have to defend your Christian identity you can't talk about what you really want to explore - different ways of imaging God.  It forces the entire conversation into a direction that favors BWF.  At some level, it forces persons who wish to reimage God to apologize for doing so - it creates a dynamic in which progressives are seen as perpetrators and and conservatives as victims.  It's rhetorically very effective, perhaps because it is so offensive.

by glendenb on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 12:58:01 PM EST

I have encountered this dynamic many times, and in many of the settings which have been supplied with the kind of rhetoric seen on the BWF website. You are right about their ability to put people immediately on the defensive, and to remain their throughout the dialogue. One of the things we have begun to do is develop proactive strategies that enable those who wish to explore new meanings and new theologies to do so anticipating the rhetoric of the right. We are also learning - mostly through trial and error - that taking a logical approach to any of these dialogues accomplishes nothing. Armed with the kind of resources that such sites as this provide, there is an aura of not so much arrogance as assurity that makes meaningful dialoge nigh on impossible. Knowing that ahead of time changes the way in which the conversation can be approached.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Thu Jun 29, 2006 at 12:06:46 PM EST
Parent


...........of a story I once read in a book by a woman minister and writer (it was many years ago and I can't remember who the author was). She says she once got into a discussion of masculine and feminine God-imagery with a more traditional-minded fellow minister, and when she mentioned that the Trinity as commonly understood doesn't include a feminine aspect, he replied, "But what about the Holy Spirit? He's female!"


by anomalous4 on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 03:35:21 PM EST
and reminds me of the second week of ministry in my very first church. We were hosting the Adult Bible study in our living room on a Sunday morning, and conversation turned to inclusive language. One woman began insisting that God was male, and my wife began to challenge her. After a very frustrating few minutes of dialogue during which my wife pointed out the Biblical attributes of God that reflected more feminine characterstics, each time being told that didn't matter, my wife just blurted out "So, what you're telling me is that God has a penis!" I thought when I heard that it was time to pack the bags - but we stayed there eight years.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Thu Jun 29, 2006 at 12:26:29 PM EST
Parent
This only proves that there is a way to re corner one who wishes to corner you with their questioning statements.

Often you will find that the answers provided by the opposition are not flexible nor reflective. And, of no substance.

So, answer a question with a question.

My wife goes nuts when I do this. William

by williambrandes on Sun Jul 02, 2006 at 01:52:00 PM EST
Parent




The infamous Chalcedon group (Rushdoony's legacy) registered their dismay at the recent Presbyterian General Assembly's adoption of acceptable Trinitarian language (albeit limited) which is open to femine interpretation. 

http://www.chalcedon.edu/blog/2006_06_01_archive.php#115074673313 268551

As one who attended the meeting, "mother,child womb" appeared to be the MOST offensive deviation from the standard , "Father,Son,Holy Spirit" which is still required in certain instances, such as baptism. 



by mer2 on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 09:41:52 PM EST
I met with a rather harried and haggard Executive Presbyter two days ago, just returning from their National Gathering. He had a bit of a laugh about his experiences while there, and named the discussion around the Trinitarian formula as one of the more lively discussions on the floor. Patriarchy is a toough nut for the church to crack, and it will not disappear easily or any time soon. I remember attending a very moving talk given by the Catholic Theologian Matthew Fox. He said something I shall always remember: the work of an opressor is never complete until those whom he is opressing become his defenders. That was a profound insight, and explains why so many women are quick to defend a patriarchy that robs them of so much.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Thu Jun 29, 2006 at 12:31:58 PM EST
Parent

(Warning: ruffled feathers ahead!)

This whole subject bugs the bejeebers out of me.........

Even from my liberal-bordering-on-socialist Christian-Agnostic standpoint, "Mother, Child, and Womb" goes way too far in the opposite direction. It sounds way too much like a Neo-Pagan pronouncement.

OTOH, the business of throwing Dad out of the house and breaking out in hives whenever his name gets mentioned, as my home church (a progressive/liberal mainline one) does, is something of an insult to every good dad I've ever known (and there have been way more good ones than bad ones).

Instead, we of the liberal fringe need to do some serious re-examination of God-the-Father and reclaim and affirm a paternal model - a loving parent (after all, "Abba" = "Daddy") and provider, on a par with the other God-concepts of mother hen/eagle, seeker of lost sheep and lost coins, et al. - in place of a harsh, domineering Patria Potestas one.

OT other OH, my home church has been baptizing people in the name of "the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer" for as long as I've been a member (over 20 years). Accurate and inclusive!

'Nuff preaching for now......... (smoothing down feathers)


by anomalous4 on Sat Jul 08, 2006 at 01:31:08 PM EST
Parent



Sorry, but it's really just the Chalcedon Blog.


by mer2 on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 09:46:36 PM EST

I learned in school that sophia was the Greek word for Wisdom and that wisdom, represented by Athena, has feminine traits unlike war, repression, and aggression, all traits to be valued for their masculinity. Just what Christ taught. Is it any wonder then that the fundamentalists would reject sophia.

After all, isn't their belief centered in a virulent form of willful ignorance?

by GeneG on Sun Jul 09, 2006 at 12:11:28 PM EST

Good one!


by anomalous4 on Sun Jul 09, 2006 at 11:54:31 PM EST
Parent



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