For my readers who understand Afrikaans: I participated in a radio programme on liberation theology, on Sunday, 18 March at 19:00. You can download this conversation at: http://www.rsg.co.za/images/upload/sound/klanke/20120318_KRUIS_EN_DWARS.mp3
For my English speaking readers – a summary of my ideas regarding feminist theology and the relevance of it in the South African society follows:
WHY DO WE NEED FEMINIST THEOLOGY?
For centuries the church was (and still is) steeped in patriarchy. The church mostly speaks with a male voice, which often excludes women’s experiences. One needs to understand that when one deals with religious scriptures and traditions, context becomes of the utmost importance. In Biblical times men had absolute dominance over women as women were seen are possessions. Women had no access to education and only a few educated men determined what would be seen as scriptural and what not. Throughout the centuries this tradition continued, often to the detriment of women. This mindset continued in the South African society and was especially apparent in the structures of the Apartheid regime.
Within the South African context, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) played a major constituting role and was used to further the Apartheid ideology. White males were positioned as the rightful rulers over women and all other races within South Africa society. Women’s voices were absent in most power structures, especially in the church. It was only as recently as 1982 that women were allowed to the office of deacon, and that of elder and ordained minister since 1990 within the DRC. Gender role definitions and prescriptions were at the heart of female subordination and formed the basis of arguments for women’s exclusion from ordained ministry. Although the DRC recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of women in ordained ministry, at present there are only 68 women who work in congregations as DRC ministers, thus only 4,13% of the total number of ordained ministers in the DRC (DRC Yearbook 2011).
However, feminist theology is not only needed to ensure that more women are allowed to fully participate as ordained ministers. In South Africa more than half of all congregants are female, yet the male voice continues to prescribe, determine and enforce the way how women are allowed to participate. It is time that Christians move away from this patriarchal status quo in order to give women a voice which will enable them to participate and set their agenda with regards to their spiritual needs and insights. Moreover feminist theology is about inviting women to contribute to a social consciousness with which they will be able to identify.
Many patriarchs might ask, why should women participate and seen as equals. I answers with the words of Denise Ackermann ‘it is the right to human dignity that offers women in the church a powerful tool with which to challenge the church.’ In other words the fact that ‘human dignity and the idea that all humanity is created in God’s image, go hand in hand’, and therefore each and every human being, including women, should be able to participate in spiritual structures in ways that is unique and authentic to them.
However, feminist theology is not only about equal participation and giving women the space and a voice to engage in spiritual structures. It is also about addressing the social ills and injustice which the church has created with its prescriptions of very specific and rigid gender roles. I am in agreement with Denise Ackermann, who asserts that feminist theology should focus on firstly what is happening to women in their marriages and homes in the South African society; and secondly the widespread degradation of our environment.
If one look at the statistics of violence against women in South Africa, one can only but agree with Ackermann: ‘A war is being waged against the bodies of women and children in [South Africa] country. This is both a theological and a pastoral issue – one on which the church’s silence is obscene’. This is a vast subject and therefore I shall only briefly focus on how prescribed gender roles, which many churches still promote, contribute to the subordination of women and ultimately to the abuse of women on an economical, physical, verbal and sexual level.
Most patriarchal church societies focus on the creation story as portrayed in Gen. 2:18, which is interpreted that woman was created from a man, for a man and named by a man. Then this disobedient woman challenged the all male God and caused the Fall. Therefore women are seen as inferior to men and need to controlled by men, which rationalize the subjugation of women to the will and power of men.
From this mindset flows the idea that women are men’s possession to make with them as men please, especially once married. The most extreme outcome of this sexism and gender inequality is violence against women.
Feminist theologians believe that specific theological discourses continue to contribute towards violence against women and enforce the silence about this social ill. Many Christians see a husband’s authority as ordained by God and therefore it cannot be challenged, even if he is abusive. Good Christian wives are portrayed as obedient to and in service of their husbands. A pious woman is supposedly a silent woman who makes sacrifices on behalf of her family. This is linked to the suffering of Jesus and therefore many Christian women believe that to suffer in silence is to be Christ-like. Furthermore, Christian values of love and forgiveness help to maintain relationships of domination, as women should not challenge the behaviour of their husbands and they need to forgive seventy times seven. Feminist theology challenge these gender based ideas which continue to subjugate women in the name of God and the Bible and this is why the world is in desperate need of feminist theology.