Gender Inequality: Women and Theology

Introduction

Theology refers to the study of God about the human experience. Theology involves most of the practices that take place in the houses of worship and are mainly inclined towards religious leaders. Though it is mainly prevalent in Christianity, theology may as well concern other religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Neopaganism. Most cultures and traditions refer to the theological roles of men since women have for a long time been viewed as a minor gender in society. The developing continents like Africa have been the worst hit since they are rooted so deeply into the culture as well as the mode of approach that Christianity was introduced in the continent.

In the recent past centuries, men and women in various religions have been enlightened and have realized the potential that women have, thus allowing them to participate in many religious roles. People have also been interpreting the word of God in an open mind without misusing the few scriptures that do not regard the service of women in the religious sector. Many women are fully engaged in ministry, some of whom are better organized and are doing better than those dominated by men’s leadership.

In most cases, many men greatly seek the assistance of their wives and fellow females in their ministries since there are roles that are better carried out by women than by men. However, the current generation does not limit women to certain roles but has been ordaining women equally with men as long as they have the potential and the talent.

Though women’s marginalization in theology is evident from time immemorial, careful observation in the past has been that women are more involved in church functions than men. Many churches have a greater percentage of women who actively participate in the development of the church. For instance, women are very active in teaching children religious values in church; they contribute generously towards various projects in the church and are always present when called for various church functions.

Other women have great talents in leadership, preaching, and many other roles that are very vital in the growth of a church. Most women who are engaged in ministry have shown great potential in the way they carry out their duties. It is therefore contradictory when the conservatives insist on male domination in theology and church roles in general since women have proved to have the potential to deliver just as their male counterparts.

Feminist Theology

The role of women in theological fields and especially in church as well as the society, in general, has been raising heated debates in the recent past. This is because in the past few centuries, feminism theology has grown rapidly and the work of women in ministry has grown significantly. Most fundamentalist Christians view women’s involvement in theology as erosion of traditions and culture by picking few verses in the scripture out of context to support their ill motives on women (Bratcher para.1). On grounds of wrong interpretation of the scriptures, women are denied various leadership roles in the church as their male counterparts feel that it is not religious.

Feminist theological revolutions came into existence in the eighteenth century in England and Europe spreading to the rest of e world (Bratcher para. 2). They were not necessarily female initiatives but some men were enlightened and would feel the discrimination that women were facing in society. These revolutions mainly challenged the traditional subjugation of women as well as the misinterpretation of scriptures against women. They were determined to open room for equality in the church by allowing those women who had a calling to take part in the church leadership and to use their talents in the service of the congregation (Swart 70).

Feminist theological revolutions were embraced with a lot of opposition from the male-dominated institutions in Europe, England as well as the antebellum culture in the US whereby they would not contemplate the idea of status quo. Many women publicly spoke against the gender injustices that surrounded political, social, and religious systems while others deliberately started taking up leadership roles beginning within the church (Bratcher para. 3).

A survey was carried out concerning feminism theology in Africa. Several issues were found to affect women’s activities both in the family and society. Some of the major issues that were highlighted included, “social, traditions, religion, educational and social-economic practices” (Nyengele 73). Marie-Louise Kasongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo gave her account of the challenges she faced in her roles as a female leader in the church.

Marie affirmed that she received a call from God when she was twelve though she did not act upon it until when she was married and had children. This was after hearing the call severally and after she was filled with the Holy Spirit. When she was appointed to coordinate active groups in the parish, she says that her male counterparts could not accept this and openly showed their preference for a male leader (Nyengele 74).

Though she never quit her leadership roles in the church, she said that it had been quite challenging were it not for many prayers and encouragement from the bishops and other highly ranked male leaders who proposed to her that she managed to perform her roles. She confesses that leading some males in her docket of leadership was not easy. For instance, she quoted that when she was voted in as the chair for charismatic movement in the archdiocese in 1991, she was assigned a man to be editing minutes but he never did it at all despite constant reminders. Marie felt like this man was intentionally delaying to carrying out his duties just because he was being led by a female (Nyengele 74).

Male chauvinism of this caliber may sound to be too much to be true but this is what happens in some nations which are not yet developed. In most cases, the leadership structure is so male-dominated that women rarely have their voice.

There are various significant women whose contribution to the history of feminism theology cannot be ignored. For example, Margaret Fell Fox alongside her male and female counterparts contributed a lot to the foundation of the Society of Friends in England. During her leadership period, it is recorded that she actively wrote articles for the equality of women. Cathleen Booth featured significantly in the foundation of the Salvation Army of England where she worked alongside William Booth. The Grimke sisters were among the people who courageously spoke against slavery in the United States and they played an important role in encouraging women to adhere to God’s call. Other women who contributed to the liberation of women leadership in the church include “Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton, Abigail Roberts, and Phoebe Palmer” (Bratcher para. 3).

To overcome the inequality that has been prevailing in theology as well as other areas of society, it is important to first single out the structures that have been inhibiting equality. The next important step would be to devise positive steps towards enhancing equality. Feminism theology through its agenda of justice-making seems to be the best route out of inequality in various areas (Isherwood & McEwan 74). Social interactions that in a way push women to the margins should be highly discouraged. Women ought to take the initiative of showing that they can take actions that will awaken the awareness of female aspects that have been ignored for a long time.

Feminists in the field of theology interpret religious approaches on men and women in a different manner that facilitates a different understanding of the cultural and religious beliefs. Their approach is based upon re-examining various religious beliefs and revisiting the traditional modes of worship to determine their validity in the generation we are living in. It focuses on creating an understanding of the relevance of the past in the present day through relent search of truth. This has created a conducive climate for women to worship in the churches without feeling like they are isolated or they belong to a different class from men. It has also facilitated a flexible form of worship in a church where everyone feels spiritually at home (Isherwood & McEwan 75).

Common Themes within Feminist Theology

Various themes seem to be evident from the various feminist theological works in the world. Methodologically, feminist theology is approached from won men’s perspective in that it is mainly meant to uphold the voice of a woman in the church. All feminist theologians mainly are concerned with the various oppressions that women face resulting from the culture, traditions, religion, social-economic practices, education as well as colonial influences.

Biblical support given by feminist theologians attempts to rectify the scripture interpretations and to bring back the lost maintaining of the word concerning women. They emphasize by reading through the scriptures, criticizing oppressive materials while putting across evidence of equality in the early society. They also try to interpret the scriptures in a manner that brings out the potential of the word in liberating women which may not be as clear due to the setting of the word or the language used (Dyrness, Karkkainen & Martine 321).

In systemic theology, various topics like Christology, Anthropology, ecclesiology, and spirituality are covered in detail in bringing equality between men and women. Female theologians refer to these topics to show how a male savior came to liberate women and strongly oppose the notion that God is a male by they work hard to reclaim feminine imagery and language for God (Dyrness, Karkkainen & Martine 321).

In the African women theology, feminist theologians address issues touching on women experiences who are mainly viewed as men subordinate in the African society. This is because women are mainly given a secondary place in the family, church as well as society at large. The African Feminist theology works towards liberating both men and women towards a living partnership that promotes equality and that does not facilitate the oppression of either gender. It is therefore not limited only to the oppressed women but also seeks to enlighten men in creating a better tomorrow that does not bias people based on gender, class, race, education level, geographical location, or any other thing. It is determined to establish the right relationships not only among men and women but also in society in general (Nyengele 20).

Feminist theology is however limited to various benefits due to its methodology. The primary limitation is based on the women’s experiences since they are not understanding in this field and that is acceptable to all. Furthermore, the use of the category as a theological method becomes even more problematic since many people claim that any basis of theology should be shaped by God’s knowledge but not the basis to shape God’s knowledge (Dyrness, Karkkainen & Martine 321).

Challenges facing Women in Theology

Culture

The Western culture since time immemorial developed the norm that man is the leader (Isherwood & McEwan 26). In African society, gender has always been the first factor to consider before adopting an individual into any leadership position. For instance, Mbuy-beya recounts some Catholic women in DRC who despite their joy in their participation in church leadership, vividly remember the suffering and the pain they went through in their leadership since they would not be fully accepted by some male leaders because of their gender (Nyengele 74). In most multicultural societies, many cultures incline women as slaves for men, discrimination which women in theology terms equally as bad as racial discrimination (Swart 69).

Religion

Women who have taken up theology have been facing various religious-based challenges that have been hard to handle since they have mostly been supported by scriptures. Old Testament portrays a very good example of the basis of women’s discrimination in theology since it appears like God had sanctioned male domination over females. Most scriptures, especially in ancient Israel, have displayed women as sexual slaves as concubines and in other instances, they are portrayed as involuntary wives.

For instance, King Solomon had over six hundred wives and many other concubines and during the time of Princess Esther, there was kind of a competition of who could become the king’s wife. In other instances, virgin daughters were sold as property with no say and no law was being violated (Swart 68). These and many other instances diminish women’s voice in theology and make their work very challenging especially in the presence of conservative men. Apart from Christianity, other religions like Islam do not even regard women at all. They are supposed to be subject to their husband and should not even appear in the segregated places in their house of worship.

Social

The role of women in the family also hinders them a lot in devoting themselves fully to ministry through theology. In most family settings, women are the principal caregivers in their family in terms of bringing up children and the day-to-day operations of the family thus it becomes a bit challenging when they take up theology since this is an area that requires equal attention. When involved in ministry, the social perception of women in the society requires them to be very principled and strong since leadership especially with men has never been easy. This is because though it may be feminism theology, it must be gender-sensitive such that all genders should be incorporated in the leadership.

Other challenges facing women include social-economic factors, racism, sexism, and classism. Economic factors may include the inability to fund their theological studies, while in cases where churches fund such projects; they may be biased to offer to fund a male rather than a female. Racism comes in when women attempting to be in theology may be biased in terms of races especially when operating in foreign countries or foreign institutions. Sexism refers to a woman as a weaker sex in that there are various things that she cannot undertake due to her gender thus viewing women as fragile people (Bell & Blumenfeld 2). When it comes to social classes it is females are hardly recognized in various social classes.

Conclusion

Despite the heated debates and campaigns for equality for women in theology as well as other leadership roles in society in recent centuries, the opposition of women in the church and society, in general, has not completely disappeared. Great progress has been realized especially in the developed countries and the developing countries are following suit. However, marginalization of women has been going on in other phases of life like discrimination in job places, demeaning women’s sexuality in various forms of entertainment like movies and music, among others. In church, many are still holding that it is against the scripture and the will for God for women to have authority over men making it impossible for women to participate fully in their call-in service of God’s people.

Works Cited

Bratcher, Dennis. Women and Theology. Crivoice, 2007. Web.

Bell, Linda & Blumenfeld, David. Overcoming Racism and Classism. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. Print.

Isherwood, Lisa & McEwan, Dorothea. Introducing Feminist Theology. Sheffield, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. Print.

Nyengele, Mpyana. African Women Theology, Gender Relations, and Family System Theory. New York, Peter Lang, 2004. Print.

Swart, Kobus. The Emerging House of Healing: Challenges Facing the Church. Western Cape, African Sun Media, 2004. Print.