Reviewed by Jean Maynard
Feminist Christian Encounters, Angela Pears. Ashgate Publishing Ltd, pp 198. ISBN 0-7546-0990-1. Hardback £45.
I first met Angie Pears when I went to Oxford Brookes University for a day conference on women in Ministry. Clear, pleasant, lucid I enjoyed listening to her. I looked forward to reading her book with pleasure. It was hard going and I had to concentrate like mad but in the end I decided it was well worth it
She begins from the premise that ‘since the 1960’s the creative encountering of feminism has significantly influenced the shape of contemporary theological engagement. She sets out to give a brief summary of the breadth of Christian feminism, goes on to distinguish between feminisms that are compatible with Christianity and ones which think Christianity is not redeemable. She then moves away from this focus to one characterised by focus on method. She is led to investigate how apparently creative and constructive relationships are maintained between feminisms and Christian theology and tradition
In the 1890s women such as Mathilda Gage and Elizabeth Cady examined issues of Church, state and the Bible and helped to give rise to the feminist movement. The period 1960 to 1979 was the key phase in the development of feminist theologies
Theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elizabeth Schlusser Fiorenza while fiercely critical of Christianity as legitimising sexism, racism, anti sexism and the environmental crisis still believed that it was redeemable.
Feminist theologians such as Mary Daly, and Daphne Hampson came to believe that it was beyond redemption, and others followed in their footsteps.
Leaving this behind Pears goes on to explore method and interpretation. She makes a detailed study of the strategy of informed radical re interpretation which was developed by Carter Heyward and used by her to develop a theology of mutuality.
She moves on to consider Elizabeth Schlusser Fiorenza who worked on a pattern of remembering and valuing. She attempted to re discover a ‘clear historical based relationship to the Christian tradition through feminist critique and re construction. She argues that feminist biblical interpretation must involve a series of hermeneutical tests and cannot jut be based on choice and desire. She wanted women to be empowered to ‘read the Bible against the grain’ of its patriarchal rhetoric.
Even more challenging is the concept of ‘indecent theology’ put forward by Marcella Althaus Read who currently lectures in Edinburgh .She uses feminist informed insights and criteria to ‘ queer Christianity with specific liberation concerns’. She argues that traditional ‘decent’ theology has led to the oppression and exploitation of women and those whose sexuality is ‘suspect’, Even Latin American liberation theology, she claims, failed to remedy the deeper layers of oppression. A number of feminist theologians expressed concerns about the fear of Christianity concerning sexual matters. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elizabeth Schlusser Fiorenza were also both deeply concerned for those who were persecuted for their sexual make up. Marcella Althaus Read however believes that sexual issues are at the basis of virtually all oppressions. Her work is of particular interest to members of CSCS.
A final chapter surveys the work of the theologians which Pears has described and attempts a final analysis of their work, methods and contributions.
It is all fascinating material and this is an important study. Unfortunately it will be inaccessible to many and difficult for the majority. One of the characteristics of early feminist theologies was to call for openness and clarity for women of many kinds. The obscurities of male theology were to be avoided. This book is as obscure as many books by men. It is stimulating for those of us who have had chance to read and to struggle. Maybe one day someone will handle the same material in a style that is accessible to all.
Jean M Mayland