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It's all about relationships: the church needs to hear more women's voices.

One of my favourite newspaper cartoons was about a Nova Scotia judge who had been making sexist comments to female lawyers and clients based on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. It featured a little cherub bonking the judge with his gavel on the noggin and whispering in his ear: "It's God ... she wants a word with you."

Despite the fact that God is beyond the distinction of gender, a view of God as male has dominated all forms of Christianity. Slowly, however, that is being challenged by contemporary women theologians and the rediscovery of past female theologians.

Our cover story this issue focuses on 19th-century theologians. Their influence was considerable, despite the fact their names have been largely forgotten.

But this also raises the larger question of why women are still in the minority in church and religious academic leadership. In fact, despite their equality under the law, women are still under-represented in most spheres of our society.

Afghanistan has a higher percentage of female politicians than Canada, for heaven's sake, and that's in a country where the Taliban still wield tremendous power.

And while the Taliban are extreme, their fear regarding women is really what motivates most gender politics in most cultures. Because educated women who can control reproduction spell the end to patriarchy.

The church says women are equal to men in every way. Unfortunately, the record indicates there is still a long way to go.

Female elders are still outnumbered by males; some presbyteries barely have any women. Female ministers of child-bearing age say they are often asked questions about their intentions regarding pregnancy.

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Not only is this unethical, it also violates human rights legislation, but complaints are nonexistent out of fear of being blackballed.

And the halls of the academy are still dominated by male theologians. In fact, so prejudiced are we, that we call the work of female theologians feminist theology. As if male authored theology should be seen as normative.

What we should perhaps do is refer to masculinist theology. It might be instructive.

Perhaps it is a product of environmental psychology, but I find women in general and women theologians (the few I am familiar with) are far more focused on relationship than men.

Certainly this makes sense from the perspective that they are the ones who bear children. Until recently and still only in the developed world, this was and is exceedingly dangerous. A visit to any gravesite shows how many women died in childbirth.

And, given that it was only the generation before me that had access to birth control, these facts meant women's lives were almost entirely focused on their family, hence the concern with relationships.

As a final result, this also kept most women from becoming scholars, and so this perspective has been lacking in theological discussion.

Male theology has instead focused on definitions and rules, on laws and hierarchies. It has concentrated on the head, not the heart.

Not only has this produced unbalanced theology and fuelled the divisions in the faith over the most arcane differences, it is profoundly at odds with the story of God's love for us humans (i.e. relationship) portrayed in scripture.

Love, after all, is not about rules, it's about relationship. And, somewhat ironically, when it comes to what we can say most clearly about the nature of God from a Christian perspective, relationship is what God is all about.

All that God has revealed to us about God's inner life is that it is about relationship: the doctrine of the Trinity is just that: Father, Son and their mutual Love we call Spirit.

In a time when anxieties about interpretation of scripture are regrettably but increasingly defined by a fundamentalism that disregards context and the overarching theme of scripture in favour of a narrow, tortured legalism, the church would do well to reassess what it's purpose is: to reveal God's love for all people.

Let's have more women's voices please.
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Title Annotation:For the Record
Author:Harris, David
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:May 1, 2011
Words:662
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