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The future of theological education: a feminist approach.

In many areas of the church's life and work, the influence of women has increased over the past 30 years. Inspired by the feminist theological interpretation of the gospel, they have become an important voice in the ecclesiastical and theological debate. They have won the battle for admission to the ordained ministry and now also occupy leading positions in the Lutheran churches.

But women are still under-represented among those responsible for theological education, which also means that they are excluded too much from an important growth point of the church's life where significant foundations are laid for the future of the church. Only if larger number of women are able to qualify as theological lecturers and teaching responsibilities are entrusted to them, will stimuli from feminist theology be able to have a renewing effect on church practice in the future as well. Of course, not all women who lecture in theology are feminist theologians. But the reverse is also true: without a fair share in theological education, the emphasis of feminist theology will not become a normal feature in the canon of theological subjects and issues. They will remain on the fringe and that would impoverish the church of the future in the human, intellectual and spiritual realms. Because women have started to do theology and to influence church life from the point of view of their own specific experiences--however much these may vary in detail, they have opened up new horizons. This has challenged theological thinking, the language of theology has changed and church practice has adopted new approaches.

Despite all the diversity and differentiation which is now found in feminist theology, its main concern is still to make people sensitive to the question of gender differences in all the issues, problems and expressions of theological reflection and church action. The common theme of all feminist theology's approaches is why it is that identifying a person as male or female has far reaching--and for women usually marginalising--consequences in all societies, how theology and the church participate in generating and perpetuating the asymmetry of this difference, and how a gospel which is liberating can achieve more justice for the women of this world? The conscious tackling of these questions, facing up to them in an open and persistent way, is the prerequisite for promoting the community of women and men in the church. For this reason, these questions also have an important role to play in theological education.

Another constructive stimulus from feminist theological reflection is the link between matters of the faith and personal history. One of the roots of feminist theology was that women took their experiences of life seriously and came to recognise where the church and faith had become a liberating reality for them, but also where the church and faith had oppressed or done violence to them. In this situation they became the actors of their own theology.

The link between life history and the religious dimension, which led women to feminist theology, is becoming increasingly important for many people in the modernisation thrusts of the modern world. To the extent to which belonging to traditions and social groups (also including the church) becomes less and less natural, people are looking for a faith which can speak convincingly to their real situation in life. The issues of justice and ethical responsibility, which are becoming increasingly pressing in many areas of life, are also closely related to the practical living conditions and life histories of people living under oppression and in poverty. To take life seriously as it really is, to give ear to the subjective experience of this reality and to link it up with the Christian tradition, is a particular concern and a special gift of feminist theology. In this sense, too, it has important perspectives and competence to contribute to theological education.

Not least, and this is also an important consideration with regard to theological education, feminist theology is a spiritual theology. It emphasizes the close connection between theological reflection and seeking and caring for a practice of spirituality that is supportive of life. Mental activity alone does not provide the prerequisites for pastoral competence; it must be combined with education of the whole human being--body, mind and soul.

Feminist theology has set many things in motion already. At present, it is often claimed that it could now withdraw from the limelight. But that, in my view, would be fatal for the future of the church. The new beginning made by the women has focussed concentration, like in a burning-glass, on many essential issues of theology and the church that will also be important beyond the situation of women as such. Much will depend for the future of the church on whether the Christian faith can prove itself a force which is able convincingly to interpret and give shape to the reality of life at the present time, and whether it shows itself open for dialogue on the issues and problems of people today. For more qualified women to contribute to theological education seems to me to be one way of strengthening the future capacity of theology and the church. Women are certainly not the only ones who provide stimuli for renewal, but they constitute an important voice which the church cannot afford to do without.
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Author:Wagner-Rau, Ulrike
Publication:Women Magazine
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Words:883
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