Posted by: smstrouse | January 12, 2018

How Can We Dismantle Patriarchy While Still Having a Theological Hierarchy?

kingI know, I know. It’s way too early to go into my annual rant about “Christ the King” Sunday. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

In my last post, I questioned whether we will be able to dismantle patriarchy while using exclusively  male names and pronouns for God. Now I’m asking a further question: can we dismantle patriarchy by continuing to use hierarchical language for the Holy One? I’ve written before about “king” language, as well as “kingdom” (see Christ the King: An Obsolete Metaphor? and Morphing Christ the King).

“Lord” is another problematic name. The Bible abounds with these words, so it’s no easy task to simply eliminate them. And in my opinion we shouldn’t totally dismiss them. Especially “Lord.” There are some very good reasons to remember both ancient and modern resisters professing “Christ is Lord” in opposition to the claims whatever empire was in control was making.

However, we should still do all we can to promote a theology of interconnectedness and power with, rather than one of hierarchy and power over. For too long the prevailing theology has been one of elevating spirit over body, humankind over the environment, and man over woman. And the destructive effects of this can be seen in all kinds of ways. It’s not a huge leap to the conclusion that our patriarchal theology needs a radical overhaul.

As I wrote in The Divine Commonwealth of Christ

. . .  language really does matter in the face of oppressive regimes. “Basileia tou Theou”(Greek for Kingdom of God) was the main preaching point of Jesus’ teaching: the kingdom of God is like this; the kingdom of God has come near; the kingdom of God is within you. But “basileia” is being interpreted in some interesting ways these days: reign, realm, even regime of God. Many New Testament scholars, including the Jesus Seminar are calling it the “empire of God” – the rationale being that Jesus’ major agenda addresses his major antagonist, the “empire of Rome.”

Others aren’t so enamored. Process theologian John Cobb, who describes the “basiliea theou” as a counter-culture based on the values that were rejected by the political, economic, and religious establishments of Jesus’ day, prefers to call it the “divine commonwealth.” And the Inclusive Bible we use calls it the kin-dom of God.

As much as I can appreciate the rationale behind “empire of God,” I have a hard time translating that to Christ the Emperor. I’m much more attracted to “kin-dom” or Cobb’s “divine commonwealth” because they get us away from limited feudal or empire language and broaden out into a more cosmic, interconnected vision – like that of the “divine milieu” of early 20th century scientist-priest Teillhard de Chardin. 

For Teillhard, Christ is not just Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead, but rather a huge, continually evolving Being as big as the universe. In this colossal, almost unimaginable Being each of us lives and develops in consciousness, like living cells in a huge organism. With the help of all the human sciences as well as the scriptures, Teillhard shows how we – the cells and members of the Body of Christ – can participate in and nurture the life of the Total Christ. He also shows, thanks to the continuing discoveries of science, how we can begin to glimpse where that great Being is headed and how we can help promote its fulfillment. In a spirituality like this, the power of God is not a coercive power like that of a king. But it is a persuasive power that beckons us forward into the way of the Total Christ, whose task it is to transform this fragmented world, through love.

I would much rather live in the divine milieu than in a kingdom because there I can trust that the well-being of all people, as well as that of all of creation, is essential. Of course this means we need to also overhaul our scripture readings, hymns, prayers, liturgies, children’s curriculum – no small task. But if we’re really serious about dismantling patriarchy, the work is essential.





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