Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Rise of Radical Feminism in Mainline Churches: A History # 7

While most radical neo-pagan feminists envision deity as female and are bold to speak of a goddess, the Black Madonna has recently [2005] become a popular way of speaking of deity among those “Christian” feminist who use feminine images for the divine. But generally such images begin in the Pagan community.

For instance, Kali, the name of a female consort to the Hindu god Shiva, has taken on feminist’s attributes. Hinduism has seen her at times as a “kindly mother,” but she is also, “fierce and unapproachable, adorned with a necklace of skulls, and with four arms to flail her victims to pieces before she devours them.”19

At first extremely radical neo-pagan feminists chose Kali as one of the goddesses they would honor. LeMasters writes that the anger of the separatists or Dianic feminists allowed them to embrace the darkest of the goddesses. She writes, “Rage against sexism was at an all-time high; rituals were filled with hexes against rapists and batterers. Some of the most popular Goddess images were the fiercest ones: Medusa, Kali, Lilith, Hecate.”20

Now Kali is softened by equating her with the Black Madonna as are many other deities. At a conference on the Black Madonna at Graduate Theological Seminary in Berkeley, 2005, the web site advertisement states:
Known cross-culturally under many names, this Dark Mother is re-emerging as a source of wisdom, creativity, and liberation. She is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe or Tonantzin in Mexico, the Mother and Patron of all the Americas, or as the Black Madonna in European Catholicism, Isis in Egyptian Africa, Crow Mother in the Hopi American Indian tradition, Tara in Tibetan Buddhism, Kali in Hinduism, Erzuli Danto in Vodun, Yemaya in Yoruban Africa, and Oya in Brazilian Candomble. This beneficent, towering dark female divinity appears as a powerful symbol of healing, diversity, fierce compassion and of the Earth itself. As the national Patron of Brazil, she is known as Aparecida, the one who appears, and is called the Mother of the Excluded.21
The move to make the black Madonnas divine, and thus meld goddesses with Christianity, is rooted in the myths of early feminism. The myth is the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was given great honor in Christianity because she followed in a long line of goddesses. In all cultures, so the myth goes, where a goddess was prominent Mary began to take on the aspects of that particular goddess. Mary is then seen as Cosmic and feminists relate to her as the supposed Great Mother thought to have been worshiped in pre-historical times.

Charlene Spretnak in her book Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church, asks rhetorically, “Christ’s gospel of love is profoundly relational and compassionate, but where did that emphasis come from if he was solely an offspring of the legalistic and sometimes punitive Yahweh.” Her answer, “Where else could Jesus’ emphasis on loving compassion and forgiveness have come from but the other half of his cultural and spiritual ‘DNA’: Mary and the long lineage of mother goddesses she continued.”22

Although Spretnak is Catholic the understanding of Mary or the black Madonnas as divine or as goddesses was wide spread among radical feminists in Protestant churches at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Not only did Presbyterian Women’s Ministry Area, in 2005, promote the idea of the Black Madonna, using the book, The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd as a starting point, they likewise recommended books which equate her with divinity such as Longing For Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna and Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness.

The movement continues and evolves with various women’s organizations and individual women, both those ordained and laity, continuing to promote books, organizations and individuals who lift up a goddess rather than the biblical God. One example is the Lutheran church, Her Church, in the bay area.

Another example is Presbyterian Pastor, Jeanette Stokes, who is mentioned above. Stokes has become extremely radical and promotes many goddesses. Her organization, Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South, also mentioned in an earlier posting, offered seminars and classes on such topics as “Being Visible, Being Sacred, Being Goddess:” and “Calling Forth Kali: A Workshop.”

The organization sponsors a project which includes a video entitled, Meinrad Craighead: Praying with Images. In the video Craighead “explains the dreams and shamanic journeys that have often been the inspiration for her art.” The website text states that the public will see “images of the Divine Mother that have appeared around the globe throughout human history.” Additionally, later “programs focusing on the Black Madonna and on Craighead’s lifelong fascination with animals as the sacred emissaries of divine messages will be introduced in this initial program.”23

As women’s spirituality groups evolve the church has, through many mainline women’s organizations, become infected with deepening heretical imaginings to the point that like the people Paul mentions in Romans, they are exchanging, “the truth of God for a lie” and worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.”(Romans 1:24) While orthodox women, whose theological foundation is the bedrock of scripture, maintain a stability of certainty, radical feminism is fragmenting and the definitions that define the movement are like shattered pieces of glass.

Various definitions of feminist theology have been offered by different scholars and theologians. Most feminist theologians attempt to draw a dividing line between radical feminists and their theology of the divine feminine which includes a goddess and those who stay within the boundaries of Christianity by reinterpreting biblical texts. Anne M. Clifford in her book, Introducing Feminist Theology, names the latter theologians “Reconstructionist Christian Feminist.” She explains that what makes such theologians Christian “is Jesus.”

But then Clifford gives the longer answer which includes seeing the reign of God fulfilled as “Jesus’ powerful social vision was incarnate in the inclusive community of women and men, drawn together and empowered by him to preach the good news of God’s coming reign.” Likewise, her comments on the Trinity are telling since she sees the biblical names Father, Son and Holy Spirit as metaphors and not different then other names.24 In reality as the feminist movement evolves any differences between radical feminist theologians and so called Reconstructionist feminist theologians are fast fading.

Furthermore there seemingly is no place left within leadership positions in the women’s church organizations for those whose views are secured in scripture rather than female experience. The call expressed by women in leadership in women’s church organizations can be seen in a 2005 job offering for an “Associate for Advocacy for Women.” One of the functions listed on the postings is to “Provide the theological framework in which the church may address the crucial issues of women.” But this person is also required to advocate, “on behalf of the work being done by women theologians and of the theology offered from the experiential perspective.”25 (Emphasis mine)

There is no place in the organization for women who see the Christian faith as that which is built on the foundation of the apostles, the confessions and creeds and more importantly the holy word of God. Presbyterian women’s official organizations are demanding the use of experiential theology. For women, it has become an urgent matter, they must choose between doing ministry based on experiential theology within official women’s organizations and doing ministry based on a biblical foundation outside of those official organizations.

Radical feminists, within the church, use the language of Christianity and the Biblical text to speak and write of their beliefs. But their belief system is often different then biblical Christianity. When one desires to communicate with those in new religions such as the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses there must be an understanding of how they are using biblical and theological language.

For instance God as Father has a different meaning among those who are Mormons than those who uphold the biblical faith. And when Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of the resurrection they mean something very different than orthodox Christians. In the same way the theology of radical feminism within the church must be explained since although they use some of the same terminology as biblical Christianity they often mean something quite different. In the next postings I will deal with the differences that radical feminism brings to Christian faith.

Picture of Kali taken from Wikipedia
19 John A. Hutchison, Paths of Faith, third edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company 1981), 159.

20 LeMasters, The Goddess Movement, 46.
21 See at
22 Charlene Spretnak, Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church, (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan 2004), 195.
23 See
24 Anne M. Clifford, Introducing Feminist Theology, second printing, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books 2002), 34; 114-155.
25 Found at Justice for Women: A Sub-Committee of Scioto Valley’s Peacemaking Committee, A Job Opportunity Posting, Presbyterian Church USA, for the NMD division, a pdf file May 2005 (This file is no longer available. )


Sherry L. Kirton said...

My Grandmother, born into a family of American-of-Mexican-descent in the superstitious catholic tradition, not fully catholic is my point, was born on the date giving her the name Guadalupe. She has kept 'virgins', statues, that her priests would bless for her when she was ill.

While attending a Bible study in Castro Valley, one man expressed that his mother worshipped the Queen of Heaven, Guadalupe, the same 'virgin' my Grandmother kept. I was mortified that here we were reading from Jeremiah and disciples on the couches around me were still questioning whether or not any Queen of Heaven should be revered, "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offereings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger." (Jeremiah 7:18; more in chapter 44).

I believe Mary, mother of Jesus, would herself be saddened that anyone would take her Magnificat and turn her being called blessed into worship of Mary, calling her the queen of heaven. Even angels have said in Scripture, 'do not worship me, worship God only.'

I remember my cousin, when we were at junior high camp at Calvin Crest asked innocently, if Mary was a goddess. Her father, a Presbyterian Pastor, had died a few years earlier, was not around to explain things more clearly to her. I was grateful that she asked this question out loud because it gave our Counselor a chance to explain it clearly. Several years later, she, her brother and I were all on staff at Calvin Crest, and I believe that she studied the Scriptures diligently. I hope we all do.

Viola Larson said...

While I disagree with calling Mary the queen of heaven or anything connected to that name those Catholics who do from a more orthodox position do not quite mean the same thing as the radical feminist do. They do not believe she is a goddess. The problem is the radical feminists who are Catholic take that and run with it. And they really do see it in the same way as those Jeremiah was speaking about.

In fact in the Unitarian Universalist denomination there is a course which has been turned into a book for women called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. In it Jeremiah, is of course, the enemy. All that I have been writing about in its most radical form is in that book.

Anonymous said...


This is an excellent series. Thank you for wading through all of this stuff and presenting it so clearly.

Bless you,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL