Reenforcing Totalitarian Power Through Masculine Language

I came across this quote today while working on my sermon for Sunday:

“We have tended to use particular power models for God that image divine power as like that of a monarchical ruler, or a military general who crushes all who oppose him. The model of power assumed here is one of competitive power: all-powerful over those who are powerless; all-good over those who are worthless; domination over subjugation. Such a concept of divine power sacralizes the same kind of totalitarian power in male human hands as ‘god-like.'” ~Rosemary Radford Ruether

The text for this Sunday I am focusing on is Proverbs 8:22-31. Which deals quite beautifully with the divine feminine. Sophia, Wisdom says, “”She is…the image of God’s goodness. She is one, but can do all things. Herself unchanging, she makes all things new. Age after age she enters into holy souls and makes them God’s friends and prophets” (Wisdom 7:26-27).  Emphasizing the feminine side of God is something few of us in the church (men especially) do enough and the result is not only that we continue to reenforce a particular power structure foreign to the Gospels themselves but that we are ignore and right out neglecting half (or more than half as is often the case) of those in our congregations.

Joan Chittister said in an interview with Sojourners back in 1987:

The basic principle is that what is not in the language is not in the mind. So if you are ignoring women in church language, or lumping women under a so-called generic term which is only generic half of the time, then what you have done is erase half the population of the earth. They can exist only when somebody else calls them into existence. So half of us are left to figure out when they mean us and when they don’t.

That’s why in the Hebrew tradition the idea of naming, of giving identity to, is a very important part of the theology. And we recognize it at that level. But we have failed to recognize it when we say, “Dearly beloved brethren, let us pray for the grace to recognize that we are all sons of God.”

I never got that grace—that’s how I’m sure that kind of intercession doesn’t work. I remember from the time I was 5 years old, looking around the church, knowing that they had forgotten somebody; they’d forgotten me, and I was in the church. I was not a son of God. I was a daughter of God and very comfortable with that.

The whole notion that the language comes out of a woman’s envy of men is ridiculous! It comes out of a woman’s recognition of the greatness of the creation of womanhood. If God could afford to make us separately, then it seems somebody could talk to us separately.

As I read the tale, God addressed Adam and Eve separately. God didn’t call up Abraham and say, “I just presume Sarah will get her part of the message.” Throughout creation history there has been direct confirmation of the fact that God and a woman can have direct conversation and contact. We’ve lost that in our languages; and then we act as if it’s not important.

We need to continue to work hard to change this situation from the top-down and from the bottom up. New systems can be put in place, we can change how we talk, and the words we use in our daily speech. I know I don’t want my daughters growing up (nor should they!) in a church culture where they are always being left out of the picture. I am happy that Friends’ history has many  good examples of how power can be mutually engaging rather than totalitarian, and we do indeed have many mothers of the faith who are good examples for all of us, but we find ourselves in a day and age where our yearly meetings pay more lip-service to mutuality and being “egalitarian” far more than we actually do anything to show we’re committed to it. Even in Quaker scholarship a majority of the people studied and written about are still men even though we have a wealth of reasons for this to not be so.

Here’s Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31

“Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?

On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.

When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.