Sexuality, Spirituality and Feminist Religion

by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

For many evangelicals, there is only one sort of feminism–the sort that rejects the authority of the Bible and replaces it with a religion that is devised by women and for women. This attitude is not entirely without basis; for the kind of religious feminism that has received the most publicity and recognition does reject biblical authority. In fact, it seems that most people on both the conservative and liberal sides of the theological spectrum are, at best, only faintly aware of a truly evangelical feminism that is grounded in a view of Scripture as authoritative in its entirety.

As a result of this incomplete picture, there is a prevalent fear among evangelicals that if we affirm any idea deemed "feminist" we will be stepping out onto a slippery slope that will have us all sliding swiftly into paganism, witchcraft, goddess worship, abortion-rights and gay-rights agendas, and, of course, the destruction of civilization. In reality, however, anyone who affirms gender equality on the basis of biblical teaching must be as thoroughly opposed to such trappings of contemporary feminism as any antifeminist might be.

So we need to understand the basic differences between a truly biblical gender equality and other religious feminist perspectives–which generally fall into two categories: liberal feminist theology and feminist goddess religion.

Evangelical Feminism

Evangelical feminism, or biblical equality, consists of the effort to teach and implement the fundamental biblical principle of the equality of all human beings before God. According to this principle, there can be no moral or theological justification for permanently granting or denying status, privilege, or prerogative solely on the basis of a person's race, class, or gender. Biblical egalitarians disagree with the traditionalist belief that the Bible teaches a universal principle of female subordination to male spiritual authority within the church and the home. Rather, the equality of all believers in Christ should lead to women having equal opportunity with men for ministry in the church, and shared authority and mutual submission with their husbands in the home.

The fundamental distinctive of evangelical feminism–as compared to other varieties of religious feminism–is in its view of the Bible. While nonevangelical feminists end up rejecting either the entire Bible or portions of the Bible, evangelical feminists believe that the Bible is authoritative in its entirety, and that it nowhere teaches male authority as a universal, God-ordained norm. The Bible has been thought to teach this because it has been translated and interpreted from an androcentric (or male-centered) perspective. The corrective to this traditional approach is not a woman-centered hermeneutic, but one which is free of any gender agenda. Evangelical feminism does not rewrite the Bible or usurp biblical authority, but seeks simply to rectify a traditional imbalance in biblical interpretation concerning the roles of men and women.

The truth of the biblical equality of all persons under God is grounded in creation. Genesis 1:26 & 27 states that all humans are created in God's image. This creational equality is a basis of God's offer of salvation to all: James 2 and Acts 10:34 say that God shows no favoritism for one group of people over another. Biblical equality is also a consequence of salvation through Christ, as indicated in Galatians 3:26-28. Because all believers are "sons," or heirs, of God in Christ, there is no longer any distinction in spiritual privilege or status between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. First Peter 2:5 & 9 tells us that all believers are priests unto God, and 1 Timothy 2:5 makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the only priestly mediator between God and human beings.

Taken together, these and many other related biblical texts rule out the notion that male believers should have some sort of unique access to God through a priestly or divine representational ministry. If we are all equally sons, or heirs, of God, then every believer has an equal right–and responsibility–to represent the Father, and to hear from, obey, and stand directly accountable to God apart from any merely human mediator. Given these rights of sonship, and the irrelevance of gender to the determination of these rights under the new covenant, doctrines of a male priesthood and a gender-based chain of spiritual command must be deemed contrary to biblical principle. Individual gifts and calling should determine a person's place in God's kingdom.

The historical origin of evangelical feminism as a "movement" can be located in the writings of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist of the 19th century. Beginning with Grimke in the 1830s, the evangelical leaders in early American feminism maintained that the Bible had been mistranslated and misinterpreted by men so as to appear to teach the subordination of women as a universal norm. This early feminist belief was tied in with the belief that the Bible also fundamentally opposes slavery–even though the pro-slavery faction at that time had an arsenal of biblical proof texts to support their position. In fact, the women's movement of the 19th century arose in large part from the concerns of Christian women such as Sarah Grimke who began to speak out against slavery, and wound up having to defend their right as women to speak publicly about anything at all.

Although evangelical feminism today has gleaned some truths and some encouragement from late 20th-century feminism, its basic philosophy does not derive from the women's liberation movement that began in the 1960s and '70s, nor does it find inspiration in the radical feminist religions that have emerged along with a variety of alternative, New Age-type spiritualities in recent decades. Rather, evangelical feminism is primarily continuing along the lines of a fundamentally Christian tradition that began nearly two hundred years ago.

Theologically Liberal Feminism

Late in the 19th century, a theologically liberal feminist perspective took shape in The Woman's Bible, edited by suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The women who contributed to this commentary generally believed that the message of the Bible itself was tainted by the sexist views of the men who wrote it. Contrary to the evangelical feminist view of that time, Cady Stanton and company believed that the problem with the Bible went beyond male-centered translation and interpretation. They believed androcentrism was inherent to portions of the biblical text itself.

Theologically liberal feminists–then as now–disagree with evangelical feminists and agree with antifeminists that the biblical proof texts traditionally used to maintain the universal subordination of women to men are, in fact, teaching this very thing. Generally speaking, theologically liberal feminists don't seriously explore other viable interpretations of such texts, but regard them as unfortunate and uninspired regressions to cultural patriarchy. Because they believe these biblical texts contradict the overall biblical message proclaiming the liberation and equality of all people, they declare these texts to be unauthoritative and untrue.

The issue of biblical authority lies behind the difference between liberal and evangelical approaches to biblical interpretation. In evangelicalism, a biblical text is regarded as having one true meaning–which, generally speaking, is the message that the biblical author intended to communicate–and this meaning is deemed both objectively true and authoritative. The goal in evangelical biblical interpretation is to come as close as possible to the meaning inherent to the text itself. The practical application of a particular text's meaning may well change over time; but the spiritual principle that prompted the biblical author's words remains the true message of the text, unaltered by the circumstances of the people who read and interpret the text. Because of differences in cultural preunderstandings and particular interpretational methods, evangelicals differ in their interpretations of some texts. But evangelicals will never be found arguing for the relativistic view that one interpretation is just as true as another.

In theologically liberal interpretation, cultural preunderstandings are regarded not as a hindrance but as a legitimate element of the hermeneutical task. Neither the meaning nor the authority of a biblical text is believed to reside solely in the text itself. Rather, biblical meaning and authority are determined subjectively–as in a conversation, a fluid interaction between text and reader. So the meaning of a particular text can vary, depending on the time, place, and persons involved in the interpretive process. Authority is either given to or withheld from a text by the reader of the text. In liberal feminist theology, the meaning and authority of biblical texts are determined according to the spiritual consciousness and feminist concerns of women.

Feminist theology outside of evangelicalism subscribes to the current postmodernist view that truth is subjective, relativistic, and pluralistic. In other words, there are a plurality of "truths" because truth is nothing more than belief, and belief is determined entirely subjectively, relative to each individual's personal preference and cultural situation. In light of this view of truth, religion is seen as a system of myths, symbols, and metaphors, which serve, in a sense, as pointers to religious truth. But "religious truth" is regarded as a matter of function rather than substance, as mere personal belief rather than something that is true regardless of anyone's personal belief. Religious truth in this sense is grounded in the human imagination rather than (as with biblical Christianity) in actual historical events and propositional revelation concerning those events.

In liberal theology, religious symbols do not stand in a true/false relationship to objective theological realities, but serve as elements of a circular, self-enclosed system. Human imagination creates religious myths and metaphors–for the purpose of evoking the desired response in the imaginations of the religion's adherents. Therefore, religious imagery (including biblical concepts and descriptions) can be fearlessly manipulated, reinvented, and reimagined in order that the religious truth evoked by the imagery might be perceived as helpful, relevant, meaningful, inspiring, and so forth.

In liberal feminist theology, religious truth is made to comport with female spirituality–which is believed to be so radically different from male spirituality that it must produce a radically different approach to the Bible and a radically different sort of religion. This assumption (that the spiritual nature of women is fundamentally unlike the spiritual nature of men) places the gender issue at center stage in what is, essentially, a religion of feminism. In such a religion, patriarchy (that is, culturally-entrenched male-centeredness) assumes the role of original sin; men, as the perpetrators of the patriarchy, are deemed the enemy; and female spirituality is viewed as the means of salvation.

Feminist Goddess Religion

The more radical the feminist religion, the more it emphasizes the supposed spiritual differences between male and female, and the less use it has for the Bible. In feminist religion that focuses on goddess worship, the Bible is usually rejected altogether; religious rites and rituals are designed around the various aspects of female biology; and female spirituality is so highly esteemed that it is regarded as divine, as one with the goddess. The goddess is not actually worshipped in the sense that Christians worship the God of the Bible; rather, the goddess is a mythical embodiment of the "divine feminine" believed to be immanent in all women and in nature. Like other New Age and neopagan spiritualities afoot these days, goddess religion is generally pantheistic–which refers to the belief that everyone and everything is part of one impersonal and universal divine essence, force or principle.

Personal experience takes precedence over doctrine among worshipers of the goddess. There is a plethora of images for the goddess, the predominant image being that of mother, or earth mother. The concept of the goddess functions primarily as a spiritual resource for women who desire a sense of spiritual power in their lives. Understanding the theological nature of the goddess does not assume top priority for spiritual feminists, because–true to the tenets of pantheistic religions–the goddess and the women who worship her are regarded as ultimately one. Many leaders in goddess religions believe women will outgrow the idea of an external female deity when they come to realize the divinity of their own female selves.

The much-discussed Re-Imagining conference of November 1993 (which seems to have initiated an ongoing movement) illustrates how easily crossed is the line between liberal feminist theology and feminist goddess religion. Leaders in the mainline denominations represented at that conference defended the numerous invocations of Sophia on the grounds that this was just a manner of speaking about the wisdom of God. But it seems clear that the concept of Sophia functioned at that event as a female deity designed especially for women. The references to female biology and bodily fluids were certainly characteristic of the ritual worship of goddess feminists.

Biblically, Sophia (which is the Greek word for wisdom) is not a person, as is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, or Sophia, is personified as a woman in Proverbs chapters 1-9, as well as in several texts of the Apocrypha. (Personification is a literary device that attributes personality to an abstract concept, in this case wisdom). At the Re-Imagining conference, Sophia shifted from being a term for an abstract concept to being a feminine name for God. At this point Sophia is not merely a personification, but a person–a virtual member of the Godhead, either in place of or in addition to Jesus Christ. Thus femininity is deified and the Deity sexualized.

Any effort to invoke a feminine image of God in order to balance out God's perceived masculinity only reinforces the traditional and feminist error of sexualizing the nature of God. The entire project is based on a failure to grasp the biblical truth that because God is not a sexual being, the attributes of sexuality are not relevant to an understanding of God's nature. I believe that virtually every false theology of gender–whether in the feminist or the traditionalist direction–arises out of the failure to recognize that the nature of sexuality is not spiritual, and the nature of spirituality is not sexual.

The belief that women's spirituality is grounded in their female sexuality, and hence is fundamentally different from men's spirituality, is one of the several faulty premises of radical feminist theology. Most spiritual feminists seem to accept wholesale the traditional view of female nature, which identifies women primarily with their sexual and reproductive functions and in general regards sexuality as an all-pervasive spiritual and psychological force that renders women radically different from men. The feminist perspective deviates from the traditional view in that these stereotypically feminine attributes are glorified and celebrated–even worshipped–as spiritually special and valuable.

Although Wellesley professor Mary Lefkowitz favors goddess religion over the Christian religion, she nonetheless complains that "the most annoying attribute of this new religion" is its loud insistence on a gender requirement for spiritual truth. If such a definition will harm anyone, it will surely harm women, by simplifying and demoting them to creatures of mere sexuality. Thus, a recent manual on Women's Mysteries...specifies only celebrations of birth, menstruation, conception, hysterectomy, and menopause, as well as sexuality in all its various manifestations. Why didn't the women who enthusiastically devised these exciting rituals also see fit to celebrate some of the qualities that women share with the rest of humanity, such as individuality, independence, and intelligence? [1]

Feminist spirituality shares with traditionalism not only a stereotyped definition of femininity, but also a denial or de-emphasis of the human spirituality common to both women and men. Whether feminist or traditionalist, this sort of thinking cannot help but amplify and perpetuate a sense of estrangement and antagonism between the sexes.

Another fundamental error in feminist spirituality, which is related to the belief that spirituality is grounded in sexuality, is the assumption that the God of the Bible is male–and, therefore, both oppressive and irrelevant to women. Spiritual feminists even have a pseudo-historical explanation for how the eternal, divine feminine came to be replaced by a male deity. The general idea is that in prehistoric times people worshipped the goddess (or goddesses), and women ruled in a peace-loving, egalitarian society. But then came male-dominated religion, and with it the distant, patriarchal "sky-god" of biblical monotheism. Women were booted out of power, and the men and their male God took over. Patriarchy has since been a long and tiresome chapter in the history of a cosmos that is intrinsically and originally feminine in essence. Feminist witchcraft and goddess religion are viewed as a return to the true beginnings of human society, the way it was before divine female authority was usurped by men (thanks in large part to Judeo-Christian meddling with the ancient order of the universe).

Interestingly, much of the men's movement (outside evangelicalism) shares this basic mythology, since it too is steeped in a New Age, pantheistic spirituality. This perspective is also found in the occultic mysticism of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose ideas have had a heavy hand in the development of various contemporary neopagan movements, including both feminist spirituality and men's spirituality.[2]

Although there is no sound basis for the notion that prehistoric societies were matriarchal, goddess feminists have not plucked out of thin air their belief that the biblical God is male. Much traditional theologizing within Christianity has assumed that God is essentially masculine, that the maleness of Christ is theologically necessary, and that men, therefore, have a special role of divine representational authority. It is no wonder that many thoughtful women who yearn for a knowledge of spiritual reality feel drawn to feminist spirituality. Such women see clearly the detrimental consequences of a religion with a male or male-like God. Unfortunately, their response is not to reject the false belief that the biblical God has a gender, but to reject any God with an apparently masculine gender and to replace such a God with a female deity.

What Goddess Feminists Don't Know

Because the Bible teaches that both men and women image God, we know that men are not more God-like than women, nor God more male-like than female-like. Unfortunately, goddess feminists do not know this; nor do they understand that women and men image God, who is Spirit (John 4:24), in their shared human spirituality and not in their sexuality. God created sexuality so his creatures might reproduce themselves and have families, not so they may reflect the divine nature in their own sexual nature.[3]

Women in feminist religions do not know that the new covenant in Christ inaugurated religious equality between male and female believers, who now are one in Christ and equal heirs of God's gift of life (Gal 3:26-28, 1 Pet 3:7). Nor do they know that in the new covenant all believers are priests before God (1 Pet 2:5,9), and, because Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5), God requires no sub-mediators in the form of men who claim special spiritual prerogatives solely on the basis of their sex.

These feminists do not understand that the biblical God does not have a gender. Deuteronomy 4:16 states clearly that neither maleness nor femaleness represents God's image. Here Moses charges Israel, "do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman." God is not to be imagined as either a man or a woman, because God is neither male-like nor female-like. Carl Henry, who is not a feminist, delineates the orthodox position when he states that: "The God of the Bible is a sexless God. When Scripture speaks of God as ‘he’ the pronoun is primarily personal (generic) rather than masculine (specific); it emphasizes God's contrast to impersonal entities."[4] The proof of divine masculinity that many people see in the biblical references to God as "he" results in large part from confusing a grammatical category with an imputation of sexuality.[5]

It is true that, in the Incarnation, Christ became a male human. But the theological significance of Christ's bodily incarnation is not that he became male, but that he became human. Christ's maleness is never spoken of in the Bible as having any spiritual significance. If, as Deuteronomy 4:16 states, God is not represented by either male sexuality or female sexuality, then Jesus' maleness is neither intrinsic to his deity nor representative of the nature of God.

Nowhere in the Bible is God referred to as a sexual being. Rather, especially in OT law, sexuality is kept meticulously separate from religious worship and other spiritual concerns. Completely absent from biblical religion is any hint of masculinity and femininity as spiritual or sexual principles in the Godhead or the cosmos. The nations surrounding ancient Israel believed that their various deities created and perpetuated human, plant, and animal life through their own divine sexual activity. Sexuality was regarded as part of the divine realm, especially of the female divine.[6] "But Israel did not share in the divinization of sex; it was a phenomenon of the creature," not of the deity.[7]

To be sure, God is often portrayed in the Bible in masculine imagery–such as Father or King–but this does not make God male in any sense. Alister McGrath explains that:

To speak of God as father is to say that the role of the father in ancient Israel allows us insights into the nature of God, not that God is a male....Neither male nor female sexuality is to be attributed to God. Indeed, sexuality is an attribute of the created order that cannot be assumed to correspond directly to any such polarity within the creator God himself.[8]

If God's nature were, in fact, essentially masculine, then descriptions of God as feminine would be inappropriate and nonsensical. (To be feminine is, by definition, to be unmasculine, and vice versa.) Yet the Bible does use feminine imagery for God; it is even expressed in starkly biological categories, such as bearing and giving birth to children and nursing at the breast (Deut 32:18, Isa. 42:14; 46:3-4; 49:15; 66:13; James 1:18). The fact that the Bible describes God as both fatherly and motherly indicates clearly that any notion of sexual distinction is inapplicable to an understanding of God's nature.[9]

Nonetheless, masculine imagery for God does predominate in Scripture. God is spoken of as motherly, but not explicitly as our Mother. "Father" was the more apt description for God, not only because a Mother-God would have been confused with the pagan fertility deities of the surrounding cultures, but also because fatherhood presented a picture of God as a person with power and authority–something which, in ancient patriarchal societies, was possessed almost exclusively by men.

Yet the Bible is clear that our Father God is a person not only of great power, but also of everlasting love, tender care, and unfailing faithfulness. The image of an authoritarian human patriarch who rules from an emotional distance is alien to the biblical picture of God.

"Father" is a divinely-inspired description of God, a central term used in Scripture to reveal God's character to God's people. We cannot dismiss it (as many liberal feminists seem to do) as an androcentric invention of men who have sought to make God in their own masculine image. But neither can we disregard the fact that “father” is used in Scripture as a metaphor to describe what God is like; it is not a literal statement of what God is. God is called "father" because fatherhood is, in some sense, descriptive of God's relationship to his people. In order to understand the meaning of this metaphor, we must ask: In what ways is God like a father, and in what ways is God unlike a father?

Fatherhood on the human level has two constituents, the biological and the cultural. We know from Scripture that God is not our father in the biological sense of having sexually begotten us. God is not sexual, and therefore is not a male parent (the usual literal definition of “father”). Although God did not procreate humans through sexual reproduction, God did create us; therefore, we belong to God and are under his authority. In this sense God is like a human parent. God performs many of the nonsexual acts of a father or parent. God provides, protects, loves, guides, governs, and disciplines. And just as a father in ancient times ruled over his own property, and then passed on to his sons the property under his jurisdiction, so the father-son relationship of God to his people entails the rule of God and the spiritual inheritance of those whom God adopts as "sons," or heirs. The "mother" metaphor would not have conveyed this crucial aspect of God's relationship to his people, because women in ancient Judaism did not normally inherit or rule over property, nor could they adopt children.[10] God, then, is called our Father because God is like a father in the limited, metaphorical sense of filling many of the cultural roles of a father.

The relationship of Father and Son within the Trinity must also be understood as in some ways like and in other ways unlike that of a human father and son. It is unlike the human relationship in that God does not pre-exist Christ, nor is Christ a product of God having reproduced himself; yet this is the primary understanding that we have today of the father-son relationship. In ancient cultures, however, there was between a father and his firstborn son a strong sense of family bonding, oneness, continuity of name and identity, and equality of position through inheritance; and this is the sense in which God and Christ are Father and Son.[11]

The only completely non-metaphorical name for God in the Bible is the one by which God identified himself to Moses: i am who i am, or, i will be what i will be (Exodus 3:14)–which leaves us asking "am what?" and "will be what?" So we must turn to the figurative language for God in the Bible, and through proper exegesis (which always considers the biblical author's intent within the cultural contexts of the time) we are able to discern what this language reveals God to be like. In the Bible, God's character and relationship to us are communicated by means of figurative comparisons or analogies with images that are familiar and meaningful within the context of human cultures. Yet we must remember that no analogy is perfect. There is always a sense in which God is like the image and a sense in which God is unlike the image.[12]

The biblical imagery for God does not require us to conclude that God is like a male. When the Bible speaks of God in masculine terms, "these...are social male-gender characteristics. ...God is not sexually a male."[13] Any implication that the nature of the deity participates in or corresponds to human sexuality confuses the Creator with the creation. This pantheistic proclivity does not follow simply from imputing femaleness to the deity (as some have claimed)–although, in androcentric cultures, female images typically imply sexuality more than male images do. Rather, pantheism and paganism tend to follow from imputing sexuality of any sort to God.

In giving primacy to the goddess and the spiritual leadership of women in ritual worship, feminist spirituality demonstrates the "flip side" of the traditionalist error of masculinizing God and making men the spiritual leaders in worship. Both the feminists who worship a female deity and the traditionalists who react against such feminism by stressing the masculinity of God are falling into the error of the fertility cults that the OT thoroughly condemns. They are, in effect, re-paganizing and re-magicalizing religion.[14]

Unfortunately, a number of Christians today seem to fall eagerly into this error. In Thomas Howard's effort to deny women ordination on the basis of God's "masculinity," he draws on notions he believes to be "celebrated in all mythologies and assumed in Scripture." Howard states that, in these mythologies, the sexual distinction is assumed to run down to the root of the world and up to the top of things. Nothing is sexless. ...Everything and everyone divides itself up into male and female....There has been, obviously, some notion rooted deeply in human consciousness, of an initiating or generating office attached to the masculine image. The myths are of a piece with the cloth of human sexual anatomy on this point. The creator begets life upon the earth. The sun pours energy into the earth and things spring up. The god begets offspring from the goddess. For Jews and Christians, the Creator is spoken of as 'he'.[15]

The conflation of spiritual and sexual categories that plagues radical feminist religion is also present in the traditionalist gender agenda–although it is not normally stated as explicitly or enthusiastically as Howard does here. Nonetheless, if different spiritual roles arise necessarily from sexual differences (as traditionalists would have it), then it follows that the sexual nature in some significant sense defines and determines the spiritual nature. Once spirituality is believed to be grounded in sexuality, then the gendered imagery for God in Scripture ceases to be metaphorical and instead is reified and essentialized, such that it becomes literally descriptive of God's personal, spiritual nature. Because the gendered imagery for God is more often masculine than feminine, God's nature comes to be characterized primarily by the spiritual essence of maleness (whatever that is). It is then impossible to regard woman and man as imaging God equally, for man is clearly more like God than is woman.

It follows, also, that the maleness of Christ is theologically necessary. An essentially masculine God must be incarnated as a male; he must have the physical sexual nature that reflects and corresponds to his metaphysical sexual nature. From here it follows that members of the godlike gender have a divine right and responsibility to represent God authoritatively to those whose nature is but a dimmer image of the divine.

Notions of an essentially masculine God, of men bearing the divine image more fully than women, of Christ's maleness as spiritually necessary, and of the ordained ministry as a uniquely male role of divine representational authority are unavoidably entailed in the doctrine of women's universal and God-ordained subordination to the spiritual authority of men. But such theological notions stand in opposition to the fundamental biblical principle of women's essential, spiritual equality with men–a principle so clear in Scripture that even traditionalists claim to affirm it.

When Christians teach that God's fatherhood speaks of God's essentially masculine nature, which then logically establishes for men a special place of spiritual privilege, many women will understandably feel marginalized and alienated by Christianity, and may well respond by devising a Mother-Goddess of their own to worship. But when God's fatherhood is rightly understood as a figurative description of what God is like (a personal, powerful, and protective caregiver) rather than what God literally is (a male parent), then women may enter readily into a trusting relationship with their Father God, without fear of male domination or implications of female inferiority.

Susan Foh appears to be unique among traditionalists in recognizing that sexuality is rightly regarded as physical not metaphysical, and that this removes the need to try to find so-called feminine attributes or aspects in the Godhead, and it even removes (or should remove) any slight or offense women might feel because of God's Fatherhood or Christ's incarnation as a man. Since men and women are fundamentally persons...women are unquestionably in the image of God just as men are and, if believers, will be fully conformed to Christ's image just as Christian men will be.[16]

When sexuality is de-spiritualized and God de-sexualized, the issue of the supposed gender of God becomes a nonissue, and the question of whether or not God is male or masculine becomes inappropriate and irrelevant. Of course God is not male or masculine, because God has no sexuality and no gender.

Sadly, however, feminists involved in goddess religions do not understand these fundamental biblical truths; so they turn from the true God to a female counterpart of what they perceive to be the male God of the Bible. Why do they fail to understand the inclusive, gender-free nature of the Christian faith and the biblical God? Because so many Christians for so many years have failed to understand it themselves, and instead have advanced a sexualized religion that deifies masculinity and masculinizes the deity; and they have called it Christianity.


[1] Mary Lefkowitz, "The Twilight of the Goddess," The New Republic, 3 August 1992, 33.
[2] See Aida Spencer, et al, The Goddess Revival (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 24, 40, 76, 162-63.
[3] On the issue of gender in God and in the image of God, see Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 169-176; also, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Good News for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), chapter 4.
[4] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 5 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), 159.
[5] See Spencer, 121-26.
[6] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992), 188.
[7] Mary Hayter, The New Eve in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 14-15.
[8] Alister E. McGrath, Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 174.
[9] See Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 2nd edition (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Pub., 1997), 239-242.
[10] See Spencer, 119. See also Aida Besancon Spencer, "Father-Ruler: The Meaning of the Metaphor 'Father' for God in the Bible," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 no. 3 (Sept. 1996): 440-41.
[11] See Millard Erickson, God in Three Persons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 301.
[12] See Spencer, "Father-Ruler," 434-38.
[13] Frymer-Kensky, 188.
[14] See Hayter, 18.
[15] Thomas Howard, "A Note from Antiquity on the Question of Women's Ordination," Churchman 92, no. 4 (1978): 323.
[16] Susan Foh, Women and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 177.

Copyrighted 1999 by Christians for Biblical Equality (

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis is a free lance writer and editor who has published extensively on gender issues. Her latest work is Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, which she coedited with Ronald Pierce and Gordon Fee.