This article addresses the thorny question of whether or not Feminist Theology is connected to homosexual entailments.
That is, are there also built into the theological underpinnings of Women’s Ordination (WO), elements which, if accepted, must mean even further conflict in the church? Would the acceptance of ordination for women lead eventually to extending similar rights to those desiring to engage in homosexuality? And, should the larger world church tire of dealing with the onerous behavior of the North American Division and decide to permit Ordination on a per-division basis, will there at last be resolution?
Could such a decision bring peace? Or, would that only mark a shift in the argument, so that conflict continues but in its next phase over the alleged “rights” of practicing homosexuals to be in the church and ordained? Is there, in relation to Feminist Theology, an inevitable correlation with “Queer Theology”? The existence of a connection between Women’s Ordination and a homosexual agenda has been widely alleged and as widely denied. The stakes are high indeed!
Scripture and Interpretation at the Center of the Issue
Remember the three basic approaches to Scripture:
1. PROTESTANT (accepting the whole of Scripture),
2. ROMAN CATHOLIC (accepting the Bible plus tradition), and
3. NEO-PROTESTANT (an approach accepting only a subset of Scripture—i.e., less than the whole of the Bible—as authoritative). The authority of Scripture and the method of its interpretation is baseline to the entire question of Women’s Ordination. This article shows that Feminist Theology rises from the third category, finding its theological home in neo-Protestantism, accepting only some parts of the Bible as authoritative and making other parts not.
Likely the reader knows that the terminology “Neo-Protestant” is another way of saying that a denomination has accepted the historical-critical approach to biblical interpretation.
Kurt E. Marquart, writing about the theological confrontation that arose in the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod conflict in the 1970s illustrates the effect of historical-critical theology:
"To put it very crudely, the ‘formal principle’ or ‘Scripture-principle’ (that is, Scripture as sole authority, sola scriptura) is simply the door of the gospel’s hen-house. The door is there not for its own sake but precisely to protect the whole house. If it is gone, it would be foolish to say smugly, ‘Oh well, that was only the door—the rest of the hen-house is still safe!’ Once the door is gone, the historical-critical fox is free to take whatever he pleases. The hen-house will be quite empty eventually, even if not after the first two or three visits!"
(Kurt E. Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion: A Theological Analysis of the Missouri Synod Conflict, p. 131).
As soon as we approach the Bible and its interpretation with a tool that, because of its design, grants human reason an unfettered sovereignty over what the Bible says, it is “game over.” When we can disallow those portions of the Bible that come up against our preferred understanding of reality, the outcome is predictable: we shall exploit such tools. The door is off the hen-house; the authority of Scripture is removed and replaced by human authority.
In recent decades the most prominent method in academia in general and in biblical studies in particular, has been known as the historical-critical method. Scholars who use this method, as classically formulated, operate on the basis of presuppositions which, prior to studying the biblical text, reject the reliability of accounts of miracles and other supernatural events narrated in the Bible. Even a modified use of this method that retains the principle of criticism which subordinates the Bible to human reason is unacceptable to us as Adventists!
The historical-critical method minimizes the need for faith in God and obedience to His Commandments. In addition, because such a method de-emphasizes the divine element in the Bible as an inspired book (including its resultant unity) and depreciates or misunderstands apocalyptic prophecy and the eschatological portions of the Bible, we urge Adventist Bible students to avoid relying on the use of the presuppositions and the resultant deductions associated with the historical-critical method (“Bible Study: Presuppositions, Principles, and Methods.” This statement was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee at the Annual Council Session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 12, 1986).
There is a close correlation of the historical-critical method with Feminist and associated theologies from their origin. Differing approaches to the Bible lead to different results, and open the way for different progressions and developments. Holding to essentially the “plain reading” of Scripture, the historical-grammatical method, would have preserved the Adventist Church from much mischief! But there has been departure from the best methods of interpretation. And so, now we turn to our current question: Does Feminist Theology entail, or come loaded, with fundamental commitments folded into itself meaning that “Queer Theology” is included for free?
From the Horse’s Mouth!
Although some advocates for Women’s Ordination deny a connection to homosexual practice, it is important to investigate such claims. Evidence to the contrary is abundant. For example, Roy Clements had been a prominent evangelical leader in Britain, pastoring the Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge, UK. In 1999 he left his wife and children and resigned his pastorate after revealing that he was in a homosexual relationship with a man. Clements later published the following statement on his website:
"Christian homosexuals, who formerly would have remained ‘in the closet’ protected by a conspiracy of sympathetic silence, have little choice but to ‘come out’. . . . For most this has been a profoundly liberating experience, in spite of the bullying hostility to which they have often been subjected. In many ways their experience has run parallel, if a little behind, that of Christian women in the last few decades. In the wake of the secular feminist movement, women have found a new confidence to claim a role for themselves within the church. They have developed a hermeneutic to deal with the biblical texts which had been used to deny them that role in the past. Of course, this was not achieved without resistance from a conservative rump mainly within the older ecclesiastical establishment, but the majority of evangelicals have now moved very substantially in the direction of welcoming women into Christian leadership. Gay Christians are using exactly the same kind of hermeneutic tools to challenge tradition in regard to homosexuality. If it is taking them rather longer to succeed than the Christian feminists did, this has more to do with the inferiority of their numerical strength than of the justice of their cause (Cited in Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism, p. 238).
Clements’ admission should not be lightly passed over. “Women have developed a hermeneutic to deal with the biblical texts which had been used to deny them that role in the past. . . Gay Christians are using exactly the same kind of hermeneutic tools to challenge tradition in regard to homosexuality.”
Notice that the Bible creates problems for those who hope to bypass what it says. The means of bypassing its content consists in new methods of interpretation. Advocates of Women’s Ordination use these means; advocates for homosexual practice use the very same means! And it is beyond question that many so-called protestant churches that began ordaining women, now accept homosexual members, and even pastors/bishops!
Advocates of “queer theology” agree. Consider the following sample:
Queer theology is, in many ways, a branch of Liberation theology, sharing much of the same methodology. It sees theology as a tool in addressing the oppression which many queer theologians believe is perpetrated on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by wider society in general and, in particular, the religious establishment. A reader of feminist theology or womanist theology would recognise a similar approach in queer theology. . . . Argentinian Queer theologian Professor Marcella Althaus-Reid argued in a 2005 contribution to a work on Latin American Liberation Theology (“From Liberation Theology to Indecent Theology—The Next Generation,” Ivan Petrella, editor) that mainline liberation theology was not being true to itself by ignoring the liberation of queer people (http://lgbt.wikia.com/wiki/Queer_theology).
That is, Althaus-Reid argued that in order to be consistent, those practicing liberation theologies must carry their principles forward to where they inevitably lead, and that means that advocates of Liberation and Feminist Theology must also support Queer Theology. Why? Because Queer Theology is a subset of Liberation theology. Remember, God allegedly is always automatically “for” the oppressed. In Latin America this group was the poor; then, it was women; today, it is the homosexual/transgender! It would not be far off the truth to say that Queer Theology is Feminist Theology, and that Feminist Theology is Liberation Theology, in each case with adaptations distinct to that oppressed grouping. In the majority of other respects, it is roughly the same. The wheel needs little reinvention; it is basically the same “liberationist” wheel.
Ten Parallels in Theological Argumentation
Lutheranism in the decades of the past century has traversed the same questions. One of the contributing authors (John T. Pless) in the 2008 book "Women Pastors?" The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective, lists ten parallels in theological argumentation between what we have above called Feminist and Queer Theology:
The advocacy for women’s ordination and for the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions is put forth in the churches as a matter of social justice. Churchly acceptance of women’s ordination, the ordination of homosexuals, and the blessing of same-sex unions has been fueled by powerful liberationist movements within the culture rather than by greater biblical understanding.
In the case of both the ordination of women and the ordination of homosexuals, Galatians 3:28 is used in such a way as to sever redemption from creation. Opponents of women’s ordination and those who resist the acceptance of homosexuality as a moral equivalent to heterosexuality are both labeled as "fundamentalists and legalists."
In making the case for women’s ordination and for the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, biblical texts once taken as clear are argued to be unclear or dismissed as culturally conditioned and time bound. Ordination of women and ordination of homosexuals is seen as a matter of necessity for the sake of the gospel and mission. Arguments for both the ordination of women and the ordination of homosexuals along with churchly blessing of same-sex unions are often made on the basis of what Alisdair MacIntyre has identified as an ‘ethic of emotivism.’
Women’s ordination and the ordination of homosexuals are urged on the church for the sake of unity and inclusiveness, yet both practices fracture genuine biblical unity. Ordination of women, ordination of homosexuals, and ecclesiastical recognition of same-sex unions are at first proposed as a matter of compromise or as a local option, but they will eventually demand universal acceptance!
It is argued that by refusing to ordain women and homosexuals to the pastoral office the church is deprived of the particular spiritual gifts they possess that these individuals are unjustly denied the opportunity for spiritual self-expression (John T. Pless, “The Ordination of Women and Ecclesial Endorsement of Homosexuality: Are they Related?” Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective, Matthew C. Harrison, John T. Pless, eds., pp. 231-245).
The history of the Lutheran Church offers but one example of many. Evidence of ideological commonality for Feminist and Queer Theologies is abundant. It seems fair to ask in the more general sense, how far shall the church go in setting aside Holy Writ for cultural grit?
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 . . .
Jim Beldin attended Enterprise Academy and studied History/English/Education at Union College. He taught elementary school at Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and is currently retired and living in Cohutta, Georgia.