There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free, male nor female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Whatever form of equality this verse might appear to promote, it has not prevented the image of Christ from being used in racist ways for racist purposes, as explored in last month's blog post on this topic. This month -- the minefield of GENDER!
In the same way that a white Jesus serves to exclude non-white believers from personal identification with the Divine while not-so-subtly letting them know "who's the boss," so does a male Jesus establish identity barriers for women. The past two centuries of intense Biblical scholarship has discredited any historical basis for Jesus. There is simply no objective, factual corroboration that an "historical Jesus" ever actually existed. So if the concept/image of "Jesus" is pure faith-based symbolism, why must he be male? Whose interests does that serve?
Within Christianity itself, there have been a few attempts in recent years to cast Jesus in female imagery so that women too may see themselves in the Divine. The most famous instance is probably this 1974 sculpture of "Christa" by British artist Edwina Sandys (daughter of Sir Winston Churchill) who wanted it to portray the suffering of women --
"Theologically and historically indefensible" ― that’s how Bishop Walter Dennis described a bronze sculpture of Christ as a nude woman in 1984.
The 4-foot, 250-pound figure hung in New York’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine ― although, thanks to the Bishop’s commentary and a barrage of hate mail, only briefly. Due to the aggressive backlash, the sculpture was promptly packed up and shipped out soon after its arrival.
[quoted passage found here]
Another such sculpture is found here in Canada -- "Crucified Woman" by Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey, located at the United Church of Canada's Emmanuel College, Toronto.
According to theologians Doris Jean Dyke and Julie Clague, artist Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey sculpted “Crucified Woman” simply as an expression of women’s suffering. It was only reluctantly that she lent the sculpture to a United church in Toronto for Easter one year, unsure of whether she wanted it interpreted theologically. She was overwhelmed by the response, especially of women who for the first time, saw “their suffering, their dying and their resurrection embodied in a woman’s body,” and thereby felt God’s solidarity with the suffering specific to women.
Of course, not everyone interpreted the sculpture this way. Some saw it as heretical, too distant from the male body of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Others saw it as too sexual, as it depicts a nude female form. Others saw it as reifying instead of protesting violence against women.
[quoted passage found here]
And now, thanks to the internet and photoshop, there's starting to be even more images of "gender swap Jesus" --
I believe there is great emotional, psychological and spiritual healing, value and power in women being able to identify directly with female imagery as an embodiment of the Divine. All monotheistic patriarchal religions deny that opportunity to women and make our imagery and uniquely gendered experience foreign to the concept of the Divine. Can such religions be "reformed from within" to widen inclusive symbolism to accept women?
That's a question for Christians to explore and I wish them well. It's irrelevant to me in my own spiritual journey, since I left Christianity behind more than 40 years ago. I find my personally affirming imagery and symbolism in the older pagan traditions which include (and have always included) strong representations and acknowledgment of the Divine Feminine.
Next month -- holy moly, out of the frying pan and into the fire -- GAY JESUS!