The scandal of Jesus's male particularity


Glynn Cardy wrote a fascinating blog entry a few weeks ago about how the fact that Jesus is male can often feed into to certain patriarchal notions of Divinity. He makes a very interesting point:

I don’t think however that the limitless Love called God is solely manifested in Jesus. Surely the whole notion of sacred or holy Spirit is saying that the seeds of divinity are thriving within many people, including many who would not call themselves Christian. When the author of the 4th Gospel talks about the Spirit leading us into all truth, I understand that as an unshackling of God out of the cultural particularity of any person, age, gender, sexual orientation, knowledge, and politics and allow that transformative Love to re-emerge, to incarnate, in every time, culture, gender, orientation, and circumstance. Even to incarnate in non-human form.
This strongly mirrors my own concept of divinity and humanity. In the "Saving Jesus" seminars that I attended, the incarnation was the subject of one of the sessions: what does it mean to be "fully human" and "fully divine", as the creeds claim that Jesus is? Does it even make sense to be both of these things at the same time? What does it mean to be fully human, for that matter?

But if "the seeds of divinity are thriving in many people," then the wall between Jesus and the rest of us that orthodoxy Christianity has erected will surely crumble. One could instead argue that Jesus, as a human being who was especially in tune with the Divine (a "spirit person", as Marcus Borg calls him), disclosed something about the Divine through his life--something that lies everywhere and potentially within all of us. Some of us--like Jesus, for example--can disclose a great deal of the Divine within us. But if the Divine is everywhere, then it is to one degree or another within all of us--men and women, Christians and non-Christians. (Quakers refer to this as "that of God in everyone.") The difference between us and Jesus thus becomes not a rigid, fixed absolute, but rather one of degree. All of us have the potential to disclose the degree of the Divine that resides within us. Glynn Cardy puts it this way:
For those who wish to eternally elevate, or beget, a 1st century male into the heart of God, is there any space for women? If the Godhead is masculine then those who worship will elevate the masculine, preferring even oppressive male leadership to female alternatives. If the Godhead is masculine it also becomes oppressive for all who don’t fit masculine hierarchical categories, including many men.
Bravo! I couldn't have said it better myself. Many Christian feminists try to balance out the maleness of Jesus by defining the Holy Spirit as female, as a way of creating a kind of equilibrium within the Trinity. This is certainly one way of trying to solve the problem--at least it acknowledges that the problem exists. In my view, I'm not sure how well this overcomes the fact that the only human being who is claimed to have been fully divine, according to Christian creeds, is male. I am glad to see that Glynn Cardy has addressed this elephant in the feminist room. He points out that there is another solution to the problem--remove the divine particularity from Jesus.

Glynn Cardy concludes his blog with this wonderful passage:
The divinity of Jesus depends on your definition of divine. If you wish to consider Jesus as more than human – and therefore non-human - transforming him into a cosmic superman in the sky, then there are considerable flow-on effects including monotheistic integrity, solidarity with humanity, and the gender/culture of God. If however you understand the divine as transformative Love that is both transcendent and immanent, and Jesus’ life and actions as paramount expression of that Love - but not the boundaries of that Love - then Jesus is not more or less human than anyone else, God is not a Palestinian 1st century male, and we have the seeds of divinity within us.


Cynthia said...

A big fat YUP!

Although the UCC went a little bit too far in the New Century Hymnal by removing "Lord" and the pronouns "him" and "he" wherever they could. The Christ may transcend gender but Jesus was certainly a man.

He was the firstborn from the dead, the first of many, including women.