Volf on Gender

Re: “The Hole in Our Complementarianism*,” discussions on gender roles and the sacraments, and this piece by C.S. Lewis (Priestesses in the Church?) — I’ve gone back to Miroslav Volf’s indispensable chapter on “Gender Identity,” pp. 167-190 of Exclusion and Embrace. Everyone should drop what they’re doing and go read the chapter in its entirety as soon as possible. But, in the meantime, consider the following:

“The only way the gender of God language can provide guidance for construction of gender identity is if we first ontologize gender in God, that is, if we take a particular understanding of femininity or masculinity, project it onto God, and then let that projection shape our social practice. Irigaray is able to avoid such ontologization only by a sleight of hand. She postulates a female God but claims that this God holds no other obligation and gives no other task to women except to help them “become divine, become perfect” (Irigaray 1986, 9). The femininity of God is asserted in order to connect God with women, but God’s femininity does no real work because it has no concrete content. There are good reasons for the vacuity of divine femininity. For if we were to give it concrete content, we could not avoid freezing a particular cultural construction of gender and then infusing it with divine powers and claims. The same holds true, of course, of the postulated divine masculinity which Irigaray affirms as a complement to divine femininity.

The ontologization of gender would ill serve both the notion of God and the understanding of gender. Nothing in God is specifically feminine; nothing in God is specifically masculine; therefore nothing in our notions of God entails duties or prerogatives specific to one gender; all duties and prerogatives entailed in our notions of God are duties and prerogatives of both genders. This, I think, is the significance of the fact that, as Phyllis Bird has shown, gender distinctions are unrelated to the image of God according to Genesis 1 (Bird 1981; Bird 1991). Men and women share maleness and femaleness not with God but with animals. They image God in their common humanity. Hence we ought to resist every construction of the relation between God and femininity or masculinity that privileges one gender, say by claiming that men on account of their maleness represent God more adequately than women (with LaCugna 1993, 94ff.) or by insisting that women, being by nature more relational, are closer to the divine as the power of connectedness and love.

(Volf 1996, 173-4; emphasis added).


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