Dismantling patriarchal (male dominated) religion is an important focus of feminism. But, it’s not just feminism that suffers from a patriarchal religion. It’s painful for anyone who has suffered abuse from a father or father-figure. And that’s a lot of us.
I’m an amateur theologian, so I’m not sure when God was first characterized as a male parent figure. But, in my recollection of the stories of Abraham and Moses, God was God – like no other. Moses even asked God “whom shall I say that you are?” and God replied “I am that I am.” Somewhere along the way, God became Father in a lot of religious circles.
It’s not to say that there aren’t abusive matriarchal households too. But statistically, most abuse is perpetrated by males in power. If you were raised in an abusive household, you likely spent your formative years hearing a male voice telling you what to do, what to think and what to say. And, you were likely taught that you were flawed, defective, expendable and/or worthless. Is it any wonder, then, that you feel uncomfortable with corporate prayer in church, telling what to believe, and that you are flawed, defective and/or worthless without God?
Some Christian churches actually glorify sacrificial physical abuse. Rather than preach about Christ’s life, message and ministry, they define salvation through the humiliation, physical beating, and even death of an innocent…orchestrated by his Father. Is it any wonder, then, that an abused child in that church feels that they should not object to, speak out about, or even question what happened to them? Is it any wonder that glorifying a body being broken and blood being shed, while at the same time asking your Father for forgiveness might be a destructive ritual, rather than a redemptive act for someone whose body has been broken by his/her father, grandfather, minister, teacher, or priest?
Did you ever think it was just you? – unable to sit in church, reading a pre-prepared confession, chanting along with a man in power up front, asking for forgiveness, – without becoming more angry by the second? Have you ever cringed at the message that religion is basically made up of a set of rules created by your Heavenly Father? It is not just you. It is me too, and it continues to be thousands of others. And, it was not your sin that needed to be forgiven.
Changing to non-parental images of God (or at least offering them) , including alternative voices in worship, and offering communion as a celebration of life and ministry are lifelines for survivors of abuse. Much of these ideas have been demanded by Feminist Theology. Maybe it’s time Survivors take it a step further and demand new conversations in our churches, mosques and synagogues about making worship a healing place for survivors, instead of place of glorification of abuse.