Was Jesus a feminist

About the hardship of overcoming patriarchal church history.

With the question of whether a male savior could also redeem women, theology students in the seventies annoyed certain gentlemen who believed in everything, except unsolved problems. The question was meant seriously. It has not yet been resolved, but it has changed the church and theology, and it has raised many questions: Do we even need salvation? If so, which ones and of what? What is a sin, and are the sins of men the same as those of women? What does it mean that men have steadfastly worshiped their own sex for many centuries and at the same time consider self-deification a sin? Who or what can Jesus be for thinking women and men when the rubble of a centuries-old patriarchal history has been cleared away?

This question was also asked whether Jesus was a feminist. But their fascination did not last long. We soon didn't know whether we wanted to assign our thinking to one of these boring -isms, whether we really care what a feminist is and whether she also exists in the masculine. After all, the question of Jesus' feminism has drawn attention to his relationships with very different women, and ultimately to his relationships in general: to people, communities, institutions and - to God. This changed perspective marks a turning point in relation to the dominance of a theology of properties, which has long been taken for granted.

What I learned about Jesus Christ in Sunday school, in confirmation class, from baroque chants and oratorios, is this: In the carpenter's son from Nazareth, the God of Israel, the One, the Lord God assumed human form and brought salvation to us sinful people on earth. That is why we celebrate Christmas as the day of God's birth, Good Friday to commemorate his atoning death on the cross, Easter as the good news of the resurrection from the dead and Pentecost as the birthday of the movement that tells and administers the gospel of the philanthropic God.

However, since no one guided me to recognize the world of the German economic miracle that was around me, which was diligently rising to prosperity, as a hideous den of sin, since the practice of everyday contrition was not part of civic upbringing, I did not find Jesus particularly interesting. The fact that I nevertheless began to study theology has to do with a desire to debate and with a thought that I only picked up casually in adulthood, which I would almost like to call redeeming, but which was withheld from me in my basic ecclesiastical training: that the God of Christians was me and loves everyone, not because we have achieved a lot, but because we are there.

During my studies I learned that this beautiful thought (which, by the way, brings God astonishingly close to the patriarchal ideal of the good mother) is inevitably linked to belief in the Savior who has been crucified and risen for us, which is still not clear to me today. I also learned that there is not just one "Christology" teaching in the Bible about the meaning of Jesus Christ, but many. And that the reflection on the appropriate interpretation of the man from Nazareth continues to this day, which is a joy, but also a danger, as can be seen, for example, from the already existing church divisions.

We learned that future pastors therefore have a double responsibility: on the one hand, as scholars, we should do justice to the historical diversity of christological attempts at interpretation and, on the other hand, we should not shake the faith of the people entrusted to us. We were happy to receive the first part of this fatherly admonition and postponed the second to an indefinite parish later.

To distance oneself again and again from the cosmic Pantocrator, from the Nazarene kitsch, from a concept of sin that is fixated on sexuality, hostile to the body and women, from the post-Enlightenment dogmatics wallowing in paradoxes and from all the other legacies of two thousand years of patriarchal church history is not easy, but it is Prerequisite for what we are looking for: an undisguised, really liberating relationship with the man of Nazareth.

When I was recently asked to write an interpretation of the story in which Jesus and Peter walk on the lake (Mt. 14, 22-33), he promptly reappeared in my mind's eye: the blond, curly haired young hero who walks undisputed over waves and that The sinking human being Peter (me) graciously extends his hand, this entranced superman, who later voluntarily and in accordance with the will of his divinely sadistic father allows himself to be nailed to the cross in order to atone for my sins. When I have removed the stubborn kitsch deposits, I am tired and lie down on the carpet. To stay here long enough, not to allow myself to be raised up ahead of time by any thunderous or breathy "And yet", that is part of my theological work.

Sometimes something comes together: My sympathy for the Christian tradition, which I still have or has constantly re-awakened, is combined, for example, with one of the surprising research results that my colleagues from ancient oriental studies, biblical studies and church history have brought to light over the past three decades. With the discovery, for example, that Jesus stands not only in the tradition of socially critical First Testament prophecy, but also in that of the Jewish Chokmah - Sophia, wisdom, a female figure - which opens up an unusual view of his wisdom doctrine: This doctrine, for example the Sermon on the Mount is not a guide to heroism, but an introduction to the basic things and actions that are needed for a good life.

Or my sympathy for the Christian tradition is combined with a view of the four ancestors of Jesus mentioned by name, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, who are undisguised by bourgeois morality - usually referred to as sinful women. The “sin” of these four women consists simply in the fact that, as sonless widows, as prostitutes and as adulteresses, they move outside of patriarchal family structures and fight for a dignified life through imaginative action. Mary, the unmarried mother of Jesus, fits in well with this series; her child is the descendant of a distinctly maladjusted female genealogy. Even later, Jesus likes to associate with women who live outside of the prevailing order. Family is not important to him. And that wealthy women make his living doesn't bother him.

And why do we actually orient our currently so much discussed calendar on Jesus' birth and not on his allegedly much more significant death? My theological teachers never seem to have asked themselves this question, but I know the answer: Christmas is and will be a happy children's festival, but it is not the harmless theological nothing that unsuspecting androcentrics have made it into.

Before God becomes a man, he is an infant, born of a woman like all of us. But we do not do justice to infants, children and young people if we prostrate ourselves to them as eternally inadequate subjects. To grow up, God in infancy needs the gentle, careful, and knowledgeable activity that most of us learn best from our mothers. The theological discovery of the birth of God is still pending.

Sometimes the man Jesus seems ugly to me, or I consciously imagine him that way. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that he was beautiful and blonde. A little weird guy then stalks over the waves and giggles, together with his bosom friend Petrus, about a failed experiment. Maybe faith will be strong enough in the next storm? Perhaps the master simply knew best where the hidden stones were under the water level? What do i care If only I finally manage to get the lovingly maladjusted man he is supposed to have been on my carpet. When he has taken a seat with me in the form of my tattered Luther Bible, some sensible words will be exchanged. Tradition calls this "prayer".

So can a male Redeemer save women?

Twenty years of theological existence are not enough to finally put aside the idea that "sin" means primarily extramarital intercourse, homosexuality and various forms of turmoil, and that "redemption" is a standard occurrence frozen in confessional formulas lay. It always starts all over again. But gradually the strenuous back and forth is primed by the certainty that, with a growing community of bright women, so does our responsibility and authority to put better words into the world.

By “sin” we understand the inalienable fact that we, women and men, repeatedly fail because of our ideals of careful and loving dealings with one another and with the world. And “redemption” means that we can and should always start over again. In order to live redeemed, I don't need a perfectionist of sinlessness and no voluntary self-sacrifice, but an intelligent companion who shows me in this and that episode what it would be like to live well, who is not afraid of the consequences of his philanthropic spirit of contradiction up to To endure and which has not yet sunk into the stream of general oblivion.

Was Jesus really risen? Is that why there is also an afterlife for us? Debating such questions is a witty pastime. When things get serious, we would be well advised to let someone else answer the question.

This article comes from the NZZ Folio magazine from December 1999 on the subject of "Jesus". You can order this issue or subscribe to the NZZ Folio.