June 29, 1996 in Features

Group Seeks Equal Standing For Churchwomen

Clark Morphew St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press
 

When you talk with Catherine Clark Kroeger for an hour, your world is enlarged, you are fed great amounts of information and left hungering for a way to bring some justice for women in their churches.

Kroeger is the founder of Christians for Biblical Equality, an international information and action group that has targeted churches in its attempt to teach feminism in a biblical way.

Now Kroeger and her colleagues have published a Bible called “Study Bible for Women” (Baker Books), which presents the New Testament along with a variety of insights and interpretations.

Kroeger has a doctorate in classical studies and has spent her adult life searching the religious lives of women for clues to the male dominance found in many faith communities.

She is seldom shocked by the things churches do to women, such as barring them from making decisions or from taking seats of power. She will tell you that has been going on for centuries.

“When I studied the pagan religions, I discovered that women worshiped in different modes and on different days than men,” Kroeger said.

“They were much more noisy than men. They disrobed, and many of them were involved with fertility cults.

“In the ninth century, for instance, the world was desperately underpopulated, so women became very important,” Kroeger said.

“During menstruation, men forced them into the fields, believing their blood would make the crops better.

“In those days it took five children to produce one living, healthy child,” Kroeger said. “So there were sacred prostitutes in the pagan temples.”

There were phallic sculptures all over, she said, “and there was considerable promiscuity, especially in the night festivals, which were orgies.”

Kroeger founded Christians for Biblical Equality in 1987, the same year she received her doctorate in classical studies and the year she turned 61. The organization now has 2,000 members in 40 chapters, and growth is steady.

“Increasingly we have significant scholars who will identify with us,” Kroeger said. “Many religious bodies, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have asked us to come and talk about equality.”

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a 2.5-million-member denomination headquartered in St. Louis, does not ordain women, and some congregations still bar women from voting.

Christians for Biblical Equality spreads its message through conferences, books about heroic women, and small-group chats with clergy.

“You just win them one at a time,” Kroeger said. “When I can sit down with them over a cup of coffee, they listen. That’s the key.

“You have to be nice, soft-sell and biblical. They want to hear. That doesn’t mean they will do anything, but they will listen.”

The older church leaders who hold power in conservative denominations, Kroeger says, will never change.

“We’re not going to win them,” she says. “But there are people around the edges, and that’s where change starts. We’re in this for the long haul.”

The New Testament that Kroeger has produced is the New Revised Standard Version, with copious commentary, major articles on hot issues such as inclusive language, and insights on how to interpret the Bible from a woman’s point of view.

There are also shorter articles on everything from goddess worship to translation of the original Greek words. All of this gives the reader clear alternatives to commentaries written by men.

Kroeger teaches women’s studies and biblical interpretation at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston.

After talking with Kroeger, it occurred to me that those stubborn males in churches that deny women full rights are going to lose the battle.

Over all of U.S. Christianity, women are claiming power as never before and entering into the all-boys clubs at the top of the ecclesiastical ladder. Some theological seminaries have a population of 50 percent women, and a few are closing in on 75 percent.

When women form a critical mass in the more liberal denominations, men will be forced to relinquish some of the power. But even before that, enlightened men will begin to work within their denominations to allow women to become a viable force.

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This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO WRITE To contact Christians for Biblical Equality, write to P.O. Box 7155, St. Paul, MN 55107-0155.


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