Concilium

Herbert Anderson – « A theology for reimagining masculinities »

1. Introduction

The history of Christian theology is replete with images and pronouncements that promote patriarchy, valorize masculine preeminence, and subjugate women to a status inferior to men. Such perspectives have changed and are changing slowly as a consequence of an emerging understanding of gender fluidity that has replaced old binaries of gender. The intersectionality of gender with wealth and race has simultaneously complicated the process and intensified the need for change. Conversely, freedom for more nuanced gender identities will be enhanced by religious contexts that challenge gender hierarchies.  

Christian theologians have been slow to challenge the reigning presumptions about masculinity, even as feminist theologians have posed nuanced and sophisticated analyses of the impact of gendered language on Christian thought and practice. This essay challenges persistent patriarchal images of male dominance within Christian theology and practice. Raewyn Connell, in the first essay in this volume of Concilium, says: 

‘Godhead is commonly perceived as masculine in a social and cultural context where power and authority are understood as masculine […]. Since hegemonic masculinities are based on the subordination of other masculinities, it is not surprising that patriarchal religions police expressions of masculinity.’

The reluctance to rethink masculinity is sustained not only by intractable male images of God but also by the promotion of human dominion over creation; dualisms that persist in patriarchal social institutions based in essentialist understandings of the human being limit our exploration of multiple masculinities. Such dualisms are contexts of patriarchal violence. It is incumbent on Christian theologians to redress enduring presumptions of male preeminence that continue to support hegemonic masculinity.

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