God is a Big God Who Fits into Orthodoxy?
The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory written by Dr. Abigail Favale engages the subject of gender theory and its impact on one’s identity from a historical, biological, and philosophical perspective while applying a narrow theological construction. Her agenda is, “analyzing the genealogy of gender, providing an account of how the gender paradigm emerged and how it compares to the paradigm of Catholic Christianity.” She unpacks her perspective on the benefits and constraints of the feminist movement with intention. I appreciate her point that people of Christian faith must wrestle with the tension our postmodern world presents in holding the truth we know and believe with the “reality” of our experience.
But I need to be honest here. Though I understand Dr. Favales subtitle communicates that she is only offering one Christian theory amongst many, I found myself deeply concerned regarding the impact her application of Biblical concepts has on those wrestling theologically with faith, gender, identity, justice, and community. Her either/or black or white interpretation reveals her lack of critical thinking. What follows are quotes that struck me and my reflections on how I find Dr. Favale’s understanding of orthodoxy in Biblical interpretation troubling.
The task for women is to create a distinctively feminine understanding of God, one that can facilitate our “becoming” as women. Irigaray doesn’t think that women need to be free from religion; rather, they need to belong to a religion of their own making.
Her orthodoxy leads to black and white, either/or thinking that leads to rigidity leaving no room for the Spirit to transform our human constructions. If God is such a big God why can’t my experience and someone else’s experience still belong within the same understanding of God?
Feminism rightly recognizes that something is amiss, that the relationship between men and women has been too often characterized by domination. However, blind to the dimension of grace, the solutions offered by its theories are themselves caught in the fallen forces of conflict, in the continual grasping for power over others.
I do agree with this. To think any group has the exclusive lock on truth is surely grasping for power. But I do not agree the argument for gender binary is the purpose of Genesis. I think power is the heart of this, but scripture does not claim Adam and Eve were thinking in “gender power” terms. When we apply where we are now in history by projecting it onto biblical stories, we push the boundaries of what God intends. The Fall speaks to power hunger in basic straight forward terms; humans’ greed for power to be like God.
That is how God enters into our world and reveals himself, through the incarnational reality of Christ, who became a body that we might know and love the invisible God. The Incarnation is both a historical moment, a plot on the timeline of the world story, and an eternal moment.
Yes, but God is always transforming how humans understand and experience life. Jesus always pushed people to let go of what we know so that we can receive what better life God offers. Didn’t Jesus tell Mary not to hold onto his body? The dynamic of the “here/not yet” of kingdom life is missing in Favale’s theology. She seems to miss the theological psychology of how humans fear of death drives what we do with our bodies.
Despite its so-called progressivism, the current portrayal of intersex people as neither men nor women is simply the latest version of this othering—the updated, politically permissible way of saying “freak” and “It”.
I agree with her that it is dehumanizing but it also impacts a sense of acceptance. This seems like a blatant hypocrisy on her part; one way of being in body is ok but the needs of others that manifest in another way is not?
We are living in the Age of Pygmalion…In the original myth, Pygmalion [after sculpting the perfect woman] wants to marry her, to bring her to his bed; in our time, Pygmalion wants to be her. Instead of a sculptor’s tools, he works with scalpel and syringe. Instead of stone, he carves his fantasy into his own flesh.
JUST WOW! This statement is profoundly inflammatory and judgmental for she projects her truth of her God onto others and essentially dehumanizes, the thing she says postmodernism has done. It is here where I realize that my heart is not really impassioned around this issue of feminism and gender identity. As Henry David Thoreau says, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” We expend hours and energy on a plethora of issues while avoiding the root, human greed for power. This greed fuels retributive justice, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and functional atheism festering within churches.
For centuries the church universal that has given men a sense of authority over a woman’s body. The church has communicated that to enjoy one’s sexuality and sex is improper. The church has created a culture where sex is bad. And the church has taught women they don’t get a say.
The idea that women exist primarily for the pleasure of men has never been more explicit, more omnipresent, than in our ostensibly feminist age.
I disagree. Only when the church starts owning the misuse of power, opens a space to own the pain and suffering it has done to the sexuality of women, will there be a shift in healing. A shift in healing for women means a shift in healing for men.
Dr. Favale seems driven by the desire that humans can embrace the gift of our physical bodies as sacramental revelation to celebrate and embody the love of God and our love for God. I deeply appreciate the heart of her hope. The journey there will require leaders to be courageous enough to stop blindly whacking at limbs and confront the root of humanity’s brokenness, our deep hunger for being powerful.
 Favale, Abigail. The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. San Francisco California: Ignatius Press, 2022. Page 27. Kindle.
 Ibid. Page 19. Kindle.
 Ibid. Page 45. Kindle.
Ibid. Page 120. Kindle.
 Ibid. Page 122. Kindle.
 Ibid. Page 141. Kindle.
 Ibid. Page151. Kindle.
13 responses to “God is a Big God Who Fits into Orthodoxy?”
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Nicole, thank you for processing this and bringing in the correlation of gender-power dynamics.
Do you think one of the book’s missteps was trying to compare nonbinary sexual and gender dynamics to feminism? Do you think it is an error to attempt to correlate one’s struggle to the journey of others when instead, one should try their best to listen and empathize?
Andy I am not sure it was a misstep as much as attempting to compare apples and oranges.
You asked, “Do you think it is an error to attempt to correlate one’s struggle to the journey of others when instead, one should try their best to listen and empathize?” I think it is an error if one uses correlation as a way to garner empathy and then turn around and trounce on the other.
Nicole, one of the reason’s I chose GFU over another school was because of the “broadly evangelical” nature of the students. I wanted to understand more about followers of Jesus who think/believe differently than I do. This post is a great help to me. Thank you for engaging the book in ways that challenge it. I have great respect for your critical thinking applied here. Switching gears a bit for a question: how do you seek to undo power dynamics that play out in your church? How do you as a senior leader guard against “powering up?”
Thank you Nicole. I agree with Roy. I have great appreciation for your perspective, and you’re communicating thoughts on this block. For you, and consideration of Genesis, where, and how does design fit into humanity, gender, and sexuality?
Thank you Eric.
For me Genesis is first and foremost offering humans insight into who God is and then who humans are in relationship to God. Genesis offers us insight into understanding our broken ways, the ways we separate ourselves from God and each other. In honesty I don’t think God was as interested in our gender as much as how we are inclined to break community with our lust for power.
Thank you Roy. Let me say I appreciate your grace in which you engage others who sit in a different place than yourself! In this you curate a safe space to engage.
My first approach to “undue” power dynamics is to encourage self-reflection and bring attention to biases as well as ways we all need to practice self-differentiation. I think this also helps provide a space where I pay attention to my mutated human nature’s tendency to rationalize my need for power. I must keep Philippians 2:1-8 in front of me constantly.
Nicole, I could tell this really got you. I appreciate your perspective on Favale. I agree with Roy, that it is good to see the issue from many perspectives. I really liked this line, “The journey there will require leaders to be courageous enough to stop blindly whacking at limbs and confront the root of humanity’s brokenness, our deep hunger for being powerful.” I get this sense that what you are getting at takes us back to the healing and restorative nature in Friedman. How would he engage with Favale?
Denise I think Friedman would challenge Favale on her anxiety over this subject. He would likely see it in her lack of taking responsibility for her choices and lack of self-differentiation on her journey. I think he would also challenge her on the nature of how she understands the tension between individuality and togetherness.
Nicole: Your post and our conversation this week gives me much to consider in relation to this specific reading. When narrowing in on the power issues at play likely being the root cause, do you also see that reflected in our inability as a society at large to allow people to have a perspective that is different than our own without having to correct/be right/argue/defend? I wonder if it goes back to the garden (Gen. 3:5) with the enemy stating that “…For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” I would be interested in your thoughts.
Kayli, in short yes!
I think the Lord knew that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil reveals the truth that humans do not have the capacity to deal with knowledge of good and evil. The more we know the more cynical and dangerous we become. The more we know the less open and vulnerable we become…..so yes, knowledge of good and evil has impacted the joy, the ability to be drenched in beauty and good all hours of the day and night and therefore has killed us.
Nicole: I also appreciate Dr. Favale’s desire for humans to embrace the gift of their physical bodies as sacramental revelation and to celebrate and embody the love of God. It is one of her premises that appears time and again throughout her book. So many people do not look at their bodies in such a way, but only critique their bodies and feel like they aren’t acceptable.
Hi Nicole…thank you so very much for your post and interactions with Favale’s work. In addition to your reflections on power, I was also struck by your reflections on the nature of God and issues of what is considered orthodox (what breadth of theology is considered orthodox…narrow or wide). You ask: “If God is such a big God why can’t my experience and someone else’s experience still belong within the same understanding of God?”
One of my takeaways from the book was the issue of worldviews and how that impacts the way in which we posture ourselves in our world. I’m curious as you ask the above question (and wrestle with the rest of Favale’s work), how do you understand and experience worldview? What influences have shaped your worldview and how does your above question flow from your worldview?
A related takeaway for me–realizing how many influences have implicitly shaped my current worldview and realizing my worldview has some internal inconsistencies to it. Not sure any worldview is entirely coherent/consistent…but I want to take some time to more deeply ponder mine. Favale’s work brought this to light for me.
Elmarie, experience has shaped my worldview. As I put my experience in conversation with things I read/see I reflect on how those things inform how I understand the world. I also believe that the Holy Spirit continues to guide and convict and encourage through all these things. It is a continual process allowing what I think I know to be sharpened or dulled, to become more in focus or to fade away. To be open to the truth God has for me in this moment while also being vulnerable to the other side of truth (if you will) that God surely has the capacity to transform what I know for what God knows the world needs and my place in it.