A Feminist Pentecostal Theological Anthropology

A Feminist Pentecostal Theological Anthropology

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Pneuma 35 (2013) 35-47

A Feminist Pentecostal Theological Anthropology:

North America and Beyond

Lisa P. Stephenson Lee University, P.O. Box 3450, Cleveland TN 37320



In this article I focus on developing a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology that can benefit Pentecostal women. I begin by highlighting various Pentecostal scholars whose anthro- pologies adopt the approaches of the imago Dei (a theo-logical approach) and the imago Christi (a christological approach). For all the merits that these two approaches have, they are ultimately inadequate on their own for Pentecostals as they have been presented thus far, because they lack a strong pneumatological component. Therefore, I expand the traditional theo-logical and christological approaches by highlighting the role of the Spirit in constituting the imago Dei and imago Christi, and by articulating a third way, the imago Spiritus, which enables pneumatology to stand on its own as a further approach to affirming women’s full humanity. I conclude by highlighting some of the issues Pentecostal women face globally and note how this anthropology can be beneficial for Pentecostal women worldwide.


theological anthropology, pneumatology, theological method, feminist theology, Pentecostalism, violence against women


It is no secret that the event of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is a cornerstone for Pentecostalism. This text has informed Pentecostal praxis as well as Pentecostal doctrine. Yet, it is conspicuously absent in the area of theo- logical anthropology. Some wonder why the pneumatological magna carta of Acts 2 has never really translated into a fully liberating praxis for Pentecostal women. How can a tradition that claims that the Spirit is poured out on sons and daughters also employ a dualistic anthropology? Unfortunately, some Pen- tecostals have fused an ideology of Spirit empowerment with a hierarchical anthropology, rather than allowing the outpouring of the Spirit to disrupt entrenched anthropological paradigms.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/15700747-12341270



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Recently a number of North American Pentecostal scholars, including Deborah Gill, Barbara Cavaness, Hollis Gause, and Cheryl Bridges Johns, have challenged this dualistic anthropology.1 While their works are concerned with the issue of women in leadership in the church, ultimately they present a cohe- sive theological anthropology because they recognize that the restricted free- dom that women have had within Pentecostal churches is symptomatic of a deficient anthropology. These scholars do not explicitly associate the label “feminist” with their ideas, but their works constitute a foundation from which a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology can emerge.

What these works lack, however, is a strong pneumatological component. Their primary approach is to utilize the imago Dei (a theo-logical approach) and the imago Christi (a christological approach) as the two substantive argu- ments for theological anthropology.2 For all their merits, these two approaches are ultimately inadequate on their own for Pentecostals as they have been pre- sented thus far. Pneumatology is a dominant orienting motif that is a primary part of Pentecostals’ spirituality, and it should have a more dominant role within a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology. Therefore, I will expand the traditional theo-logical and christological approaches by highlighting the role of the Spirit in constituting the imago Dei and imago Christi, and will also articulate a third way, the imago Spiritus, which enables pneumatology to stand on its own as a further approach to affirming women’s full humanity.3 In addition, although the construction of this anthropology emerges within a North American context, it is not limited to such. I will note how this expanded anthropology can benefit women around the world.

Even though constructing a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology is my primary objective, there is a secondary one that is more subtle than the first. For years scholars have been apt to note that the Spirit has been the

1 Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women Then and Now (Springfield: Grace & Truth, 2004); Kimberly Ervin Alexander and R. Hollis Gause, Women in Leadership: A Pentecostal Perspective (Cleveland, TN: Center for Pentecostal Leadership and Care, 2006); Cheryl Bridges Johns, “Spirited Vestments: Or, Why the Anointing Is Not Enough,” in Philip’s Daughters: Women in Pentecostal-Charismatic Leadership, ed. Estrelda Alexander and Amos Yong (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009), 170-84. Although Kimberly Ervin Alexander coauthored Women in Leadership with Gause, the content that I am concerned with is specifically attributed to Gause and thus I refer only to him.

2 I am using “theo-logical” to indicate reference to the doctrine of God proper rather than to theology understood in the broad sense.

3 I offer a more comprehensive feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology in my book Dis- mantling the Dualisms for American Pentecostal Women in Ministry: A Feminist-Pneumatological Approach (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012), 89-135.


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neglected person of the Trinity.4 Feminist scholars in particular have pointed out that this neglected person of the Trinity also happens to be the one that the Bible associates with female imagery and experience.5 Commenting on this phenomenon, Nicola Slee remarks that the “neglect of the Spirit seems to bear some direct relation to the repression and marginalization of women them- selves. The hiddenness, anonymity, and invisibility of women is mirrored and reflected in the facelessness and namelessness of the Spirit in Christian wor- ship, theology, and life.”6 Accordingly, it is not a coincidence that I argue for the presence of the Spirit in the theological approaches examined below while simultaneously arguing for the full humanity of women. If a lack of subjectivity of the Spirit is reflected in the lack of subjectivity of women, then perhaps the recovery of one can provoke recovery of the other.7

Towards a Feminist Pentecostal Theological Anthropology

The imago Dei and imago Christi are two religious symbols that have served as the primary means of asserting human value and worth. That persons are made in the image of God and renewed in this image through Christ are two theo- logical indicatives that also function as ethical imperatives. These two religious symbols have been used to assert the full humanity and equality of every Chris- tian; thus they require that persons be treated in such a way that is befitting of this identity.

The imago Dei approach can be understood as a theo-logical one because it emphasizes the fundamental premise that women are equal to men on the

4 For a list of various contemporary theologians and their metaphors for describing this neglect of the Spirit see Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 130.

5 This has led to the notion of a feminine Spirit among some. See Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol. 3, trans. David Smith (New York: The Seabury Press, 1983), 155-64; Leonardo Boff, The Maternal Face of God: The Feminine and Its Religious Expressions, trans. Robert R. Barr and John W. Diercksmeier (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987), 61-103; Donald L. Gelpi, The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1984). Although identifying the Spirit with the feminine may sound promising, however, feminists have noted the problems associated with this. See Johnson, She Who Is, 50-54; Sarah Coakley, “ ‘Femininity’ and the Holy Spirit?” in Mirror to the Church: Reflections on Sexism, ed. Monica Furlong (London: SPCK, 1988), 124-35.

6 Nicola Slee, “The Holy Spirit and Spirituality,” in The Cambridge Companion to Feminist The- ology, ed. Susan Frank Parsons (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 172.

7 I am not suggesting a causative relationship between the two, but rather a symbolic affinity. See Johnson, She Who Is, 131.



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basis of creation (Gen 1:27). This type of argument essentially grounds the foundation for equality between the sexes in the fact that both male and female have been made in the imago Dei. Deborah Gill and Barbara Cavaness use this approach in their book God’s Women Then and Now. They claim that male and female are equally made in God’s image and that the ideal that God presented in creation is one of equality, mutuality, unity, and intimacy.8 Likewise, Hollis Gause uses this approach in the book Women in Leadership. He maintains that both male and female are made in the imagoDei — though they are distinct in their maleness and femaleness — and the authority and dignity that God gave to humankind is given equally to both male and female.9

Cheryl Bridges Johns adopts a somewhat more nuanced approach to the imago Dei in her essay “Spirited Vestments.” Johns proposes a trinitarian approach to the imago Dei, and thus claims that the image of God is defined by relationality. Since a traditional characteristic of women is that they define themselves in relation to others, a trinitarian relational understanding of God affirms that women’s own constitution as such is truly an image of God. More- over, within the Trinity each one of the persons exists in co-inherence and unity with the other two without dissolving the other’s distinctiveness. Whereas women have tended to suspend their personhood for the sake of relationships, the trinitarian imago Dei critiques this loss of personhood and suggests the importance of women developing and retaining their own identity. Johns also claims that Pentecostals should image God as masculine and feminine. By this she means that we locate the male and female element of being within the full- ness of the Godhead. The female element is seen in God’s state of relationality and as the source of life. The male element is seen in God’s ability to maintain distinction among the three persons. Both of these identities are essential in understanding what it means to be made in the imago Dei.10

The imago Christi approach can be understood as a christological one that emphasizes the fundamental premise that women are equal to men on the basis of new creation. This type of argument essentially grounds the founda- tion for equality between the sexes in the fact that both male and female par- ticipate in Christ’s redemption and restoration, especially through the act of water baptism (Gal 3:26-28). They are now imago Christi and, as such, distinc- tions based on one’s sex are no longer significant. Gill and Cavaness present a form of this approach in their book as they identify the arrival of Jesus Christ as

 8 Gill and Cavaness, God’s Women Then and Now, 35-43.  9 Alexander and Gause, Women in Leadership, 25-46. 10 Johns, “Spirited Vestments,” 179-83.


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the next pivotal moment for theological anthropology after the Garden of Eden. Through Jesus’ life and death, God’s ideal for males and females is mod- eled and affected. Moreover, the cross reversed the effects of the fall and restored women’s status to God’s ideal as expressed in the Garden of Eden. As a part of this New Covenant, water baptism has replaced circumcision and all believers are covered with a new identity that eradicates any form of discrimi- nation on the basis of former identities — Gentile, slave, or female.11 Gause echoes similar ideas in his coauthored book as he asserts that it is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that bring the restoration of the image of God to humans. God has provided for the removal of the curse of sin as well as its destructive effects. Because the image is restored, no human hierarchical sys- tems should be operative among the redeemed of Christ.12

A Pneumatological Perspective

While I am not opposed to the imago Dei or imago Christi approaches and real- ize that they can be fruitful for Pentecostals, pneumatology is largely absent in the works sketched above. This is true with respect both to the Spirit’s work in constituting either the imago Dei or the imago Christi and to its ability to stand on its own as a separate but complementary way to the theo-logical and chris- tological arguments. However, this pneumatological component is necessary for a more Pentecostal anthropology as well as a more trinitarian one. What follows is a pneumatological expansion of the imago Dei and the imago Christi approaches as well as a third one of the imago Spiritus. All three of these approaches — imago Dei, imago Christi, and imago Spiritus — constitute a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology.

Imago Dei and Imago Christi

Genesis 1:26-27 serves as the foundational text for an imago Dei approach. These particular verses are located within the larger pericope of Genesis 1:1- 2:4a, which constitutes the first creation account. The imago Dei approach is devoid of pneumatology because due attention has not been given to Genesis 1:2. It is here in the narrative that the ruach elohim emerges. Debate has ensued over whether or not ruach should be translated as “wind” or “spirit.” If it is the former, then elohim may in fact function as a superlative, rendering the phrase

11 Gill and Cavaness, God’s Women Then and Now, 73-83, 99-100, 192. 12 Alexander and Gause, Women in Leadership, 26-28, 30, 44-45, 59-66, 74.



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“great wind.” Throughout Genesis, however, elohim is used to refer to the divine name, and nowhere else in scripture does the phrase ever mean “great wind.” Consequently, ruach elohim should be taken to refer to some manifestation of God, whether as wind or as spirit.13 Wolfhart Pannenberg suggests that wind and spirit need not be mutually exclusive, and that in fact it may be best here to understand God’s Spirit as a wind, similar to Ezekiel 37:9f. This view depicts the life-giving wind or breath of God without which the movement of the air is still.14

Proceeding with the understanding of ruach elohim as Spirit of God, this Spirit plays a central role in the first creation narrative; among other things, it helps to constitute the imago Dei. On the one hand, there is a significant rela- tionship between the Spirit of God with the chaos. In contrast to other creation myths, the chaos in the Genesis narrative is not an enemy to be overcome, but, rather, raw material that is waiting to be formed. The word used to describe God’s Spirit over the waters contains an air of expectation. The Spirit’s move- ment over the waters is a prelude to God’s creative act, indicating that what is chaos will soon become promise.15

On the other hand, there is a significant relationship between the Spirit of God and the word of God. Scholars have noted the difference between the effortlessness of the biblical creation story with that of the bitter struggle con- tained in the pagan creation myths. They have credited this contrast to the word of God. However, while it does appear that the word of God brings forth life, it is a significant omission to discount the Spirit of God that readies the chaos for the word. The process of creation begins not with God’s speech, but with God’s Spirit. The word presupposes the Spirit and is spoken in the Spirit. Moreover, to overlook the presence of ruach in the creation process is to ignore the feminine element within the narrative. It is not just that ruach is gram- matically feminine, but also that some believe that the imagery evoked in Gen- esis 1:2 is an allusion to femaleness. That is, the Spirit is hovering over the world like a mother bird hovers over her egg. George Montague describes the ruach elohim as that which “proceeds from God himself and prepares, in natural fash- ion, the primeval womb-dark formlessness to hear the cosmifying word of

13 Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1a, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 135-36; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1, Word Bibli- cal Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 16-17.

14 Cf. Gen 2:7. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 78.

15 George T. Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (New York: Paulist Press, 1976), 66-67.


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God.”16 God’s Spirit and word work together to conceive creation — a fore- shadowing of the beginning of new creation when once again the Spirit and word work together in the incarnation and the Word becomes flesh as the presence of the Spirit overshadows Mary.

In all of the ordering, making, naming, and blessing of creation — including the creation of humans — is the presupposition of the presence of the Spirit. The presence and efficacy of the Spirit in, through, and with “God said” and “there was” is the hidden beginning of the creation of the world. In the creation narrative, life begins with the Spirit. In the creation narrative, the imago Dei begins with the Spirit.17 A pneumatological approach to the creation narrative highlights the fact that before creation is, the Spirit of God is. A pneumatologi- cal approach to the narrative also foreshadows humanity’s new creation in and through the Spirit.

Galatians 3:26-28 serves as the foundational text for an imago Christi approach. While the word “image” is not found in this text, the idea does emerge in the New Testament (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10) and appears to be echoed here. To “put on” Christ (v. 27) and to be “in Christ” (v. 28) evokes iconic imagery. The implication behind this language is to suggest that when one puts on Christ and is in Christ, one takes on the characteristics, vir- tues, and intentions of Christ so that one actually becomes like him.18 The effect of this new identity, imago Christi, is that former divisions and inequali- ties (such as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female) are replaced with Christ’s identity.

This leads to the concern of the presence of pneumatology in such an approach, which is thus far one-sided. But it need not be, and, in fact, is not when one looks at the life of Christ as narrated in the New Testament. There is significant attention given to the role of the Spirit in the life, ministry, and even death of Jesus Christ. To focus on the centrality of the Spirit for Jesus is to adopt a Spirit Christology, which complements a LogosChristology and offers a pneu- matological dimension to the imago Christi approach. The purpose of Spirit

16 Montague, The Holy Spirit, 67. Hermann Gunkel expounds on the connection in Gen 1:2 between Spirit and a mother bird in Genesis, trans. Mark E. Biddle (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 105-6. See also Johnson, She Who Is, 83f.

17 D. Lyle Dabney, “The Nature of the Spirit: Creation as a Premonition of God,” in Starting with the Spirit, ed. Gordon Preece and Stephen Pickard (Hindmarsh, S. Aust.: Australian Theological Forum, 2001), 98-99.

18 Cf. Rom 13:14, Eph 4:24, and Col 3:10. Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 172; Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, vol. 41, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 156.



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Christology is to locate Christ’s mission as an aspect of the Spirit’s mission rather than vice versa.19 More importantly, for the purposes of imago Christi, Spirit Christology realizes that in order to take on Christ’s characteristics, vir- tues, and intentions one must recognize the role of the Spirit in constituting and influencing Christ’s characteristics, virtues, and intentions.

In the Gospels, the story of Jesus does not begin with his birth, but rather with the overshadowing of the Spirit upon Mary (Matt 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). Yet again, female functions and imagery emerge in connection with the Spirit.20 Similar to creation, the Spirit moves over formlessness and void — this time that of Mary’s womb — and produces life. The presence of the Spirit is presup- posed in the incarnation similar to the way in which it is presupposed in creation. After Jesus’ birth, his growth and development are related to the pres- ence of the Spirit, as he is described as becoming strong in Spirit (Luke 2:40). In Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit is also at work descending on him in the form of a dove, which is a symbol of divine female power.21 This descending dove signifies his anointing as the Christ and the power by which he will minister to others (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32-33). Jesus is led by the Spirit (Matt 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 2:27; 4:1, 14). Jesus describes his own ministry in terms of the Spirit’s empowerment (Matt 12:28; Luke 4:18; John 3:34). And Jesus is resurrected by the vivifying power and presence of the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Pet 3:18).

From beginning to end, the Spirit is involved in the life of Jesus such that their missions are intertwined. If the Spirit was constitutive of Christ’s life, should we not also expect the Spirit to play a role in constituting the imago Christi? Based on a Spirit Christology, it is only possible to “image” Christ — to live a life that is consistent with Jesus’s compassionate and liberating life in the world — through the power and presence of the Spirit. Ultimately, an imago Christi approach cannot be devoid of pneumatology because the life of Christ was not devoid of the Spirit.

19 See Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 79-82; Ralph Del Colle, “Spirit-Christology: Dogmatic Foundations for Pentecostal-Charismatic Spirituality,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3 (1993): 91-112; Myk Habets, “Spirit Christology: Seeing in Stereo,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11, no. 2 (2003): 199-234. 20 Spirit Christology does not represent the feminine as explicitly as wisdom Christology, but it is there nonetheless. Feminist theology has devoted much attention to wisdom Christology, but it has largely neglected Spirit Christology as another helpful and viable feminist approach. 21 Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 60-61; Ann Belford Ulanov, The Feminine in Jungian Psychology and in Christian Theology (Evan- ston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 325.


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Imago Spiritus

The imago Spiritus approach emphasizes the fundamental premise that women are equal to men on the basis of new creation, but its starting point is pneuma- tology rather than theo-logy or Christology per se. Specifically, for Pentecos- tals, the starting point is Spirit baptism, a topic on which one finds continuity with a christological approach on three counts. First, the same metaphorical imagery is used to describe both water baptism and Spirit baptism. That is, whereas Paul describes water baptism as a “putting on” (enduo) of Christ (Gal 3:27), Luke describes Spirit baptism as a “putting on” (enduo) of the Spirit (Luke 24:49). Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had “put on” power from on high. In Acts it becomes clear that this power from on high is in fact the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-8; 2). Therefore, the Spirit, like Christ, is a garment that envelops the believer. Just as water baptism clothes believers in Christ so that they are the imago Christi, so, too, Spirit baptism clothes believ- ers in the Spirit so that they are the imago Spiritus.

Second, in regard to new creation, Spirit baptism accomplishes the same function as water baptism. For Pauline theology in general, the idea of new creation is characterized by an Adam Christology (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 44-49). Within this paradigm, parallels are drawn between creation and new creation, Adam and Jesus, disobedience and obedience, death and eternal life. In Galatians 3:26-28 Paul notes that the way in which believers can participate in this new creation is through water baptism. The idea of new creation is also present in Luke-Acts, although here it is presented specifically as the restora- tion of Israel, and it is Spirit baptism that incorporates persons into this new reality.22 Those who have been baptized in the Spirit become a part of Israel’s restoration and thus of the new creation that is being brought forth. Moreover, participation in this new creation through the Spirit is not limited. Israel is receiving its restoration, but the boundaries of that restoration are being expanded to include those who had heretofore been on the margins. Because

22 The idea of the restoration of Israel as Luke-Act’s understanding of new creation emerges from the Isaianic New Exodus motif employed in Luke-Acts. Several scholars claim that the theo- logical vision in Luke-Acts is informed by the postexilic hopes expressed in Isaiah 40-55 and that this influence is so extensive that it constitutes a hermeneutical framework through which Luke- Acts should be read. See Mark L. Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995); Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield, UK: Shef- field Academic Press, 1996); David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000); Michael E. Fuller, The Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2006).



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the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, this restoration is not limited to Israel as conceived biologically, but now encompasses the new Israel as con- ceived spiritually.

Third, the ethical imperative necessitated by participation in water baptism is the same with Spirit baptism. For Paul, water baptism provides a person with a new identity — son of God — that makes former identities meaningless. Consequently, the ethical implications of this identity are not just spiritual — before God there are no ethnic, social, or sexual distinctions — but address societal and cultural implications. The equality manifest before God should also be manifest within the community.23 One can see an example of this in the situation that emerged in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) in which Peter and Barnabas had engaged in table fellowship with the Gentile Christians but discontinued it after pressure from Jerusalem. Paul publicly confronts their behavior and con- demns it because they were not in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal 6:15). This ethical imperative emerges in Luke-Acts as well, but in connection with Spirit baptism. Here, the substance of the theological argument focuses on Spirit baptism as the means by which former identities are rendered meaning- less. The restoration of Israel is characterized by a renewal of social orders. This is seen not only at the initial outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost where the citation from Joel points to a revolutionized community of “Israel” (Acts 2), but also throughout Acts as groups previously excluded from full identity as a part of the people of God are now welcomed into the community: the Samar- itans (Acts 8:4-25), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39), and the Gentiles (Acts 10-11).24 Approaching theological anthropology through the lens of Lukan pneumatology places emphasis on Spirit baptism as the culmination and effect of the new creation, and this necessitates a different form of praxis among rela- tionships with others.

23 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “The Praxis of Coequal Discipleship,” in Paul and Empire: Reli- gion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg: Trinity Press Inter- national, 1997), 226.

24 Matthias Wenk, “The Fullness of the Spirit: Pentecostalism and the Spirit,” Evangel 21, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 43; idem, Community-Forming Power: The Socio-Ethical Role of the Spirit in Luke- Acts (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 236, 291-307. For other works related to these ideas see Matthias Wenk, “Community Forming Power: Reconciliation and the Spirit in Acts,” The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 19 (1999): 17-33; idem, “The Holy Spirit as Transforming Power within a Society: Pneumatological Spirituality and Its Political/Social Rel- evance for Western Europe,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11, no. 1 (2002): 130-42.


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A Feminist Pentecostal Theological Anthropology Made to Travel

The feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology noted above emerges in North America largely because of the ecclesial restrictions women still face in some Pentecostal traditions. Even though this particular situation has precipi- tated this theology, however, it is in no way limited to it, in either content or context. That is, theological anthropology is a root issue behind many of the problems faced by women within North America and abroad, inside the church and out.

As Estrelda Alexander has put it, the “situation in the church is only the tip of an iceberg of global proportions rooted in a highly resistant strain of misogyny.”25 The dehumanizing attitudes and actions toward women are attested to when one looks at the violence against women that is taking place around the world.26 This form of violence is not just a manifestation of gender inequality but also a means of maintaining an unequal balance of power. Charlotte Watts and Cathy Zimmerman observe:

In some cases, perpetrators consciously use violence as a mechanism for subordina- tion. . . . For other forms of violence, the subordination of women might not be the explicit motivation of the perpetrator, but is nevertheless a consequence of his actions. . . . Women themselves frequently do not challenge the accepted norms of female behaviour because of the fear of being attacked or raped. Thus, women’s unequal status helps to create their vulnerability to violence, which in turn fuels the violence perpetrated against them.27

In order to understand the scope of the problem, consider the following trou- bling statistics.28 Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women. Data gathered between 1986 and 2002 from more than fifty population-based surveys reveal that between 10 and 50 percent of women

25 Estrelda Alexander, “Presidential Address 2010: When Liberation Becomes Survival,” Pneuma 32, no. 3 (2010): 343.

26 Global violence against women is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.” Charlotte Watts and Cathy Zimmerman, “Violence against Women: Global Scope and Magnitude,” The Lan- cet 359 (April 6, 2002): 1232. Focus on violence against women does not negate the fact that men experience violence, but because it differs in its etiology and response, strategies to it should be considered separately.

27 Watts and Zimmerman, “Violence against Women,” 1232. Italics added.

28 Because of the nature of the subject, violence against women is almost universally under- reported. Findings should be understood to represent minimum levels of violence that occur. See Watts and Zimmerman, “Violence against Women,” 1232.



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who have ever had an intimate male partner have been physically assaulted by that partner at some point in their lives. In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa, and the United States, 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their male partners. Systematic rape has left millions of women and adolescent girls traumatized, forcibly impregnated, or infected with HIV. Each year an estimated 700,000 to 2 million women and girls are trafficked across international borders. This number does not include the substantial number of women and girls who are bought and sold within their own countries, for which scant data is available. Female genital mutilation/cutting affects an estimated 130 million women and girls. Further, it is estimated that worldwide between 60 and 100 million women and girls are “missing” because of sex-selective abor- tion, female infanticide, and deliberate neglect of girls.29 Watts and Zimmer- man conclude, “Ultimately, the sheer scale of violence against women forces the question of what it will take to translate increasing recognition of the global prevalence of this abuse into meaningful, sustained, and widespread action.”30 While violence against women is a major human rights and public health concern, it should also be a major theological concern. A comprehensive solu- tion to the problem is certainly necessary, and one aspect of the action called for by Watts and Zimmerman has to be a theological response that not only denounces the violence, but also lifts women up as equal and valued human beings. Theological discourse must challenge injustice, not validate it.31 Par- ticularly for Pentecostals who live in the countries and communities in which this violence is taking place, a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology that emerges from and is energized by a pneumatologically oriented spiritual- ity enables Pentecostal women and men to denounce theologically the inequal- ities and injustice that surround them.32 Regardless of whether the problem is

29 Watts and Zimmerman, “Violence against Women,” 1233, 1235-36; “Violence against Women Fact Sheet,” 6 February 2012; available at http://unfpa.org/swp/2005/presskit/factsheets/ facts_vaw.htm.

30 Watts and Zimmerman, “Violence against Women,” 1237.

31 Puleng LenkaBula notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, women in neo-Pentecostal, Charis- matic, and African independent churches experience gender injustices that stem from the the- ologies that these churches are spreading. See Puleng LenkaBula, “The Shift of Gravity of the Church to Sub-Saharan Africa: Theological and Ecclesiological Implications for Women,” Interna- tional Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 8, no. 4 (November 2008): 294-98.

32 Pentecostals are not immune from mistreatment against women taking place in their own faith communities. Meredith Fraser describes how in Australia some Pentecostal women are sub- ject to an androcentric hierarchy, which causes particular problems in abusive marriages. Not only does this place women in unhealthy relationships, but it also serves to place the responsibil- ity for the relationship on them. Fraser recounts that “One woman who had endured consistently vicious and degrading verbal abuse coupled with life-threatening terror for years was told by her


L. P. Stephenson / Pneuma 35 (2013) 35-47


the exclusion of women from ministry positions because of their gender or their abuse by their husbands, what these issues have in common is that they stem from a devaluation of women as humans, wherein women are regarded as somehow less equal, less deserving, and less in God’s image than are men. Although the issues are different, the fundamental problem is the same. As Alexander comments, “the struggle is about allowing women of all races, ethnicities, classes, cultures, and religious traditions to be treated as fully human individuals who reflect God’s full image. It is about affording them the full dignity and respect that derives from that God-imaged createdness within every context — social, economic, spiritual, and ecclesial.”33

This is why a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology can serve women within North America and abroad. The approaches of the imago Dei, imago Christi, and imago Spiritus all reveal that the dualistic anthropology that has been utilized to oppress women does not conform to God’s intentions. God did not create male and female within a dualistic relationship in creation. And even though sin distorted this original equality, with the advent of new cre- ation persons are called and empowered through Christ and the Spirit to over- come the sinful tendency to continue to perpetuate a hierarchical anthropology. If Pentecostals adopt a feminist Pentecostal theological anthropology, they will be better equipped to respond to both local and global issues that face women.

pastor, when she sought help, that men are like gas ovens and woman are like electric ovens. Her pastor told her to forgive her husband for his years of unrelenting torment and to go home and make love to him. She reported that she nearly vomited as she received this advice.” Meredith Fraser, “A Feminist Theoethical Analysis of White Pentecostal Australian Women and Marital Abuse,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 19, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 154.

33 Alexander, “Presidential Address 2010,” 343.


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