A feminist analysis of the Emerging Church: toward radical participation in the organic, relational, and inclusive body of Christ
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This dissertation examines the ecclesiology of the Emerging Church from a feminist perspective. I focus on the theological critiques raised by early feminist theologians regarding the patriarchal habits of sexism and God-talk, systemic erasure and exclusion, and the interconnection of clericalism and hierarchical power embedded within the church. These critiques reveal areas within the Emerging Church where it has failed to embody its stated vision of being an organic, relational, and inclusive form of church. Constructive engagement with the challenges and contributions of feminist theology presses the Emerging Church to more radically embody its stated vision. An analysis of the literature on the Emerging Church reveals its commitment to form a church that reflects organicity, relationality, and inclusivity in a variety of creative forms. At the same time, the literature and public conversations on blogs, social media, and in conferences raise questions about the Emerging Church’s predominantly white and predominantly male public presentation, and about practices of exclusion and marginalization within it. This dissertation provides a thick description of the Emerging Church’s lived ecclesiology on the basis of a qualitative research study conducted on twelve Emerging Church congregations in the United States. The work of early feminist theologians such as Mary Daly, Nelle Morton, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, discloses the theological scaffolding that make the embedding of patriarchal and sexist structures and habits in the church possible in the first place. Their feminist vision of church as radical participation in Christ challenges the Emerging Church to keep re-visioning itself in light of the systemic marginalization persons continue to experience in the church. The dissertation concludes by arguing for the need to incorporate emancipatory language, God-talk, and symbolic systems into the theology and practices of Emerging Church in order to counter the deep-seated patriarchal habits and patterns within it. I conclude that to take itself seriously and achieve the substantive theological and structural changes for which its own vision calls as a living, participatory, and inclusive body of Christ, the Emerging Church must be willing to practice an explicitly feminist critique and take into account the contributions of early feminist theologians.
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