Pittman has made some statements to which I feel a need to respond.
The religious teachings, principles, and faith in Jesus Christ are not the concepts from which Christian Wiccans are fleeing; instead, it is the cold heart of the Organized Church and the absence of love of a Heavenly Mother. (pp. 8-9)
In mainstream Christianity, the feminine aspect of the Divine does not exist. (p. 45)
There is some truth to these statements. However, to take them at face value is unfair (at the least) to (not so) recent theological endeavors.
Conservative evangelical theology accepts that the Bible identifies God as Father as does trinitarian theology, and therefore so do they. A few years ago I was at an Emergent conference in San Diego. A panel of three Christian scholars were fielding the issue of the divine feminine. The evangelical scholar asserted that the feminine was as much a part of God as the masculine. Another scholar pressed him on the issue and said, “then you have no problems calling God Mother, Daughter, Spirit.” The evangelical replied, “I think we should lean on traditional formulas.” So, even amid lipservice to the feminine side of God, it seems evangelicals have a hard time actually accepting it and validating it with their liturgical language. If this is what Pittman means by “mainstream” (conservative evangelical), then she has a point.
Mainline theology, on the other hand, is far more accepting of the use of feminine language for God. Mainliners concerned about the evil of marginalization have not overlooked the power of language and the reality of sexism. Feminists such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, Carol Gilligan, and Sallie McFague have a voice and influence. It is not uncommon for mainline Christians to accept the use of Her or She for God. We recognize that calling God “He” or “She” are merely discriptors that speak metaphoircally of that which is beyond. Inasmuch as Pittman silences such a perspective in her work, she chariactures Christianity and does it an injustice.
The moderate and progressive wings of mainline Chrsitianity (the conservative wing is really conservative evangelical) have actually moved beyond the issue of the masculine and feminine of God. Moreover, we have become leery of anthropomorphizing language. So, for the last 50 years or so, a more pressing question seems to be to what extent God can be understood as “personal” or “impersonal.” The shift has moved from a radical theism (God separate and out there) to various forms of panentheism (God in, with, and under; transcendent and immanent). Popular panentheist theologians include John Cobb with his process theology, Paul Tillich with his existential theology, and David Tracy with his God of the mystical, liminal experience. Other more radical theologians, such as Mark Talylor and Jack Caputo bring with them a deconstructionist bent. As theologians continue to arrive on the scene, it continues to evolve. Where it is going, we don’t know. But what we can say is that such work isn’t concerned with whether it is appropriate to speak of God in the feminine. The question is settled with the answer “obviously.”
I would like to know whether people are more inclined to move from an evangelical Christianity toward a Christian Wicca, or whether they primarily come from mainline Christianity. If they come from evangelicalism, then perhaps she has a point about the need to connect with the feminine of God driving people away from Christianity. But I doubt that is where they are coming from. Alongside Pittman’s work, I’ve also been reading Joyce and River Higgenbotham’s ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path. Those they interviewed seemed to come primarily from mainline Christianity, which is not hostile to feminine imagery for God. This leads me to believe that something else is key here: the decentralized authority structure of paganism is more in tune with the postmodern family romance than is that of mainline Christianity.
I should be fair to Pittman. The reason people move from Christianity to Christian Wicca isn’t a significant part of her book. My commentary doesn’t reflect the significance of her work. It just so happens that she touched a hot button of mine. I felt a need to respond. After all, this is a reflection, not a review.