Feminism, Liberation and the Cross

Good Friday has come and gone for another year, and there is a part of me that would like to set aside thoughts of the cross for another year as well.

In the Mennonite churches I have called home, we have a tendency to avoid thinking about the cross and all it symbolizes when it isn’t Easter weekend. We tell ourselves it’s because we focus on Jesus’ life and his ministry rather than on his death and resurrection. There is definitely truth and value in this, but I know that for myself I have also avoided thinking about the cross because it makes me uncomfortable. Actually, sometimes the cross makes me angry.

For a long time the symbol of the cross has sometimes been used as a way to control the behaviour of marginalized groups and legitimize abuse. Feminist theologians Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker explain it this way:

The central image of Christ on the cross as the saviour of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive. If the best person who ever lived gave his life for others, then, to be of value we should likewise sacrifice ourselves.*

crucified woman 2

This sculpture is found in a garden outside of Emmanuel College where I did my Mdiv. It’s called “The Crucified Woman” and the artist is Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey.

I mourn for all the ways that the symbol of the cross has been misused over the centuries, but for myself, as a feminist, a lover of justice and a christian, I have chosen to reclaim a theology of the cross that points to liberation, not oppression.

As much as I would like to make excuses (would you look at the time?) I don’t think I can wiggle my way of of telling you what it is I believe about the cross. About the meaning I make out of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe this today, anyways. In this moment. At other moments I don’t know what to believe. No more excuses, here goes:

As a part of Godself, God sent Jesus to live a fully human life among us, exemplifying a way of being human where love of God, neighbour and self is seen as the highest priority. In living this way, Jesus broke down many barriers that other humans had built up including the boundaries between social classes, ethnic groups and genders. In his death and resurrection, God (through Jesus) broke through even the boundary of death. As one who is fully divine, and yet was born, lived a fully human life filled with joys and struggles, and then died by execution at the hands of an empire, Jesus is a sign to humanity that God understands in the fullest way what is is to be human and to live on Earth. Through the resurrection, Jesus provides hope that there is a God that is more powerful even than oppression, empire and death. 

Liberation or salvation is not something to be earned in this life for use in the next life. Rather, God is actively at work in this world, and all people are invited to join in the work of co-creating a world that is full of love and justice. When some people are living out this love here and now, all people and all of creation, benefit. Those who turn away from a life of violence and destruction, towards a life of love and co-creation, experience liberation, and can help to further God’s work of liberation in the world.

Last week a group of us met for our 24th Feminist Bible Study gathering. We finished reading the book of Luke together, and this is why I have feminism and the cross on my mind, and what has made me brave enough to share what I believe with you. It was so beautiful to hear from each person about their thoughts about the meaning of the cross in their lives.

What about you? What do you believe in this moment? Is the cross something you think about often or is it something you would rather forget? I would love to hear what you believe, whether you explain your faith in a similar way to me, or whether we couldn’t be more different. Let’s talk about it.


*Carlson Brown, Joanne and Parker, Rebecca. “For God so Loved the World?,” in Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, ed. Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn. New York: Pilgrim.

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