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Dr. Bettina Pedersen on Becoming a Feminist Reader of the Bible

Feminism and Christianity are two words that are not often heard in the same sentence, let alone in the same conversation. Each comes with its own connotations, presuppositions and, simply put, baggage.

On April 10, PLNU Literature Professor Dr. Bettina Pedersen decided to tackle that baggage head-on. As part of PLNU’s Faith Matters series, which features PLNU professors and focuses on issues that bear on Christian faith and practice, Dr. Pedersen gave a lecture on “Reading Literature, Reading the Bible: Becoming a Feminist Reader of the Bible.”

“To be a feminist reader of the Bible is to look for the women and the women’s stories in order to see where I fit into the household of God,” said Pedersen. “It means seeing something of myself recorded in Scripture about the participation of women in the redemptive work of God. Seeing myself and my story represented in this way signals to me that there is a place there for me, too.”

In an hour-long lecture, Pedersen discussed the biases and the problems of personal hermeneutics that are often present when we read any text, especially one as complex and ambiguous as the Christian Bible. According to Pedersen, it is impossible to eliminate our reader response, but it is important to become conscious of the lens through which we are reading.

With this in mind, Pedersen highlighted the recovery of female authors and the depiction of women in literature as key aspects to look for when reading any piece of literature, specifically the Bible. These include practices of recognizing whether women are portrayed in a positive or a negative light, noticing the balance, or lack thereof, of male and female figures, roles and languages, and understanding the text as either descriptive or prescriptive, essentialist or constructivist and literal or metaphorical.

Pedersen concluded that with these ideas, readers can determine if the Bible’s erasure or absence of women is an indicator of God’s divine plan to have women be absent from His kingdom narrative or if it should be understood simply as the harsh realities of the authorship and cultural contexts of the time. Pedersen has come to believe the latter, feminist perspective.

“Having the space to speak about this important issue was a huge privilege for me. There are many more conversations that need to be had about this and other topics like discrimination, issues of oppression, and ways that we need to make the church and the Bible a more inclusive, welcoming, redemptive and hospitable place for all of us,” said Pedersen.

In 60 minutes, Dr. Pedersen took two concepts that are often at odds with each other and allowed them to coexist. Though complex and often uncomfortable, Pedersen believes that topics like feminism and the Bible are just scratching the surface.

“We need to learn from one another by listening to one another’s stories, and sometimes that means discomfort, but that’s what it means to walk alongside each other in the household of faith,” said Pedersen. “We need to be more inclusive, and a huge reason why we aren’t, is because we are afraid, but our fears, though real and tangible, should never stand in the way of the greater goal.”

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Tigist Layne

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