Recognizing in religion one of the most powerful institutions for perpetuating sexism and patriarchal authority, feminists have responded in different ways. Some reject all forms of religion, believing that it is an oppressive and negative force, a trap which hinders women in the struggle for material change in their lives. Others believe that there is a spiritual as well as a material aspect to life, and seek alternatives to male-defined religions in goddess worship and other forms of woman centered theology. Still others, while recognizing the patriarchal bias of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, believe that there are spiritual truths in these religions which cannot be denied, and feel that it is therefore necessary to work for reform from within, rather than breaking away (Allen 272).
Some religious feminists work for equality, while others believe that female superiority should be recognized in spiritual matters; some reject what they consider oppressive traditions, while others believe that there is strength to be found in reclaiming and redefining women's traditional roles.
Like all patriarchal religions, Christianity has been instrumental in creating, perpetuating, and justifying women's oppression. Yet although the Christian church has been for many centuries the most oppressive institution, forcing women to submit to the rule of their fathers and husbands as stand ins for God, this oppression is not necessarily inherent in the religion, and many women have found in it spiritual liberation and truth. Christian teachings may be emphasized and interpreted in varied and quite contradictory ways, as proven by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her co-authors in The Woman's Bible, and modern scholars have re-examined the New Testament to argue that despite later interpretations, Jesus was free from sexual prejudice (Allen 273).
During the puritan revolution of the mid-seventeenth century the entrenched sexism of the church was challenged as the concept...