“The equation of love with heroic violence and suffering is typically a male-centered perspective…the value of the nursing breast as a symbol of God’s provision might need to be reconsidered in our own time “
Once honored for voicing substantive theology in the Reformed tradition, Union Theological Seminary’s 2010 Sprunt Lectures will feature a feminist speaker who favors replacing the cross with a lactating breast. The event will occur May 3-5 on the seminary’s Richmond, Va., campus. Union is one of 11 seminaries that are officially related to the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Sprunt Lecturer Margaret R. Miles is emerita professor of Historical Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, Calif. Employing a title reminiscent of the denominationally sponsored Re-Imagining God Conference in 1993, Miles’ topic is “Revisioning Historical Theology.”
In “God’s love, mother’s milk,” a January 2008 article that appeared in The Christian Century, Miles argued that the use of the cross to symbolize God’s love was a latecomer to church history. An earlier and presumably more persuasive symbol of God’s love, she claims, was the virgin’s breast.
“Although theologians may have claimed that crucifixion scenes exhibited the extremity of God’s love for humans, it was scenes of the child sucking at the breast that spoke to people on the basis of their earliest experience,” she said. This symbol was replaced by the cross, argued Miles, when patriarchal Western Europeans “secularized the breast.”
Miles suggested that the cross is inappropriate as a symbol of God’s love because “it presents a violent act as salvific.”