I remember the day I became a feminist. I was in a systematic theology class during my junior year of college. This picture was passed around, and reactions were solicited:
The picture might be a bit hard to see, but it is Jesus, portrayed as a bare-breasted woman, hanging on a cross.
The reaction from one older, male student stood out to me. As we all talked about women's oppression and Jesus' identification with it, he said, "Women are not oppressed in the church." That was it. That was the moment. Right there.
I responded to the student, Tom, and said, "How can you say women are not oppressed by the church when there are some churches where women can't even speak, let alone preach." I'm sure I said other stuff that day, and women's oppression by the church has become even clearer to me.
Really, though, this conversation was larger than Tom's feeling that women were not oppressed by the church. It was about the image of God Tom, and others, have in their heads. I am certain Jesus' being portrayed as a woman created even greater irritation and unsettled feelings in Tom. However, I can't help but wonder if there would have been similar reactions to a picture of Jesus that strayed from the pretty, white Jesus with soft, wavy hair.
In the class for which I am a TA, we looked at various images of Jesus, which by the nature of faith, are various images of God. Here are some examples of how Jesus has been portrayed in art, over the centuries and throughout the world:
These are just a few of the vast number of images. Some critics might suggest this is making God into our own image, rather than us being made into God's. However, Jesus identified with humanity--all of humanity. He sides with the oppressed, for in the crucifixion, he identified with those who have faced persecution and death. Jesus knows our struggles, and the representation of Jesus can take on many forms. Jesus is the battered woman. Jesus is the gay teenager who is fearful of coming out and who faces ridicule from his peers. Jesus is the poor, working mother. Jesus is the man who struggles with the pressures of being a "real man" and providing for his family. Jesus is.