Benjamin’s “Messianic Moments” and Women’s Church History

Klee's Agnelus Novus painting (Benjamin's inspiration for the Angel of History)

If we examine how history has been constructed, specifically church history, the contributions of women are often overlooked.  Within the Free Methodist denomination we have several seminary theses and unpublis

hed papers about the history of women in ministry, but nothing published (Synder’s Populist Saints is the only exception). So, the need to reveal these forgotten moments of women’s history in the church is a pressing concern of mine. Feminist rhetorical historians are beginning to draw attention to some of these forgotten moments of women’s history. It is important the rhetorical contribution, particularly the rhetorical contributions of women’s magazine articles, sermons and autobiographies all have rhetorical aspects that should not be forgotten.

In the past few week’s I’ve been working on a paper about Walter Benjamin’s “Thesis On the Concepts of History.” One of Benjamin’s main arguments in this work is that history has been constructed in a linear manner that forgets redemptive moments in history. A linear narrative is a historical narrative by the powerful. In this case, it is the male dominated narrative of church history. By deconstructing history and taking a nonlinear view Benjamin argues you can draw attention to “Messianic moments” that can be used to promote social change in the present.

The push within evangelical culture to accept male headship in the home and church ministry is constant threat to the access of Christian women to ministry. By reminding the church today about those “messianic moments” in our history when women were allowed to teach and were treated as equals (or at least were being allowed to pursue equality unlike they are today in many fundamentalist and evangelical denominations) we can begin to fight against gender oppression.

Benjamin paints a stark picture of the present and the future that continues to follow a linear narrative.  He draws the allusion of an angel of history with its back to the future and its face towards the past. The wreckage of the future piles up at its feet like the rubble from a storm. As Benjamin notes the wreckage “Drives him (the angel) irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.” (p.392)

So, the question arises by revealing forgotten “messianic moments” in our history can the progress of male-headship be stopped? Benjamin makes no promises that by opposing a linear narrative and revealing forgotten moments revolution will occur. However, the possibility of change through new interpretations of history gives us hope.

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