Saturday, September 26, 2020

Rest in Peace: Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (1932-2020)


Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (right) with Suzannah

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott passed peacefully into Godde's closer embrace on Friday, September 25, 2020, in the presence of her beloved friend Gail Ricciuti and her former partner Debra Morrison. 

Virginia's pioneering work in feminist biblical analysis, feminist theology, and LGBTQ theologies made her a sought-after speaker at churches, conferences, universities and seminaries.  She authored or co-authored 13 books and hundreds of articles and book reviews.

Born on January 28, 1932, in Philadelphia, Virginia Ramey was raised in a Plymouth Brethren congregation and sent to a private Christian high school.  After graduating from Bob Jones University in 1953, she taught there and married Frederick Mollenkott in 1954.  They had a son, Paul, in 1958. 

Returning to Philadelphia, she earned an M.A. at Temple University in 1955 and then a doctorate in English literature at New York University in 1964, specializing in the study of John Milton.  In 1973 she left her marriage and fully accepted herself as a person attracted to women.

Dr. Mollenkott taught at Shelton College in New Jersey and Nyack College in New York before joining the English Department of William Paterson University in New Jersey in 1967.  After thirty years she retired as Professor of English Emeritus.  

In 1977 her book Women, Men, and the Bible attracted widespread attention, giving hope to women raised in denominations that required women's submission to men.  In 1975 she gave a rousing speech to the first national conference of the Evangelical Women's Caucus in Washington, D.C.

Her ground-breaking work Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View (HarperCollins) was originally published in 1978, co-authored with Letha Dawson Scanzoni.  It rocked the evangelical world and caused Bob Jones III, then president of her alma mater, to write a letter in 1989 declaring her unwelcome and "a devil."  She and Letha released their revised and updated edition in 1994 after the AIDS crisis, revising the subtitle to A Positive Christian Response.

Her many awards and honors can be found in the biography on her website,  Those whose lives were touched by Virginia may also share their memories on the site.  

Using inclusive language to refer to the Eternal One was important to her.  She wrote The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female (Crossroad, 1993), a book which influenced many and caused her to be chosen as a Stylistic Consultant for the New International Version of the Bible.  She also served on the committee preparing An Inclusive Language Lectionary (National Council of Churches, 1983-85).

Virginia met Debra L. Morrison, a Certified Financial Planner, in 1980, and they were partners in life from then to 1996.  "We lived lakeside in Hewitt, New Jersey," says Debra.  "I enjoyed traveling extensively with Virginia, arranging the practical details so that she could focus on her speaking.  It was a joy to type six of her books, all written in longhand on yellow ruled tablets."

Later Virginia met high school science teacher Judith Suzannah Tilton (1936-2018).  They lived together as domestic partners until the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and joyfully sealed their vows in Holy Matrimony in 2013.  

In 2008 they moved to Cedar Crest Senior Living Community in Pompton Plains, NJ.  For more about Virginia's life, see the six-part oral history at LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

In June, Virginia suffered a fall in her apartment.  At the end of August she fell again and then developed pneumonia.  Her two last wishes were fulfilled: to return to her home after hospitalization and to cast her vote by mail in the Nov. 3 election.  

Her son, his wife, and their daughters visited regularly; Gail and Debra kept 24-hour vigils in the last weeks.  On Friday they patched her into a regularly scheduled Zoom video call with the Sisterly Conversations community, a group she founded and facilitated for over twenty years at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania.  One of the sisters offered a song for Virginia just a few hours before she died.

"Now she's dancing with Suzannah," agreed Debra and Gail.

Virginia is survived by her son Paul Mollenkott, his wife Barbara, and granddaughters Miranda, Serena, and Corinne.  

A celebration of Virginia's life will be held after the risks of Covid-19 pandemic subside.  Gifts in her memory can be made specifically to "The Mollenkott-McNeil Fund" at or to EEWC-Christian Feminism Today.

See the EEWC-CFT website for more about Virginia and links to her articles on the site.  See also her archive at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and read a tribute to her from Mary E. Hunt at WATER, the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual.


Anne Linstatter said...

Debra, thank you for all the ways you supported her speaking and writing, living and dying.

Rita Voors said...

I was shocked to learn of Virginia's crossing over.I was thinking about her just recently, possibly about the time she departed this plane. Virginia was such a beacon and source of wisdom and hope. I truly love her and count her as a wonderful friend. While those of us who knew her feel a great loss, I am so happy for her that her difficult life journey is over and her eternal, joyous one has begun. 'Til we meet again, dear Virginia!!

Shannon Buzard said...

Though I only met her once a number of years ago in Oregon at a conference, I dearly loved her kind and generous nature. I have quoted her books so many times I have long since lost count. Rest in glory Virginia, you will be indeed missed.

Unknown said...

Virginia, your many friends at Cedar Crest are missing you. Until we meet again in Paradise.