In the area of theology, the two that most interest me have always been liberation theology and feminist theology. I was so excited when New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views, appeared on my new book list.
I am deeply indebted to SkyLight Paths Publishing, and Jennifer Rataj specifically, for sending me a copy for review.
This is an anthology, compiled by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu, of women’s voices in many fields of Christian activity. Theology, biblical studies, liturgy, ministry, ethics, you name it, women are there, making their mark from a distinctly faith-based perspective.
Many of the names I am well familiar with. Women like Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether are stellar names in the feminist Christian world. Others may not be so well-known to the casual reader. And that becomes exciting, since we can learn that women are busy in so many areas we would not have thought.
Each woman was asked to write an essay that generally spoke of their area of interest, what has gone before, what is and what the future appears to be and where it should be heading. If there is one word that describes all, it would be vibrant–the world of women’s issues in Christianity is all that and more.
Of course as one might expect, much of the work these women do is not publicized and that is why it can be quite surprising to find out that feminists are building upon the rich terrain of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, redefining, expanding, and moving forth into the second and now third generation of action and thought in this ever burgeoning field.
It is hard to review an anthology. There is so much to cover, and so much that needs be said. A new language is learned along the way. We learn words like kyriarchy, coined by Schüssler-Fiorenza to encompass all the oppressive social structures faced in traditional Roman Catholic and most Protestant faith traditions. It is an interweaving of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, colonialism, ageism, and ableism, as well as perhaps more.
We learn that Christian feminists do not simply want to break into what have until now being male bastions of authority and rule, but rather they want to restructure these areas to reflect a community of leadership, authority and gift.
We learn in these pages that women defy category, and insist that there is no “Latina, nor African-American, nor Asian, nor gay” way of looking at things. Trying to place people into boxes and speak of them and for them in this manner is not helpful but is nothing more than another ism on the spectrum of oppression of all peoples.
Women look in these essays to bringing women’s voice to theological reflection. Much has been done in this area by pioneers of course, and more and more seminaries reflect these new ways of looking, but of course, still more needs be done.
The same can be said of biblical studies where so many have labored so long to tease out the stories of women in the bible, seeking their contributions to preaching and teaching and all the other gifts of the Spirit. Women seek to emulate these oft-times, bare echoes, and through liturgy, give again, true voice to our full heritage as Christians.
For what is announced here in this book, is nothing less than that we are all, male, female, and all the mosaic of human expression in between, enhanced, enriched, and uplifted by recognizing all our gifts in the Spirit.
Women, through dance, theatre, music, and song, through poetry and prose, seek to reclaim and express themselves as true images of God.
This book in a word, is simply delightful. There are hard warnings here in places, and tough analysis, yet the overriding expression is one of hope and excitement. A new generation arises to discover new meanings and new paths to strike forth upon. As is suggested at the end, this will almost certainly turn global and inevitably involved women of non-Christian choice. Buddhists and Hindus, Indigenous women, Sikhs, and Jews will join with their diverse Christian sisters. And we will learn that again, diversity is the norm.
Women bring new ways and new eyes. I can best, I think, show the breadth of the material encompassed herein by a few excerpts. One should also note that the footnotes direct you to endless material for further reading, as does an extensive “further reading” list itself. Whatever your interest, I can assure you, you will find it addressed within these pages. A must read for all women who yearn for a voice in Church.
Well, we might come in a-fightin’ ’cause there’s lots that needs a-rightin’, we’ve learned a lot from livin’ never taught to us in schools. If they say come in like a man, well they might not understand: When we enter into the game, we’re gonna change the god-damned rules! (Marjorie Procter-Smith)
All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God has designed for us to occupy. (Sarah Grimke’ 1838) quoted by Rosemary Radford Ruether
It [the basileia of G*d] envisions an alternative world free of hunger, poverty, and domination. This “envisioned” world is already anticipated in the inclusive table-community, in the healing and liberating practices, as well as in the domination-free kinship community of the discipleship of equals that found many followers among the poor, the despised, the ill and possessed, the outcasts and sinners. (E. S. F.)
After decades of trying to find one legal, universally applicable definition of what a man is and what a woman is, the International Olympic Committee has given up on sex/gender analysis. (Virginia Ramey Mollenkott)
Bless Sophia, dream the vision, share the wisdom, dwelling deep within. (Jeanette Stokes)
But what is obvious to those with eyes to see is that the entire ministerial and ecclesial structure of Roman Catholicism is exclusively male, rigidly hierarchical, suffused with secrecy and deception, and rewarding duplicity. . . .This is the context in which Catholic women will develop and exercise our ministry in the decades and generations to come. (Mary E. Hunt)
To all those who struggle as “other,” this book gives hope. To all those who are part of the problem, learn of the future. Buy it, read it, and rejoice!