A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet several theologians, including Rosemary Ruether, at a small gathering of liberation theologians. One of the most awkward moments at the event while I was there was when I accidently bumped into Ruether in line for breakfast, and her coffee spilled on her shoes. To say the least, a lot of fears were running through my mind, “Would she think that I did it on purpose because I am male? Will I be called a sexist?” It was an extremely awkward moment, and I just didn’t know what to think, fumbling and mumbling in the presence of a great thinker. Fortunately, she said nothing, we gather some napkins, and cleaned up my mess. Recently, on the blogosphere, I have read some rather awkward posts on gender, particularly from egalitarians and their hang ups with feminism.
First of all, I appreciate Roger Olson’s honest and open thoughts on Christianity and feminism. However, that being said, I disagree with the portrayal of Christian feminist theologians, especially Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Ruether, and Elizabeth Johnson, S.J. Olson does not deny the existence of sexism and its power in society, just the way that these theologians approach it. While Olson has personally interacted with “Ruether, [the late Letty] Russell and/or [Susan] Thistlethwaite and […]Johnson, he has qualms about their “gender feminist perspective” as it pertains to “with regard to language about God, the nature of the Bible and Christian tradition (i.e., basic orthodoxy), and contemporary worship.”
Notice something that Olson leaves out; the tradition that Ruether and Johnson come from is Catholicism. What is deemed orthodox from Olson’s perspective is going to differ from what Ruether’s and Johnson’s religious peers are going to say is orthodox. Take for example, Olson’s critique of feminist theology:
“First, it is not clear to me at all that there original revelation (e.g., scripture) is normative. It seems to me that something called “women’s experience” and “feminist consciousness” is elevated to that level. The result is that “anything goes” so long as it is liberating and culturally relevant (i.e., speaks to and promotes the feminist political agenda). ”
If I am not mistaken, is not Sola Scriptura a Protestant doctrine? So why should we expect feminist theologians who are professing Catholics, to accept this view? It seems to be something that Olson has overlooked. I am not a Catholic myself, I am just trying to state the obvious differences in the starting points for theology of evangelicalism and Catholicism. At no point in the U.S. Bishops Report on Elizabeth Johnson’s work, Quest for the Living God, did they question her for not being biblical enough. It was a debate about whether Johnson’s text was consistent with Catholic tradition.
Olson goes on to accuse feminist Christian theologians of denying divine power in the Death of Christ; Feminists “do not think his crucifixion was a divine act. Instead it was a martyrdom that unmasks the evil of patriarchy. The cross and redemption theology in general tends to take a back seat (if not in the trunk!) to creation and re-creation theology. In this I find it often less distinctively Christian than pagan.”
Any serious reader of Christian feminist theology would not make this accusation, at least of mainstream feminist theology. God’s divinity is not found in forcing HIS SON to die a gory and bloody death; God, rather, manifests God’s power in suffering love, identifying with the victims of history, and then in turn, rebuking all forms of violence in the Resurrection.
Unfortunately, Roger Olson does go on to commit a “Hitlerum Ad Reductio”; painting feminists as Nazis, which is so easy to do on the Interwebs. And I quote:
“Revising imagery of God to suit our own needs (one feminist theologian said she needs a “God who looks like” her) seems dangerous to me. Pretty soon we leave biblical imagery of God behind and use imagery we have invented for our own purposes. As Donald Bloesch used to point out, this is exactly what the so-called “German Christians” did in the 1930s. (I am NOT comparing feminism with Naziism! I am pointing out a danger in moving away from biblical imagery in favor of culturally preferred “relevant” imagery. Where does it stop? What limits it?)”
Why bring up Nazi Germany in the first place but to push the old old label of Feminazis? This was a rather unfortunate occurrence, and I do hope Olson resists using this fallacy.
Olson’s case against inclusive language sounds more like men who play victim since they accuse feminists of being aggressors. This post, reflects, I fear, what Hugo Schwyzer rightly diagnosed about much of men’s anti-feminism:
“All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive, wrathful, “man-bashers.” The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger on the internet— or even in real life — from feminists. Women are regularly beaten and raped — even on college campuses — but I know of no instance where a man found himself a victim of violence for making a sexist remark in a feminist setting! “Male-bashing” doesn’t literally happen, in other words, at least not as a result of arguments over feminism. But that doesn’t stop men from using (in jest or no) their own exaggerated fear of physical violence to make a subtle point about feminists.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
- “The Johnson Case”: How Do We Receive Revelation? (womenintheology.org)