Tag Archives: Elizabeth Johnson

Spilling Coffee: Thoughts on Christianity and Feminism

Sojourner Truth, albumen silver print, circa 1870

A Response to Roger Olson‘s Some Thoughts About Christian Feminism

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.

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Democracy is the Problem: Jurgen Moltmann & A Theology for A Multi-Party System

Welcome to the revolution, Comrades Joel and Craig.

Did you ever stop to think, that despite how many times you shout for inclusivism in our “democratic” society, that it would be of no use? Direct democracy is seen as naively a good thing. Let’s be honest, even in the ancient Greek societies in which we get these ideals, democracy was limited for the few. In fact, the etymology of democracy is crat, or rule, and demos, not as people, but as a crowd, gathered together for any purpose (Walt Bauer, etc. A Greek Lexicon, 2nd edition). We learn from an early age that the founders were afraid of the “mobocracy”; on paper they were, but it was their racist and classist policies which provided the background for the lynching mobocracies in the late 19th and early 20th century post-Civil War.

Democracies in ancient Greece were not for the “people” but for more specifically, the privileged citizens in the polis. Citizenship excluded women, slaves and barbarians (those who were deemed stateless) (see David Theo Goldberg’s Racist Culture, page 21-22). The barbarian was deemed morally inferior, and thus, incapable of political activity. Pure Democracy, as it has been practiced not theorized, is reign of the in-crowd. Democracy originally came in the context of the city-state; after the “American Revolution,” democracy was the preferred ideal for the nation-state. I think we are still struggling to understand the difference, but I would argue that the transformation is immense, and has implications for how we view peoplehood, race, and class. The Supreme Court case that recognized corporations as citizens, guess what? From then on, our country has been gradually controlled indirectly by business class;
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company
. That’s why the Civil Rights movement was so effective in going after people’s wallets first through boycotts.

What needs to happen? Well, first, there Congress needs to do its duty in defining corporations and their purpose, since it is well within its authority to do so. Theologically, Christians are well equipped to promote a multi-party system, thereby diluting (read:limiting) the power of special interests. First, there is the notion of covenant. Jurgen Moltmann argues that a politics based on covenant remains “threatened by centralistic socialism and by the extreme inequalities produced by capitalism. The covenant guarantees both personal liberties and social justice” (The Spirit of Life, 252). While we can see that Moltmann’s theology does have potential; in the United States, Moltmann’s theology seems quite abstract and exclusively for German social democracy. He can make such political pronouncements because he already lives in such a society with a multi-party system. In fact, Moltmann’s theology excluded Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions; for “centralist churches therefore have nothing to offer the new process towards political community. Their hierarchal structures paralyse the liberty of individuals and produce a passive welfare mentality” (Spirit of Life, 247).

While Moltmann claims that he desires to see a society working within covenant, his vision is exclusive; would Southern Baptists, Presbyterian Churches of America, and Catholics, conservative Muslims and Jews be allowed in Moltmann’s kingdom? I doubt it, for what Jurgen Moltmann does is make these groups to be the Barbarian, for democracy has become an idol in liberal Protestant theologies.

In my other works, I have commented on the threat of hegemony in Moltmann’s political theology, and without an emphasis on trinitarian difference, where a society is re-made in the image of Creator, Wisdom, and Breathe dancing in equality and reciprocal mutuality. For scholars of Moltmann, I hope that they would also consider the radicalism of Catholic and pro-Catholic religious thinkers such as New Negro philosopher Hubert Harrison, Eldridge Cleaver, Gustavo Guittierez, and Elizabeth A. Johnson, and then tell me if they promote a “passive welfare” mentality. I think that just as the Triune God took a risk and died in the form of the Son, so too must Christians take a risk and advocate a multi-party democracy, even if that means giving a voice to our “enemies.”

Elizabeth A. Johnson & John Howard Yoder: Community as Power

One day a few weeks ago, I was on John Howard Yoder kick, needing desperately, to sip some Nonviolent theology kool-aid, when I came across this quote in For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical,

“Love is power when it denies the enemy, the oppressor, the last word in defining his relation to us. Community is power.” (page 229)

Usually, I have a rather easy time understanding where JHY is coming from, but at first I had a hard time deciphering what he meant by “community is power.”

Enter Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J.:

“Sophia-God is in solidarity with those who suffer as a mystery of empowerment. With moral indignation, concern for broken creation, and a sympathy calling for justice, the power of God’s compassionate love enters the pain of the world to transform it from within.” (She Who Is, page 170).

I think it is no coincidence that Johnson goes on to argue in the subsequent sentences in favor of non-violent action, which I should note is quite different from Yoder’s all too not-popular concept of non-resistant love, still emphasizes enemy love and peace-making as part of Christian discipleship.