At the outset, I need to name and own my identities as a large white male. I have privilege and voice that makes me hesitant to even write to the audience of this blog. While I consider myself a feminist, I have met some who have told me that as a man I cannot be a feminist. Such folks have told me that I lack the existential knowledge of the systemic pressure put on women, and at best I can be an ally. With that said, if it was not for feminism in theology, I do not know if I could be a theologian.
When I first began attending church as an adult, I went because I hungered for community, for authentic relationships. My tradition has more female clergy than male clergy, and like many churches, the mothers of the church often have been the true leaders. The church I grew up in had a female board president, a female pastor, and I grew up assuming female leadership was part of religious life. For me, religion was about community and I was far more certain of my salvation through community and relationships than with any kind of doctrinal stance. Then I came to seminary, and saw just how different my experience had been from most folks. Classmates were part of traditions that might ordain women, but wouldn’t provide them with the opportunity for prestigious positions. Professors made blatantly sexist comments, and this was in a “liberal” school. The first semester theology class I took had no female authors, and the professor lamented that we just did not have enough time for the female voices. But at the same time I was taking a directed study on liberation theology, and was able to read Rosemary Radford Reuther, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and Delores Williams. They offered theology of community and relationality. They offered fresh readings of scripture that made scripture worth reading. Theirs was a theology that seemed to fit with how I had been raised.
I can appreciate the legacy of theology offered by the dead white men and their volumes of books, but their work was insufficient. I needed more than a connection between my soul and God in my theology, especially since I was not even really sure of God at that time in my life. I did know there was religious power in relationships, especially meaningful ones among folks who felt like they were part of my tribe. I saw in the work of Marjorie Suchocki language that offered me a chance to express what sin was, the violent estrangement between all of creation, not some petty misdeed to an almighty transcendent judging God. I saw in the work of Elizabeth Johnson the mystical union of the faithful come to life in the communion of saints instead of the typical notion of saints communing. Ada Maria Isasi Diaz demonstrated the deep relationality of one to one’s tribe, and how that connection is a profound source of theological reflection. While many male authors also inspired my work, and me; women spoke to how I really understood my own faith journey.
My work as a theologian looks at communities and how they live into and are narrated by their stories. Communities of faithful are made of relationships between real, fleshy bodies, and not atomistic minds devoid of a bodied home. The bodies of the people are narrated themselves, carrying the inscriptions of a lifetime of use and characterization. They live in contexts, with interests, with audiences. Communities of story remember their ancestors, and remember those the larger world has forgotten. In remembering, they re-member those who have been silenced, those who have been disappeared, and in telling those stories these communities offer a different witness to the world about what is valued and what is true. Communities of story show that the lives and interactions of people trump worldly goods or consumption. I refrain from militaristic language like love conquers hate, but in communities of story, love outlasts hate, and shines in memory and in bodies the power of care and concern, offering us glimpses of God’s own self-revelation in each generation. Without the voices of feminism and feminist theology, I don’t know if my own understanding and my own theological project would be possible.
Andrew Tripp is a doctoral candidate at Boston University School of Theology. His research interest is in how communities live based on their shared stories. He is also a hospital chaplain and an IT nerd.