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.
9 thoughts on “Feminism In Theology By Andrew Tripp”
“Feminism basically means the affirmation of the full humanity of women.” According to the definition of feminism this blog group adopted, you definitely are a feminist! And I am happy to affirm you as one. A feminist also recognizes that sexism (and other interlocking oppressions) exist and need to be transformed. I would say you fit that definition as well. A feminist theologian recognizes that theology has been distorted by patriarchy. I would say that by that definition you are also a feminist theologian. One thing that you are not is a feminist woman, so you don’t have an “insider’s” experience of how it feels to be a woman. However, I would not take that qualification too far, as women’s experiences are diverse, and in addition, I think attention to and empathy with the experiences of another can go a long way to bridging the gap between “insider” and “outsider.” Thanks for your blog. Would that more men would not only acknowledge the importance of feminist theology but actually adopt its perspectives as their own.
Love your opening paragraph. Shows great courage. Thanks for writing this blog. I wish more men were as feminism-friendly as you are.
Thank you for your courage, insight, and truth from your life-journey of exposures and your own willingness to study through to your clear perception. Thn, thank you for referring to those you have studied toward your arrival of your own platform. Blessings as your journey takes you into territory of service with humanity that we may live in peace.
ggmother and researcher of orphaning in the global context. Carolyn
Where did you go to seminary? I think it is important to name names.
Thank you all for your kind words. I stayed at Boston University for my PhD work after my MDiv. However, a new dean and a new curriculum for the masters programs lead to a significant shift in the school.
I wish there were more women who were feminists out there. Men can be allies, but they aren’t feminists in my book. We need a women’s movement that women control, own, run without compromise. Men can talk to other men, and get them under control. That would be a big help now and then.
Thank you for your article Andrew. In my humble opinion, I think it is certainly appropriate for a man to be a feminist. I think many people have distorted the definition, especially those who have been opposed to feminism and associated it with all kinds of clouded stereotypes and stigmatization as they always do in an attempt to keep comfortable power hierarchies in place. I think it simply refers to the fact that someone recognizes and embraces women as they are, as opposed to insisting on sticking to the age-old fictitious methods of defining women in order to fulfill a patriarchal agenda.. Allowing women to exist and aspiring to their fullest potential as they choose to define for themselves… Out with the old silly ridiculous restrictive and regulating drama that is still so entrenched in society.. Its unfortunate more men aren’t man enough to rise to such a mature and enlightened level of understanding and open minded point of view. You’re ahead of the game because I find that oppressive medieval thinking very unattractive and shallow. You could teach them all a thing or two. If they were able to remove themselves from the picture and look down from an objective observer point of view at the “big picture,” upon their behavior, perception, and ways of thinking about women and how women have been treated historically; and really considered if it makes any sense at all and whether or not the “power and control” relationship that has typically dominated the framework of man/woman existence was truly the intended dynamic for relationships; if they would truly allow these thoughts to penetrate beyond the headstrong insecurities and fear that lies beneath all that superiority garbage; they would eventually be able to realize that this is one of those things in history that will be looked back upon as being so primitive and uncivilized. Similar to the way we look back and view times of slavery. i look back on those times and I can not believe that people actually thought and behaved that way.. It is shameful. The current social structure and mindset of society that remains in this juvenile state that it is currently in today is shameful… It is completely stubborn and childish thinking.. Its laughable.. it amazes me that there is such a serious lag between reality, and the ability for society to break free from the limited, old fashioned, out dated ways of thinking and behaving. Society needs some serious help. Thanks for your post.
Funny, I thought feminism was about ending patriarchy and male dominance worldwide, and freeing women. Maybe there is confusion between “equality feminism” and women’s liberation.
I want freedom from all male dominance everywhere I go. I want men to stop raping women now.
I want women to take what is ours, and to stop men from stealing our resources, including our bodies. Liberation I think has a completely different feel to it compared to the word equality, doesn’t it.
Thanks for this, Andrew! :) Beautiful.