My faith is in living and being shaped into the divine way of life that happens at the margins, with others who also see that a new world is needed and are willing to participate with one another in creating it.
I wasn’t always a student of theology – obviously. So the summer before I started my masters program at Boston University, I spent my days reading primers in theology. As I read, I started to notice a trend; chapter by chapter, authors would discuss a specific theological topic or doctrine and toward the end of the chapter would usually add, almost as if an afterthought, the critiques or insights from feminist theology regarding the particular theological doctrine or theme being discussed. Even back then, before feminism had even had the chance to seep into my bones, I wondered why feminist theology, along with the other liberation theologies mentioned, was always presented as an afterthought, a footnote, clearly not as important as the theological perspective from which the authors happened to be speaking. I knew though, even from my first reading of these feminist theological perspectives at the margins of these primers, that feminist theology rang true and was important to me; what I didn’t know or understand was why it didn’t seem to shape “mainstream” theology in a central way but was instead relegated to afterthoughts by the authors of these primers.
Ideally Christian theology should absolutely include the voices of all people, especially those who are usually relegated to the margins as afterthoughts. I would affirm that at its core, Christianity is a religion that centers on a Divine vision in which this very thing happens – those who were left out are made central, those who have been silenced are given preferential attention, and those who have been oppressed (even within their very own religious traditions) are liberated into full life.
On my more hopeful days, I would say that feminist theology and other movements of liberation can be brought to bear on the Christian tradition in liberating ways by the very presence and participation of those who are from the margins, those who claim the boundary as the place of new creation and new possibilities. In my hopeful days I would affirm that when we stay and struggle in the tradition by participating with our presence, our reflections, and our actions we disrupt the “mainstream” and call it out on its exclusive, controlling and oppressive ways. That by our refusing to leave we call the tradition and those within it to greater faithfulness, challenging it to change and be shaped by the voices that it has systematically silenced and made tangential. On my hopeful days I would affirm the need to raise issues of concerns at every opportunity we get, and that if the opportunities don’t arise then to create them ourselves. I would say that we must protest, disrupt, and call into question the status quo into which so many have settled; that it is not a faithful witness to the world to continue in sexist, exclusivist, and controlling ways – the patriarchal bad habits that have taken root in the Christian tradition. On my hopeful days I would say that it is possible for those at the center to hear and take heed of those on the margins, and to incorporate their voices in order to move toward increased faithfulness as it seeks to communally embody a Divine way of life.
But today, this week, I do not feel hopeful. I am more inclined to tell my pre-seminary self, that eager student who spent her summers preparing for the theological road ahead, that in all traditions the dominant voices call the shots, and Christianity is no different. That it continues to be a tradition of domination and oppression, sexism, racism, and exclusion – quick to suppress the voices that would challenge it and call it out on its sins. That every time those who are marginalized struggle and participate to shape and change the tradition in a way that takes the voices, experiences and reflections of ‘the least of these’ into account, they are condemned, judged, and shut out by those who feel their hierarchical power threatened. That when women work to re-imagine a more loving and transforming church, all hell breaks loose; committees are called, investigations initiated, people are fired, money is withdrawn, participation is condemned.
This is my church. This is the tradition I participate in. But it is not my faith and it is not my hope.
My faith is in living and being shaped into the divine way of life that happens at the margins, with others who also see that a new world is needed and are willing to participate with one another in creating it. It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be beautiful. I can see hope in the beautiful. And I have many beautiful sisters. I am so grateful for them.
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and theologian currently completing her PhD at Boston University School of Theology in practical theology with a focus on ecclesiology. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably interconnected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others.