Home At The Margins With My Sisters By Xochitl Alvizo

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. 

Categories: Christianity, Church Doctrine, Feminist Theology, General, Women in the Church

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14 replies

  1. I love this! I had a similar experience recently when mu United Methodist Church decided to keep an anti-homosexual clause in their book of rules until the next time they meet (four years). I was sad a discouraged for a day or so, but then ended up at this crazy wonderful, absolutely diverse social justice worship service on Sunday evening and it re-grounded me. Reminded me that the UMC is my church, but it is not my faith and my hope. The community I participate has moved beyond the rule book into doing what God has called us to do – regardless of who we are!
    Thanks for sharing your experience! :)


    • I definitely had the UMC in the back of my mind as I wrote this – since they are currently gathered for their General Conference in Tampa – and of course also the Vatican and all their craziness. The beautiful thing is the pockets of people who always witness to love and inclusion – like the Reconciling Ministry Network and the Women Religious in the Catholic Church – they are the church indeed.


  2. i am not a theologian, but because i study at a School of Theology (UM-affiliated actually) i do hear a lot about it. Beyond what i see on the page, though, i hope that your hopeful days increase and continually return, resurrected anew as others stand in solidarity with your vision and work.


    • Thanks Jonathan – that is very kind of you. I see you are in my favorite school (saw on fb) – I love Claremont! And the process folks there are some of the best human beings I know. I hope you are having a good experience there. :)


  3. I am fortunate to be a part of a church family where I can live out my faith and hope, yet I think it is always important to separate faith from religion. Religion to me represents rules, both good and bad, that I may or may not agree with; while faith represents personal relationship as well as the personal sphere of my thoughts and persoanl beliefs. Within my own church I am free to have my own thoughts, and free to discuss those thoughts openly. But I must say I went through several churches to find this, and once became so frustrated that I took a 7 year break from church altoghether. I have been amongst Christians outside of my church who would not let me speak, and with whom participation in faith would be near impossible.

    The following sentence, spoke straight to me,
    “This is my church. This is the tradition I participate in. But it is not my faith and it is not my hope.”

    Although I have found my church home, I continue to separate faith from church. To do otherwise, would reduce my faith to a membership card.


    • Lori, I concur, it’s in our smaller communities where we can and tend to be able to embody something more beautiful – once organizations get large and rigidly institutionalized, religion often rears its ugly head. I too make a distinction between religion and faith – our faith can be seen in how we live our lives, in our everyday practices and ways of relating with one another and the earth. Religion is usually a reification of one particular interpretation of a way of life, that may have been originally life-giving, but gets reduced to a system into which all humans are supposed to fit – pure craziness.

      Mary Daly once said the following about the church – and it still rings true to me today:
      “What is the role of the church in the quest for sisterhood?I don’t think the church as an institution is able to take a role. We have to reconsider the world church. The church is wherever human liberation exists, whether you call it church or not. It’s where the women’s liberation movement is—whether the women actually go to church or not. The institutional church has a lot of listening to do. The religious dimensions in the movement are going to be outlined by the women inside it and not by church authorities outside it.”

      Wherever human liberation exists :-) Blessed be!


  4. We shouldn’t even have to ask this question anymore. The answer is so obvious. To paraphrase Bill Clinton…. well you know the phrase.


  5. Substitute “patriarchy” for “economy.”


  6. It shouldn’t be shocking, this is the whole point of patriarchal thinking. Erase, minimalize, tokenize….you know the drill… hey, but we put a footnote in about Mary Daly, but now let’s make sure we get those books out of print as soon as we can. Liberal het feminists won’t even notice, yu-uuuu-ahhh… twirling mustaches outside Claremont…Ugh Hey, we’re men, we just make this stuff up, and get women to believe in it…. they must be laughing all the way to the bank as women pay to get this “education.”


  7. keep on truckin’ or join us on the other side of the great divide! either way keep your faith that every one of our voices counts and that when there are enough of us we will change the world. blessed be!


    • Yes, Carol, it’s probably just a matter of time! Either way, to live and live toward a beautifully transformed world is the point indeed. Blessed be!


  8. I look at changing the world as a work in progress. In the war on women, there are prisoners of war, and guess who those prisoners are? In the large world, all women are the prisoners of war. In the small world, which is the very genius of male supremacy, there are the wives of men who are prisoners of war in the home. It’s the perfect system to control, subvert and keep all women in bondage. The creepiest tactics are the Nigel men, the nice men, and if we tracked those marriages to nice men, and documented every hour of every day, we would have a data bank exploding with exploitation of women. I get to see this all the time…. even as a complete outsider to the cult of heterosexuality, I get to see what happens to women the minute that first child is born!

    So how do the prisoners break free? We know there was a past when women were not slaves, and failing to remember this we can invent, said Monique Wittig. We know Mary Daly taught us to be pirates and steal back that which men originally stole from the triple Goddess.

    We know that liberal feminism will get us nowhere, and that women delude themselves into settling for the crumbs of patriarchy, and the guys have got it down to a science. First they attack lesbians, then when lesbian nation gains rights, and homophobia doesn’t work as well, then they go back to attacking choice and abortion rights, back and forth they go, trying to keep women preoccupied, trying to keep women off balance. They keep trying to use up our valuable resources, when what we could do would be far more radical.

    Are women up to that task? 5000 years of oppression and patriarchy — it hasn’t been this wildly successful for nothing. Even Eastern European male centric servitude fell in 50 some years, but patriarchy is 5000 years old. 5000 women! How do we stop being collaborators, either the field hands or the house slaves, we are all slaves. Just when do the slaves rebel, what would it take?

    But we do know of a time when this wasn’t true, we remember a time when we were free— the Goddess times, the matrilineal times, the Minoan times, and it’s no accident that the revival of the Goddess occured as feminism rose yet again. We know this, we have the archaeological evidense, the scholarship, the priestesses. But be alert, follow what is happening to our Dianic priestesses at Pagan conferences. Heads up!



  1. 5.2.2012 Words for Wednesday « SisterNews.net

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