“Power belongs to those who stay to write the report!” stated Jeanne Audrey Powers during her presentation at the Religion and the Feminist Movement conference at Harvard Divinity School back in 2002. Though the statement sounds a little funny, it does raise a good question about how one participates in creating change. Where does the power for change and transformation lie? Is it in the writing of reports; is it from within institutions; from without? This question seems to be of particular relevance to those of us who have feminist visions and commitments and also remain involved in Christian churches – churches of a tradition with deeply embedded patriarchal habits and practices.
Recently, this concern was raised in a class for which I am a TA. We were talking about the fact that some feminist theologians develop feminist systematic theologies; by definition a cohesive theological system done from a feminist perspective. In part, the motivation is to reclaim the systematic way of doing theology and have it stand alongside other widely recognized theologies – but do so in a feminist way. Additionally, the traditional systematic format gives it validity and may serve to temper the prevailing habit of teaching feminist theologies as so-called ‘contextual’ theologies (as if other theologies are not also contextual, but that’s a topic for another post). A critique of this development, of course, is that by writing systematic theologies feminists are simply reinforcing patriarchal forms and patterns of academentia instead of expanding and creating new ones.
As we discussed this in class, a student commented that she could imagine that Mary Daly would critique this form and would instead encourage feminists to develop new ones. Another student suggested that a counter to Mary Daly is that as someone who left the institution (of the Christian church) and stopped working to ameliorate the harm that the churches’ embedded patriarchy has in our world. That she was so far removed from the church that she did not participate in creating change at all. The point being that at least the systematic feminist theologians work to transform the church from the inside and protest patriarchy from within…
After the women’s liberation movement of the late 60s and early 70s, many feminists left the ‘traditions of the father’, Mary Daly among them. Some of them found these religious traditions to be irredeemably patriarchal or simply just not life-giving enough to be worth staying in. However, as we discussed all this in class, what we quickly realized was that so many of these feminists who left are nonetheless having a direct and powerful impact on the church even while being outside of it. They may not be direct participants within, but their work has a transformative effect on those of us who stay. Mary Daly, for example, was a radical feminist philosopher who envisioned a revolution that would inspire all women, and sisterly men, to leave patriarchal religions behind. For her, Ultimate/Intimate Reality, God as Verb, gave her the Courage to Leave. But for me, I am inspired to be within. She led an exodus out of the church and I stay on the boundary of it participating to create New Time/Space within it. I am able to do what I do within because of what she did without.
Mary Daly’s brilliance, writing, and Originally Sinful Acts are available to me, to all of us for whom Be-ing means staying. Mary Daly has a direct impact on how I participate in Christianity and the church. I have often said that without her I would not be Christian-identified at all (of course, not something she always approved of, but she was supportive of me no less). Be-ing feminist in the church is how I am fully alive, and as I am impacted by Mary Daly’s work, the church is impacted by her through my participation in it. So, as removed as Mary Daly may have been from the church, her impact is still very real and present and contributes to its transformation and change.
Where, then, does the power for change and transformation lie? In writing a systematic theology? Yes! In walking out of the church? Yes! In teaching? Yes! In raising little feminists? Yes! In staying in? Yes! In staying long enough to write the report? Yes! As long as each of these are ways in which we respectively come alive with the Divine, then these all have the power to contribute toward change. In all the different ways in which each of us individually and collectively connect with Ultimate/Intimate Reality and leap into our own be-coming, we have power to create change. It is not productive to give into the dichotomizing and fragmenting ways of patriarchy that seek to pit us one against another (an old trick to fall for). I find it more productive to cheer each other on as we each do our respective work of liberation even when it looks different from our own. There is so much to be done!
So let’s go, let’s do our work, and Sin Big!
There are online videos of many of the presentations from the Religion and the Feminist Movement conference. I recommend the whole series, it’s a wonderful resource on the feminist theology and its development.
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works 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 connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters.