As a feminist, I have learned how important it is to limit the scope of my claims to a reasonable space, demarcated by some genuine historical or current investment, connection, or participation. There are many things in this world about which I passingly feel or think something. And, even if I think about something quite a bit, if I have nothing but opinion, even an informed one, I find it best to keep to myself. I therefore tread lightly here. Nevertheless, I do have some opinions born out of years of studying the relationship between Christianity and slavery, professional risk in dealing with these subjects, and my own different, but very real, history of abuse by which I analogically understand some measure of pain and exploitation.
I am dismayed by the overuse of written, right-side statements of position in times of crisis. I really feel as though they serve to say something like, “Hey, Everyone, We, the __________ (Church, School, Charity, Business), are on the side of the angels. We have the right attitude about this thing, and we’re putting it out there publicly so that everyone knows we’re legitimate. Keep trusting us.”
I noticed this aversion in myself first when the rash of statements came out by Catholic entities at the time of the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which exposed the 301 priests accused of abusing over 1000 children in six dioceses. Various statements I read quite offended me, and I had to search myself for the reason. It came down to the fact that the statements actually preempted conversation, skipped over rage, and controlled the frame for 1) naming the problem and 2) steering solutions. The rhetoric of what I will here call the “Side of the Angels Statement” is a tool of the institutionally empowered to perpetuate self-credibility in the face of crisis. There is no admission in such statements that the very institutions that proffer them have lost credibility and forfeited the right to name, lead, and control both conversations and outcomes. The magnitude of the subterfuge of this rhetoric increases correlatively to an institution’s or organization’s degree of power and influence.
The maddeningly hollow words about racism today are an outrage, as are the maddening appropriations of cultural suffering that we are witnessing in all of their permutations. Here, I think we are seeing something that we might call “race tourism.” I am not suggesting that people of different origins cannot enter into each other’s experiences in a stance toward solidarity. I am, rather, suggesting that we dig deep into lessons we have learned over fifty years of feminist dialogue, and recognize that our methodology for solidarity must begin with an ethic of limit and space – limit to self and space for other.
The Big Institutions need to make space and quit talking. This includes deeply 1) the Church and 2) all institutions that are born of American Christo-Slavery (by which, I mean, pretty much anything touched by American Christianity). The profoundest reckoning is upon us. As happened with the base ecclesial communities in Latin America, our present-day crisis necessitates a new kind of conversation about what it means to even suggest the ideas of holiness, or communion, or salvation.
I have ideas about ways forward, but they extend too far beyond my spheres of influence and participation to share. I do know, however, these things:
- Institutions of oppression cannot be trusted to liberate;
- Oppressed people must organize and speak for their own liberation;
- It is time to be honest with ourselves about what we believe, what we’re committed to, and whether we really want true change.
As for me, as a person of faith, I land on the side of hope, which is not hope for some specific thing, but hope as a disposition toward life. As a Christian, I feel a disposition toward community, but it is a community that we have never seen yet, maybe never conceived yet. Yet, if there be God worthy of the Name, surely this must be the plan. And, if there be nothing but our cobbled intelligences, surely this must also be the plan. It has been a while, but I find myself praying again.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.