Editor’s Note: A more formal memorial to Catholic Feminist Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether was posted here at Feminism and Religion at the time of her passing. Now we are delighted to share these memories of her by two scholars, Theresa A Yugar and Janice L. Poss, who knew her well, especially in her last months. Therese’s reflection is below and Janice’s will appear tomorrow. As Janice notes in her post, “More than any deep theological concept, doctrinal exegesis, or other hyper-scholarly thought, she taught me simply by being who she was – a woman – and she gave me the ultimate gift, the gift of herself.” Through these posts, Theresa and Janice pass on some of Rosemary’s wise and caring gifts to our FAR readers.Part 1 was posted yesterday.You can read it here.
Almost five years ago, Rosemary Radford Ruether suffered a devastating stroke that left her partially paralyzed and no longer able to speak or write, activities that were integral to her life as a writer, teacher, activist, and scholar. During her difficult last years Janice and I learned new ways of engaging her that were academically stimulating and fulfilling for her. We became advocates for her during her disability as she had been an advocate for us. Thus, out of pain grew blessings.
Janice and I dedicate and share with you these two short reflections that reflect our struggle to find our way without her. We know there will be many more reflections composed and shared by others whom she mentored, influenced and touched. Now—in the midst of our grief and sadness at her loss—we offer our personal memories of how she enriched our lives every day until she passed from our midst at 2pm, on Saturday, May 21, 2022.
Editor’s Note: A more formal memorial to Catholic Feminist Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether was posted here at Feminism and Religion at the time of her passing. Now we are delighted to share these memories of her by two scholars, Theresa A Yugar and Janice L. Poss, who knew her well, especially in her last months. Therese’s reflection was posted yesterday and Janice’s is below. As Janice notes in her post, “More than any deep theological concept, doctrinal exegesis, or other hyper-scholarly thought, she taught me simply by being who she was – a woman – and she gave me the ultimate gift, the gift of herself.” Through these posts, Theresa and Janice pass on some of Rosemary’s wise and caring gifts to our FAR readers.
She’s gone, but not forgotten. She is there, presence felt. The Spirit, as they say, works in mysterious ways. I knew about Rosemary for several years after attending two presentations on feminist topics that she gave at Loyola Marymount University in 2005 and 2008. In 2006, I also recall hearing about her while organizing the first Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) Mass in Los Angeles. Once I entered Claremont Graduate University as a Ph.D. student I heard quite a bit about her because my colleague and friend, Theresa Yugar, mentored me through orientation until she graduated. Occasionally I would see Theresa and Rosemary at Pilgrim Place when I attended Women Church Services. Although Rosemary was still teaching one class a semester, I could never attend because I was working full-time.
Jill Hammer’s recent post on midrash surrounding the Biblical figure of Eve (Hava in Hebrew) sparked me to muse again about the fact that, despite its patriarchal roots and overlay, Judaism is a much more flexible tradition than Christianity and, therefore, much more open to feminist change.
Part of this is due to the fact that Judaism is midrashic while Christianity has been and remains a doctrinal tradition. Midrash is a form of Biblical interpretation that includes retelling the story to fill in the blanks and to answer contemporary questions left unanswered in the original text. Jews consider the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) to be the “Word of God” though opinions vary as to what this means. In the rabbinical tradition, the Torah is interpreted through the Talmud which is an extensive collection of discussions and disputes that draw on Biblical texts in relation to contemporary (to the rabbis) questions. Midrash included in the Mishnah (a collection of teachings that preceded the Talmud) and the Talmud are considered part of the “oral Torah.” which is also “the Word of God.”
There are people in my family who believe Christianity to be so inherently oppressive and harmful, that anyone who identifies as Christian is culpable for all of the harm done by all imperial colonization by Christian empires and nations, all harm done to Native Americans, to LGBTQ people, most slavery, racism, genocide, ecocide, and basically almost every problem the world has had for 2000 years.
Theirs is not an unusual view. I encounter this view regularly here in the Northeast US, though most people assign the blame to religion in general. For parts of my family, Christianity is the true evil because it was so popular, and thus the religion most commonly tied to violent and oppressive political leaders and structures.
I also encounter this attitude from feminists, quite frequently. According to many feminists, I am everything that is anti-feminist and misogynist… precisely, solely because I am Christian.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to my undergrad institution on a student recruitment trip. During this trip I was able to preach during the college’s weekday chapel service. Despite the fact that I have lived, studied, and worked within a seminary community for the last seven years I had not actually written (not to mention preached!) a sermon since I was a senior at this very college… to say the least I was a bit nervous. As it turned out the sermon writing went well, and I also felt positively about the preaching experience. But even though the writing and preaching are over I can’t stop thinking about the topics I choose to speak about.
The scripture lesson I used was Luke chapter 24 verses 22-24 “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
These verses offer a quick recap of the Easter story that comes earlier in chapter 24 of Luke. The women go to the tomb with the spices that they have prepared, but when they arrive they discover that the stone has been rolled away and the body of their friend and teacher is not there. Instead, there are two men in dazzling clothes who ask the women “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:
Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”
Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”
As our country reels in horror at the brutal massacre of nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one particularly important detail has emerged: the young man who killed those nine people entered the world of white supremacism after the object of his romantic interest rejected him and dated a black man.
According to his cousin, the experience dramatically changed the young man, led to his obsession with racist hatred, and motivated him to commit the atrocity. In some ways, the event resembles the 2014 Santa Barbara massacre, in which a young white man with strong racist tendencies massacred young women because he felt angry that women generally did not respond favorably to his romantic advances. Other mass murderers have also exhibited violent misogyny. Moreover, our country has begun to notice that most mass shootings are carried out by white males, and to point out that white masculinity may lead young men into feeling like failures if they do not achieve all the trappings of their supposedly superior race and gender identity.
Katharine (Kate) Bushnell (1855-1946) was by any measure a remarkable figure in the history of Christian feminism. A global anti-trafficking activist and author of God’s Word to Women, a fascinating feminist theology that recasts the entire biblical narrative as a story of liberation for women, Bushnell was once widely known throughout the late-nineteenth-century Protestant world.
A Midwestern Methodist, Bushnell came of age in Evanston, IL. After a brief stint as a medical missionary to China, she helped launch the American “social purity” movement by leading a dramatic exposé of the trafficking of women in Wisconsin lumber camps. Drawing attention to the injustices women faced under the Victorian sexual double standard, Bushnell helped break the “conspiracy of silence” that inhibited discussion of sexuality among “respectable” women and men. She then took her activism overseas, where she exposed the abusive practices of the British army in colonial India, particularly when it came to the confinement and abuse of local women in military brothels. Continue reading “Katharine Bushnell—The Most Important Christian Feminist You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of by Kristin Kobes Du Mez”