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7KH)DLWK:H/RYHDQGWKH)DFWV:H$EKRU$5HVSRQVHWR/LVD6RZOH&DKLOO·V ´&DWKROLF)HPLQLVWVDQG7UDGLWLRQV5HQHZDO5HLQYHQWLRQ5HSODFHPHQWµ 6WDFH\0)OR\G7KRPDV -RXUQDORIWKH6RFLHW\RI&KULVWLDQ(WKLFV9ROXPH1XPEHU)DOO:LQWHU SS$UWLFOH 3XEOLVKHGE\7KH6RFLHW\RI&KULVWLDQ(WKLFV '2,VFH )RUDGGLWLRQDOLQIRUPDWLRQDERXWWKLVDUWLFOH KWWSVPXVHMKXHGXDUWLFOH Access provided by Boston College (19 Sep 2016 17:55 GMT) The Faith We Love and the Facts We Abhor: A Response to Lisa Sowle Cahill’s “Catholic Feminists and Traditions: Renewal, Reinvention, Replacement” Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas Since women and girls compose more than 50 percent of the world’s population, feminist theology quite rightfully should be considered the most important and influential theological movement in our lifetimes. While it is certainly clear that feminism in religion and theology covers a broad spectrum of perspectives—Protestant and Catholic; conservative, progressive, and radical; female exclusive and male inclusive; straight or queer—feminist theology is not a monolithic theological school without differentiation either implicitly or explicitly. As a response to Lisa Sowle Cahill’s “Catholic Feminists and Traditions: Renewal, Reinvention, and Replacement,” this essay contends that Catholic feminist theology has common emphases with its various analogues but has its own inherent complexity and intrinsic debates that have to be reckoned with in order to guarantee that gender equality and sexual justice are realities in our time. After reading Lisa Sowle Cahill’s “Catholic Feminists and Traditions: Renewal, Reinvention, Replacement” I recalled the lyrics of the Grammy Award–winning African American female a cappella singing ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song “(Women Should Be) a Priority,” in which they sing women “should be a priority / Respected and upheld in society / Given all the proper notoriety / Never used or abused by authority.”1 For those of you who might not be familiar with the amalgam of musical artistry and social activism that comprises Sweet Honey’s raison d’être, these lyrics are a great encapsulation of the group’s sense of purpose. But what’s remarkable to me is that, even more than twenty years after this song was written, the prioritization and empowerment of women within church, academy, and society remains a matter of speculation rather than a certainty. Even now there are those public reactionary voices that deem feminist views and values as heresy. Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, PhD, is SCE executive director and associate professor of Christian ethics at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, 411 21st Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37240; [email protected] Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 34, 2 (2014): 53–60 54 • The Faith We Love and the Facts We Abhor We have been mired in the so-called culture war for several decades, fixated on issues of reproductive rights, gender-based discrimination in the workplace, women in the military, distorted feminine images in media, sexual education, and a host of other sociocultural issues. Yet it is disconcerting that we find ourselves at a point when male leaders and lawmakers debate the nature of “legitimate rape.”2 Feminist theology and ethics quite rightfully should be considered one of the most critical theological movements in our time. While feminism in religion and theology covers a broad spectrum of perspectives—Protestant and Catholic; conservative, progressive, and radical; male and female; straight and queer—feminist theology is not a monolithic theological school without differentiation. As Cahill illustrates, Catholic feminist theology has common emphases with its Protestant and non-Christian analogues, but it also has its own inherent complexity and intrinsic debates that have to be reckoned with as we move forward to guarantee that gender equality and sexual justice become realities in our time. As a renowned ethicist and moral theologian, Cahill demonstrates her deep-seated commitment and overall indebtedness to the Catholic Church’s canonical teachings of the natural law tradition. She maps the intellectual contours of the Catholic tradition where feminist Catholic scholars are a “part of” and yet “set apart from” how the Church responds. Cahill diligently and somewhat lovingly extols the compatibility of faith and reason and the possibility of arriving at objective if not always self-evident truths upon which people of all faiths—and even those who eschew faith—might find common ground and agree. As an adherent of this Christian social thought, Cahill operates from core beliefs that all people have the capacity for reasonable judgment and no one should be dismissed out of hand. Furthermore, for Cahill, her truth is not simplistically derived from abstract principles or ossified beliefs but from a commitment to the principle that experience must inform theology. Ergo, a credible Catholic feminist theology does not emerge from a wellspring of abstract truths but from the slow, steady accretion of women’s power and perspectives. Cahill’s essay raises two critical concerns: first, a matter of context; second, an issue of essence. Regarding context, Cahill clearly engages the normative perspective that feminist theology is contextual in nature, as it arises from cultural specificity and particular history. Thus, the overarching portrayal of Catholicism is the context where Cahill broadly maps women’s particular experience of sacred and secular arenas where they have been subordinated and excluded from leadership and authority. Given culturally inscribed and theologically inculcated male domination, patriarchy and misogyny within Catholic tradition have to be juxtaposed with the fact that women were also cocreators and collaborators. How does Cahill reconcile the struggle against the systemic Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas • 55 and historic injustices of patriarchy while also being committed to the Church? Because this is not a Catholic women’s problem alone, how do we make sense of the faith we love and the facts we abhor? Conversely, Cahill broaches the issue of essence in provocative ways throughout her essay. Essence within feminist scholarship is often framed in terms of how society constructs and construes gender, as if women are the only ones who possess it. Too often the grand presumption in contemporary society is that women, whether we declare ourselves feminists, womanists, mujeristas, or some as yet to be determined kindred spirit, are the sole possessors of gender and thus are the only ones who ought to be preoccupied with its inner workings. Even though gender does not imply any inherent antagonism between human beings who identify as male and female, Cahill has broached complex issues where we are pressed to think about the essence of the feminist struggle for women of faith. For example, reflecting upon her intellectual and sociopolitical awakening during the mid-1960s, pioneering feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether comments that whereas “race and class analysis was presumed as foundational to critical social thought, . . . gender was ignored. Neither my black nor my white colleagues in the seminary, or in social activism, thought women’s oppression was a worthy subject of discussion. Women with social justice concerns were expected to commit themselves to the liberation of others, not to ask questions about their own exploitation.”3 Given that the desire to reclaim and redeem the importance of women’s existence and experience through the revelation of distorted and dehumanizing views of womanhood articulated in Scripture, Christian theology, moral reasoning, and church history fuels the work of the feminist project in religion, the crux of our concern becomes whether sexism and antipathy toward women are innate to the Christian tradition. Even as the impact of postmodernist discourse upon contemporary scholarship has rendered essentialism a largely discredited concept, as ethicists, how do we confront Cahill’s notion that we are addressing long hidden, ignored, or suppressed realities of women within communities of faith in general and the Catholic Church in this instance by reinterpreting Christian thought and praxis more inclusively? Moreover, how does one transform the patriarchal and misogynistic dimensions within a faith tradition that is also enmeshed in a larger web of interlocking realities such as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and nationality without acknowledging their full resonance? This is where we strike what is at the core of “retrieving tradition” being a so-called scare word for people like myself, who find ourselves at the margins. In classical Christian doctrine, tradition referred to the beliefs, practices, and texts considered authoritative for Christian faith and practice. More recently, ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre defines tradition as a “historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the 56 • The Faith We Love and the Facts We Abhor goods which constitute that tradition.”4 For the current conversation, we need to consider tradition not merely as a fixed historical artifact but as a fluid process in which the practitioners engage one another by inheriting, imagining, embracing, and claiming said tradition—in Cahill’s case, C atholicism—that they argue over and care deeply about being mutual stakeholders in the future of a shared faith. Therefore, the feminist discussion of tradition has always already centered on the question: “Can Christianity be mined for women’s liberation, or is the power of Christian traditions hopelessly patriarchal?” Feminist engagement with tradition has focused on whether the Christian tradition can be mined for wisdom and practices that will further women’s liberation. Feminist theologians Judith Plaskow and Carol Christ differentiate between “revolutionary feminists, who reject the Christian tradition as inextricably patriarchal, and reforming feminists, who argue that the tradition offers liberating insights crucial to the formulation of authentic theologies and practices.”5 Feminist reformers tend to draw from within the tradition tools for critiquing patriarchy as it appears in doctrine, practices, and sacred texts. On the other hand, feminist revolutionaries such as Mary Daly argue that women should turn to their own lives to generate religious expressions free of patriarchy instead of a tradition bound to the sexism inherent in a tradition that cannot get beyond God the Father.6 Even among reformers there is debate over what constitutes the liberating content of Christianity. Feminist theologian Letty Russell delineates the patriarchal development of the tradition from its 2 Corinthians 5:17 guiding theological principle that avows that in Christ there is a new creation. For feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, the Christian faith should be guided by what is for her the essence of the biblical message, akin to Luke 4:18, that calls for the prophetic spirit to usher forth justice and liberation.7 Instead of turning to theological principles, feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza suggests that Jesus’s life and ministry and the egalitarian practices of early communities of followers reveal the essence of Christianity and, therefore, the historical reconstruction of the Jesus life is the most viable way to retrieve any benefit of tradition as a source for feminist theology.8 When we think of those who have upheld the Christian tradition and have kept the faith, historically and presently, no group has exuded this trait better than women. When Augustine wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are,” we know that his inclination was not to be inclusive in his language but perhaps to be honest.9 The hope of the gospel has been that women are the ones who have prioritized what it takes to keep the faith. “If it wasn’t for the women,” to use womanist sociologist of religion Cheryl Townsend Gilkes’s words, we would neither have a Christian Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas • 57 faith to talk about nor any churches to attend.10 Was it not a woman who made the incarnation a reality? Was it not the women in the days of Jesus who helped finance the ministry of Jesus and his disciples? Was it not a woman who took her most precious ointment to anoint Jesus in preparation of his death and resurrection, who, though refused by Jesus’s disciples, Jesus himself said would be remembered throughout history? Yet do you hear her story during Lent or Passion services? Was it not a woman who first received the words, “go and tell the good news,” in all four Gospels? Even today, within the United States—steeped in its own civic tradition that claims justice and freedom as the entitled inheritance of the only country who is blessed by God—hasn’t it been the legacy of the dispossessed and enslaved who were sold into slavery, bound, beaten, and brought on slave ships called Jesus and Virgin Mary, severed from their homeland and loved ones, considered as chattel and heathens, who reclaimed the truth of the Christian tradition by rightfully dividing the word of truth for themselves and thereby enfleshing freedom (to use the words of Catholic womanist theologian M. Shawn Copeland) that only could come about through possessing liberating message of the gospel of Jesus Christ?11 Wasn’t it Sojourner Truth who not only changed her name and ordained herself to champion the elusive freedom for herself and others but also served as a trailblazer who lent authenticity to the women’s suffragist movement and the abolition movement? In no uncertain words, the matter of reclaiming the tradition for ethical living is simply living out a life of carrying on the faith not necessarily of our forefathers per se but also and most especially of our foremothers. In the words of Catholic womanist theologian Diana Hayes, to be Christian for so many women of color is to “stand in the shoes [our] mothers made.”12 As a black Baptist womanist, tradition for me is not a scare word because of its practice but rather it is a warning signal because those who get to use the word often wield power, divorced of practice. While Thomas Aquinas was central to making inextricable the link between Jesus and the Church as the means of human salvation, it was actually women, and particularly women of color, who have been the ones to situate the faith in a most tangible, nonbourgeois culture that has been reminiscent of actually imitating the life of Jesus and the work of Christ.13 And it has been this womanist tradition of Christian culture, according to womanist theologian Delores Williams, that “has traditionally reflected more egalitarian relations between men and women, much less rigidity in male/female roles, and more respect for female intelligence and ingenuity than is found in bourgeois culture” of high church and the hollow and hallowed halls of the academy.14 Women of color, “the bearers of many burdens, also have been—most importantly—the bearers of Christian culture.”15 They remind those of us wedded to faith how we should uphold and wave the Christian banner. 58 • The Faith We Love and the Facts We Abhor However, the mystery of this tradition of which we speak is that those who get to name and claim the tradition are rarely those who uphold it. The blatant reality of the history of Christianity is that there is no Christ without the cross. James Cone reminds: We cannot find liberating joy in the cross by spiritualizing it, by taking away its message of justice in the midst of powerlessness, suffering, and death. The cross, as a locus of divine revelation, is not good news for the powerful, for those who are comfortable with the way things are, or for anyone whose understanding of religion is aligned with power. The religious authorities of Jesus’ time were threatened by his teachings about the reign of God’s justice and love and the state authorities executed him as an insurrectionist—one who “perverts the nation” and “stirs up the people.”16 While the disciples ran, the women knew, prepared, remained, and witnessed a new way of being was coming into existence. Without question, my concern is with the marginalized, most especially women of color who have been the culture bearers and believers of tradition yet are treated as shadowy pariahs in a faith they have made whole. Much like the notion of shadow used in Jungian psychology—which can be surmised as “that which you actually are but you wish you weren’t”—there is a consistent strain within Catholicism and much of Western Christianity that either rejects or remains ignorant of everything that does not fit neatly into patriarchal modes of power, privilege, and prestige. The realities of women of color have been systematically superimposed with Christianity’s least desirable aspects. In turn, the gatekeepers of this tradition castigate us for representing everything that is deemed primitive, primal, profane, and problematic. And yet with women of color having been rendered as the veritable bête noire of this Christian tradition, I remain mystified by how it is feasible that we who have been the mainstays of the faith and tradition are depicted as the marginal and even the monstrous in this Christian tradition to which we all lay claim. Simply put, just what is tradition for Christian ethics and what needs to be retrieved? For Professor Cahill, I invite an engagement of her notions of appreciation, suspicion, and praxis via her six commitments of Catholic theological ethics to mine the portals of tradition, which can then help us visualize and perhaps be compelled to engage a liberative sense of renewal, reinvention, and replacement. In closing, the liberating gospel, life, and legacy of Jesus Christ is so amazingly similar to the lives of the women of color who have kept the faith that one cannot help but wonder what blocks the American Christian imagination and its related academic enterprise from seeing these connections. Ours now must be the ethical commitment as the scribes of our times to bring these women from the margins into the center of our attention by making their lives and Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas • 59 stories a priority, which makes for a stronger understanding of Christian traditions, plural. Ours now is the moral mandate, to use feminist ethicist Beverly Wildung Harrison’s words, to “undo what history has done” and truly endeavor to make women—all women and their dispossessed communities—a priority.17 Notes 1.See Lisa Sowle Cahill, “Catholic Feminists and Traditions: Renewal, Reinvention, Replacement,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 34, no. 2 (2014): 27–51; and Sweet Honey in the Rock, “(Women Should Be) a Priority,” on In This Land, EarthBeat, 1992. 2. As an example, recall the comment of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) concerning pregnancy as a result of rape. In an interview on Fox News, Representative Akin was asked whether he believed abortion is justified in cases of rape, to which he replied, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” (Lori Moore, “The Statement and the Reaction,” New York Times, August 20, 2012.) Such parsing of rape, misogynist biological determinism, and inferior moral reasoning pares a woman’s moral agency and intelligence to her vagina and womb. This way of thinking denies women any virtue, volition, or value beyond their body’s ability to reproduce or be a vessel for men’s control, rage, or pleasure. 3.Rosemary Radford Ruether, “An Intellectual Autobiography,” in Shaping a Theological Mind: Theological Context and Methodology, ed. Darren C. Marks (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001), 106. 4. Alasdair C. MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (North Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 222. 5. Valarie H. Ziegler, “Tradition,” in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty M. Russell and J. Shannon Clarkson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 301–2, emphasis in original. 6.See Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985); Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985); and Daly, Gyn/ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990). 7.See Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). 8.See Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983); and Fiorenza, But SHE Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992). 9.St. Augustine, as quoted in Robert McAfee Brown, Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacy (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 136. 10.See Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, If It Wasn’t for the Women . . . : Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001). 11.See M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009). 12.See Diana Hayes, Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made: A Womanist Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010). 13.See Delores S. Williams, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voice,” Christianity and Crisis, March 2, 1987; Jacqueline Grant, White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1989); Emilie M. 60 • The Faith We Love and the Facts We Abhor Townes, ed., Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1997); Traci C. West, Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006); and Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993). 14.Delores S. Williams, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voices,” Christianity and Crisis 7 (March 2, 1987). 15.Hayes, Standing in the Shoes, 165. 16.James Cone, “Legacies of the Cross and the Lynching Tree,” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, Chicago, IL, January 2013. 17.Beverly Wildung Harrison, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” in Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (Boston: Beacon, 1985), 16.