Feminist Imagining with Christian Doctrine
By Jenny Daggers and Grace Ji-Sun Kim.
Feminist theology has been growing and emerging globally as women are fighting for equality within church and society. There are many areas within theology that need to be critiqued, reimagined and reconstructed. One area is church doctrine – the authorized teachings of the churches that are passed on as received traditions.
How can doctrine be imagined? Theologians writing in the twenty- first century are privileged in our ability to approach this question in a new light. Theology today is illuminated by a rich vein of theological thinking that has arisen and continues to arise from “peripheral” contexts. This new vein immeasurably enriches the gifts bequeathed to the theological centers that vest their authority in their direct line of descent from the Catholic and Protestant traditions of European Christendom.
As the language of “center” and “periphery” suggests, power and privilege persists in the processes by which doctrine is defined and its legitimate regulative function is endorsed. The hegemony of the center is under challenge from the particular theologies gathered. Theologians need to write from their own local concerns. The notion that theology can be thought in any other way than locally appears increasingly untenable. The well-used categories of received doctrinal traditions take on a new vibrancy as they are turned toward speaking anew the work of the triune God: the creation and redemption of the world is differently known through the lives of its peripheral peoples.
A new collection, Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice, develops a strand of feminist theology which ensures that the new riches of peripheral vision inform and are informed by doctrine. This blog post highlights for readers’ consideration themes arising when women theologians from peripheral locations engage issues of global justice and doctrine; white feminist readers may consider how to engage these issues from their own contexts while also checking the privileges as well as the exclusions of their more central positionings.
In this volume, authors who identify as “women of color” develop themes that resonate strongly with one another and bring their particular insights from their enforced peripheral locations. There are overlapping areas of experience and theological insight that are unavailable directly to white feminist theologians. White feminist authors sit in a different location; they draw from their European heritage, including the privileges of whiteness, while simultaneously being “off center” in relation to their received traditions, on account of their gender.
In their introduction, the editors survey the landscape of feminist doctrinal imagining. Womanist and black feminist chapters by Linda E. Thomas and Elise M. Edwards reflect respectively on the theological creativity of enslaved women, who in drawing on African spirituality envisioned the Holy Spirit anew, and of aesthetic agency as an empowering force in the lives of contemporary immigrant women. Loida Martell-Otero writes a Latina evangélica doctrine of God, where she shifts the focus to the poor evangélica woman’s question ‘where is God?’, rather than the ‘who is God?’ focus of traditional doctrine. Grace Ji-Sun Kim writes a Korean American theology of hope, where she places her advocacy of welcome for the ‘foreigner’ by white Americans in the eschatological perspective of the coming kingdom of God.
These Protestant-inflected voices of women of color are accompanied by white Lutheran ecofeminist imaginings that reflect on human suffering and the plenitude of salvation. Thus Sigridur Gudmarsdottir offers a ‘theology of the green cross’, informed by Bonaventure and the Icelandic poet, Pétursson’; Hilda P. Koster learns from Gebara, as well as Keller and Johnson, to bring a Christological focus in her grappling with harm suffered in the evolutionary struggle; and Amy Carr brings fresh insight to the doctrinal categories of sin, free will and grace, by forging a new ecofeminist Stoic category, capable of doing justice to both trauma and grace. White Catholic feminists, Gina Messina-Dysert and Elizabeth Gandolfo appropriate rich doctrinal elements from their tradition for new imaginings: Dysert to present a fresh engagement with Mariological doctrine, and Gandolfo who draws a maternal voices from diverse locations into conversation with the Catholic mystical tradition.
As editors of this volume, we aim to invite a plethora of different readings, as each reader mirrors the book’s authors in bringing his or her own particular theological and contextual commitments to the task. Our hope is that readers new to the evolving spectrum of women’s theologies represented here— Latina/mujerista, evangélica, womanist, Asian American, black feminist, or white feminist— will learn much of each theology in its distinctiveness, as well as of the growing intercultural dialogue within feminist theology; there is fresh insight also for readers who are already engaged in these distinct yet related theological communities. Chapters written by white feminist authors demonstrate a commitment to learn from women of color while also addressing their own local concerns. How do readers who are women of color respond to these attempts to write more locally?
The essays collected here insist that received traditions are converted so that the imperative of the struggle for justice is recognized; we go further in insisting that if this imperative is ignored, the gospel that doctrine seeks to interpret will be misunderstood. Our readers will test how far we have achieved what we set out to do.
One final point here is that the book invites a conversation with the custodians of authorized traditions on the nature of doctrine. For those traditional theologians who are accustomed to addressing Hegelian distortions of doctrine, a very different challenge emerges here, in the doctrinal imagining of women theologians who expect to encounter the biblical God of history in the everyday neediness of the world’s poor women. Doctrine imagined from this starting point deserves to be taken seriously wherever systematic theology is thought.
From our perspective as editors of this project, our conviction is that as Feminist Theology moves forward, we need to deepen and extend the landscape of doctrinal imagining, so that the old received words become infused with new meanings. We urge feminist theologians to share their women’s imaginings with doctrine, which seek to usher in the coming reign.