Response-Ability: Rethinking Economics in the Feminist Theological Discourse.
By Susan Thistlethwaite. Adapted from her talk given at the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network meeting on November 16, 2018.
I always feel more secure when I reach into my purse, and I find some change. When I was a child, one of the ways my father controlled my mother was occasionally not giving her money to buy food. When this happened, my mother and I would hunt through the backs of drawers and in the couch cushions and other places where change could have dropped. To this day, I still remember that great feeling of reaching into the cushions and coming up with some change. It meant we could eat. This behavior by my father stopped when, at seven-years-old, I went by a church near our house to get some food from their food pantry. Later that evening, the pastor paid a call to my father and mother and asked how else the church could help. My father was mortified, and he never withheld money for food again.
We have said (and meant) “the personal is the political” in the feminist movement for a very long time. My personal example above brings that immediate context of ‘women and children last’ to the issue of economics. Economic analysis is axiomatic in liberation theology, but I believe economics needs to be rethought from the perspective of the global economic exploitation of women and dependent children as based on a model of abuse.
Jesus taught us to ‘follow the money’ as he did. “Jesus sat down opposite the temple where he could see the money box.” (Mark 12:41)
Where do we see the money going today?
One thing we see is that global capitalism is predatory. That is fairly widely known. However, the way in which global capitalism doesn’t just exploit crises such as so-called natural disasters, but how it promotes crises such as war and/or the collapse of democratically elected governments is less well known. Naomi Klein invented the term “disaster capitalism” for this.
Klein writes of her research on the way in which global capitalism feeds on and feeds crisis, and notes:
“Behind every statistic was a story of wrenching sacrifice and degraded decisions. As is always the case, women and children suffered the worst of the crisis.” [i]
This is descriptive, not analytical in terms of moving from terrible impacts on women and children to a sustained feminist liberation analysis of why this is. Her next book on the environment versus capitalism has two mentions of feminism, both historical.[ii]
A feminist liberation analysis of our current global climate catastrophe and its relationship to predatory capitalism must bring a deeper analysis of the ways patriarchy has functioned, and especially its capacity to mutate like a deadly virus and adapt in order to block or co-opt efforts to regulate it. This kind of patriarchy is the blueprint, the model, for predatory global capitalism. Now, this model is composed of very complicated relationships of race, sexual orientation, national origin, labor, religion, and national origin, to name only a few. That’s a lot for a ten minute talk. Yet, one thing we can say with certainty is that if feminism is to have a vital future it must do so by bringing these complications to consciousness, to analysis and to action.
So, in short, I want to argue that the abuse of women and children is a model for the kind of predatory global capitalism that is wrecking the future of the planet as a viable basis for diverse plant and animal life. These effects are falling disproportionately on poor women of color throughout the world.
“UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.
[Women’s] Roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make them more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur.
The 2015 Paris Agreement has made specific provision for the empowerment of women, recognizing that they are disproportionately impacted.”[iii]
So, let’s focus on both the Kyoto Protocol and then Paris Agreement for a moment, especially the emphasis on women and their empowerment. These agreements, if followed, would be barely enough to slow down catastrophic climate change. But, the direction was positive and needed changes could result.
And then, the United States elected a fascist, white supremacist, climate change denier, who is an admitted sex offender, as well as a domestic abuser. And this modest momentum came to a screeching halt as other countries around the world lurched toward fascism as well.”[iv]
This is transparently the power and control model of patriarchy re-asserting itself to promote fascism and leave the world vulnerable to rampant exploitation.
But that is not the only story.
What the toxic alliance of abusive patriarchy, fascism and predatory capitalism craves is people losing faith in their democratic institutions and despairing of making change. But in the U.S., in 2018, that ideology took a hit. More than 100 women are heading to Congress, and more to statehouses and governorships, and they are remarkably diverse in terms of sexual orientation, race, religion, and age. We also just elected 7 more scientists to Congress, all of them Democrats.
But let me close with Congresswoman-elect Lucy McBath. Her son, Jordan Davis, a black teen, was shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station by a white man who complained that he and his friends were playing music too loudly in their car. The shooter has been sentenced to life without parole. McBath became a national spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.[v]
And then she ran for Congress. And won. She now represents Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.[vi]
Congresswoman McBath did not lose faith in the capacity of democratic engagement to make change, and neither should we.
I am old enough to remember when we had to invent the term “domestic violence” in order to help people bring to consciousness the idea that women being beaten in their own homes was wrong.
Feminist Liberation Theology is contextual, praxis-based and brings one crucial element to this current struggle to take back the planet from predatory global capitalism and its murderous contempt for the lives of women and children and all living creatures who depend on it.
We don’t quit. We fight.
[i] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (New York: Holt and Co., 2007), p. 754
[ii] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
[iii] Mary Halton, “Climate change ‘impacts women more than men,’” BBC News (March 8, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43294221.
[iv] Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “”2017 Imperative: Counter Trump’s https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/2017-imperative-counter-t_b_13874456.html, are modeled on domestic violence.
[vi] Tessa Stuart, “Anti-Gun Activist Lucy McBath Edges out NRA-Approved Georgia Republican,” RollingStone (November 8, 2018). https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/lucy-mcbath-georgia-753517/.
Before: Introduction: FLTN 2018 (Economics: Global and Local Intertwined) by Mary E. Hunt
Before: Advanced Global Capitalism, Climate Change, and an Equitable Ecological Future by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda
The Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, PhD is Professor of Theology Emeritas at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) and Past President at CTS. She has a Ph.D. from Duke University, a Masters of Divinity (Summa Cum Laude) from Duke Divinity School and a B.A. from Smith College. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ since 1974, she is the author or editor of numerous books and has been a translator for two different translations of the Bible. She is a Fellow of the Center for American Progress Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative and serves as a trustee of Faith in Public Life, and the Interfaith Youth Core.