International Student Movements: Impact of Feminist Theologies on Women in Church and Society
Question: “What impact can feminist theologies have domestically in the political realm in regards with US foreign policy, war and global dominance? How can feminist theologies and women’s work in the church and society influence a real change of paradigm to move effectively from the “necrophilia of patriarchy” (Mary Daly) -militarism and resource pillaging- to the life-giving garden of sharing and enoughness?
I will start by talking about a young woman, whose name I will omit for security reasons, who is a member of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, an affiliated member of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF). This young woman is currently living in fear due to her commitment to advocate to the government of her country to ensure the end of extra-judicial killings that have been targeting social justice activists in the Philippines for many years. The members of the SCM Philippines have endured harassment and violence for a long time given their open struggle against militarization in their country and against the military aid offered to it by the US government. The Philippines is one of the major recipient of US military aid in the world.
I argue that feminist theologies have the power to inform a public discourse in the US to link ecological economics, a new eco-justice paradigm and practices of demilitarization at home and abroad. Although these are themes that have been extensively addressed by feminist theologies, it would be good to analyze in greater detail and without falling into an essentialist discourse of mere duality of the sexes new trends of feminist theological reflection in regards with the disappearance of the eco-justice theme from the current political discourse in the US, given the “economic crisis”, the imminent election and the military rhetoric that any candidate for the presidency must proffer.
In order to do so, it is imperative to associate semantically the two major crises that are affecting the world nowadays (economic and ecological crisis) to the omnipresent militarization of the world. We cannot tackle ecologic economics without challenging the culture of violence and death that the military powers exert on people and we cannot disjoin a feminist critic of patriarchy without liking these three elements.
Feminist theologies have the power to be transformational (to shape reality differently) -both individually and collectively-; to provide what Sallie Mac Fague called the theological fiction of metaphors that reinterpret the world and God; and to offer inclusive experiences of relationship in non-hierarchical processes (as opposed to the military).
In the US context, feminist theologies have the opportunity to speak truth to power and subvert the rhetoric of empty and false patriotism, superiority and exceptionalism (which is part, in my opinion, of the “necrophilia of patriarchy”) and inform new practices of demilitarization, both mentally and practically. Feminist theologies must help us do away from the illusion of Messianic figures (i.e. Obama saving the world) as a follow-up to Mary Daly’s critique of the imperial use of Christ. The empty but violent spaces I refer to above, can be filled by theologies of life and theologies of the common garden (in Letizia Tomassone’s words commenting on Vandana Shiva –from the sterile seeds of Monsanto, to the fertile seeds of the Holy Basil).
In preparing for this panel, I asked a few women, both in the SCM movement and in other setting how they would respond to the question I have posed as part of a process of transformational acts. It was important for me to consult with women as I set out to think about this question for two reasons. First, although I am a male feminist, I do claim that feminist theologies must stem from the experiences and the voices of women, both those to whom Spivak refer as subaltern and those who are in more privileged positions. Secondly, I wanted this to be a collective process, as the theology of the tables suggest our churches should promote. From these conversations some interesting topics emerged
- Power and the protection of thereof, both in the church and in government, often induce people (men and women alike) to be less prophetic or progressive no matter what their positions were before ascending to powerful positions. This is detrimental to broad cause of eco-justice.
- At times, distinguishing between working within or without the “system” is not a viable option to promote eco-justice practices. Small active or transformation can be as revolutionary as those that Jesus proclaimed
- Feminist thinking is seen by a lot of young people as either passé or co-opted by the status quo or even by conservative voices. Feminist thinking and theologies should highlight the issues of rights and systemic change, not the right to become powerful. Feminist theologies should value experience, prioritizing marginal voices and working for justice for all.
We desperately need liberation theologies that help people re-imagine a world where empty rhetoric and violent acts are filled with redemptive words and changed by transformative practices. We need to preach the resurrection as an ongoing process of embodiment for justice for the sake of the planet and for the sake of those, like the young woman in the Philippines, continue to dream of a garden-like earth for all.
Thank you to Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty and Toddie Peters for asking me to be on this panel and to Sheryl Johson, Kerry Flynn and Ann Timeyer for the collective process.
Luciano Kovacs is the North American Regional Secretary for the World Student Christian Federation. Prior to WSCF, he was at the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York where he served as Social Justice Director. Previously he worked as Director of Homeless Outreach and Advocacy, also at Jan Hus Church. Originally from Italy, Luciano has a long association with WSCF. As a student he was active in the Italian movement, Federazione Giovanile Evangelica Italiana (FGEI) and was a member of the WSCF European Regional Committee from 1995 to 1997. In 1999 he worked for WSCF in the Federation’s Europe office. Mr Kovacs participated in WSCF’s global leadership training programme in India in 1994 and in the 31st General Assembly in Côte d’Ivoire in 1995.