The Pattern May Change If …
This is the second in a series of blogs expanding the covnersation from the JFSR Roundtable to honor the 50th anniversary of Valerie Saiving’s article, “The Human Situation: A feminine View.”
A newspaper clipping from the New York Times has been taped to my office door since December 2006. The heading on the page reads Facebook: The Pattern May Change, If … and shows oval portraits of all the U.S. presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush with captions reading “White Male” beneath each picture. (You can still find the pictures online.) Of course, we all know that another portrait needs to be added to honor President Barack Obama.
Without a doubt Obama’s election was historic and he has accomplished a great deal. Obama has taken care to include women when appointing Supreme Court Justices and within his cabinet. And in many ways he has supported women’s freedoms, but part of the caption still remains unchanged both related to the office of president and on many other levels in both society and the church. In fact, there seems to be some regression in attitudes toward women in both church and society in recent years. Many of the policies and practices in my own denomination assume that women’s equality has already been achieved and we therefore lack intentionality in advocating for justice for women in the U.S. and abroad. Some of the most obvious examples in U.S. society relate to inequality in women’s pay, changing attitudes toward women’s rights, and the lack of progress we have made concerning representation in governance. Women representatives make up only 16.8% of the U.S. Congress compared to 47% in Sweden’s Riksdag, 38.89%% in Argentina’s Congreso de la Nación, and 22.3% United Kingdom’s Parliament. I am left wondering why more women and men have not turned to feminist scholarship to provide vision, to reframe our understanding of relationships, and to lead us into new patterns that would expand the spheres of women’s representation, participation, and freedoms in both church and society.
During the last election one of the theologians most frequently referenced was Reinhold Niebuhr, a key figure in Christian theology and ethics and the focus of early feminist critiques. Many commentators in the media lamented the fact that no public theologian emerged to guide the public or gained the stature of Niebuhr. Yet in spite of all the attention given to Niebuhr and the importance of his claim that the U.S. needed to shed its innocence and take seriously the reality of struggles for power, evil, and sin in the world, little (maybe nothing) was said about feminist critiques of Niebuhr’s view of sin or known about in the broader public about his “uncredited” spouse and co-author Ursula. We have Rebekah Miles to thank for bringing Ursula’s work to the forefront of discussions in the church and the academy. Despite Ursula’s strong editorial hand and co-authorship of many works her name “isn’t on any of the books.” Obviously, we still need to think about changing the pattern.
Changing the pattern was just what Mark Douglas and I had in mind in putting together the roundtable to honor the 50th anniversary of Valerie Saiving’s article on “The Human Situation: A Feminine View. ” Mark wrote the first blog in this series. The roundtable brings together scholars to engage Niebuhr and Saiving in new ways Our hope was that the roundtable would once again give Saiving credit for her work as well as enable us to find new ideas, new patterns, and to discover new concepts of sin, love, and redemption in the creases and crevices overlooked in previous conversations.
Changing the pattern also requires enlarging the roundtable. On Saturday morning at the November meeting of AAR the Niebuhr Society is hosting a session on Niebuhr and Feminism. We hope you will join that session. We can also begin the discussion here. What do you as a feminist think about the problem or promise of Niebuhr as a public theologian? Does Valerie Saiving’s critique of the sin of pride still resonate with you? What can you and others who intentionally observe the world through the lens of women’s experiences do today to ensure that we halt the regression in attitudes toward women? And, what do you think feminist public theology should look like today? How are you or those you whom you know changing the pattern? I hope we can change the pattern, expand the discussion, and share some of those ideas here.
Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is Associate Professor of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is author of Beyond the Social Maze: Exploring Vida Dutton Scudder’s Theological Ethics (2006) and co-editor with Rebecca Todd Peters of To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians (2008).