Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is: 9 The Methodology and Response of Feminist Theology
Having analysed the damaging nature of sexism - that exploitation based on one group's assumption of a dominative power exercised over another group... and, as seen in the subordination of women as a fundamental oppressor-oppressed relationship, a paradigm for other forms of oppression that also cry out for a liberation theology - Elizabeth Johnson turns to the methodology and response of feminist theology.
To resist the debilitating and harmful effects of patriarchy, this theological approach appeals to women's experience... but not simply white middle-class North American women's experience... the experiences and insights gained from women themselves across a range of cultures and contexts, and - as such - a celebration of women's differences and a multi-dimensional analysis.
Foundational to the method and approach of feminist liberation theology may be seen: critical analysis of, and protest against, the suffering and diminution caused by sexism; the search for alternative experience, insights, wisdom and suppressed history; the affirmation of the desire and aspirations for women's flourishing, confirmed in their creative energy and power; and risking new interpretations of tradition in conversation with women's actual lives and experiences.
There is therefore both de-construction, and a process of uncovering, retrieval and reconstruction.
The work of de-construction unmasks the often unacknowledged dynamic of domination embedded in the language, custom, memory, precedents, texts, ethics, symbol and theology of the Christian tradition. When the question 'for whose good' is asked, feminist theology exposes a ruling-male-centred partiality that has been projected as universal and for all, yet which has served the interests of one group and its retention of authority, influence, privilege. This sexist bias is not accidental, but the product and outcome of male retention of power in those patriarchal societies in which tradition originated, and successive societies that have inherited and adopted the assumptions. This bias in society, mandated and re-affirmed within religious community, has acted (as Elizabeth Johnson eloquently puts it) "like a buried continent whose subaqueous pull has shaped... theological enterprise, so that Christian theory and praxis have been massively distorted."
Since negatives alone don't nourish, feminist theology envisages reconstruction through the search for ignored, suppressed or alternative wisdom both inside and outside the mainstream - for bits and pieces that disclose or hint at what the untold or marginalised stories and contributions of women's lives may reveal of different possibilities, and the potential of viewing reality in new and enlivened ways. The recovery of neglected history, the affirmation of often hidden lives, may contribute to theological insights and to a future of full personhood for women. Although women's words and autonomous insights have often been censored or eliminated from christian heritage, and rendered marginal, subordinate, dependent on male-led assumptions - women have nonetheless always been there, in fidelity and struggle, loving and caring and creating, sometimes prophetic, sometimes censored and outlawed. Tracking and retrieving fragments of this wisdom and history - this suppressed account of integrity - may enable these stories to become resources for transforming thought and action.
A similar retrieval may also occur in the development of theological thought itself: for example through reflections on the creation of male and female in the divine image; or the baptismal recreation of women and men in the image of Christ to initiate new forms of community.
Reconstruction may therefore occur through the retrieval of suppressed or marginalised accounts and wisdom drawn from experiences of women; and through theological reflection and re-envisaging; but the hope is the release of liberating truth which challenges the churches to become faithful to the best of their own tradition.
As Elizabeth Johnson explains in the next section, the goal toward which this theological effort passionately journeys is transformation into new communities: a conversion not only of the self but of society itself.
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':