With #yesallwomen, slutshaming, rape culture, and the misogyny associated with the latest killing rampage at UCSB, and then the insidious existence of perpetual glass ceilings, and language in the church that continues to image God in incomplete ways, it’s encouraging and inspiring to be in two reading groups that are engaging feminist and womanist voices. I affectionately call one #mondaymdivas (ganked from @caseyfitzgerald and her group) and #killjoyprophets. I’m re-reading Serene Jones’ Feminist Theory and Christian Theology (Guides to Theological Inquiry) with the #mondaymdivas and Karen Baker-Fletcher’s Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective.
Both are incredible reads – Jones’ book was really formative for me in seminary, and reading it on this side of two books, over ten years in ordained ministry, and after 2 gender studies courses I audited last year, it’s more of a conversation now. As a way to glean as much as possible between naps, snacks, mediating WWF breakouts and watching Finding Nemo for the gazillionth time, I will attempt to blog through both the books and discussions. Please keep the bar low as I’m still struggling to find what remaining brain cells I have left floating around in my cranium. KBF’s book relies heavily on Whitehead and process theology – both of which I have very little knowledge of right now, but at this season of life it surprisingly resonates with me in so many ways.
Sidebar: Is there a way to be a Reformed Process Feminist theologian?
Serene Jones’ beginning pages offer a glimpse into the everyday feminism she experienced as a teacher and scholar – her “feminist Tuesday” in which she dropped off her daughter at day care by eight o’clock and prepared for the afternoon class on feminist theory, and from there went to the faculty meeting of the Women and Gender Studies Council. The description sets the context for her book, the lived-out experience of the subtle play between theory and theology and resulting hope so important to her and her students, future ministers and leaders of the church. The basic goal of feminism could be summed up as the “struggle against the oppression of women and for their empowerment.”
Her conversation on the essentialist (the thought that women because of their embodied reality have a fundamentally different way of knowing and being than men) and constructivist (the thought that supposed eternal verities of women’s nature are historically and culturally variant and consequently gender is formed rather than given) debates surrounding gender/sex continue to run through my mind.
Karen Baker-Fletcher’s first chapter feels overwhelming, a veritable fire hydrant of information, almost a litany, and felt less engaging than SJ’s. I do like some of the process theological thoughts and it’ll be interesting to see what she does with it in her trinitarian theology.
What SJ does with strategic essentialism – the sort of both/and in-between ground between the above theories – is fleshed out more as she discusses some basic doctrines on justification (which I think comes later). Still, it is a compelling reminder that no extreme is complete in and of itself, and there are some merits to both sides, and embracing both is a more practical and realistic way of capturing the “complexity of daily experience.” Some “universals” and incorporation of essence/essentialism is necessary in naming the oppression and working emancipatorily.
Love is about justice, not sentimentality.
Standing on the side of love is choosing to stand with all those excluded, marginalized, and oppressed – without succumbing to hate for the oppressor. Nothing could be harder – or more essential for our common flourishing.
KBF’s begins with a mapping out of sorts similar to Serene by talking “theological task, method, and sources.” She identifies as a womanist but makes a point to distinguish that from being a liberationist – which I’m still struggling to understand a bit. Like many womanist, feminist, and liberation theologians she emphasizes experience, positioning God as the object of the study, approaching theology in terms of creaturely subjects, ie. humanity.
She does some name-dropping in terms of listing the conversation partners in her work – Whitehead and Cobb, Tillich, Cannon, and then literary stars like Zora Neale Hurston, while doing an initial engagement of reason and feeling, scripture and tradition, some traditional God characteristics, epistemology, and then concludes at the end that she endeavors to put forth “a conserving integrative relational theology,” that is rooted in the challenge to push towards praxis and language.
SJ starts from a feminist theoretical position while KBF launches into the theology weaving in and out of other disciplines. SJ feels a little more useful right now, and while KBF is engaging numerous sources, it feels a little diluted at this point. To do a robust discussion on the trinity it makes sense to go deep and wide but I won’t give up on her work. Myself, I hold firmly to a pneumatological Trinity (thanks to Amos Yong), and believe that it vibes well with SJ’s strategic essentialism.