Progressive Christian Channel
The War on Women Theologians
The Vatican's recent censure of Dr. Margaret Farley RSM for her book, Just Love, is simply the most recent volley in an old battle: The war on women theologians. It's now part of the larger cultural and political war on women, and it has had the same results as the condemnation of another woman theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, in 2011: Increasing sales of the book and galvanizing women activists, progressives, and theologians of all sorts.
While the two cases differ in some details—Johnson's book Quest for the Living God is part of her theological work on female images and language for God while Just Love explores myriad issues involved in developing a contemporary Christian sexual ethic—there are two common elements: The condemned author is a woman, and she is writing explicitly about gender and sexuality in ways that depart from white patriarchal heterosexual norms rigidly maintained by the Roman Catholic Church and defended by the Vatican.
This second element is also why many Latin American liberation theologians have been condemned by, silenced, and excommunicated from the Church over the years: For their thinking beyond the norms that also calls attention to poverty as a byproduct of capitalism and corporate political influence. Today it is women of faith, like Farley and Johnson and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, disturbing the male church hierarchy by doing the work of justice that takes place on the margins of dominant society, where race has as much to do with oppression as class, gender, and sexuality.
A collection of Lutheran women working in theological and religious studies signed on to "An Open Letter to Elizabeth A. Johnson" in 2011, written by ELCA Director of Justice for Women Mary J. Streufert. Many of those women again lit up my email inbox in early June with stories of Sister Farley's teaching, mentoring, and substantial scholarly work. Calls for a letter of support and offers to report on it via various online media were mixed in with memories and gratitude. The result, "An Open Letter to Dr. Margaret Farley," was signed by over seventy Lutheran women scholars from around the globe.
Caryn D. Riswold, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition, and works as Associate Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. She contributed to the book Transformative Lutheran Theologies: Feminist, Womanist, and Mujerista Perspectives (2010), and is the author of Feminism and Christianity (2009). A regular contributor at TheReligiousLeft.org, she is participating in the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., this year. You can follow her on Twitter @feminismxianity .