Progressive Christian Channel
The War on Women Theologians
Additionally, Marie Fortune penned a wonderful letter to the Vatican in which she expresses the perverse glee that many feel when another one of these condemnations comes down. While Farley and Johnson have defended their work and its place within Catholic theological and ethical discourse, censure and condemnation usually now serve to call more attention to the work of the one silenced, and motivates legions of progressive Christians to support, read, and champion their work.
Women have often held a special place in church history among those silenced and excluded. The ordination of women to ministry and priesthood, while common in many denominations in the 21st century, has never been a settled theological issue and church practice. Plenty of Christian churches continue to reserve highest authority for men, while insisting on male-only imagery and language for God. Late medieval persecution and execution of "witches" had a decidedly gendered element, with a large majority of those accused and murdered being women. In 19th-century United States, many new religious movements emerged, and the appearance of women at the helm of several like the Church of Christ, Scientist, the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, as well as women's social activism around abolition and temperance, points to a way in which women have often alternative ways to answer their calls to ministry and leadership. Indeed, women evangelists of the 19th century have left a powerful canon of texts and stories in which they claim their authority as given from God.
But the Roman Catholic Church is on something of a roll recently. Sisters Farley and Johnson are in good company. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement condemning the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States. Concern was centered around three areas: Speeches given at LCWR assemblies (Sister Laurie Brink is named, with presumed reference to a 2007 keynote address in which she calls her fellow sisters back to the margins, where women religious have always lived and worked with those whom society ignores), public statements made in opposition to the bishops on issues like women's ordination and homosexuality (and though not named in this statement, it has to include healthcare), and finally, "radical feminism." I admit to being suspicious as to what the Congregation thinks "radical feminist themes" are. They do not state them, other than an ominous reference to "some commentaries on 'patriarchy.'" (I can't help but see 'air quotes' here . . . around this 'alleged' 'patriarchy.')
The nine-state "Nuns on the Bus" tour kicked off in Des Moines on June 17th "to stand with people in need and to be witnesses for economic justice" as the nuns' response to this rebuke of their work on justice for women and poor people.
Because whether they are nuns or scholars, preachers or evangelists, Catholic or Protestant, women theologians haven't been defeated yet.
I'm pretty sure that we never will be.
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 .