We Might as Well Work for Justice: Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz

We Might as Well Work for Justice: Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz May 17, 2012

Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz passed away this past weekend, on Mothers’ Day, after a struggle with cancer. She was a significant feminist, Latina theologian who taught theology for many years at Drew University. She coined a new discourse in feminist theology, mujerista theology, which sought to synthesize and put forward the voices of grassroots Latinas. This theology was oriented around their experience of La Lucha, or “the struggle.” Mujerista theology assumes that in the coldness and harshness of life, this side of history, humans can attempt to embody and work toward the “new heavens and new earth.”

In an essay I assign in my eschatology course, Mujerista Narratives: Creating a New Heavens and a New Earth, she advocates for vigorous, passionate participation in the struggle for justice and righteousness in the midst of our troubled, conflicted historical reality. She acknowledges that only God can finally bring Heaven to earth (the kingdom come). However, that realization should not prevent us from working toward it now. We might as well work for justice.

This may seem like basic Christian insight. But then she urges us to view reality through the lens of the marginalized, in particular, the experiences of grassroots Latinas. La Lucha. This way of viewing the world comes less naturally to people like me, who still occupy the “center.” But what’s the basis for interpreting reality through the experiences of the marginalized? She explains:

“We privilege Latinas lived experiences not because grassroots Latinas are morally better or holier than others but because we believe that since they do not profit from the present situation, they are capable of imagining a radically different future. They can do this better than those who benefit from those who benefit from current structures and who are, therefore, tempted to protect them” (“Mujerista Narratives,” 230).

Yesterday, Fred Sanders, of Scriptorium Daily, offered a generally thoughtful and respectful reflection on Isasi-Díaz’s project. He noted some important lessons he’s learned from her work. But the other shoe dropped with a thud: “Doctrinally thin, it [Isasi-Díaz’s theology] is encrusted with semi-Maraxist jargon about conscientization, the epistemic advantage of the poor, and praxis as the final criterion of truth.”

But perhaps we evangelicals ought to consider whether or not self-consciously prophetic theologians like Isasi-Diaz, can help us where we are weakest. Perhaps we refuse to countenance the possibility of a blind spot in our reading of Scripture, in particular our reading of the prophets and the gospels. Could there be an epistemic advantage for the poor and the oppressed? Perhaps they can discern, in powerful ways, the prophetic consciousness of biblical eschatology–and indeed, even of Jesus’ own ministry focus–which we in the centers of societal privilege and institutional power might observe only tangentially and “objectively,” if we see it at all? Further, what if praxis is the final criterion of truth? What if, after all, Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said it really does matter how we have treated the poor and oppressed? (Matt. 25) and that “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt 7:16)?

I hope he was just kidding. But I can’t be sure.

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