Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Colleen Baker on Jesus and Gender, and Pope Francis's Model of Male Servant Leadership

And more on the new pope: I find Colleen Baker's latest posting on Jesus and gender at Enlightened Catholicism very important. Her introduction seems to me right on target:

For a very long time now I have believed that the so called 'pelvic' issues are not primarily about biology or abuse of procreative sexuality.  They are about maintaining rigid definitions of gender behavior and identity, and this is so because maintaining these gender definitions maintain patriarchy and the status quo of the social structure derived from patriarchy.  At a fundamental level this gendering is core to much of Catholic theology.

And the application to the new pope--here's Colleen's conclusion:

Pope Francis may not agree completely with Sr Schneider's or my Native teacher, but he is modeling a masculine way of handling great power which is not usual for most men.  It is however, the way Jesus taught men would need to handle power in order to stay congruent with the Father's will.  I sincerely hope Francis keeps stressing this understanding of male servant leadership and puts the 'pelvic and gender' issues on the very back burner. It would give culture warriors pause and allow others to find a better path for gender expression.  One less enslaved to ideas that may be great for maintaining the status quo, but are in fact, very limiting to one's spiritual path.

Male servant leadership that would put the pelvic issues on the very back burner for a while, thereby giving culture warriors pause and allowing others to find paths for gender expression far more adequate to the teaching of Jesus and the central insights of many spiritual traditions: I find this powerful analysis, and I agree with it. 

Unfortunately, as Karen McQueen says so pertly in an NCR discussion of the recent statements of Detroit archbishop Vigneron asking Catholics supporting marriage equality to excommunicate ourselves, some of the hoary old culture warriors in the Catholic church haven't yet gotten the memo about the new style of the servant pope:

Clearly, Vigneron has been asleep for the last few weeks and did not get the memo. Bishops are supposed to be emulating Jesus of Nazareth and St. Francis now, not Cruela DaVille.

My own bishop in Arkansas hasn't gotten the memo, either. He has been engaging in macho posturing and saber rattling of late, as the public discusses a possible merger of our state medical university's hospital with the Catholic hospital in Little Rock (and here). "I will not allow" cooperation with immoral practices that include prescribing birth control pills (at a hospital that would, if this merger occurs, enjoy tax dollar-funding!) or prescribing the morning-after pill in cases of rape (though the German Catholic bishops have approved the prescription of the morning-after pill in rape cases, since it's a contraceptive!).

It's that "I will not allow" that I find so objectionable--the way everything stands and falls on "I," on the ego (which is the Latin word for "I") of one man, Bishop Taylor. Not "I will discuss," "I will listen," "I will consult": just a peremptory proclamation, "I will not allow."

As if a bishop encapsulates all the people of God within the diocese he shepherds, with no obligation at all to consult the views of the laity he represents, to listen to the sensus fidelium, a majority of whom in the developed world approve of the use of contraceptives and the use of the morning-after pill in cases of rape. As if a bishop can, without consultation, represent the views of a Catholic hospital that has its own governing authorities and professional guidelines which are set by best-of-practice medical standards and not determined by autocratic fiat of a single ego.

One single ego, one "I," trampling over all of this--the informed consciences of layfolks who may have read more and thought more deeply about many of these issues than a bishop has done, the professional acumen of people engaged in healthcare ministry who have years of experience in their field that most bishops lack: this is not merely distasteful. It is a gross misrepresentation of what the gospel is all about.

And yet it absolutely is rooted, as Colleen notes, in presuppositions about gender roles that privilege this kind of macho posturing that serves the human community and faith communities so very poorly. I agree with Colleen: I hope that the new model of male servant leadership Pope Francis appears to be putting into place curbs some of this toxic nonsense.

But I also agree with Karen McQueen: a lot of Catholic bishops don't yet seem to have gotten the memo about Francis's new style, and some militant younger Catholics intent on glorifying toxic patriarchalism and machismo like the ones who have decided to fixate on and ridicule me right now seem to be responding to this memo with defiant rejection. They're determined to act out even cruder and more hateful gender bullying than we've seen previously in the Catholic church, and they're defiantly proud of the way in which they imagine they're reinforcing male dominance and female submission, even when some of those militant younger Catholics engaged in this unholy crusade are themselves women.

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