Monday, January 19, 2015

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Elizabeth Johnson on Sources of the "Revolution" in the Theology of God Today

On this day celebrating the legacy of Dr. King, I'm thinking, too, of the opening paragraph of Elizabeth Johnson's book Quest for the Living God (NY: Continuum, 2008), which the U.S. Catholic bishops condemned several years ago. I did a series of postings reporting about my own reading of the book in 2012 — here, here, and here. And in this posting pointing to the work of Terry Weldon at his Queering the Church site, and also of Teresa Forcades, I summarized the opening paragraph of Elizabeth Johnson's book.

Here it is in toto:

Since the middle of the twentieth century, a burgeoning renaissance of insights into God has been taking place. Around the world different groups of Christian people, stressed by particular historical circumstances, have been gaining glimpses of the living God in fresh and unexpected ways. So compelling are these insights that rather than being hoarded by the local communities that first realized them, they are offered as a gift and challenge to the worldwide church. We ave living in a golden age of discover, to the point where it has become customary for theologians to say that we are wtinessing nothing less than a "revolution" in the theology of God (p. 1).

In light of the King holiday and what I said about it in my previous posting, here are some points I'd like to stress:

● Elizabeth Johnson thinks we're living through a revolution in the theology of God at this point in history — her word, not mine.

● That revolution arises out of the "practical commitments" made by those struggling for justice for the poor, for the healing of society and the planet — a point she makes in the paragraphs following this one (pp. 1-2).

● At different places in the world, as communities of believers work together in the struggle for social justice and the healing of the planet, they glimpse in the middle of their engagement and out of the corner of their eyes, as it were, new insights into the living God (ibid.).

● Theologians then begin to reflect on the testimony brought to us by these communities in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the struggling throughout the world (ibid.).

● The "revolution" in the theology of God taking place today is not arising from the academy, from academic theology. It is not being handed down to us by church officials (and surely this is one of the biggest bones the Catholic hierarchy has to pick with Elizabeth Johnson, that she speaks the truth about this) (ibid.).

● This revolution is arising out of the lived experience of "ordinary" Christians working together for justice for the poor and the healing of the world (ibid.).

● Elizabeth Johnson looks specifically at communities working for socioeconomic, racial, and ecological healing of the world. As Jayden Cameron has pointed out here and at his Gay Mystic site, a significant lacuna of her book is that it more or less completely ignores the struggle of communities of LGBT believers and those in solidarity with us for justice and healing, and how that struggle, too, leads to fresh glimpses of the living God.

And I think Jayden's right about this. As I have said over and over again here, and will probably keep saying as long as I blog, the Catholic academy remains curiously inhospitable to gay folks. In my graduate program, almost every graduate during the period in which Steve and I received our doctorates who subsequently became known as openly gay or lesbian has long since lost his/her job as a Catholic theologian.

Lay folks have not had it easy in the Catholic theological academy, since it was fashioned orginally as a space for the ordained, for clerics. Women have not had it easy at all, since clerical spaces are male-exclusive spaces in the Catholic context. People of color and Latinos have long struggled to find a place in the American academy in general.

But we who are openly gay and who have graduate degrees in Catholic theology have been, to a greater extent than any other group, the very immediate detritus — the throwaway people — of the Catholic academy during this strange period that has simultaneously been full of revolutionary change in the theology of God, and of fierce reaction to that change. We have been the human fodder with which many battles about Catholicity and Vatican II and lay ferment in the church have been fought. 

And this will not change until non-gay members of the Catholic academy, who have the power to effect change in an academy in which they are dominant, decide to stop permitting this to be done to a targeted group of their brothers and sisters. If they choose to make that decision, that is to say . . . . 

The photograph of Elizabeth Johnson is from Wikimedia Commons, and was uploaded there by Ziztac12, wtih a note that the original came from the website of the Fordham University theology department.

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