Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Theologian Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza: Gender Battles Are Not Merely Theological, But Political

At its core, the theological concept of gender complementarity, as employed by both Catholic and evangelical groups determined to make continents like Africa a battleground for Western culture wars, is deeply antithetical to the liberation of women and of LGBT persons. Those using the male-female complementarity idea as the central, most salient idea of the entire Christian tradition to "protect" traditional African cultural norms are doing so to attack women who seek liberation from oppression in both the developing sectors of the globe, and in developed nations. Just as they are attacking gay persons and their mobilization against oppression around the world . . . .

And now I'd like to offer parallel analysis (which supports what I say above) from a theological article I happen to be reading this morning.  This is Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza's "We are Church - A Kindom of Priests."  Schüssler-Fiorenza presented this essay as an address to the Women's Ordination Worldwide in 2005.  

She notes the deliberate, intentional, and belligerent (because this continues in the face of mounting opposition) of the Catholic church to use gender-charged terms that keep men and women in their places.  As Schüssler-Fiorenza notes, the in-your-face choice of the Catholic church in its hierarchical center today to continue the use of gender terms that subordinate women to men and claim exclusive privilege for men links to a worldwide movements of domination that seek to subordinate many categories of despised and feminized Others to the control of ruling elites of the power centers of the globe:

The Hierarchy's discourses of "orthodox truth" are also highly gendered.  They are full of references to the clergy as "sons and fathers," to the church as "mother and she," and to the people of G*d as "men of faith." Rome has categorically refused to change exclusive androcentric language and has overturned the recommendations of several bishops' conferences for the adoption of non-gendered liturgical language. Hence, androcentric language which linguistically excludes wo/men is no longer conventional but deliberate. It maintains the status quo and limits our imagination. Moreover, the use of the feminine for the church serves to symbolically exclude and obliterate real wo/men, since Christ and the church can be represented by men only. It reinforces the colonial discourses of domination in which the feminine serves to signify the subordination and exploitation not only of wo/men but of all those who are nonpersons: slaves, heathen savages, homosexuals and impoverished peoples, all of whom are seen and treated as "feminine" other.
And then she points out the collusion between the Vatican and the highly-funded strategy of the religious right to roll back women's advances in areas such as reproductive rights.  As Schüssler-Fiorenza notes, these movements should concern all of us, becase they are not merely intra-theological debates: they are part and parcel of a global movement emanating from the wealthy controlling elites of Western nations to thwart democratic developments around the globe:

The socio-political context of globalization and its attendant exploitation in which the debate on the non-ordination or the reproductive rights of wo/men, the freedom of theologians, or the Vatican’s claim to exclusive universality take place, has engendered a resurgence of the religious Right. Global cultural and religious fundamentalisms claim the power of naming and of defining the true nature and essence of religion. Right-wing well-financed think tanks are supported by reactionary political and financial institutions that seek to defend kyriarchal capitalism.

Hence, the interconnection between religious antidemocratic arguments and the debates over wo/men's "proper place" and "right role" is not accidental or of merely intra-theological significance. For, in the past decade or so, right-wing movements around the globe have insisted on the figuration of emancipated wo/men either as signifiers of Western decadence and of modern atheistic secularism, or they have presented masculine power as the expression of divine power.

Once again: the insistence that men be men and women be women, grounded in John Paul II's theology of the body, is about far more than theology.  This insistence is part of a concerted attack on the human rights (and humanity) of women and LGBT persons around the world.  The theology of the body, as it is now being used by right-leaning Catholics and evangelicals, has a strong political intent.
It intends to remove rights from women and gay and lesbian persons wherever possible in the world.  It intends to use the people of developing nations as tools in Western culture wars about these issues, even as it decries the introduction of "poisons" into the cultural bloodstreams of developing nations by Western liberals.  And it is heavily funded by wealthy special interest groups in the West in whose interest it is to thwart the development of democratic institutions in developing nations, because cultures in which democratic ideas and instittions are strongly grounded are less malleable when it comes to serving the economic interests of wealthy global elites.