This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various religious traditions and institutions. With so much going on, the selected items are the editor's choice. The following sections are included in this page:
The promotion of gender equality in religion is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world religions. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box, which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported, by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.
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"The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions states it bluntly: "The subordination of women to men became widespread in all religions." This subordination is the primal violence from which other forms of anti-woman violence are spawned. The Oxford Dictionary's "all religions" has suggested to some that religion is by its nature sexist and invariably the underwriter of the abuse of women. That overstates the case, as the authors of this volume demonstrate, but it is searingly true that the world's religions contain some easily diagnosed - and some not so easily diagnosed - inducements to violence against women. Those judged inferior are more liable to abuse and, when their inferiority is numenally blessed, the prejudice sinks deep, well-fed roots.
"This book puts world religions on the stand as defendants and then, by a kind of homeopathic medicine, the authors show how those same religions contain the cures for the misogyny they have caused and abetted. Religiously nourished illnesses require religious cures. There is nothing taht so enlivens the will as the tincture of the sacred. Religiously grounded prejudice is most lethal. The poet Alexander Pope said that the worst kind of madmen is a saint gone mad. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote that people will die for dogma who will not stir for a conclusion. Both the poet and the cardinal made the same point: religion is uniquely powerful and not to address it when it is at the core of a problem is analytically and sociologically naive.
"Blunt accusations against religions are unpalatable to many, but until the guilt of religions is known and accepted, these symbolic powerhouses will be more of a problem than a solution to the panhuman suffering of girls and women. The world religions, those that are theistic and those that are not, are flawed classics and sometimes it is their flaws that thrive and become most influential. The constructive moral revolutions thay house get lost in the swirl abd morass of history. Nothing is more antidotal to religious prejudice than the recovery of the ideals and sense of justice that gave those religions birth. The authors in this book mine the lost moral treasures in their traditions and marshal them against the violence of sexism. Calling people before the bar of their professed ideas is jolting and eye-opening. There are renewable moral energies in all these religious classics, and the scholars of this volume seek them out and apply them to the healing of women and of men - and to the healing of the religions themselves."
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt The Tablet - 9 April 2011
This article is reproduced with the permission of The Tablet Publishing Co Ltd
and was originally published in the 9 April 2011 edition of 'The Tablet' http://www.thetablet.co.uk
Throughout the 41 years of Communist rule in the former Eastern bloc country, an underground network of groups and individuals kept the Catholic faith alive, even to the point of ordaining married men and women. Last week, their achievement was belatedly honoured
It was at a moving ceremony at Vienna’s UN-City Church on Saturday last week, 21 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that the largest and best-known underground circle in the former Czechoslovakia – called “Koinótés” and founded by the late Bishop Felix Maria Davidek – received the Herbert-Haag-Foundation Award for Freedom in the Church, which is bestowed annually on persons and institutions “for courageous actions within Christianity”.
Although a disputed and controversial figure, Felix Maria Davidek’s charisma and his extraordinary gifts have since been recognised by many Catholic churchmen, including bishops and cardinals. Davidek recognised the signs of the times and his response was prophetic.
Desperate situations, in this case severe persecution by one of the most relentless atheist regimes, merit desperate remedies and Davidek ordained married men and women to the Catholic priesthood. The survival strategies he undertook illuminate the Church’s potential for reform, which never ends with the death of the reformers.
Already before the Communist takeover in 1948, Davidek was fascinated by Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of an evolutionary progression towards greater and greater consciousness. He was convinced that, as well as studying philosophy and theology, seminarians should have a broad university education and also study the humanities and sciences.
While he was a seminarian in Czechoslovakia under German occupation during the Second World War, he dreamed of founding a Catholic university. After ordination in 1945, Davidek continued with his university studies. He read medicine and eventually acquired a doctorate in psychology. At the same time, he founded the “Atheneum”, a preparatory course for young Catholics, men and women, who had not been allowed to attend secondary schools during the German occupation, with the aim of preparing them for matriculation and thus enabling them to study theology.
In 1948, however, the Communists took power. Davidek continued with his Atheneum courses in secret but soon came under police scrutiny and was imprisoned. Fellow prisoners say he was a particularly audacious and truculent prisoner who frequently rebelled and consequently spent long periods in isolation. During his 14 years’ incarceration he jotted down on bits of lavatory paper his meticulous plans for the Church’s survival in an atheistic, Communist dictatorship.
The 1950s were the worst period of church persecution in Czechoslovakia. The theological faculties at universities were closed. Only two Catholic seminaries were allowed to remain open and both were put under state control. The bishops had forbidden seminarians to attend these state-controlled seminaries and soon many of them were imprisoned. One see after another became vacant and the secret police watched all church activities closely.
When he was released in 1964, Davidek immediately began to put his plans into action. He was soon able to gather many committed Catholics around him. They called their group “Koinótés” (derived from koinonia, the Greek word meaning community) and met regularly in secret at night and at the weekends as it was compulsory to have a job in the daytime.
Davidek taught a wide range of subjects and secretly invited prominent churchmen as guest speakers. Thanks to friends who had smuggled them in from abroad, he was also able to study the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council and the works of Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac and other well-known theologians of the time with his pupils.
The biggest challenge was to secure a sufficient number of dependable priests who could be relied on not to collaborate with the regime. Up to 1967, candidates were sent abroad to be ordained clandestinely in Germany or Poland. Both Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, later to become Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, then Bishop of Berlin, clandestinely ordained Czechoslovak priests at that time.
Davidek knew he would never get permission to leave the country, so he sent Jan Blaha, a young chemist who attended conferences abroad and was a member of Koinótés, to Augsburg where he was clandestinely ordained by Bishop Josef Stimpfle. A few months later, in Prague in October 1967, Blaha was consecrated bishop by Bishop Peter Dubovsky, a Slovak Jesuit, who had himself been clandestinely ordained. Bishop Blaha then consecrated Felix Davidek. All these ordinations and consecrations have since been fully recognised and declared valid by the Vatican.
From then on, Koinótés became the nucleus of a clandestine network of committed Catholic groups in Czechoslovakia. Davidek was convinced that the Church could only survive and fulfil its mandate in small entities and that, as in the early Church, each group should have its own bishop, so he soon ordained a considerable number of them. After Soviet tanks destroyed the short-lived Prague Spring of 1968, Davidek lived with the fear that the Communists might at any time attempt to liquidate the Church altogether by deporting all clerics to Siberia, and so he consecrated stand-by bishops, in reserve as it were, to take over should such a situation arise.
He also ordained married men, at first for the Greek-Catholic rite, where it is the custom. The Greek-Catholic Church had been dissolved by the Communists and forcibly incorporated into the Orthodox Church and both its bishops imprisoned. Many of its members became martyrs but some escaped and went underground. Koinótés worked closely with these.
Later, Davidek also ordained Latin-rite married men as bi-ritual priests who were permitted to celebrate in both rites. He even consecrated one married bishop. One of the chief reasons for these initiatives was that the authorities were highly unlikely to suspect married men of being priests in Latin-rite Catholic Moravia.
Davidek also went so far as to ordain a small number of women. For some time now, he had been discussing women’s role in the Church at the Koinótés meetings. He was convinced that as women had baptised, distributed Communion to the sick and had their place as women deacons in the Church’s hierarchy in the first millennium, they were only excluded from the priesthood for historical and not dogmatic reasons. His main reason for ordaining women was pastoral. Women in women’s prisons, especially women Religious who were imprisoned on a large scale and often exposed to horrible sexual torture, had no one to care for their spiritual needs, whereas in men’s prisons there were usually several priests among the male prisoners.
In December 1970, he called a special “pastoral synod” to discuss women’s role in the Church, but when he put women’s ordination to the vote, half of the Koinótés members who attended voted against it. The issue split the community and became a benchmark in its history. A few days later, nevertheless, Davidek ordained Ludmila Javorová, a prominent member of Koinotes, and later made her his vicar general, which she remained until his death in 1988.
I remember discussing Bishop Davidek and his ordination of married men and women with the late Archbishop John Bukovsky in Vienna in the late 1990s. Bukovsky, who had by then retired, told me that the Vatican had sent him on a fact-finding mission to Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1977. He had been able to talk with Bishop Davidek for several hours, he said, and knew that Davidek had ordained both married men and women. “I was most surprised to be welcomed by his woman vicar general dressed in white and wearing a cross,” he added. The ordinations were illicit but valid, he underlined at the time, and said that Rome had been fully informed.
When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, many clandestinely ordained priests and bishops, especially those from Koinótés, at first had high hopes that Rome would allow them to form a special personal prelature so that they could continue with their work. It took years to sort out their ordination status, as clandestine ordinations were rarely set down in writing. Most of them had to agree to be conditionally reordained in case their ordinations were not valid. A number of married priests were then taken over by the re-established Greek-Catholic Church.
In 1992, those who refused to be re-ordained were forbidden to practise their priestly ministry under threat of excommunication. And all this time, of course, Ludmila Javorová and her women colleagues were completely ignored. At the award ceremony she said: “The work has been begun. Others must continue it. Even if the Vatican considers the matter closed, it is my firm belief that at some point in the future this dossier will be reopened.”
For years after 1989, whenever I met any of these underground priests, which I did and continue to do on a regular basis, they still hoped against hope that Rome would change its mind. They would beg me not to publish interviews and refused to criticise the powers-that-be in Rome in any way in case this would damage their cause. Gradually, as the older ones died and their numbers diminished, they realised that they had been left to their fate. And yet they have remained what they were from the beginning – committed, humble and loyal Catholics.
At the prize-giving ceremony in Vienna, Bishop Davidek’s Koinótés was for the first time publicly recognised for what it was – a valiant effort to assure the Church’s survival under persecution. In their laudation, the Swiss theologian Professor Hans Küng of Tübingen University, Professor Hans Jorissen, a former professor of dogmatics at Bonn University and probably the leading connoisseur on the clandestine Church outside the former Czechoslovakia, and Professor Walter Kirchschläger of Lucerne University, all deplored the potential that had been lost. As Professor Jorissen said, “The concept of a missionary re-evangelisation in the Czech Republic, which today is one of Europe’s most secularised countries, could have used the experiences of the clandestine Church, which was, and could still be today, a model for re-evangelisation.”
This message is repeated in a new book on the clandestine Church in the then Czechoslovakia, Die verratene Prophetie (“Betrayed Foresight”), edited by Erwin Koller, Professor Küng and Peter Krizan, and published in German by Edition Exodus of Lucerne.
Bishop Dusan Spiner, who was also Davidek’s vicar general, said at the award ceremony: “The secular world is not a continent of barbarians and heathens to whom we must take the gospel message. It is our world and our heritage and it is in this world that we must courageously live as a church community.”
Bishop Spiner and Ludmila Javorová came to Vienna to receive the Herbert-Haag-Foundation Award on behalf of Koinótés. They received standing ovations, especially when they announced that they would use the money for the birthday celebrations of Bishop Davidek, who would have been 90 this September.
“People always leaving just as other folks arrive.” That is the line that suddenly came to mind when I learned that Father Matthew Kelty left this world peacefully at noon on Friday last. This is a great loss to those of us newly, and not-so-newly, arrived, and I wanted to try to explain why I think this is so. This remarkable monk spent fifty off-and-on years at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he was the last confessor that Thomas Merton ever had; and if that wasn’t enough to warrant further discussion, he was also a gay priest who came out in one of his most eloquent essays at the ripe old age of ninety. We will not soon see the likes of such monks again.
Father Matthew’s story is not as well-known as it deserves to be, in large measure because his story was so deeply intertwined with the story of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), arguably the most famous monk that the Abbey of Gethsemani, and American Catholicism, ever produced.
Father Matthew was neither famous nor self-promoting, which is what makes the lyrical strains of the notes he did produce so very eloquent and so very worth our hearing.
Both men seem to me now the product of a different age and a different time, and more to the point, both men were the result of a different way of inhabiting time—a monastic, a poetic, and ultimately a rather silent way. Both men came of age in postwar America, and both were intimately involved in the vast cultural thought experiment we associate with the 1960s: the attempts to re-imagine race, sex, nation, and religion. We need their voices, and we need to remind ourselves of the existence of such voices against the background cultural cacophony of our own day.
Kelty via Merton
I trust that it will be in keeping with the quiet humility of Father Matthew Kelty if I use Thomas Merton to help tell his story—Merton, the gifted writer and spiritual adept who was responsible, among other things, for introducing an American audience to new and more mystical ways of imagining the Christian gospel, to the meaningfulness of monasticism and of silence, to the deep relationship between artistic creativity and the spiritual life, to the need for peaceableness in a world at war, and even to the virtues and the subtleties of Zen Buddhism.
Merton’s early life was not an easy one. His parents, both artists, were living in France when Thomas Merton was born. Forced to flee the impending violence of World War I, they sailed to New York and settled on Long Island, where they rode out the Great War with extended family. Merton’s mother died in 1921 when he was only six years old. His father left him the following year, in pursuit of an unlikely romance.
The precocious young man was installed in a French boarding school for a couple of years, returning to live with his father until the artist succumbed, three years later, to a brain tumor; Merton was only 16 years old when he was orphaned. He traveled extensively in Europe, wandered for awhile, then spent two years at Clare College, Cambridge, before transferring to Columbia University, where he graduated in 1938 with a degree in English.
Although the seeds for this were clearly sown in 1933 when he paid a decisive visit to Rome, Thomas Merton somewhat surprisingly converted to Roman Catholicism in November of 1938. Less than two years later, during the Easter season of 1941, he made a retreat to the storied Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, a Benedictine retreat founded in 1846 situated in a stunning valley less than twenty miles from Abraham Lincoln’s birth home and childhood farm. Merton was accepted as a petitioner into the Abbey of Gethsemani in December of that same year.
Taking the name of Father Louis, and the requisite Trappist vows of silent obedience, Merton put his astonishing voice and vast artistic powers into print, thereby becoming the most public of hermits and the most prolific writer American Catholicism has ever produced. But Merton was always unsettled, restless; never, one cannot help feeling, really content. He was toying with the idea of leaving Gethsemani, and possibly leaving the monastic life altogether, not long after having been caught in a love affair with a 25-year-old local nurse, Margie Smith. The character of that young woman is clear from a single detail that Father Matthew conveyed to me: that she never, in the long subsequent decades following Merton’s death, said a public word about their relationship. There was a twinkle in his eye when he said that.
Forbidden further contact with his lover, Merton was granted permission to leave the Abbey for a trip to the Far East in the spring of 1968. His main purpose was to give a lecture in Bangkok on comparative monasticism and mysticism, but there was much more to the trip than that, as his published journals now reveal. He scoped out a variety of possible new hermitages along the way, had multiple audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and visited the monumental Buddhist statues on Sri Lanka—they were to be the inspiration for what was to be his final artistic and mystic vision.
Then, almost as mysteriously as that Buddha’s smile, Merton was gone.
Clearly exhausted, he gave a rather poor performance in Bangkok and then, before retiring to his room for a nap, he uttered what were to be his final public words: “Now I will disappear.” He returned to his room, and was electrocuted in his bath; his body was returned to the United States in a cargo plane carrying American casualties from the war in that same region—of which he had been an especially outspoken and eloquent critic. Father Louis was buried in a simple grave next to the monastery, looking out over the hills he hymned so movingly in many of his finest books.
A Friend and Fellow
The monk who served as Merton’s confessor in those final, tumultuous years at Gethsemani was a fellow monk of precisely his own age: Father Matthew Kelty.
Father Matthew knew that something was up with his troubled charge, and he expressed the sinking sense that, on the day of his departure when Father Louis opted to depart the monastery in the early morning hours without saying goodbye to anyone, he likely would not see his friend again. He did not, of course. “That’s the sad thing with life.”
This detail nicely captures the quiet, accepting grace of Father Matthew Kelty, and the service he provided across the span of four long, Merton-less decades. He understood many things about the man, especially those attitudes and behaviors he did not necessarily share. He never needed to create friends nor to cultivate fellow workers, preferring to enable others to become purer images of themselves, not to press them into the idolatry of his own image.
In dealing with a friend and fellow whose spirit was far more troubled and far more discordant than his own, Father Matthew just listened, meditated, prayed, and never failed to offer a well-timed word of comfort. He was his own man, and knew his own mind, but from that quiet stillness and firmness of purpose—he was able to gaze out upon a wider and far more unstable world of human forms.
Born Charles Richard Kelty Jr., in South Boston (in 1915, just like Merton), his parents were no artists. His father was an engineer and a machinist from New Jersey; he was arguably the most precocious of their four children. He was educated in public schools in Milton, Massachusetts, where by his own confession he acquired his lifelong taste for poetry.
In other words, unlike Merton, he did not have art foisted upon him; he came to it, took to it naturally. As you look at Father Matthew’s monastic resume, you can’t help but be struck by the strange contrast between these two men—Father Louis’ restless energy and deep unhappiness, Father Matthew’s easy contentment and quiet grace.
But Father Matthew knew a true poet when he saw one, and he gave Merton a friendship and an appreciative understanding that one cannot help feeling the latter desperately needed in his later years.
No Saints Without Disciples
Father Matthew just was that way: your own spirit seemed to shine more brightly in the ambience of his own. No saints without their truest disciples, no poets without their honest readers.
Charles Kelty studied at the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Techny, Illinois, and was ordained as a priest who took the name of Matthew in August of 1946. But he served the Church in many other ways over the next fifteen years before coming to Gethsemani.
First he served in the SVD missions to Papua New Guinea (1947 to 1951), then moved back to SVD Headquarters in Techny, Illinois (1951 to 1960). He was accepted into the community of the Abbey of Gethsemani in February 1960 and took up vows of Strict Obedience in 1962.
In a curious, if poetic, turnabout Father Louis was assigned to be the spiritual director of the new initiates in 1960, so he had a direct hand in Father Matthew’s eventual embrace of the strictures of the Abbey. It’s ironic, this criss-crossed aspect to their monastic lives: Louis coming early, Matthew coming late; Louis leaving early, Matthew staying long.
People always leaving just as other folks arrive.
What Father Matthew recalls of his early monastic formation was the way Merton encouraged the new monks to find their own forms of artistic expression, in whatever form, much as he himself had done in the written word. Creativity, spiritual and otherwise, was to be the watchword at Gethsemani; and even a cursory walk through the Abbey’s gift shop today demonstrates how many of the monks have taken up Merton’s call to creativity in the written and visual arts.
Father Matthew Kelty was no exception, though he came to his creativity slower than most. Like Merton, he left Gethsemani for a time; unlike Merton, he always intended to return. He spent three years (1970-1973) with a small Cistercian community in Oxford, North Carolina, then nine years more (1973-1982) back in Papua, New Guinea as a solitary.
Then he came home to Gethsemani.
It was there that his own life became his master work. Father Matthew turned to the craft of the Sunday homily, many of which he filmed and posted online in later life. His way of celebrating the Eucharist was just that, a ritual celebration, a theatrical event whose artistic gravity was never far from his mind. These are among his most moving weekly artistic creations. But Father Matthew Kelty also turned to the written word. His personal correspondence has the quality of a poem, where words discover a gentleness that they sometimes lacked in Merton’s less-calloused hands. Father Matthew also wrote a book. But his reasons for doing so were far less personal than Merton’s; they were, for lack of a better term, political. Father Matthew Kelty published a collection of homilies and spiritual essays entitled My Song is of Mercy (edited by Michael Downey) in 1994.
“Sex is no problem. Love is.”
The most startling, and one of the most moving, piece in that volume is the epilogue, entitled “Celibacy and the Gift of Gay.” Father Matthew Kelty decided, in anticipation of his ninetieth year, to uncloset his monastic self, and thus to attempt to describe what gifts gay and lesbian Christians have to contribute to the complex tapestry of Christian communion. He did so because he had come to feel a responsibility to those “least among us” who were not moving on a path toward acceptance in as straight a line as many in the late ’60s and early ’70s had hoped. But you also hear more than a subtle echo of what Matthew learned from Merton’s heterosexual torment.
It remains true that given our national climate, it will take a while to let love loose. And then to let love grow, deeper, greater, wider.
I may as well make it clear: ...[this] is why so many heterosexuals abandon celibacy after a decade or two: they cannot handle it: they need an external woman to awaken the inner one, especially in our culture. Perhaps in a less divided one they do better...
And since those who tend to worry will worry here about sex, the answer is simple: sex is no problem. Love is. Where there is no love you can expect sex to emerge. All men want love, celibates too. Sex can be one way of loving, but it is absurd to say: no sex is no love, as absurd as saying sex is love.
A celibate priesthood, community, is a grace for the Church, a song of the Kingdom (where there will be no marriage but all will be whole),and a joy for all in it. There are none more called to it, more capable of it, more created for it, than the people we call gay. They begin from day one a process of integration others do not even have a hint of before they are 40. Bless them! (My Song is of Mercy, 258-259; italics mine)
In short, he wrote for others, never himself. Even in this, the most personal of spiritual confessions, the subject was not Father Matthew at all; it was humanity, the world, the Church, his astonishing and all-encompassing compassionate embrace of the Creation of which he saw himself an indelible part.
Merton lobbied hard to gain permission to live slightly apart from his community, in a small hermitage up the hill from the dormitory of Gethsemani—that some monks would resent his special pleading and special treatment was inevitable. But Father Matthew never did. Rather, he credited Merton with returning him and his fellow monks’ thoughts to the central values of mysticism and of solitude. It is only in such a manner that the monk can find the divine love in which celibacy makes sense.
Delightfully, the image of such God-infused love came to Father Matthew on his first experience with a motorcycle.
“One day everything fell together and I was mounted,” he says somewhat playfully and naughtily. “Is this a good way to make love? I do not know. I know only that it was for me.”
The meeting of the bride within is not had merely for the asking. Her hand must be won; love of her must be proven. Heroic effort is taken as a matter of course... Notwithstanding many find her, and these are the people who have truly lived. It is these who know God and who will see his face because they know what love is.
Recall the central insight that made his own monastic life possible: “Sex is no problem. Love is.” This was arguably his most distinctive insight; not owed to Merton (save as a decisive counterexample), it was all Matthew’s own.
The question of celibacy is discussed often on too shallow a level, and surely so if the mystical level is dismissed. To do that is to reduce celibacy to an act of prowess which as likely as not can end only in ruining the person. Celibacy without a deep love affair is a disaster. It is not even celibacy. It’s just not getting married. And the world has enough of such people, married and otherwise.
Sex is no problem. Love is. So celibacy is badly misunderstood if it is imagined as an unmarried life without sex. That just re-inscribes the sex obsessions of our own day.
Celibacy is a love affair—a love affair with God. That’s what you got from Father Matthew: his quiet, yet at times overwhelming, passionate love of God. He was infused with it, it cam pouring out of him in every homily, every letter, every smiling glance.
His most common prayer was a prayer for peace. His fundamental spiritual orientation was toward everlasting mercy, mercy he sang like a song and lived like a love affair. And as American Catholicism continues to rethink its relation to Rome, and its cultural future in embattled times, it is all the more important for us to remember that such voices as Father Matthew’s existed in the Roman, or any, church.
For the good people keep on leaving, just as other ones arrive.
Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. is William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The author of six books, his most recent is This Tragic Gospel: How John Corrupted the Heart of Christianity (Jossey-Bass, 2008). His next book, JJ Winckelmann and the Vatican's First Profane Museum, will be published by Palgrave at the end of the year.
Religion Dispatches is a daily online magazine dedicated to the analysis and understanding of religious forces in the world today, highlighting a diversity of progressive voices and aimed at broadening and advancing the public conversation.
The following are excerpts of reflections on Christianity, the patriarchal mindset, and family values. Published by Adrian Worsfold in the Pluralist web site. Reprinted with permission.
There are two main areas where religion has been identified as patriarchal or male dominated: structure and language.
"Structure means who is in charge and who takes orders and the system that puts them in charge. It is argued that many religions contain a patriarchal structure, that is to say they are institutionally biased towards male supremacy in posts and decisions that reflect largely male concerns. More than this, these structures create a male culture, ways of thinking and acting that reflect male preoccupations, and they channel the spirituality of women and limit their role in deciding on forms of spirituality and belief.
What does this mean in practice? It means that maleness is like:
Pyramidal shape of appointments with authority stemming from the top
People below are subordinates
People at equal level are competitors
Stress on rationality and logic
In religion this means hierarchy and rationalised forms of theology. It also means that where there may be feminine gender areas of religion, such as caring and listening, and perhaps some ritual; these are either taken over by the males into some exclusive rules, or the female aspect is narrowed, closely defined and highly regulated. In religion, the female becomes defined as subordinate, or subject to dress code, restricted in expression, and prevented from promotion within the sacred setting.
The dominant Western Christian Church is the Roman Catholic Church. It has a pyramidal structure where the Pope is infallible. The Pope has supreme authority if he wants it, because he is regarded as the successor to Jesus' apparent main organising disciple, Peter, who arrived in Rome, and is called God's vicar on earth, but usually he operates in consulation with his all male cardinals. The cardinals rule over archbishops, they over bishops, they over priests and they over deacons. The hierarchy claims direct descent by ordination from the apostles of Christ (called apostolic succession); the laying on of hands must be done by someone who has had hands laid upon him. The laity might be consulted in parishes but have no institutional role.
In the Anglican Church priests with freehold (this gives them ownership over their parish space and cannot be sacked) have some resistance against a bishop's authority, although freehold is declining. Bishops are likely to be more consultative but they also claim apostolic succession, continuous through the change of Church becoming part of the one Holy an Apostolic Church. The chain of command stops at Archbishop, and there are a number of them around the world. They generally have consultative powers and bishops together carry special authority of leading pastors. The Anglican Church also has a tricameral synodical structure where bishops, priests and lay people each have their own House of Synod, and each house can block new legislation and also some votes need two thirds majority. Priests in some Anglican provinces can be women too. Some bishops in fewer Anglican provinces can be women too. The Church of England is considering including women bishops; at present no woman priest can be promoted.
Protestant churches tend to have more lay input and simply ministers and most have fewer barriers to women achieving the highest posts. However, some Protestants point the biblical instruction that a woman should be silent in church and keep her head covered, that is said to come from Paul (although this is disputed by biblical critics). Nevertheless a central and unchangable difficulty Christianity has is that the incarntion of its God is male, Jesus Christ, and he chose twelve all male disciples. He did have women followers, the most significant being Mary Magdalene (who some speculate he even married - more likely is that she was a wealthy supporter who kept the company materially afloat).
Later tradition labelled Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This has no biblical or historical basis and shows the Church in its patriarchal phase, marginalising a powerful and important woman at the side of the God-incarnate of the religion. It also glorified mary the Mother of Jesus. The Church proposed that she herself (not just Jesus) was immaculately conceived, and was the perfect vision of motherhood. Historically there are clues that Jesus had a difficult relationship with his mother.
The Church created, with the two Marys, a bad woman and a good woman. These have transmitted important cultural messages down the centuries, especially for how families should model themselves. The Roman Catholic Church, and Anglican Catholics too, believe in the Holy Family, and this Holy Family is a model and vision of families. From this and into this stems views on only the married having sex, on marriage being for having children, on them not using contraception, going through with the birth, and opposition to euthanasia.
Mother Pelican Editor's Note: The reflections reprinted above certainly pertain to the Christian world, but to some extent apply to most religions. The tight coupling between institutional Christianity and both social and family life is easily observable in most cultures; and the nefarious consequences (including domestic violence) become visible as soon as the observer is liberated from the patriachal mentality. The reader may want to consider how the same "sexist" mentality and modes of behavior emerge from the mutual influence between religion and society in many different religious and cultural contexts - albeit with some notable exceptions. The bad news is that "rapid" advances toward gender equality in religion and family may be a bit exagerated; it is a "two steps forward, one step backward" process. The good news is that overcoming patriarchy as a system that is not intrinsic to any religion is currently gaining momentum as an emerging trend; and this bodes well for the future of sustainable human development. Perusal of the following links (listed in reverse chronological order) may be helpful to see the trajectory:
Mother Pelican Editor's Note: The last article listed above, by Professor Jamal Badawi, is a "must read" for anyone interested in the intersection of religion and human development:
"When writing or speaking about the Islamic position on any issue, one ought to clearly differentiate between the normative teachings of Islam and the diversity of cultural practices prevalent among its adherents that may or may not be consistent with those teachings. Dr. Jamal Badawi in this paper discusses the normative teachings of Islam with regard to the standing and role of women in society as the criteria by which to judge the practice of Muslims and to evaluate their compliance with Islam."
Absolute agreement, but in a sequel article another Islamic scholar (Ingrid Mattson) is quoted as saying: "There is no text in the Quran or Sunnah that precludes women from any position of leadership, except in leading prayer."
Again, absolute agreement, but the last four words ("except in leading prayer") are critical. Religion has a formidable influence on culture. If religion creates the impression that only men can deal with things divine, sooner or later this will be (wrongfully?) translated into laws or practices that exclude women from some important positions of leadership in society and in the family, thus reinforcing the patriarchal mentality in society and, eventually, in religion itself. This is certainly happening in Islam. It has also happened in Christianity and in many other religions. Isn't it time for all religions to go back to the original sources and exorcise all the sexist accretions that have accumulated over centuries?
All four articles in this series are highly recommended:
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Feminist theologians have uncovered for us the antifeminist features of the current account of the creation of Eve (Genesis 1:18-25) and the Fall (Gen 3:1-19), which have reinforced prejudice against women in the culture. According to this account, woman was formed from a rib of Adam who, upon seeing her, exclaims: "This one is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, and she shall be called Woman (Hebrew: isha) because she was taken from Man (ish); that's why the man leave his father and mother to join his woman, and the two shall become one flesh." (2:23-25)
The original meaning intended to show the unity between man and woman, but the anteriority of Adam and the formation of woman from his rib was interpreted as male superiority.
The story of the Fall also sounds anti-feminist: "The woman saw that the tree was good for food... she took the fruit and ate it; she gave it to her husband and he ate it. Immediately their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked." (Gen 3:6-7). The woman is considered here to be the weaker sex, for it was she who fell into temptation and, from there, seduced the man. This, then, is the reason for her historical subjugation, now ideologically justified: "you shall be under the power of your husband and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3:16)
But there is a more radical reading, presented, among others, by two feminist theologians: Riane Eisler (Sacred Pleasure, Sex Myth and the Politics of the Body, 1995) and Françoise Gange (Les Dieux menteurs, 1997), which I will summarize here. These authors start from the historical fact that there was a matriarchal age before the patriarchal one. According to them, the story of original sin was introduced in the interests of patriarchy as part of blaming women in order to seize power from them and consolidate the rule of man. The sacred rites and symbols of matriarchy have been demonized and retro-projected to the origins in the form of a primordial account, with the intention of completely deleting the traits of the female account. The current account of original sin attempts to eliminate the four fundamental symbols of matriarchy.
The first symbol that is attacked is woman herself who, in the matriarchal culture, represented the sacred sex, generator of life. As such, she symbolized the Great Mother, and now becomes the great seducer.
Second, the symbol of the serpent, which represented divine wisdom that is always renewed as the skin of the snake is renewed, is deconstructed.
Third, the tree of life, considered one of the main symbols of life, gestated by women, is disfigured and now under prohibition: "Do not eat or touch its fruit." (3:3)
Fourth, the symbolic nature of sexuality, considered sacred as it allowed access to ecstasy and mystical knowledge, and was represented by the man-woman relationship, is distorted.
What does the current account of original sin do? It totally reverses the deep and true meaning of those symbols. It desacralizes them, it demonizes them, and it transforms what was a blessing into a curse.
The woman is eternally cursed, turned into an inferior being, a seductress of man who "will master her" (Gen 3:16). Her power to give life will be occur with pain. (Gen 3:16)
The snake, in addition to being cursed, becomes the radical enemy of woman, who will crush its head, but it will bite her heel. (Gen 3:15)
The tree of life and wisdom falls under the sign of the forbidden. Earlier, in the matriarchal culture, eating from the tree of life was imbuing oneself with wisdom. Now, eating of it means lethal danger. (Gen 3:3)
The sacred bond between man and woman is replaced by the marriage bond, with man taking the place as head and woman as the dominated one. (Gen 3:16)
In this story as it is in Genesis, a thorough deconstruction of the previous sacred feminine story operates. We are all, rightly or wrongly, held hostage by this Adamic, antifeminist and guilt-assigning story.
Why write about this? To reinforce the work of feminist theologians who show us how deep the roots of domination of women are. By rescuing the more archaic feminist narrative, they seek to propose a more original and positive alternative, in which a new relationship with life, with gender, power, the sacred and sexuality, is displayed.
Jesus's meeting with Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb is fraught with symbolic spiritual meaning. This is part of a series of reflections on the symbols of the Easter Season by the Editor in Chief of America Magazine, Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher"). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-14)
Mary Magdalene Apostle to the Apostles "Apostola Apostolorum"
Reading just the abstracts is very instructive, and options are offered to readers who want to read more. But perhaps the most significant message that this edition of Feminist Review delivers is the worldwide distribution of contributors from so many different cultures and religious traditions. The intersection of religion, spirituality, and feminism is growing, and this bodes well for the future of sustainable human development; for a crucial ingredient for further growth in human development is the recovery of the original unity of man and woman.
9. The Case of Sister Elizabeth Ann Johnson, C.S.J.
Elizabeth Johnson, Reliable Guide
Deirdre Good and Jane Redmont
Originally published in
Episcopal Café, 25 April 2011
Reprinted with Permission
Deirdre Good is Professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary. Her latest book is Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction with Bruce Chilton (Fortress Press 2010). Jane Carol Redmont teaches religious studies and theology at Guilford College and is the author of Generous Lives: American Catholic Women Today (1992) and When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (1999, pbk 2008). She will be presenting a paper on an ecumenical panel inspired by Elizabeth Johnson's Friends of God and Prophets at the June meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Nearly twenty years ago, in 1992, the late Catherine Mowry LaCugna, a Catholic theologian still respected and cherished in the theological academy for her book on the Trinity, God With Us, wrote an essay in the Jesuit magazine America titled "Catholic Women as Ministers and Theologians." LaCugna noted that a critical mass of Catholic women had emerged with doctorates in theology, scripture, ethics, and related fields, and were now teaching in colleges, universities, and seminaries. While this change in the composition of the theological profession is not unique to the Catholic Church --or to Christianity-- LaCugna pointed out that of all professionally trained women theologians in the U.S., by far the majority were Roman Catholic. "Further," LaCugna added, "the field known as feminist theology has largely been the project of Catholic women."
LaCugna was under no illusion that the church as a whole had changed, despite the fact that a significant number of clergy and lay ministers, in this country at least, had been educated by theologians who were women. While women in the varied ministries of the church (both volunteer and professional) already far outnumbered men, church leadership remained clerical and less than collaborative, women were still barred from ordination, and feminist theology was treated as a fad.
Today the Catholic Theological Society of America, formerly a male, clerical, and white preserve, is still largely Euro-American, though it has recently seen its first Asian-American, African American, and Latino presidents. It is, however, no longer the preserve of either men or priests. These days, women and lay men make up a large proportion of the society; half of the members of its Board of Directors are women, and a woman president is no longer a novelty. Elizabeth A. Johnson, a former president of the society, is one of many Catholic women theologians who do not shy away from explicit feminist critique of church and theology. She is also, by most accounts, a moderate.
Being a Catholic theologian in trouble with authorities is nothing new. Many of the expert advisers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) were formerly silenced scholars. They are now honored as fathers --they were all men-- of contemporary and theological studies, among them the French Dominican Yves Congar and his compatriot the Jesuit Henri de Lubac. Recent history is dappled with Latin American (Leonardo Boff, Ivone Gebara), Asian (Tissa Balasuriya), European (Jacques Dupuis) and North American (Charles Curran, Peter Phan, Roger Haight) targets of criticism by the hierarchy, often at the level of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Indeed, the CTSA's highest honor --an award which Professor Johnson received in 2004-- is named for the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who had his own troubles with the Vatican (he was silenced in 1954) but went on, a decade later, to draft the Second Vatican Council's document on religious liberty.
Analysts of the nuances of Catholic hierarchical statements may note that a condemnation by the USCCB does not carry the weight of an intervention by the Vatican. But, as the CTSA Board of Directors pointed out in a statement praising Professor Johnson's work, the bishops did not follow their own rules, which they and a committee of Catholic theologians had set up during a painstaking process lasting nine years, from 1980 to 1989. As both the CTSA and Professor Johnson herself asked in her own brief response, how is it that Professor Johnson was never asked to meet with the bishops to discuss her book?
Professor Johnson began her professional life after entering the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in the late 1950s. Having first taught science at her order's request, she has long been interested in science and ecology and their relationship to theology and spirituality. Her book Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, reflects this, as does the chapter on science, creation, and ecology in Quest.
A Trinitarian through and through, Professor Johnson has focused in particularly eloquent ways on the Holy Spirit, present in history and in daily life, in several of her works. She articulates a christology based on wisdom categories, both accompanying and inaugurating a recent trend.
In a 2008 interview with Tom Fox, former editor and publisher of the independent weekly National Catholic Reporter, Professor Johnson said "I just wanted a book out there, a simple book that people could pick up and read and munch on and feast on and have a banquet… in the theology of God." Episcopal clergy of the Diocese of New York know the book since Bishop Mark Sisk gave them all a copy of it. It was his "innovative choice" for 2009, selected because it offered "a valuable reflection and overview of modern theological trends."
Quest for the Living God is a creative venture, exploring ways in which Christians, as theologians of the pew and the street and as the people of God in their faith of many cultures and voices have been wrestling with, naming, and celebrating the presence of God in the world.
The book seeks to write "a new chapter in an ancient story," as the first chapter indicates. Quest for the Living God begins with a warning: ancient cartographers marked the limit of known worlds by writing "Here be dragons" in empty space at the map's edge. "There is something frightening about moving into the unknown, which might harm or devour us," Johnson writes. She invites her readers "to test where the limits of their own ideas about God might be" and to risk a journey through dragon territory to new places "already discovered to be life-giving and true by others in the church."
Professor Johnson sets up three ground rules to equip readers for the journey: first, the recognition that God's reality is an ineffable, incomprehensible mystery. God has drawn near in Jesus Christ "but even there the living God remains unutterable mystery…" Consequently, the second ground rule is that no expression of God can be taken literally. "We are always naming toward God, using good, true and beautiful fragments" of our worldly experiences to "point to the infinite mystery who dwells within and embraces the world but always exceeds our grasp." Every word we speak about God is metaphorical or analogical, namely, that particular notion and more besides. From this, it follows, since no single name is ever sufficient, we need many names for God, each adding to the richness. These three precepts are rooted in the biblical warning against idols. They "free our imaginations from standard cultural models of the divine, the paltry heritage of modern theism."
In chapters that follow, Professor Johnson explores God-talk emerging out of the crises of human history. How can we speak of God amid human suffering, especially the massive suffering and evil of the last century with its genocides, world wars, nuclear arms race, struggle to emerge from colonialism, and ecological destruction? How can we speak of God in a Christian way --a way advocating Christ's uniqueness-- in a world of many religious and wisdom paths? Professor Johnson probes insights that God who suffers, who liberates, who acts "womanish" in "a symphony of symbols," who breaks chains of racism and accompanies the poor and colonized and inspires them to celebrate fiesta, a God who is generous beyond our imagining in a world of plural religious experience and belonging, is also the Creator Spirit in an evolving world. She concludes in the Trinitarian God of love as beyond us, as with us in suffering, and as the pervading ways of the Spirit.
By all accounts (and our professional and personal experiences confirm this) Professor Johnson is a thorough scholar, a heartfelt Catholic, a determined and clear-spoken feminist, and a beloved teacher who is also a warm and witty public speaker. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, where Beth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology, spoke swiftly and clearly in her defense, as did the Board of the CTSA.
Quest for the Living God is a simple, accessible book with no footnotes. Its wisdom is to examine contemporary insights about God fearlessly and generously so as to detect broader and deeper religious truths. An instructor of Professor Good's acquaintance who used it in an introductory theology course scheduled it for the end of the quarter, when participants are exploring the future of images of God and the sacred. She found the book highly accessible theologically to an array of students. The writing style presents evocative images and metaphors with which students, both young and older, can play, pray, and engage. The bibliography at the end of each chapter provides resources for further investigation. The professor concludes that the students appreciated this book because it touches on vital concerns that haunt them and about which they wonder: it made theology much more real to them.
Professor Johnson is a firm believer in the church's mission of reconciliation. At a 2008 gathering of leaders of Catholic religious orders of women and men, many of whom feel anger at the institutional church, Professor Johnson, in a keynote address, invited the assembly to focus on the Holy Spirit's power to build community in the church and to foster forgiveness. She also minced no words in naming the situation that angers many of her sisters and brothers: "We in this Catholic church continue to live with patriarchal values that, by any objective measure, relegate women to second-class status governed by male-dominated structure, law, and ritual."
Forgiveness, Professor Johnson said, "does not mean condoning harmful actions, or ceasing to criticize and resist them, but it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred."
Why the condemnation of this particular book? Why now? Professor Johnson has written far heftier works for two full decades. Her book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1992), won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award and in many ways was and is far more radical than Quest for the Living God. Professor Redmont remembers wondering at the time why the book did not get Professor Johnson in trouble and answering her own question in two ways: 1) The book, which places in dialogue feminist and classical Christian wisdom, was so exquisitely researched, so deeply rooted in scriptural and patristic study, so beautifully argued and written, that it was virtually impossible to shoot scholarly or doctrinal holes through it. 2) The bishops had not and would not read it, both because of its sophistication and because Professor Johnson was, after all, a woman. Most women theologians have more education in theology than most of the U.S. bishops.
Which brings us to the level of theological sophistication of the Catholic laity, including (for canonically they are lay persons) Catholic sisters. The bishops' stated concern about Quest for the Living God is that as a book conceived to be popular, it is being widely read and used in undergraduate college courses and that it is leading the faithful astray. Have the faithful no intellectual capacity to discern or no capacity to be taught by their professors and clergy? As the French would say, Un peu de respect! (A little respect, please.) In a follow-up statement issued during Holy Week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine, carefully delineates in doctrinal language the respective roles of bishops and theologians but inserts a sports metaphor. "In any sporting match, football, tennis, baseball, there are referees and umpires. The game can proceed with the supervision of a referee. In a tennis match, it is not the player who calls the ball ‘out of bounds' but the referee. The player may object that it was not his or her intention to hit the ball out of bounds. He or she may even question whether the ball is out of bounds. But it is the referee who must make the call."
Not surprisingly, sales of Quest for the Living God have, since the issuing of the original condemnation, shot up to the top of the Amazon.com sales list and in direct sales from Professor Johnson's publisher, Continuum.
Even as we share the outrage of our Roman Catholic theological colleagues, we should not limit our ecumenical solidarity to complaints about Professor Johnson's treatment by hierarchs who have tried --unsuccessfully so far-- to sully her good name and her credentials as a Catholic theologian. Indeed, we would do well to exercise our ecumenical muscles by learning from Professor Johnson's theology.
As we celebrate the central mysteries of the Christian year and continue through the season of Resurrection, Professor Johnson's critiques and constructive suggestions are well worth pondering, not only in Quest for the Living God but in all her works. Professor Johnson began her erudite, thoughtful, and faith-filled book She Who Is with thoughts that apply not only to Roman Catholics but equally to us as Episcopalians. "Inherited Christian speech about God," she writes, "has developed within a framework that does not prize the unique and equal humanity of women, and bears the mark of this partiality and dominance." How do we, in our theology and in our common prayer, speak of God and how can we struggle poetically and faithfully to speak of God rightly?
"To even the casual observer," Professor Johnson writes, "it is obvious that the Christian community ordinarily speaks about God on the model of the ruling male human being. Both the images that are used and the concepts accompanying them reflect the experience of men in charge within a patriarchal system." Professor Johnson continues: "The difficulty does not lie in the fact that male metaphors are used, for men too are made in the image of God and may suitably serve as finite beginning points for reference to God. Rather, the problem consists in the fact that these male terms are used exclusively, literally, and patriarchally."
We strongly urge that Christians, catholic and reformed, read and discuss Professor Johnson's books. Let her teach us. We have much to learn from her.
For further reading:
- Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology (1990)
- She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1992)
Tenth anniversary edition with new Preface, 2002.
- Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit (1993)
- Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (1998)
- Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (2003)
- Dangerous Memories: A Mosaic of Mary in Scripture (2004)
- Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007)
- Elizabeth A. Johnson is also editor of The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, a book of proceedings of a 2002 symposium, and the author of numerous journal articles.
Mother Pelican Editor's Note: The article reprinted above seems to offer a fair assessment of the situation regarding the theological research of Sister Elizabeth Ann Johnson, CSJ. There have always been disagreements between theologians and bishops in the history of the Christian Church. At a time when most (perhaps 90% or even more?) of the theologians who ever lived are alive and working, it is hardly surprising to hear about another doctrinal disagreement. The role of theologians is to challenge bishops, and the role of bishops is to moderate theologians. But it is sad to see bishops rebuking scholarly challenges by theologians, and even honest questions by lay people, in a manner that is both authoritarian and condescending if not reminiscent of the medieval inquisition. Do they really think that the Roman Catholic Church has already exhausted our understanding of divine revelation? Is God limited by the boundaries of European cultures and phallagocentric mindsets? The utter absurdity of the Vatican's rigid fundamentalism on matters related to human sexuality and the male-only priesthood will not stand the test of time. Nevertheless, readers may want to consider the following additional sources of information (in reverse chronological order):