Monday, January 31, 2011

Call me cynical, but here’s my suspicion: Adjectives in front of theology are deceptive. Yes, they’re needed; no, I’m not against them, but still, they’re deceptive. Here’s how.
By distinguishing some theology with a modifier — feminist, black, Latin American, eco-, post-colonial, or indigenous, we are playing into the idea that these theologies are special, different — boutique theologies if you will. Meanwhile, unmodified theology — theology without adjectives — thus retains its privileged position as normative. Unmodified theology is accepted as Christian theology, or orthodox theology, or important, normal, basic, real, historic theology.
But what if we tried to subvert this deception? What if we started calling standard, unmodified theology chauvinist theology, or white theology, or consumerist, or colonial, or Greco-Roman theology? The covert assumption behind the modifier post-colonial thus becomes overt, although it is generally more obliquely and politely stated than this:  Standard, normative, historic, so-called orthodox Christian theology has been a theology of empire, a theology of colonialism, a theology that powerful people used as a tool to achieve and defend land theft, exploitation, domination, superiority, and privilege.
If that doesn’t sound disturbing, I’m not writing well or you’re not reading well.
Noting that "If standard Christian theology has indeed been colonial, then we would expect it to have certain characteristics," McLaren lists the following:
  1. It would explain — historically or theologically — why the colonizers deserve to be in power — sustained in the position of hegemony.
  2. It would similarly explain why the colonized deserve to be dominated — maintained in the subaltern or subservient position.
  3. It would provide ethical justification for the phases and functions of colonization — from exploration to settlements to land acquisition to minority marginalization to segregation to hegemony-maintenance, even to ethnic cleansing.
  4. It would bolster the sense of entitlement and motivation among the colonizers.
  5. It would embed the sense of submission and docility among the colonized.
  6. It would facilitate alliances with political and economic systems that were supportive of or inherent to colonialism.
  7. It would camouflage or cosmetically enhance its ugly aspects and preempt attempts to expose them.
As a little thought experiment, replace "colonizers" with "men" and "colonized" with "women," and ask yourself, does this describe typical Church of Christ doctrine and practice? I think you know what I think you'll find...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

the HUPS blog

I'm not real invested in this, as I've made my peace with the fact that being an alum from Harding University is now something like a curious and unrepresentative factoid of an earlier life--and having a semester of adjunct work for the HU English department on my CV is even more unreal. (Unfortunately...but I almost feel like I'd have to go undercover to attend a Homecoming at this point. And my ornery streak makes it more likely that I'd wear my "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt while carrying a gay pride flag, and beg Brent to wear his collar.) But anyway: it seems that HU is on the cusp of a search for a new university president.

The folks at HUPS have put together a list of first-, second- and third-tier candidates. On that list of about 10 candidates, there is one female name. Here is what the HUPS bloggers have to say about her (putative) candidacy:
Let's face it: Cheri Yecke has no chance to become Harding's next president. Is it because she's too conservative? Absolutely not. One can't be too conservative for the Harding presidency. It it because she's too liberal? Of course not. She's Sarah Palin with a Church of Christ pedigree. Is it because she's incapable? No, she ran the state school systems of Florida and Minnesota. It's because of one reason and one reason alone: she's a she.
No one on the Harding campus today has a bigger rolodex than Cheri Yecke. Her political connections are impeccable, especially for the political connections the university would deem key. She has a PhD from the University of Virginia. She's smart, tough, and PR-savvy in a way that is currently lacking in the HU administration. Her fundraising abilities would be superb. In any other university, selecting Yecke as the university's next president would be a no-brainer. But Harding is no ordinary university. For the most part, it still must feel like its president can go into churches of Christ and preach, an outmoded view of CoC higher ed that needs to be put to bed. The job of a university president is to manage and fundraise. Period. Do you really think there's anyone better on the HU campus to do this than Cheri Yecke? We at HPS think not. But until the Churches of Christ get a little less misogynistic, she's hit her glass ceiling at HU.
It's not that this is (at all) surprising--in fact, I'm a little curious as to why there's even a female name on the list at all, since the HUPS analysis is (IMO) unarguable. But the real question this raises for me is a legal/theological one. I'm aware that religious institutions of higher education may legally discriminate on the basis of religion (though not, of course, on other bases, such as ethnicity or race.) So what would the inclusion or exclusion of a female candidate in the upcoming presidential search indicate? It seems that if gender is ruled to be outside the bounds of legal discrimination on the basis of religion, there should be more than one token female candidate--and they should have a real shot. So female candidates might have a genuine basis for legal grievance if things go down like the HUPS folks predict. But, if female candidates do not appear on the list--then the only way for that to be legal would be to make it official that gender discrimination is part of the religious practice of the Churches of Christ. This, it seems to me, would then imply strongly that (contrary to the noises people make about the "women's role issue" being a matter of secondary importance, a matter of opinion, not something we should invite contention or schism over, etc., etc., ad nauseam), this is a kind of admission that silencing women is at the heart of CofC practice.

I'm curious to see which way this will go.

Monday, January 10, 2011

only girls have eyelashes

Clare's been telling me this for months now: only girls have eyelashes.

She's right, you know. The most reliable way to determine the intended gender of any character in a little kid's media world is their eyelashes. If they're a girl, they have long sweepy eyelashes to bat at the camera. If they're a boy, they don't. Generally that's not the only gender signal, of course. Girls also generally have to have bows in their hair and all sorts of accessories. Good grief, Minnie Mouse still prances around in 1950's style high heeled shoes. But you could delete all that, honestly, and you'd still know the girls from the boys without any trouble because, as my perceptive 4-year-old has accurately pointed out, only girls have eyelashes.

So a few weeks ago, I proved to her that boys actually do have eyelashes "for realz" (that is to say, empirically). I made Brent take off his glasses so Clare could see that not only does he have eyelashes, they are way awesomer than mine. She accepted this but maintained: on TV, only girls have eyelashes.

I haven't thought much more about it, other than to grumble to myself about yet another manifestation of the ubiquitous "female-gender-as-marked" thing that my daughter is observant enough to note without understanding it. Then yesterday I came across this: Toys Receiving Makeovers. Apparently in the 80's version of these toys (including Care Bears, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake), girl characters didn't have to have Tammy-Faye mascara in order to be recognizable as girls. The worst thing about the side-by-side pics is that the toys in question were already nauseatingly girly to begin with--how much more gendered can you get than Care Bears and My Little Pony?!

So, when Clare draws girls (and her human representations are evolving quite rapidly these days! No more amoeba-spider-people!) they get two--yes, precisely two (?)--carefully drawn eyelashes. Otherwise of course you would never know that they are girls.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

from BBC News: Female Torah scribe observes and battles tradition

I heard this on the way from St. Stephens Preschool this morning. Read the written story here, but take the time to play the embedded video, too.

Several things struck me while listening to the interview: Aviehlah's description of her work, how she came to her vocation, and how she views her unique status as the first female scribe in a few hundred years. She engages in her work as a sacred vocation--a vocation whose first glimmering came to her at the age of 3, with her first sight of the Hebrew script, which of course she did not understand fully but which she felt, instinctively, was important in some way.

But it's her description of her determination to live "sincerely and 100% within tradition" that struck me most forcefully. People regard her in a variety of ways: some people reject her, some people are fine with her, and some people seem to assume that she does what she does as a way of "sticking it to the man." This is not how she describes her vocation or her intent in pursuing it. Instead, she emphasizes how many years she spent learning from men--teachers and fellow scribes, all of whom are male--and how many years she has spent earnestly delving into tradition, seeking an answer to the question of whether it is permissible for a woman to do this work. This is, she says, as if stating the absurdly obvious, is obedience, not rebellion.*

Truthfully, it is absurdly obvious. And maybe (dare I hope?) the absurdly obvious is more easily seen in an example of a woman's devotion to a sacred calling in a tradition outside of our own CofC tradition.

Now, we don't have an authoritative body of leaders to sign off on something (or not). And we don't have an accumulated body of textual commentary describing authoritative traditions (at least, not in the same sense). What we do have, we "speak where the Bible speaks" people, is the biblical text. So for women in the c'sofC, our version of Aviehlah's obedient and diligent years-long search of tradition for permission to practice her vocation is going back to the Bible: back to those verses and the authoritative interpretations we've received, in an effort to understand, an effort to discern how we are called and what our scriptures truly say about that. This is, to state the absurdly obvious, obedience--not rebellion.

*note: some of these details are pulled from my memory of the audio interview aired on the BBC, not all of which appears in the video or the written text.