Ecclesia of Women in Asia

Forum of Asian Catholic Women Theologians

EWA I Conference Notes, Day 3, November 27, 2002 - Lieve's Sharing on her observations

After the reports and discussions of the first two days, Dr. Lieve Troch, guest professor from the Netherlands and Brazil gave the participants a chance to experience how it is to be in a feminist theology class in a European University. Energized by the seriousness of the search and the honesty of the disagreements, Dr. Troch stressed that her session is not a problem-resolving but is problem-posing session for the ecclesia, ecclesia being Greek for a democratic assembly of free citizens

I. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS:

In relation to the first two days, Lieve observed that Catholic women in Asia have an identity problem rooted in the margin-center discourse. Not only are women perceived to be in the margins of Asian societies, except for the Philippine situation, the marginality of Christianity as a religion in Asia is also clear. On the other hand, it is important to consider Christianity’s minority position in terms of the political, economic and social power held by Christians and Christian institutions.

Fifty percent of the country reports were definitions of the problems of women as victims. But if women are defined only as victims, we kill the victim a second time. Noting that the reports did not mention much about feminist movements, she asked, “Where are the feminist movements for social change in Asia?” She further observed that in our country reports and when we speak, we use help language most of the time. We want to help groups/people, but why do we want to help? Lieve also noted that there are more religious than lay among the participants (considering the religious sisters as “Religious”).

In relation to identity, there are several issues or problems. First is the image of God that women accept as the image of God. Then we have Mariology and Christology as key issues for feminist reflections. We also must look at women’s visibility in/within the Church structures. The Trinity as the model for the Church must also be considered.

The dualisms that are prevalent in our way of thinking and relating were, for her, evident in the discussions of the first days. Among the dualisms that she pointed out were:

1) grassroots vis-a-vis academic theologians
2) telling stories and sharing of experiences, more time for thinking and reflection vis-à-vis a structured conference program
3) outsiders’ (church, religious community, funding agencies) expectation vis-a-vis the things we ourselves want to do or choose to do.
4) small groups vis-à-vis plenum
5) old vis-a-vis new symbols
6) doing theology vis-a-vis connecting with ourselves
7) positive thinking vis-à-vis posing problems that affect women



II. CLARIFICATION OF TERMS AND ISSUES

Woman’s insider/outsider position in the Church is a powerful position because it means a woman can look at and survive two realities in 2 different perspectives. From woman’s insider/outsider perspective, she said, an attempt to clarify some of the issues would point out the following:


1. Religion and Women:

Where religion and women are concerned, our identity is tied up with men. Women were not allowed to define ourselves, the world, and the divine. We do not know how to do this new naming that we are being asked to do because we have no model. We want half of the cake (baked by men) but we also want another cake.

All religions have 5 common characteristics, to wit: a) all sacred texts were written by men; b. founders of big religions are all men; c) mediation between the earth and the divine is done by men, e.g. priests, imams, rabbis, and monks; d) evil is placed in the body and blood of women and the only way to escape is to be a mother or a virgin; e) interpretation of religious texts was for centuries done by men.

Women are in an ambivalent situation where religion is concerned, she said. Women are the ones who uphold the religions – there’s a lot of spirituality in women and religion is also liberating for them, otherwise they won’t stay. But if one looks critically at our cultures and religion, it may appear stupid to just passively stay but also stupid to leave. Furthermore, considering how the Church is a marginal group in Asia, Lieve asked the group to consider whether in talking especially about Church-related problems, we should tackle the problems of women in Asia as well.

2. Theology: What is “real” theology?

The classic paradigm attempts to explain and understand the divine but in doing so, tends toward trying to control the divine. Classic theology begins with the concept then applies it. People are treated as objects. Liberation theology, on the other hand, works for transformation. It tries to reflect on events in order to see where God is in what is happening, or how the reign of God is happening. In Liberation theology, new subjects enter to do theology. An important question to consider is: By whom do you want to be seen and heard?

3. Function of language.

There are three theories about language. One is that language is an expression of reality. Two, language is a close system of symbols that produces a reality. Three, language has the power to change reality.

If I talk in a different language, I create a different reality. In order to change the reality, we have to change our language – one that is more than just inclusive language. Ex. wo/men, s/he.

Reactions/Clarifications:

When asked, “Aren’t there also good concepts in classic theology?” Dr. Troch replied, are we trying to save theology or are we trying to save the world? We were never part of the definitions. We need a different voice because we have a different voice related to our structural position.

With respect to the categories lay and religious, the category lay could be a politicized identity, Lieve challenged the sisters to use this identity as lay.

Someone asked, “How far can I allow myself to go and bake a new cake?” Lieve replied, “We never bake a cake alone. That is why we are an ecclesia. It is not an individual process.”

Grace Chia observed, It’s not just us. It’s actually the divine and the question is can we allow the divine to reveal himself. In response, Dr. Troch said, When I talk about the divine, I also speak about grace, mystery

Pushpa commented - I think we also have to continuously re-define what it means to be a Christian. Also, when we say grassroots theology it seems we are also still using the classical framework. I don’t think we can really place Indian Christianity in the margins. As a Church, we are still a minority in India…maybe a super minority but still a minority. We are actually thrice dependent. But it is important to consider that we are not alone. What is happening here is also happening in Africa, Europe and Latin America. In terms of how language creates reality, I can see how language perpetuates oppression. In terms of the translation of the sacred texts, I believe it is also important to consider the fact that before it came to us it already went through so many translations by males.

4 Doing Theology:

Women theologians in the last decades formulated diverse approaches. We must distinguish between the woman’s perspective, women’s perspective, gender perspective.

1. woman’s perspective – reinforces complementarity.
2. feminist perspective – more critical; does more systemic analysis of reality
3. women’s perspective
4. gender perspective –Since feminist theology is associated with activism, women in the academy used doing theology from a gender perspective (gender – socio-cultural construction of women) since gender is a relational term. But gender only explains things; it’s just a way of reproducing not changing.
5. patriarchy as analytical tool
6. systemic analysis of reality – power analysis

Clarifications/Questions:

Q. Isn’t gender construction a better word?
A. In the academy, “gender” is easier to bring in than “feminist.” When “gender” is too much, we use “feminine” but “feminine” is an essentialist term while “feminist” is a change-oriented term.

Q. Why not use the term “womanist” used by black women in North America?
A. It’s actually an action term to affirm their identity as black women.

Q. What about “mujerista”?
A. It is used in North America by Latin American women theologians residing there.

Q. I cannot and will not write from a woman or women’s perspective. Can you comment on that? (John)
A. It is possible for a man to be feminist, as a matter of fact, even a better feminist theologian than some women. You just have a different homework to do.

Q. Can we use local languages?
A. There are efforts to find local translations. (Theresa)

III. TOOLS AND METHODS:

Who are we as theologians? Our identity and subjectivity have to be redefined and analysed. Each person has a multiple identity. Our different identities are embedded with social structures of oppression. Our social locations are fluid. We are active subjects who can make choices in favor of change or consolidation. It is important to realize our multiple identities in doing theology as our multiple identities can be used to bring about multiple liberation.

(Reactions/Clarifications: reality of multiple vocations, the power that could come from the awakening of a large number of women religious like in India; what kind of religious life do we want to emerge? Wishful thinking: As “awakened women” if we are to re-found a Church in Asia, what would it be and what will be its elements?)

1. Dance for transformation and liberation: Schussler’s method (for a description of the Dance, see Conference Reflections, "Dancing the Dance of Liberation" by Judette Gallares and "Theology is for Transformation" by Antoinette Gutzler)

Reactions/Clarifications:

· Give us a concrete example on how to do it.

- For example the concept “servant” is a construction. You deconstruct it when you begin to question who is saying the word and if the statement is helpful for us in relation to liberation. Another example is the term “father.” Today, we have the reality of absent fathers and of fathers raping or abusing their daughters, so it may no longer be a liberative term.

· Maybe, that is why Fiorenza uses God?

- Yes.

· How do you evaluate Fiorenza vis-à-vis Schneiders and hermeneutics philosophers like Gadamer and Ricoeur?

- I think it is different when you talk about liberation or work for liberation. Ricoeur for example is working in the area of language system. This (Schussler’s) method, I think, is a combination of the grassroots method and the academic at the same time. In this method, Scripture is not the norm, the struggling community is the norm.

· But I think we should not separate the text from the struggling community because the community was/is shaped by the text.

- But the text has been used and is still being used to oppress women so we would have to read from the perspective of the struggling community.

· What about the hermeneutics of appreciation? Does Fiorenza also talk about it?

- Yes, through critical evaluation and proclamation.

2. Theological Sources:

1. Re-claiming – tradition or memory?; Bible? Mariology?
2. Broken, abused, deprived bodies
3. Struggle for a discipleship of equals
4. Asian context in relation to colonialism, postcolonialism and globalisation

Reactions/Clarifications

· How can we reclaim Mary?
- As someone who teaches Mariology, I just try to focus on Mary as a disciple of Jesus. (Evelyn)

Why not connect women with nature?
- It is something we have to evaluate very carefully. We must consider the fact that our religious tradition has always equated women with nature and men with culture. We may just be reinforcing male thinking.

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