Women-Church and Diversity

The Christian Century, May 12, 1993 | Go to article overview

Women-Church and Diversity


Nearly 2,400 women assembled at Albuquerques downtown convention center for the third Women-Church conference, seeking a vision of unity amid a mosaic of cultural and religious expressions. 'While participants seemed to agree on the conference theme, "Women-Church: Weavers of Change,"it was clear that in this case the road to change is paved with debate, introspection and self-criticism.

Institutional religion of every denominational shade came in for strong disapproval from a number of theologians and religious leaders who spoke at the gathering. "Feminist theology is under attack by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, fundamentalist preachers and Protestant churches," declared Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Stendahl Professor at Harvard Divinity School. "In this climate, women are claiming feminist liberation theologies as their own. The rise of many womens voices in the world of theology and ministry makes this a unique moment for creative theological development,'' she said.

The idea for such conferences originated more than a decade ago with Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of more than 40 groups rooted in the Catholic tradition but including women of other traditions. Albuquerque was chosen as the site of this years conference--the first was held in Chicago in 1983, the second in Cincinnati in 1987 because of New Mexico's cultural diversity. Diversity itself, however, sparked a series of debates within the group.

"The central question before us," said Mary Hunt, a lesbian feminist author, conference organizer and co-director of the Womens Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, "is how we can stand together against patriarchy" and be committed to diversity among women "without being coopted.'' In a booklet published for the conference, Hunt argued that the Women-Church movement does not represent a schism or a new church "because womens infinite creativity and cleverness permit us to be many things at once."

The conferences mix of races, classes, ages, nationalities, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations provoked complaints from participants about the ways women can ignore one another, presume to understand each others experience or take freely the attractive elements of one another's religions.

"Feminist theology is not a mutual admiration society," said Korean theologian and author Chung Hyun Kyung, currently a resident scholar at Harvard Divinity School. Participants should strive to be "critically compassionate to each other" as they debate solutions to social problems and the need for female reinterpretation of history and religion. …

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