Feminist Theology as Theology of Liberation

Many of the first generation of Anglo American feminist theologians of the 1960s and 1970s were inspired by Latin American liberation theologies, largely by virtue of their shared links to progressive Roman Catholicism. An early example of dialogue between political theologians from North and South America was already by the mid-1970s giving prominence to structures of gender as well as class, race, and ethnicity (Eagleson and Torres 1976). The axiom adopted by Latin American liberation theologians, of "God's preferential option for the poor," was therefore taken to be especially relevant for a critique of women's status; not only were they most frequently among the poorest of the poor economically, but they were endemically and drastically absent from the history, doctrine, and structures of the Christian church itself. Through the work of writers such as Rosemary Ruether, Letty Russell, Ada-Maria Isasi-Diaz, and others, feminist, womanist, and Latina theologians continue to display clear affinities to this tradition through their attention to the dynamics of oppression and the identification of a compensatory tradition of prophetic/liberative teaching.

Yet the political dimensions of feminist theologies also have a distinctive flavor, reflecting the influence of wider second-wave feminist theorizing. The latter has always argued, for example, that "the personal is political," intending this as a corrective to the separation of public and private within orthodox liberal political theory. Politics is thus more adequately conceived as "... the conflict over the terms of our practical and passionate relations to one another and over all the resources and assumptions that may influence those terms" (Roberto

Unger, quoted in Tanner 1997: 180). Feminist theologians addressing issues such as work and poverty, disability and violence against women argue that attention to such concrete and immediate issues of concern only serves to illuminate the church's failure to incorporate women's experiences and reality into its pastoral, ethical, and ecclesial priorities (Graham 1993; Bons-Storm 1997; Couture 1991). The lack of credence given to the needs of women, the power of religious teaching in shaping gender stereotypes and expectations, and the uses to which theology has been put in rationalizing female subordination and self-abnegation, represent fatal distortions of the Christian Gospel (Miller-McLemore 2000: 239-41).

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