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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Delvaux

Caught in the Web

I have a MA in Systematic Theology. There was a moment early on where a reality of theology hit me. My professor was walking through the syllabus for my Christology course. It wasn’t until about the third to last class where a woman’s voice would be heard. As the material was set up chronologically a part of me said, “Oh, of course.” But then it struck me that for basically 2000 years half of Christians were not allowed space to share their understanding of God, the Church, morality, who humanity is in relationship to God and Creation.

And it isn’t like we have suddenly moved past that phase of theological gatekeeping. The multiple prejudices, -isms, and biases best summed up in the term kyriarchy, is tragically alive and well. Racism, cultural biases, colonialism, misogyny, and countless other ropes bind the People of God. They bind our ability to truly explore our God who is.

There was another revolutionary moment in school for me. It came the day I realized that the whole field I was majoring in “systematic theology” itself was something that was not a universal approach. Now, I like organization (care to see my color-coded life?). I like to think about how to break big things down or build structures and systems. There was a point as I was reading something where I realized that very way of approaching my faith isn’t only my personality, but deeply rooted in my culture.

Systematic theology is, oversimplified, the attempt to create a holistic, encompassing logical theology. I was reading something and realized the way I think about theology is a way that is utterly different from a significant portion of the world, including many faithful people in the US. I was reading from several Latina feminist theologians who spoke of embodied, community, and relational as the foundations of theologizing. Thinking wasn’t foundational. The lived, embodied, relational were critical.

In that moment a deep tension was named for me. I so very much agreed with those theologians I was reading. They spoke of how the logical, intellectual, and often misogynist theologies did not speak to my identity as a woman, to my experience in the workplace, to my understanding of a diverse world infinitely larger and more accessible than these cold intellectual voices articulated. That these Western, Eurocentric, male voices also often theologized in ways that set up biases and cultural norms that harm women, people of color, and the faith of non-Eurocentric theologians. The significance of experience, story, and community to be the foundation for understanding God spoke to me. Their theology settled into and calmed my bones. My body settled into it, appreciated their wisdom.

My mind however kept chiming in, “But…” Most of Northern European theology is built on the mind – the logics and proofs for God. In the US, the Church is heir to that. We are suspicious or condescending towards theologies that don’t have a syllogisms or paragraph numbers. We expect our Churches to mirror the libraries in which our theologies are kept – quiet, hallowed sanctuaries.

Reading those Latina feminist theologians, womanist theologians, along with other theologians from around the world pushed me to see the boundaries on my theology, my worship, my faith. This was a process started as I was privileged enough to travel around the world and worship in very different communities. A process that continued in my studies and will continue to be a life-long process. A process to find sanctuary in places that looked and felt so very different. To find sanctuary in vibrant, colorful spaces filled with dancing and (boisterous to my ears!) music. To find peace amongst the offerings brought to the altar – bread, wine, chickens, 50lb sacks of flour, and the muddy footprints of children. To recognize powerful, truthful theologizing comes from living.

The voices we hear in many of our Churches, our religious education classes, our podcasts, our comfortably air conditioned suburban parishes, are those of a particularly European, male theological mindset. We are conditioned by familiarity with a dose of unexamined harm from kyriarchical structures, to be suspect of anything outside of this, to question other ways of thinking and speaking of God, the Church, and our place in relationship to both.

I was able to journey into these voices, ideas, and theologies through travel and study. Beginning next week, you will see posts where we bring some of these other voices, theologies, and ideas to you. Our hope is that as you read this on-going series, like me, you will learn more about your own boundaries. We all have unexamined views, perceptions, and biases. This is an opportunity to grow in understanding of those. More importantly, it is an opportunity to learn of the wide spectrum of wise, impactful theology that exists in our Church. We hope you enjoy it and are challenged by it.

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