(See end for names of women in photos.)
Pat was a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), which later became the ecumenically inclusive Immaculate Heart Community. A strong feminist from the 1970s on, she also demonstrated in Nevada against nuclear weapons and worked to develop resources for the poor in the Los Angeles area.
Hearing Ivone was a powerful experience, much like the first time I heard Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in 1975. She spoke with clarity and simplicity, unlike some feminist theorists and theologians who use a technical vocabulary difficult to understand. Her English bears only a slight Portuguese accent.
Ivone's kindness during the question period and in talking with women afterward was remarkable. Reflecting on her insights and the whole evening afterward, I could only conclude: I have met a saint.
The six previous speakers in the Pat Reif Memorial Lectures were:
(2002) Mary E. Hunt, WATER; (2003) Chun Hyun Kyung, Union Theological Seminary, New York; (2004); Beverly Harrison, retired, Union Theological Seminary, New York; (2005) Musa Dube, University of Botswana; (2007); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Harvard Divinity School; and (2008), Venerable Dhammananda, Abbot of Songdhammakalyani Monastery, Thailand.
Each of these women has made a unique contribution to feminist theology and practice, but I felt that Ivone's lecture tonight was the closest in spirit to the life and thinking of Pat Reif.
I hope to obtain a text of her speech or to find out where it will be published. Meanwhile, she gave me permission to quote her. Her talk yesterday was titled "Happiness and the Construction of Right Relationship--A Feminist Perspective," and she generously gave us the text of it in an email attachment.
Tonight's topic, "Feminism & Religious Identities," was more political. She might get silenced again for these words, as she was placed under a two-year silencing in 1995 by the Vatican's Congregation of Faith and Doctrine, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
I will provide here quotations from the latter part of her speech, as reconstructed from my notes. Note: she reminded us that she was speaking from her own context in Brazil and Latin America, not criticizing North American feminists.
Excerpts from "Feminism & Religious Identities"
by Ivone Gebara
Claremont School of Theology, March 31, 2009
Patricia A. Reif Memorial Lecture
"...We activists build good arguments but we have created a big abyss between us and local Christian communities. We were absent--and if present, we were regarding it in a very critical way. We looked at a celebration [church service, Mass] as a laboratory piece for critical study, but [our stance] has had consequences in the daily life of poor women. We are very critical about churches and very strong as we face our own vulnerability. [But there is] a vacuum, a gap [between us and other women].
We began to build alternative places with lots of [other women], in Chile, Brazil, where we could celebrate [our faith], places for us intellectuals. [But our groups were] not renewed with new generations who had not lived their struggles as we have. Our children have been educated in our critical ways (smile). We became desolated mothers.
Small groups have a small history. If they want to spread, they must:
1) be better institutionalized
2) have more diversity
3) be not just "everybody knows everybody" groups of friends.
We need to be more than a group of friends. We must work to enlarge our constituency.... We must help those who are hurting. There are bigger problems in the world than those in our university or religious congregation or group of friends.
I am arriving at a conclusion that I don't want to admit: I was in a hard but romantic struggle. I believed that my arguments could move hearts and move institutions. But the Christian church is still patriarchal and male.
If we are doing something in the margins, we are still using the Bible texts for the strongest people, not stopping the thirst for war, profit, and domination.
Most of us radical feminists with a Christian orientation are losing our chance. We are inside the educational institutions, but we are not educating [others] to the urgency of political change. As an ecofeminist, I believe 'All are connected to all.'
Like a dog kicked by the master, we hate to hear the sound of the same boots, so we have gone outside the church. But women inside of the churches are still not organized to be a real political force.
We move only on the surface of the male patriarchy, but it is inside us. We are colonized by it. It takes possession of our [minds] when we thought its force was [outside]. We must hold hands strongly.
Some declare themselves no longer inside the Christian church--lots of women inside Brazil and Latin America. They do not believe the church has anything to say to them, yet they struggle against the church. We must recognize their power [the Roman Catholic Church's power] in civil society.
The recent case [of the sexual abuse and abortion of the 9-year-old] in Brazil moved lots of feminists to know more about the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Institutional churches are a cultural phenomenon. We must deal with them to change cosmologies, beliefs, and social laws.
Our identities are challenged by some components of their theology. Theology is a component of religious identity. But if we are close to the poor, we are more worried about them than about our identity. We Christian feminists can't erase our convictions while inching [toward changing the church]... there are so many women in the church that feel emptiness.
In spite of [struggles, being discounted], most women feel that their churches are part of their own body. Religious institutions are part of their cultural tradition. It is true for women in poor communities [as well as us] that being part of the church is important, and yet they feel contradictions about how the church treats them.
Things go slowly in culture and in the human heart when we are working for deep change. We need new strategies to move our institutions. [We must use] not backlash but strategy. We must use our capacity to speak out against the present policy of religious institutions. We must organize and put pressure on the state through email, small periodicals [and whatever we can]. We don't [accept it] when an unjust law comes from our church. [We must create] a massive struggle to denounce new forms of oppression of women [in our churches].
We gave freely to our churches, without salary, and now we have to ask permission to have a role. We must be more active locally and internationally. We have no space in the church as a building. You have to ask permission to have a feminist celebration!
The new generation feels that the feminist struggle is finished [because they think] the concept of equality is not [more than jobs, opportunities, etc. ]. [They think] rights, privileges, opportunities are an individual issue, not a social issue. How will we continue when the post-feminist generation comes [into maturity]? [They will find that equality is more than just] growth of individuality and the search for security.
... My religious identity is a mirror of myself, my society, my present life. [We must be] erasing war from the world... Each one of us can betray our beliefs; our beliefs are able to die for a new pair of sandals... We can deny them as Peter denied Jesus.
Our new identity is not monolithic--[we must recognize] our everyday make-up as full citizens of the world. Our new religious identity must be in following the emancipatory impulse always present in human history. Whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, [or whatever else] we must go beyond the traditional concepts. The old concepts are exhausted in their ability to provide [sustenance] for the present generation. They are producing death with the appearance of life.
Our new identities invite us to be a stone in the shoe of the system. ...I will end with [lines of poetry from] my dear friend Dorothy Solle, who like Pat Reif spent her entire life fighting for the poor:
To be alive is to be vulnerable.
To be faithful is to resist
And to resist the temptation of searching... "
# # #
[Note: please help me complete the quotation from Solle.]