Nevertheless, She Persisted – Women’s Religio-Political Witness for Love and Justice

Nevertheless, She Persisted – Women’s Religio-Political Witness for Love and Justice

[music playing] Now it’s my honor to
introduce today’s presenter. Dr. Rosemary
Carbine is currently an associate professor of
religious studies at Whittier College in California. She trained as a
systematic theologian and specializes in
historical and constructive Christian theology with a
focus on comparative, feminist, womanist, and LatinX
mujerista theologies, theological anthropology,
public and political theologies, and teaching and learning
in theology and religion. She is especially interested in
women’s liberation theologies with respect to the US Christian
social movements and practices. After earning her MA
and PhD dean theology from the University of
Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Carbine completed a
post-doctoral fellowship in public theology at the
Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. She has taught at St.
Mary’s College in South Bend and then at the College of
the Holy Cross in Worcester– I think some of you
know her from there– during which time she won grants
from the Wabash Center, which is a center that
emphasizes teaching within the areas of
religious studies and was selected as a research
assistant in the Women’s Studies and Religion program
at Harvard Divinity School. And that very much
laid the foundation for her subsequent
scholarly work. Dr. Carbine is the
co-editor of three books, which she’s also been
a contributing author– namely, The Gift of Theology
from Fortress Press in 2015, Theological Perspectives for
Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness from Palgrave
MacMillan in 2013, and Women Wisdom and Witness
in Liturgical Press– I’m sorry, 2012. In addition, she has
published numerous essays and scholarly collections,
including Theologies of Failure with Cascade Books in
2019; Planetary Solidarity with Fortress Press in
2017; Awake to the Moment– An Introduction to
Theology in Westminster, John Knox Press in 2016;
Questioning the Human from Fordham University
Press in 2014; Frontiers in Catholic Feminist
Theology from Fortress Press in 2009; Prophetic
Women from Crossroads 2009, and Cross-Examination from
Fortress Press in 2006. Her scholarly articles
have also appeared in peer-reviewed journals such
as Harvard Theological Review, Journal of Academic
Study of Religion, Journal of Feminist
Studies in Religion, Journal of the American
Academy of Religion, and Teaching Theology
and Religion. Her scholarship has elaborated
a feminist public theology that reclaims Vatican
two’s approach to the role of the church
in the modern world and simultaneously redresses
common clerical and patriarchal assumptions about the
agents and activities of US public Catholics. Dr. Carbine has
generously served in various
professional societies. She’s been an active
member and nearly annual presenter in the
American Academy for Religion and the Catholic Theology
Society of America. She has co-chaired
AAR’s feminist theory and religious reflection group. And in CTSA, she served as
coconvener and convener, respectively, of the Women’s
Consultation on Constructive Theology and the topic session
on theological anthropology. Currently, Dr. Carbine is
an editorial team member for the International
Journal Critical Theology. She is a board member of the
feminist studies and religion forum and sits on the theology
and learning committee and serves on the Women
and Religion Unit steering committee, both in the AAR. So with all of that and the
much work that she’s done, without any further
ado, please join me in welcoming Dr.
Rosemary Carbine speaking on “Nevertheless,
She Persisted.” Thank you, Jane, for
that warm welcome. I also want to thank
Melinda Donovan and then Jane for handling
all the arrangements. I want to thank my
colleagues in the BCSTM and in the theology
department with whom I’ve worked over the years. And of course, to Rita,
I want to thank you for sponsoring
this annual event. It’s really good to be with you
all for this festive occasion, hopefully, a solemnity soon. I’m so honored to stand
among the women witnesses in the communion of saints who
delivered the prior lectures in this series and constructed
according to Carolyn [? osieck ?] and Francine
[? hardman, ?] different portraits of the Magdalene. Past talks in this
series have engaged with aesthetic, archaeological,
biblical, contemplative, ecclesial, logical, historical,
liturgical, mystical, pastoral, and practical studies of
Mary Magdalene as a prism through which to critically
question and reconsider women’s limited
roles in the church and to advocate for more
egalitarian inclusive fully participatory understandings
of church leadership, in particular, and of the
church in general to reflect the diverse people of God. So today I’m in
conversation with but I’m going beyond these past
lectures and these past studies. In my talk today, I’m exploring
theological and ecclesiastical issues by resourcing the
[? magdalene’s ?] praxis of prophetic public witness
and ministry for fresh insights into women’s religious and
political roles or women’s ways of doing public theology. And this my case
study will come from the interfaith intercultural
movement, The Revolutionary Love Project. So first, I will offer some
critical and constructive theological reflections on
Mary by tethering together feminist New Testament studies,
including the Gospel of Mary, with Eastern Catholic
liturgical traditions in order to illuminate
Mary’s prophetic witness as a praxis of world making– that is, imagining and
incarnated the world– otherwise then imperial and
other kinds of violence. The Magdalene’s
Witness functions as one potent theological
symbol for women’s audacious ways of doing public
and political theology today. That is, of generating
alternative possible futures of love and justice. Second, I will describe the
theological and political praxis of the Revolutionary
Love Project, which is an emerging US social
justice movement as embodying this praxis of world making. Otherwise, then the violence
that characterizes our times– gender and sexual
violence, xenophobia, hate crimes, and white
nationalist movements that predominate in our day. Pointing out some unexpected
but provocative parallels between Mary Magdalene and the
Revolutionary Love Project, I will engage feminist
and womanist theology to elaborate on love as a
theopolitical ethic of justice based on the Love
Project’s notion of love as seeing no
stranger, as tending personal and social
political wounds, and as birthing a new future. So first, Mary Magdalene– on your handout,
you’ll see that there are some of the
slides replicated from the presentation today. And we’re going to start
with Mary Magdalene, who she is not
[non-english speech].. Feminist scholarship within the
ever-growing field of Magdalene studies– or what I call Magdaleneology– recovers Mary’s praxis of
theological and prophetic witness [non-english speech]. As Sandra Snyder’s remarked
in this series in her lecture, the Madeline’s personal
identity and religious roles are quote “historically
confused, theologically contorted, and ecclesiastically
manipulated and prostituted” unquote. So thus a feminist
hermeneutics of suspicion needs to critically name who
and what Mary Magdalene is not to dispel false
misrepresentations and to clarify her personal
and religious identity roles and relationships. Feminist biblical and
theological studies disentangle Mary Magdalene
from other notable women in the gospels important
in their own right– the unnamed woman
with the alabaster jar at Simon the leper’s
dinner party in Bethany who anoints Jesus’s head
in Mark and Matthew, the unnamed repentant sinner
at Simon the pharisee’s dinner party who wept on and washes
Jesus feet with her tears and oil and then dries
them with her hair and whom Jesus forgives
due to her great love– that’s in Luke– and Mary of
Bethany at the festive dinner after Lazarus’s resurrection who
anoints Jesus’s feet with oil and dries them with
her hair in John– all of which seemingly
symbolize Jesus’s burial. She’s even conflated with the
unnamed adulterous woman saved by Jesus from stoning in John. In his renowned Easter homily
33 in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great assembled
and blended all of these women into a theological
mosaic to signify– that is, to ingrain,
interpret, reify, even ossify Mary Magdalene
in the Western Christian theological imagination
as the previously spirit possessed and now radically
reformed yet ever repentant sexual sinner. Albeit for pastoral purposes and
politically tumultuous times, Gregory’s homily equates
Mary seven demons with the totality of vices. And important for our
talk today, our time together today, he
describes Mary’s repentance from bold speech in ways that
negate her prophetic witness. Quote “she had spoken
proudly with her mouth. But in kissing the Lord’s
feet, she fixed it– her mouth– to the footsteps
of her redeemer” end quote. Mary Magdalene cannot be reduced
to the archetypal repentant sexual sinner, and she cannot
be used as an imitative model of silent, submissive,
servile women disciples. Perhaps this papal theological
signification of the Magdalene aimed to undermine or in
theologically sideline and suppress the institutional
church condemned but then very popular extra
canonical gospel of Mary. This gospel reveals and recounts
in Karen King’s analysis early internal church conflicts
over women’s leadership, especially gendered rivalry
for early church leadership. This gospel was written in
Greek in the second century CE. It’s circulated in
the third century CE, and it persisted
in Egyptian coptic into the fifth century CE– interesting that his sermon
comes around that same time. The Gospel of Mary
depicts Mary Magdalene in a Christological role. Immediately after the
Savior commissions the disciples to preach the
good news and then departs, she greets them. She assuaged us and
consoles them with peace and then instructs
the other disciples at Peter’s request by explaining
secret teachings that she received from Jesus. This grants her equal
or perhaps superior spiritual and salvific
knowledge to the others. Peter then contends with
Mary for legitimate community leadership. He and Andrew together
question both her teachings and her relationship with Jesus. Peter challenged and
outright even denied her personal experiences
of Jesus’s resurrection and her prophetic commissioned
by the risen Jesus to publicly preach
and teach the gospel– that is, to see here and be
empowered to share her witness. This is recounted in the
Gospel of Mary chapter 6– as on your handout there–
and also chapter 10. This extra canonical
gospel tradition of the Magdalene Petrine
rivalry correlates with other biblical
traditions of other rivalries between different apostles. So, for example, Peter’s
prominence as we know is portrayed among groups
of men as disciples, variously described as
the 12 or the 70 who are involved in
Jesus’s ministry, in identifying Jesus
as the messiah, and even in the leadership
of the Jerusalem church. But yet as Sandra
[? schneiders ?] has elaborated, the
biblical gospel accounts about Peter’s
leadership also feature Jesus repeatedly correcting
Peter’s leadership style of hierarchical
exclusionary power over others. He often chastises Peter
for his false primacy, for his superiority, his
insularity, and instead models for Peter how to enact
servant leadership, not to judge or exclude others, but
to welcome everyone, to wash each other’s feet, and so on. Moreover, in John, Peter’s
leadership is downplayed. He takes second place
to the beloved disciple at the Last Supper, in the
race to the empty tomb, and in recognizing the
post-resurrection Jesus. So this Magdalene
Petrine rivalry that we see in the
Gospel of Mary echoes these other
scriptural precedents, and these rivalries record,
as Elaine Pagels observes, rivalries between different
competing Christian groups such as Petrine or
Johannine Christians or Petrine and
Magdalene Christians who are revering these
particular apostles as their figurative leaders. So aside from the
Dominican Order of preachers, which
heralds the Magdalene as an exemplary
charismatic model and aside from
southern French legend that also reveres her preaching,
the predominant portrait of Mary Magdalene in the
Western Christian tradition as the perpetual penitent
woman is frequently reiterated in religious
and popular literature legend and the art. But, of course,
it obscures and he faces Mary’s visionary and
prophetic witness, which must be recovered and
restored via positiva– through a feminist
hermeneutics of remembrance, which we have done
or which we’ve begun by looking at
the Gospel of Mary. Black Catholic womanist
theologian Diana Hayes leverages the notion of
subversive memory, which quote “contradicts the assumed
reality and presents a paradoxical
perspective” end quote. And she does this in order to
retell a predominantly white history of US Christianity so
that it reclaims and integrates the rich diversity of US black
Catholic history, culture, and religious experience,
which is too long, marginalized, and dismissed
or even whitewashed in an often Protestantized
field of American religion and also in the at times
limited hermeneutic circle of Catholic theology. Inspired by Alice
Walker’s definition, Hayes’s womanist theology
challenges predominant race, gender, class, sexual,
and religious stereotypes of black women who are often
ostracized as quote “outsiders within various communities,
including Christianity.” As Hayes argues quote,
“black Catholic women can bring to the forefront
of womanist dialogue images of black
women that contradict the dominant perspective– women such as Hagar,
abused and misused by both her master
and mistress yet taught by God how to
survive in the wilderness as African-American women had to
do for centuries in this land.” And then she goes on
to say and let us not forget the two Marys– the mother of God who had
the courage and audacity to say yes to God that
shattered all of human history and Mary Magdalene, the
apostle to the apostles. As she was honored
in the early church, the first to see the
risen lord rather than the fallen and lowly
woman whom Jesus had to save from
stoning” unquote. So drawing on Hayes’s approach
to subversive memory, which means remembering Mary
Magdalene as a woman of color, a feminist hermeneutics
of remembrance also needs to actively
retell the sub all turn multi-dimensional
stories, vision and praxis of Mary Magdalene. That is, we need to
remember Mary Magdalene in Christian history
and tradition by examining particularly
salient scenes in biblical and extracanonical
gospels, which as I will show resonate and reverberate with
some contemporary scholarly, liturgical, and popular
contexts as well as powerful contemporary US
faith-based social movements. Mentioned 13 times
in the New Testament, Mary leads almost every
gospel list of prominent women disciples who followed
Jesus’s itinerant ministry, except for John 19 which
list his mother first among the women who
stood at the cross. As Amy Jill Levine argues, Mary
epitomized multiple options for first century Jewish women. She enjoyed economic
savvy and autonomy, freedom of time and
travel, and the ability to appear and speak in
public at a time when women’s public witness was
denigrated and debased– not so different today. We’re going to talk
about that later. Identified with
the seaside fishing town of Magdalena or
Migdal on the Western side of the Sea of Galilee and not
by patriarchal relations, which likely signals her independent
status and her break with her home and family
to join the Jesus movement, Mary was healed and liberated
from spirit or demon possession in Jesus’ ministry of exorcism. Subsequently, she with other
Galilean and Julian women disciples, like Joanna, Susanna,
Martha, and Mary of Bethany, and quote “many others
unnamed” but still mentioned. All of them
financially patronized, supported, and in other
ways backed as well as participated in the Jesus
movement and its teaching, preaching, healing, and table
fellowship ministries out of their own resources. And that’s recounted
in Luke 8 and Luke 10. In both Roman and Eastern
Catholic churches, Mary is portrayed as a model
prominent disciple, prophet, visionary, leader,
and is renowned as the apostle to
or of the apostles as a result of her
primary witness to and preaching about the
resurrection in Mark, Matthew, and John. Mary Rose D’Angelo
and Barbara Reed have noted Luke’s
limits on women’s roles in the resurrection story. The women do not
encounter the risen Jesus and are not commissioned by him
to announce the resurrection to the disciples in Luke 24. Nonetheless, the gospels agree
that Mary accompany Jesus throughout the pascal events. She witnessed his crucifixion,
his death and burial. She waited and
watched at the tomb with other
myrrh-bearing women who vary in each gospel’s telling
to anoint Jesus’s body. She encountered the empty
tomb in the predawn hours primarily eyewitnessed and was
commissioned to prophetically proclaim Jesus’s resurrection
and his future ministry in Galilee, not only once
but in an ongoing way. Even in Luke’s telling, which
downplays her commission, says that she repeated
it to all the rest. So not only once, but
in an ongoing way. She attended Passover as
well as Pentecost gatherings with other disciples and thus
was empowered and vilified by the spirit to
preach the gospel. As Barbara Reed observes,
prophetic witness, especially but not only by
women, is typically rejected. Even Jesus was kicked out
of the Nazareth synagogue and driven out of town
and threatened with death for prophetic preaching. Also in Luke’s telling,
Mary and the women are terrified at the
empty tomb but are encouraged by the angels to
remember Jesus’s preaching and ministry. The angels announced the
resurrection to the women, and the women in turn preach the
resurrection to the disciples. Mary gives the good
news to the disciples but in Luke’s and
also Mark’s telling, her continued prophetic
witness, which makes significant theological
and Christological claims, is doubted and dismissed by
them as an idle tale in Mark 16 and in Luke 24. Moreover, Mary’s rejected as a
suitable apostolic replacement for Judas among the 120
persons who appear in Acts 1, although she fulfilled
the requisite criteria of personal confession of
an experiential encounter with the risen Jesus– that is, to continue to
give prophetic witness to the gospel. So in both the extra canonical
gospel of Mary and in Luke, the good news is delivered by
Mary but incites controversy. It is contested and must
be patriotically confirmed by Peter, who is amazed
upon seeing the empty tomb and only later receives an
appearance of the risen Jesus. In John’s telling, Mary’s
persistent prophetic witness is still not believed. Peter and the beloved
disciple competitively raised to the tomb to
confirm the resurrection, and only the beloved disciple
is reported to see and believe. But they don’t see
the risen Jesus. The narrative then shifts. Mary stays and
mourns at the tomb alone after Peter and
the beloved disciple abruptly left almost
as quickly as they fled the scene of Jesus’s
arresting crucifixion. She encounters two angels in
the empty tomb and a supposed gardener, both of whom
she audaciously asks for the body of Jesus
to presumably anoint and then rebury. And then she sees and greets
the risen Jesus himself who offers her a better
alternative future plan. She recognizes the risen
Jesus through her tears when he calls her name. So in this brief moment of
tearful reunion and joyful recognition, Jesus
gives Mary, in my view, a twofold commission. One, not to hold or cling to
him since he can no longer be localized or circumscribed as
the risen Jesus of Nazareth, but is now radically universally
present as the cosmic Christ, and second, to boldly
go and then tell, to proclaim the good
news to the disciples, not just to the disciples,
but to the world. Part of Mary’s
ministry then involves globalizing the good news. I have seen the Lord to
the whole people of God, which strengthens
the other disciples for their future encounter
with the risen Jesus and for their new
post-Easter ministries among and with all nations. Mary functions here
as a prophetic leader to the early Christian
community because as black Catholic womanist
theologians claim, God makes a way out
of no way for her. God encourages her
toward new ways of seeing, of envisioning, and
empowering and even enacting a new life with new
future possibilities. The 23 Eastern Catholic
churches in communion with Rome uphold this very
powerful portrait of Mary’s prophetic witness. As a Catholic
feminist theologian, I inhabit and struggle to
survive, negotiate, and thrive at the intersections
of creative tension that is critical engagement
with yet creative appropriation of both Roman and Eastern
Catholic traditions in the United States. I am a cradle born and raised
member of the Byzantium Catholic church in America,
specifically Carpatho-Rusyn Ruthenian, and I was socialized
throughout my education in a biritual way in both
Roman and Byzantine Catholic churches. As you can see here, the
Byzantine Catholic church in the United States
consists of an archeparchy led by an archbishop in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, three other eparchies led by bishops
in Passaic, New, Jersey; Parma, Ohio; and
Phoenix, Arizona; along with a seminary of
St. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh. So because of this
background, I’m equally liturgically
and theologically accustomed to statues or
icons, holy water and incense, instrumental or
acapella music, notions of salvation as justification
or transfiguration and so on. However, I’m also equally
liturgical and theologically alienated in both traditions
by egalitarian ideals that get implemented
in exclusive theologies and practices. Byzantine Catholics
Revere Mary’s praxis of resurrection
witness and gospel proclamation during the
Holy Saturday vigil service, which is called the resurrection
Mountains or Mountains of the resurrection. This service occurs without
epistle, gospel reading, sermon, or Eucharist. And it consists primarily of
the celebrants the canter, the choir, and the people
initially participating in a procession that recalls the
myrrh-bearing women’s journey to wait at the tomb and then
singing acapella the canon or liturgical poem of Saint John
Damascene from the 8th century as well as chanting
some psalms– specifically, the praises
from psalms 148 through 150. And all of this is interspersed
with litanies and hymns. So I want to share with you some
excerpts from Damascene’s canon in the resurrection
mountains, which emphasize the theologically
significant role of Magdalene’s prophetic witness. So on your handout, you have
the excerpts in your text, and I want to play them for you. So first, we have
the hymn after ode 3, which recounts the myrrh-bearing
women’s activities. (SINGING) [inaudible] What
do you seek among the dead? Everlasting life. Behold, the living God
[inaudible] my lord has risen for he
is the son of God. [inaudible] And now I want to play
for you an excerpt from the stanza in ode 7– I just want to warn you. At the beginning, I have
to adjust the volume, so there may be a blast
of “Christ is Risen.” We know that. We’re in that post-Easter
time, so we already knew that. But just bear with me. I need to find the excerpt. So just bear with me. Christ has risen from– OK, so it wasn’t that bad. (SINGING) [inaudible] the
living God [inaudible] OK, so whether received from
the angel or the risen Jesus, Mary fulfills this
prophetic commission by saying to the
other disciples, I have seen the Lord. In the resurrection
mountains, Byzantine Catholics are cast in that
same Magdalene role and continue her commission by
repeatedly singing “Christ is Risen” throughout the service. The resurrection
mountains also include praises based on the psalms and
hymns called the [inaudible].. During the [inaudible] the
people akin to the Magdalene first venerate the cross. The gospel book and the
icon of the resurrection. And then they announce the
good news in multiple languages per Pentecost. So as they approach the
celebrant and he greets them, Christ is risen, they
respond, indeed, he is risen. And depending on the
custom of the church and its demographics,
this call and response can be done in Slavonic,
Greek, Arabic, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian,
and even Spanish. Some of the [inaudible]
specifically recall the Magdalene Commission
and the people’s role in continuing it. So I want to play you two
excerpts from the [? pascoe, ?] which you also have
written on your handout. (SINGING) [inaudible] we
are heralds of good news. [inaudible] news of joy
from [inaudible] the news that Christ has
risen [inaudible] and celebrate and
rejoice [inaudible] see Christ the king coming
from the tomb [inaudible] And then one last excerpt–
just bear with me. So let the wicked perish
at the presence of God. [inaudible] embrace one another [music playing] Christ has shone forth
from the tomb [inaudible] So in her talk last
year, Francine Cardman examined Mary Magdalene
in different Western and Eastern Christian
historical, cultural, and liturgical context
as a lightning rod for understanding those
particular times and places, contextual, and pastoral needs. At the advent of
the 21st century, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona
suggested that interest in the
Magdalene resurged in the aftermath of the 9/11
terror attacks in the US because loved ones lacked
a body to mourn and bury and instead faced an
empty tomb but yet hoped like the Magdalene for
affirmation of new life. In our own time, aside from
the Magdalene’s popularity and cultural pious and
ecclesial imaginaries disrupting in dismantling the Magdalene
traditions negative effective history, [non-english speech],,
continues in the liturgy in the arts, including film,
and in antisexual violence movements all to restore
via [non-english speech] to the Magdalene’s image
and consequently enhance women’s status. So liturgically, we’ve
just done the work of recovering Eastern Catholic
traditions of the resurrection mountains. We’re working today– 50 years
after Pope Paul sixth in 1969– changed the liturgical
luxury readings about Mary Magdalene from the
unnamed penitent woman in Luke to Mary’s witness of the
resurrection in John. So 50 years later, in
2019, resurgent interest in Mary Magdalene
occurs in our day and demonstrates an intersection
of a newly released film with the #MeToo movement. In 2019, focus films
released Mary Magdalene, which you see here,
the film poster which rehabilitates Mary’s image
as the misrepresented penitent sex worker, which
has predominated in Christian theology, devotion,
legend, art, literature, drama, and other
films in this film. Mary is rightly portrayed as the
apostle to one of the apostles. She’s involved in what The
Guardian’s review of the film calls quote “a platonic apostle
manse with Jesus” unquote. [laughter] If it was Peter, it
might be a bromance. And if the beloved disciple,
may be a transgender person and is cast as a primary
witness to the important events and major purpose of
his ministry, death, and resurrection. In a revisionist twist,
the film’s screenwriter stylize Mary as an unmarried
midwife who’s considered mad because she rejects marriage
and prays alongside men in the synagogue. Her father and brothers
punitively subject her to a failed midnight
seaside exorcism ritual to rid her of her so-called
demon of resistance to patriarchal family and
religious norms and practices. She encounters Jesus. After barely surviving
this violent ritual, she’s baptized by
him and then leaves her family to follow him. In another feminist
twist, the film was distributed by the
Weinstein Company– [laughter] –which as we know was
bankrupted and sold as a result of Harvey
Weinstein’s three decades of sexual harassment,
assault, and abuse and allegedly 100 of
aspiring actresses, journalists, and models
that reignited the #MeToo movement in addition to civil
and class action lawsuits as well as criminal investigations
and charges against Weinstein and he will be tried
in September of 2019. [applause] Now as previously mentioned,
Mary’s prophetic witness to the resurrection and to
the ongoing post-Easter Jesus movement ministries is
recorded in the biblical and extra canonical
gospels as disbelieved and has dismissed as nonsense. It’s in Mark 16, Luke 24 and
even in the Gospel of Mary. Likewise, the #MeToo
movement created by civil rights and antisexual
violence activists Tarana Burke in 2006, and not by
Alyssa Milano in 2017. This movement reemerged in
2017 because #MeToo lifts up women’s and all
survivors testimonies because survivors of all
genders are still discounted and disregarded. Exactly one year after
Weinstein’s disgraced downfall due to countless
survivors’ testimonies Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of Palo
Alto University and Stanford University demonstrated
personal and political courage to publicly testify before the
US Senate Judiciary Committee about her accusations of sexual
assault against then US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Despite her compelling
testimony of traumatic events from the early 1980s,
Justice Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed
to the US Supreme Court. He sits on the high
court alongside another fellow Catholic,
Justice Clarence Thomas. Nearly three decades
ago, in 1991, Professor Anita Hill of
Brandeis University– then a University of
Oklahoma law professor– testified during the US Senate
Judiciary Committee hearing for Justice Thomas
about her allegations of sexual harassment
against him. The Kavanaugh hearings
that were recently held recalled the Thomas hearings
with a senate committee that feigned an understanding of
sensitivity to sexual violence but instead interrogated
and grilled survivors about credibility,
about their allegations, and sometimes really surprising
and shocking graphic detail– excuse me– detail and
their lack of reporting. Both hearings, as
Professor Hill observed, chose a politics of
expedient of an expedient end rather than a fully
transparent process with an independent
third-party investigation. When women prophetically
announced good news and denounce bad news,
they are disbelieved. Nevertheless, they persist. Moreover, when women stand in
solidarity for racial, gender, sexual, and social justice
and for broad civil and human rights, they are interrupted,
rebuked, silenced, and politically
disenfranchised as noncitizens and even as nonpersons
sometimes through chants like lock her up or as
unfortunately recently, send her back. Nevertheless, they persist
on February 7, 2017, Senator Elizabeth
Warren incorporated into her speech on
the US senate floor a 1986 letter and statement
from Coretta Scott King in order to oppose attorney general
nominee senator Jeff Sessions. Senate majority
leader Mitch McConnell interrupted her speech
citing a senate rule about inappropriate speech
that impugns another senator. In her exchange with
McConnell, Warren protested the exclusion of credit
Scott King’s words and witness and testimony
from the senate’s deliberative debate
McConnell said, quote, she was warned she was
given an explanation. Nevertheless, she
persisted, end quote. So after Warren was
silenced and barred from participating during the
rest of the sessions debate on the Senate floor,
Warren finished her speech, including Coretta’s
letter and statement outside the Senate on Facebook. Warren’s savvy strategy
created an alternative space for more inclusive and
just political conversation to continue as well as
galvanized further racial and gender solidarity,
not only about women’s political participation
and leadership but more so about civil and human rights. Warren critically and
creatively innovatively turned a rebuke into a
feminist rallying cry. Nevertheless, she persisted. So where do we see the
Magdalene tradition of prophetic public
witness carried on continued persisting
dynamically in our day? [applause] According to Sondra Snyder’s
and Marion Hinsdale, Mary Magdalene’s ecclesial
leadership and ministry is not limited to
her but creates a biblical and
historical tradition for those who continue to
embody the Magdalene tradition of preaching the good news for
the purpose of the well-being and flourishing, not only
of the whole body of Christ, but for the whole people of God. So the rest of my talk today
will build on these theological insights about Mary
Magdalene’s prophetic witness, [non-english speech] and paved
new paths for women doing public and political
theology today, especially by tending to those
social movements like Nuns on the Bus but also the
revolutionary love project that offer an alternative possible
future beyond our presently oppressive status quo. So a few words about what it
means to do public theology are in order. Public theology religiously
vivifies our political dialogue and deliberative debate
and even our decision making about pressing issues
that impact US common life and that enhance human
dignity and rights, justice, and the common good. In the US Catholic
context, women’s religiopolitical
witness operates in a very highly
contested sight of who and what counts as the
authoritative agents and practices of US
public Catholicism. Catholic public
theology is often equated with institutional
church leaders or their spokespersons
who make statements about the so-called
non-negotiable beginning and end of life issues
for Catholic voters. We’ve all heard this. This was emphasized since 2004
in the US presidential election and has been
amplified since 2012 in the US Conference of Catholic
Bishops in their sponsorship of the Annual
Fortnite for Freedom, which was recently renamed
Religious Freedom Week. In this context,
women are disregarded as public theologians for
Christological reasons. Women are barred from
imitating and read signifying Christ in episcopal
leadership positions. So they are excluded
from public ministry, and therefore, from
doing public theology. By contrast, Vatican
II’s constitution on the church in
the modern world associates the church’s
faith-based public engagement with realizing the already
present but always ever coming eschatological
reign of God. That is the good society of
love, justice, and peace. This constitution identifies
the church’s public role as a critical advocate for
broad social justice agendas and issues that seeks to
subvert injustice and inequality along gender, race,
class, social, political, and even religious and
international lines. So to enact this
agenda, the constitution calls for emulating
the prophetic life ministry of Jesus. Living out a political
kind of discipleship based on Jesus’s prophetic life
work for the Kingdom of God serves as a theological
touchstone for women to reclaim their baptismal
and religiopolitical rights to faith-based
activism for justice in the US public sphere. US Catholic sisters social and
ecological justice ministries have stood at the
forefront, excuse me, of such prophetic praxis. Prophetic praxis often
entails nonviolent grassroots collective action that contests
the prevalent sociopolitical order and that also attempts
to educate about and partly actualize an alternative
possibility to it by forging solidarity with
marginalized peoples and thereby edging
us toward a more inclusive and transformative
and just quality of life. In my prior scholarship,
I have highlighted the sisters political praxis,
especially Nuns Networks Nuns On the Bus Roadtrips as
a refreshing resource for a constructive
feminist public theology. The Nuns On the Bus
Tours through 2018 illustrate the prophetic
political praxis of US Catholic women, firmly
founded on Catholic theological commitments
to solidarity, the option for the poor,
and the common good. The Nuns activism
prophetically witnesses to an alternative
political reality. The tours reimagine and
recreate a more interdependent, interconnected
sense of community. And thereby generate, or
bring to birth, possibilities for renewed common life amid a
deeply divided US body politic. Indeed, in 2016, the tour
was titled Mending the Gaps. Birthing a new world resists
both Catholic magisterial anthropologies which
essentialize and politicize women’s biophysical abilities
to give birth, as well as traditionalist political
ideologies which domesticize and thereby disqualify women as
citizens of the public sphere, and instead portray their
interests as aligned solely with the non-political,
or private sphere, that is, with the reproduction
of future citizens. Rather than concede to
these patriarchal theologies and politics,
birthing metaphors can be reclaimed for their religious
and political salience. Birthing metaphors
need not be trapped in and need not entrap
women in a reductive view of reproductivity. For example, biblical texts
describe all creation groaning in travail, in childbirth,
for fulfillment. That is for a just and
peaceful society in Romans 8. So together with
creation and the cosmos, all are called to play a part in
actively creating, generating, or birthing a new society. So from this feminist and now
Magdalene-inspired perspective, creativity broadens,
deepens, and democratizes public theology. Women are enabled to
reclaim their right to do public theology through
their religious and political prophetic praxis of
creating communities of justice and peace. In scriptural and prophetic
traditions, God remembers. That is, God sees
and hears and acts for the well-being and eventual
liberation of the oppressed. According to Diane Bergin,
the needs of the people determine through whom God
works, often therefore, in unconventional
means and methods. Prophets are perennially
needed to edge our seemingly intransigent
racist, global capitalist, hetero sexist, and
patriarchal religious and political institutions
toward more loving, just, and right relationships,
especially with multiply
minoritized, marginalized, and disenfranchised peoples. The encounter between Jesus and
the Samaritan woman in John 4, which is cited by Networks
executive director Sister Simone Campbell,
can model women’s innovative and
prophetic intercultural and interreligious religious
and political engagement that moves towards such just
and right relationships. As a multiply
disadvantaged foreign woman with a complex sexual
history, hailing from a minoritized
religious community and cultural background,
the unnamed Samaritan woman transgresses all of these
social and cultural, religious, gender,
and sexual borders, and she addresses
Jesus’s basic needs by drawing him some
water from Jacob’s well. Alone in public at the
well, their conversation progresses, as Mary Catherine
[? hillcourt ?] describes, from reflections about personal
identity and differing, at times, divisive
religious practices, to even a theological debate
about where the presence of God can be found. She then announces the good
news of God’s presence in Jesus to her Samaritan neighbors,
who also see and believe through her witness. So like the Samaritan woman, or
excuse me, like Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman is
energized by this encounter to prophetically testify to
what she has seen and heard and is empowered to act upon it
to change other people’s lives. Women’s public and
religiopolitical engagement taps into a shared human
capacity for creativity. And women’s approaches
to public theology stress prophetic
and solidarity based praxis, which opens up a whole
new theological vista for us, a new theopolitical
imagination for our activism, especially in interreligious
and intercultural ways. Doing public theology
interreligiously takes place in contemporary
social movements, like the Revolutionary
Love Project. Mary Magdalene’s prophetic
witness gives fresh insights into a feminist public
theology of love and justice, with implications for
the role and purpose of religion in US public life. The Magdalene’s witness
in predawn places between death and
new life accentuates that we live in liminal times,
in times between an oppressive present and an alternative,
more just future, and in the spaces
between seemingly perennially polarized groups. These interstitial
times and spaces offer us opportunities for new
perspectives and movements to arise, especially, but
not only articulated by, marginalized peoples. In my view, the
Revolutionary Love Project exemplifies women’s
faith-based public engagement for prophetic world making. That is, the fusion of
religion and politics to first denounce and
criticize an unjust US public life on the one hand and
secondly, to announce and actualize, that means,
imagine and partly incarnate, begin to envision, begin
to inflesh an alternative, more just liberative
world, on the other hand. Witnessing to a more
just common life takes place not only
in single leaders, but in whole social
movements that induce through their
praxis the birth pangs of the reign of God, which
we’ve discussed from Romans 8. Valerie Kaur stands out among
contemporary religious leaders in the US public square
involved in such prophetic work. Kaur is a Sikh activist,
award-winning documentary filmmaker, and
civil rights lawyer, who partnered with
communities of color– Sikh, Muslim, black, Latinx,
LGBTQ, and indigenous peoples since the
9/11 terrorist attacks and since the November 2016
US presidential election, all to oppose the
rise in Islamophobic and white nationalist
hate crimes. Emerging from this
solidarity work, Kaur launched the
Revolutionary Love Project, which I will refer
to hereafter as RLP, in 2016. It is housed at the University
of Southern California’s Office of Religious Life. RLP sponsored a multi
nationwide together tour– a multi city, excuse me– nationwide Together
tour before the 2016 US presidential election,
which emphasized love as a public ethic. After the election, Kaur
collaborated with many movement leaders to host a watch night
service at the historic AME Church in Washington DC on New
Year’s Eve, in which millions nationwide participated,
as well as coordinated a fast, multi-faith, prayer
gathering, and a march on inauguration day in 2017. Also in 2017, RLP sponsored
100 film screenings, workshops, and keynotes for
college students and lobbied
congressional leaders to oppose multiple versions of
the US Muslim travel ban, which recalled the US Supreme
Court’s Korematsu decision that justified Japanese-American
incarceration in World War II. RLP also opposed many other
discriminatory immigration and refugee policies,
such as racial profiling and surveillance, special
registries, detention and family deportations–
excuse me, family separation, deportation, and border walls. After the mass
shootings of Sikhs in a gurdwara in Oak
Creek, Wisconsin, African-American Christians
in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston,
Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and
Muslims at Christchurch New Zealand mosques, RLP
stood on the front lines, echoing the Magdalene’s witness. In my view, quote, “Through our
tears, we must act swiftly.” Unquote. RLP’s activities through 2020
span books, curricula, courses, media, podcasts, film,
even TV, including an Emmy award-winning episode on
Sikhs in America for CNN United Shades of America, an annual
conference for more than 300 grassroots leaders, and a
Sikh women leaders retreat. They are involved
also in grassroots non-violent direct
action campaigns. RLP co-sponsored a solidarity
rally with the Poor People’s Campaign in June of 2018. Over 200 dialogues about
practicing revolutionary love, as well as 2,000 Vote Together
gatherings during the US congressional midterm
elections in fall of 2018. Kaur herself organized with
32 diverse women leaders the Third Annual Women’s
March on Washington in January of 2019. All of these activities
aim to oppose intersectional injustices of
racism, poverty, militarism, sexism, and
ecological devastation that manifest in our day
in the rollback of voting rights, women’s rights,
immigrant rights, health care, and climate change policies. Most importantly,
these activities embody love as a public ethic
that births a new future. Kaur delivered a highly
acclaimed Ted talk during the Ted women
gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana in
November 2017, which elaborated a feminist
love ethic Titled “Three Lessons of Revolutionary
Love in a Time of Rage”, this one million
plus viewed talk also informed Kaur’s address to the
2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions. In the PWR address, she
reiterated this ethic’s three main practices of love
of others, opponents, and ourselves to over 8,000
attendees, whom she described as quote, “Midwives tasked with
birthing a new future for all of us, who labor for justice
with and through love together, who can begin to deliver
the world we dream, excuse me, a world that is
multiracial, multicultural, multi-faith, and rooted
in revolutionary love.” End quote. Since its inception,
RLP has joined with over 550 organizations
annually on Valentine’s Day to reach 14 million plus people,
both personally and virtually, to reclaim love
as a public ethic. RP partnered with more
than 50 organizations for the most recent V Day
activities in February of 2019, including Network, Clue,
and other interfaith and faith-based groups to
articulate its three practices in a declaration of
revolutionary love. And I want to share with
you that declaration in the form of a video. – We pledge to rise up. – In revolutionary love. – In revolutionary love. – In revolutionary love. – We declare our love for
all who are in harm’s way. – We declare our love for all
of those that are in harm’s way. – Our humanity
binds us together. – And we vow to fight for
a world where all of us can flourish. – We declare love
even for our opponent. – We vow to fight. – We vow to fight. – We vow to fight, not
with violence or vitriol. – But by challenging the
cultures and institutions that promote hate. – We declare love for ourselves. – We will protect
our capacity for joy. – We will rise and dance. – We choose to see
this darkness not as the darkness of the tomb– – But the darkness of the womb. – We will breathe and push
through the pain of this era. – To birth a new future. – To birth a new future. – Join me. – Join us. – Join us. – Join us. – Join us. – Join us. [end playback] [applause] So both of Kaur’s talks
examine this three pronged feminist ethic of
love and its practices, which she described at the
Parliament of World Religions as quote, “a human birthright,
a kind of labor that all of us are capable of” quote,
unquote, to advance and enhance a more just world for all. Kaur states in her Ted talk,
quote, “Revolutionary love is the choice to enter into
labor for others who do not look like us, for our opponents
who hurt us, and for ourselves. Love must be practiced
in all three directions to be revolutionary.” End quote. So first, love for
others entails a praxis, Kaur says, of
seeing no stranger. Listening to other stories
in humility and in wonder enables us to see no
stranger, to challenge the stereotypes which
distort our vision of quote, “Black as criminal, brown as
illegal, of queer and trans as immoral, of indigenous
peoples as savage, and of women and
girls as property.” End quote. And to ultimately stand
in solidarity with others, to labor with others
through vigils and marches and other forms of political
participation and engagement. In my view, seeing no stranger,
as Kaur claims, a part of me I do not yet know, evokes a
new theological anthropology or religious understanding
of the human person, not as a ruggedly independent
individual, but as someone
inherently interrelated in and with all communities,
both of our origin and our affinity, including
solidarity with the Earth community. Second, love for opponents
necessitates, Kaur says, a practice of
tending the wound. Tending the wound in
others, even enemies, entails moral and political
pragmatic practices. It reveals oppressive
systems and structures which normalize and radicalize
harm, as well as erode the capability to love. Beyond resisting and
replacing bad political actors and policies, birthing
a new just world begins by tending personal
and sociopolitical wounds, by challenging and remaking
those intersectional systems and structures of injustice
that collide and collude in all of us and in
our world to decreate, to undo all of our
belonging and flourishing. Third, love for ourselves is
characterized by the practice, Kaur says, of breathe and push. Love for others and
oppressors require self-love. Kaur states, quote, “To love
our own flesh” [? end ?] quote, “to make our own
flourishing matter.” End quote. Self-love takes
place in community, in order to fully embrace
ourselves and push through these hostile
times together. Practicing self-love
inspired Kaur to release, in spring of 2019,
a meditation app with four tracks titled
Breathe and Push, that stress connections between
self-care, breathing together, and community care, pushing
together for change. Kaur states that, quote,
“The labor for justice will be so much harder, so
much longer, and so much more painful, and not just
for the next few years, but for decades to come.” End quote. Nevertheless, like
the Magdalene, Kaur, in both her talks, offers
encouragement to persevere, to persist in these
seemingly bleak times. Quote, “What if this
darkness in the world is not the darkness of the tomb,
but the darkness of the womb? What if our future, our
America is not dead, but is a country, a nation
still waiting to be born? What if a new world
is waiting to be born? What if the story of
America is one long labor? What if this is our nation’s,
our time of great transition? The midwife tells us to
breathe and then to push, because if we don’t
push, we will die. If we don’t breathe,
we will die. If we don’t push now,
our nation will die.” And then she goes on. “Tonight, we will breathe. Tomorrow, we will labor. Revolutionary love
requires that we breathe and push through the fire.” End quote. Although Kaur outlined
this feminist love ethic by drawing on Sikh
theology of love and the writings of black
feminist bell hooks and others, the RLP unexpectedly parallels
what I have outlined here as the Magdalene tradition,
as a basis for women’s ways of doing public theology. First, Mary watched and
waited at Jesus’s tomb, to anoint His buried body,
to attend His bodily wounds, inflicted by imperial
indignities and injustices of Roman crucifixion. Black Catholic feminist
theologian M. Shawn Copeland, in her book Enfleshing
Freedom, articulates a political
Christology, in which the body of the
crucified Jesus refracts the wounds inflicted
on marginalized peoples by contemporary empires. Opposition and otherness based
on dominant and subordinate relations along race, gender,
class, religious, sexual, and many other marks
of our differences, are all used to justify
assault, conquest, occupation, detention, torture,
incarceration, sexual shame, and abuse, and even execution. Prophetic social movements
identify and tend these wounds in order to effect
social justice and change. Moreover, secondly, Mary
experienced multiple turnings or conversions to
new ways of seeing. From the grief and
loss of the empty tomb, to then seeing, through her
tears and with new eyes, no stranger, no gardener,
but the risen Jesus. And ultimately, as I
outlined my understanding of the twofold commission that
Jesus gives the Magdalene, to ultimately see beyond Jesus
to take what she has seen and heard and to
prophetically proclaim the good news repeatedly to
all, even the whole world. Seeing no stranger
creates new visions of life giving communities
that, as Shawn Copeland states, quote, “Reorder us, remember
us, restore us, and make us one, not only in
the body of Christ, but also in the
US body politic.” Third and finally, self-love
and communal solidarity occur together, as illustrated
by Kaur’s questions in her PWR address. Quote, “How are you
breathing today? Who are you breathing with? With the ones you love, with
the earth and sea and sky, with some of the
ancestors at your back? Can you breathe in
order to remember all that is beautiful and
good and worth fighting for?” End quote. In deeply distressing
times, Mary also regrouped with the
women disciples in the Jesus movement. They waited, grieved,
organized, and mobilized their ongoing witness together. That is, their self-love
empowered them to envision, preach about, and realize new
life in post-Easter ministries. So in sum, the
Magdalene tradition continues in women’s prophetic
witness and practice, in contemporary US
faith-based social movements, whether the Nuns On the Bus or
the Revolutionary Love Project, movements that begin
to birth a world that supports and safeguards
civil and human rights for all people of all genders,
races, ethnicities, classes, orientations, abilities,
and religions. A concluding, reflective
exercise inspired by the RLP will aid all of us
here today to do the community building,
the world making, of a feminist public theology. That is, to begin to
imagine and incarnate, to begin to envision and
enflesh a more just world, not just for our
own flourishing, but for the flourishing of all. So as Valerie Kaur guides
us, quote, “Close your eyes. Can you feel it? What does it feel like in your
body to live in that future? How would your
life be different? How would it change the lives
of the people that you love? If we can inhabit this vision
in our minds and in our bodies, then we can birth it.” End quote. Thank you so much. [applause] [logo music playing]

One thought on “Nevertheless, She Persisted – Women’s Religio-Political Witness for Love and Justice

  1. The new role for Christian women specifically white women will be to solve the problem of white supremacy by not pairing with white males and not having white sons.

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