Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ivone Gebara: "The Church is going to lose thinking women"

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
October 1, 2018

"To say that the Virgin Mary is more important than the apostles, only serves to keep everything the same. That doesn't come from the Gospel." Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara is one of the greatest representatives of feminist theology in the world.

From Comillas, where this afternoon she participated in some conversations organized by the Asociación de Teólogas Españolas [ATE - "Association of Spanish Women Theologians"], Gebara criticizes the "Patriarchal Church" that, she asserts, runs the risk of "losing thinking women." We're talking with her exclusively.

In your presentation, you talk about alterity, difference and equality. What do you mean by all that?

They're concepts that are very connected with feminism and that's why some feminist philosophers, and I too, have worked these concepts that weren't born with feminism but from other philosophical reflections like those of the French Jewish philosopher Levinas who talked a lot about the other, about who the other is. My contribution is raising suspicion that the reflections on alterity have placed women as "the other." And when speaking of difference, it is done within a context, where male universality is quite strong.

Are we experiencing a sexist ethic?

Not necessarily sexist. I mean that they're not always connected with an ethic but also with a way of reducing the other, of not taking the difference into account. These concepts become theoretical, almost empty in practice. Equality, alterity, difference ... are related to something. Same as what, different from what. In that sense I want to talk about something that is connected with the life of women, which is beauty. A single beauty is manufactured, which is actually the products that are sold. The same brands produced for different label...

This is a spiderweb into which we all fall because that beauty is something external and it is very self-sacrificing. We have to sacrifice ourselves a lot to have the ideal weight, the wrinkle-free skin...thousands of bondages. Finally, I speak of the female body from Christianity. And it's interesting that Christianity -- and when I speak of Christianity I speak of theology, not of Jesus' time -- the ideal of feminine beauty is a "spiritual" ideal, but it's the beauty of service. The woman who is good is the one who serves, the one who is a very good mother ... For example, all these women who go out to the street to talk about the rights of women, are betraying the ideal of women as mothers, caregivers, submissive, housewives, cleaners of the Church, servants of the priests. They are the women who cook for them, clean the seminaries ....

Doesn't the Church realize that the day women say "Enough already" to being servants, slaves...and nothing else within this Church, the Church might remain empty?

It's that up until now they see this women's project as very far off, especially in Latin America. They're aware, but they act as if the problem doesn't exist. I know some priests who pay measly salaries and, at the same time, talk about social justice. These contradictions exist because poverty exists, which women experience. Material poverty, in the first place, but there's also a "compensation", because sometimes the priest is a good guy, polite, not like the drunken husband. That's the consolation...

Yes, but if women don't change their role, they're still submissive...

But the submission is different. The priest doesn't hit her, the priest thanks her, he says he'll pray for her. There's an idea of the priest as representative of Jesus. That symbology, in a certain way, delays the process.

Here, that is called "micromachismos," unwittingly...'re fomenting injustice. The day the priest realizes it, the relationships are going to change. But they're relationships more of friendship.

When will the Church recognize women as disciples of Jesus too?

The first thing that must be said is that if we say "disciples", we are now establishing a hierarchy. I prefer to speak of the "Jesus Movement." In that movement, Jesus didn't always have the last word. Male theologians have underscored an infused wisdom in Jesus, as if he would never have had to learn anything from anybody, to the point of saying that Mary was the first disciple of her son. This can't be sustained. Jesus had to learn, be contested, respond, make mistakes. I think we have a very romantic idea of Jesus of Nazareth and speaking of a movement, we're coming down to the reality of life. In the Jewish world, women have a very important role as mothers, educators who are listened to. The patriarchal world, Christianity since the 2nd and 3rd centuries is connected with the Roman Empire idea of power, and there things start to change. Women's public authority is totally lost.

Is the Church sexist?

I prefer not to use the word "sexism" because that word has a very negative connotation of subjectivity and emotionalism. Not all men are sexist, nor are all bishops sexist, so I prefer to speak of a patriarchal foundation. Here the man is in charge because he's the representative of Jesus and I'm not. So, I could be more right than you, but the last word is yours. The patriarchal world doesn't just exist in the Church.

Is it in the gospel that only men can be priests, that women can't have a sacramental role in the Church?

That doesn't come from the Gospel. The priests want to see the 12 apostles, men, as Jesus' choice. I don't see that. Feminist biblical hermeneutics sees other things, but unfortunately they don't read us, they don't listen to us, and they throw us out of the formation institutions. The few women theologians who teach in Theology schools have to adapt to the norms.

How do you interpret the fact that the Pope has included three women on the International Theological Commission, and that he has opened a commission on the female diaconate?

I'm very critical. I'm not the only one who thinks that way. First, who elected these women theologians as representatives? They could be representatives of the feminine, but not of Catholic feminism. Because what bothers the Church isn't the feminine, it's feminism. Because feminine is saying, like the Pope says, that the Virgin Mary is more important than the apostles -- this is romantic discourse that serves to keep everything the same.

The Pope puts three women, among them there's a nun, two German theologians. Why didn't he ask the different women theologians' organizations -- the Spanish ATE, for example -- what names they would indicate?

Do you think it's more a matter of quota, and not of conviction?

Sure, and then you get two old cardinals who have nothing to do with it. They say they're studying it, but they won't come to any conclusion. Already in advance, he has already said no to priestly ordination. Now he opens a small gap for the diaconal one, but there's no need to have much hope.

What do we feminist Catholics, men and women, who understand that the Church should be a place where equality is practiced, have to do?

I think men talk very little about this. They might do it in closed circles, but they don't speak at the congresses, they don't write to the Pope. They are satisfied, although it could be done differently. There are no male voices. There are Dominicans, Jesuits, who speak of respect for women, against violence, there are very nice texts about this. But between this and saying "We must change theology," until the moment we talk about the apostles, about God the Father Almighty, about the sacraments only connected with the male figure of Jesus ... then there are no changes. And if there are changes, I'm sure it will not be now, but you have to start changing.

Where should we start?

Every community, in every group, in every country, has to start from their own reality. I would invite the women to meet, to study, for their part, and the men to reflect on their side.

What future awaits the Church if it doesn't break from the paradigm of men with power and women servants?

I can't speak to the future, but presently what is happening is that many women are leaving the Church. The Church has already lost the reserves, it has already lost the peasantry, and it's going to lose thinking women. Thinking women and leaders of popular movements. The Catholic Church says almost nothing to them now. In the indigenous world, the Church's manner with communitarian feminism doesn't say anything to them. Yes, some will stay, but they will lose many.