Forsaking Futurity and a Call for Feminist Theologies: A Response to Gender & the Studio, Part Three

Abstract: Rather than delve into the potential theo-logic of a Butlerian “constructivist” account of gender, this blog post proposes that we pause, and instead question the discursive operations undergirding the very idea of “the future of systematic theology.” The effort to secure the existence of systematic theology, I suggest, is idolatrous—rather, systematic theology needs to lose its own life in order to potentially save it, and can begin to move in that direction by attending to the concrete, historic, material, discursive realities of people’s lives, especially those on the underside. This “losing” is both practical and apophatic, in that it acknowledges that the task demands constant attention to the material realities of people’s lives and the discursive regimes that produce those realities, and that we cannot seek to grasp or claim or secure a telos or overarching discourse. I end, then, by turning briefly to the potentialities within a constructivist frame, and offering some suggestions for possibilities for Christian feminist theologies.


§1: Forsaking Futurity: My Frustrations with the Discourse Thus Far

It’s ironic, to say the least. While, in many of the various facebook threads where conversation around these posts is now happening, I have repeatedly noted how I am very grateful for these exchanges, for the dialogue that has happened, I have to say, that during much of the conversation over the last day, I’ve felt the need to have my pink penis totem handy… considering that these conversations have been happening over a blog post about said totem, I find this a bit humorous…

I’ve struggled with where to go with this final blog post. Originally, I wanted to outline a bit of a Butlerian “constructivist” account of gender and examine the theological overlay/import, to lay out what I see as a potential alternative to a “Christianly gendered” theology… I may still do a little bit of that here, but a lot of that conversation has already happened, and more of it will probably have happened by the time I finish this post—I can’t really seem to keep up.[i]  Moreover, I don’t think the conversation is “there yet,” so to speak—I don’t think we’re really to the point of doing “constructive theological work,” of “system building.” Rather, I think we need to pause quite a bit longer at the examination of material conditions, at the questions we’re asking, at exploring and interrogating our theological imaginations, our methodologies…. Rather, or at least first, I want to step even further back from the conversation for a little bit, and talk briefly about why this conversation is so important for me, about what I see being at stake.

At the risk of coming off as both rude/offensive[ii] and terribly trite, what I see at stake, what I really care about, isn’t the future of systematic theology, but people’s lives, people’s flourishing (and thus, the glory of God). Which, I think, is what systematic theology should be concerned with, not its own future. It’s kind of funny, I presented a paper at AAR on theological engagement with Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, and why the themes of that paper (ecclesiology and kinship) are different from what I am trying to address here, I think Edelman’s eschewal of futurity might actually come in handy.

Queers must respond to the violent force of such constant provocations[of their own lives via the ‘sake of the future] not only by insisting on our equal right to the social order’s prerogatives…but also by saying explicitly what Law and the Pope and the whole of the Symbolic order for which they stand hear anyway in each and every expression or manifestation of queer sexuality: Fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we’re collectively terrorized; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Mis; fuck the poor, innocent kid on the Net; fuck Laws both with capital ls and with small; fuck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop.[iii]

Edelman is, to say the least, quite provocative.  Some might say he’s a bit nihilistic or depressing. But I don’t think he is. Because this is not where he ends, and it is precisely because he sees the notion of the future—at least, the way it is deployed—as foreclosing possibilities, as foreclosing flourishing. “Such queerness,” he suggests, proposes, “ in place of the good, something I want to call ‘better,’ though it promises, in more than sense of the phrase, absolutely nothing.”[iv] Edelman, I think, grasps how the quest to future is problematic—this, perhaps, aligns with J. Kameron Carter’s point about Bonhoeffer (and Butler, for that matter), that  “neither our origins nor our destiny are available to us as Creature and that this is part and parcel of the goodness the Creator declares over creation. To grasp after either our origins (the moment of “in the beginning…”) or our destiny (teleology?) is precisely to refuse existence from ‘the middle,’…”

So, I ask, what are our investments in “the future of systematic theology” doing to or for people’s lives? What are they not doing? How are they hurting people? In less than 48 hours, I’ve received emails from twenty-seven twenty-eight thirty-one women expressing thanks for my posts, noting how they wanted to comment, but didn’t feel comfortable or “safe.” This alone is, I think, indicative of a problem. A big problem. It’s also interesting to see how the conversation has played out differently on the theology studio site than it has in the “hush harbor” that is the private Women and Religion facebook group.[v] This was what I hoped to really press into in my second post: attention to the material and social realities surrounding these conversations, but it seems to not have really taken—that is, I think, as the need to rely again on the totemic powers of my pink penis indicate, my point has been missed entirely.

This IS NOT to say that people who are invested in this conversation who are arguing on behalf of the ‘tradition’ and ‘the future’ are inherently misogynist or racist, or “intentionally perpetuating white masculinity”—that is not what I am saying in the least. What I can’t help but wonder, though…are those among us who are arguing on behalf of these things doing anything to combat white (heterosexist, classist, ableist) masculinity? I guess I just don’t see much of that either.

Ok, sure, so there is engagement with the questions, which assuredly indicates concern for these things. But concern is easy to accomplish—it is, shall we say, quite “passive.” But I have to be honest, I’m a bit disheartened—I’m disheartened at the tone of the conversations; at what I perceive as a desire to secure identity, to secure the future, to secure God; at the defensiveness and lack of self-reflexivity.

And for me, the method is indicative of the message. Which is why I’m angry. And hurt. And scared. Because this is not the Good News to me. The Good News is not about seeking to justify or defend a tradition that has hurt so, so many people. And please, please here mean—I do not mean, conversely, that we “throw out” tradition. Not in the least. But there is a difference between acknowledging and engaging with tradition, and defending it—how are we engaging with and relying on tradition, and, as was noted a few times in the facebook discussion by both J. Kameron Carter and Tim McGee, we need to examine what we are asking tradition to do, what investments we have in tradition.

Also, I mean, if we really do believe that the Spirit is present within the tradition, within the history of the ‘church’ and its creeds, then do we really need to be so quick to defend it? Don’t we know the presence of the Spirit by the fruits that She produces in Her people? And when I get so many emails from women and men echoing my concerns, I have to wonder about the fruit we’re producing… When I think about the myriad of people who’ve left theology—who’ve left Christianity altogether—because they’ve been burned by folks wanting to defend something that has hurt them so deeply… So many stories come to mind here, that I don’t even know where to begin—so many women I know who have not had the energy or hope to fight for their voices to be heard or their questions to be valued, so many “blue collar” folks who feel like Christianity has nothing to offer to their situations, so many people of color who are so damn tired of the lack of attention to the racism (both subtle and overt) that they face in churches and in the academy, and, oh, the queer folk….I have so  many stories here, so much pain that I’ve heard and that I’ve experienced, but the story that is seared into my memory and into my soul is that of my friend Brian…

“It’s easier to leave than to stay. I can’t handle seminary anymore. It’s not worth it.”  Those were Brian’s last words, the end of a short note scribbled on a yellow legal pad for his friends and family, right before he hung himself from the bar of his bedroom closet on December 23, 2008. Brian was one of my closest friends; not only did he understand what it meant to be queer and Christian, he knew what it was like to be a seminarian as well. He was the only other person I knew who shared that experience.  We would talk regularly, chronicling our moments of joy, lamenting the pain, and dreaming about things getting better. Yet, in the midst of Advent, a time of celebration and hopeful anticipation, Brian found neither. Precisely in the moment where salvation and hope were to be most salient, Brian ended his life—his physical death a mimesis of the social and emotional death he experienced at the hand of fellow Christians.

How do I make sense of Brian’s story, of all these stories? I really can’t… But, this I think is a far more urgent and significant matter than the “ideological” debates around gender essentialism vs. constructivism… In fact, I don’t think they are different questions, which is one of the points I have been trying to make in all of this. In closing, then, I want to turn, briefly, to some of the more “substantive” claims I’m wanting to hint towards or begin to think through as we wrestle together with questions about gender and tradition and the theological academy… [vi]

§2: A Call For Feminist Theologies: Some Inchoate Suggestions

Part of my confusion in this conversation has been around the claim towards wanting to move “beyond” the essentialist/constructivist binary, and especially with trying to grasp what is so problematic about constructivism. Eric Daryl Meyer said it well in a comment on the TS facebook group. He writes:

It feels to me like “gender constructivism” is a boogey-man in this conversation. I’m wondering if Tony might give some examples. Judith Butler has been mentioned, but she certainly doesn’t argue that people just get to make up whatever they want and “perform” it as their gender. She is very, very attentive to cultural and biological constraints.

Simply put—yep. In Giving an Account of Oneself, Butler is quite clear that the socially-constructed self does not eliminate agency or norms, or even the need for norms. The “problem is not with universality,” she explains, “but with an operation of universality that fails to be responsive to cultural particularity and fails to undergo a reformulation of itself in response to the social and cultural conditions it includes within its scope of applicability” (6). The task, rather,  is to acknowledge and interrogate norms, to recognize the ways norms function to constitute oneself in relation with the other. This is what seems to be eschewed in many conversations that assume essentialist gender claims—i.e. the assumed connection between feminism and receptivity.

As I say in an earlier footnote, for a critique of gender—and sexual—essentialism—I highly recommend Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. What Butler does is this text is demonstrate how discourse shapes reality in terms of producing (gendered) subjectivities, and that this has oppressive and violent consequences. As she notes in the preface:

The point of this text is… to show that the naturalized knowledge of gender operates as a preemptive and violent circumscription of reality. To the extent the gender norms…establish what will and will not be intelligently human, what will and will not be considered to be ‘real,’ they establish the ontological field in which bodies may be give legitimate expression (xxiii).

I mean, if we are going to talk about a telos, about eschatology, perhaps we can discuss this Christologically, examining how, as Baker suggests, there ought now be neither male nor female… I love how Serene Jones discusses this in Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace, when she writes, “Feminist theological discussions of women’s nature are rooted decisively in a theological vision of an already/not-yet future—a vision of God’s will for a redeemed humanity where all persons live in right relation to God and one another. This is where I want to turn to Barth, to how grace disrupts “nature”… how might we think about how nature itself is not exactly natural, and how we might live into our identities grace-fully, eschatologically, performatively, Christologically…. Which, as Butler points out, as folks in the facebook discussion have pointed out, as I have been trying to point out, means attending to power—because, as Butler says, it is power that “operate[s] in the production of that very binary frame for thinking about gender” (xxvii).  The question Butler then asks is the question I think is so important, and the question I constantly ask, and that I immediately thought of when I read the blog post on Gender and the Studio, and that prompted this series of responses. Butler asks:

What happens to the subject and to the stability of gender categories when the epistemic regime of presumptive heterosexuality is unmasked as that which produces and reifies these ostensible categories of ontology?….But how can an epistemic/ontological regime be brought into question? What best way to trouble the gender categories that support gender hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality (xxx, emphasis mine)?

Moreover, it seems as Baker himself is somewhat unclear on this point (of where to land in regards to essentialism/constructivism). While, on the one hand, he clearly wants to affirm the feminine, and whatever archetypal/ontological/epistemological traits he believes are concomitant with it, on the other hand, he himself points to something beyond fixed notions of gender, asking if (and thus presumably hoping that) the work the theology studio does “transcends the ancient and modern bifurcation of gender archetypes that Christ came to heal,” and earlier, noting quite clearly that “Paul suggests, and Coakley reminded us, that there ought now be neither male nor female” (emphasis mine). (note: Baker has clarified this a bit for me in the TS facebook group, though it still, to some degree, remains unclear to me what is meant by “the divinely given human essence.”)

Perhaps the problematic material realities of this world, alongside the fact that there ought now be neither male nor female, demands not a “Christianly gendered” theology, but a pleathora of Christian feminist theologies?

So,  how might we think and live into the notion that there ought now be neither male nor female? Which is to ask, of course, what I think it means, in light of my aforementioned critiques and claims. In conclusion/to summarize, I humbly offer some of my own suggestions—not of what “Christianly-gendered” theological work can do, as I don’t desire nor ascribe to the idea that that is what we should be seeking; rather I offer reflections on how folks like those involved with the theology studio, amongst others, can foster feminist theological work (and space for such work). Some very brief,  very, very undeveloped/inchoate thoughts (most, if not all, of which I’ve already mentioned in some way, shape, or form, but offer here for the sake of having a concise summary):

–       We need to attend critically to methodology—what questions are we asking? What questions are we not asking that we need to be asking? What are our investments in tradition, in the future, and why? What sources are we engaging? What even counts as “theology” for us?

–       Relatedly, we need to attend more to power, to how power undergirds so much of this conversation—how power shapes the very categories and classifications we employ and assume without question.

–       As Mandy draws attention to in her blog post, we need to listen. To really listen. And to be self-reflective, or, as Baker says in a comment, to “be willing to do a little self-inquiry.”   Here, I think James McCarty sums it up quite, quite well. So, I’m just going to end by re-posting his wise advice:

So, here’s my suggestion to my fellow male bloggers:

1. Be quiet. Seriously, stop talking long enough to listen. And then …

2. Listen to women. And listen in a way in which you can learn from them. Seriously. Read Women in Theology and Profligate Grace and Per Caritatem and Feminism and Religion and former AAR president Kwok Pui Lan. And don’t argue with them right away (as many did with Ms. Daniel’s post and Jones and commenters did with his critics). Listen deeply. Meditate upon those things that don’t resonate with your experience and give them a charitable interpretation. Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women to answer them.

3. Collaborate. Seriously. First, learn from women by studying under them. Then teach WITH women. Write WITH women (when you do they won’t let you get away with some of the ridiculousness that sometimes gets published by us). Think WITH women.

And then more women may begin to think, write, and agree with you. Or at least you might be able to have fruitful rather than dismissive online conversations with women when you do, and will, disagree.

(And then – MAYBE – we can address the lack of engagement with non-white persons in these online conversations!)

For the sake of , and love for, the church; for the sake of, and love for, the world and the full-flourishing of all humanity; for the glory of God.

[i] If you want to read a critique of gender essentialism, just check out Butler’s groundbreaking book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

[ii] I’m going to take the risk and just be honest and a bit vulnerable in this post, hoping that y’all—in light of my earlier engagements—know where my heart is at, and that my boldness will not cause some of you to put up walls and disengage.

[iii] Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, 29.

[iv] Ibid., 5.

[v] See Karen Baker Fletcher, “The Erotic in Contemporary Black Women’s Writing,” in Anthony B. Pinn & Dwight N. Hopkin, eds. Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic, 199-213.

[vi] I must admit, I am worried that, given the “angry” and sermony nature of this post, it may be ignored or dismissed as not substantive. But maybe, perhaps, it might get attention as a “feminine form”?

83 thoughts on “Forsaking Futurity and a Call for Feminist Theologies: A Response to Gender & the Studio, Part Three

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Brandy. You have articulated beautifully and firmly yet graciously what is at stake in these conversations. Thank you for bringing us back to people’s LIVES. I am not naturally drawn to theory, and I think it’s partly because it’s difficult for me to keep those theory-laden conversations grounded in real life (though I know for many who do that work it really IS). Thanks for sharing your story about Brian and being vulnerable in that way. I had written up a few thoughts before I read this post and they’ll be going up on the TS blog– they are brief, but also reflect on the kind of conversation that’s been going on and how people are missing each other, so to speak. Not on gender per se, but on how we talk to each other and understand even what we’re doing in “doing theology” in the first place.

  2. I want to echo others’ thanks — and while I share Anthony’s concerns about making this a place where women can feel more welcomed and at home, I’m encouraged that you felt comfortable enough to post these reflections here, particularly this latest one.

  3. I am remembering something I learned in Organizational Behavior as an undergrad – that whatever its origins / original purpose, within a generation, the primary purpose of any organization becomes its own survival, even at the expense of abandoning its original purpose. How damning that Christians are no different in this, though we ought neither fear death nor see ourselves as essential to the God who can raise up children of Abraham from the stones.

  4. Amen. Honestly, Brandy, systematic theology and its future have never been of particular concern for me. The only theologians I’ve ever worked with have been those who identify as “constructive” and who are already, to some degree, at odds with systematics as such. I think I’ve internalized – and probably, to some degree, radicalized – some of that distaste for systematics. But I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, and I’ll say that this is the first time I’ve really felt sympathy for the project that is systematic theology. I know your intention isn’t necessarily to generate allies and to fortify the method. But…

    @ Anthony… I wonder if there can’t be something added to the comment policy that incorporates some of the points that Brandy mentions at the end… I’m thinking especially about her reference to listening and collaboration. I know that AUFS has the reputation of being a, let’s say, space for (sometimes extremely) critical discourse. And I think it’s important not to start commending some sort of politeness that effaces that. But I wonder if it isn’t worth reminding readers and posters that hospitality – on some level – is a good thing, in public spaces. This doesn’t necessarily mean being “nice”… but it means, in some way, holding a door open. Maybe it simply means remembering – before you comment – that you’ve really read the thing you’re responding to, that you’ve listened to the concerns that are being voiced, and that you’re commenting not in order to humiliate or humble, but to collaborate in the task of thinking something through to a more interesting or logical end. Also… perhaps posting an open call, at the opening of the comment policy, for contributions from under-represented positions (non-male, non-Christian, non-white)?

  5. I was talking to a couple colleagues at Shimer last night, and we discussed how hard it can be to deal with students who dominate the class, because the attempt to shut one person down makes everyone feel shut down. In my teaching, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to empower the students who are holding back rather than focusing so exclusively on figuring out how to get the loudmouths to tone it down — and perhaps I should take a cue from that for our discussions here, too.

  6. I always like it when a post or a comment poses a question. That seems, in many cases, a gesture of a certain kind of hospitality.

  7. Ah! So much goodness here. Ok. A few things:

    1. I’m so glad you bring up Edelman/the forsaking of futurity. It is also interesting how calls for futurity tie into the supercessionist logic J. Carter calls out in his work (thinking of Kant here!) and that Vincent Lloyd’s recent book “The Problem with Grace” (which highly influences my thinking here) also calls out, especially in the rhetorical deployment of “hope” (another futuristic grasping). Also, Eve Sedgwick’s preface to “Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity” has a beautiful passage about the beyond, the beneath, and the beside that I think articulates some of the violences you’re naming that emerge in the “calling for” that futurity requires:

    “Beneath and behind are hard enough to let go of; what has been even more difficult is to get a little distance from beyond, in particular the bossy gesture of “calling for” an imminently perfected critical or revolutionary practice that one can oneself only adumbrate. Instead … the most salient preposition in Touching Feeling is probably beside …. The irreducibly spatial positionality of beside also seems to offer some useful resistance to the ease with which beneath and beyond turn from spatial descriptors into implicit narratives of, respectively, origin and telos”
    2. For months now I’ve been wondering what it might mean to do a pessimistic theology. By this I mean a theology that intentionally refuses futurity in order to attend more carefully to what is happening in the present complexities and messes of the world. This would require an end to the ideology and idolatry that often masquerade as theology. This is, I think, something similar to what you are saying here. A dispossessive theology, characterized by more of an apophaticism that doesn’t remove it from engagement with the world in a theological way, but actually enables a truly theological response to the present because it’s not constantly trying to force the world into a redemptive Christian future but is instead attending to the world as it is and the way Christian articulations of “orthodoxy” don’t always match their materialization.

    Interestingly, I think this “attention” and dispossessive theology is something Coakley does quite well (and has been encouraging in systematicians!). And it is precisely because, I think, her systematic work is characterized by those dispossessive prayer practices she loves so much. (Although, I don’t think she’s pessimistic in the sense I’m talking about).
    Anyways, I’m excited about your piece here, Brandy. Thanks for this.

  8. I come to this conversation mostly through the TS FB page, not because I feel safer or anything there, but because it was just easier for me personally—with all the reminders and notifications making a reply was just one click away. Plus, I have spent so much time following and posting there that I felt like I needed to limit my responses to one arena, so I can attend to the really important things in my life, like my wife, children, and students—the truly “material.”

    I also want to thank Brandy for personally inviting me to respond in a post in the FB threads. I really do appreciate that.

    I don’t think I am able to contribute much constructively to Brandy’s post insofar as I’m perhaps immorally unfamiliar with many of the thinkers and issues she’s addressing—at least from an academic perspective. I can, however, respond to her call to ask what “we” (and it’s not clear who that we is, though it seems to be the TS folks, I think) are doing on behalf of the marginalized.

    Let me start by saying that I’m not entirely sure what this question means. Is it asking us to write books and articles about such matters, to deal face-to-face and aid such marginalized people, a combination of both or even other things I haven’t mentioned? If I share what I’m personally doing with such people, it seems either defensive or needlessly pious: look at me, look at me—which strikes me as precisely the opposite what this conversation truly calls for. If it’s writing, then I must confess complete pessimism that the marginalized will ever read or care to read such work.

    At the risk of sounding pious, I have been involved in working with inner city African refugees while I lived in Dayton and doing ministry in a low income apartment complex. Currently, my family has actively tried to find such avenues of advocacy and ministry but have not yet found a place in Detroit. We’ve been quite busy simply adjusting to our life in a very different place, and not just geographically.

    I do want to say that frequently it seems many presume that folks who do not write about the marginalized do not care about them or for them when, in fact, if you actually followed us around and knew the real material conditions we inhabit, we are actively involved such struggles for justice. Moreover, I don’t think it improper to think about how we even relate to our family members as being exempt from such critique and reflection. That is, I hope I model to my little boys how persons should relate to one another as equal partners, both in my marriage, and in how I seek to have them engage with the poor in the nearby city of Detroit. If these kinds of particulars are taken into account, I do really wonder how deep the differences go. Not that theory doesn’t matter; I have job that says it does. But, if we keep appealing to the material and concrete, we just might find that we’re closer than originally appeared. Perhaps not, though. Perhaps how I relate to my wife and family is deeply patriarchal or racist—unintentionally, of course, but that’s still not good. Here is where reflection is needed from ALL in the conversation, not just one “side,” as if it’s as clear as that (and I don’t think it is as this post presumes)—reflection about ourselves, not just about the person we are arguing with. In that vein, I have found and hopefully have performed and am continuing to perform such reflection here and in my material life.

    (I have posted this on the FB page as well).

  9. Adam,

    I agree that was our purpose in a lot of ways behind the comment policy. I am a little worried though, and would like to hear from more the women who make up our authors and readers here, that it isn’t how it always is read. Maybe we should add this to the policy?

  10. Brandy,
    Yes! And thank you. So much.

    Would “critical” capture more of what you are aiming at than “pessimistic”? I think you are dead-on that even when we theologians attempt to critique and redirect certain problematic notions of redemption, we often do so for the sake of an idealized past, present, or future that we see (and deem so fragile as to necessitate our constant vigilance). I’m also reminded by a quote from Bonhoeffer, in his Ethics, where he says, “There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God. Whoever perceives the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as it were lost, as if it were separated from God.” In short, the future of redemption isn’t dependent on our defense of a particular theological scheme (echoing here Brandy’s reminder that if the Spirit works *back then* then why not trust it to continue producing fruit now).

    Tim F.,
    I think you might be missing the force of Brandy’s questions, which is not what are you doing personally but “what are our investments in “the future of systematic theology” doing to or for people’s lives?” It is also poignantly asked not in terms of what you are doing “for” the marginalized but rather “are those among us who are arguing on behalf of these things [i.e., tradition] doing anything to combat white (heterosexist, classist, ableist) masculinity?” I would be interested to hear your answers to those rather different questions.

  11. Tim M.

    I intentionally use pessimistic there, in part, because I’m influenced by an emerging school of thought called Afro-Pessimism and also because I think the word suggests more of an abandonment of futurity than “critical” does. I don’t really imagine that people want to use that word for themselves, though. Theologians seem to have an allergic reaction to pessimism. I also don’t know how long that word will get at what is emerging in my head, but I like it for now.

  12. Amaryah,
    I actually headed over to your blog and saw that you were invoking Afro-Pessimism and started to draft a reply. “Critical” certainly wouldn’t go far enough in that direction. I think of J. Carter’s piece in the Camb. Comp to Evangelical Theology on race and a theology of Holy Saturday. That might be another direction to explore what Frank Wilderson III means with the question, “what does it mean to suffer”:
    “If, by way of the Black subject, we consider the underlying grammar of the question ‘What does it mean to be free?’ that grammar being the question ‘What does it mean to suffer?’ then we come up against a grammar of suffering not only in excess of any semiotics of exploitation, but a grammar of suffering beyond signification itself, a suffering that cannot be spoken because the gratuitous terror of White supremacy is as much contingent upon the irrationality of White fantasies and shared pleasures as it is upon a logic—the logic of capital.”
    Theology continually wants to inscribe this suffering in a word (logos, system) instead of entering into and thinking from this site of suffering “beyond signification itself.” I’d love to hear more about how you are thinking through / out of this intersection.

  13. Brandy,

    Thanks for this post, and the invitation to comment. I will admit, I laughed about your first penis post. It is what some might call an interruption of the real! It brings for just how phallic the academy still is. And I will also admit to some discomfort, mainly in part due to being a “pink penis.”

    I grew increasingly frustrated in the FB conversations. In one instance I realized just how many times men stated “what Brandy is saying…” Two observations on that- 1) the phallic impulse to speak FOR women rather than letting their words speak for themselves. and 2) It is a common reality within the academy, and at least the discursive space on the TS page, that men must interpret for women. Not sure what that means, but to add a think portrait of the conversation as it has proceeded.

    In one stance I was struck by the clearly self-reflective comments made by some women and a few men, that asked specific questions of the group. These were quickly overshadowed by a discourse that had nothing to do with the questions presented. The high altitude lingo quickly snuffed out any creative, and collaborative engagement with the question that Tony received in force as AAR and you all have tried to work out here.

    I will admit to not much investment in the essentialist or constructivist (in academia) and the egalitarian or complimentarian (in evangelical circles). So I appreciate your christological turn. How do we approach the grave concern in academic theology of gendered disciplines.

    I can’t help but wonder if we can reframe the definition of systematic theology (and know I could really care less about its survival) as “systematic as method rather than categories.” Can we start to talk of the ways the 2nd order reflections and discourse engage the rich literature of theory, anthropology. In other words, can Systematic mean interdisciplinary?

    That is where I find those Late Antique scholars I mentioned so often (Burrus, Cox-Miller, Brakke, Chin) offer us a greater window into the way theology can be conducted.

    Unfortunately, the lingo in theory and traditional systematic theology, can preclude any number of interlocutors. After a while I can only hear the words univocity and ontology so many times before I check out. Our terminology within the academy so quickly becomes sterile and divorced from the real life, on the ground realities you narrate.


  14. Tim McGee,

    I suppose I fail to understand that distinction or at least see how it matters if we are to be concerned for actual bodies. I just presume that “ordinary people” don’t really care about what academics have to say. That’s been my experience (and it seems fairly common from talking to other academics) as well. In a way, I guess I am suggesting that perhaps we are not being material or concrete enough, despite our incessant concerns to be so.

    What would it mean to combat classism, ablism, etc, and white masculinity without actually doing things for those who are unjustly suffering their effects? Can writing books and having a different approach to writing systematic theology really do that? Call me a pessimist on that score. Now, does that mean we don’t change our own theological discourse or approach writing differently? I think we should. However, I fail to see how one can do that sucessfully without the real life engagement with actual people/bodies (e.g. Brandy’s friend, working with refugees, abused women, etc), and, moreover, how can one really say anything substantial unless they can draw from that kind of experience–the experience of vulnerability. Is this not precisely why the voices of the marginalized matter so much? Please don’t read that the wrong way. I’m not saying that my helping African refugees makes me “just like them.” That’s clearly ridiculous. I am saying that unless I actually meet and converse with them, learn their plights and challenges, and even share in their joys, how can I with any integrity know how to even begin making those changes in my own theological (and academic?, which we seemingly have presumed to be the primary theological discourse and perhaps mistakenly) discourse?

    I keep looking for a call to action, and Brandy has helpfully laid out some great points at the end which I am in full agreement with. However, those all require real bodies and communication, which is what I’m addressing here as well, or at least intending to address. For example, if we are to attend to power, as Brandy rightly calls for, can that be done apart from attending to real marginalized people? Can we attend to power if we don’t understand how it effects bodies in some, and albeit clearly mitigated, bodily form ourselves by being with and advocating for, while being alongside, the marginalized?

    After writing his, perhaps I am trying to problematize the distinction you are making; I’m not really certain, but I offer this up in any case. I’m not sure if that gets at what you were saying. I hope so and trust you will push me if it does not.

  15. Brandy, brava x 3. Also, as I said on Facebook, I’m terribly sorry about your friend Brian. Part of why I rejected my past theological triumphalism was exactly what you’ve put words to so forcefully here. I started to see the casualties. (That makes it sound like I was more altruistic than I really was. Actually, I had to first be injured by theological triumphalism — find myself on the unfortunate side of the flatulent bulldog, as it were — before I began appreciating what a toxic and stifling atmosphere it created. Then I saw what it was doing to other people, which was in many cases much worse than what it was doing to me.)

    You’ve mentioned inattention to power, and the uncritical use of tradition as a bulwark, and a misplaced concern for the future of systematic theology. One thing that came to mind in the Theology Studio discussion, as well as the thread on Tony Jones’ blog which was *also* about why there aren’t more women, was the sense among some privileged groups that they are owed trust by those who lack that privilege. Often this gets expressed in terms of good intentions: “I meant well, so why do you not just obligingly yield your esteem? How mean of you!” etc. (The answer, of course, is that your good intentions do not oblige someone to trust you any more than your paying for dinner obliges someone to have sex with you. To use myself as an example of a privileged person: I’m a white lady, and I try not to be racist. But in a country with a history of men of color being violated for looking at white women wrong? Yeah, no man of color is required to trust me because I’m “nice,” or even to hang around long enough to find out I’m nice. But I digress.)

    But in some triumphalist theological conversations, it seems as though reconciliation is substituted for good intentions. The idea seems to be, “I *want* to be reconciled with you, and the Magical Eucharist reconciles us all in Christ, and this has been declared authoritatively. So what’s your problem? Get with the program. I have just accounted for why you and I are reconciled. It’s done.” And I think that’s all of a piece with the inattention to power, the uncritical invoking of tradition, and the desire to preserve the coherence of systematic theology at all costs.

    Also… uh, hello everyone! This is my first time commenting here although I’ve sporadically read here for years. I mention this only because it seems like there’s some interest in how this blog comes across to those who don’t participate in it, and if that’s not the case, feel free to ignore it. I can’t speak for all, obviously, but I think the reason *I* didn’t jump in, despite being a theology nerd who was heavily involved in other online communities, was that an abundance of highly technical terminology is one of the things that makes me want to stop and evaluate the situation further.

    To be sure, I definitely understand the need for technical terminology, and I use it when I need to. As a colleague of mine puts it when students complain about having to learn fancy exegesis words, “Well, what if you went to the doctor and he [sic] talked about your wee wee?” And I get that the raison d’etre of the blog is intellectual rigor, and anyway bloggers do not owe the reading public exactly what they want in the form they want it. You all are not here to optimize Sarah’s experience of the internet. So I’m not registering a complaint, at all.

    But in my experience, technical terminology is a lot like a very big pickup truck. Some people have it because they need it to do real and serious lifting and hauling. (This is FAR AND AWAY the vibe I get here, so good on y’all!) And some people honestly just like and prefer it, aesthetically, and don’t begrudge other people their nondescript brown Camries or their sturdy Volvos or their prissy Priuses. However, some people use it to show the world that they are Big Big Doods Who Take Up Space, and I expect every female theology nerd has had an experience of being run over or cut off by such a one. So for that reason, when I encounter technical philosophical books and vocabulary, I like to wait and see what I’m dealing with. That may be just me, or it may be a thing. I have no idea. If it’s just me, then it’s appropriate to treat it as an outlier. :)

  16. Let me put it this way: how is what I’m saying not a version of forsaking futurity by the very act of attending to bodies in the present in front of me? Or, again differently, how is what I am suggesting at odds with the quote from Butler that Brandy uses “The ‘problem is not with universality,’ she explains, ‘but with an operation of universality that fails to be responsive to cultural particularity and fails to undergo a reformulation of itself in response to the social and cultural conditions it includes within its scope of applicability.’” If you can answer that, I might be able to better grasp your concerns.

  17. Before I make the comment I’m about to make, let me say that, absolutely, lived and embodied solidarity with people at the margins should have a priority over theology that talks about people at the margins. If we had to choose one only, I doubt that anyone would that the latter matters more.

    So, Tim Furry, to the question of “What would it mean to combat classism, ablism, etc, and white masculinity without actually doing things for those who are unjustly suffering their effects?,” I suspect that most or all of us would say, “It wouldn’t mean anything at all to write books upon books ‘about’ classism, ableism, sexism, and racism if the author’s concern remained in books alone and wasn’t reflected in lived solidarity.”

    But as to the question of a different way of doing theology, I’d say it starts to get at the question of whether one is doing things “for” those who suffer unjustly or “with” those who suffer unjustly. When one’s theology is changed by engagement with critiques that are being made by relatively-privileged folks who nonetheless find themselves marginalized and underrepresented in certain segments of the academy, it’s a sign that people at the margins are being taken seriously: that someone’s worldview genuinely acknowledges the full and equal human dignity of, say, a woman of color, rather than using women-of-color-for-whom-I-do-service as a way of assuring myself of my own righteousness and innocence in a world of systematic injustice.

    It’s one thing for me as a white woman to know that I work with immigrants of color in a setting where I believe I can offer them something. It’s a different thing for me as a white woman to find my theology genuinely challenged and chastened and changed by the scholarship of a womanist theologian—to see that I need to learn from her in what I consider to be my intellectual turf. Before whom am I willing to be “receptive”?

  18. “that someone’s worldview genuinely acknowledges the full and equal human dignity of, say, a woman of color, rather than using women-of-color-for-whom-I-do-service as a way of assuring myself of my own righteousness and innocence in a world of systematic injustice.”


  19. I wanted to chime in, but at this point, I don’t really have much to add… Bridget, Sarah, APS, Tim M.— AMEN. Y’all have really gotten at the heart of what I am trying to point to. Thank you.

  20. I don’t know if this is helpful at all, Tim F, but here goes…

    Let’s take the conversation back to women, which is where we started, as opposed to refugees. Not that I wouldn’t love to talk about refugees in some other venue, but that is not where we are in this conversation, we are talking about something specific, that is whether or not women feel welcome in certain academic theological venues created by and dominated by men who have made non-binding “guidelines” and “gestures” that they perceive to be welcoming to women, and their subsequent angst at the women not showing up for it, which could be called soul-searching, except that it seems to fail to shine the spotlight in the most pertinent places.
    As regards this specific problem, the suggestions of James McCarty which Brandy quotes at length at the end of this post are quite specific, and most likely to be helpful. Spending significant amounts of time learning from women theologians, both in person and through their writings, and then seeking them out as collaborators will go a long way towards making this a non-issue. Not immediately – not before the next meeting of AAR and so on – but over the next decade the results of young male theologians faithfully pursuing such a course of action would be a scene changer.

    In a more general sense than the above – white male culture in the United States has often been one of individual competition, with the expectation of both short and long term results in bettering one’s rank. This is conducive neither to doing one’s best work, nor to living a Christ-centered life. This is a serious disadvantage to solving not just the problem at hand, but so many problems. Releasing one’s grip on both “what other’s think of me” and “proving what I can do,” in favor of *collaborating with* others unlike us, because that will both improve the quality of what we produce and improve our understanding of ourselves and Jesus — that is a lifelong struggle for most of us — for me, too, and I’m not a guy.

  21. Bridget,

    Sincere thanks for the comments and questions you addressed to me.

    Wouldn’t we have to look and see under each specific person’s action if they are or are not “using women-of-color-for-whom-I-do-service as a way of assuring myself of my own righteousness and innocence in a world of systematic injustice.” We cannot make that assertion a priori, I think, if our goal is to attend to particular bodies.

    I agree that it’s common place to selfishly serve he marginalized in order to shore up an identity, and I do wrestle with my own concerns about how I have engaged in such relationships.

    When you say have our theologies be “changed,” you seem to presume that the change is for the better. Could you please elaborate on what better would be and how you come to discern that? I can certainly conceive of changes for the worse based on encounters with the marginalized and can share stories about it. Also, on “being taken seriously,” what exactly does that mean? That can be taken to sound like “if I don’t change your mind, you are perpetuating injustice.” I don’t think that’s what you mean, but I want to understand more about how you think it’s different. Again, the notion of change appears. What kind of change or conversion are we talking about or presuming?

    These are honest questions and just trying to mince words.

  22. Sarah,

    That does help and begins to flesh out, I think, answers to the questions I posed to Bridget. Thank you.

    I might have missed the simplicity of what is being called for, that is if I’m reading you rightly here, Sarah. I read previous posts as calling for more than inclusion and collaboration, though they certainly include that. I read them as a critique seeking to overturn the dominant theological discourse(s) that get named “systematic theology.” Perhaps I don’t even know what anyone is saying, including myself!

  23. This conversation is happening in so many places and with ridiculous speed – it’s difficult to keep up. I just want to reiterate the gratitude already expressed for your posts, Brandy. You mention both Carter and Cone and I think their work is absolutely vital here. At the book panel at AAR on Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Carter made a comment that I really liked and I think has a lot of theological potential. Namely, that I can’t change the material reality that I am white, but that I must be *more than* white. The same thing could be said of gender, I think. White-males are white-males, and we certainly don’t want to let the pendulum swing too far unleashing a reflexive racism against white-males, but white-males must be *more than* white-males.

  24. This is one of the most fruitful conversations I’ve read here or anywhere, and I’ve learned a lot and gotten a lot to think about. Heterosexual white male privilege and power is something I struggle with every day as a teacher and a scholar and a person. Thanks so much Brandy, for your posts, questions, and reflections.

  25. Brandy, I can’t say how proud I am of you. You are a theologian. Period. You are like Gladys Knight at her 1970s musical best, and I’m just honored to be one of the Pips, one of the backup singers, behind your sonorous theological voice, offering a “leavin’ on the midnight train…” and a “ohh ohh…” every now and then behind your improvisations. (NB: Anybody who’s interested, check out Gladys Knight singing her famous song “Midnight Train to Georgia” on YouTube and you’ll catch my references and hear another genius voice.) Brandy, keep doing yo’ thang, my sista.

  26. One of the disappointing things that happened over the years is that internet/blog conversation has grown increasingly truncated: from writing a response post, to simply commenting, to tweeting, and now to Facebook conversations that often lock out the instigating author. I’m all for good conversation in the comments of AUFS, and definitely on-board with a “Constitutional Congress” when it comes to re-writing our policy; but more than that even I’d like to see substantive and/or creative conversations occur between posts here and elsewhere. I, of course, have no power over making this occur, but just as I hope more than an AAR group grows from all this, I am optimistic (in my own vaguely nihilistic way) that something more interesting may yet occur.

  27. Brandy-Thank you for the intellectual engagement over the last few days, and for inviting my response to this 3d posting. So much good has come of this intense and complex conversation as it jumped from site to site around the internet, even if, as you have noted, there’s been quite a few frustrating moments as well. I really appreciate the charity with which you’ve read and challenged my original post–in my estimation, the most courageous thing scholars can offer one another is charitable and rigorous critique. Maybe others will learn from your example.

    I hear what you’re saying about your worries about defensiveness regarding “tradition,” and I think our views on tradition are similar if I’m reading you accurately–not a “thing” to be defended but a historied, narrated space for discourse and engagement.

    I also am mostly on board with your use of Butler here–“troubling” the binary essences is precisely what I’m after, even if I have a hope and faith that this “trouble” has its telos in God. This is what I mean by “divinely given human essence.” The human has its origin and end, and so its essence, as an idea within the divine Logos. The play of genders within creation–a play that turns violent in the false assumption that our cultural judgments about gender are, in fact, naming male and female essences–the true play of gender is, I think, both anarchic and teleologically-oriented towards the Logos from which we come. There are aspects of this that I didn’t state as clearly in my original post as I might have, and your questions and challenges have made me think things through with greater care. So, again, thank you. –Tony

  28. The work of clarification is, of course, already a big deal in the case of Tony’s post — he wanted to talk about a Butlerian play of gender, but wound up expressing that point unclearly in terms of the most egregious possible gender essentialism, centering his characterization of the respective genders around a rape scene that somehow nevertheless expressed something of God’s will for our gendered embodiment. As for “charity,” I would say that Brandy’s decision not to react with disgusted outrage amounted to setting up an entire welfare state to support Tony’s post. But thank God we’ve clarified that Tony held the right view deep down, all along! How wonderful that Brandy could serve as midwife for the fuller self-realization of his preexistent correct opinions!

    I’m reminded of a quote from Knocked Up (a film that is obviously hugely problematic on gender, but still): “You think you’re not mean because you don’t yell, but this is mean.” Just because you’ve been gracious and courteous and said that you’ve learned a lot from this exchange doesn’t mean that you’ve even remotely heard what people are saying to you.

  29. It’s a relief, too, to learn that Christianity has such a fluid and dynamic sense of gender — deep down, of course — because I would’ve gotten a totally different impression from Christianity’s history of denigrating women, driving people of non-normative sexuality to suicide, etc., etc. I’m sure all of that was just an unfortunate misunderstanding, though perhaps these terrible events can be redeemed by serving as an occasion for a white dude to realize the precise way in which Christianity has always been right. Less charitable intellects might look at the wreckage strewn in the path of Christianity’s “engagement” with issues of gender and think that there’s something that needs to fundamentally change!

  30. I know I might seem sarcastic and angry and thus completely out of step with the wonderfully charitable Brandy who has helped Tony to clarify his views so much and from whom we all — me above all! — have so much to learn. But I think I might be in step with the actual Brandy who, you know, wrote this post — and expressed anger and frustration and a sense of not being heard.

  31. I may be ready to say something here now. It’s clear that what I have said has set off some fuses, notably more among men than among women, or maybe the men have just found it easier to speak. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this over the last few days, and it’s worn heavily on me. Really tempted to despair. It may be that the best thing I can do is stay silent, but several have encouraged me to speak. But what to say? How do I begin to speak of something that is as deep in me as my breath and yet is taken by so many as toxic? It may be that the most helpful thing I can say is something a little more autobiographical.

    My experience in my theological education, and in more than a few professional gatherings since then, is that the kind of feminist and queer-theoretical and race-theoretical discourse that has been voiced over the last several days on facebook and here actually WAS the mainstream discourse, and so the problem that Brandy points to above sounds all too familiar to me, just with the terms reversed. I did have to take account of those forms of discourse, but that mainstream discourse could afford to ignore the questions I was interested in, mostly because it seemed that everyone knew, for example, that ancient and medieval theological discourse was patriarchal and oppressive, or that scholastic theology was hopelessly essentialist, or…. The thing was (and is) that these voices in the past have always seemed to me more varied, more contested, more interesting, and more difficult to pin down than my colleagues seemed to conclude. I have forever been fascinated by the fact that renewal within the church has usually begun in or issued from a movement of return, of ressourcement. The tricky thing I discovered was that ressourcement is risky business, because you never know what new dimension of the Gospel is going to be set loose upon the world and shake it up more than a bit. To me, every bit of study of the church’s past I have done bears witness, not to tradition as closure or the securing of identity, and certainly not of the securing of God, but to a ceaseless capacity to expand and to deepen, to be self-critical and still hopeful in the face of failure and violence. Rowan Williams says something in his book *Why Study the Past?* to the effect that to study the history of the church can provoke theological wonder that, for all the failure and bad motives and misdirections, somehow, there’s a story to tell at all… a helpful indicator that only God could hold this together as one story. For me, that ceaseless capacity is rooted in the faith and the community of faith that begins with Jesus and is passed on from generation to generation, each failing but each being ministered to, as well. And, in that light, theological study for me has always had a kind of rabbinic quality — entering into a conversation or an argument or discussion that has begun long ago, patiently learning the vocabulary and grammar of the conversation, and finding that our present needs, though different from those of the past, are brought into some kind of clarifying light when taken up in the context of that wisdom tradition. What Steven Fraade calls a kind of restless traditionality in talmudic study. Theological study is a kind of chevrutah, a fellowship of study that argues over the books on the table. What it means for this particular kind of “fellowship of study” to be Christian theology is to learn the grammar and vocabulary that I will synechochically call the creeds.

    The creeds , I think, are the best resources we have to prevent ourselves from ‘securing God’ — as Nicholas Lash says, they give us “protocols against idolatry.” The paradox to me is that the ‘tradition’s’ protocols against idolatry are so important precisely in the way that they can educate/illuminate/train us in how to live in the oh-so-insecure present moment, to respond to the cry of the “widow, the orphan, and the stranger” in our midst, without securing identity, securing the future, or securing God. I know it sounds crazy, but this kind of ‘tradition’ is, to me, the only way I know of to keep ourselves in that vertiginous space of vulnerability before God and therefore before each other. Justice and peace, I believe, can only come from that kind of space. I believe that a critical theory that rejects that kind of tradition in the name of justice will find it hard not to devolve into another ideology of violence. So, one could just as easily call them “protocols against ideology.” It’s true to say that the churches have succumbed to ideologies of violence in the past and present, but, when they find their way out of it, if they do, it’s through a passionate return to these protocols… or, more properly, through a passionate return to the discipleship that these protocols engender. That’s why they can’t be dismissed or written off as tools of white male power. For me, they’re too important; they’re a gift we’ve been given to strip away our false gods, past and present.

    Efforts to say such things have often led, not necessarily to dismissal, but more often to polite nods of feigned interest, because it just sounded too fusty and conservative. And then I think of one of my closest friends in graduate school, who came to study ministry, and found her faith in credal doctrines like the hypostatic union, that God truly became human, two natures and one person, ridiculed and dismissed by her professors and peers for being teleological, essentialist, and hegemonic. She was made to feel that, as a woman, she was a traitor to her gender to hold such beliefs. Her faith was torn to shreds, and, nearly twenty years later, she hasn’t recovered. That doesn’t match the deep tragedy that Brandy speaks of in her blog post above, but I’m not trying to match tragedy for tragedy. In fact, if I’ve been reluctant to engage in this kind of personal discourse until now, it’s because I worry that some will say something like, “oh, poor white male of privilege! I’m sorry you had a tough time, but at least you don’t labor under millennia of oppression,” and then stop listening. I can’t respond to that. I don’t know how. I guess I just want to say that I’ve seen ideological attacks go both ways, with equal vehemence and the same capacity to tear down.

    I’m spent after this, folks. I’m sure some will find a lot in this that will frustrate and infuriate. I hope it won’t frighten. But, believe it or not, I usually prefer silence, and am happy to return to that. I wish I believed that my contributions to this last 48 hours have helped the conversation move forward; I fear they’ve only confirmed some people’s worries. Maybe we can take refuge in Jesus’s prayer, ut unum sint. Any time now, Jesus, would be alright…

  32. If I can go on an only somewhat relevant tangent; I want to ask Brandy (but I suppose it’s an open question), where do you see the place and role of queer theologies in relation to feminist theology? Are they just separate paths towards fulfilling 3:28, or is there a deeper relationship? The first half of §2 from the post struck me as having strong resonances with the idea of unsettling gender identities that seems to be the principal theme of queer theology, and yet, in my mind, I’ve had trouble thinking feminist and queer theology together; they remain parallel discourses, both oriented towards the end of gender-related and sexual oppression, with only occasional points of contact. For example, I guess when Gerard Loughlin provides via Bataille and Balthasar a queer reading of the Trinity (in the 1998 original Radical Orthodoxy volume, he doesn’t say it explicitly but I think it’s a pretty queer) or when Mark Jordan reflects upon the sexed nature of the Incarnate body in Queer Theology, I can’t discern what implications these would have for feminist theology. Conversely, when I try to think about how feminist theology would impact its queer counterpart, I’m at a loss for ideas.

    Oh, and before I forget, great post and great series, thank you for composing and publishing these.

  33. I read the Enuma Elish this week and couldn’t help wondering over the comparison between its creation myth and the larger practice of traditional/masculine based/biased theology as it is expressed in such conversations (and immediately I am thinking of Adam’s response to Anthony B here). I am noticing in the Ancient Near Eastern epics the protagonists’s strong devotion to the father-god, which cannot be compromised (I am guessing this is common in older myths). In the Enuma Elish Marduk engages Tiamat (feminine and ‘chaotic’). Tiamat is dismantled and dissected in order to create a substantive good. So, tradition/orthodoxy can somehow ‘respect/acknowledge’ the materials of the more formless, process-orientated reality but it must pass through the central signifier to take on any constructive value. Tradition remains impervious as Adam says, yes, thank-you for the engagement you can see now how my expression was correct all along.
    The Christian origin myths have their issues but they do read quite starkly compared to some of their contemporaries (allowing God’s presence to be identified in the darkness above the waters). I am not sure it is helpful to identify when the ‘swap’ might have occurred but a great deal of traditional theology seems to have adopted aspects of its neighbouring origin myth.

  34. “Just because you’ve been gracious and courteous and said that you’ve learned a lot from this exchange doesn’t mean that you’ve even remotely heard what people are saying to you.”

    Thank you Adam. For Brandy’s post and this whole exchange to devolve into a kumbaya of decency and charitable dialogue is a violent misreading of Brandy’s post (couched in such nice language, which makes the misreading more, not less, invidious). It’s like people could live with some of the suggestions Brandy ended with in the conclusion (or rather, don’t need to vehemently react against them immediately) and then decided that this was all Brandy was after in the first place. Which is convenient since it continues to let people ignore the entire second post regarding the history and materiality of theological discourse, which Brandy explicitly mentioned again in this post: “This was what I hoped to really press into in my second post: attention to the material and social realities surrounding these conversations, but it seems to not have really taken—that is, I think, as the need to rely again on the totemic powers of my pink penis indicate, my point has been missed entirely.”

    “fuck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop.” If we respond to the story of Brian by saying that the Christian teleological order and its future aren’t necessarily as horrifying as people seem to think, then we’ve missed Brandy’s point (that the social death Brian experienced was at seminary, by Christians) and missed that the “fuck you” is spoken to us. Much more is at stake than clarifying our ideas or asking people to be polite in conversation.

    And there are many people who are rightfully quite skeptical about all these appeals to “tradition” as a “narrated space” because it is a space that is suffocating and stifling so many people (the repeated point, again and again, that it’s not about tradition as a source but about how the “turn to tradition” plays itself out materially).

    Which is just another way to echo Adam’s frustration that people assume being polite means they’ve actually heard what people are saying.

  35. The problem with “tradition” (as it has been used in this debate) is not that it does take others into account … Some will defend tradition by saying, yes, it does take others into account. No doubt it does. In fact, that precisely *is* tradition — holding onto what one already possesses precisely by asking / making others into account. In short, when one takes tradition as the enemy, it is not because it has no account of the present, it is because it has already accounted for the future.

  36. Kevin,

    OK, so you appeal in a certain sense to your personal experience with finding something constantly renewing in the tradition. Why is it that people pushed to the margins often don’t? When you’re going on such a subjectivist line of reasoning I can’t help but wonder if you need to be a bit more intersubjectie in your judgment. This is what bothered me about some of the goings-ons at TS when someone kept insisting that this conversation was lagging behind work done by two men (Rowan Williams and some other guy I can’t remeber) and Sarah Coakely. All white, mostly British, and this claim being made without any self-criticism about why that might be a problem…

  37. I don’t know Sarah Coakely, but I would be willing to bet that when she told Tony there was a gender subtext he should work on, she may have been gently implying that there was a pretty fucked up gender subtext that he should really take a hard look at. Of course, he took it that he was in some sense “already there” with the gender issue — with results that we have all pondered with a certain horror.

  38. I think this thread could benefit from some of the concrete recommendations made by Holly Taylor Coolman on the Theology Studio FB discussion (and to the Women in Theology and biblical studies FB group). Including, #6 “eschew sarcasm.” Her comments were along the lines of the last part of Brandy’s post, directed toward those who need to begin to really engage the marginalized and the theological work being done by them, but I think are also relevant for some here, who are already engaging those voices. I realize the need for a “prophetic stance” at times, which I think Brandy has embodied well, but Adam’s response to Tony seems to me nothing less than discursive violence and shuts down any possibility for further conversation. Not to mention that glibly using the word “rape” for Christians’ understanding of the virgin birth– however much we might need to interrogate and problematize that doctrine — shows an utter disregard for the faith of millions of people around the world, including many marginalized who would identify closely with it. Certainly the history of Christianity has been problematically intertwined with violence and oppression. For many that means it’s no longer worth trying to retain any of it. But for many of us, it is worthwhile, however much it is a struggle, and this conversation so far (in all the places it’s taken place) had reflected that. I take the discursive violence on display here to be just one more instantiation of exactly the kinds of problems with academic discourse (including theology, but also other disciplines) we’ve been discussing in these threads. I am a woman, and I am trembling as I write this, knowing I’m opening myself up to the same kind of attacks.

  39. I wasn’t referring to the virgin birth as rape — I was referring to Tony’s use of the passage about “sons of God” mating with human women. If you read his post, that story actually frames his discussion of the Virgin Mary. I apologize profoundly for the confusion.

  40. On the tone issue, I’m angry with Tony and I think I’m right to be — I don’t know of any other way to respond to him that wouldn’t become yet another prop for his self-congratulation. I am sensitive to the fact that many people, and especially many women, are uncomfortable with that type of rhetoric, though, and I will not indulge in it further. I hope it’s clear that I would never respond in that way to the kinds of concerns Mandy is raising.

  41. My post right about the current discussion goes into further detail on Tony’s (mis)use of that passage and the way it frames his discussion of Mary, if you’re interested. Again, sorry to leave myself open to such an offensive misunderstanding.

  42. I believe Mandy is exactly correct. I find Tony’s response here to be profoundly underwhelming, though I don’t quite read his initial post in the way Adam does (I do resonate with Brandy’s critiques, however, from which I continue to learn). However, Adam, I find your treatment here of him well over the top. More importantly, I see you falling into the same trap that is Brandy’s concern in the first place: you are explicitly speaking for her instead of allowing her to address Tony’s response (to her, not to you) herself. Be silent. Let her have her own voice.

    And for what it’s worth, yes, I’d take Holly’s recommendations in place of AUFS’s comment policy any day of the week.

  43. Hey y’all… I don’t have time to comment right now, but just wanted to say that I’m ‘still here’ following this conversation… I will definitely chime in a bit a little bit later today…

  44. Brad, I think we’re going to disappear down a rabbit hole here, because it’s pretty obvious that you’re also “speaking for Brandy” — as is Mandy, frankly.

    If Brandy wants to explicitly express her opinion of my rant from last night, let her do so. I more or less quoted her directly — her post explicitly expresses anger, frustration, and a sense of not being heard. Meanwhile, people objecting to my tone seem to be basing their objections on a general sense that Brandy is a nice person.

    I don’t think that the emotional rawness of this post is really making an impact on people — it’s as though no one can even hear it. She’s saying that the church and theology is hurting people in profound, irrecovable ways and that the people she’s dialoguing with often don’t seem to give a fuck — and everyone’s praising her for how kind and charitable and nice (how lady-like?) she’s been this whole time.

  45. Brad,
    Aren’t you speaking for Brandy as well (“that is Brandy’s concern in the first place…”), and, in fact, misspeaking for her (in that I am not sure where Brandy has said that her concern is that men are speaking for her instead of allowing–or forcing–her to be the only one to address Tony’s response or sexist discourse)? She has explicitly stated some of her concerns on here and those seem to be what Tony has missed and what Adam is pointing out.

  46. Sorry, my second paragraph got garbled through hasty editing — I wanted to say that it’s totally fair for people to object to my rant if they want, but they should wait for Brandy to explicitly state her view before using her as a rhetorical weapon against me.

  47. Kevin,
    Charitably assuming that you actual want to engage in a dialogue (and having a few minutes while my daughter is playing), here are a few thoughts on your post (which is, in fact, a helpful way of pointing out some of the differences and something that I can tell you put considerable thought and time into, which I very much appreciate).

    “so the problem that Brandy points to above sounds all too familiar to me, just with the terms reversed. I did have to take account of those forms of discourse, but that mainstream discourse could afford to ignore the questions I was interested in”

    I think you are conflating Mandy’s post with Brandy’s here (the term “mainstream” is Mandy’s); Brandy is emphasizing much more the social dynamics at play, in particular, the patterns of social oppression that provide a certain urgency to the theological work (and not just a matter of whose scholarly interests are more prevalent).

    “And, in that light, theological study for me has always had a kind of rabbinic quality — entering into a conversation or an argument or discussion that has begun long ago, patiently learning the vocabulary and grammar of the conversation, and finding that our present needs, though different from those of the past, are brought into some kind of clarifying light when taken up in the context of that wisdom tradition.”

    Can you consider that perhaps the reason you can conceive of this as a “wisdom tradition” is that it wasn’t consistently built and appealed to in ways that secured the oppression of people *like* you? Again, and again, nobody is saying that learning from the past is wrong but rather, given the way appeals to Augustine (or Aquinas or Aristotle) went hand-in-hand with comments about the stupidity of indigenous populations or the inferiority of women (to give a couple examples), we need to be very clear about what we are invoking (and foreclosing) when we appeal to “the tradition.”

    “The creeds , I think, are the best resources we have to prevent ourselves from ‘securing God’ — as Nicholas Lash says, they give us “protocols against idolatry.””

    Again, can you consider why some might be skeptical of this claim when very creedal Christian men went around colonizing the world and reciting and appealing to this Christianity as demonstrating their religious-cultural superiority and right to rule? And, can you see how some might take this comment to be a grossly inadequate response to Brandy’s heartfelt and passionate post (in that it refuses to begin from Brian’s story but seems to point to an answer that all these problems will be sorted out if we just put more emphasis on the creeds and “the tradition”…).

    “I guess I just want to say that I’ve seen ideological attacks go both ways, with equal vehemence and the same capacity to tear down.”

    This kind of “mutuality” is one that prescinds from the concrete dynamics of power (in other words, that the attacks go “both ways” doesn’t mean that the power relationships involved are equivalent, and Brandy is asking us to attend to these dynamics and the way our theological methodologies connect to or ignore them).

  48. To be clear, I meant to say “part of” in that sentence, not that this was all Brandy was talking about. My problem, Adam and Tim, is not for a third party to say, “Tony, you’ve missed Brandy’s point.” I think that’s fair for other discussants to point out, and that’s all I was doing here with regard to Adam’s comments, namely pointing out that an important element of her stated concern was the agency of women in theology, which Adam’s (in my view) continued and excessively disdainful treatment of Tony seemed to me to be inadvertently trampling. And no, I don’t think I’ve done that. I also have no interest in a contest over who is best interpreting Brandy. I simply think enough is enough. Adam’s made his point. Let Brandy speak when she’s ready, or others as they are.

    For the record, I did communicate with Brandy personally to tell her I appreciated her posts, and yes, along with pointing out how helpful she was in delineating some features of TS that I hadn’t noticed (because I hadn’t been much involved or paying much attention), I commended the graciousness and thoughtfulness of her posts; yet this was not because I thought they were appropriate for her as a woman to exhibit, but because they are traits I wish to develop more in my own theological reflection and discourse, and I admire them in various women and men around me. She seemed to take that precisely as I meant it, and I stand by what I said. I consider her intellectual engagement – in both content and manner – to be normative for me, and as I said to her, something I wish to see much more of in theological discourse (particularly online, hence my resonance with Holly’s exhortation).

  49. Brandy, I write very deliberately and carefully, trusting in our friendship and our history. I want my voice not to be heard as booming, but as soft and reticent. I’m not telling you anything, not even “thank you,” though I have told you that already and even then I hoped it was unnecessary for me to do so, hoping as I do that years of smiles between us will be a warmth that you and I may both come to without hesitating. I think theology, particularly systematic theology (which I refuse to call “systematics”), above all is to be written in the mode of listening, of waiting. And it is the marginalized, the lonely, the abandoned, the poor, the queer, the awkward, the misfits, those who are never heard, who are to be heeded above all, or so it seems to me. And so, whatever our desires for them, it is probably too much even to say that it is their flourishing that is to be our object in our attending care for them. That is not to say that it is wrong or foolish or impositional to desire that they flourish. How could we not desire that they flourish? Still, I’m not sure that abiding with the broken and the brokenhearted is to have an object, not even a good one. It may be to yearn and to linger and to offer and to ask and to listen hard and to work experimentally, hypothetically, not lonely, but with an eye to what might shine through the cracks that open as we work together is more than enough. More than enough to set us to work afresh.


  50. When it comes to the discursive issues that have become such a problem in these recent comments, I have to confess that – as a woman – I have extremely mixed and paradoxical feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m with Mandy… I agree that displays of rhetorical violence are really damaging, in conversation. I think this is true, not only of academic (and more specifically, theological) discourse but in any conversational context. On the other hand, reading (for example) Adam’s comments did remind me that – in spite of the gracious tone that the conversation had developed – it was still OK, even necessary, to be angry. There can be something clarifying about a statement with a little bombast, or bluff, or storm, especially when it’s simply a little thorn… not something that’s providing the frame for the discourse itself.

  51. Thank you, Tim M., for thoughtfully engaging Kevin’s post, and not just dismissing it. That makes for fruitful conversation (hopefully).

  52. I think Anger is a really interesting category that potentially has significant methodological import. I think that this gets ignored because the expression of anger usually gets equated as rude or distracting, or as ad hominem, to the real intellectual work that must, for some reason, be done calmly and quietly if it is to be legitimate. But anger has real methodological force. Liberation theology is a case in point here. I think part of the brilliance of the early Cone and other liberationists is that they found a way to think theology not as an abstract expression of beauty or grace or ontological bullshit, but as the expression of real, concrete *anger*. Of course, white theology interpreted this not as a call to actually attend to its own complicity in producing the very structures that create the conditions for anger in the first place. Rather, they dismissed Cone (and others) as “an angry black man” that just needed to calm down a bit if his theology was going to be of use to the broader theological world. I get the feeling that there is a lot of dismissal along the lines of “she’s just an angry feminist that needs to calm down” with regards to Brandy, Butler, et al.

    To me, Tony Bakers post(s) seem utterly inadequate as a desirable mode of theological thinking because, simply put, they’re not angry about anything. He doesn’t even seem angry that his beloved theological tradition has been hijacked by secular thinking or whatever, and he certainly doesn’t come off as *angry* that real females have been disenfranchise or hurt by these sorts of conversations. I think Brandy’s replies to Baker obviously have much, much more import for productive theological thinking because they are actually angry about something, they actually have a passion that speaks to something outside the calm and frankly irrelevant world of systematic theology that doesn’t want to piss off the tradition too much. I’m not suggesting that all theology need be pissed off all the time, but there is something about these conversations that demand a significant space in which anger can be genuinely affirmed and expressed, and legitimized as a viable part of theological method.

  53. Alright, going to try to take a few minutes to chime in—very briefly and very incoherently, mind you, as I am between classes and meetings (I just taught my final theology section of the semester—I gotta say, in light of all these conversations, I pretty much just preached to my students about the value of social context, all these concerns, etc… they didn’t know what they were getting this morning, ha)….

    In short, I—still very much in the spirit of charity and dialogue, **seriously**—want to say that I, agree with what Adam, Tim, and others have said here.

    Tim, echoing one of Adam’s critiques, writes “ “For Brandy’s post and this whole exchange to devolve into a kumbaya of decency and charitable dialogue is a violent misreading of Brandy’s post (couched in such nice language, which makes the misreading more, not less, invidious).”

    Adam then notes, in a comment to someone else, says:

    “Brad, I think we’re going to disappear down a rabbit hole here, because it’s pretty obvious that you’re also “speaking for Brandy” — as is Mandy, frankly. If Brandy wants to explicitly express her opinion of my rant from last night, let her do so. I more or less quoted her directly — her post explicitly expresses anger, frustration, and a sense of not being heard. Meanwhile, people objecting to my tone seem to be basing their objections on a general sense that Brandy is a nice person. I don’t think that the emotional rawness of this post is really making an impact on people — it’s as though no one can even hear it. She’s saying that the church and theology is hurting people in profound, irrecovable ways and that the people she’s dialoguing with often don’t seem to give a fuck — and everyone’s praising her for how kind and charitable and nice (how lady-like?) she’s been this whole time.”

    I think they’re right. And in a way, I want to apologize, to them: because a) I think my kindness/charity/”lady-likeness” was, while in part well-intentioned and in the spirit of dialogue, was also in part out of cowardice—I didn’t want to burn any bridges or hurt anyone’s feelings. I still very much don’t, because, I still don’t want to be mean and because I don’t think it’s really all that helpful, but I’m realizing that it is important to speak, if that makes sense…, and b) relatedly, because I am beginning to realize that anger does not have to foreclose dialogue. I think Dave’s recent comment is really, really helpful in this regard….

    I *am* angry, for many of the reasons that those who’ve been raising concerns alongside me have mentioned. While I continue to worry that sometimes the harshness is, at the very least, not helpful, I resonate with it, and, if I allow myself to feel it, to be honest with myself, I feel that anger…

    {{saying more in a second but wanted to post this, cause the conversation seems to be happening faster than I can type}}

  54. I also have to say that I was really, really grateful for Mandy’s recent comment on one these many conversations on the TS site. In response to one of Tim’s pushbacks to one of her posts, she writes (and I’m posting it here with her permission):

    “First, the autobiographical response. I have been a feminist for 15 years – ushered into feminism by evangelical professors subversively exegeting the Bible and who were deeply engaged with the global South. I have been formally studying theology only 4 ½ years…. I have been shaped by the “Duke tradition,” but have never bought into it wholesale (I honestly didn’t even know it existed before I came here!) I have also taken courses with Dr. Jennings throughout my time (and one course with JCarter), and my thinking has been most recently shaped by Dr. Jennings’ course this semester on Systems and Society in Theology. I say all this to highlight…. my thinking has been on a JOURNEY, and one that has taken a LONG time. Two years ago, despite my feminist commitments, I’m not sure I would have really grasped half of what Brandy has posted. As it is now—having engaged people like Butler, Bourdieu, de Certeau, Sandoval with Dr. Jennings – I feel like new vistas have been opened up for understanding the dynamics of what goes on in theology. But this has taken YEARS of thinking about the dynamics of gender (as a woman), HOURS of reading really challenging material (both existentially and intellectually challenging), and practically flooding Dr. Jennings with my questions and verbal processing.

    Why say all this? Because my post was trying to take seriously three things: 1) the recognition, based on my own journey and the experience of others (and just basic observation of the world), of how people actually are transformed and changed in their ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Namely, it takes a lot of TIME and it takes RELATIONSHIP. One facebook conversation is not going to change people’s minds. Reading one book on feminist theology won’t do it either. Granted, some people need a kick in the ass to go read those books or to have those conversations. But I think we can all attest that kicks in the ass are way more effective when they happen in the context of a relationship. Otherwise, we easily dismiss the person who’s trying to give us that kick – they don’t understand us, they’re coming from a totally different context, etc., etc. In other words, responding sarcastically and polemically to someone you disagree with on a facebook post (I do not mean “you” personally) is not likely to get anyone anywhere. There is, however, a place for protest and for being prophetic (in the sense of calling people out on injustice), which is an important piece that your response calls attention to. More on that below.

    My post was also trying to take seriously (2) something that both JKC and Brandy said at different points, which is that this is not about individual white males, but about something much bigger and much more subtle. Something that white males perpetuate, certainly. But at the end of the day, we are dealing with real people, not an abstract oppressive system nor nameless, faceless “killers” (ref. Townes). This leads in to the 3rd point – following on Bourdieu and Butler, but paraphrasing in my own terms, I want to take seriously the ways in which we are formed without even seeing that we’ve been formed that way. This has been part of my own journey narrated above. So many things – SO many – that we take for granted as “given,” and we don’t even realized we’re taking them for granted, they are just the way we see the world. My own sensitivity to this reality was fundamentally formed, again, through engaging other cultures. How do you (try to) immerse yourself in South Africa, e.g., and walk in solidarity with Zulu friends whose community has experienced centuries of oppression and exploitation by white people, when at every meal the women serve the men and the men eat first? What does it mean to treat them with respect, to learn from them, and yet to challenge an oppressive practice that they simply take as “given”? Obviously, there are many dynamics there that are different than confronting male theologians on their “givens” and narrowness of vision. But the principle of how people work is similar – screaming louder or more violently at someone who just doesn’t see something is not going to make them all of a sudden see it. More likely, it’s going to make them stop trying.

    At the same time, I recognize the need for protest and prophetic voices. It’s all over Scripture. Jesus called the religious leaders “brood of vipers” and other “violent” rhetoric….and at the same time said love your enemies and blessed are the peacemakers. I’m not sure what this prophetic voice is supposed to look like. Sometimes I think maybe we just all have our different roles to play. But I’m not sure that’s really the answer. I have wrestled with this a lot over the past few years, as my own personality tendency is to try to make peace and build bridges, but so many at Duke are more “prophetic” voices. I have dialogued over and over with Dr. Jennings about what taking up these concerns will look like in my theological work. Otherwise, I start to drown in the feeling like I need to just do theology the way he’s doing it. And I know the power differential matters. And I don’t want to be in solidarity with the “killers.” At the same time, I can’t go as far as Emilie Townes in saying that “i am not interested in them / except for how to decrease their numbers.” Not when Jesus prayed for those who killed him.”

    I wanted to post it here on the comments cause I know some of us at aufs aren’t on facebook, and because I think it is directly related to some of the stuff we’re talking about here, in a super helpful way.

    So, I want to say thanks to mandy, for reminding me of the importance of time, and the fact that this is all a journey. Hell, I was SUCH a different person in high school (if you’ve ever seen Jesus Camp, that was pretty much my life, no lie), then I was in college, then I was in div school, then I am now, and then I will be a few years from now. I forget that.

    Though, in some ways echoing what Tim said in response and what Dave said about anger, I just still want to hold the light, so to speak, on questions of context and power and positionality. In a sense, Mandy, you reminded me of that, but I can’t help but worry just a little bit how this rejoinder doesn’t fully take those things into account—which is not to say I don’t think it is right, I think you are *spot on.* But, I just worry that this puts the onus on those who are marginalized, that they need to be the ones to “listen” to be patient, to be open to dialogue. And that just worries me, and scares me a little, and makes me sad. I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, but I just wonder, how can we take what you said very very seriously but still think about how power plays into all this, and how it should—and how anger might be not only justified, but a useful tool for dialogue.

  55. Just to clarify, when I said “couched in such nice language” I was referring to their polite mis/non-reading, not your post. I was just trying to witness that I heard the anger but people were flying by the “fuck you” and only holding onto the “listen.” And no need to apologize. At all. Your original post was brilliant. And also pretty damn clear.

  56. Thanks, Brandy. And I’m open to the possibility that I need to be *more* angry. I just want to do it in a way that’s faithful and not actually self-serving—while seemingly being about serving others. I’m not saying anyone here is doing that, just knowing my own tendencies. Thanks to all for reminding me that in some form anger at injustice needs to have a place in all of this. I’m just still figuring out what that ought to look like.

  57. I want to be crystal clear about something here, in part because I think I’m being lumped into the “let’s all be polite so we don’t offend” category. I’m interested in no such thing. Liberation ethics has been very formative for me, and I have learned and continue to learn to submit myself and my own theological presuppositions and constructs to the anger that stems both from personal suffering and from prophetic critique of those who are marginalized and oppressed. I do not overlook the anger or angst of Brandy’s post, nor the work of those like Cone, Butler, Sobrino, Carter, Johnson, Massingale (my own teacher), or the voices at, say WIT. My own church and its wider denomination are carefully thinking through the claims that LGBQT experience has upon us within the context of Christian solidarity, fellowship, and theological reflection. I am angry, too, on behalf of immigrants and on behalf of the Native American nations who continue to be managed as conquered peoples by our government. I want these relations and structures to be set right, and I care about how the people of these identities and communities view their situation, my situation, and I see my own work as governed by how they think I should go about working with them for the setting right of all things in Christ. That is my earnest conviction.

    Yet I hear a great deal of vitriol from fellow theological thinkers and doers against those (of us, perhaps) who do not yet understand things as they do, who haven’t make quite all the same theological moves as they. Their language (whether in comments or in comment policies) is unfailingly condemnatory and accusatory and without much in the way of nuance or any attempt to understand the full motivations behind the comments of their interlocutors. They seem to be less than content with leading others to a fuller understanding of their own convictions and would rather revel in various levels of verbal abuse, as though public humiliation is the avenue toward correcting unjust power differentials (and not even as a last resort when all other dialogue has failed). Their anger may well be born of a growing awareness of deep and longstanding injustices entrenched in both our societies and our discipline, but it so often seems to be exercised against those who are actually attempting to engage them out of interest in the matters at hand, genuine care for the persons involved, and an authentic desire to be changed.

    And in every case I have in mind, those perpetrating this vitriol are white men.

    I don’t know if the vitriol and accusations stem from disgust with their own erstwhile selves and others who seem to echo their former (now rejected) convictions; I know I’ve been guilty of that at times with regard to nationalism, etc. Perhaps it’s impatience with people who cannot think at their “level” or who haven’t learned to attend to their own language in ways the accusers currently see fit (of course, this will change over time and in several years currently accepted language may be considered just as suspect). Whatever it is, it does little more than crowd out the voices of those to whom we really need to be listening, and it embitters or shuts down dialogue in the meantime. To put it simply, I have very little interest in white men telling me what I ought to think in this context. Tell us how you’ve come to your own understanding (like Tim’s post on FB about the Duke lacrosse scandal) and how you learned to think differently. Tell us the tangible ways in which you’re working this out so we can continue to learn what this looks like on the ground. Introduce us to the voices to whom we should be listening. If you are justly angry, do explain why. But then be silent. Step to the side and allow transformative dialogue to take place between the voices of the marginalized and those who need to learn from them and be changed by God’s revelation through them. As I’m sure you know, you’re still learning, too. Contribute to the richness of the dialogue, but please stop presuming to govern it.

  58. Thanks for the affirmation, Brandy, though I want to echo Tim and say that I’m not sure why you’re apologizing.

    Now that we’ve opened the anger issue, I feel that I should also be clear and say that I don’t want to be in dialogue with Tony Baker, nor should anyone feel obligated to reach out to any particular person as an end in itself. So my rant against him was not so much an invitation for him to respond as a drawing of a line in the sand — and I think that has to be valid and okay under at least some circumstances (though we can surely dispute whether it was warranted in this case). There has to come a point where, as I think someone said in a previous comment thread, you shake the dust from your feet.

  59. Brad,

    I have written about that here on the blog. In fact, a lot. I will point out that, while we do this in the open, Tony Baker, Peter Candler, Greg Voiles and Daniel Wade McClain are currently engaged in far more acidic vitriol on a closed Facebook wall. I think this sort of difference does matter, as one is an instance of anger in the public domain, a kind of openness to anger from marginlized voices to be directed at us (and I won’t go into my own experiences here, my white maleness is a bit queered, but I accept that with a job and my career I am a White Male in this conversation for sure), a kind of emphasis on equality, that isn’t present in the splitting of a public and private realm of this conversation. Where the policy is to be “oh I’m listening” on TS and then get together with the boys and talk shit in private. This difference really does matter to me. Would you agree with that?

  60. Adam, it’s not just you (and it’s not just in this most recent discussion). And why in the world would I feel welcome to just “ask” on this blog, considering your dialogue style and comment policy? Even here, you call my honest and earnest attempt at dialogue a “patronizing psychological theory”; so if I suspect everything I say will be taken in such a way, why would I even bother here?

  61. Sorry, I deleted my last comment to Brad A. before I saw he responded, because I caught myself indulging in sarcasm, which I had promised not to do.

    We are working on changing the comment policy, but meanwhile: you are commenting a lot for someone who is too intimidated to even ask a question! If you want to know why I have such a polemic against Radical Orthodoxy, there are two levels. Intellectually, I believe that they represent the most radical form of epistemic closure I have ever encountered in the academic world — and Tony’s responses throughout this debate are a case in point, as I pointed out in detail in my rant. They already have all the right answers, already know everything — they alone “account for” everything, while their opponents are only trying and failing to be properly Radically Orthodox. I just find that to be incredibly toxic and terrible. The second level is personal: Tony Baker has consistently belittled and demeaned me in public. Milbank has denounced me as a second-rate thinker in an interview with a publication that has a much vaster reach than anything I’ve ever done. And I’ve gotten off easy! I know of people who’ve been essentially blacklisted, young scholars whose careers have been derailed and ruined because they dared to deviate from the Radical Orthodox line, schools that have been torn apart by Radox takeover attempts, etc., etc.

    I refuse to accept the idea that my “virtiolic tone” is somehow morally equivalent to all that. I refuse to believe that I am in the wrong for reacting negatively and harshly to that kind of intellecual dishonesty and personal mistreatment. And it’s insulting for me to read your insinuations that the only way to account for my reaction is to posit some kind of unresolved psychological issues — which of course you’ll now say you were never implying, and how dare I…

  62. Absolutely, Anthony, and I personally would have even less patience with what you describe on FB (which I haven’t witnessed, of course, since it’s closed). I’d take honest and open over disingenuous any day, to be sure.

    I guess hospitality is just really important to me, a critical (and too often missing) ingredient of genuine theological dialogue. I don’t think anger and kindness are mutually exclusive; I think they are an incredibly powerful combination. And I say this because it is precisely what initiated my own, arguably adolescent but ongoing, transformation.

  63. Brad, hospitality is important indeed, but perhaps it is also important when visiting someone’s home to refrain from telling the residents to “be silent” multiple times. Just a (honestly non-sarcastic) thought.

    Also, I find it hard to believe that the majority of people pissed off about white male theologians’ reticence to listen carefully to people at the margins are also white men. You said that this was every case that you “had in mind,” which means you hear this mainly from white men. This may be more indicative of your social location than it is of the actual state of affairs in the world. Another simple thought.

  64. Adam, I actually wasn’t thinking of you in that bit, so please just let go of it.

    I have little interest in defending RO as some monolith entity, much less Milbank, who has veered off in strange directions and more often than not comes across as a first class schmuck. I appreciate certain aspects of it, and I know a number of conscientious, critical thinkers who appropriate elements of it without buying into the whole (and certainly without desiring to be a disciple of Milbank), and without being closed epistemically in any way. These are good people I know, not domineering theologians-by-conquest (and perhaps not even that well known – many are students or outside professional academia altogether). I get you on your disgust with those tactics; I’m very sympathetic to that, not only because of RO, but because I get much the same thing from other groups as well.

    Is your tone here morally equivalent with all that? I don’t know because I haven’t seen all that from the beginning. If your description of the situation is accurate, then of course it isn’t. But my post wasn’t just about AUFS, as this discussion thread isn’t about AUFS. It’s about the nature and contours of contemporary (usually online) dialogue on these issues. I wrote from my own experiences, because I care to still be involved in and changed by these conversations. If what I wrote honestly doesn’t apply to you, then ignore it.

  65. Brennan, I think silence is an important practice, particularly when issues of power are involved. I did not mean to be rude; I meant to be precise for the theological context. As to the other point, I think you’ve misunderstood me. I didn’t say the majority of people angry about this are white men; I said the majority of the vitriol I witness and have received in similar contexts before is from white men. The majority of people I listen to, who are indeed angry, are not white men, but I find fellow white, heterosexual men to be the most unreasonably impatient in dialogue.

  66. Brad A., I don’t know that we can take this much further, but I think you should know that I have rarely felt so consistently lectured at by a commenter — and I don’t think it’s sheer projection on my part. If that’s not how you intend to come across, you need to do some reflection.

  67. I will stop posting now, because I sense I’ve gotten in the way of more important matters, and more important voices. If this part of the discussion is just dead baggage on Brandy’s excellent post, then please delete it.

  68. i’m wondering if there’s a way to have a live, roundtable discussion in the future? this is an important conversation, but it is frankly overwhelming trying to read the sheer number of comments… just my thoughts. mandy and brandy, thank you for what you’ve written (this is SJ btw).

  69. I’m currently stalled on a final paper, so I’m going to add another post here (not sure the logic at play here, as if spending time here will somehow help the paper…).

    Brandy wrote:
    “Ok, sure, so there is engagement with the questions, which assuredly indicates concern for these things. But concern is easy to accomplish—it is, shall we say, quite “passive.” But I have to be honest, I’m a bit disheartened—I’m disheartened at the tone of the conversations; at what I perceive as a desire to secure identity, to secure the future, to secure God; at the defensiveness and lack of self-reflexivity.

    And for me, the method is indicative of the message. Which is why I’m angry. And hurt. And scared. Because this is not the Good News to me. The Good News is not about seeking to justify or defend a tradition that has hurt so, so many people. And please, please here mean—I do not mean, conversely, that we “throw out” tradition. Not in the least. But there is a difference between acknowledging and engaging with tradition, and defending it—how are we engaging with and relying on tradition…we need to examine what we are asking tradition to do, what investments we have in tradition.”

    I’m curious as to what people think, in particular, whether and how these two paragraphs might inform their theological work (“method is indicative of the message” and showing “concern” or merely “listening” is not a sufficient response but in fact angering). It seems like lots of people are on board with listening and being more polite but that doesn’t get to, and can, in fact, I think, block or exclude these central concerns about power, positionality, and context (and how they relate to our theological method / message).

  70. I will take up your good question, Tim M, and I hope I’m in a good enough place to take it on. I do apologize for my perhaps over-wrought sensitivity/niceness in previous posts, which I think are mostly a product of some personal things going on in my life that I doubt most would think relevant to the conversation.

    For me, here’s how it would look:

    My work is in the history of biblical exegesis and its relationship to contemporary biblical exegesis, so I have already told myself that I will intentionally seek out and carefully attend to women in the Christian tradition, both ancient and contemporary. I plan on using a method similar to Mary M. Fulkerson’s approach in Changing the Subject that notes both the power structures at play in the social situations (because power doesn’t look the same in every context) of different particular women but also, and this is a huge also for me, how those women used their own agency and power, albeit limited and predetermined in many ways, to challenge and navigate their world and context in ways that pushed back against the principalities and powers. In the realm of exegesis, I would seek to show how these women readers of Scripture were innovating and handing on Scriptural reading to their contemporaries and their progeny. As for which women I am talking about, there are, of course, the more well known ancients, but I think it would be good to include sermons, which perhaps contain the best figural readings, from contemporary women pastors who are not, at least as far as I know, given much attention in the scholarly realm. And, if I can dig it up, there have to be lesser known ancient and medieval women monks who did writing and biblical exegesis in their monastic settings that would be great to engage for this kind of work.

    Beyond this quite formal sketch it’s difficult to say how it would further impinge on my work simply because, well, I haven’t done it yet. And, it seems to me, that saying or knowing exactly how it would end up playing out would be to close off those voices in advance.

    Is that what you’re after, Tim, Brandy, and others?

  71. It seemed to me too that Brad had mostly Adam in mind. Not knowing your history Adam, with RO personnel and such, it seemed a bit over the top, though not unjustly so. It makes a lot more sense now, your response. That is, I understood the anger at the ‘not getting it’ and now why the dust is being kicked.

    The extra details are helpful for me to see where people are coming from, as a newish reader (this last year). I basically just read aufs, without commenting, as I feel educated enough to follow the discourse but not to contribute (just undergrad in Econ and philosophy-continental focus) That’s fine, I learn a lot. Well, it’s great.

    What I also learn though, is how much of a war there is. With regard to RO, and thinking about grad school, it freaks me out. I don’t think this series has been about a war, maybe an insurrection (the penis is a water gun after all) or non of the above. It is good to be made aware of where the fights are, both in relation to women and academia and RO.

    Anyway, so often blog commenting seems like its coming out of a vacuum that personal history helps clarify…at least in this case

  72. Brandy:

    Picking up on Jordan’s comment, is it indeed a certain kind of feminist “insurrection” that you are calling for here? It seems to me that that word might be very helpfully deployed here.

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