Some time during the 90s I began the journey of challenging those with authority over me. I discovered a lot about others that I would not have considered possible and also discovered both my strengths and my weaknesses. It followed rather naturally that this challenging extended to the Catholic Church and everything that meant to me. Questioning even what I had been taught so that what I believed began to change. The more I critiqued, the more I learned that things were not as kosher or believable at the coal face. This led quite naturally to involvement with We are Church and Woman's Ordination movement.
After my 2005 experiences: the Witness Wagon tour, WOW Conference in Ottawa with this culminating in the ordination of women on the St. Lawrence river, I came home subdued. I had expected to arrive back in South Africa fired up to work harder at trying to expand the whole reform movement in whatever way we possibly could. Instead, I came back with a lot to process and think about - on the spectrum of my experience from happily good to the distressingly bad.
Having taken a while to digest this thoroughly (as well as reflect intensively on the Conference speakers transcripts), I would like to now ask some questions of the whole reform movement.
Are we responding creatively and positively to each other and to the Church? As Church (People of God), are we opening up, expanding, offering the Third Way to all other people? Are we eliminating us/them thinking in all circumstances?
Before anyone can attempt to answer such questions, I believe we have to look at human behaviour and how that affects the basic spectrum of 'needs' or goals within the movement.
We all risk over-simplification when dealing with anything crucial to human beings but I plunge into the deep end!
Walter Wink identified that most human beings prefer two responses to life: Fight or Flight. This concept was basic to his proposal of what he called 'The Third Way' of Jesus Christ.
The Fight or Flight responses are primitive and basic to the survival of the human race. Today these instincts are more subtle and sophisticated but still resorted to by humanity.
At the outset let me say that women need to use them more effectively today than men do because of our traditional 'one-down' position in most societies and cultures. However, we do not progress or grow if we stay in either of those responses too long. Also, it is somewhat evident to me within the reform movement which groups and individuals (and their disciples) lean more heavily on one rather than the other.
I need to digress slightly before I elaborate on this concept.
From my experiences on the Witness Wagon, I became acutely aware of how women today, know-ingly or unknowingly, stand on the shoulders of women who fought for women's rights. We start with the suffragettes quite separate movements on two continents nearly one and a half centuries ago through to those whom we revere as Christian Feminists in this time: women like our keynote speakers at the Conference, Schussler Fiorenza and Radford Ruether, also Mary Hunt and others like Mary Daly, Maya Angelou - to name those who come easily to mind.
On the surface Mary Daly today appears to lean more heavily on the 'flight' response along with all others who no longer align themselves with or choose to remain outside the institutional Church. They may still be fighting for 'equal discipleship' and therefore, justice within the institution but how effective is this? On the other hand, there are groups like Call to Action, VOTF and all those who remain, refusing to self-excommunicate so as to fight for an inclusive, just and accountable Church. Their specific 'agendas' may also present under scrutiny a flight from 'upsetting' the hierarchical boat.
In trying to paint the picture of the fight or flight spectrum, I am not trying to label people or groups unkindly. I am trying to understand where I need to 'fit'. I cannot go back to being an obedient daughter but where do I belong on the spectrum or indeed 'do I belong at all'? I say this from the point of view that my birthright is 'Roman' Catholic.
I see the beautiful, Spirit-filled community of Spiritus Christi as somewhere in between these described polarities. It is an example of courage, neither a flight from the institution nor staying to fight a loosing battle. A Catholic community of possibility, trusting God and just getting on with the life of being "followers", ministering to all God's beloved 'anawim'.
All the examples that can be found illustrate to me that our basic response to reality affects where we are on the spectrum of the whole reform movement.
The Third Way, according to Wink, has to be learned. If we don't learn it we will stay stuck in either fight or flight, or vacillate between the two. We will find that one group within the movement takes a stance in opposition to another. When this occurs, the whole movement slows and perhaps may grind to an end because it will split by the exclusion of the 'other' who sees things differently.
Is this not happening? In some way the WOW movement is split between those who want ordination now and those who are waiting for the thinking of the institutional Church to change, for the Church to bring about a transformed priesthood.
The 'ordination-now' segment is fighting by saying with their actions: "your way is unjust and we will be priests in answer to our calling by the Spirit. If you won't change or even dialogue with us we will do it our way".
The 'waiting-for-renewal' segment is fighting by appealing to the consciences of those with authority: the persistent plea for justice as depicted by the parable of the women and the judge.
'Ordination-now' people are in flight from perceived institutional injustice. 'Waiting' people are in flight from disturbing the system!
If it is not possible to align ourselves under one umbrella movement, operative with unity in diversity, then it is not possible for us to give birth to an 'inclusive church'. Are we practising a better way of being Church now?
Do we believe that the Magisterium embodies something that should be honoured? If not, what would we put in its place that could and would be honoured by most Catholics? The advocates of non-violence taught that if we despised the people who governed us, even then we were accepting the very same premise that upheld apartheid. If we argue that the men filling magisterial posts at the Vatican are morally inferior beings, then we reduce ourselves to their moral level.
If women gain equal status in the Church, would the centralised power-holding hierarchical system be dismantled? I can hardly believe that - the existing signs show 'business as usual'! We know the formulation of doctrine, dogma and canon law has been the task of a few - will we find a better way of doing this essential task? I know that God wills order not chaos.
Is it only the system of governance that needs to be liberated or does the reform movement need liberation? Is it the system that needs deconstruction? Vatican II was the Church's attempt to deconstruct that which was too tightly constructed. What is being kept tightly constructed within the reform movement?
It is only because we submit to the principle of canon law that we demand that unjust laws be made just in the first place. In this case, we are willing to suffer on behalf of a higher law in order to promote transformation and healing of the Body. We need to show those with power that their power is on low-charge i.e. without women 'power' it will never achieve Christ's vision of touching the lives of all from East to West, North to South. As Mary Hunt said: Pope Benedict XVI expressed a theo-political preference for a smaller, more homogenously conservative, some(what)leaner/meaner, church. And, I say, does not 'see' the reason why his 'preference' is prophetic. Mary also said: I (mourn) the failure of religious imagination. To that I would add: I mourn the failure of religious inspiration.
What is the litmus test for authentic Christian 'reform-minded' movements today? What is the purpose of the Third Way? Are we overly identifying with the system and neglecting our duty to the poor and marginalised? Who or what should be transforming us? Richard Rohr says we cannot afford to even hate in our heads!!
Mary Hunt seems to be saying that we must get on with being women-church and her broad criterion for feminist ministry is inspiring. There is very low key feminist ministry within the Roman Catholic Church here in South Africa. Our only option is to align ourselves ecumenically. Certainly a rewarding path I am sure but what sort of demonstrable stand would that be in my fight for justice within the RC?
Miraculous change to the system of governance in South Africa happened without bloodshed because of the groundswell of goodwill amongst the majority of people. We need to ask impelling questions of those who prop up the system; those who are seemingly unaffected by the injustices that we perceive. We must win their respect and not leave ourselves open to their ire. Our questions must be asked individually as well as collectively from our groups. It is not important that we get answers but the right questions will cause others to think and hopefully lead to strong feelings in the cause of fair play etc. Only then will we be able to help them overcome their guilt and shame which holds them captive to the system.
Commitment to equal discipleship, a more equitable system for decision making, liberation within the walls of the Vatican, collegiality, justice in the ranks of the laity is NOT enough - especially if we are attacking existing Church structures and not, at the same time, building on the good that exists.
We must not forget both our own complicity in and our past complacency which allowed the coming to be of that which we now oppose.
I think the 'warnings' in the keynote address of Elisabeth S Fiorenza - as well as Mary Hunt's address - were really saying: We seem to be trying to do 'it' just like those whom we oppose. Another wise quote from Richard Rohr which I think he got from Walter Wink: If you fight something or someone long enough you will become a mirror image of it! You become the very thing that you oppose.
The Third Way is a spiritual journey. It is not an out-of-body experience, it is very much to do with how we should live in the reality of our world. It is Jesus' Way and it is impossible to do alone. The recognition of our dependence throws us into the arms of God and Grace. Then perhaps we can see clearly that the oppressor, the system, is riddled with fragmentation, back-stabbing, personal agendas, clerical careerism - all being power struggles which conspire to work against the system itself!
Walter Wink: Either we find the God who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, or we may have no more sunrises!
We must not lose our prophetic ministry in the quest for change in the institutional Church. We must have a clear vision for a transformed Church and not fight power and authority to gain power and authority. If we are challenging the morality or the legality of church hierarchical impositions, then we have to do so legally and with impeccable morals. Can we achieve this?
I am sure that I have to do whatever I am capable of to fight for equal discipleship. The whole 'women in a one-down position' in whatever situation is something that I will expend all my energy on trying to reverse. However, I am no longer sure that I want to bother with including a transformed ordained priesthood in my agenda. At this moment of my life, I doubt radically the whole concept of clericalism. In other words, I would rather focus on our royal priesthood because Christianity takes place there. Christianity needs the priesthood of the faithful crucially for its very survival let alone growth. It is clear that Christian religious systems, not only Catholicism, need people who understand, live and love their 'royal priesthood' in Christ.
It is the Eucharist that I need which is the only Achilles heel to my thinking and,at heart, I want both sides to win! The strength of the feminist movement is its inclusivity!
Finally, I have worked hard at formulating these questions as well as formulating my reasons for having to do so. I have to acknowledge that I was inspired by two (maybe four) very wise crones who influenced me but also the person who drove me to its completion was Jenny Sprong who is seeking ordination in the Methodist Church here in South Africa. Witnessing her struggle and the accompanying painful soul-searching has been heart rendering. The catalyst to a definite commitment to journeying with all women like her - no matter the cost!
I might add that Jenny has been influenced greatly by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and she is presently pushing both DVD's and transcripts of both our aforementioned two WOW Conference speakers. This is a very 'catholic' action for me as it brings to light that all women need to struggle with the same 'blind' oppressor across the spectrum of religion.
Rosemary Gravenor -- Durban South Africa