Tag Archives: Rosemary Radford Reuther

Happy 90th birthday, 19th Amendment!

Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Ninety years is a relatively short period of time: within memory of people I know, women did not have the right to vote in federal elections.

Unfortunately, by the time that women were gaining the right to vote, women ministers were finding it nearly impossible to find settlements in Unitarian or Universalist churches. There had been a period of a few decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a few dozen women would get settlements in our churches. But by 1920, that period was over. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Unitarian Universalists began ordaining — and settling — women in significant numbers once again.

Maybe we’ve done better in politics than we’ve done in religion. In politics, the fact that we have powerful female politicians on both the left — Nancy Pelosi is a liberal powerhouse — and on the far right — Sarah Palin is a central figure of the Tea Party — is remarkable. In religion, however, most religious groups do not have gender equality among their clergy or equivalent leaders; many religious groups do not allow women to even serve as clergy at all. Sure, Unitarian Universalists have more women ministers than male ministers, but we constitute a tiny fraction of the U.S. population.

In her preface to a 1992 reprinting of Sexism and God-Talk, Rosemary Radford Reuther wrote: “The starting point for feminist theology, perhaps all theology, is ‘cognitive dissidence.’ What is is not what ought to be. Not only that, but what we have been told ought to be is not always what ought to be” [SCM Press: London, p. xix].

The feminist revolution is not even complete within Unitarian Universalism: men still dominate the highest-paying ministry jobs. In many other religious traditions, the feminist revolution has barely begun. Sure, I’m ready to celebrate the 19th Amendment: break out the cake and cookies! And while we’re celebrating that political achievement, let’s figure out how we can do a little cognitive dissidence in religion. Maybe we can figure out how to reach out to feminists in other religious traditions, to offer support if they need it, to learn from them so we can keep moving forward in our own feminist revolution, and perhaps to make progress towards a world where all religions recognize the equality of women and men.

Thinking out loud

Still working on this week’s sermon, even though in general Friday serves as a my sabbath day. The title this week is “The Garden.” One of the texts is Genesis 1.27-28: “[27] So God created humankind in his image,/ in the image of God he created them;/ male and female he created them. [28] God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'” And my topic, as you might have guessed, is ecotheology.

One of the theologians I have been consulting on this topic is Rosemary Radford Reuther, in her book Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. She writes [my reading notes in square brackets]:

…I assume that there is no ready-made ecological spirituality and ethic in past traditions. The ecological crisis is new to human experience. [I.e., Ruether appears to admit the necessity of allowing ongoing revelation to humanity.] This does not mean that humans have not devestated their environment before. But as long as populations remained small and human technology weak, these devestations were remediable by migration, retreat from to-heavy urban centers, or adaptation of new techniques. [This challenges God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” in gen. 1.28.] Nature appeared a huge inexhaustible source of life, and humans small…. The radical nature of this new face of ecological devestation means that all past human traditions are inadequate in the face of it. Whatever useful elements may exist in, for example, Native American or Taoist thought, must be reinterpreted to make them usable in the face of both scientific knowledge and the destructive power of the technology it has made possible.

So one of the challenges of an ecotheology is that we’re going to have to completely rework religious traditions. I’d say this is a task that we Unitarian Universalists should be able to handle, as a non-creedal people who have been pretty willing to rework religious tradition (at least in small ways). Ruether goes on:

…Each tradition is best explored by those who claim community in that tradition [and she means “tradition” more broadly than the narrow confines of, say, Unitarian Universalism]. This does not preclude conversions into other traditions or communication between them…. But the plumbing of each tradition, and its reinterpretation for today’s crises, is a profound task that needs to begin in the context of communities of accountability. Those people for whom Taoism or Pueblo Indian spirituality are their native traditions are those best suited to dig those roots and offer their fruits to the rest of us. Those without these roots should be cautious in claiming plants not our own, respectful of those who speak from within.

So which tradition does Unitarian Universalism belong to? –and no, we aren’t deep or rich enough to claim to be our own tradition. It’s probably best to say we’re a post-Christian tradition, and while we might be post-Christian, we are post-Christian. But although Christianity is often equated with Western religion, that’s not at all true: we can’t forget the Jews; the neo-pagans have been helping us find the remnants of indigenous European traditions; there’s also a small but important secularist tradition that has to be included. Obviously most of our spiritual root system is in Protestant Christianity. But as a post-Christian spirituality, with individual members who are deeply embedded in Christian, Jewish, neo-pagan, and humanist spiritualities, we’re willing to acknowledge that our root system spreads a little more widely. We might be well-placed to mediate the conversation that will inevitably ensue between the different reinterpretations of Western spirituality.

I still don’t have a sermon, though, so I guess I better go back to Genesis 1.27-28 and see what I can do with it.


Mr. Crankypants is baaa-ack. Today, he will be ranting about theology. No fluffy lightweight stuff today, campers — theology.

Other UU bloggers have been taking a quiz that purports to tell you which theologian you most resemble. You can find it at http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=44116 — but really, don’t waste your time, the quiz simply ignores all of Mr. Crankypants’s favorite cranky theologians.

First of all, you know a theology quiz is suspect when they use the term “man” instead of “humanity” — that automatically means that they are not considering cranky feminist theologians like Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, or Rebecca Parker. (Actually, Rebecca Parker is too nice to be called cranky, but she is righteous.)

But it gets worse. The quiz has lots of talk about “Christ,” but very little about “Jesus” — so you can be pretty sure that you’re not going to be compared to Howard Thurman, who tended to use Jesus’ name, not the title later applied to him. The quiz goes on and on about retribution, with nothing about universal salvation, so you know cranky ol’ Hosea Ballou wasn’t considered. No mention of racism or oppression, so you can forget the cranky theolgians who fight oppression like James Cone, Anthony Pinn, or Gustavo Guttierrez.

Not even anything about the struggle between the secular and the religious, so rule out Harvey Cox (who’s not cranky), or Stanley Hauerwas (who has described himself as “the turd in the punchbowl,” and is definitely cranky).

Before Mr. Crankypants was even done with the quiz, he knew the quizmakers hadn’t even considered any of his favorite theolgians — that they were going to try to say Mr. Crankypants was like some dead male German. Sure enough — they said Mr. Crankypants was a 33% match for Jurgen Moltmann. John Calvin was a close second, and Jonathan Edwards was in there somewhere.

Mr. Crankypants can tolerate Edwards (who, although wrong, was plenty cranky, and could write reasonably well besides). But this was one online quiz that was so badly designed.

Now that you know you can skip the quiz, take that time to go and read some good, cranky, paradigm-shattering theology. But not Moltmann….for gosh’s sakes….

((Moltmann. Moltmann?! Grrr. Bet those idots haven’t even read A Black Theology of Liberation.))