I finished reading the conclusions of “Hopeloos wit? Een feministische zoektocht naar de bevrijding van God op het kruispunt van racisme and seksisme” (Desperately White? A Feminist Quest for the Liberation of God at the Crossroads of Racism and Sexism), the doctoral thesis of one of our promising woman theologians at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies in Leuven, Anneleen Decoene. Her concern is that “white” feminist theologies are also at risk – and in fact succumb – to being oblivious and oppressive towards the situation and the thinking of non-white theologians … she confronts herself, as a white theologian, belonging to the self-evidently dominant tradition, with other theological movements, such as womanism or Jewish and Muslim feminism. Here is a white, West-European woman, becoming aware of her own prejudices and privileges, and attempting to overcome them. Is this a desperate move? Can one really overcome one’s own prejudice? Can one be fully aware of it?
It’s a question I often ask myself as a theologian – how much are we involved in power games? are we capable of unmasking them by ‘listening’ to our victims – as this victimhood often remains defined by ourselves: is the way we speak about victims not again a power game and a show of our (veiled) superiority? The question is important not only for white feminist theologians who become aware of their own racist or sexist bias, but for theologians in general, particularly in a global world marked by so much contradiction and injustice? What is it that will move “superior theologians” – and I count myself between these materially privileged people – to think and act differently? How would we, as Pharaohs, react to Moses’ plea for his people? How would we, as Pharisees, react to Jesus’ unyielding criticism? Can we do theology while standing in the position of the accused or of the powerful who abuses his or her power, wealth or prestige?
In a sense, this is the ever-recurring core experience of liberation theologies. It is also the experience at the core of the vows in religious life – poverty, obedience, chastity. How do we stand at the foot of the Lord’s cross, as those who continue to crucify him in our selfish power games? How can we not let the fact that we are whiskey priests (Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory”) overrun our commitments to the suffering and excluded people whom our loving God serves?