Rebecca Chopp in her book The Power to Speak says that women “must develop new discourses for their lives, writing and speaking their stories … through adventure, laughter, openness, freedom, creativity, and friendship.” Boldly she proclaims that feminist theologies are now in the process of remodelling the entire foundation of Christianity, rather than simply questioning or expanding traditional understandings.
Yet how do we do this with the same old language that many in political and religious power insist upon? How do we continue to go about this exciting business when we are – at times – violated, murdered, abused, shut down? How do we reconcile a beautiful vision of flourishing with the reality of a church that will not allow women to hold positions of authority? Or with an economic system that changes very little over time? Or cultural institutions that do not give equal space to the artistic endeavours of women, yet claim it’s all about merit? How can we remodel the entire foundation when there is very little suppleness for our fingers and bodies to work and play with? Do we destroy the joint instead?
Chopp explores some of this in her discussion of language and particularly Word – a concept which has driven the long-standing power/knowledge discourse in the West. This word finds focus in a biblical canon and especially in Jesus the Christ, named as the Word made Flesh. She says that for too long, women have been rendered silent, invisible and insignificant, through the misuse of this Holy Word. Yet the dynamic Words of Women on the margins, in community, in the workplace and at home in creation, rupture this closed Word. And this is done for freedom – “to heal the wounds of human destructiveness, to celebrate differences and particularities, to give life anew.”
It is those dynamic words of love and truth that continue to give me hope, even in the face of great human destructiveness … from the outgoing Archbishop Rowan Williams: your voice matters and will be heard. It’s important not to give up. And Tara Moss and others, who with vigour, challenge the so-called ‘meritocracy’ of our social institutions. And then there is the ongoing work and words of Denise and Bruce Morcombe as they deal with the murder of their boy and continue promoting child safety. As well, Amanda Palmer, whose art and life radiates creative celebration and gives life anew, every fucking time I look and listen! As well as closer to home – special friends like Leanne who pay attention, laugh and interact with my own mixed up, fragile and glimmering words. These people – and many others besides – are Word made Flesh and they are nourishment. They are finding the power to speak.
Chopp again – “Feminism is not somehow just about women; rather, it casts its voice from the margins over the whole of the social-symbolic order, questioning its rules, terms, procedures and practices.”
This is what I love about feminism in general and feminist theology specifically. Growing within me, in us, is a new fluency, with joy, compassion, anger and awareness. Everything is up for grabs! But I reckon it takes a lot of guts to stand in that edgy place, determined, contained and with strength to speak words that will continually deconstruct and reconstruct reality. I don’t often make it there, yet this is the vision of feminism which Chopp and others proclaim, and which many are living out in small and big ways, in different times and circumstances and even in the midst of terrible pain and violence. Can we also, in our communities and inspired by those around us, find a beautiful, clear, strong, truthful voice today?
In Memory of Daniel, Gillian, Sarah.
In Recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
In Solidarity with women in the Church of England who cannot become bishops after the recent vote in the UK.
Rebecca Chopp. The Power to Speak – Feminism, Language, God. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002.
 Chopp, Rebecca. The Power to Speak – Feminism, Language, God. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002, p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 72.
 Ibid., p. 16.