Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Ivone Gebara: "The hierarchy thinks that the Gospel message is a sealed package to deliver to the faithful"
June 25, 2017
Ivone Gebara is one of the main references of feminist theology of the last decades, not only in the Brazilian arena but in the world. She defines herself as a feminist liberation theologian and is aware that this stance determines how she understands Christianity.
Her critical attitude has caused rejection in many church environments, often coming from people who do not inquire into the presuppositions that are the basis of the theological reflection of the Brazilian nun, who has always made clear on which side she stands, that of the marginalized groups within society and the Church itself.
In this interview, Ivone Gebara shows her thoughts regarding the female world within the Catholic Church, which she accuses of being influenced more by cultural models than by Jesus Christ's own message, implying that the attempts at change Pope Francis has wanted to carry out in reference to women are actions which, in her opinion, won't give rise, for now, to anything novel.
Why is it so hard in the Catholic Church to assume a theological view from the female perspective?
The Church has no difficulty in assuming the feminine from its model, that is, from its view of human relationships and the place it has determined that women occupy. In that view, there is an almost ontological priority of men in relation to women, since they are the first image of God, the one which can represent Christ.
This theology is still the current theology and it wasn't necessarily created by the Church, but by the Greco-Roman culture that marked the formation of Christian theology. Cultural processes are very slow and involve a complexity of behaviors and motions that don't always submit to our rationalizations.
I think it will take a long time for egalitarian anthropological change to take place in the world and in the Church.
From your point of view, what were the causes of the attempt to subject women within Christianity and later within Catholicism throughout history?
I think we copied the models of other cultures and we made those models the will of God and of Jesus. And unfortunately most of the theology teaching still administered in the Institutes and Faculties of Theology, and also in the parishes, is done from a hierarchical view of human beings, not just of gender, but of race and social classes too.
The Church doesn't change independently of the world. The Church as an institution would hardly assume a position of justice and gender equality different from that of the world. It even goes to fight the world, believing that it's obeying divine will. It doesn't ask itself whether there is in fact such an unequal and unjust divine will, whether in fact that view doesn't imply maintaining a now ultra-outdated model of power with very marked totalitarian features.
Isn't subjecting women an attitude contrary to the new that Jesus wanted to establish?
Jesus wasn't a feminist. Feminism is a contemporary movement. But in Jesus' tradition, in Jesus' Movement, we find an egalitarian ethical dimension along the lines of individual rights that is an inspiration to the feminist theologies of our time. But it's necessary to have our eyes and ears open to perceive that in the Gospels.
The arrival of Pope Francis brought a new church policy in regard to women. Do you think it's enough with those new attitudes or is something more radical needed? What do you think of the proposal to ordain women deacons?
I don't think Pope Francis has brought a new church policy regarding women. He's brought many important things, but not with respect to women. The female diaconate project is still in the "bain-marie", and I don't think it has the chance to get off paper and out of the meetings in which the same things are discussed eternally.
The Pope rejects the word "feminism", the expression "gender relations", the term "feminist hermeneutics" of the Bible, patriarchalism and other interventions that are important to feminist liberation theology.
He thinks a theology should be done for women, which shows great naiveté in relation to what we have already done in half a century of activity in different parts of the world. I believe that the changes have to take place in the communities, in the barrios, in the daily life of the people before appearing as decrees of the Pope or some bishop.
Can a Church where women are not on an equal plane with men enter into dialogue with today's society?
I believe it's very hard to enter into dialogue with the problems of the world today. And this in part because the hierarchical Church, the one that holds the authority over the Catholic communities, thinks that the message of the Gospel is a sealed package that it's responsible for delivering to the faithful.
They don't open the doors to think about Jesus' heritage for the world of today starting from an ethos of diversity, but at the same time centered on love and respect towards people. The Church's success, with rare exceptions, is still in mass devotion, in miracles, in sanctuaries, that is, in that which is expressed as religiosity that is given for people's consumption.
I don't think this is very educational, especially in current times. It hardly meets the needs of an orphaned people for leaders and care for one another. A people where the hunger for peace and health almost necessarily leads to expecting from superhuman powers what the powers of the earth could offer.
Unfortunately the Pope goes on creating the beatified -- men and women saints -- perhaps even half forced to do so by the conservatives who surround him. But it doesn't seem to me a good path for the growth of collective responsibility in a cruel world like ours.
Lately, you've addressed issues related to ecotheology. Should Christianity deal with this dimension as a fundamental aspect of reflection?
I've worked on several issues of ecotheology, but along an ecofeminist philosophical line, starting from which I stress the interdependence of all things. This undoubtedly requires an interesting interpretation of the Bible and different theological work.
I think the current theology of our Churches barely fixes things. In other words, it includes a fashionable theme in a theological structure from the past as if the urgent revision of concepts were not needed.
Has the encyclical Laudato Si' helped in this theological viewpoint? From it, is there more awareness of the importance of reflection on these aspects?
The encyclical Laudato Si' seems to me a document with important information on issues relating to ecology and especially climate problems, but its theology is inadequate.
In other words, its theology doesn't take up the appeals that the encyclical itself states are being made by the world today. There is an unevenness and a clash of discourses within the text itself.
We have a long way to go and every day it's necessary to take whatever steps are possible.