Monday 5 February 2007

Meehyun Chung: Breaking Silence

Meehyun Chung, ed., Breaking Silence: Theology from Asian Women (Delhi: ISPCK/EATWOT, 2006), 171 pp.

The Korean theologian Meehyun Chung (whom I have posted about here and here) kindy sent me a copy of her new book, Breaking Silence (jointly published by ISPCK and the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians). The volume brings together ten new essays by feminist theologians from India, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Thailand.

There are some interesting and insightful essays here. In a challenging paper entitled “Beyond Right and Wrong: An Alternative Path to Liberation” (chapter 9), Rose Wu discusses sexual ethics in Hong Kong, and argues (against conservative ethics) that we must “see a different image of God who is strange and new to us as Christians” (p. 151). Pauline Chakkalakal’s discussion, “Mary of Nazareth: An Indian Feminist Theological Perspective” (chapter 2), offers an Indian woman’s perspective on the traditional portrait of Mary “as a pious, docile maiden, symbol of passivity and humility” (p. 30). And Satoko Yamaguchi’s “Christian Feminist Theology in Japan” (chapter 3) discusses the biblical depiction of the “Fatherhood” of God, and observes that “Jesus expresses [God] as ‘Father’ in such a way that would undermine patriarchal social structures from the bottom” (p. 55).

The most important point, however, is raised by Meehyun Chung, in her essay on Korean feminist theology (chapter 5). Here, she offers a timely caution to feminist theology – and the caution applies equally to other contemporary theological approaches: “The experiences of women … must be acknowledged and recognized, but not made into something absolute or advanced as a yardstick for good theology. When human … experiences and feelings are idealized in theology, or made absolute, then the happenings of the cross and resurrection of Christ are weakened and made relative…. This is what happened with the cultural Protestantism of the nineteenth century, which was the ideological background of the expansion of Protestantism and the colonial domination of the West in the name of mission. It was the experience of Western men that was idealized and made into something absolute” (pp. 87-88).

Meehyun Chung’s point here is an urgent one: contemporary theologies need to be more radical – more alert to the function of ideologies – if they are to avoid falling into precisely the kind of ideological absolutism that they are trying to overcome. Theology can and should be carried out from a diversity of social and cultural perspectives – but it is the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, not these perspectives as such, that constitutes the ground and theme of theological reflection.


Shawna Atteberry said...

This looks like a great book. Thanks for posting about it.

Shawna R. B. Atteberry

byron smith said...

Indeed an important warning.

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