by Antoinette Gutzler, Taiwan, USA
“The aim of theology done by women in Asia is to transform ourselves, society and the Church into an ‘ekklesia’ – a democratic gathering of free citizens who share in the life and the equality of the reign of God” suggested Dr. Lieve Troch to a group of Asian women theologians gathered at Bangkok, Thailand. However, this aim is often not understood, more so if one speaks as a feminist theologian. In fact, the word “feminist” is looked upon with disdain in many circles and consequently the women’s voices continue to be silenced. “Why do women allow this reality of silence in their lives?” asked Troch, a professor of systematic theology at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, with extensive teaching and grassroots experience in Latin America as well as in parts of Asia, especially Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia.
Dr. Troch called the group to accountability for this silence of women in church life. Her own analysis of the role of religion in women’s lives opened doors to further discussion of reclaiming the Christian “memory” – the memory of Jesus and all the crucified women and men of Asia, also what it means to “respeak” or redefine Christology and Mariology within the Asian context. She provided the women theologians with analytical tools and theological resources for continuing women’s claim to voice and authority within the Church in Asia.
The theological issues which surfaced from these discussions ranged from where poverty and the diverse religiosities of Asia meet to form a distinct theological voice in Asia, to how women theologians meet the crisis/challenge of fundamentalism both within the Church and without. The connection of fundamentalism with the escalating violence against women became painfully clear in the course of the conference discussions. What also became clear is that the voice of Asia’s women can be silent no more. Another issue was the question of how Catholic women theologians in Asia can discover the Asian face of Jesus who, until now, still retains a western face.
Professor Troch invited the Asian women theologians to move from a surface naming of issues to a process of analysis, critique and theological reconstruction. She challenged them to look at how the Church and women in the Church continue to be shaped by classical theology. The movement out of a classical model into the methodology of a liberation/feminist theology led to wide discussion. At times these discussions led to much disagreement and tension, with conflicting views being advanced strongly. But through it all, the conference was characterized by a sense of joy in being together as Catholic women theologians and the honesty of being able to disagree harmoniously. More significantly, the conference was characterized by a seriousness in the search to claim the Catholic women’s voices, their role and authority within the Church.