Brand Christianity seemed to be male, didactic and interested in power at the recent Recovering the Common Good Conference in Wellington. The experience stirred something deep so that many days later my internal world is still bubbling.
A wide range of people gathered at Parliament Buildings to reflect on the place of Christianity in discussions about the common good, described as 'the exercise of political authority for the well-being of the whole of the community, not in the interests of the ruler or one particular section of society.'
Seeking justice in that exercise is central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Chris Marshall said, it's non-negotiable that Christians front up to this responsibility.
However, we were meeting in the old legislative chamber of parliament, a room where only five women had ever been appointed to govern. Out of the twelve speakers at the conference, ten were men and, on the whole, lectured from the front, whilst the rest of us listened politely and rarely interrupted. The symbolism of this started to bother me to the point where I was becoming deaf to the content.
'What do you think about the gender imbalance? You know, mostly male speakers,' I asked a young woman I met in the loos at lunchtime. 'It's what you come to expect in the church,' she said, shrugging her shoulders.
She thought it was better we were talking than not, concerned I was going to make a fuss. I sighed, knowing all too well that sinking feeling that takes over when you're seen as Feminist with a capital F, strident and trouble making.
Back in the 70's there were high hopes that women's voices would count, but as we've aged navigating around the male system has become an art form. Standing there with this young woman, it occurred to me that we've probably passed on that subterfuge to our children without realizing it.
Professor Andrew Bradstock looked tired when I asked him if the organizers from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues had thought about the gender balance. Of course they had. I knew that already. The balancing act is hard.
I started back-tracking, reassuring him that it might only be me or some of the older women who had noticed the imbalance, knowing all the time I was smoothing feathers, trying to appear reasonable, conciliatory, not too strident and doing exactly what women do when they meet the embedded male system head on – turn the whole damn thing on themselves.
Hearing women's voices is problematic, especially when women, in order to survive, begin colluding with the dominant male voices so that the cacophony appears normal, as though this is the way things should be.
Feminist theologian Letty Russell long ago held up the importance of kitchen table theology that begins with ordinary women sharing their stories of faithful struggle in the kitchen.
Kitchen table theology is a great leveler, drawing its strength from a woman's love poured out in the preparation of nourishing food for her family. It's a different kind of reality.
Symbolically, it's an image that offers much to any discussion of the common good and the exploration of alternative visions of society. In practical terms, it's a useful, if challenging model for thinking about how the next conference could be structured.
Second helpings anyone?
Image: Practically Pink Blogspot