In her work En La Lucha, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz provides one of the clearest sketches on the two-decade old development of Mujerista theology, which is an attempt to give voice to marginalized Latinas living in the U.S. The term La lucha (“the struggle”), according to Isasi-Diaz, refers to the daily fight Latinas are engaged in against various forms of oppression, viz. racism, sexism, cultural suppression, and poverty, in the context of the media, the church, academia, or society. As a Latina feminist-liberation theology, Mujerista theology analyzes Latina’s socio-economic situation and their struggle in light of liberative-praxis, utilizing sociological and ethnographical frameworks for personal stories, having as a goal a kind of liberation that gives Latinas consciousness of their spiritual-cultural assets with the space to contribute theologically.
I love Mujerista theology.
Isasi-Diaz’s contextual theology is helpful in three ways. One, her model for liberative-praxis is innovative and crucial for the biblical vision of denouncing the powers of oppression and exposing its injustice. Two, she has personal liberation as her teleological enterprise. Three, she not only critically deconstructs the external context of the Latina community but also the oppressive patterns within, created by a woman’s insecurity. Finally, four, she affirms Mestizaje as a type of eschatological confrontation to a pluralistic world that is trying to figure out how to materialize the idea of “unity-in-diversity” (33). But what I really love the most is how she synthesizes life, praxis, and reflection in her theology, describing it as an organic activity engaged by Latinos in general and Latinas in particular (177).
Ay Isasi, porque? There are some things, however, that I need to question, maybe critique..
Isasi-Diaz’s theological conclusions are definitely insightful. However, I believe that her methodological process is intentionally reductionistic and narrow. In page 5 she states the process of her method as follows:
After establishing our goal as liberation-fullness of life, we begin to delineate the means needed to achieve it. And the starting point for considering the goal is the reality of Latinas: our daily experiences. Using experiences as a basis we begin to create spaces, process, and institutions where we can operate in accord with our goal (5).
Like a person on a journey who looks toward a predetermined destination in the distant horizon, then looks at his or her own feet, and then begins carving the path toward that horizon, Isasi-Diaz engages the theological journey by setting the goal first and then looking at the starting point which is “Latina’s daily experiences” and moving forward. In other words, rather than allowing experiences to become premises, which will then shape the conclusion, Isasi-Diaz first sets the goal–or conclusion–which then shapes her lenses–or the premises which will shape her perception of the world and her experience of it–then she moves toward the goal and creates “spaces, process, and institutions.” The problem, I find, is that by setting the conclusion of the theological task first (liberation) and then moving toward it with its premise (experiences) already determined by the goal does not create more space but rather reduces that space specifically for the agenda of the one theologizing–a very narrow approach. The only space it will create will be for others who have similar experiences and conclusions about what the goal should be. Her method is thus not inclusive but too narrow and exclusive.
Isasi-Diaz’s pre-commitments in her method are evident but building on them theologically requires a word of caution. Her pre-commitments are especially clear in page 167 where she does not hesitate to indicate what they are:
From the very beginning of our attempts to articulate a mujerista theology, the centrality of praxis has been clear… based on an analysis of historical reality perceived through the lens of an option for and commitment to the liberation of Latinas (Isasi-Diaz).
While her pre-commitments are definitely respectable, my question is how can one develop a theology properly with their goal already set as their premise? Or how can one begin theologizing biblically using contextual presuppositions?
I am sure that Isasi-Diaz would reply by saying, “Everyone does it, I just happen to be straight forward about it instead of keeping my agenda hidden or locked in unconsciousness.” True. There is truth to this, but apart from it, I think that by applying her method seriously in the religious context at the expense of a biblical christology produces a model that can become instrumentally dangerous in the hands of the wrong people. This makes it easy for some body to use this framework to support an unblical and oppressive agenda. For example, if my experience as a Latino male is one by which I feel my North American context has (1) siphoned all worth from my culture by appropriating it for economic gain, (2) suppressed my leadership because it is not White, and (3) set my wife’s authority in the household over mine in the name of modern egalitarianism (which contradicts my indigenous warrior roots), then I can easily take Isasi-Diaz’s method and create an indigenous theology, or more preferably a Machismo theology, that would ultimately uphold machismo while it oppresses Latinas … against Isasi-Diaz’s wishes! My cultural identity would experience liberation from modernity, but my female friends would still continue to suffer.
Lastly, is Isasi-Diaz’s theological method even biblical? Is it irreducibly cultural or is it consistent with scripture?
It is very evident that her contextual theology is an integrative theology using both anthropology and the social sciences, and in this sense, it’s difficult to determine whether or not Mujerista theology is biblical. This doesn’t mean that it would be unbiblical in the detrimental sense. Apart from experience and praxis, however, ethnographic tools are Isasi-Diaz’s primary tools. She uses them to develop her convictions and thoughts. I don’t find this expanding the optional possibilities that help create a new history and a more inclusive theology. I see her mostly explaining her thoughts redundantly. I believe this is because the circle of logic she uses is self-reinforcing, narrowly skewed, and limited as a framework that cannot go outside of itself to explore other ways of attaining her teleological mark even though she wants to advocate for inclusivity. I believe that if Isasi-Diaz was to rearrange her thesis for the liberation of Latinas within a Christological framework, not only would she get some of the same conclusions she is already pressing, if not better ones, but her methodological process would become more biblically based, unquestionably Christological, and more safeguarded from others who may want to use it for selfish or oppressive endeavors.
Where do we go from here?
I have been noticing the direction that liberation theology is going. I am concerned. As a liberation theology proponent I strongly believe that a gospel “lived out” is not only more important than a gospel exclusively “thought out.” However, if we do not put an effort in really “thinking out” what “living out” looks like specifically in the narrative of God’s redemption for his people and particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the narrative he pioneered for us, we will find ourselves developing theology upon sandy ground and cultural constructs that will together with the changing times fade away.