Thursday, September 28, 2017

Planetary Solidarity (Grace Ji-Sun Kim & Hilda Koster, eds) - Review

PLANETARY SOLIDARITY: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice.  Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. 392 pages.

As category 5 hurricanes rage and hills are alight with fire, as record temperatures strike and the seas warm, we hear voices loudly denying the reality of climate change. The science is rejected or belittled. At the same time voices arise calling for climate justice. These voices come in many languages, religions, and backgrounds. In my country these voices are being suppressed, but they persist. For those of us who recognize that we are careening toward disaster, it is important to amplify these voices. In this review of Planetary Solidarity, I seek to do just that. Here before us is a collection of essays written by women from across the globe. All are feminist in their orientation, who call for us to reimagine the Christian faith so that we might pay greater attention to the dangers facing us. They invite us to consider whether certain understandings of God and humanity pose a danger to our world. At the same time, they seek to offer us possible avenues of theological discourse that might prove transformative. That these voices come from across the globe—from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, and the islands of the Pacific—is a reminder that this is a truly global issue.


As I noted above Planetary Solidarity is a collection of essays edited by theologians Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda Koster. These essays are an expression of feminist eco-theology. While all the contributors call for "climate justice" and reimagining Christian doctrine as a response, these are not monolithic voices. Some of the authors will sound rather radical to some, while others seem fairly “orthodox.” What they agree upon is this: humans are contributing to this problem, and that Christianity has contributed to this problem because we have tended to so elevate humanity above the rest of creation that we lose sight of the fact that we are intricately part of creation. Whatever uniqueness we have as humans does not mean we are above creation. If we’ll affirm this, then we’re on a pathway to planetary solidarity.

The editors want the readers to understand that that climate change is not only an environmental matter, it is a "moral, political, sociological, and religious concern." It is this latter component that they wish to highlight. While their call for climate justice echoes that Pope Francis’ important encyclical Laudato Sí, it is clear from the essays that deal directly with the encyclical that it doesn’t go far enough. The issue they have with the encyclical is that it fails to give sufficient attention to how climate change affects women, nor does it give attention to women’s voices. Therefore, several the writers seek to rectify this problem.  

As with any edited volume there are differences in approach, depth, and even quality. There are essays here that speak more to me than do others. There are voices that I’m comfortable with than is true of others. My expectation is that other readers might find other voices speaking more to them that others will. So, one must approach these essays with open hearts and minds. 

There is a strong emphasis, as one might expect from a volume focusing on ecotheology, on this world as opposed to the next. For many of the authors giving attention to questions of an afterlife is a distraction at best and at worst rationalizes neglect of creation. This isn’t true of all the contributors, but it does raise a question of whether one must choose between embracing this world and another life. Personally, I seek to embrace both. But, given the tendency to undervalue this life, I understand the challenge.

A key theme in the book is solidarity. This is central to the reimagining of theology. Humans are part of creation. To deny this reality or to embrace a hierarchy of being leads to domination and abuse of creation. Instead, there is a call to embrace our creatureliness.

Another theme that emerges is also expressed in the title of the book. This is a call for Christians to do theology in a way that emphasizes humanities solidarity with the creation as a whole. By emphasizing humanity's superiority in the hierarchy of being, our creatureliness is denied. This separation from creation gives permission to humans to dominate and abuse creation. By embracing our unity with creation, that is, our creatureliness, we are better able to live in solidarity. Nancy Pineda-Madrid, writes that “human beings and animals both find their meaning in the world in that all these species are creatures of God. The value and dignity of all species is found in that God created them.” This is not meant to diminish human reality, but to acknowledge our essential creatureliness. But affirming that position, we are better able to be in solidarity with the rest of creation.

One of the great values of this book is the range of authorship. Authors write from within their own contexts that include Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America. There has been attempt here to make sure that to give voice to theologians in touch with the poor and indigenous women, but at the same time the editors do not want to "reinscribe the binary dichotomy between the Global South and the Global North. The debates on climate change, gender, and development tend to cast the Global South as culturally backward when it comes to equality between women and men." They seek to overcome this dichotomy, by reminding us that women in the Global South exercise agency, while also recognizing the existence of "climate-related suffering due to social and economic inequities in countries in the Global North."

This is a book about climate justice, written by feminist theologians, who are, as the editors note, “critical of the ways Christian teaching has been both anthropocentric, as well las androcentric, heterosexist and Eurocentric." This can make some readers uncomfortable. Indeed, at points it made me uncomfortable. At the same time, I commend the editors and the authors for calling on the Christian community to embrace ecojustice, as "they criticize Christianity's earth-fleeing, anti-body spirituality, which they believe energizes the interlocking oppression of nature with suppression of women." Ultimately, this is a book that affirms the premise that theology has real world implications. It is not an ivory tower discipline.

To give a sense of the organization of the book, part one includes four chapters that lay out what this reimagining Christianity might look like as it reforms itself to be responsive to climate justice. This includes reimagining Francis’ Laudato Sí. Part two of the book, contains fourteen chapters, which explore the nature of God, creation, humanity, sin and evil, the incarnation, cross and salvation, spirit, Mary and the church, and hope and eschatology. The authors are Roman Catholic and Protestant, and so there are differences of approach. Some are more "traditional" than others. Indeed, some are quite radical, pushing the boundaries as to what is Christianity. If there is a theological method that undergirds much of the conversation, it is an embrace in some form of Process Theology, or at least a form of panentheism. Ultimately, the editors have not chosen to have all the authors be on the same page theologically. Indeed, one author emphasizes the importance of incarnation over creation, while another emphasizes creation.  Some of the authors are well known, people like Sallie McFague and Barbara Rossing (Rossing’s essay on eschatology is excellent!). Most of the authors, however are new to me. As a white male heterosexual Protestant theologian and pastor, whose theological formation included reading a lot of European male theologians, this is a good opportunity to expand my own conversation partners.

Planetary Solidarity is a provocative book. It is a scholarly book. This isn’t light reading. But, if one is willing to pursue the journey with these authors, there is a great reward, not only for the reader, but also for the planet. The editors need to be commended for bringing this book to fruition.
Note: Because I was provided with an electronic copy by the publisher I could not provide page numbers. 

No comments: