- The Power of Silence in the Work of JusticeFeminist Catholicism in Action
abuse, Buddhism, Catholicism, power, silence
I enter Buddhist–Christian dialogue as a white, U.S., Catholic feminist living in this dreadful time of war, racial oppression, manufactured "national emergency" around immigration, sex/gender disrespect, climate change, ecological disaster, excessive wealth, and extreme poverty. I live with more privilege than most people and with a faith-informed sense of what that privilege requires of me in political terms. That begins with a return to honesty in the public forum, respectful disagreements without vilifying the other, and serious efforts at cooperation across differences. Living in the Washington, DC, area, I see up close what the erosion of these basic cultural pillars portends for our future. I reject it actively by engaging interreligious dialogue.
This article begins at the nexus of spirituality and social justice, or what I call sacrament and solidarity. This formulation has a Catholic "ring" to it in terms of the Catholic social justice tradition and centuries of monastic and other sites of silence. This combination describes the lives of Catholic feminists who practice contemplative silence and engage in effective and far-reaching social change work including opposition to sex trafficking, health and housing support at the southern border, reproductive justice, and LGBTIQ advocacy, among myriad others. This is the "brand" of Christianity that I bring to Buddhist–Christian dialogue.
This work is founded on Catholic social teachings, but it builds out those teachings in ways that are explicitly "feminist." Feminism is an ideology and a praxis for gender equality that is committed to antiracism, the overturning of unjust economic structures, the rejection of trans and homohatred, ableism and Earth destruction, all part of an activist agenda predicated on the well-being of women and dependent children. Such intersectionality is a sine qua non for all [End Page 99] aspects of interreligious dialogue. One-dimensional vectors of analysis are inadequate to describe and transform the experiences of most people who live outside the elite circles that have heretofore authored such work.
Catholic feminists do our work out of deep commitments to justice and equality as per our tradition but with the challenging twist that we are not official agents or protagonists within our own church. This is a problematic reality in such dialogues. I suspect that similar marginalization is common in other traditions as well and thus has an impact on interreligious work that needs to be named, interrogated, and changed.
I respectfully bring this structural outsider position shared by women of many faith traditions to the rich mix of Buddhists, Christians, and many persons who profess other faiths, or none whatsoever, who seek planetary survival and the common good. It is an example of one very specific slice of a multibillion-person community, half of whom are in the position of marginalization I describe. To ignore this "elephant in the meditation room" is to miss an opportunity to cast the circle of conversation ever wider and to do justice while at the same time deepening interreligious sharing. The alternative, to ignore this negative characteristic of one dialogue partner, is to reinforce and reinscribe a false sense of what it means to speak of things Christian.
I choose this approach to highlight just how broadly cast each tradition is—would the Pope recognize my views as Catholic, and do I recognize some of his as authentic? It is critical in any dialogue to move beyond the institutional and "official" parameters to find useful partners and realistic possibilities wherever they exist.
There is also a strategic, transformational gain when persons from other traditions recognize those who are marginalized by their own tradition as authentic representatives of their traditions even though the powers that be in those traditions do not. For example, when I am taken as fully, normatively Catholic in interfaith conversation, it reinforces my legitimacy within the tradition. A different kind of dialogue goes on when those on the margins, and not only those in the center of the tradition, come into conversation. Imagine neighbors chatting rather than officials pontificating, and project how different the results might be. As a methodological matter...