History is a dangerous thing. Somebody ought to be reviewing some of it carefully now—for the sake of the church, if nothing else.
In Richard Attenborough’s film, ‘Gandhi’, Gandhi leads a march to the sea in defiance of British tax on salt to collect the salt water that would enable poor Indians to make their own.
As they march in silent ranks to the shore, the Indians are met head on by 100s of British police who systematically beat the unarmed demonstrators to the ground. But the ranks never stop coming. They walk over one another in ordered formation into the butts of British rifles convinced of the right of their cause.
The salt boycott eventuated in the Indian declaration of independence from England.
Gandhi was clear that nonviolent resistance would expose the injustice of the oppressor and claim the conscience of the world.
The lesson is sobering—suppression does not end revolution; it breeds it.
The kind of animal resistance the world saw directed at the voiceless in Gandhi’s Salt March is, in most of the world, over. At the same time, women in pursuit of recognition as full human beings are getting a taste of the same kind of powerful opposition. Fundamentalist extremists of all ilk and their interpretations of religion everywhere claim one way or another that God is sexist.
Women are denied leadership in their various denominations and generally silenced so that the rest of the community cannot hear their concerns or examine their suppositions.
But rather than discouraging those who argue for the rights and presence of women everywhere, suppression is alerting people that there is no possible justification, on the grounds of femaleness alone, for the elimination of women from religious discipleship.
And that’s where concern for Cincinnati Sister of Charity Louise Akers comes in and, actually, concern for the church, too.
Sr Louise has been dismissed by Bishop Daniel Pilarczyk from all diocesan positions and/or conferences on Catholic soil in the diocese of Cincinnati due to her support for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, Sr Louise, who the city of Cincinnati recently recognised as one of its outstanding civic leaders and, ironically, coordinator of Cincinnati’s Intercommunity Justice and Peace Centre, will be denied access to the idea development arena of the Catholic community where she is obviously needed most.
But rather than being lost, voices like this that cry for justice, and are punished for their continuing pursuit of truth ring loud and clear around the globe.
The truth is that suppression of thought is more dangerous to the church than any sin the church has ever committed. It has not only driven people away, it has stunted its own development, diminished its credibility.
From where I stand, it may be time to forget power and theology, magisteriums and inquisitions for a while. Maybe we should all sit down and, if history is not convincing enough, read the New Testament. Read the parables, in fact, in which Jesus talks about how to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. Matthew 13:30 may give us a clue. It reads, ‘Let both wheat and weeds grow up together till the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters “First, collect the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then, gather the wheat and bring it to my barn”.’
Let them all talk until, as a church searching under the impulse of the Spirit, we hear clearly where truth lies for us.
Benedictine Sr Joan Chittister’s columns can be found at ncronline.org