Broadening our Theological Horizons
A Review of
Contextual Theology: Intersectionality of Gender, Race, and Class
HiRho Y. Park and Cynthia A. Bond Hopson, eds.
Paperback: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2020
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Reviewed by Michael Shepherd
Contextual Theology: Intersectionality of Gender, Race, and Class is a compilation of essays from scholars throughout the world who demonstrate the impact of social location on the development and application of theology.
The collection of essays provide an inductive demonstration of theologizing in the context of gender, race, and class. The chapters touch upon issues related to biblical interpretation, church leadership, and socio-cultural dynamics within theological environments. It’s contributors are African and Asian women who are actively engaged in international academic theological leadership and participants with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.
I am reminded of a quote from the late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said, “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” A similar sentiment applies to this book, considering that there are no male nor white contributors. Can theology be complete without the inclusion of white men? Of course; plenty of theology books have been written (and are continuing to be published) without the contributions of women– especially women from the Majority World.
The essays focus, generally, on topics of social analysis of theological environments, biblical interpretations, and higher education. This aligns with the backgrounds of the contributors and their current work. The theory and methods of contextual theology and intersectionality are not discussed as abstract concepts, but brought into reality through the chapters that inhabit the distinct worlds of the contributors.
The contents provide the breadth of material that the book covers:
- “Becoming A Whole From The Sum Of Its Parts: Race, Class, and Gender Intersections and Transformations” (Cynthia A. Bond Hopson, PhD)
- “The Liberation Of Humanity: Lessons From History And New Testament Women” (Djessou Epse Atsin Djoman Brigitte, PhD)
- “Who Is “She” in Ecclesiastes 7:26?: An Alternative Reading Against Cultural Biases” (Elaine Wei-Fun Goh, ThD)
- “The Challenges Of Women In Ministry: Women’s Participation In Pastoral Leadership At The United Methodist Church In Mozambique” (Helena Angelica Gustavo Guidione, BD)
- “A Study Of Ewa:A Focusing On The Theory of Intersectionality” (Hyun Ju Lee, PhD)
- “Breaking the Spell of Patriarchy and Ushering in God’s Reign: A Postcolonial Reading of Patriarchy” (Memory Mhikosi, MA)
- “Mutual Partnership: Negotiating Patriarchal Structures In Vietnam” (Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, PhD)
- “The Intersection of “The Fairy and the Woodcutter,” Judges 21, and the Burning Sun Club: Taking Women and Extracting Capital from Their Bodies” (Yani Yoo, PhD)
- “Token Racial-Ethnic Women: Living in a Juxtaposition of Race, Gender, and Class in Academia and the Church” (HiRho Y. Park, PhD)
While some chapters speak to a particular niche, chapters such as Hyun Ju Lee’s provide a way of considering the theory of intersectionality within a non-Western framework. This is significant because there are times when the Western gaze upon the Majority World misconstrues meaning.
Memory Mhikosi’s chapter challenges the dominant Christian discourse on patriarchy as she de-centers whiteness. The chapter by Quynh-Hoa Nguyen similarly introduces cultural practices of patriarchy that are underrepresented in the field.
HiRho Park’s chapter, “Token Racial-Ethnic Women” brings to light the social pressures of existing beyond boundaries in Christian ministry and higher education spaces. For readers who are invested in these areas and are seeking to recognize and remedy the institutional disempowerment, this chapter will be especially compelling.
My main criticism of the book, on the whole, is its lack of cohesion. This is to be expected of the format, so it should not be interpreted as a deficiency. It may be a reflection of my own Western bias to want a discussion of unifying theory or a tidy application section as a conclusion. The chapters combine to demonstrate the significance of contextual theology and intersectionality, just not as directly as the title would imply.
While the topic of intersectionality is critical to understanding the news for contextual theology, additional areas of examination remain to be recognized. The “gender” category functions primarily as a cisgender binary and does not acknowledge trans or agender people. Likewise, there is not sufficient dialogue with the intersectionalities of ability, sexuality, education, and other socially navigated identities. It still remains a worthwhile endeavor to bring forth the voices of scholars representing gender, race, and class identity markers, especially to amplify scholars from outside of North America and Europe.
These concerns should not take away from the significance of a volume that will bring the reader into the theological worlds of women from the Majority World, but provide an opening for further engagement with the topics and conversations with additional partners. This book would make an excellent text for a course on World Christianity or Theology, or as a supplement to anyone who is looking for examples of rigorous theological reflection from the outside of the Majority World. Non-academics will appreciate this book for the authors’ abilities to convey their perspectives and arguments as an entry point for another way to approach themes and texts than may be familiar. Through engaging with the intersectionality of gender, race, and class, the reader should emerge with a greater appreciation for the various contexts which they inhabit and interact with in their community.
Michael Shepherd is the Minister of Social Action at First Christian Church, Fullerton (California) and an adjunct professor of intercultural studies and political science at Hope International University. He can be found on Twitter at @mchlshepherd and welcomes any questions about discerning and applying an LGBTQ+ affirming position.
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