By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
How do we speak faithfully of God – the creator of all things, the author of life, the giver of love beyond our wildest dreams?
Throughout history we have tried to bear witness to the mystery of God – the Holy One beyond all comprehension. Anselm is credited with defining theology as “faith seeking understanding.” And, though we see through a glass dimly, we still try to give words to the great mystery who is God.
However, until recently, the theology of the church has been almost exclusively articulated by men. Few of the liturgies, theological writings, and structures of the church have been shaped by women.
One of the most thoughtful church leaders to name and examine what this means is Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a faithful Christian, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a professor at Fordham (a Jesuit University), and the author of numerous books.
Many ELCA pastors first became acquainted with Johnson in seminary while reading her ground-breaking She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.
IN JUST THREE WEEKS, Elizabeth Johnson will be with us for the Joint Minneapolis-Saint Paul Area Synods’ Ministerium, a time when rostered leaders gather together to be fed theologically and spiritually. Her presence is no small thing. It is an incredible opportunity. Just today, one of our hospital chaplains asked if chaplains from other denominations could attend. Without doubt, Johnson is recognized as one of the most eminent theologians of our day.
Having just published The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the Voices of Global Women, she will be in the Twin Cities for a presentation at St. Catherine University’s O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on Friday night, October 28. We are grateful she is able to be with us the day before.
Johnson speaks about theology not just from the safe, ivory tower of academia. A theologian of the church, she has borne the scrutiny of the Roman Catholic Church in which she is a faithful member.
Throughout history we have tried to bear witness to the mystery of God – the Holy One beyond all comprehension.
In 2011, the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference severely criticized Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God, for not being in accordance with official Catholic teaching. The book explores understandings of God in conversation with contemporary liberation, feminist, Black, Hispanic, and ecological theologies. Though Johnson was not publicly censored by the committee, she was never given opportunity to enter into dialogue with them, something that she deeply desired.
I am thrilled to welcome such a giant of contemporary theology into our community on October 27 for our Joint Ministerium, titled “Elizabeth Johnson and the Voices of Global Women: Belonging Fully in the Body of Christ.” I hope all rostered leaders in the synod will consider joining me that day, as well as sharing what they heard with their congregations.