Theologian Thursday: Elizabeth Johnson

This is the first Theologian Thursday I've done in which the theologian is still living. I've had this weird anxiety that if I profile someone who's still around, they'll somehow find my blog (everyone Googles themselves, you know. Don't pretend you don't.) and think I've grossly misrepresented their life or work and hate me forever. But I've been on a feminist theology kick lately, and I figure Elizabeth Johnson is one of the least likely people to hate me forever. Or at least I hope so. Anyway.

 (image from here)
Elizabeth Johnson is one of my favorite Catholics! And she's basically one of the reasons I'm a feminist, too. I read her Consider Jesus in undergrad, and She Who Is earlier this year, and she's pretty rad.

Johnson received her BA from Brentwood College, her MA from Manhattan College, and her PhD from Catholic University of America. She currently teaches theology at Fordham University. She's also a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She started studying theology right before Vatican II, and the council's focus on dialog with the modern world has shaped her work.

One of the most important things Johnson advocates for is the use of feminine imagery when talking about God. She says it's no coincidence that the Church has been oppressive to women while using male-gendered pronouns and metaphors to talk about God. But she points out that the Bible is rich with images of God taking feminine form--a hen gathering chicks, a laboring or nursing mother, a washerwoman, a seamstress, etc.--and therefore we are free and encouraged to do so in our worship and our personal spiritual life. This is so empowering for women who have their whole lives been forced to envision God as a male ruler or similar oppressor, with whom they could not identify.

(If you want a list of biblical references to female imagery, check out this blog post from Mike Morrell. It's a great resource!) 

What you should read:
  • She Who Is. No brainer. Just do it.
  • She has tons of published articles and they're all good. (OK, I haven't read ALL of them to know that, but I mean, I imagine they have to be.)
(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality:
I mean, this is obvious right? I'd give her six stars if I could.
Environmental Sensibility:
Most feminist theologians agree that as we see the value of women as an important part of God's story, the same becomes true for all God's creatures, including the environment. Oh! And this reminds me of another of her books--Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit. Check it out.
Heretical Tendencies:
Having new(ish) unpopular ideas is never easy, especially if you are a feminist in a Church that doesn't allow ordination of women and has hundreds of years of engrained patriarchy. But I love that Johnson is committed to the Catholic Church and working for its betterment rather than running away from it.
General Badassery:
Again, I wish I could give her six stars! Like I said, I do not envy her position as a feminist in the Catholic Church, but she is so awesome for studying what she's passionate about and speaking truth to power (consequently, she's been blasted by lots of bishops and other Catholic officials). She's written tons of great stuff, won awards, and been in important leadership positions, and is generally just rad.

And a quote (I had to just pick one since there are so many good and important ones!)
"What is at stake is simultaneously the freeing of both women and men from debilitating reality models and social roles, the birthing of new forms of saving relationship to all of creation, and indeed the very viability of the Christian tradition for present and coming generations. Are the religions of the Book up to the challenge?"