A Theology that Honors the Catholicity of the Church – The Need for Women (and POC) Theologians

by Juliany González Nieves

Each month Blogos features an article created in partnership with the Logos Institute’s Logia initiative. This month’s Logia post is by Juliany González Nieves. More information about Logia and additional articles are available here.

She studies, and disputes, and teaches,
and thus she serves her Faith;
for how could God, who gave her reason,
want her ignorant?”

-Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Villancico[1]                 

From Hagar naming God to Mary’s Magnificat; from Martha’s Christological confession in John 11:27 to the Syrophoenician woman who argued with Jesus; from Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, to Priscilla, teacher of preachers; from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to all the enslaved African and Indigenous women who saw God the Liberator in spite of the theological orthodoxy proclaimed during the Conquista and colonial era; from me sitting in my Barth seminary class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to my abuela taking care of her sick neighbors in our barrio in Puerto Rico. Throughout the centuries and across the globe, women have been doing theology, formally and informally, reflecting about God and how the Godself relates to the created order in everyday life –what Cuban theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz called lo cotidiano. And although women’s contributions to the field of theology and church life are not always acknowledged and valued, there are at least three main reasons why we need more women studying, teaching, and doing theology, biblical studies, and philosophical theology.

First, without women’s (and POC’s) contributions to theology, we cannot articulate a theology that honors the catholicity of the church. 

“And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” It has always fascinated me how the Nicene Creed is constantly confessed at churches and theological institutions where the only voices that are continually heard are those of men, especially those from the Minority World. However, to truly confess the catholicity of the church requires us to move towards a theologizing that brings in the voices of women, minorities, and Majority World Christians into the conversation, not as an add-on, but as equal dialogue partners and members of the body of Christ. For it is contradictory to confess the universal nature of the church while holding tight to the structures that keep the majority of the global church outside of the rooms, classrooms, and spaces where formal theology is done. Without the contributions of women and POC to the fields of theology, biblical studies, and philosophical theology, we cannot articulate a theology that honors the catholicity of the church.

Second, theology should be done by the church and for the church and its mission. Women make up the majority of the global church.

I believe that theology is missional and should be done by the church and for the church. Interestingly, although in many countries across the globe women make up the majority of the faithful,[2] the theology that has historically shaped our communities has been male- and Minority World-centered. And although I am against projects that seek to discard all the theological contributions that men in the Minority World have made to this date, I do believe we need to take another look at what we have inherited. For how are we hoping to help equip the church for its mission when our theologizing doesn’t even seriously consider the concerns and questions of the majority of the church? Our theology needs to ask and seek answers to those questions which emerge from our ethnic and gender identities, and socio-economic and political realities as women who are members of communities and caregivers of the earth. Therefore, in order to move towards a more robust articulation and embodiment of the faith, women have to continue taking up space and raising their voices in seminaries and local churches.

Third, it is a calling.

Lastly, it is crucial we understand that the main reason why it is essential for women to study, teach, and contribute to the fields of theology, biblical studies, and philosophical theology is that the God of the church has always been calling them to do so. For this reason, it is vital that the church and theological institutions establish practical ways to cultivate the theological mind of women and encourage them to pursue God’s call.

Philip Jenkins writes, “If you want to think of the average Christian in the world today, then think of, perhaps, a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a favela [in Brazil]…”[3] The church is not only getting browner but it is also mainly female. It is due time for our theologizing to reflect these realities. It is time that we honor the catholicity of the church.

Juliany González Nieves is an evangélica Puerto Rican student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Before beginning her Master in Divinity program, she earned a B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. Her areas of interest include systematic theology; Majority World Christian theologies, especially Latin American liberation theologies; feminist theologies; and social justice. She describes her work as intersectional, always taking into account her liminal identity as a caribeñatrigueña, Puerto Rican woman living between the island and the U.S. mainland. She is currently doing an academic internship at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico. You can follow her on social media and read her blog De vuelta a lo básico.

[1] Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Villancico, or Carol, in celebration of St. Catherine of Alexandria (1692), quoted by Theresa A. Yugar, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), vi.

[2] “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World,” Pew Research Center, accessed September 11, 2018, http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/

[3] Philip Jenkins, “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,” in Religious Educator 8, no. 3 (2007): 113-125.