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Monday, March 02, 2009

Assigning Worth

There's a really good discussion going on over at The Kitchen Table about the value and worth of the humanities and arts.

If you don't know about The Kitchen Table, allow me to introduce you to the women at The Table: Yolanda Pierce, the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies, and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University.

So, you got it, right? We're talking about some high octane, top shelf, classy-sassy Sistah stuff in the house.

The unfortunate impetus for the discussion was the report of the death of Dr. Marcella Althaus-Reid, a prominent feminist theologian. Dr. Althaus-Reid was a professor of Contextual Theology at the University of Edinburgh.

Her most well-known works are Indecent Theology (2000) and The Queer God (2004), in which she tied together liberation theology, feminist theology, and the emerging field of queer theology.

Among her many accomplishments and activities, she was also a member of the Advisory Theological Team of the Rev Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church and Director of the International Association of Queer Theology, a "network for theologians and church practitioners involved in research on Sexual theologies, with the aim of facilitating the exchange of knowledge and current discussion across different continents and denominations."

She died on February 20th in Marie Curie Hospital in Edinburgh, way too soon at age 57. This is a huge loss to the International Queer Community in general and many, many people who looked to her and listened to her as the voice of reason and intellect in a turbulent sea of hatred and prejudice.

Dr. Pierce writes about "all the forces that threaten to silence (Dr. Althaus-Reid's) work and the work of other ground-breaking scholars in our various fields. And these forces are not just about the censorship of ideas and books, but about the complexity of determining the value of particular areas of academic inquiry."

Further, Dr. Pierce states, "The Georgia Legislature wants to cut what it calls "unnecessary" and "racy" topics from state university curricula. The target to be cut, in this Georgia case, includes courses in queer theory. Florida Atlantic University, in an effort to reduce costs like Georgia, wants to cut out its Women, Gender, and Sexuality program. The New York Times just recently ran a feature with the title: "In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth." At the heart of all these conversations is the attempt to discern the role, value, and worth of the humanities, a liberal arts education, and those academic disciplines that do not generate the big bucks."

In these tough economic times, I suppose we ought not be surprised that these conversations are being held. It has ever been thus in times of financial crisis. We're all waiting for 'the other shoes to drop' in our elementary and secondary school systems. The Music and Theater departments are always the first to go. Suddenly, our kids won't need as many "after school enrichment programs."

"Non-essential" has become the buzz word du jour. Many members of my congregation are working TONS of overtime. Everyone wants to be seen by their superiors as having an essential job. No frills here, Boss. Why, my job is so important, I can't even get it all done in eight hours.

But, what of worth? How do we assign worth to that which stretches our mind, stirs our souls and fires our imaginations? We might easily say that no one is going to die because there aren't enough Queer Theology books on the shelves.


I think a lot of Queer people and women and other members of other marginalized groups have died and will die as they continue to experience untold amounts of prejudice and hatred, manifested in physical and emotional and spiritual suffering, because of the church's ignorance about the difference between what Martin Luther called "The Bible" and "The Good News".

It has been the scholarship of all the voices of all the forms of liberation theology that has allowed me and so many others to stay in the Church at a time when we were trying to reconcile our own emerging racial, gender and sexual identities with the traditional identity of religious Christianity.

For me, that is worth much more than fine gold.

So, g'won over to The Kitchen Table and join the conversation. Your voice matters. Your opinion counts.

Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't.

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