Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Dissent and resistance with groups of visitors

Today, in between a visit to the dentist, some tricky climate change translation and some migration editing I also spent time talking with two visitors groups. The second group came from Germany and got shown around the chapel, with a bit of a whistle stop tour of the history of ecumenism and lots of questions about the general secretary elect.
The first group I met with was of presbyterian women from India, East Africa, Congo, Korea, Switzerland and the USA. They had been on what sounded like a fascinating tour of Geneva and Southern France looking particularly at the role women played in the Reformation in those parts of the world. They finished their tour by attending the annual "assemblée du désert" last Sunday.
I was with them for their debriefing meeting and was struck by the different ways in which these women from diverse cultures had been touched by the history of French Protestantism and by the power and simplicity of the gathering of 10,000 people in the open air near St Jean du Gard. One of the African women said how moved she was to be amongst so many white people listening to God's word together. I was quite jealous listening to their accounts as I have still never attended this emblematic annual event for French Protestantism. Perhaps next year.
After listening to their impressions and thoughts I offered some reflection around the words resistance and dissent. "Résister" was the key word the women prisoners in the Tour de Constance scratched over many years into the stone. "Dissent" comes from the history of English non-conformity, being a church which is not established. I used these two words to reflect on how being a Chrisitian today is not about being a member of the majority. Being a Christian today is about being a member of a faithful minority.
For women, who are often the unrecognized majority within that minority, there are also a complex set of roles to take on as we try to give voice to God's word in today's diverse societies. For committed French Protestant women there is also a solidarity with Protestant men which comes from that minority experience and which has some similarities to the dynamic in womanist theology.
The hour and a half we spent together helped me condense some of my thinking about resistance, dissent and the difficult issue of "voice" for women. If for the most part women are not treated as equals then much of what they say comes out of that experience and reality of oppression. The word that comes from below is often a word that has to raise its voice, it can sound shrill leading unfortunately to further dismissal. The issue of finding the right "tone" was a question I left them and myself with.
It was also humbling for me as an interpreter to find myself being interpreted into French on one side and Korean on the other. I tried not to speak too fast, but then everyone I interpret says the same to me!