Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Can women ever be authentic? Must we always have the role of being "alibi" women, mere tokens? Or is ambiguity really where it is at?

I have just come back from another wonderful evening at the feminist theology group which was led this evening by my friend Karin Achtelstetter, director of the office for communication services at the Lutheran World Federation.
Karin encouraged the group to read the story of Huldah and work on various hypotheses about Huldah and her almost forgotten role as the prophetess who is consulted to confirm the scriptural canon and determine its interpretation. What might the text tell us about the complex roles women assume in leadership? You can see some of the background to our evening in an earlier post I made about Karin's work on Huldah.
Tonight we were intrigued at all the male envoys sent to consult Huldah - why on earth did the chief of priests not know how to evaluate or interpret the scroll of scripture found in the temple? Did they consult a woman to have her as an "alibi" (femme alibi is a bit like token woman), "hey we can destroy all of these objects in the temple that venerate Ashara (Yahweh's female companion) if a woman says we can". Is Huldah's voice a compromised one? After all it is a delegation of men who get sent to see her by the king - they are the ones telling the story, can we trust them? Not surprisingly they almost bury Huldah's role in determining the canon by being so insistent about naming themselves and writing precise minutes of their roles in King Josias' great reform! Some critics claim Huldah compromised herself, siding with power - but did she ever get the chance to tell her own story?
Tonight Karin put words into Huldah's mouth, explaining what she was trying to do.
We had very thoughtful and passionate discussions about women having the right to speak, to study, be listened to - and to get it wrong.
What moved me particularly this evening was listening to an ordination prayer for deaconesses from the 4th century which mentions Huldah. Yet today she is almost forgotten - though the director of Faith and Order assures me that some modern liturgies do remember her name and role.
As we ended our evening Karin explained that the reason she as a woman who exercises leadership was interested by Huldah was because of the ambiguities around her story - interpretation, speaking out, compromise, being a woman who plays the men's game. As she worked on the text she realised that despite justified criticism of being the "alibi" woman, Huldah nevertheless speaks with an authentic voice. It may even be the ambiguities that give her story and witness authenticity. I found that enormously reassuring and quite energising.