Fortress Press, 174 pages | Published June 21, 2022
I read Anna Mercedes’ Interrupting a Gendered, Violent Church as a pastor, academic and activist committed to gender, climate and racial justice. In the introduction, I learned Mercedes and I share several colleagues in common — connections that echoed in the pages and through her arguments.
She asserts the church has subjugated and oppressed bodies that do not uphold strict White, male, straight norms. Mercedes positions herself within the church, offering candid examples from her teaching and ministering worlds to illustrate the harm these restrictions cause. She writes, “we are losing touch with the vibrance of human communities and also the vibrance of the wideness of God.” For her, then, we must be willing to reshape the church if we are to faithfully articulate God and God’s love for the world and the people who inhabit it.
Deconstructing power dynamics and reconnecting people across differences is at the heart of Mercedes’ work. She relies on J. Kameron Carter’s argument that race is a construct the church has helped to create and uphold in order to objectify and dominate some people for the benefit of others. Race, gender and sexuality do not simply exist as value-less concepts; if the church is going to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the God of all, then the church must divest (her word) from structures and theologies that have perpetuated violence against people who are not White, male and heterosexual.
I love Mercedes’ work for refusing to be one thing and insisting on being intersectional, addressing the complexities of how race, sex and gender overlap in how we identify ourselves and the church. For example, the book’s confessional nature – that the church has upheld empire and violence and suffering and needs to change – engaged me and spurred me to think how my identity as a White, female Christian has perpetuated violence against other bodies.
At times, I found the book to be too theoretical and outside the experiences of many “people in the pew.” I wonder how the church can be transformed from the inside out if her argument is rooted in the sometimes-a-bit-theoretical musings of academics; however, perhaps I’m expecting too little of Christians who experience the realities of a gendered and raced faith in their daily lives.
Still, as I read, I longed to hear how people in congregations I’ve served would respond to this text, especially women, Black and Latina/o/x individuals and LGBTQ folks who have struggled to be seen, accepted, empowered and known by the church. Would they see their experiences and organizing for liberation reflected in these pages? Those with a past relationship with theoretical theology will more easily make their way through this book, however, it would also provide fascinating grounding for shared reading, study, and discussion by people of faith who long for a more just and compassionate church.
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