Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Clueless Condescension

This National Catholic Reporter essay says more than I think the author intended. Really, this is almost too perfect of a parody of white, western, clueless condescension. Peg Helminski recounts a conversation with an African Catholic about women's ordination. Abena, who had been tortured in Cameroon for her faith and is preparing to be martyred once she returns, opposed to women's ordination. Helminski sees Abena's opinion as "sexist" yet forgives her since Abena is a "product of her culture" and is too "simple" to hold Helminski's "ever-evolving, collective understanding of God."

Helminski writes:

I do not know why women keep trying to be Jesus. They should try only to imitate the example of humility and obedience of our Blessed Mother.”

“Abena, are you saying that men should not try to imitate the example of Mary?”

I struggled to contain my anger. And I succeeded because this was Abena, a very simple woman, not a bishop, the pope or a Vatican spokesperson, all of whom, I think, should have a broader view of church history and the place of culture in determining our ever-evolving, collective understanding of God.

She laughed readily, “Of course, we all should. But what is more important is that women learn the beauty of raising children.

“Just today God has answered my prayer. The husband of a sister of ours planned to divorce her because she has not been pregnant in many years. I learned today that she is two months with child. God is so good!”

My blood nearly boiled at the sexist content of this assertion and her archaic proof of God’s mercy. Yet, I forgave her immediately because I recognized that she is a product of her culture. Only recently from Cameroon, she was jailed there for her faith. Shackled, she was beaten on the soles of her feet. Now, walking is difficult. Wearing shoes is still painful.

“They wanted to break my spirit,” she laughed when she told me. “They only strengthened my faith!”


Though Helminski's faith has not been tried, she writes that she and Abena are "evenly matched" in religious conviction. Somehow, I doubt it. Abena's faith, as described by Helminski, is joyous and generous even though she has been tortured and expects to die a martyr when she returns to Cameroon. Helminski, a product of Minnesota, believes the Church should conform to the expectations of a handful of western liberals and becomes enraged ("I struggled to contain my anger." "My blood nearly boiled") when others express beliefs to the contrary.

God bless Abena.