A second review of “Activist Theology” by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

See an earlier review at: Activist Theology

This review is by Paul Wildman, a member of the UCFORUM Executive.

This short book is well written and on topic from the point of view of an intellectual activist. However, the book has little at all to do with act-ual ground up, tr-act-ive, hands on, act-ivism.  The book is not entitled the ‘Theology of Activism’ and actually reverses these words to Activist Theology. However, Activist qualifies Theology in the title and as such the latter is subordinate to the former in content, process and ‘enfleshment’ and this does not happen. 

The book is really a Theology of Activism or more correctly it is a Theology of Feminist intellectual perspectives on theories and issues that are associated with activism. The author is a self-described ‘intellectual activist’ and this is indeed an appropriate term, as she doesn’t move from the intellectual, indeed hyper academic intellectual for the whole book.  This means she spends nearly 20% at the start of the (short) book explaining her ‘perspective’ in the preface and acknowledgement sections ………And then another 20% on poems….at the end of the book, and approximately half of the short book on ‘stuff other than hands on activism’. 

This is, I argue, part of a bigger picture that is the failure of academe in the West to grasp what action and activism actually is.  Indeed, when confronted with this author’s simple reframe of action and critique to fit within the hyper academic mind set of ‘my writing is my activism’ and all is at peace with the world, I recall that  I have had this literally said to me by a famous futurist.  So the critique is brushed aside by reframing. She finishes with a ‘call to action’. Yet, of course, that is not the action that she does and again is a form of hyper intellectualism on steroids, a hyper activism that is totally oblivious to itself and, as such, a sort of intellectual somnambulism.  This is a flaw/issue many of us, including me, struggle with. However, it needs to be surfaced and articulated and owned and addressed. This book does little to address same.

There is not one actual activist action she has done listed in the book, not one – bizarre and tragic in a sense as with many academics. When discussing the futures field they have NO grasp of what activism actually is and if they even smell a whiff of critique they reframe it as above as ‘my writing is my activist’, or go for ‘I am very busy so I outsource my activism to a social justice/religious organisation’, or ‘you don’t grasp what activism is about. Here read these 5 books I have written…..’  (all are literal experiences I have had). This book is shades of the first in my opinion.  Action Learning, conscientisation and craft, Peer to Peer, hacktivism, Wilding, Permaculture are for instance some ways of addressing same.  At least she has the honesty to call herself an ‘intellectual activist’. However, this allows the author and basically most other so call activist academics to call themselves same without ever actually doing it.

There are, some most excellent, indeed brilliant, paragraphs and phrases in the book, that as snippets on how to live one’s life somewhat make up for the above. A few of these include:

L837 Collective liberation does not materialize in a vacuum; liberation materializes as we midwife more shalom into this world.

L815 The struggle to humanize those who have been most affected by systems of oppression is so much of our work in activism. To embody a theological imagination that holds the complexities of our human experiences including our difference and diversity in tandem with a divine source of becoming is part of our struggle today.

L776 Church was also the place that could not hold my complexities.  Yet though I have left, church won’t, and I can’t, let go.

L1120 In this martyrdom of Arnulfo Romero’s, we can see a third dimension of Christian martyrdom. It is a dimension that has received little attention up to now, but today it is becoming more and more important. The first dimension is suffering for faith’s sake: Paul Schneider. The second dimension is suffering through resistance against unjust and lawless power: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The third dimension is participation in the sufferings of the oppressed people: Arnulfo Romero.

In terms of the authors analysis of Jesus’s role as an activist she readily identifies that it is Jesus’s hands on pragmatics with the poor of the poor that come first in his work at the margins of the margins. Yes, the background theology matters, and yet, it is one’s personal practical hands on commitment and action that qualify the theology not the other way around.  So maybe the kingdom/commonwealth of god is an activist theological one after all??!! I certainly agree with her in this regard.

So, in conclusion 99% of academics and purchasers would be most satisfied with the value for money they have received in what Dr Henderson-Espinoza has written, and indeed I congratulate her for same.

Dr Paul Wildman 7th January 2020.

oOo

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