Planetary Solidarity

Planetary Solidarity

Global Women's Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice

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Editor(s): 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Hilda P. Koster
  • Minneapolis, MN : 
    Fortress Press
    , September
     2017.
     392 pages.
     $79.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781506432625.
     For other formats: .

Review

Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster have identified an urgent need for ecofeminist theologians to “reimagine church doctrine” (15) and to use those reimaginings to promote “planetary solidarity.” Taken as a whole, Planetary Solidarity provides a sustained challenge to paternalistic, anthropocentric Christian traditions, aiming to listen to historically silenced voices and to redress entrenched misinterpretations of foundational theological texts. Kim and Koster and their contributors seek “to take forward the struggle for gender justice in our society and churches in solidarity with justice struggles in our wider world” (6). As a non-Christian scholar whose work is not theologically oriented, much of this volume was beyond my own disciplinary ambit and personal beliefs. Nonetheless, I found provocative, thoughtful scholarship and eye-opening case studies in each chapter.

Much of the book relies on textured, historically-situated readings of the texts, myths, and legends that have informed global Christian traditions. The chapters focus on case studies, interviews, and stories about women and allies whose lived practices demonstrate the reimagined Christian doctrines for which this volume advocates and that advance efforts for climate justice globally. Rosemary P. Carbine holds up the actions of Plowshares activists and US-based nuns to show that “by seeking to realize the kin-dom of God, they did not coerce conformity to Christianity and thereby eschew religious pluralism” (64) but rather encouraged solidarity with a plurality of human and nonhuman others. Koster highlights the abuses of power common to both sex trafficking and fracking in North Dakota, arguing that a revision of the doctrine of sin—by resisting the centuries-old location of sin in feminine sexuality and the labeling of the prostitute as the archetypal sinner—can help both Christians and non-Christians decolonize the help they are giving to native communities who face the structural commodification of land and women’s bodies (156-57). Barbara R. Rossing uses historical knowledge and philological research to show that the Hebrew word often translated as “world” in the New Testament would be better translated as “empire,” a shift that reflects the New Testament’s historical situation as a record of early Christians’ political struggles against Roman authorities. The word “salvation,” Rossing contends, through its Greek roots, emphasizes healing instead of destruction. Her methodology addresses the “need to broaden our [Christian] images of justice and judgment to foreground scenes of judgment that can address structural sin” (346).

The contributors to this volume disagree about the usefulness of the concept of stewardship. Arfríður Guðmundsdóttir frames stewardship as the right “use” of the world, as opposed to its “abuse,” and argues that “the notion of stewardship is a clear antithesis to any form of hubris, including the exploitation of the environment” (136). For Fulata Lusungu Moyo and others, though, the idea of stewardship itself can cause problems. As Moyo points out, “to be a steward is to be a manager. While you can be a good or a bad manager, stewards by definition retain power and authority over the resources entrusted to them. This model … has not been an effective model for ecological justice” (190). Heather Eaton places stewardship within her critique of anthropocentrism as a corrupt, oppressive scaffolding on which Christianity was built. For Eaton, “The stewardship image is replete with ecological and theological hubris” (32) because “humans are unable to understand [planetary] processes” (32) with the kind of holistic depth that would enable real stewardship. 

Eaton’s indictment of anthropocentrism highlights a second disagreement among the volume’s contributors. Several join Eaton in rejecting theologies based on humans’ specialness as a crucial first step toward planetary solidarity. Wanda Deifelt shows that “the hierarchy between human beings over the entirety of creation is based on a sense of species entitlement … This notion is obviously detrimental to the planet because it has led to rampant destruction of the environment” (121). Other contributors are not so ready to revise or reject imago Dei. Although Nancy Pineda-Madrid advocates viewing ourselves as “criaturas,” that is, as God’s creatures who are part of the creation and not dominant over it (312-13), she maintains that “humans possess singular gifts and abilities” (316) and that “humans, of course, have the capacity to know who we are in relation to the Creator ... while nonhuman creatures are incapable of either of these forms of self-knowledge” (322). Eaton, Deifelt, and others might take issue with these statements because of their distance from current work in evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and climate science about non-human agency and intelligence, as evidenced by books such as Frans De Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (Norton, 2016) and Peter Wohlenben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (Greystone, 2016).

If Christian doctrine needs the kinds of radical revisions that many contributors to this volume advocate, why not abandon Christianity entirely? Planetary Solidarity answers that even with all of its faults and harms, Christianity’s tenets “weave communities of faith together” (5), and that Christian faith has enabled or supported inspiring social and climate justice actions across faith and non-faith-based communities. It is pressing for Christians, then, to revise harmful doctrines and find ways for faith communities to work for planetary solidarity. While it is difficult to imagine some Christian communities—evangelicals in the United States, for example—being convinced by the arguments and evidence in this book, those who study theology or who use theology to orient their scholarly work, as well as those who come to the volume from other disciplinary or theological stances, will find the work vibrant and rigorous in its explorations, in Celia Deane-Drummond’s words, of “how far and to what extent specific theological doctrinal elements can be adapted or changed” (xxix). The energy of the proposed changes—and the disagreements about how far doctrines can be pushed—will be invigorating for any reader committed to coalition building and environmental justice.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Dyani Johns Taff is Lecturer in English at Ithaca College.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond Indiana. She publishes on climate justice, gender justice and constructive theology. Among her most recent publications are Embracing the Other (2015), Mother Daughter Speak (2017) and Intercultural Ministry (2017). She is the coeditor of a book series, Asian Christianity in the Diaspora.

Hilda P. Koster is associate professor of religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She publishes on climate change, gender, and ecological theology and is the coeditor of The Gift of Theology: The Contribution of Kathryn Tanner to Contemporary Theology (Fortress Press, 2015).

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