Lesbian Eco-Feminist vs. Fundamentalist Western Seminary!

Last night I attended a debate at Oregon State University, sponsored by OSU's Socratic Club.  The debate was between Dr. Todd Miles of Western Seminary, and Dr. Frodo Okulam of Portland State University.  The question was: ARE THERE MANY PATHS TO GOD?

Dr. Miles' argument read more like a typical Sunday morning altar call at your local Conservative Baptist Church.  I was reminded again that I visited Western Seminary 6 years ago, before I explored and eventually enrolled at George Fox Seminary (the folks at Western were nice enough, but their dean cautioned me during my visit: "your questions are interesting, but probably wouldn't be appropriate in the classroom.  I'm sure our professors would be happy to talk with you... behind closed doors...").

In a debate between a concrete modernist and an existential postmodernist, the format of formal debate will ALWAYS favor the former - last night was no exception.  Dr. Okulam's pluralist, paradoxical spiritual views couldn't be reduced to a three-point sermon for maximum rhetorical impact.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of Dr. Okulam, a local ecofeminist from Portland and an author of a book on the incredible mystic Julian of Norwich.
Frodo Okulam obtained her Doctorate in Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary/Marylhurst University, an M.A. in Theology from Mount Angel Seminary and has been an Assistant Professor with the Women's Studies Department since 2000. Frodo's teaching and research interests include Eco-Feminist and Eco-Justice Spirituality; Earth-Centered Spiritual Traditions; Spirtuality and Activism; and Wisdom Traditions. These interests are reflected throughout the courses she teaches. Some of the courses that Frodo has created and taught are Women's Spirituality, Ritual in Culture and Daily Life, paganisms Past and Present, Goddess Pre & Early history, Feminist Biblical Interpretation, and many more. In addition to authorship of several publications, she has also been the Coordinator of an eclectic women's spirituality group called SisterSpirit since 1985.
During the Q&A session at the end of the debate, no one in the audience really cared about questions.  Everyone had a statement to make.  There were angry folks on both sides of the aisle.  Some angry conservative Evangelicals spouting literally-interpreted verses from Revelation.  Some pissed off liberals, calling the Church homophobic and exclusivist.

Ultimately, I don't think these sorts of things are very helpful in terms of actually changing anyone's opinion.  Fundamentalists get more fundamentalist.  Liberals get more liberal.   Everyone shouts louder.  I was just stressed out by all the hostility.

The one thing I enjoyed was hearing a little bit of the personal story of Dr. Frodo Okulam, who seems a genuinely gentle, joyful human being.


David Manning said...

Was wondering if you could expound on:

"In a debate between a concrete modernist and an existential postmodernist, the format of formal debate will ALWAYS favor the former - last night was no exception."

Peter J Walker said...

David, thanks! Sure, I'll give it a try, but it’s going to be pretty basic stuff. I know you can run circles around me on a lot of this:

The premises of Socratic debate seem a natural mate with positivism and scientific rationalism. It deals with assumptions about reality and truth. Existentialism resists (and perhaps rejects) these. Socratic debate does deal heavily with epistemology, as does Existentialism, but the critical Socratic method deals with these questions with certain initial assumptions about truth and logic that Existentialism does not.

Additionally, postmodernism (however it diverges and converges with Existentialism) allows for relativism and contextualization. In my experience, this is a perfect incubator of ideological tension, paradox, and contradiction.

Socratic debate is oppositional: structured in terms of developing thesis, uses a platform of truth statements to support it, deconstructing an opposing thesis and demonstrating it to be errant, and then logically linking those steps to some kind of conclusion that supports the initial thesis and necessarily invalidates the opponent’s. If a debater can demonstrate that her opponent is not rational, not logical, or is somehow contradictory, she wins.

Socratic debate presumes a winner and a loser.

Someone like Dr. Okulam refuses to acknowledge a win-lose paradigm – at least in certain contexts. She is not oppositional. Okulam spent most of the debate pointing to spiritual and ideological commonalities between herself and her conservative counterpart (much to his chagrin). It’s both/and thinking to the extreme, which is bound to frustrate anyone set on differentiating themselves and their beliefs.

Okulam “lost” the debate because she did not speak its language. I'm not sure it's a necessary language to learn, however.

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