Last Friday, when the whole sausage-fest fiasco was settling down and my paper on prophetic dicks was once again cleared to go ahead, I was asked by a friend: why I had posted on my blog the initial email message from the director of programs, Charlie Haws? Would it not have been better to take up the issue inside the Society, targeting key people, winning over the new administration (both John Kutsko and Charlie Haws are new to their jobs), instead of pissing them off? Surely that is a far better way to effect change.
The question forced me to think about why I had taken that approach, which had at the time seemed like the obvious thing to do. So this is my reply to that initial question.
To begin with, I never quite took what was happening seriously. But I did not ridicule or caricature the original message. In fact, I kept the whole business low-key: the content of the thing was enough. But the key issue is that I am not interested in bringing about change, since I simply don’t give a flying fuck as to what happens to the SBL. But do I not want to bring about change? Am I not a revolutionary in some sense?
Yes, I am and therefore I am not a reformer, wanting to bring about change from within. Too many bitter people spend their time in retirement cursing those with whom they worked, the institution they served with such faithfulness, the hopes they held for change. I think of the feminist biblical scholar who retired early on a tide of ill-will, leaving a phallo-centric system as entrenched as ever. Or of an old minister who was once my boss, wondering whether all he had done was useless since the church had since gone precisely in the direction he hoped it wouldn’t. Ihave been in both church and university: both institutions expect commitment and devotion to a vocation; both will spit you out and trample on you at a moment’s notice without any concern for your own wellbeing.
So also the SBL, which behaves very much like a church – probably because most of its members belong to or have belonged to a church. Witness the increasing debate concerning a perceived conservative takeover, the crude and cruder arguments about critical or faith-based scholarship – they are simply the old ecclesial struggles between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ transposed into the SBL. For that reason they do not interest me.
The delicious paradox is that the SBL has been extremely important as one of the avenues for opening up opportunities, facilitating networks, publishing some of my work, enabling me to meet people I would not have met otherwise. I have been a chair of program units, worked in steering committees, sat on publishing boards. I appreciate that. But it is by no means my only location, I will certainly not waste my time pushing for reform, and I will not lose sleep over what happens to it.