Nancy Pineda-Madrid. Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez

Nancy Pineda-Madrid. Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010. 200 pp. $18.00 Paper ISBN: 0800698479

Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez, by Nancy Pineda-Madrid is a short yet multi-layered text, in which she mounts a poignant critique of Anselm’s doctrine of salvation by analyzing how society overlooks the ritualistic killing of women in Ciudad Juarez. She outlines the shortcomings of Anselm’s innovative yet often misconstrued theology and makes a case for an alternative vision that shifts the notion of salvation from an individual right relationship with God to a communal understanding of salvation that necessitates right relation between humans, creation and God. This shift forces theologians to respond to instances of evil in the world.

Pineda-Madrid couches her critique of Anselm using feminicide in Ciudad Juarez as a case study. However, in order to avoid apathy and indifference to a terrorific situation, Pineda-Madrid creates a hermeneutic for how theologians and scholars of religion should analyze instances of social suffering that demonstrates how suffering is linked to wider social problems and how our comforts are related to another’s suffering. Citing Robert McAfee Brown, Rebecca Chopp and Shawn Copeland, among others, Pineda-Madrid reminds us that our world is interconnected, and the suffering experienced by these women is inextricably linked to our “middle-class lifestyles” in the United States (18-21). However, when faced the ritualistic killing of lower class, dark skinned, young women and girls, those interpreting the suffering grow apathetic, unable to process and reluctant to see their own complicity. Pineda-Madrid’s hermeneutic provides a four-part framework that exhibits the delicate interplay between individuals and society, combining the personal stories with structural causes while weaving in cultural and religious legitimation.

This delicate interplay between the individual and the larger social unit gives us an overview of the structural factors that cause individual suffering, while paying attention to the ways in which these factors affect singular lives. Pineda-Madrid emphasizes the analysis of both social structures and individual stories – analysis of structures informs us but leaves us unengaged, while the individual stories move us but will not show us our complicity. The hermeneutic allows us to do both. We start by adequately naming the suffering and identifying the interests that perpetuate the suffering, remaining cognizant of how these structures affect real women and their families, and culminate with an analysis of the role religion and culture play in creating a harmful social imaginary that legitimizes the ill treatment of women (Pineda-Madrid 19-68). Each factor in the hermeneutic leaves us engaged, aware, moved and complicit in the suffering of others – a place that requires a response.

By the end of chapter two, Pineda-Madrid shifts our focus away from the practical realities of Juarez and towards the theological implications of suffering and salvation. Why is this problem overlooked, especially by Christian theologians? As Pineda-Madrid convincingly argues, the satisfaction metaphor in Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo has emphasized Christ’s death instead of seeking salvation by emulating Jesus’ way of life. While his contributions were innovative and long lasting, they have created and reinforced the assumption that Christians need only believe in Jesus to attain salvation, and that like Jesus, suffering is a necessary step in the road to redemption.

The theological implications of this are rather troubling. Because the corner stone of Anselm’s soteriology is restoring right order with God, Christians emphasize Christ’s death to restore their relationship with God. This effectively changes the emphasis in Christianity from an ethical/this-world faith to a belief system that focuses on the individual’s right relationship with God which is only obtained through suffering and death (a second cornerstone of Anselm’s soteriology). Feminist theologians raise the final implication by asking how a suffering, male savior affects women. Coupled with the role of marianismo in Latin American culture, the expectation of women largely includes suffering and sacrifice to obtain salvation. After all, “When the dominant forces of society reduced Jesus’ redemptive significance to his suffering and sacrifice, [these] in turn function as the central means by which women finally obtain redemption” (90). Women are able to acquire salvation by imitating both the dutiful mother in Mary and “…the suffering of Jesus on the cross…” because it “…is used to validate their suffering and [give] meaning to their lives,’ further reinforcing the idealization of suffering” (90). Anselm’s soteriology perpetuates a passive reaction to the suffering of women because it creates an individualistic, otherworldly focused perspective on salvation, where right order is only established with God, and relationality takes a back seat. However, Pineda-Madrid argues that Christianity should espouse a lifestyle that brings the Kingdom of God to earth and theologians should pay attention to how victims grasp and yearn for salvation in a hellish situation vis-à-vis their practices of resistance.

This book serves as an analytical text for the situation in Juarez as well as a theological critique of a foundational and long standing assumption in soteriology. My only critique of the book is failing to draw out the connection between the United States and the drug war in Mexico. While this topic goes the scope of Pineda-Madrid’s work, it is important to acknowledge just how dire the situation is for Mexican citizens generally as well as the role U.S. funding plays. With that in mind, the book is still an excellent contribution in reminding us of the very particular plight that women face in situations of violence, especially because they are victimized in gruesome and sexualized ways, and because their problems are often overlooked in times of societal distressed.[1] Therefore, Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez is vital because it creates a link between our comfortable lifestyles as members of U.S. society with the suffering of women vis-à-vis a useful primer to analyze social suffering, while making a timely contribution to soteriology that forces theologians to respond to the world around them.  

[1] This is plainly evidenced in EmergenciaMx’s video entitled “The Pain,” where the names of the victims and disappeared of the Mexican drug war were predominately male. http://youtu.be/LfMpsXVQ5gY

Wendy Arce,
Graduate Theological Union