Why I Don’t Believe in Female Pastors by Andreea Nica


Andreea Nica, pentecostalismIt may come as a surprise to those who identify as both feminists and religious practitioners that I don’t believe women should be pastors of any dominant religious congregation. This includes most religions which, I assert, are rooted in and structured by the tenets of patriarchy. Does that mean I think women should be congregants of a patriarchal-originated religious system? You guessed it – no. While this may seem like a radical notion to some, it took me quite some time to come to terms with my own conflict in being both feminist and a believer.

My transition from the Pentecostal sect was a long, intricate process that involved life-altering decisions. The notion of leaving the church was driven by my immersion in women’s studies during my undergraduate degree. There were many difficult questions I simply didn’t have an answer for, as the church didn’t provide me with them.

One of them being: Can women instruct an entire congregation of believers?

For those who are female pastors, I’m sure you’ve heard this one a million times, but somehow it never fades from religious and secular discourse. Whether it’s the Islamic, Jewish, Christian, or Mormon faith, women have had to constantly fight for their right to preach religious doctrine. In the beginning of my transition, I was on the side of: Preach it ladies!

But I couldn’t shake the question of: But why? Why are women so determined to be leaders congregants for that matter, of systems that forbid and/or look down upon women preaching?

Throughout my journey speaking with feminist theologians, religious scholars, members of diverse faiths through my travels, along with my personal studies in feminist theology, I received one simple answer to my question.

female pastors

Wikimedia Commons

Community and acceptance.

Women want to be included in the religious equation as leaders, members, scholars, analysts, or simply believers. As an egalitarian myself, I completely support the inclusion of individuals within any system. However, there is one caveat. While I promote inclusion, I also question the social process and evaluate the conditions of the respective system. For example, even in contemporary society, female pastors face and endure discrimination.

What would their perseverance and determination achieve in this situation – the promotion of a faith system that is phenomenologically and historically driven by and founded in patriarchy? While I am certainly not a theologian or religious scholar, religious texts such as the Christian Bible, Quran, Book of Mormon, and Torah express its belief that women should not preach, and/or that women are inferior to men.

Christianity: 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

Islam: Sura 4:34: Men are managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.

Judaism: Numbers 18:1 & 7: (1) The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. (7)I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

Mormonism: “[The priesthood] is … the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 139).

These verses and citations are only a very small sample of how dominant religious systems discriminate against women: in regard to women being leaders and in relation to equal status to their male counterparts.

The Argument: But the religious texts also value and uphold women in equal stature to men.

During my transition, I heard it all and more:

  • Women were priestesses and prophetesses in the Old Testament
  • In Scientology, women can be leaders, even though they must be addressed by Sir, Mr.
  • Jesus preached egalitarianism!
  • Mormon women can choose to complete a mission
  • Religious, polygamous men really serve women
  • Islam is really about peace and equality

But does any of that really matter when there is ample evidence of contradictory content across these religious texts?

Interpretation is in the mouth of the one who preaches, and those most honored for taking the pulpit are men.

But shouldn’t they? In other words, men are known to have written these religious texts, so it seems reasonable that they want to be leaders of the faith system they founded. While women are included in historical texts in various ways, they were far from being the creators and dictators of religious doctrine.

Which leads me back to my primary question: Why do women still choose to fight for equal, or in some cases, superior status in a patriarchal-defined religious system? Once again, the answer is community and acceptance. While there is a diverse range of reasons as to why women have chosen to take their place behind the pulpit, based on my research, I’ve gathered that many, if not all, of the answers revolve around community and acceptance.

However, how can women gain acceptance or be part of a community that rejects (in some form or another) their gender and/or sexual identity? Scripture hasn’t changed, only interpretation has. So why are women scrambling to be accepted into a religious system that denounces their gender? Because we, as a society, don’t believe there is an alternative solution.

But, alas, there is one! Social Transformation.

This concept operates on two levels: Individual and Social System. On the individual level we change the socially ascribed social (religious in this case) status of our family lineage and/or connection into an independently achieved (religious or spiritual) status. On an institutional, systematic level, social transformation addresses the social and cultural shift of collective consciousness to produce an alternative system of knowledge production.

To sum up, rather than women collectively investing an enormous amount of energy in changing a landscape that, I believe, will never change at its roots, they could serve themselves and other women better if they opened themselves to a transformation that requires them to be the creators and participants of truly egalitarian religious and spiritual systems, and finally disconnecting from the patriarchal fathers of the religious past.

Up for the challenge?

Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, scholar, egalitarian, and yogi. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Gender, Media, and Culture Studies. Andreea also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Currently, she is writing her memoir on transitioning from Pentecostalism, focusing on institutional power, subjectivities, and socialization. She is the Founder of OrganiCommunications, empowering startups and social enterprises in strategic and digital communication ventures. She is the author of 2 blogs: OrganiCommunications and Progressive Thinking. You can find her in Seattle, WA. with her partner and kitty, probably doing yoga.@convergingearth  @integratedcom

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Categories: Belief, Bible, Christianity, Church Doctrine, Community, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Theology, Gender, Gender and Power, General, God, Herstory, Islam, Jesus, Judaism, LSD Church, Mormonism, Patriarchy, Power relations, Qur'an, Qur'an and women, Reform, Resistance, Scripture, Social Justice, Theology, Women and Community, Women and Ministry, Women in the Church, Women Religious, Women's Rights, Women's Spirituality

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33 replies

  1. Many of us who are blogging and responding on FAR have come to similar conclusions to yours. We look forward to seeing where you go from here. Keep on asking those questions. I hope you will soon discover that you have many sisters who are up to the challenge and have already begun the journey “beyond” the fathers.

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    • Today’s commentary makes me question if I really wish to continue subscribing to FAR. While I understand there are many different opinions on the subject, I am disappointed the administrators published this one. For me, it encourages the feeling of hopelessness. The comments are also disappointing. While they acknowledge the inequality, they seem to promote the “poor little me” attitude that gets us nowhere. I would like to see some comments with comments that may create change.

      I started to write a comment, but before I “sent” it, I decided to read those that were posted while I wrote mine. I didn’t think my direct writing style would be read as credible. Whatever I write would still have my WTF? attitude show through! Yes, I can be crude. I decided to post.

      It takes stamina and guts to buck the criticism a clergywoman receives. Preaching the feminine Divine is a roller coaster ride. It is a shame one needs to preface a message with a statement acknowledging you expect some won’t believe it or, worse, not return.

      This is an excerpt from a nondenominational female Spiritual Leader:
      “If I didn’t have —————-, I don’t know that I could keep doing this. But then again, each time I get frustrated and upset and think it is time for me to leave, the Divine seems to have other ideas. It’s like a cruel joke on me. Constant fighting against, or at least friction with, the superstructure, is exhausting. I’m still doing it and we aren’t even part of a denomination! Just being Christian means that we are in a patriarchal model of theology. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time reframing things and trying to help everyone see a new perspective and I wonder how helpful that really is. Am I just rehashing the past or are we actually growing and moving forward? Somedays I can’t tell.” – anonymous. The fact that I post her quote as “anonymous” is telling, isn’t it??

      If laypeople in denominational congregations are exposed to a genderless bible (The Inclusive Bible is an example) and the fact of patriarchal political influences of early Christianity, awareness would come from within. I don’t anticipate or expect to see male clergy discussing these “heretical ” studies. I do feel a straight forward approach brought forward by an educated layperson could cause women to question.

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      • Roxanne – thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts and contemplations. I’m sorry to hear this post instigated feelings of hopelessness for you. I recall when I was on my transitional journey detaching from Pentecostalism, I was grasping onto fading fragments of my faith, community, and doctrine. At one point, during the dismantling of my faith, I was fighting – fighting through sweat and blood – to reconcile intellectually and emotionally my faith and being a feminist. I felt utterly hopeless and defeated, because I simply could not fight for something I no longer believed in nor felt supported by.

        I completely empathize with you in that “It takes stamina and guts to buck the criticism a clergywoman receives.” It absolutely does. However, what I’m promoting and fully believe in is that women take that strong-willed power and invest it in a community and system that will entirely support our gender and sexual identities, not partially or in fragments.

        I hope you will consider the overall message of my post and hope to see you back on Feminism and Religion.

        Thanks again for your well-spoken thoughts!

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      • Roxanne —

        As one of the women who participates frequently on FAR and who has also left her birth religion (Protestantism), I am saddened by your response to this post. Personally, I disagree with Andreea. I believe that feminism needs to challenge patriarchy in EVERY ARENA. I find it exciting to discover on FAR what feminists are doing within Christian and Mormon churches, Jewish temples, Muslim mosques, and among atheists, Buddhists, and pagans. These reports and the respectful conversations that occur between all of us here give energy to my own efforts to bring about change, admittedly in less fraught arenas than yours appears to be (I’m now Wiccan and Unitarian Universalist). I hope you decide to stick with us. I’ve found it extremely useful.

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      • Thank you for your comment, Nancy. FAR will most likely remain welcomed to my inbox. Today’s post rekindled memories of why I left a denominational church and, with a very few like minded men and women, co-founded a spiritual community that embraces the Divine as genderless; or, for me, multi gendered, depending on whatever moment I find myself. The large denominations are creating their own demise by not encouraging thoughtful questions. When I mention a feminine Divine to longtime friends, they have no clue what I could be referring to. God or any high power is always that bearded white guy in the sky, right? If I refer to the goddess, well…..we won’t go there. It’s comfortable to have these discussions with like minded people. We do that a lot. But, are we making any progress exposing the masses to these concepts?

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    • Thank you for your encouraging words Carol!

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    • Oops I didn’t mean to say that working outside of traditional religions was the only valid choice, I only meant to say that Andreea has many foresisters here on FAR and elsewhere who have decided to work outside traditional religious contexts. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that.

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  2. “An alternative system of knowledge production.” I like the sound of that! I’m with you, Andreea!! It’s time for women to re-invent the world.

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  3. “To sum up, rather than women collectively investing an enormous amount of energy in changing a landscape that, I believe, will never change at its roots, they could serve themselves and other women better if they opened themselves to a transformation that requires them to be the creators and participants of truly egalitarian religious and spiritual systems, and finally disconnecting from the patriarchal fathers of the religious past.”

    I agree with that conclusion. And honor your path that may open so many new doors. The established religions have never answered the real yearning within me. Not even in roles of leadership because of those very roots. I am very grateful for the small but growing option I was given over thirty five years ago. Bless you on your journey.

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    • Thank you wemarriage for sharing your thoughts on the topic, and it’s so satisfying to hear that many women are given alternative options! If you’d like to share what that small, but growing option is, I would love to hear it!

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  4. I loved this Andreea, and I’m with you all the way. My ongoing individual transformation has been conducted outside of prevailing social systems with only books and a few loosely organized women’s groups as spiritual mentors and companions. Over the last few years it has been one of the greatest joys of my life to discover a new like-minded spiritually-oriented community on the internet.

    The best part of this is that we get to meet on our own terms, each of us choosing our own companions, sharing our souls and expressing our views whenever and wherever the need arises such that we are, indeed, “the creators and participants of [a] truly egalitarian religious and spiritual system….” This forum is one of those “alternative systems of knowledge production” and I am deeply grateful for it.

    Best wishes, Jeanie

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  5. Andreea, I so completely and totally agree with you from a woman’s perspective. Even my sangha changes its aura when a man occasionally joins us. The female energy/perspective so desperately needs its own place, its own way to grow, its own way to nurture. Given my d’ruthers, we would all walk out of traditional churches and establish those to our own liking, and we would find our world a much better place indeed. What terrifies me is the thought of leaving men alone to themselves. Men’s energies formed the KKK, and the Nazi party. Men’s energies create the greed of Wall Street and justify the 81. Most, I suspect, would follow no religious path were it not for the feminine presence in some form. Could we truly in clear conscience leave them on their own in something so important as religion?

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    • Hi MaryAnn, thanks for bringing up such a provoking thought and question. And I’m glad to clarify that I believe men should absolutely be a part of a new religious/spiritual system that women have founded and created. This may then be construed as matriarchal but the point is that women are creators of faith systems that men can certainly choose to be a part of or not. At the same time, the faith systems primarily led and dictated by men would still exist. The form in which they would take without a strong female presence is another story. ;)

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  6. The most profound religious experiences in my life are not connected to any religious faith or community, and yet they are so deeply joyous and spiritual I can’t communicate them. Walking through the woods at sunset is joy and celebration for me, beyond description.

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  7. Interesting article, however, the Book of Mormon does not explicitly deny leadership roles to women. You quote J F Smith (grandson to Joseph Smith), he is not an individual within the Book of Mormon. He was contemporary leader in the church, holding the role of a prophet. You will not find a direct quote about women’s roles a religious leaders. Simply because there are no women mentioned as religious leaders. I think the Doctrine and Covenants, also held as scripture, would have been a better source to use. Just in my opinion. Some guy who happens to be Mormon.

    http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Women_in_the_Book_of_Mormon

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    • Hi James,

      Thanks for your feedback on the Book of Mormon sources in relation to female leadership in the Mormon faith!

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      • You are welcome. The Ensign, as close to cannon as you can get, has the writings and talks of the prophets as well. The LDS church has a complicated relationship with women. In some ways they are venerated. Of course, with a feminist eye, the same veneration could be viewed as denigration. I am convert and really did not think much about the issue until I began studying religion at VCU. Well, I guess until I was better informed by some teachers.

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  8. Andreea,

    Wonderful post with great insights. I have to admit my eyes were opened attending a very liberal divinity school. Women were an integral part of both daily religious worship — I would say they led and directed over 50% of all worship services. It seems to me that some liberal protestant Churches have been able to overcome the patriarchal roots of traditional Christianity. So, while I agree that it may be near impossible to effect change in some of the more conservative branches of Christianity, there are pockets where women not just serve, but thrive as integral parts of all aspects of the pastoral role.

    As a side note as a man whose great-great grandfather was a Mormon polygamist with 4 wives — I actually think that women have been marginalized post-polygamy more so than during its accepted practice (1845-1890). Early Mormonism included women in its most sacred councils and not just as window dressing. It is really interesting to read the letters my gg-grandmother wrote about being a polygamous wife. It was absolutely difficult and heart-wrenching at times but what comes through in her letters is just how much power and influence wives had within both families and the Church. Oh how times have changed…..

    Seth

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    • Hi Seth,

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your personal experiences!

      As I’ve always been fascinated with multi-partner relational dynamics, I do find it interesting how women negotiate power and leadership within polygamy. I would agree that it’s far more complex than just saying women do not discover forms of empowerment within polygamous circles, but my main argument always rests at the point of origin and the evaluation of the relational intricacies of the system. For example, in polygamy, women typically must be in commitment to one man and god. To me, that will never be a form of empowerment.

      A more egalitarian shared unit such as polyamory is far more satisfying in my opinion.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

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  9. For a while I once also stood in the edge of that question, and also used to believe that fighting for our equal rights within the same dogma-filled doctrines that vilified all things feminine was the answer. The truth is that to do so, we would have to sell out and abide by, at the root core, to the many misogynous foundational premises onto which these main religious institutions were founded.

    Ignoring religion is also not the answer…as the inner spiritual calling is inherent in every human being and religion is nothing but a template, in our case most fraught with severe spiritual flaws, to address this essential need. Even though looking away from it has served to starkly diminish religious influence in the organization of our society, I believe that actively investing in truly egalitarian templates to inspire our souls into divine evolution, is to me the truest and most integral way. No need to compromise truth, real compassion, true equality and true divinity with tainted premises, no more.

    No doubt, this is a duality-filled world and the multiple and opposite choices will always remain, it is up to us to choose WHERE we deposit our heart, mind and the energy that follows. All we need to do is, our own part, by consciously and responsibly choosing in each moment and engaging our creative and self-honoring power to activate, engage, execute and create new avenues that best represent what we know, deep within, to be most resonant with the love-filled truth of our true essence.

    However, it is important to acknowledge that temporarily abiding and penetrating those sects once entirely forbidden to women has been in great service to the softening of the edges of such institutions and to the so needed inspiration that way back when, women so desperately needed in order to further fuel and ignite their inner fire to stand for equality and believe there was hope for truth and for change. So here I humbly stand in the shoulders of those women who have, in the best way they knew then, lit the way of hope for us to walk with greater confidence today and being able to now claim:
    “Yes, I believe there is a better and more integral way…”

    Jane Gehr

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  10. Thank you Andeea Nica for raising your voice so beautifully and courageously regarding such a delicate yet profoundly necessary topic. Many blessings to you dear.

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  11. Wow, what a thought-provoking post! I am struggling with this issue as well. My denomination, (Congregational) United Church of Christ, was the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman. She was Antoinette Brown and she was ordained in 1853. There are many women UCC ministers, perhaps there are even more women than men, but like you wrote, Christianity is patriarchal at its roots. The UCC tries to use gender-neutral or feminine terms for God at times, but to me they feel like a mere sop. That is why I was so thrilled to find a women’s singing circle that promotes women’s spirituality/Goddess worship. I feel like I have come home, but I still belong to my church. I’m not quite ready to give up on my church, especially my church community. One of my professors at the seminary I just graduated from told me that it is fine for me to have a foot in both the Christian and Wiccan camps, but I told him that doing the splits isn’t easy! I may leave my church someday, but in the meantime I teach Bible study at my church and I’m doing my best to educate and enlighten the women who attend.

    Thanks for writing about your journey!

    Linda

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  12. Andreea, I just loved every word you wrote. Why are women even bothering to attend these churches? I just don’t get it. Women could be working hard to serve each other. I went to an event over the weekend that was a joyous lesbian celebration of dance, songs, stories, it was heaven. It was a room filled with powerful love, it was lesbian only space, it was powerful and sacred. After being in a space like this, and it is rare and hard to find, it is so much more liberating than having to negotiate with people or having to deal with hellish texts that are womanhating woman denying to the core.

    I understand how you can be born into a patriarchal nightmare church. I get that, you grew up catholic, so you’re hooked on catholic. Hey didn’t we all think processed food was fine back in the day? But why do women stay in these places? Or want to lead a congregation that uses that horrifyingly boring male authored waste of time known as the bible? As a lesbian, I just hate that stuff, I really hate heteronormative conformity, I hate seeing women just put up with that stuff and stick it out and fight it out, when women could just walk the hell out. Found women’s churches, go on s

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  13. Hmmmm, a very interesting and thought provoking post and comments. It seems to me, exploring the practices of religion, that all are patriarchal. So is our modern society, avowedly so. This is distressing, unempowering and downright sexist, squishing women into menial boxes for the most part. BUT, I remember that it’s only just a century or so since women got the vote in most countries – and how hard our grandmothers fought for it: hunger strikes, imprisonment, demonstrations, marches being banned at the last moment etc. I see religion in the same light.

    I choose to be quiet rebel in my local church. I ignore my vicar’s requests to confront people who disagree with him, my prayers – which are very popular – begin with the words “Beloved Creator.” Everyone is acknowledged and respected in them, particularly people on the margins. When our MPs were debating allowing same sex marriage, I was asked to pray that they recognise the absolute importance of heterosexual marriage, but instead said: “Lord, may your will be done.” And the MPs voted for it two days later.

    I know pagans and wiccans, agnostics and atheists, we share meals and rituals and talk a great deal about how we are helping shift attitudes and beliefs in the world in our own ways. I choose to remain in my church, for the time being, and all the women know they can turn to me about hardships which they would be ashamed to reveal to male vicars, because men have no answers for life’s cruelties (so often created by men, let’s face it.) So, leadership can be quiet, nurturing and life-affirming. It doesn’t need power.

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  14. Andreea, thank you for a brave post that has inspired so much passionate and thoughtful response. Yesterday I didn’t think I had anything to add, but I woke up this morning with words running through my mind.

    I am the daughter of an Episcopal priest, briefly contemplated seeking ordination myself (back before 1976 when women’s ordination was not allowed) but chose the path of a novelist instead. For ten years I was a Quaker, and I still love and admire Friends for creating a community where everyone ministers and mediates the divine. Then the goddess took me by surprise. (I knew nothing about a movement at the time) and eventually I left Friends, became an ordained interfaith minister so that I could pursue a counseling practice and I founded and facilitated (for 18 years) a community that practiced earth-centered celebration. We created music, ritual, our own traditions, art, and helped each other through hard times. I was the facilitator and the keeper of the land that gave us the space but not the head honchess in any sense, a role I did not want. Eventually, we had to let go of the place (too long a story) and it was time to move on into another phase of life.

    That’s all to say that I am one of the women who left the church and participated in other ways of connecting and celebrating. I also feel great respect and gratitude for women who have stayed in the churches, synagogues, and mosques and work to transform those traditions. Even though I found another way for myself, I still feel connected to my Christian roots. I spent twenty years of my life writing a passion story from the point of view of a woman who never converts and never becomes a disciple. As Maeve (http://elizabethcunninghamwrites.com/books) will be the first to say: she is telling her story, not his. It is a joy to me that readers are members of established religions and various stripes of pagan, agnostic, and atheist.

    One thought I want to offer is that women may stay in their churches for more than community and acceptance. Faith is a deep and mysterious power that cannot be explained in rational or abstract terms. An analogy that comes to me is the way people respond to family of origins where they have experienced some form or degree of abuse and oppression. As a counselor I have worked with people who decide to end all relationship with their families. Often they must do so to survive. There is no room for them to be who they are. I have also worked with people who remain part of their families but labor to do so on their own terms and with their own truth. Each choice has its challenges and rewards, and no one can make that choice for another or judge whether it is right or wrong. I expect the same is true of faith communities. Some are so abusive, it is absolute death to the spirit to stay. Some circumstances allow for more range of response.

    I come from a long line of priests, my father and his before him, his before him and so on. They passed on in a variety of ways (personal and theological) the abuses of Christianity–as well as its beauty. I could and have written volumes to express all the heartbreaking and healing paradoxes of this tradition. I will close just by mentioning music, which has always been a touchstone and point of connection. Our earth-centered community created gorgeous, ecstatic music, some that can be passed along and some that existed only in that moment. I rejoice in that experience. Yet because I love music, I cannot dismiss the religious tradition that gave us, among so much more, Aretha Franklin singing “Oh Mary don’t you weep” and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

    Sisters inside and outside the church, in the woods and in the streets, there is room for us all at the feast.

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  15. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In any organization, there are going to be pluses and minuses. You have to decide what works best for you, but keep in mind that your decision may also change over time.

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  16. Andreea,

    Thanks for this!

    I always find myself in the middle on this one depending on the day and how I feel. When I am exhausted with the fight, I just think to hell with mainstream Islam and I will just become part of or create my own religion or simply follow my own spiritual path without subscribing to a religion at all. However, most of time I am on fire and ready to engage Islamic patriarchy at every turn with the belief that Islam is as much my religion as any man’s and that leaving my religion does nothing to right a wrong.

    A sense of belonging is extremely important in religion, but as an educator, I am willing to be unaccepted by the group if it means that just one member of that group changes his way of thinking. It is not quite the same, but it reminds me of whenI was young in a rural area and constantly told by white classmates to “go back to Africa!” They did not want me there; it was there neighborhood, their school, their world. Even as a child, I challenged them not just because I wanted acceptance (although I did) but because I knew their neighborhood, school, and world was also mine and I was going to fight for them. Nevertheless, there were also those times when I thought that creating and living in an all African American society like Allensworth would be ideal so I would not have to be in combat mode 24/7.

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  17. The Bible is very clear in its message regarding the role of women in church. You can not change that because that is the absolute truth. It is not based on a man’s interpretation as what many feminists are saying. You can not change its real interpretation just to suit your own thinking. Similarly, many feminists believe that abortion at any stage in pregnancy is not a sin. Feminists try to distort the facts that life does not begin at conception but at much later time. Well, this is also in contrast to what the Bible is saying when life starts.

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