Religion, Race, and Feminism in an Era of Elusive Enlightenment by Salaam Green

The warrior spirit is not only the coherent ability to resist circumstances outside of one’s making; but the ability to fight the war within all of us thus managing discomfort and chaos with the force of authenticity.

Recently an enlightened friend on social media reminded me of the importance of not only portraying an awakened consciousness in the fight towards enlightened morays in an age of fascist’s dictatorships but actually waking up to unresolved veracities.

Hurriedly, I searched for a working definition of enlightenment consistent with my Christian beliefs. I finally found several however, none exactly measured up to the values that are interlaced within scriptures and thus are founding principles of Christianity and religious fundamentals.

Continue reading “Religion, Race, and Feminism in an Era of Elusive Enlightenment by Salaam Green”

Trump’s Misogyny – A Case for the Contempt-Oriented Personality by Stephanie Arel


In the quotes below, you will briefly encounter the words of Donald Trump throughout the years as he has commented on women. You might have read or heard many of these, as I have. Reading them still brings a chill to the spine (please be warned of the misogynist language that follows).

“You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall; she’s got the best body. She made a lot money as a model—a tremendous amount.” 2003 Howard Stern Interview

“My favorite part [of ‘Pulp Fiction’] is when Sam has his gun out in the diner, and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: ‘Bitch be cool.’ I love those lines.” 2005 TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald

“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” March 6, 2006 The View

“While ‪@BetteMidler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.” Oct 28, 2012 Twitter

Rosie O’Donnel is “crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb.” July 11, 2014 Twitter

“Why is it necessary to comment on [Ariana Huffington’s] looks? Because she is a dog who wrongfully comments on me.” April 6, 2015 Twitter

I hesitated to start this post with such deprecatory quotes related to women and women’s bodies. Yet, forgetting or camouflaging the misogyny that this administration represents is egregious. These quotes indicate a truth about Trump’s opinion of women: women are to be controlled, possessed, and disparaged. These snippets into Trump’s posture toward women exhibit his misogyny, his disgust of women, and ultimately, his own self-contempt.

Continue reading “Trump’s Misogyny – A Case for the Contempt-Oriented Personality by Stephanie Arel”

Coexist or Contradict? How about Resist Instead by Katey Zeh

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While stopped at a red light on my way home one day I noticed that the two cars immediately in front of me had the same “Coexist” bumper sticker. You’ve probably seen one like it. Each of the letters of is a symbol representing a major religious or spiritual ideology. For example, the “C” is a crescent moon symbolizing Islam, and the “X” is a Star of David symbolizing Judaism.

This was a particularly long traffic light, which gave me time to realize that I was mistaken. In actuality the bumper sticker on the car just ahead of me did not read “Coexist” but “Contradict.” Underneath that it read, “They can’t all be true-John 14:6.” Despite my early days of earnest scripture memorization I couldn’t recall this particular passage, but I had a hunch it was the verse in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I was right.

I’ll admit my eyes rolled back in my head over this display of Christian moral superiority. Continue reading “Coexist or Contradict? How about Resist Instead by Katey Zeh”

Doctrine and Fidelity by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsThis past week, I was listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being as she spoke with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  He is a poet, theologian, and leader in the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland. As he spoke about several things related to the challenges of belonging, reconciliation, and fractured communities, he said, ”The measure of Christian fidelity is more than the positions we take.”

I agree.  I interpreted his statement as a condemnation of the ways Christian doctrines and moral positions too often take priority over other matters of faith.

Continue reading “Doctrine and Fidelity by Elise M. Edwards”

Is Evil Winning? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

If you are li15036682_10154709860681591_8947505383481702342_nke me, today (and most days lately) it is difficult to be positive in a world that seems so full of hate.  In fact, I struggled with a topic to write about because, in all honesty, it is hard to see the greener grass from where I sit – with all of the hatred spilling out in neighborhoods, churches, schools, and college campuses – even between family and friends.  As I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a video and was struck by its message – we must be relentless in our kindness otherwise evil will win.

“Relentless” is a word that currently echoes through the United States –on both sides of the aisle.  We have been relentless in raising our voice – writing, calling, e-mailing, visiting, marching – expressing our unhappiness with the current President and all that is happening in the White House.

Instead of struggling to find the words, I share  the video and offer a transcript.

Continue reading “Is Evil Winning? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Trump: Shock, Awe, and Response by Stephanie Arel

stephanie-arelIn the frenzied wave of responses to Trump’s most recent, and horrifying, decisions – reinstating the Mexico City Policy and the newly instated Immigration Ban –  I have experienced surges of anger, frustration, despair, concern, and hopelessness. My adrenaline has rushed – both as a result of notifications from the New York Times buzzing on my Apple watch and as a consequence of stepping off a train to find myself in the heart of a protest I failed to know was happening, but for which I also felt pride.

But to be honest, and many of my women friends have echoed a similar sentiment, Trump’s outrageous choices likely mark the beginning of four long years, and my body cannot handle the seesaw of emotions. What compounds this reflection is the raw truth that we are only at the beginning. We are just over the threshold. What will come next?

This question has validity. Serious validity. Continue reading “Trump: Shock, Awe, and Response by Stephanie Arel”

Way Too Nice by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonWhat an honor to have taken part in the Women’s March (Washington DC) last Saturday, January 21, 2017!  The event made visible the enormous number of people willing to give their time and effort to stand up and march for justice in the areas of women’s reproduction, immigration, race relations, LGBTQIA, the environment, and health care.  The most frequently-used chants that I heard during the march were: “Black Lives Matter” and the call and response “My body, my choice. Her body, her choice.”

There were “sister marches” in many cities across the U.S. as well as in cities and countries throughout the world.  And the marches (as far as I know) were all peaceful.  No arrests. Continue reading “Way Too Nice by Esther Nelson”

A Gift Offered in Faith and Love by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwards“The day begins with the sun and ends with the moon and stars; what you do in between is your gift to the world.” – Reyna Craig

The new year has begun, and many of us take this marking of time as an occasion to set intentions, goals, plans, or resolutions for the year ahead.  For us feminists, the year ahead holds clear challenges.  We know that the bodies, spirits, minds, hearts, and souls of women, racial and ethnic “minorities,” and all sorts of vulnerable people will be attacked.  We know that the protections secured under the law for these bodies, spirits, minds, hearts, and souls have been eroded and continue to be dismantled in the name of… well, what exactly? Justice? Life? Religion?

We’ve seen voting rights eroded in the name of democratic ideals.  We’ve seen challenges to bodily autonomy in the name of life.  We’ve seen state-sanctioned murder in the name of law and order.  We’ve seen a rise in religious intolerance in the name of religious liberty.  Our work in this age must be to continue to expand our collective understandings of these ideals.  This is the gift we offer to the world.

Continue reading “A Gift Offered in Faith and Love by Elise M. Edwards”

The Dandelion Insurrection: A Must-Read for These Times by Kate Brunner

dandelioninsurrectionI don’t know about you, but I am fried. These last two years proved personally & professionally exhausting. And yet, another year looms ahead unavoidably — another incredibly demanding year which will require more than I can fathom I actually have to give at this moment. So, during these strange, liminal, hazy, waning days between my culture’s frenetic celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I decided I could not digest one more morsel of non-fiction. Not one more triple vetted, actually fact-checked, or at least mostly properly journalistic news article. Not one more diligently researched treatise on the world’s sorry state of affairs. Not one more book-length analysis of humanity’s determined spiral into self-destruction.

Instead, I set out a stack of backlogged novels I’d told myself I’d get around to later when things calmed down and decided that even if things were far from calm, humanity’s creativity was what I desperately needed a large dose of this week. I boiled the kettle, brewed a strong cup of tea, and in working my way through that stack of novels, I found and joined The Dandelion Insurrection. Continue reading “The Dandelion Insurrection: A Must-Read for These Times by Kate Brunner”

A Letter to Those I’ve Lost by John Erickson

Out of all of these things, the one thing that has kept coming to my mind is G-d. What is he (or she) thinking? I feel like I’m back in one of my Old Testament classes discussing the harsh and cruel G-d that thrust so many horrible things onto their believers. Maybe, the worst part about the election isn’t Donald Trump, but it is the realization that G-d may be dead after all.

Dear [Insert Name Here],

Something died on November 8, 2016, and I do not think I’ll ever be able to get it back. I sat there, walking back to my house, in disbelief and utter shock and scared about the next 4 years of my life.

For weeks leading up to the election, I had found myself praying in the copy room at my work almost daily. I would sit there, silent and alone, having just read some misleading article or alt-right post from a family member that called Hillary Clinton the devil, and wonder: when did everything go so off the rails?

Although we’ll spend years trying to figure the answer to my above question out, for me, it is a question I have been asking myself ever since election night and specifically knowing how certain members of my family would, and ultimately did, vote. Continue reading “A Letter to Those I’ve Lost by John Erickson”

Moving Forward and into a New Season by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsIt’s only been a month and I am still reeling from the US presidential election.  I feel like I’m just beginning to emerge from the sense of loss and futility that has cloaked me.  But I am beginning to move forward.

I don’t feel better.  I’m still confused and discouraged about why people voted for Donald Trump.  I’m very concerned about his cabinet picks and his proposed policies.  But I am actively seeking a path forward and a path of resistance.  I’m finding support in my spiritual practices and communities.

In the Christian calendar, we are in the season of Advent.  Advent carries profound symbolism, and this year it is especially poignant for me.  The word advent bears meanings of arrival, birth, and emergence.  It’s the beginning of the Christian year, which is patterned on the life of Christ, but the year does not begin Jesus’ birth.  That celebration is observed at Christmas, four weeks into the church year.  The weeks preceding Christmas are a time of preparation and reflection on the need for the Incarnation.  The Incarnation of God in the Christ Child may be a distinctly Christian doctrine, but I believe the need for it–even the idea of it–is found in other spiritual and religious teachings.

Continue reading “Moving Forward and into a New Season by Elise M. Edwards”

My Reaction to the Election Results by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI wanted to stay in bed yesterday morning.  I wanted to stay in bed for the whole day.  When I heard that Trump won the US Presidential election, I didn’t know how to deal with it.  How can I accept this reality?  I still don’t have an adequate answer.

Turn to prayer? Yes.  Do some writing? Ok. I’ll also take every hug and kind word that’s offered to me.  And still, my emotions will be raw for a long time.  I cry at random moments.  My voice catches unexpectedly.  I feel that so many Americans embraced a vision of the country that is intensely hostile to people like me (women, African-Americans, Black Lives Matter sympathizers, liberals, intellectuals). How can I not take that personally? Dismissing the harm of Trump’s open hostility or accepting it in deference to some supposedly higher goal feels like rejection too.  It justifies and legitimizes his contempt and denies the seriousness of it.  Do we really accept a man who speaks so openly of sexual assault because he promises to bring jobs back?  That denigrates women and all assault victims. The hatred directed at immigrants, Muslims, and LGBTQA persons is even more unrestrained and horrifying!

Continue reading “My Reaction to the Election Results by Elise M. Edwards”

What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsDuring another week of killings, war, protests, and debates about whether Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, I’m concerned about the toll it takes on those who are witnessing the violence and fighting for justice.

I’m not on the front lines of these battles, but I can feel my energy draining, nonetheless. Over the past few days, while I’ve stayed informed about the latest tragedies and conflicts, I’ve intentionally limited my exposure to most news and social media outlets. I’ve begun preparing for a contemplative retreat with other women who also care about justice.  For me to continue to participate in any effort of transforming society, culture, or the church, I must nurture my mind, spirit, and body.

Audre Lorde put it like this:

“Caring for myself Is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care is a radical practice of self-love. It is absolutely necessary when engaged in conflict against those who do not show love to you, or worse, those who seek to destroy you.  Your survival and your flourishing are defiantly brave.  Self-care honors the God who created you, the One who loves you, and the Spirit who sustains you. Continue reading “What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards”

A Complicated History by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my previous post, I wrote about my participation in planning a memorial event for the lynching of a man named Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas one hundred years ago. It prompted me to reflect on the challenge of faithfully remembering a conflicted past.  It’s important that we don’t just remember past events, but that we remember them appropriately.

I’m convinced that when we remember the past, we must avoid oversimplifying the stories of what occurred to suit our present day agendas and sensibilities.  We have to acknowledge the complexity, tension and conflict in what occurred, and perhaps even our own guilt and complicity in what is still occurring.  As a black feminist Christian ethicist, I face this challenge when one aspect of my identity seeks to address a particular issue through a narrative that implicates or denigrates another aspect of my identity. Uncomfortable as it is, I recognize Christianity’s complicity in its defenses of chattel slavery.  I recognize women’s support of patriarchy.

I went to a lecture a few weeks ago by Walter Brueggemann, a well-respected Old Testament theologian, titled “The Risks of Nostalgia.” Brueggemann warned us of the dangers of mis-remembering the past.  Pointing to texts from the prophets and Psalms, he demonstrated how the people of Israel remembered a past before exile without remembering the difficulties, the exploitative conditions, and the tensions of that time.  Excluding these harsher realities allowed them to gloss over the differences among them to unite in hatred and distrust in a common enemy—the one responsible of their present situation.  By misremembering, they lamented a version of past that didn’t belong to all of them because it didn’t include their diverse histories.  But the singular narrative served a purpose—it furthered their cause, their yearning and motivation to return to the way things were before.  Did this cause really serve all those who were yearning for it? It’s a question that comes to mind when I hear women yearn for a pre-feminist era or Christians yearn for an era of Christendom.

Like the Old Testament people of exile, we are in moral danger when we remember the past with a nostalgia that sweeps over the real stories of what happened in the past.  We risk buying into a narrative that harms us in its oversimplifcation.  A simple solution will suffice if we believe we have a simple problem.

Lynching was not a simplistic problem and the Waco Horror is not a simplistic story.  A black man was lynched for raping and murdering a white woman named Lucy Fryer.  I’ll admit it. The realities of the story make me uneasy. Jesse Washington confessed to a crime and was found guilty in the court proceedings that preceded his murder.  It makes sense to question whether the criminal proceedings were biased and whether his confession was coerced or illegitimate in some other manner.  But even if we question his confession or conviction, we shouldn’t gloss over them as if they never occurred. To present him as a purely innocent victim would be to distort the past to serve a cause – and even a cause as noble as community unity or racial justice should not be attained through lies.  People of integrity must guard against distorting the past for “the good” because the distortions themselves cause pain and harm.

Fryer’s family is still experiencing pain over her murder which precipitated the lynching.  Sadly, their pain is made worse by the remembrances of Jesse Washington.  Their pain does not mean we should not remember, but it does mean we cannot, as people of good conscience, romanticize violence or idealize its victims.  Some people might make Washington out to be a hero or a martyr, but the organizers of the memorial service didn’t remember him that way.  We didn’t cast him as a blameless victim.  But we remembered him as a victim, nonetheless.

We didn’t romanticize the lynching crowds and their pursuit of justice, either. Washington was brutally tortured and killed before a crowd of thousands.  If Christians are a people who embrace the love and mercy of a God who forgives the worst of sinners, they have to condemn even those crimes committed in the name of justice; crimes committed against criminals.

Noble causes, if they are just, must stand in the truth – the messy, complicated truth that resists casting all our heroes as saints, all our villains as irredeemable sinners.  Real humans aren’t characters who wear the white hats and black hats of the old Westerns (or even the white hats of Olivia Pope & Associates on ABC’s Scandal).

When we resist remembering simplistic, nostalgic stories, we can begin to grapple with the reality of how difficult it really is to achieve justice.  We can see humankind for who we really are. And maybe then we can ask for help.

We can ask victims to help us heal the wounds that persist.  We need their help to understand their pain and the underlying causes we seek to solve.

We can ask for the help of those who study the various aspects of our world and culture—the economists, the sociologists, the historians, the artists, the theologians and ethicists, the criminologists, and the scientists. We can be humble enough to learn what we don’t know about what’s really going on.

And I hope we also ask for divine assistance.  Despite their own complicated histories, wrongs, and imperfections, our faith traditions can enable us to do more than merely rightly remember, consider, and observe the problems in the world. They can embolden us with the courage of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett to speak a complicated truth and yet still dare to fight to make this a better world.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or

A Theology of Indifference – What Have We Become? by Karen Hernandez

karen hernandezSay his name – Bashar al-Assad. From my research and understanding, as President, Assad is most responsible for Syria’s devastation. Yes, there are many other players, but, Assad holds a special place. Responsible for making sure the first shots were fired at peaceful Arab Spring protesters, to using chemical weapons on his own people, he is one bad dude.

Yet, what perplexes me is that people love him. In fact, they adore him. How do I know? I follow the Syrian Presidency on Instagram. Yes, the Syrian Presidency has an Instagram account. How can a man that is responsible for the deaths of millions have an Instagram account? Continue reading “A Theology of Indifference – What Have We Become? by Karen Hernandez”

My Terrible Transition Year and the Return of my Humanity by Xochitl Alvizo

Alvizo headshot smallI have called it, The Terrible Transition Year, this year of finishing dissertation, uprooting from home, moving cross-country, and starting a new full-time teaching job. Last year at this time I was in LA for a 7-8 week stay, away from home – which at the time was in Boston – writing dissertation nonstop. I spent the holidays apart from my family and shared in none of my traditional holiday celebrations as I intensely pushed forward to complete the dissertation. After (seemingly) endless edits back and forth with my advisor and second reader, I finished the dissertation just in time to successfully defended it in May.

During most of this dissertation-writing time, I never had the sense that there would be a successful end to it all. I wrote and submitted each chapter-draft always with the underlying fear that I would be told my work was unworthy, my logic lacking, and my thesis unsubstantiated. So I vividly remember the moment (I can actually still feel it) when I got definitive affirmation that my dissertation would reach a successful end. I remember the shock, the relief, and the physiological rush that coursed through my body as I read the words of approval that came in response to my last chapter. I remember my body shooting up off the chair and saying, “No!” as I read the email. It was a “No” of disbelief, as in “Can this really be?!” And it was. And only at that point did I believe my dissertation would be successful. Continue reading “My Terrible Transition Year and the Return of my Humanity by Xochitl Alvizo”

What’s Wrong with this Picture? by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsOn Monday, the picture was on my Facebook feed again: The picture of a girl lying face down in the grass under a police officer pressing his knee in her back. It was from the video of an African-American teenager being pinned to the ground by Eric Casebolt, the police officer in McKinney, Texas who was responding to calls about a pool party. When I saw the picture this time, it was in a screenshot with these words below it:

“Funny how a 14 year old bikini-clad black girl being publicly assaulted by an adult male does not accrue mainstream feminist outrage.” – Yohanna

The screenshot was taken of a post to Yohanna’s Twitter account (@maarnayeri). I don’t know her, but she troubled me.

If you haven’t seen the images we’re talking about, you can view the video here with a description of what is concurring or below from YouTube. I was reluctant to watch the video. It seems voyeuristic to view this young woman’s suffering and screaming. And, if I am honest with myself, it also seems useless. Viewing this from my computer screen, I’m in no position to help her. I hear her cries and it make me cry too. But I can’t push him off of her. When other teens tried to come to her defense, Casebolt pulled a gun on them and chased them. I don’t even have the power to get him fired from his position of authority immediately. No, we must have the investigations and inquiries and due process that seems so indiscriminately afforded to the privileged. Casebolt was put on administrative leave on Friday, and on Tuesday June 9, he resigned.

So how should I respond?

I had a conversation with one of my closest friends a couple days ago that provoked me to reflect on what to do when I’m conflicted about how to respond. Her background is in acting and theatre, and now she is a pastor and artistic director of a Christian church and arts initiative who believes in supporting arts, imagination and creativity. In our conversation about discerning the next steps in our lives, she was reminded of a book by Samuel Wells that proposes “theatrical improvisation as a model for Christian ethics.” That reminded me of books I’ve read that talk about musical improvisation or call-and-response as model for living, and some pieces I’ve written about that. Inspired by ethicists and theologians including Emilie M. Townes and H. Richard Niebuhr, I believe that to answer the question of how I should respond, I must first answer ‘What’s going on?” An improvised response or a fitting response is the response to what is already occurring. We must look at the situation critically to respond appropriately.

What’s going on in this video and the controversy surrounding it? I am certainly not an impartial or all-knowing observer, but here’s what I see:

  • A white man forcibly throws an unarmed, African-American teenager to the ground yelling “On your face!” We can see that she is unarmed because she is wearing a bikini.
  • The man is a police officer. He is upset that his authority is being challenged. Other officers are present and seem to be asking questions, but the violent one seems out of control and frantic, running around and yelling. He escalates the situation when he throws the girl to the sidewalk, which causes an outcry in the crowd.
  • As the video went viral, there were many protests and online statements against this violent event, but also statements of support for the officer. And sadly, I agree with Yohanna’s assessment. I may have missed it (and I hope I did), but I didn’t see a broad, mainstream feminist response against this violence.

I’m a feminist. I’m a black feminist. I’m a Christian feminist. I may not be a mainstream feminist (depending on your definition), but I’ll express my outrage anyway. It is sickening to watch his treatment of this teenage girl. This man’s mistreatment of a young black girl’s body is chilling. It is wrong and he should be held accountable for it.

I don’t think outrage is enough. But outrage does express that our moral sensibilities have been awakened and that we recognize that something profoundly wrong has occurred. In the face of comments that say she deserved this treatment, we as feminists must insist on the officer’s wrongdoing. “She had it coming.” “She incited him.” As feminists, we know that these kinds of statements are used in cases of rape and intimate partner violence to explain away violent actions and to shift the guilt from perpetrator to victim. The backlash against feminists and others who oppose these explanations argues that we ignore the victim’s responsibility or agency.

Bloggers and social media users know all too well the horrific statements that often appear in the comments section of online posts, videos, and articles. One comment I saw about the McKinney video says that the girl was “sassing back” at the police and that “if she wants to talk like adult then she’s going to be treated like an adult.” This kind of justification makes my blood boil! Sassing back is speaking up and saying something to an authority figure when you are expected to be silent.  While the term sassing back doesn’t exclusively apply to women and girls, it is nonetheless a phrase with gendered connotations. How many boys are called “sassy”? Is it that no one had the right to say anything to this officer running around yelling at black teen boys to sit on the ground, or is it that this black female should have kept quiet? Regardless, throwing an unarmed person to the sidewalk for supposedly saying something disrespectful is not justifiable behavior to adults or children.

I wish I knew more about what’s going on and how to respond to the violence I see in the world. I know these perennial questions subvert easy answers. I only have a partial response. I am responding with outrage and questioning and take this to my feminist community and into my spiritual practice. “What’s going on?” and “How should I respond?” are questions I ask God. I pray for justice. I pray for God’s presence in the outrage and in the investigations, and in the lives of those children who were violated.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or

Patriotism and Religion: Speaking Complexly about Complex Issues by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ photo michael bakasFormer Mayor of New York Rudy Giulaini recently questioned the American President’s patriotism when he asked if Obama had been “brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.” When Chris Hayes discussed the furor surrounding Guiliani’s statement on MSNBC with James Peterson of Lehigh University, I would say that they both missed the point. Their defense of the President was to insist that he is a dyed in the wool patriot. Should anyone be a dyed in the wool patriot these days? What does and should patriotism mean? These were questions not asked.

Asked to clarify his comments, Giulani opined that Obama speaks from the perspective of “socialism” and “perhaps anti-colonialism” rather than good old American patriotism. Again Hayes and Peterson dropped the ball. They were quick to agree that the American Colonialists should be considered anti-colonialist given that they rebelled against the colonial power of England. What they failed to say was that the American Colonialists were colonialists too. Though they threw England out, they had no compunction in asserting their right to take the land, the resources, and the very lives of earlier inhabitants of what became the American land.

I heard Giuliani’s statement in a different way. When Giuliani spoke of being brought up to love his country, I heard echoes of my own childhood. Like many Americans, Giuliani included, I was taught to love my country right or wrong. Indeed I was taught that my country was never wrong. From the perspective of my current understanding of the world, I now feel that the way I was brought up to love my country was itself wrong.

The American nation has been wrong on many things. First we must consider the idea our forebears held that the American land was theirs for the taking. No matter what degree of relation immigrant Americans had to the Native Americans, they all were taught that the Indians were barbarians who had no right to the land being claimed by civilized Europeans. Next we can ask why slavery was not outlawed and women were denied the vote at the time of the founding of the American nation. If we look at the truth of the matter, there are many reasons not to feel as proud of our country as “we” were taught to do.

And then of course there are the many wars—from the Pequot War to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How many, if any of them were just wars? And how many of them should rightly give us reason to temper any patriotism we have with the double eye that sees both the good and the bad that our nation has done?

If Chris Hayes had been interviewing me, I would not have been so quick to defend patriotism and the American nation. Rather I would have asked what patriotism means and whether anyone should defend any nation right or wrong. This would not have extricated Obama from Giuliani’s criticism, but it might have instigated deeper and more complex questioning of Giuliani’s premise.

In recent programs on MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell opened a complex discussion of religion in general and Islam in particular, following Obama’s (now controversial) assertion that the terrorism of the Islamic State is not “the real” Islam and his statement that Christians were also guilty of atrocities during the crusades.

It was clear to me that the context of Obama’s statements is the feeling of many Americans that “Islam” is to blame for the terrorist activities of jihadists acting in its name, along with the conclusion they draw from this that “Islam” is a violent religion while “Christianity” is not. Obama was trying to make two related points: not all Muslims are violent jihadists; and Christianity is not all good and Islam is not all bad. Obama was immediately attacked for comparing Christianity and Islam for both having violent histories.

O’Donnell (unlike Hayes) resisted any knee-jerk temptation he might have had to defend Obama in any simple way from his critics. Rather O’Donnell (revealing the power of Roman Catholic theological education), began a more complex conversation about what constitutes “the real” Islam and “the real” Christianity.

Not one to mince words, O’Donnell asserted that Catholicism “was once the most murderous force on the face of the earth.” I was more interested in the statement of Asra Q. Nomani, the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, that the President was wrong to say that Islamic State is beyond the pale of Islam. Rather, she asserted, Islamic State represents, “a very serious interpretation of Islam in the world that is wreaking havoc on all of us.” Though Normani does not agree with Islamic State’s interpretation of Islam, she argues that well-meaning scholars, journalists, and politicans, along with progressive Muslims, are simply burying their heads in the sand if they refuse to recognize that the Islamic State’s understanding of Islam is rooted in Islamic texts and in Islamic history.

This discussion of what is or is not “the real “Islam” and “the real” Christianity reminds me of debates feminists were having a few decades ago about whether or not “the real” Christianity or Judaism are sexist or not. Along with Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Judith Plaskow, and others, I engaged in this debate for a period of time.

In the end, I came to see that the question of what constitutes “the real” Judaism or Christianity is a moot point. Whatever good or bad exists in the past of any group is subject to interpretation by actors and groups of actors in the present: they are the ones who will determine which texts and which history they will consider normative and which parts they will transform or discard. From this perspective we can see that both jihadists and progressive Muslims are engaged in interpretation of Islam in the present, and that they are struggling with each other about which interpretation of Islam will be brought into the future.

It is not easy to initiate complex discussions of complex issues, but these are the very discussions we most need to have—about patriotism and about religion. It is clear that these discussions are related. Guiliani criticized Obama’s patriotism in part because Obama dared to criticize Christianity. Many people on both sides of the discussions about religion and politics are are convinced that their country is right because their God is on their country’s side.

I commend Lawrence O’Donnell and Asra Normani for showing us that complex discussions of religion are possible in public spaces, even when the political stakes are high. I hope this discussion will continue, and that a more complex discussion of patriotism and love of country can be initiated as well. No religion and no country is all good nor is any religion or country all bad. Blind faith in religion or country, on the other hand, is never a good thing.

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter)–space available on the spring and fall 2015 tours.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions; and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.



Education, Anti-Semitism, a Counter Narrative and a Different World by Ivy Helman

meblogIt’s pretty common knowledge that education changes lives. It opens doors, improves health, promotes gender equality, decreases poverty, promotes civic involvement and has many other benefits. This is true for basic literacy campaigns as well as sex education, access to school for girls and institutions of higher education. Yet, what is taught in addition to how it is taught matters a great deal.

In a few days, I’ll begin a new semester teaching “The Jewish Experience in Central Europe” for Anglo-American University in Prague. As a scholar, a Jew and a feminist who recently moved to Prague (in the heart of Central Europe), this course hits home.   It is also timely given rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Coincidentally, this is also the first time I’m teaching a course solely on Jewish history. Continue reading “Education, Anti-Semitism, a Counter Narrative and a Different World by Ivy Helman”

Demagogues, Scientists, or Saints: Michael Specter’s Neglected Territory in the Global Food Landscape of Vandana Shiva and the Biotech Industry by Sarah E. Robinson

sarah robinson
Photo credit: Matt Blowers

Written in response to Michael Specter’s article, “Seeds of Doubt: An Activist’s Controversial Crusade against Genetically Modified Crops” in The New Yorker (August 25, 2014). The activist criticized in the essay is Vandana Shiva. This is Part Two – read Part One here

Biodiversity is a crucial feature of a healthy landscape and a resilient foodscape.  Agroecologists and others work to ensure that humanity can lean on our food diversity in hard times, but GMO foods have thrown a wrench into the works.[i] The diversity of our food base increases our potential to continue to eat as we face a variety of weather conditions, droughts, floods, and such.  This is the wisdom behind seed banking, what Vandana Shiva does in her non-profit organization Navdanya.

Despite Specter’s claim that India has not permitted GMO foods, his article appeared a month after India approved a number of genetically modified food plants for field trials.  Field trials involve open-air release of genetically modified foods. GMO food crops cannot be contained once they are released.  An article on the current Indian controversy suggests that biotech companies “hide behind a smokescreen of benevolence.”[ii]

Continue reading “Demagogues, Scientists, or Saints: Michael Specter’s Neglected Territory in the Global Food Landscape of Vandana Shiva and the Biotech Industry by Sarah E. Robinson”

Demagogues, Scientists, or Saints: Michael Specter’s Neglected Territory in the Global Food Landscape of Vandana Shiva and the Biotech Industry by Sarah E. Robinson

sarah robinson
Photo credit: Matt Blowers

Written in response to Michael Specter’s article, “Seeds of Doubt: An Activist’s Controversial Crusade against Genetically Modified Crops” in The New Yorker (August 25, 2014). The activist whose work he criticizes is renowned Indian scientist and ecofeminist Vandana Shiva. This is Part One of two. 

In Michael Specter’s article in The New Yorker, “Seeds of Doubt: An Activist’s Controversial Crusade against Genetically Modified Crops,” the author was remiss in omitting overarching narratives in the global food conversation, as well as vital details to clarify the agricultural and ethical landscape in which food scholar-activist Vandana Shiva works.  In his celebration of genetic innovation, Specter ignores sciences, such as agroecology, that criticize and co-exist with biotechnology.  Most appallingly, Specter repeats a slanderous remark against Shiva without challenging its accuracy.  While I appreciate Specter’s attempt to weigh both sides of an issue, as a non-profit director seeking food security for peasants, Shiva cannot be compared with deep-pocketed agribusinesses, which must first attend to a financial bottom line before meeting any humanitarian goals that may be quite honest, despite the smell of greenwashing.

Specter’s article is dubiously well-timed to belittle the hard work of anti-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) activists and policymakers in Vermont who face legal challenges to a GMO labeling law passed in April 2014.  State-level GMO labeling has become an important political issue in the U.S., as other states prepare ballot measures and similar legislation.  Consumers in the E.U., Australia, China, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the U.K. have already either banned or required labeling of genetically modified foods.  Just like the so-called “debate” over climate change, the conversation on food safety continues with a hefty dose of political maneuvering.  Continue reading “Demagogues, Scientists, or Saints: Michael Specter’s Neglected Territory in the Global Food Landscape of Vandana Shiva and the Biotech Industry by Sarah E. Robinson”

Women are like countries: both need to fight hard for independence by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaRita M. Gross in her book Buddhism After Patriarchy presents portraits of prominent women from Buddhist history. Some stories are extraordinary for the brutal details they contain. For example, Yeshe Tsogyel was raped, kidnapped and beaten by her suitors to the point that her back was a bloody pulp. She subsequently escaped to meditate in a cave.

In a patriarchal society, religious fervour is not recommended for women. Submission and obedience – yes. The life of an ascetic, a wanderer or a hermit – no. A son is relatively free to pursue religious activities (especially if he is one of the younger children and the issue of inheritance is sorted out). However, all daughters are better off tucked into a marriage. Supporting your husband and sons on their spiritual path – yes. Independent striving away from family life – no. Continue reading “Women are like countries: both need to fight hard for independence by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Sexism and “Jerusalem” by Ivy Helman

headshot2Three weeks ago, I played a video entitled “Kingdom of David: Rivers of Babylon” from the PBS Empires series.  The series first aired in 2003.  For the first time, and I’ve played the video in class for probably six semesters in a row, I noticed that all of the biblical scholars, archaeologists and rabbis interviewed to discuss the Torah, the history of the Jews, the Talmud, the exile and the prophetic tradition were men.  This reminds me of a few months back when a female colleague of mine discussed about an encounter she had had with the producers of another documentary about the Hebrew Bible.  They had only interviewed one woman.  When asked about this decision, the producers told her that their audience finds men more authoritative than women when it comes to explaining topics of a religious nature.


Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, an older woman walked into the liquor store where I work.  She wandered around for awhile and then appeared somewhat overwhelmed, which is usually my cue to inquire if the customer needs help.  She said she was just fine.  Five minutes later she was still wandering the store apparently unsure what to purchase so again I approached her and asked if she’d like some help.  She seemed somewhat desperate at this point and asked for my opinion on the Irish Cream Liquors and which one tasted the most like Bailey’s.  I told her I wasn’t exactly sure.  I had not tried them all but the one she was holding in her arms was very popular and we sell quite a bit of it.  She continued to hem and haw explaining to me that she was having a bunch of old ladies over for lunch.  She intended to offer them sips of Irish Cream afterwards.  Then out of the blue she looked at me and said that she still couldn’t decide so she was going to ask a man for his opinion.  This man also happened to be my boss.  He said that he hadn’t tried it, but that it was very popular.  His words, exactly the same as Continue reading “Sexism and “Jerusalem” by Ivy Helman”

Transforming the Church from Within or Without? by Xochitl Alvizo

“Power belongs to those who stay to write the report!” stated Jeanne Audrey Powers during her presentation at the Religion and the Feminist Movement conference at Harvard Divinity School back in 2002. Though the statement sounds a little funny, it does raise a good question about how one participates in creating change. Where does the power for change and transformation lie? Is it in the writing of reports; is it from within institutions; from without? This question seems to be of particular relevance to those of us who have feminist visions and commitments and also remain involved in Christian churches – churches of a tradition with deeply embedded patriarchal habits and practices.

Recently, this concern was raised in a class for which I am a TA. We were talking about the fact that some feminist theologians develop feminist systematic theologies; by definition a cohesive theological system done from a feminist perspective. In part, the motivation is to reclaim the systematic way of doing theology and have it stand alongside other widely recognized theologies – but do so in a feminist way. Additionally, the traditional systematic format gives it validity and may serve to temper the prevailing habit of teaching feminist theologies as so-called ‘contextual’ theologies (as if other theologies are not also contextual, but that’s a topic for another post). A critique of this development, of course, is that by writing systematic theologies feminists are simply reinforcing patriarchal forms and patterns of academentia instead of expanding and creating new ones. Continue reading “Transforming the Church from Within or Without? by Xochitl Alvizo”

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! Continue reading “Why I Don’t Believe in Female Pastors by Andreea Nica”

Surviving and Thriving: For My Defender by Sara Frykenberg

Sara FrykenbergLast year many of my actions, choices and emotions could have been characterized as a part of my ongoing efforts towards what I recognize as survival: I was often ‘trying to make it through,’ live ‘despite,’ exist ‘even though,’ grapple with violence or choose in such a way that I could continue to live in the midst of chaos.

Survival is an extremely important skill, practiced by many people for many different reasons.  And before I continue here, I would like to say that in all of my struggles last year, I always had the basic necessities required to live my life.  Many people do not; and for many, survival is an everyday practice that may or may not be achievable, requiring access to necessities that may or may not be accessible.  No one tried to kill me last year.  I had access to food.  I did not lose my home or livelihood; though I felt these things threatened.  I am privileged to live where and how I do, with many resources available to me.  These resources helped me to make it though, where other people survive with far, far less.  I choose to share my own feelings of survival because I want to decry the self-dehumanizing shame that tells me I am bad or wrong for feeling my own experience.  I identify my survival in an attempt to also, thrive. Continue reading “Surviving and Thriving: For My Defender by Sara Frykenberg”

Rebranding Feminism by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadFeminism has a “brand”? A recent contest – still running, if you want to get in on it! – asks for suggestions about how to “rebrand feminism.” The contest has corporate sponsors. Saying that although feminism “has brought us the right to vote, drive and have our own bank accounts,” it is nonetheless the case that “Feminism has been given a bad rap, and gotten a bad rep.” Elle UK’s November issue does the same, claiming to rebrand “a term that many feel has become burdened with complications and negativity.”

I suspect that most readers here at Feminism and Religion will have similar reactions to this development: disgust and distaste. Why do feminists need to overcome the negative stereotypes and reactions that are used to dismiss them by anti-feminists? Most of us have heard the usual derisive responses, I suspect, and are tired of being instructed that it is our responsibility to overcome stereotypes we have done nothing to earn. I once wrote the words “feminist” and “Christian” on the board in an introductory theology class, and asked students what the first word that came to mind was in each case. Predictably, the first response for “feminist” was “femi-Nazi.” The student wasn’t intending to imply that such a designation was fair, but the immediacy of the reaction was telling. So why should feminists subordinate our political and social aims to corporate self-promotion? And is feminism really just about getting the vote, being able to drive, and having bank accounts? This list of issues brings together the trivial (when were women unable to drive in the UK or USA?), the liberal status quo (voting), and the assumption that feminism means the full ability to participate in the capitalist system. That’s not to suggest that these concerns are unimportant. But all of them involve acceding to an already-constituted public, financial, political, and social space. Is feminism simply about, as so many popular invocations have it these days, equality and giving women the same opportunities as men? Continue reading “Rebranding Feminism by Linn Marie Tonstad”

On Reading, Not Reading, and Disagreeing by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadThe theology blogosphere in all its glory has been alive in recent days with furor sparked by a blog post from Janice Rees at Women In Theology, where she discusses not reading Karl Barth, the heavyweight German 20th-century Protestant theologian, as an act of resistance against his dominance in the theological academy and his status as a litmus test for serious scholarship. Reminding myself repeatedly of the great xkcd comic, I’ve resisted my urge to comment on this and a number of other recent debates. (See here for a list of links if you wish to catch up on the discussion, however.) So this is not a post on whether to read Karl Barth.* Rather, the debate made me take a look at some of my own reading practices, and the visions of theological discussion that they encode. It also brought me back to the question of feminist disagreement, which continues to lurk in the back of my mind as I pursue disagreements with some prominent feminist theologians in my current book project.

I’ve written here before about reading authors that I disagree with, and indeed working on theologians I think are wrong about certain issues. On the simplest level, as a feminist and queer theologian, many of the theologians I work on would have questioned or outright resisted my participation in the discipline to begin with – although we cannot always know whether and how they would have done so today (since many of them are dead – yes, the dreaded dead white European males). But I often – not always – find projects that I sincerely disagree with utterly fascinating. From what perspective does the system being developed in such a project make sense? Where would one have to stand to see what that author sees? What do I come to understand about my current context, or the author’s context, from the perspective of the debates and decisions that the author finds pressing? One fairly trivial example: any interest I might once have had in historical Jesus debates was settled forever by reading Albert Schweitzer as an undergraduate. I simply do not find such debates compelling in themselves. (That does not mean I think they are valueless, of course!) But reading theologians who were engaged in such debates teaches me a great deal about how the commonsense assumptions many of us today operate with came to be. And seeing how such debates accompany disagreement over right social relations, over the nature of transmission of Christian traditions, and over what counts as scholarship in theology and religious studies is simply fascinating. Continue reading “On Reading, Not Reading, and Disagreeing by Linn Marie Tonstad”

The Words Ring Hollow by Kelly Brown Douglas

July 2008 the United States House of Representatives passes a resolution apologizing for the more than two hundred years of slavery and the decades of Jim Crow that followed.

June 2009 the United States Senate passes a resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow.

October 2007 Tallahatchie County Mississippi Board of Supervisors and Sheriff William Brewer, Jr. sign a resolution apologizing to the surviving family of Emmett Till for his murder and for the acquittal of the two men who murdered him.

March 2013 Montgomery Alabama police chief Kevin Murphy apologizes to Congressman John Lewis for the failure of police to protect Lewis and other Freedom Riders from mob attacks when they rode through Montgomery in 1961.

April 2012  “I am sorry for the loss of your son,” George Zimmerman says at his bail hearing to the parents of Trayvon Martin. Continue reading “The Words Ring Hollow by Kelly Brown Douglas”

Feminism and My Existentialist Leanings by Xochitl Alvizo

In light of so much destruction in our world – from the violence inside individual homes to beyond and between national borders – how is it still possible to hope for and to live toward a vision of beauty and peace for the world?

It was at a community college in LA in my Psychology 4 class that I first formally encountered existentialism. When it came to the time of the semester to teach on that topic, our professor, Eric Fiazi, came alive in a new way, energetically teaching us about existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre. Professor Fiazi dramatically gestured and sketched on the board as he explained the concept of ‘nothingness’ and Sartre’s well-known proposition that “existence precedes essence.”  Teaching psychology was for him a means of teaching what he truly loved, art and existentialism. He believed these subjects helped expand students’ horizons and helped make them happy and productive members of society. And so these class sessions were his favorite to teach – and mine to experience. Immediately, I was hooked.

I remember the moment he hit the chalk to the board – leaving a speck of a mark – telling us that the tiny little mark left on the great wide chalkboard was like our galaxy, tiny  against the great vastness of the universe; the earth, a particle of chalk-dust in comparison, and our individual lives, imperceptible in its midst (it now reminds me of Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot monologue). Engaging the students, he countered each one of their assertions that humans indeed have an essence, a meaning. “Humans are good by nature” – “Humans are inherently selfish beings” – “Humans are created in the image of god” – “We are each created for a purpose”; for each of these he gave a clear and logical retort. I was fascinated! What would it mean to live a life with no inherent meaning – with no essence to determine or guide our existence? How might it be different to live my life stripped of any assumed or inherited sense of meaning or purpose – to instead give these up and start from a presupposition of nothingness? Continue reading “Feminism and My Existentialist Leanings by Xochitl Alvizo”

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