Awake! Awake! A Reflection on the Awakening of Conscience and Advent by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards‘Tis the season to be…?

For me, this has not been a season to be jolly. I teach at a university, and again, I’m in the midst of the most hectic time of year of grading and exams and wrapping up projects due at the end of the calendar year. There have been moments of joy and rest. But I’ve been more reflective and sorrowful. This year, my heart and mind and soul have been opened up in new ways and I feel more urgency and need for social change. I’ve been experiencing “conscientization” during the time of year many Christians refer to as Advent.

I was introduced to the concept of conscientization in the work of Christian feminist and womanist ethicists like Beverly Wildung Harrison and Stacey Floyd-Thomas. Other feminist and liberationist thinkers had already convinced me of the vital role that critical thinking, consciousness-raising, and action occupy in ethical reflection and social change. In a chapter on “Feminist Liberative Ethics” in a textbook on liberative approaches to ethics, Michelle Tooley explains the meaning of conscientization:

“Activists speak of conscientization as waking up to the injustice in the world—or seeing it for the first time. It is not that the injustice is beginning; it is that you encounter oppression, injustice, violence yourself or you see it in a person or situation. You may have seen the same situation many times before, but for some reason you begin to connect the event with a deeper recognition that the injustice is wrong.”

(p. 185, Ethics: A Liberative Approach, Miguel A. De La Torre, Editor)

I was conscientized the night I heard that a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, an unarmed black man. I was horrified to learn that this police officer doesn’t even have to stand trial for his violent and deadly act. Now it wasn’t like before grand jury’s decision I thought that black lives were given equal value in the US justice system. After all, for months I have been researching and preparing a paper called “When the Law does not Secure Justice or Peace” about artistic and religious responses to the dishonoring of black male personhood. I have been mourning the loss of Trayvon Martin and others as I write. But this decision left me sobbing in a hotel room as I watch the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri. I gained a deeper social awareness about the depths to which the demonization and disregard of the lives of black women, men and children are entrenched in American life and the institutions within it.

I gained deeper self-awareness too. One reason the tragedy of the grand jury’s decision became so palpable to me is that just hours prior, I witnessed former president Jimmy Carter address the American Academy of Religion. He spoke passionately about the proliferation of violence, mistreatment of women, climate change, and other social concerns. To put it plainly, I was floored to see a white man in his 90s who was raised in Georgia and was a Southern Baptist until his 70s state without any qualms that people in power intentionally misinterpret religious texts to support the domination of women and nonwhites because those they do not want to lose their privilege. Yet he also called himself, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a “prisoner of hope.” He believes that things will change, and draws from his Christian convictions to sustain hope and motivate his work to fight injustice.

I was electrified by his words. I, too, had hope. In the days prior, I had gotten a break from my daily life, connected with friends, and conversed with like minds. I had been thinking about art and love. I had learned strategies for de-centering dominant narratives in the classroom and I was hopeful that I could use them to make a difference in my students’ lives. But mere hours later, while watching the news, the self-awareness I came to is that my hope is more fragile than I wish it to be. Futility consumed my hope.

A few weeks later, I can assert that my faith in God is not shaken, but my hope in humanity’s goodness has as much stability as a house of cards. In my present state of mind, I’m grateful that we are at a point in the church year that provides me with an opportunity to mourn the brokenness of our world. Christmas is approaching, but that doesn’t mean I have to sing merry carols. Advent is a season when Christians reflect on why the world needs God’s miraculous action and what it means to wait for light to emerge in the darkness. In the church calendar, it is a time when Christians re-enact and re-experience the anticipation of Jesus’ coming. Advent songs have a different character than Christmas carols. Many of them have a haunting tone or an eerie, sad, or mysterious sound. The lyrics of these songs place exhortations to “Rejoice!” next to pleas of “O come, o come, Emmanuel!” Emmanuel, also spelled Immanuel, means “God with us.” Christians draw this name from the Hebrew prophecies in Isaiah that are cited in the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. Matthew describes Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of prophecy.

My conscientization allows me to hear these prophecies anew. They are familiar to me, as they are repeated often this time of year in Christian settings, but I hear them in new ways. I hear Isaiah 9:6 quite differently: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“The government will be upon his shoulders” likely means that this child will have authority. But as I hear those words this year, I imagine the Prince of Peace in the choke-hold of a law enforcement officer. I think of a little baby who are welcomed into the world with joy but who grows up only to be killed at a young age by threatened authorities and crowds of supporters. This is the story Christians tell about the God who is with us, the God who is also fully human. And this is the story we tell about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alesia Thomas, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and far too many others.

This Advent, I’m making a real effort to hold hope and despair together. I don’t want to become hopeless. I don’t want to think that my work in the classroom, in my church, in my community, on this site and in the printed page have no meaning. Hope is what sustains us to work for justice. I want to believe in that transformation of hearts and minds and souls is possible and immanent even when it emerges through sorrow and struggle. Suffering, sorrow, and killing without consequences must not be acceptable. With my new eyes, I see just how terrible they are.

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

Responding to Human Suffering by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn the past few weeks, there have been renewed debates throughout the US about death with dignity laws and the role of government is providing or securing access to health care. The tragic story of Brittany Maynard and the incessant election-year politicking about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have made issues about human suffering more visible and volatile than usual. These are topics I deal with in two courses I am teaching this semester–one about Christian ethics and the other about bioethics.

I truly admire those who work in the presence of suffering daily by caring for others.   It’s difficult to even talk about suffering in the classroom day after day. My intention behind doing so is for my students to resist simplistic responses by either valorizing human pain and suffering or retreating to escapism. I caution them about using religion to legitimize suffering when it accompanies from evil, yet encourage them to see the meaning in suffering as well. We try to maintain the fine line of affirming the experiences of those who claim to gain strength or some other good from their pain without crossing into discourse that names the pain itself as something good. We debate whether there can be any way of discussing suffering as redemptive. We discuss disparities in medical treatment and health care along economic, racial, gendered, cultural, and international divides and what the responses of clergy, medical providers, and everyday people to remedy them.

Through these heavy debates, I’ve gained more clarity about the ways that suffering is often a result of human injustice and I’m deeply saddened by it. Continue reading “Responding to Human Suffering by Elise M. Edwards”

A New Perspective on the Story of Ruth by Ivy Helman

20140903_180423When I think about having returned to the Judaism of my family, I often think about a short phrase that is on almost all of the conversion documents I’ve seen. “Your people shall be my people and your G-d shall be my G-d.”  It comes from the Book of Ruth and is a powerful phrase in and of itself.  Imagine choosing a journey to a foreign land and being so committed to the person you are traveling with that you are willing to forsake the religion and practices of your people to join hers, even when she extorts you to return to your home.   Think about the kind of trust one needs in another to be able to leave everything behind and follow another path.  That is ideally what the convert to Judaism has chosen: to leave behind their past, setting out on a new religious path.  In fact, it is often frowned upon to ask a convert about their religious past because it is as if it never existed.

Besides these documents, I’ve also encountered the Book of Ruth early in my training as a feminist scholar of religion.  I read many commentaries on the story of Ruth, but what I read never spoke to me.  Yes,  two women were bonded in a deep friendship (perhaps as lovers) struggling to survive and avoid bouts of harassment from men. They also defied patriarchal standards of the day.  Sweet and touching, yes.  A good example of the importance of friendship between women, definitely!   What I 20140904_125500didn’t get then that I do now are the values elevated in these two women.

First, what struck me is just how much our pasts are an important part of who we are.  In many ways, they help to shape our futures.  Ruth’s past built within her the values necessary to make the decision to journey to a foreign land with another woman and without what, could be thought of, as adequate protections.

Continue reading “A New Perspective on the Story of Ruth by Ivy Helman”

The Case for a Woman Pope: Mary Magdalene by Frank Shapiro

Frank shapiro picThere’s a lot of hullabaloo these days about belief in God, atheism, separation of religion and state. However, like it or not, Western civilization is a Christian one.

Ever since the Roman Empire officially became Christian in the 4th century Christianity has formed an integral part of the Greco-Roman culture, forging the West’s crystallization.

And within this religious-political-cultural matrix, women have been striving for equality of power in virtually every field. Most of the time men had the upper hand.

Yet in Christianity’s early maturation period an egalitarian approach to the gender issue was the accepted norm. Following a good start in gender power sharing in the Early Christian Church, this enlightened approach gradually changed for the worse. In the early 6th century women found themselves stigmatized and demoted from almost all the major roles in church service and liturgy.

So what went wrong? Continue reading “The Case for a Woman Pope: Mary Magdalene by Frank Shapiro”

The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoSince my last contribution to Feminism and Religion my interest in Sappho and her influence has led me to a detailed analysis of Luke 1:27-45 (hereafter, the “Conception Story”).  I want to share two observations from that analysis that I think will be of interest to readers of this blog.  Both relate to the generally agreed upon fact that Luke was a physician and in particular to knowledge he can be assumed to have had of female anatomy based on evidence from approximately contemporaneous sources.

My first observation relates to the fact that Luke lived during a time when the existence of ovaries in women had only recently been discovered and their function correctly understood.  While this had obvious implications for Greek medical theory, it would appear to have affected how Luke himself interpreted the source material he had for the Conception Story and hence how he told that story.  My second observation, based on what is known of Greek gynecology, is that Luke would have correctly understood that although as a medical term ‘virginity’ does refer to the physical fact that sexual intercourse has not occurred, it does not necessarily or even often have an anatomical meaning.  That observation leads directly to investigating whether ‘virgin’ as used by Luke may have a primarily metaphysical rather than physical meaning.

Though in general the ‘glory days’ of Classical Greece belonged to the centuries well before Luke’s time, that is not true of Greek medicine.  Notwithstanding promising origins in a sexual egalitarianism that was in principle consistent with modern medicine, Greek medicine regressed substantially with Aristotle, who introduced the notion that the male’s contribution to reproduction was the active one and the female’s merely the passive provision of the material for its success.  Not only did Aristotle not know of ovaries, even after their discovery it is far from clear when exactly their function was fully understood (the best evidence is about a half century after Luke).  Once that happened, however, Greek medicine moved back towards the sexual egalitarianism of its origins (the ‘two seed theory’ of reproduction), repudiating Aristotle’s theory (the ‘single seed theory’ of reproduction). Continue reading “The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean”

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”

On the Path of Holiness by Ivy Helman

headshotGrowing up, there was a way in which I always felt excluded from holy things.  There was the holy: blessed water, sacred oil, priestly blessings, consecrated priests, pilgrimage sites, religious buildings and communion to name a few and then there was everything else including me.  Yet, I was a good kid who always (or almost always) did as I was told.  Doing good works is not contrary to a Catholic childhood or education.  In fact, it is an integral part of Catholicism, but there is also a competing notion that good works are in a different ontological category from holiness.  While goodness merits salvation, salvation is not connected to being holy.  Holiness was granted; salvation was earned.  In addition, holiness also seemed more distant because men had more access to holiness than women did.  Only men could be ordained and priests consecrate the Eucharist, celebrate the sacraments and bless people and things.  These are all holy things and the closer one interacts with holiness, the more holiness is bound to transfer onto the person coming into contact with them. Continue reading “On the Path of Holiness by Ivy Helman”

Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver

Natalie WeaverOne of the loudest refrains I perceive in the Bible is the message that good spirituality means giving everything away.  It is a radical concept that begins in an obvious way with material things, especially those that we have in excess.  The wisdom here is not too difficult for me to grasp: one cannot meet the Lord if s/he is wrapped up in the routines of acquisition and hoarding.    

But, this is only the beginning.  The teaching reaches down much deeper than the critique of riches and speaks in some totalizing fashion to the very essence of personal being.  It seems to say to me that good spirituality involves letting the self be so entirely poured out of the ordinary instincts and behaviors of self-consciousness and self-preservation, of the self qua self, that it is capable of receiving the inpouring of God’s wisdom and light.  

Put another way, the self has to condition itself to receive that which is genuinely extrinsic, that which is outside itself, and that encounter cannot occur so long as one is self-absorbed.  This insight, of course, is not exclusively biblical or Christian.  Indeed, it is perhaps the most common point of agreement among all the great spiritual traditions. Continue reading “Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver”

Yes, You’re a Homophobe by John Erickson

Jesus loved sinners and Jesus would rather be dancing with me in West Hollywood on a Friday night than lugging through a swamp luring ducks into a trap with a duck caller made by a clan who think that my sexual actions are similar to that of an individual having sex with an animal.

John Erickson, sports, coming out.

To be able to walk down the street holding the hand of the one you love is a great feeling and an action that some of us aren’t able to perform without fear.

A line has been drawn in the sand between those who support gay rights and those who do not.  While some call it being on the “right side of history,” I simply now refer to it as not sounding and looking like a bigot in the halls of history and in the various books, Facebook posts, and Tweets that our children will one day read. Continue reading “Yes, You’re a Homophobe by John Erickson”

Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean

 Stuart WordPress photoThe story in the Gospel of John of the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman (hereafter, ‘the Samaritan’) at Jacob’s well (4:7-29) has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  For an overview of some of the interpretive issues raised by it there is a video of a conversation about it between H. W. Attridge and D. L. Bartlett of Yale Divinity School available on Youtube here.  I intend to focus primarily on only four verses, John 4:16-19.

Here is my translation (the underlying Greek and links to interpretive resources can be found here):

16 [Jesus] said: “go tell your ‘man’ and come back here.”
17 The Samaritan answered, “I do not have a ‘man.”’ Jesus said to her “Beautifully you said ‘I do not have a man.’
18 You have had five ‘men,’ and the one whom you have now is not your ‘man.’  You spoke truthfully.”
19 The Samaritan said to him: “Sir, I see you are a wise listener.”

My translation is intended to bring out what I take to be a play on the meaning of the underlying Greek word for man.  Before I explain exactly what the play on meaning is about I want to justify the assumption that there is some sort of play in the first place. Some have argued that the reference to the bride and bridegroom at John 3:29 foreshadows the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan as a spiritual wedding.  The theme of a spiritual wedding is arguably also foreshadowed in how John starts the book itself, for ‘beginning’ is a feminine noun in Greek and ‘word’ is masculine, making ‘in the beginning was the word’ sexually symbolic; that, in turn, suggests that the well before which Jesus and the Samaritan stand, or the water in it, symbolizes God, or at least the spirit of God. Continue reading “Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean”

Sappho & Early Christianity by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoGiven modern perceptions of Sappho it is, I am sure, going to seem at a minimum counterintuitive that early Christians would have had an interest in Sappho.  The issue is not helped by the fact that a story about Saint Gregory of Nazianzus ordering the burning of Sappho’s poetry has been frequently repeated both in print and online.  There is no basis for it in any reliable historical source. Mention is first made of it in the Renaissance, possibly as the result of confusing attitudes and policies of later times with those of Gregory’s time.  Whatever the explanation, it is ironic any credence was given to such a story, for not only was Gregory very interested in Sappho in particular, but he was also a keen advocate for appreciating the relevance to Christianity of art and literature generally.  A prominent figure in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Gregory is not well known to ‘Western’ Christianity, especially among English speaking Christians.  An excellent place to familiarize yourself with him is a brief talk given by John McGuckin, who is a priest, poet and scholar at Columbia University, available on youtube here.

There are a variety of possible explanations for Gregory’s interest in Sappho that relate to both his personal circumstances as well as how Sappho had been received within the Judaeo-Christian tradition in ancient times.  It is worth noting that Gregory was from what is today a region of Turkey occupied by Hittites in very ancient times.  That happens to be an area that Sappho may have had some cultural connection with, for modern linguistic analysis suggests that her name, which does not mean anything in Greek, derives from Hittite or a related ancient Turkish language.  What did ‘Sappho’ mean in Hittite?  ‘Holy one.’  I am basing this on an article by Edwin Brown that is available online here for those who want more granularity. Continue reading “Sappho & Early Christianity by Stuart Dean”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III

Rescuing Martha – A Hermeneutic of Retrieval
This is the last part of a three part post. Read Part I here and Part II here

Discovering another tradition means being open not only to artistic witnesses but to myth, legend, and to feminist theory. But to begin with what is uncontested: both sisters, Mary and Martha, were friends of Jesus who loved them and their brother Lazarus. Martha seems to be the householder. We are told nothing about the parents of the three – perhaps they had been caught up and killed in one of the Zealot uprisings. The Church that sprang up at the site of Bethany was one of the earliest Christian pilgrimage places.  The legends that grew up held Lazarus and his 2 sisters in great respect. And this is a sharp contrast with the tradition I began with.

Secondly, to disparage responsibility for housework as a lowly role is an anachronistic viewpoint. It is likely, as in most poor agricultural communities today that domestic work goes alongside income- generating work either inside or outside the house. Many rural women in India and Africa cope with domestic work, child care and a full day’s work in the fields. In the life-time of Jesus, women would be involved in cleaning fish and mending nets – though the Gospels do not tell us this.  Nor was this the work of the sisters at Bethany who did not live near Lake Galilee. The public/ private split between unseen work in the household and public work belongs to a much later date. Thirdly, it is diakonia or service that is at stake here, and this was part of a creative tension in the early communities. Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II

What do the Gospels of Luke and John tell us?
This is the second part of a three part post. Part I is here and Part III is to follow tomorrow. 

I now return to the story of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke: what was its purpose for the evangelist and his community? The text itself has been a subject of multiple interpretations. An abstract interpretation sees the sisters as representing two different principles, one as justification by works and one by faith. Augustine (d.430) saw them as symbolising either the labours of this world and the bliss of the world to come. Origen (185-254), famous for his allegorising interpretation of Scripture, understood them as life according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. So, as Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza points out in But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (1992:58), this typologising contrast was already established by the end of the 2nd century.  In a contemporary context Martha and Mary continue to exemplify the two vocations that the church offers to women, contemplative love of God (Mary), or social activism through service of neighbour (Martha). Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part I

Introduction and Martha – Patron Saint of Housewives

Here I explore a troubling issue for feminist biblical interpretation, namely the interpretations of Luke 10, 38-42, with specific reference to the figure of Martha, and the questions that arise when we compare John’s story, the Raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-44).  At first sight Luke seems clear: Martha is troubled with the domestic task of preparing food, while Mary has gone to the heart of the matter, listening to the word of God at the feet of the Lord. Mary is always depicted at the feet of the Christ, while Martha is the active one and this is often interpreted negatively. (One interesting exception is Giotto’s fresco of the raising of Lazarus, where both sisters are prostrate at Jesus’ feet). A clear message seems given for Christian discipleship and this text has had an evocative power through history. But on reading John’s story, are the roles reversed? Martha runs to greet Jesus, Mary remains at home. From Martha comes the confession of faith in Jesus:

Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world. (John 11.27)

What we are given is a full confession of faith on Jesus as Son of God, the confession which is on the lips of Peter in the 3 Synoptic Gospels, (Luke 9.20, Mark 8.29, Matthew 16.15-17).

Why is it, then, that Christian Tradition has largely ignored the Johannine text and followed Luke, even a negative interpretation of Luke? Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part I”

Martha, Mary—and Maeve by Elizabeth Cunningham

Today is the eve of Mary Magdalen’s Feast Day, July 22. I like to celebrate with Maeve, my BIFF (best imaginary friend forever) the Celtic Mary Magdalen and narrator of The Maeve Chronicles. Below is an excerpt (edited for brevity) from The Passion of Mary Magdalen. Maeve (who against her better judgment is married to Jesus) is camped out with her beloved and his growing entourage at the house of the Bethany family, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The huge crowd of motley guests is enough to give a good hostess hives. The scene opens as Maeve returns from an outing with her mother-in-law aka the BVM.

When we walked into the courtyard of Martha’s house, the air was as charged as the moment before a thunderclap when the wind has stilled and everything holds its breath. Martha stood, confronting Jesus in the center of a seated crowd. Her chest was heaving, and she was clearly struggling to control herself. On the ground in front of her was a platter she must have dropped (or hurled?). Bread, olive paste, cheese, and grapes lay scattered among bits of broken crockery. Mary B, sitting nearest Jesus, (yes, you could say at his feet) was the first to unfreeze. She got on her knees and started gathering up the shards, but Martha paid no attention. Continue reading “Martha, Mary—and Maeve by Elizabeth Cunningham”

Blindness of the Gals by Oxana Poberejnaia

Oxana PoberejnaiaWomen (and men) are often blind to women’s inequality. I, as a Buddhist practitioner, have been blind to the reality of women’s second-class status in sacred texts of Buddhism and practice.

In her book “Buddhism After Patriarchy” Rita M. Gross describes how her fellow western Buddhist women completely overlooked the fact that women are not allowed into Rumtek Buddhist monastery in Sikkim, even after watching a video of a woman leaving an offering outside the gate and walking away.

Continue reading “Blindness of the Gals by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Lust in the Heart by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadLove the sinner, hate the sin. We are all familiar with the bludgeon this statement represents in Christian circles. It functions as a way to maintain one’s goodness and Christlikeness (supposedly!), while simultaneously condemning and persecuting those who find themselves drawn to live lives outside the constraints of heteronormativity in all its variations. The statement hardly needs to be deconstructed – it proves its own emptiness in relation to the way sexuality is understood as identity in the contemporary context. (There are Foucaultian reasons to be unhappy with this understanding of sexuality – one of the disciplinary functions of power on his account is the desire to find a name that will express one’s true identity – but we’ll save that for another day.)

Instead, I think we should consider a much more fundamental contradiction in the way Christian churches today speak and think about sexuality. In many mainline congregations in the US-European context, the debate has been framed around celibacy versus “practice” for persons identifying as gay and lesbian. Excluding the fringe ex-gay movement and its horrors, there are three typical positions that churches take up. One, celibate gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Two, married and monogamous gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Three, neither marriage nor monogamy are required for gays and lesbians (or anyone else) – the latter is perhaps not a frequent position for churches to take, at least officially, other than in the MCC. For most mainline denominations, the fault line lies between those who assert the ‘vocation’ of celibacy for gay and lesbian persons, and those who permit marriage. Continue reading “Lust in the Heart by Linn Marie Tonstad”

Purim and the Value of Courage by Ivy Helman

Ivy HelmanThe Jewish Festival of Purim and the book of Esther offer us an opportunity to reflect on the value of courage from a feminist perspective. The online Webster’s Dictionary defines courage as, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” In religious discourse, courage is often categorized as a virtue or a moral principle. Aristotle (384BCE – 322BCE), one of the most famous of the virtue ethicists, believed a virtue like courage should be practiced according to the mean or the right amount. Too much courage leaves one rash, possibly too reactionary and hot-headed while too little makes one cowardly and weak, but just the right amount in a given situation leads to moral behavior. Virtuous living leads to happiness, or perhaps is itself happiness, for Aristotle.  Yet, as a feminist, I understand the worth of courage differently.  To me, the value of courage lies not in individualistic gains nor in personal happiness but in its use toward achieving justice and equality in society.

In the book of Esther, we read about Queen Vashti and Esther both of whom demonstrate courage. (There are many feminist commentaries on the inherent sexism of the book of Esther. While I acknowledge the need for such critique, I am not approaching Esther from this perspective as much as I am approaching it from what we can gain from the actions of the women in the story.) As the book opens, King Achashverosh asks Queen Vashti to parade her beauty at a feast for him and his guests. She refuses to be paraded and thus objectified. Men in the king’s royal court react harshly telling the king that if he lets her get away with such disobedience other women will surely follow suit. This is surely problematic for the kingdom as well as their households. Vashti is replaced as punishment. Continue reading “Purim and the Value of Courage by Ivy Helman”

Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Catholic Church I came across an abhorrent display of ignorance Saturday when reading an article quoting the Pope’s theologian, Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, on why women cannot be ordained.  This man is in charge of reviewing speeches and texts submitted to the Pope to ensure that they are free of doctrinal error.  Once you read this, I am sure that many of you will have the same thoughts that I do ranging from – that explains a lot — to —  we are in serious trouble!

Giertych touted the common arguments made against ordaining women – Jesus was a man, Jesus chose only male disciples, etc.  However, then he put forth statements about, (1) the theologian’s task, (2) why maleness is essential to the priesthood, and (3) what the vocation of women is and is not.

What is the Theologian’s Task?

According to Giertych, the theologian’s task in determining the definition of priesthood:

 “In theology, we base ourselves not on human expectations, but we base ourselves on the revealed word of God” without the freedom “to invent the priesthood according to our own customs, according to our own expectations.”

According to CTSA (Catholic Theological Society of America), the theological task is described as follows:

Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is especially eloquent on this responsibility” (See Gaudium et Spes #44).

Continue reading “Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Rebekah of the Hebrew Bible: A Mormon Feminist Model by Caroline Kline

Kline, CarolineThis semester I took a class on women in the book of Genesis. I was particularly interested in learning more about the language used to describe Eve, since she is such an important model of inspired action and proactivity for Mormon women. However, I also discovered another woman in the book of Genesis whom I saw as a potentially powerful model for Mormon feminists, a woman caught in a patriarchal context, but one who decisively and creatively figures out how to insert herself, her ideas, her inspiration into the events at hand: Rebekah.

Let me recap the most crucial incident: When Isaac is old, blind, and believes he is approaching death, he determines to give a special blessing to his firstborn son Esau. When Rebekah hears of his plans, she springs into action, ordering her younger son Jacob to impersonate Esau in order to obtain this blessing. Rebekah feels so strongly that Jacob should get this blessing – and no wonder, given her revelation from God forty years before that Jacob should inherit the promise – that when he objects, fearing a curse from his father if he is found out, she says to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son. Only obey my word, and go…..” (Genesis 27:13). Continue reading “Rebekah of the Hebrew Bible: A Mormon Feminist Model by Caroline Kline”

Luke 12:51-53: On the Verge of a Paradigm Shift by Elisabeth Schilling

BeachI remember being quite happy when my values about body, faith, and purpose lined up with those of my parents. With the support of my Protestant evangelistic community as well, I was “bold and fearless,” not caring who might judge me or disagree with me because I was not standing on my own. The anxiety of becoming embarrassed or having my world crashing down because of the ideas I expressed did not exist. My beliefs seemed special and right, and I had constant reaffirmation from family and community that they were.

But now I hold perspectives about spirituality and humanity that I can no longer discuss with ease in front of my family–not without my mother crying and feeling as if she did not know or like the person I had become. This may matter to me more than it might to other people since I have, for over a year now, returned to that home to write my dissertation. I am constantly challenged with the task of creating a space where I can honor my desires, needs, and truths. Like Judith Butler says, if I am a person who exists by doing, when I cannot express/speak/give an account of myself, I cannot fully exist. Family is important, but what gets sacrificed by pretending and silence? It is not only the self, but the chance for deeper, more authentic bonds. Continue reading “Luke 12:51-53: On the Verge of a Paradigm Shift by Elisabeth Schilling”

Textual Religion and the Marginalization of Two Huldas by Dirk von der Horst

DirkI am a Protestant in large part because I like to read.  Even after grappling with feminist critiques of patriarchal religions, a spirituality rooted in the Word (capital “W”) is very deep-seated in me.  One reason I think of my faith as biblical is that a scriptural religion engages me in my favorite activity.  At the same time, there are real connections between exclusive dependence on written records and the erasure of women’s history, as well as various ways in which women have been excluded from literary production.  The opposition between text and world often becomes a manifestation of the hierarchy of mind and body that many feminists have seen as damaging.  It’s like the question of “why are there no great women composers?”  The problem with this question is not only that it ignores great women composers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Barbara Strozzi, Louise Farrenc, or Thea Musgrave.  As feminist musicologists Marcia Citron and Suzanne Cusick have shown, the question reinforces a hierarchy in which composers, those who create musical texts, have precedence over those who perform and listen.  It also relegates places where women’s contribution has been essential to the production of music – educating children, for example – to irrelevance. Continue reading “Textual Religion and the Marginalization of Two Huldas by Dirk von der Horst”

There’s Something about Mary by Kecia Ali

Scholarly life – like life in general – requires balancing one’s own priorities with involvement in others’ project and plans. Say yes too frequently and you’ll never get anything written; say no too often and you miss the excitement give and take generates. A recent conversation at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting reminded me how enriching encounters in service to someone else’s agenda can be. I sat down with a scholar in another field working on a book for non-Muslims about how North American Muslims read and understand the Qur’an. We spent an hour talking about passages from Surat Al Imran (the third chapter of the Qur’an) that discuss Mary’s mother, Mary, Zacharias, John (“the Baptist”), and Jesus.

We had set up this meeting well in advance, but I suspect our talk would have been far less interesting had I not been primed by a panel I’d attended that morning, where one presenter spoke about the fluidity of Qur’anic descriptions of God’s participation in the creation of humanity and another read the story of Cain and Abel against the grain. The night before, I had also read a colleague’s work in progress on methodologies of feminist Qur’an interpretation so that she and I could discuss it that evening. Continue reading “There’s Something about Mary by Kecia Ali”

What the GOP can learn from The Syrophoenician Woman by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

Cynthie From there he (Jesus) set out and went away to the region of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.  Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.  She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.  (Mark 7. 24-29)

By the time Ohio went to Obama, with his win barely confirmed, journalist and pundits were churning out commentary and statistical findings on the demographics of his larger-than-life electoral college and just-over-the-top popular vote win.  Even after Fox news called it for Obama, an awkward lapse of time ticked by as the country waited for Mitt Romney’s concession speech.  Turns out he had not prepared one. This political gaffe was one strategic error among many, not with-standing the entire ideology of the Republican platform that became glaringly apparent Tuesday night.  While the GOP/Romney camp took the male white vote (59%), this shrinking demographic failed to be enough to secure the win. It seems along with a high Latino/a, African American, women’s vote (especially single women), in addition to a higher turnout of young people than 2008, Obama demonstrated the changing face and influence of a diversified United States of America.   Continue reading “What the GOP can learn from The Syrophoenician Woman by Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

Translations of the Bible (and Translators) are Important to Women by Jennifer Sharp

One of the most interesting topics is the theory that YHWH’s roots may be found in information about the ancient Goddess IO, and that YHWH is an inclusive name for an inclusive deity.

Some years ago I read the Bible and objected to passages about women. That was when works by Ruether, Stone, Daly, Schüssler Fiorenza, Eisler, etc. became available. I read all of the feminist writers I could find. Because of this reading, I looked up biblical passages in different Bibles.  I began to notice something rather curious. A passage in one Bible would say “she did it” – the same passage in another Bible would say, “he did it.” “This,” my current minister would say, “This is the word of God. You can believe in it.” “Believe in it”? Which biblical passage was I supposed to believe – the “she” or the “he”?

Being a questioning person, I got serious. I searched the University of Wisconsin bookstore shelves for required reading in Hebrew and Semitic studies, acquired references listed in bibliographies of those books, read about the development of the biblical text, purchased interlinear Bibles, Hebrew and Greek grammars, analytical lexicons, concordances, commentaries, and more English versions of the Bible and eventually took a class in Hebrew. Continue reading “Translations of the Bible (and Translators) are Important to Women by Jennifer Sharp”

“From Teshuvah to Justice: Jonah’s Call to Change” by Ivy Helman

(I offer here an abridged version of the sermon I gave on Yom Kippur (5773) at Temple Emanuel in Lowell, MA.  The full version will be available on their website soon.  The book of Jonah is always read on Yom Kippur in the afternoon service as the Haftorah.  It is rather traditional that someone (usually the Rabbi) offer an interpretation of it.  Temple Emanuel asked me this year.  I thank the congregation for the honor and I hope my words offered them, and now you, food for thought.)

Scholars believe the Greek philosopher Plato lived between 428 BCE and 348 BCE.  The Allegory of the Cave is one of Plato’s most famous stories.  It illustrates the effects of a change in knowledge, education and experiences on the human being.  Some of you may know it or have read it at some point but for those of you who don’t, let me offer a very brief summary.

There are human beings shackled to a cave in a way that they can only see the wall directly in front of them.  Continue reading ““From Teshuvah to Justice: Jonah’s Call to Change” by Ivy Helman”

THE INTERPRETER; or An Introduction to Hermeneutics by Daniel Cohen

 He showed us that every text contains two messages, one formed by the ink and the other by the spaces left between the inked letters, the material included and that which was excluded, and that the message was never complete if only the first text was read.

(Hermeneutics: The art or science of interpretation, especially of scripture. Oxford English Dictionary)

It was all the interpreter’s fault.

He came to our city looking for employment. It was soon clear that he had a wide knowledge of many languages, and most of our merchants began to employ him in their dealings with foreign traders. We saw him speeding from one to another, in those sandals of his with the odd widening at the heels, often pausing to tell one merchant of a recent purchase of interest by another. It seemed that trade prospered with his coming. Our merchants became wealthier and busier than they had ever been. Continue reading “THE INTERPRETER; or An Introduction to Hermeneutics by Daniel Cohen”

Working to Bring about the End by Elise M. Edwards

I was reminded that the idea of eschatological reversal can be a powerful image in the promotion of justice if we believe that we already are, or that we should be moving towards the ultimate end that remedies current injustices.

I started teaching a course in Introduction to Christian Ethics a couple weeks ago for a class of graduate students who are pursuing their M.Div. and other Masters in religion degrees.  We are spending some time talking about the use of Scripture in ethics, so I reviewed Richard Hays’ 1996 text The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.  It got me thinking a lot about the role of eschatology in ethics. (Eschatology is the area of theology concerned with “last things,” like the end of the world, heaven, hell, death and eternal judgment.)

Continue reading “Working to Bring about the End by Elise M. Edwards”

Hagar – Demoted Servant or Egyptian Princess? By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

A socio-political examination of Genesis 16 explores how ancient myth can influence the story of Hagar and Sarai. Socio-political events could have occurred between the Egyptians and King Solomon that influenced the writing of this text.  According to John Currid in Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, the Egyptians and Hebrews borrowed many things from each other and because of that, an inter-relatedness exists between the languages as well as cultural and religious practices of both kingdoms (26).  It is this inter-relatedness that I wish to explore and ask the question -was Hagar an Egyptian Princess demoted to a lower position of servitude in order to make a political statement of superiority of the Israelites over the Egyptians?  Or is this a story of conflict between two of Solomon’s wives?  Finally, could this story tell us about events that occurred after Solomon’s death since the Biblical texts from the pre-exilic period began to take shape during the reign of David and Solomon?  This is a very brief exploration of these theories.

In Genesis 16, Hagar and Sarai connect Egypt and Israel in a familial relationship, one rooted in strife.  These two women, an Israelite and an Egyptian, are brought together because of Sarai’s barrenness and need to fulfill the covenantal promise. Because of this, Hagar becomes Abram’s secondary wife.  This is not the only time that marriage between an Israelite and Egyptian occurs in the Old Testament.  Joseph marries and an Egyptian, the daughter of a priest of On (Genesis 41:45).  Solomon also has an Egyptian wife who seems to have some importance because she is mentioned six times in the Old Testament (1 Kings 3:1; 7:8, 9:24; 11:1-2; 2 Chronicles 8:11).

Important is the fact that this passage could be rooted in the writings that emerged in that period that portray family strife.  Savina J. Teubal in Ancient Sisterhood: The Lost Traditions of Hagar and Sarah, states these “andocentric writing and editing” of the biblical narratives portray conflicts between women who “vie for the attention of their husbands or sons” (19).  In this case the story really could be a tale of family strife inspired by two of the wives of Solomon, one of which was Egyptian.

Continue reading “Hagar – Demoted Servant or Egyptian Princess? By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”


Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and renowned Jewish thinker, believes that no one can ever truly understand the profundity and tragedy of the Shoah unless one experienced it.  For him, silence is the best way to express the events since words fail to do justice.  The principle of letting silence speak, when words no longer can, when pain is so real it debilitates and when tears flow more freely than thoughts, is not original to the twentieth century.  The Bible contains many events and personal stories in which this is the case.

Judges 19 begins with two characters: a Levite and his concubine.  The concubine has recently run away to her father’s house, when her husband decides to visit her there trying to win her back.  He seems to have only good intentions in mind.  After leaving her father’s house with his wife, the Levite discusses his future plans with his servant who apparently accompanied him on the journey.  He still has not spoken a word to his wife.

The servant and the Levite decide to spend the night in Gibeah, a Benjaminite city.  The three of them sit in the city’s square waiting for someone to take them in but no one arrives until evening.  At dusk, an old man comes by and offers to take care of the needs of the entire party, including the donkeys, as long as they promised not to spend the night in the city square. Continue reading “JUDGES 19: A BRIEF PAUSE FROM JUSTICE-WORK TO BE WITH HER IN THE SILENCE BY IVY HELMAN”

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