Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home. Continue reading “Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” Falls Short by Gina Messina”

Kasich Cuts Women by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileKasich is cutting women from Ohio’s budget. In an attempt to prove himself a conservative and worthy of the title of POTUS, he has taken a step towards joining the ranks of Trump and Cruz using fear and misogyny as primary tactics.

Beginning with his defunding of Planned Parenthood in Ohio, Kasich is participating in the ongoing marginalization of women in the US based on supposed Christian values. His comment that “women are coming out of the kitchen to support me” demonstrates his inability to recognize the important role that women play in this nation. Likewise, it shows support for the ongoing notion that women belong in the home, and idea firmly entrenched in Christian dogma.

The former Catholic now Anglican presidential candidate continues to buy into the idea of complementarity, that men and women have distinct roles, a teaching Pope Francis calls “an anthropological fact.” And what does this mean? That women belong in the home, rearing children, and cooking for their husbands while men do the “important” work. Continue reading “Kasich Cuts Women by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Pope Francis, Complementarity, and US Politics by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileA theology of complementarity, referred to by Pope Francis as an “anthropological fact,” has had  a strong influence on American politics.  According to the Vatican teaching, women and men have distinct but complementary roles, meaning that women’s value is found in the home as wife and mother and men are responsible for providing for the family.  Such a teaching is highly problematic in that it demeans women’s value and places women on the underside of dualism.

As a woman with an ongoing struggle with infertility, I find it troubling that my church sees my value as less because my womb is barren. Likewise, do women have less value if they choose a career over motherhood?  What if they choose not to marry?  There are also clear implications for single parents, LGBTQ parents, and so on.  In addition, societal norms make clear that women’s work in the home is not valued as the work of men in society.  Likewise, it is damaging to men in that it refuses to acknowledge the critical role men play in the household, in the lives of their children, and their responsibilities to be partners and co-parents.

The idea of complementarity upheld by Pope Francis greatly contributes to economic injustice for women.  The Vatican’s refusal to value women’s roles outside the home influences US social policy on women’s issues. The continued struggle to close the pay gap, implement paid parental leave, and create viable options for childcare and early childhood education are directly connected to complementarity. If women are supposed to remain in the home and be wives and mothers, then there is no need to address any of these issues. How can we possibly have women in leadership roles if they are supposed to be at home cooking dinner and caring for children? And so, when women do pursue careers the social attitude is that women do not belong. Such an idea is even more problematic for women of color who suffer a lower pay rate – $.64 on the dollar for African American women and $.54 for Latina women. Furthermore, many have have been forced to work outside of the home as a result of economic and racial injustice.  In this secular nation, Christian values dominate our political debates and perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men. And to be frank, these are community issues that impact men as well as women; yet they have been deemed women’s issues as a result of the manifestation of theological teachings.

As republicans focus on defunding Planned Parenthood, ending marriage equality, protecting religious freedom, and claiming issues like parental leave are not federal issues, women continue to be relegated to second class status. In a time of turmoil and multiple threats to the progression of our nation, there is greater concern for regulating women’s bodies than guns.

Pope Francis has been praised for his commitment to the poor; yet he has been unable to make the connection between poverty and the women’s issues that exist as a result of complementarity.   Likewise, the Church’s stance on reproductive justice continues to perpetuate the very issues that the pope seeks to address.  As Sr. Joan Chittister points out:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

No doubt, his lack of relationships with women is a major contributing factor to his ignorance when it comes to such issues – by the way, which could be easily fixed by embracing women’s ordination. And so, as Pope Francis has become an international figure deemed a savior to the people, these disconnects fuel ongoing US political debates that keep women in a marginalized position and continue a cycle of poverty and oppression.

Pope Francis has called for a “Year of Mercy” in which he has stated that if a woman confesses having an abortion, she will be forgiven.  Many have praised the pope for taking such a step towards healing; yet, I can’t help but think, “how judgmental and irresponsible.”  Without knowing a woman’s circumstance, her decision making process, her doctor’s concerns, etc., why should one be told to repent? To deny women the right to reproductive justice is to deny women the ability to make decisions about their physical, emotional, and financial health – and we see this play out in the US as a result of the influence of complementarity in our political system. So, in this “Year of Mercy,” I wonder will the Vatican confess its sins against women, LGBTQ persons, and others it has marginalized?

comingspring 2016Portions of this article are excerpts from If Jesus Ran for President coming from the Far Press in Spring, 2016.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.

Gun Control and Party Lines by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileGuns and bibles have somehow become linked in this nation. Particularly throughout the midwest and the south, many associate their right to own a gun with their Christian religious values.  I personally find this confusing given Jesus’ stance on non-violence.

Many call me a “gun hater,” and that might not be too far from the truth.  But with that said, I need to be honest and share that there are guns in my home. They belong to my husband, Chris, but they exist in my space. It was a major issue that we debated before and after we were married.  Growing up in Ohio, Chris started hunting at a young age and continues to do so today (yes, he does eat what he kills).  We have a six year old daughter and I find it very difficult to cope with the fact that we own guns with a child in the house.  Nonetheless, we own a gun safe and take proper precautions.  And although I don’t like guns and I don’t like hunting, after fifteen years of marriage, I finally told my husband that I am going to stop judging him for his hunting lifestyle – it seems like the Jesus thing to do. *read sarcasm

I share this to say that the gun debate that exists in this nation also exists in my home.  Both my husband and I feel very strongly about our stances.  But we love and respect each other and so we find ways to compromise and ensure that in some ways we are both getting what we want, our rights our being honored, and safety is always our first concern.

The gap in the gun control debate has grown substantially in the last few decades.  During his presidency, Ronald Reagan argued that “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home” (February 6, 1989).  I don’t disagree with this position, and I don’t think many would.  However, the debate over gun control has become about party lines rather than a reasonable law that honors rights and is committed to safety.

In 2015 there were more mass shootings in the US than days in the year. In fact, the US has one of the highest murder rates of developing countries with nearly three quarters of those murders being committed with a gun. In addition, gun control is a serious women’s issue given that most women murder victims are killed by a gun by someone they know. Following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on October 1, 2015, Obama commented, “Tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side.”  So here are those numbers:

From 2005-2015:

  • Americans killed in terror attacks on US soil: 71
  • Americans killed by gun violence in the US: 301,797

Whether you are an Obama supporter or not, you have to admit, the numbers don’t lie. Also important to note, mass shootings only account for about two percent of gun deaths annually. Most of those killed by guns are murdered in various situations from domestic violence, to arguments at the bar, to road rage; there are numerous situations that result in someone being murdered with a gun in the US each year.  When I hear Trump propose that there should be no such thing as a gun free zone, I wonder if he is really looking at the issue with a critical eye?

Many republicans don’t disagree that some level of gun control is needed. For instance, in January, 2013 now Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan stated “I think we need to find out how to close these loopholes and do it in such a way that we don’t infringe upon people’s Second Amendment rights.” He continued, “We had this issue, 2001, 1999 I think … when I first got into Congress. At the time I remember thinking, ‘You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that.'”

However, in January of 2016 when President Obama announced his executive action aimed at reducing gun violence, Ryan criticized him for being “dismissive” and called his actions unconstitutional.  Focused on expanding background checks, registration for licensed gun dealers, and narrowing the gun show loophole, Obama’s executive action mirrors Ryan’s call for change in 2013.  However, once the plan was proposed by a democrat, Ryan argued, “We all are pained by the recent atrocities in our country, but no change the president is reportedly considering would have prevented them…At a time when the country wants the president to lead the fight against radical Islamic terror, this is yet another attempt to divide and distract from his failed policies.”

Likewise, Marco Rubio took to the airwaves claiming that Obama wants to take away everyone’s guns.  In an interview on Good Morning America, Rubio made this argument and was quickly called on the carpet by George Stephanopoulos.  Backing down, barely, Rubio acknowledged that the executive action would not take away gun owner rights, but continued that he strongly believes this is the ultimate goal of Obama. Rubio then followed up calling all citizens to purchase guns.  Appearing on Face the Nation with John Dickerson, Rubio argued, “If ISIS were to visit us, or our communities, at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability that I have to protect my family from them, or from a criminal, or anyone else who seeks to do us harm. Millions of Americans feel that way.” It seems that fear mongering rather than facts continues to play a critical role in our gun control debate.

While our politicians are obsessed with battling party lines and maintaining partisan stances, our “Christian” nation continues to be one of the most violent.  As a Catholic and a feminist, I would personally like to see harsher gun control laws.  But that said, I wonder, if we fought so vigorously for every person’s right to have food, clean water, and health care as we do for guns, where would we be as a nation? As a people? A global community?  When will our politicians stop focusing on personal vendettas and instead put the needs of the people first?

This article is an excerpt from Jesus in the White House coming from the Far Press in Spring, 2016.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.

On the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Unity not Fear by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIn the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, our humanity is being tested and we are not fairing so well.  Twenty-six US senators have called to refuse entry for refugees in their states, presidential candidate and governor of my home state of Ohio, John Kasich included.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who claims to be deeply committed to Catholic social teaching, argues that we must “pause” in responding to Syrian refugees so there can be greater scrutiny.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has also continued his deplorable speech and xenophobia saying “How come they never end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives? …Behind gated communities and with armed security around. Mrs. Clinton, you have suggested we take in 65,000 refugees. How many can we bring to your neighborhood in Chappaqua?” Continue reading “On the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Unity not Fear by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Reform? Progress? By Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my class yesterday (a survey of Christian thought and practices), I was lecturing about monastic life in the Middle Ages. Among other points, I mentioned that medieval religious orders provided settings where women could be educated and assume leadership roles (primarily among other women), thinking of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) who was the Abbess of a monastic community in Rupertsberg. Other women medieval writers who developed influential writings, like Mechtild of Magdeburg (ca. 1210-1282) and Catherine of Siena (1347-80), belonged to tertiaries or third orders, which were monastic community for laypersons. This part of the lesson emphasized that monastic reforms around the 12th century opened religious orders more extensively to women and laity.

Still speaking of medieval reforms, I displayed a picture of Francis of Assisi on the screen at the front of the room. I mentioned that Francis was concerned about the poor and the animals and that he has inspired some contemporary Christians, including the current pope who took Francis as his name. We talked about how both St. Francis and Pope Francis are seen as reformers.

Because earlier in my lesson I’d made a point of speaking of women’s experience, when I spoke about the Pope’s name as a possible sign of renewal or reform, Gina Messina-Dysert’s question “What about the women?” came to mind. In her recent post, she responded to the Pope’s exclusion of many issues that concern women in his address to the US Catholic Bishops. Like Gina, I applaud many of the Pope’s reforms but I am confused about how rarely he is criticized for maintaining the long-held Catholic view that disallows women to be ordained as priests.

Let me provide an example: During the Pope’s visit to the US, one of my students described Pope Francis as “very liberal.” When I interjected that he has not supported the ordination of women, the student laughed and said the pope would be accused of heresy for supporting that! While that may be true, my more immediate concern was that in a classroom of students who are mostly supportive of women in ministry, the Catholic restrictions on the priesthood were seen as a part of the tradition not worth challenging. Why is it that preserving male leadership is excused as a part of the tradition while preserving exclusive marriage practices is something to be challenged? They are interrelated.

As we know from blogs and social media sites, many people who support LGBTQ rights were upset over news stories about the Pope meeting with Kim Davis, the county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Certainly such a meeting is disturbing to same-sex marriage advocates. But is it surprising? At least one womanist ethicist I know, Eboni Marshall Turman, pointed out in a Facebook discussion that the church has long since been public in its support of male privilege and heteronormativity. My intent is not to single out Catholicism for sexist practices. When recently asked about women’s ordination and leadership in Baptist churches in my own town of Waco Texas, I had to admit that even though ordination of women is permissible and practiced in many of the churches, the number of churches that have called women to the position of senior pastor is shockingly few.

My point is this: When we find teachings in particular religious traditions that justify the exclusion of one group, we should expect to find justifications for excluding other groups, too. In the same discussion I referenced above, Eboni Marshall Turman said, ”Oppressions are compounded and intersectional. If they come for me, it is just a matter of time before they come for you. This is basic theological ethics.”

The experiences of varied groups are not the same; our oppressions and marginalizations also differ. But practices of exclusion are constructed on the same logic that values some persons (the in-group) more than others (the outsiders). Therefore, feminists have a responsibility to advance the well-being and interests of other groups (besides women) who are being marginalized.

Another reason for this advocacy is that many women are included in other marginalized groups. To ignore the intersectionality of oppression is to deny its pervasiveness and the realities of women’s lives. This is why feminists of color are often critical of white feminism. (The recent debate over the photo shoot for the movie Suffragette is a new instance of a persistent critique of white or mainstream feminism. See Rebecca Carroll’s piece on “Suffragette’s Publicity Campaign and the Politics of Erasure”).

To counter the limitations of our own experiences and be consistent in our pursuit of equality, feminists should intentionally cultivate practices of solidarity and coalition-building in our work. I, like everyone else, am often unable to see the inconsistencies in my own practices and teachings without others’ experiences to expand my view. This is one reason I value this Feminism and Religion community. Thank you for the wisdom and practices you offer from your own religious traditions and your own experiences of marginalization. You make me a better feminist through your writings and comments.

Perhaps working together, we can bring about religious reforms that our descendants will recognize in the centuries to come.

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 academia.edu.

The Politics of Being a Woman in a “Christian Nation” by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin

FF Editors.001

The far right is pitting God against women. Mike Huckabee’s support for the decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim an abortion is just another example in a long history that continues this election season.

At Fox News’ Republican Presidential debate in Cleveland, Jeb Bush boasted that, informed by his faith, he “defunded planned parenthood and created a culture of life in my state.” When Megyn Kelly asked Scott Walker if he would “really let a mother die rather than have an abortion,” he refused to temper his position that there should be no exceptions to his “pro-life” position.

Ted Cruz professed “God speaks to me every day through the scriptures and this informs my position on religious liberty, life, and marriage.” And Marco Rubio argued that even in the case of rape, women should not have the ability to make choices about their pregnancies. Sadly, such proclamations ignore individual rights, freedom of religion, and the fact that faith as a guiding principle can be dangerous when the foundational teachings of social justice are ignored. Continue reading “The Politics of Being a Woman in a “Christian Nation” by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin”

The Francis Blindspot by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThe day Pope Francis was elected is a memorable one for many Catholics, myself included.  Watching our new pope walk out on to the balcony of the Vatican and bow to the crowd left me in tears.  It seemed in Pope Francis we would have a leader who recognized the full humanity of every person in the community; and in asking the people for their blessing, he acknowledged the role we all play in the ministry of Jesus.

Named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, boasting an astronomical approval rating of 90% among American Catholics, and more than 12 million Twitter followers, Francis has taken the papacy to a new level. People around the world continue to be mesmerized by his acts of kindness and mercy.  His commitment to social justice for the poor, simplistic living, welcoming message to persons of all faiths, and proclamation “Who am I to judge?” is refreshing to say the least.  Nonetheless, this does not mean Pope Francis does not have blind spots, nor that we do not have a responsibility to remind him of them. Continue reading “The Francis Blindspot by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Faithfully Feminist by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profile“Why do you stay?”  It is a question I am often asked when I reveal my Catholic feminist identity.  It is not lost on me that such a question is one that is often posed to women in abusive relationships.  First, let me say, I don’t ever think it is appropriate to pose such a question to women experiencing domestic violence.  This said, I also want to be clear that I in no way view my relationship with my faith as abusive.

Yes, the Vatican is patriarchal and it is true that women are relegated to the underside of dualism in the Church. There are so many ways that women are oppressed in Christianity and there are many issues that need to be reexamined – and from a non-male perspective. Nonetheless, I believe that the foundation of my faith offers a very different message; one that is liberating and honors my gifts as a person and as a woman.

Working on my latest project, the anthology Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay, has been an incredibly rewarding experience.  First, co-editing alongside Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin has been truly a gift.  And then, to have the opportunity to engage the stories of so many amazing women has been powerful, heartbreaking, uplifting, and so much more.  It is in one another’s experiences that we see ourselves and find that we are not alone and that has certainly been my experience with this project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMb1UkkZsR8 Continue reading “Faithfully Feminist by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Pope Francis is Paving the Way to FutureChurch by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThe enthusiasm we have seen for Pope Francis over the last year is exceptional.  Polls show that among American Catholics he has a 90% approval rating.  He has garnered more than 12 million Twitter followers and even broke a Rolling Stones (yes, the rock band!) record by drawing more than three million people to an event in Rio de Janeiro.  Our new pope is a media icon and “The Francis Effect” is commanding the attention of not only Catholics, but the global community.  According to John Allen Jr., it is “take-it-to-the-bank fact” that politicians and celebrities would do just about anything to garner the pope’s poll numbers. There is good reason for this unprecedented attention; in Pope Francis we see the example of Jesus.

Our new pope is connecting with the greater community on the deepest level because he has a sincere commitment to serving the needs of the people rather than the politics of the Vatican. With his first papal act, Francis bowed to a cheering crowd and asked for the people to bless him.   In doing so, he acknowledged the full humanity of every person as well as the necessity of community.  His immediate rejection of the glamour of the papacy and ongoing efforts to walk with the disenfranchised has commanded the world’s attention. Pope Francis’ humility and commitment to social justice is Jesus-like. His willingness to engage the community, not to mention pose for a selfie here and there, demonstrates a ministry focused on the people. Continue reading “Pope Francis is Paving the Way to FutureChurch by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Supporting Gender Equality in the Church Results in Excommunication by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt is unnerving to think that excommunication is still a real threat in the 21st century. Within both the Catholic and Mormon Churches members continue to be bullied into submission with such threats. Today, speaking out against gender injustice seems to be a sure way for one to end up expelled from her or his community. Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney and Mormon feminist, has become the most recent in a long line to be rebuked for speaking out about gender discrimination and is waiting to learn her fate following a trial by LDS Church leaders. Continue reading “Supporting Gender Equality in the Church Results in Excommunication by Gina Messina-Dysert”

#BringBackOurGirls is Making an Impact by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt has been more than a month since Boko Haram militants kidnapped nearly 300 girls from their school in Nigeria.  The social media cry for justice #BringBackOurGirls has fostered global attention; however some have criticized the campaign claiming it is low level information that does not offer any real purpose.  It has been argued that hashtag activism is lazy, frictionless, and functions more as a self-serving public acknowledgment of concern rather than an act for justice.  Likewise, it has been stated that it is the privileged outsider rather than those who need help that launches campaigns like #BringBackOurGirls.  I won’t deny that such critiques do have a basis; however we must also acknowledge that #BringBackOurGirls is making an impact.

Continue reading “#BringBackOurGirls is Making an Impact by Gina Messina-Dysert”

“Talking Taboo”: Register for WATER’s Feminist Conversations in Religion Teleconference

Talking-Taboo-Part-TwoWATER’s Feminist Conversations in Religion Series


“Talking Taboo”
Part Two

An hour long teleconference with

Grace Biskie
Gina Messina-Dysert
Tara Woodard-Lehman
Katey Zeh

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 1-2PM EST

The book, Talking Taboo: American Christian Get Frank About Faith edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, is creating lots of conversation. WATER is excited to feature two teleconferences to start 2014 by looking at the issues many people consider taboo. Join authors Grace Biskie, Gina Messina-Dysert, Tara Woodard-Lehman, Katey Zeh, and let’s “talk taboo.”

Grace Biskie is a passionate, big-dreaming, extroverted communicator. She holds a bachelor of arts in speech communications and is half way through a Masters of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. She has served high school and college students in the nonprofit sector for over fifteen years. She blogs regularly at http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com. Currently, Grace is working on her first book entitled, Detroit’s Daughter, a memoir.

Gina Messina-Dysert, PhD, is Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College. Gina is also Co-founder and Co-director of Feminism and Religion, an international project that explores the “F-word” in religion and the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community. She is the author of the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence, and coeditor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the forthcoming anthology Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century.  Gina’s twitter is @FemTheologian and her website is http://ginamessinadysert.com.

Tara Woodard-Lehman is an ordained Presbyterian minister. Since 1998 she has ministered to and with young adults and university students. Over the past four years Tara has served as the executive director of Westminster Foundation and Presbyterian Chaplain at Princeton University. Tara also serves on the pastoral staff of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.

Katey Zeh is an advocate for reproductive justice in faith communities. She wrote her honors thesis on theology, ritual, and motherhood at Davidson College. In 2008, she graduated from Yale Divinity School with her Masters of Divinity. Currently, she directs a grassroots education and mobilization initiative focused on improving global maternal health for The United Methodist Church. Katey serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, DC.

TalkingTabooA recommended resource is the book Talking Taboo, in particular the following chapters:

  •      “A Woman Undone,” by Grace Biskie, pp. 191-198
  •      “No Women Need Apply,” by Gina Messina-Dysert, pp. 93-97
  •      “Broken in Body, Slain in the Spirit,” by Tara Woodard-Lehman, pp. 74-79
  •      “A Pregnant Silence,” by Katey Zeh, pp. 186-190


Email “Register Me Teleconference” towaterstaff@hers.com by Tuesday, February 4, 2014 in order to receive dial-in information.

WATER, The Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
8121 Georgia Avenue, Suite 310 | Silver Spring, MD 20910
301.589.2509 | water@hers.com | www.waterwomensalliance.org

Please consider making a secure online donation to WATER. Thank you!

Let Us Give Thanks for Feminism and Religion Dot Com by Carol P. Christ

carol-christFeminism and Religion was founded in the late spring of 2011. Throughout the summer Gina Messina-Dysert hounded me about submitting a blog while I ignored her emails because I didn’t think I wanted to take on a new project.  Gina was persistent nonetheless. Finally I decided that it would be easier to take an excerpt from a book review I had recently written than to explain why I didn’t want to write something for the blog, and so “Exciting New Research on Matriarchal Societies” became my first contribution.

I must have enjoyed writing the blog or reading the responses to it, because my FAR archives show that I was soon contributing a blog every other week and not long after that, every week.  Continue reading “Let Us Give Thanks for Feminism and Religion Dot Com by Carol P. Christ”

Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Quests for Hope and Meaning by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRosemary Radford Ruether is one of the most brilliant theologians of our time and her newly released autobiography, My Quest for Hope and Meaning, is a gift to those of us who have been so touched by her work.  In this intimate and beautiful piece, Ruether shares her personal journey in feminist scholarship and activism.  The autobiography opens with a profound forward by Renny Golden (that is also shared here on Feminism and Religion) and continues with an introduction and six chapters where Ruether guides us through an exploration of the influence of the matriarchs in her life, her interactions with Catholicism, her continued exploration of interfaith relations, her family’s struggle with mental illness, and her commitment to ecofeminist responses to the ecological crisis.

Ruether states that “Humans are hope and meaning creators” (xii), and her autobiography details her own quests for hope and meaning.  She reflects on the incredible impact made by the female-centered patterns in family and community in her life.  According to Ruether, these “matricentric enclaves” grounded and shaped her interest in feminist theory and women’s history.  She also describes the spiritually and intellectually serious Catholicism that she received from her mother and articulates her continued frustration with Vatican leadership that has undermined the efforts of Vatican II.   For Ruether, her ongoing affiliation with feminist theological circles is crucial as she continues to work toward shaping an ecumenical and interfaith Catholicism.

Continue reading “Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Quests for Hope and Meaning by Gina Messina-Dysert”

The New Feminist Revolution in Religion by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert CGUThis week I will be attending the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) Conference in Baltimore Maryland.  In celebration of the second anniversary of Feminism and Religion and the continued efforts of feminists in the field within the digital world, Xochitl Alvizo and I will lead a roundtable discussion on the intersection of feminism, religion, and technology – or what I refer to as the new feminist revolution in religion.

Reflecting on two years of blogging and engaging in dialogue within a global community reveals how powerful a platform social media can be.   Small gatherings in living rooms, classrooms and coffee shops have grown into global conversations.  Borders are being expanded and new frontiers are being built as the feminist revolution in religion continues to grow and evolve. Continue reading “The New Feminist Revolution in Religion by Gina Messina-Dysert”

What Would Malala Do? by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileOctober 11th was International Day of the Girl – a movement that empowers girls around the world to see themselves as powerful change agents. This year’s theme is “Innovation for girls’ education.”  Certainly, this makes sense given that education is one of our most powerful resources – just ask Malala.  During her recent interview on The Daily Show, Malala reminded the world that it is education that can solve global problems – not war.

The youngest person in history to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is clear in her message; the only way to make change is through peace, dialogue, and education.  When asked about her reaction to the threat to her life by the Taliban, Malala responded saying that she thought quite a bit about what she would say if she came face to face with a Talib.  “I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well. That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Although the Taliban has continued to threatened her life, Malala says striking back is not the right approach.  “If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty. … You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”  Such words of wisdom from a child. Continue reading “What Would Malala Do? by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Feminism vs. Humanism by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRecently Susan Sarandon was asked if she is a feminist and her response left many asking if perhaps we are moving towards a post-feminist world. Of course, the very fact that Sarandon was asked if she is a feminist well demonstrates that gender politics continue (certainly, men are not asked such questions).

According to Sarandon, “I think of myself as a humanist because I think it’s less alienating to people who think of feminism as being a load of strident bitches.”  She went on to explain that “feminist” is an “old-fashioned word” and is actually used to minimize women and girls.

Sarandon’s comments left many questioning what the difference is between humanism and feminism, particularly when a definition of feminism calls for the honoring of the full humanity of all women and all men, as it does here on Feminism and Religion.  Why not move to a humanist identification and leave behind the baggage of feminism?  Continue reading “Feminism vs. Humanism by Gina Messina”

Losing my Mother and Realizing her Resurrection by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina and momFive years ago today I buried my mother.  Violence took her life; however because of this patriarchal culture we live in, there was no prosecution in her death.  Violence against women is of little consequence in our society.

She died at the very young age of 56 on June 29, 2008, the same day I was moving to California.  I was just about to get into our moving truck when I got the call.  I will never forget the moment I heard the words, “your mom passed away last night.”  It was as if I felt her dying in that moment, as if my heart was falling from my body.  I cried out so violently and fell to the floor.  How could this be real?  How could my mom be gone?  The day before we had stood in my kitchen, danced, sang, laughed, embraced.  She was so alive, but in a moment, she was gone.  I begged and pleaded with God, I thought it was a mistake, Continue reading “Losing my Mother and Realizing her Resurrection by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Rape Culture and Abstinence Only Education by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRape culture, as has been noted on Feminism and Religion in multiple articles (see Carol Christ’s post this week), permeates every aspect of our society, every aspect of our lives.  Something that I believe warrants serious attention is Elizabeth Smart’s recent comment about abstinence only education.  In her talk at John Hopkins University about her own harrowing ordeal, she well demonstrates the many ways rape culture plays itself out in our society and also shares why we must continue to explore options beyond abstinence only education.

As you may recall, Elizabeth Smart’s name became well known across the US when she was abducted at the age of 14 and then found alive 9 months later.  During her captivity Smart was forced into a polygamous marriage and repeatedly raped (rape culture).  When she was found walking down the street with her captors, many wondered why she hadn’t tried to escape or ask for help (rape culture).  According to Smart, the question she is asked most often is “Why didn’t you run? Why didn’t you scream?” (rape culture).  Smart responded to that question during her talk and her answer included abstinence only education (rape culture). Continue reading “Rape Culture and Abstinence Only Education by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Selfish Working Mothers Destroying the Natural Order? by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt was nearly twelve years ago when I sat before my then pastor in pre-cana counseling and was told “how nice it is that you are trying to help women by working in a domestic violence shelter, but now that you are going to be married your role is to be a wife and mother.  Working outside the home will no longer fit into your life.  Your duty is to have children and care for your family.”

Our conversation continued and according to my pastor, God was not concerned with what I had to offer my community, but rather with how many children I could bear and raise as Catholic.  In that moment, I was told that my life and my efforts were of little value and that having children was the one thing I could do as a woman that would make my life worthy.  How funny – or sad – that in the 21st century, women’s worth continues to be tied to her womb and all other efforts are not valued.

Just this last week Pew Research released a report stating that 4 in 10 households have mothers who are either the main or sole breadwinners for the family.   Continue reading “Selfish Working Mothers Destroying the Natural Order? by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, and Spiritual Healing by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRecently I had the great pleasure of presenting on the WATER Teleconference Series and dialoguing with women from around the world about how to promote healing in a rape culture. Likewise, in a previous post I discussed rape culture in the Church and its impact on victims of sexual violence and the greater community.  Within a rape culture, those who experience sexual victimization endure physical, emotional, and spiritual wounding. It is a victimization unlike any other, and one that we must continue to discuss in search of healing.

This topic is important to me for obvious reasons. As a woman, mother, and social justice activist, I am passionate about eradicating gender based violence.  This said, I also have direct experience with this brutality that plagues our society. Having worked with rape survivors for more than a decade, I have witnessed the suffering endured as a result of such violence.  My own mother died prematurely as a result of sexual and domestic violence; having come to learn of the horrors she lived through has greatly impacted my understanding of the deep spiritual wounding experienced due to our culture of shaming and blaming – our rape culture.

Han has become a key concept in the way I understand the suffering of the rape victim.  Continue reading “Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, and Spiritual Healing by Gina Messina-Dysert”

I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt was just last week that I received an email from Pope Francis.  He wrote me having seen my interview with Tavis Smiley and said he sympathized with my appeal for a Church that serves the needs of the people.  Pope Francis requested that I come to the Vatican to meet with him to discuss the papacy and his efforts to redirect the Church’s attention.  Of course, I immediately accepted and began to create my agenda for our meeting: women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, and…my alarm went off.  It was just a dream. Sigh…

Totally disappointed at the realization of its ridiculousness, I wondered why Pope Francis had invaded my dreams.  Could it have been prophetic as my good friend and colleague (jokingly) suggested?  Or perhaps I’m narcissistic enough to fantasize that I have such wisdom to share.   Either way, no other pope has ever occupied my thoughts in such a way. Continue reading “I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert”

What We’ve Learned from Steubenville by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThe nation has watched over these last several months as the rape case in Steubenville, Ohio has unfolded in the media.  On March 17, 2013 the verdict was announced and the two teenage boys accused of raping a 16 year old girl were found guilty on all counts.   Although the verdict was just, all other circumstances surrounding the case, including the sentence, support the existence of a rape culture.  What we have learned from Steubenville is that the humanity of women and girls continues to be of little importance in today’s society.

To begin, the assault itself was horrific.  While two teenage boys took turns raping and abusing the body of Jane Doe, the other boys present took great pleasure in watching, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, facebooking, and video recording the brutality.  It was a scene out of The Accused (the film that recounted the real life rape of a woman while a crowd watched a cheered) all over again–this time with the “benefit” of modern technology.  Not only were those in the room witnesses to this gruesome attack, the entire world became voyeurs as video, pictures, and text went viral. Continue reading “What We’ve Learned from Steubenville by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Hate Mail and the Privilege of Having a Voice by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis past week I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with Tavis Smiley on PBS about the resignation of the Pope and the future of the Catholic Church.  Although some have argued that the pope stepping down means little if anything for Catholics, I think this acknowledgment that tradition can change is at least a step in the right direction.  While an end to sexism in the Church is still far off, in the spirit of a feminist ethic of risk, I think we must recognize this step and continue on in the struggle.

What a privilege it was and is to have a platform to share these thoughts.  As a feminist progressive Catholic I have repeatedly received friendly and not so friendly warnings about sharing my beliefs.  In an age characterized as “the New Inquisition,” the Vatican has worked hard to keep individuals like myself from challenging Church teaching.  Any mention of reproductive justice or women’s ordination can quickly lead to one’s livelihood being threatened and the very real possibility of excommunication – just ask Fr. Roy Bourgeois.  That said, we each still have the responsibility to retain our power, refuse to be silent, and use our voices to encourage and create change.    Continue reading “Hate Mail and the Privilege of Having a Voice by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Let the Walls Come Tumbling Down by Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster, the Pope off to his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo. He tells the world he will now become just a “humble pilgrim.”

If we want to see real change in the church, Catholics need a Rosa Parks moment.

Thousands fill St. Peter’s Square for the final blessing. A gleaming helicopter whisks the Pope off to his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo. He tells the world he will now become just a “humble pilgrim.”  But this humble pilgrim will be housed in an apartment behind the “Apostolic Palace,” be addressed as “His Holiness,” share a secretary with the new Pope, carry the newly created title of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and continue to wear his white cassock.  Sound like a humble pilgrim to you?

Speaking with Tavis Smiley recently, theologian Gina Messina-Dysert pointed to the resignation of this pope as probably the most progressive sign in the recent history of the Catholic church. She argued that an act so singular, it has not happened in more than 600 years,  suggests that the church can also break with other traditions.

Continue reading “Let the Walls Come Tumbling Down by Dawn Morais Webster”

Les Miserables’ Fantine, Women’s Suffering, and Female Migrant Labor by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileUpon the recommendation of several friends and colleagues I decided to see the film Les Miserables.  It is rare these days that I make it to the movies.  My life is generally over scheduled and spare time is nonexistent.  So with just a few days left until the start of the semester and with a pile of work on my desk, I decided to throw caution to the wind and head to the theater last-minute to see Victor Hugo’s masterpiece on the big screen.

First, can I say what a brilliant surprise the film itself was?  I wondered if Hollywood could do justice to Hugo; from the moment of the opening scene I was in absolute awe.  I left the theater experiencing a momentary resurrection.

Anne Hathaway / Les Misérables: © Universal Pictures.
Anne Hathaway / Les Misérables: © Universal Pictures.

While the entire film was amazing, I would have seen it for nothing else but Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine.  I felt her suffering in the depths of my soul and wept along with her.  In Fantine we see the suffering of Everywoman.  She represents the thin line between those virtuous and those fallen and mirrors women’s imprisonment within this dichotomy.     Continue reading “Les Miserables’ Fantine, Women’s Suffering, and Female Migrant Labor by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen By Barbara Ardinger

The Great Goddess and Divine Mother of Us All manifests where and to whom She chooses, no matter what faith we hold. In the 12th century, She manifested to a German nun named Hildegard. Hildegard’s story has been told in many places, including a highly detailed entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is a wonderful resource for stories about saints. I’ve just finished reading Illuminations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a splendid new novel about Hildegard by Mary Sharratt, who is the author of other excellent novels, including Daughters of the Witching Hill.

illuminationsHildegard, who lived from 1092 to 1179, was the tenth child of a family of minor nobility in the Holy Roman Empire. She’s a sturdy child who loves the outdoors and enjoys running through the forest with her brother. But early in the novel, she learns that she is to be her family’s tithe to the church. Her mother has already arranged for this bright and curious eight-year-old child to be the companion to Jutta von Sponheim, a “holy virgin” who yearns to be bricked up as an anchorite in the Abby of Disibodenberg. Being an anchorite means that, like Julian of Norwich (about 250 years later), this girl and her magistra are bricked in. There is a screened opening in the wall through which their meager meals are passed and through which they can witness mass and speak to Abbott Cuno, the other monks, and visiting pilgrims, but they can never go out. Never. In the Afterword, Sharratt writes that “Disibodenberg Abbey is now in ruins and it’s impossible to precisely pinpoint where the anchorage was, but the suggested location is two suffocatingly narrow rooms and a narrow courtyard built on to the back of the church” (p. 272). As Sharratt vividly shows us, Hildegard survived in that awful place for thirty years. Continue reading “Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen By Barbara Ardinger”

A Call for Gun Control by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileBut America seems to be the place the whole world thinks of when apparently ordinary people use guns for grotesque acts of violence. America stands alone in its historic and cultural attachment to guns. America stands armed. — Jonathan Mann

Reflecting on the tragedy in Connecticut, as well as the shooting in Portland earlier this week and the shooting in Colorado during the Dark Knight Rises screening in July, it is clear that gun violence is out of control. In the last six months we have had three major tragedies related to gun violence. While some argue this has nothing to do with gun control, I wonder how it could not?

Continue reading “A Call for Gun Control by Gina Messina-Dysert”

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