As an artist and author, my time is often divided between painting and writing, with my interests in religion, gender/sexuality, and justice being the connection between the two. Painting teaches me something unique about writing, at the same time that writing brings clarity to my painting. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. Such is most certainly the case with my painting of the revolutionary Grimké sisters and in the writing of my most recent book, Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Violence of Everyday Church, co-authored with Cody Sanders. Now that the painting, one of my newest Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist, has toured parts the East Coast and Microaggressions in Ministry is officially available for purchase, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on these seemingly disparate projects and mediums, only to realize how mutually informing they truly are.
The Grimké Sisters: Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879)
Though these revolutionary sisters have always been famous in feminist-preaching-justice-antiracism-vegetarian circles, their name recognition bolstered with the stirring novel by Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings. The Grimké sisters were Southern American Quakers, writers, public speakers, and the first American women advocates for both abolition and women’s rights. Born to a wealthy plantation owner with hundreds of slaves, who held that women were strictly subordinate to men, these daring daughters experienced the evils of slavery first-hand. In fact, at age five, Sarah witnessed a slave being whipped and tried to escape South Carolina on a steam ship to a “place where there was no slavery.” In violation of the law, she taught several slaves to read during her adolescence.
Thirteen years her junior, Angelina was more of a daughter than sister to Sarah, as Sarah begged her parents to make her Angelina’s godmother. Together, the sisters left the South, became Quakers, committed themselves to pacifism and vegetarianism, and dedicated their lives to abolitionism. They gave countless public lectures—at first in “parlor meetings” for only women, but expanding to include men—decrying the evils of slavery. Not only did they preach abolition based on their interpretations of scripture, but they also held that black and white people are equal and should be treated as such. This latter belief was considered completely radical, even in abolitionist circles. In giving public lectures, they were attacked for their anti-slavery stance. In fact, they were forced to leave the Quaker church because of their views. But their radical abolitionism was not the only reason for critique; they were also condemned for stepping into the male sphere of public speaking. In the midst of such critique, the sisters were forced to grapple with their views of gender, inadvertently becoming feminists and women’s rights activists, as well. After much thought, prayer, and study, Sarah and Angelina also determined that women’s equality was rooted in scripture.