From the Archives: Politicians Make Dangerous Theologians by Katey Zeh

This was originally posted November 21, 2017


Accounts and allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse perpetrated by mostly straight white men in power have flooded the U.S. news cycle for months. Each new revelation confirms that sexual violence is an epidemic fueled by systems of unchecked power and authority, including patriarchy, white supremacy, and Christian supremacy.

After The Washington Post published the story of Leigh Corfman who recounted the sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of Roy Moore, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler came to his defense and argued that this would have no political impact since Moore “never had sexual intercourse with any of these girls.”

We all ought know by now that such allegations of sexual abuse, even when the perpetrator admits to them, bear little weight on the electability of white male politicians (see: November 8, 2016). Even so, I was stunned by a poll that revealed that 29% of Alabama voters answered that they are now more likely to vote for Roy Moore since allegations were made against him.  

Continue reading “From the Archives: Politicians Make Dangerous Theologians by Katey Zeh”

A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson

Katey Zeh, an ordained Baptist minister, CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and a contributor to this Feminism and Religion (FAR) blog recently published her newest book, A Complicated Choice  Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement (Broadleaf Books, 2022). Not only does Zeh push back against those individuals who are dead-set against giving space to pregnant people to make their own decision about whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, she dares to imagine a world where people are not just free to easily access an abortion procedure, but are also given the support to grieve (if need be) and heal without being bogged down with shame heaped on them by the larger society. 

One of the strengths (given the current religious-political climate in the U.S.) of this slim volume is that Zeh uses Christian Scripture to illuminate the way for pregnant people to embrace their inner knowing, something that helps slough off the stories that our society (collectively) has given them that silences and shames them “from speaking up and speaking out” about their abortions. “There is a culture of silence around abortion, and that silence is shaming and isolating on both a personal and a collective level.” When we break the silence of isolation and give voice to our difficult and painful experiences, we are then free to find healing and wholeness.

Continue reading “A COMPLICATED CHOICE by Katey Zeh – Book Review by Esther Nelson”

Claim Your Expertise by Katey Zeh


Years ago I attended a women’s workshop hosted by The OpEd Project, an organization dedicated to diversifying voices in the media. The first exercise was for each of us to state our particular area of expertise to the group. I remember the anxiety I felt as I attempted  to articulate what felt truthful and authentic to claim as an area of personal mastery. I ended up reciting something practically verbatim from my job description at the time, stumbling over the phrase “I am an expert…” It was terribly uncomfortable.

Recently I’ve experienced similar discomfort when several folks have referred to me as a “podcasting expert.”  A podcasting expert? Hardly! Sure, I co-host a podcast. Yes, we produce it ourselves. Indeed, we’ve published more than twenty episodes in the last year, and we’ve built a consistent following. But, it’s not like we’re topping the charts over on Apple Podcasts. Those people are the “real” podcasting experts. Continue reading “Claim Your Expertise by Katey Zeh”

See, Hear, and Believe Women’s Pain by Katey Zeh

women in pain

Rachel Fassler was in so much pain that she couldn’t remain still long enough for the emergency room nurses to take her blood pressure. After hours of being overlooked, dismissed, and misdiagnosed (she was initially treated for kidney stones) by two male doctors, Fassler was finally treated appropriately by a third physician, a woman, and rushed into emergency surgery to have a swollen ovary removed.

The details of Fassler’s horrific experience in the hospital that day was told by her husband Joe Fassler in The Atlantic back in 2015. The piece “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously” opened the floodgates for women to share their stories of having their pain ignored sometimes for years by mostly by male doctors, though not exclusively. Rachel Fassler refers to this as “the trauma of not being seen.”

Continue reading “See, Hear, and Believe Women’s Pain by Katey Zeh”

When Spirit Speaks by Katey Zeh


Though I couldn’t call myself a skeptic in general, I’m always a bit dubious when someone claims to have an audible connection with the divine. I’ve found sacred guidance to be more subtle than that, revealed slowly over time through snippets of conversations and on the pages journals and during walks in the woods with my dog. Revelations are rarely sudden for me. They tend to emerge piece by piece, like clues to a puzzle, until the clarity eventually comes.  

Imagine my surprise and subsequent doubt when I heard a voice say recently, “You are already doing the work you want to do.” Continue reading “When Spirit Speaks by Katey Zeh”

Parenting and Politics: How I’m Showing Up by Katey Zeh


When I was ten weeks pregnant I gave an impassioned speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Hobby Lobby hearings about why universal access to contraception was part of my own religious understanding. I’d wanted to share about my own planned pregnancy, but at that point I wasn’t far enough along to feel comfortable telling that in a public way.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last protest for almost three years. After the birth of my daughter I cut my travel significantly. I spent most of my weekends in the cocoon–or what sometimes felt more like the prison–of our home rather than out in the public square.  As someone deeply ensconced in the activism world this turning inward felt like I was betraying the causes and the people for whom I cared deeply. How could I be an effective advocate if I couldn’t show up?

Over the last few months I’ve done a lot of reflecting on how parenting has shifted the way that I think about myself as an activist. Whether rooted in parental love, self-preservation, or some combination of these two, I’m less willing to put myself in harm’s way than I was before I became a mother. Continue reading “Parenting and Politics: How I’m Showing Up by Katey Zeh”

The Restorative Act of the Rite-13 Ritual by Katey Zeh

carpeI had never heard of the Rite-13 Ritual until I saw it listed on my worship bulletin a few months ago. My first reaction was to become annoyed when I saw the additional program item and to begin to calculate the additional minutes we were going to be sitting in our pew. Our nearly two-year-old daughter had just had her weekly meltdown over being left in the nursery, and all I wanted was for this liturgical hour to be over so I could scoop her up in my arms and take her home.

Started by an Episcopal Church in the 1980s the Rite-13 Ritual is modeled on the Jewish bar and bat mitzvah and intends to recognize adolescence as a time of transition in a young person’s life. After the opening hymn, six gangly, slightly awkward teenagers and their slightly nervous parents made their way up to the front of the congregation. They began with a reading based on Psalm 139: “God, investigate my life, get all the facts firsthand.” Most of their voices were barely above a mumbled whisper, perhaps due to the sheer discomfort of being center stage at church. In between each passage the youth read, the congregation responded, “Your creation is wonderful, and we know it well!” I’m a strong advocate for participatory worship, but this kind of of responsive reading always feels a little odd to me.

The last portion of the ritual, however, caught me off guard and left me in tears. The youth knelt down as their parents prayed a blessing over them. We couldn’t hear what was said, but watching these parents lovingly speak words of affirmation and encouragement softly into their children’s ears was beautiful. Now that I’m a parent, I couldn’t help but imagine what it might be like to stand in their place one day and pray a blessing over my daughter. But I don’t think that’s what brought on the tears.

I had a flash of a memory of a similar scene. I was also thirteen standing at the front of my church with my mother and a group of other youth and parents. We were not there to receive a blessing or to be affirmed, however, but instead to proclaim our commitment to sexual purity until marriage. It was the late 1990s and the True Love Waits movement was just ramping up. I guess you could say my church was an early adopter.

Instead of reciting Psalm 139, we spoke these words instead: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.” In this evangelical church of my childhood the only readily available affirmation of me as a teenager was tied to an ill-informed, naïve promise I was pressured to make about sexual abstinence for the foreseeable future and beyond.

It was a perfect example of the contradictory theological messages I got constantly from my faith community: God created you, so you are good. But you are also sinful, so you are bad. I remember a church friend once jokingly said, “You totally suck. But Jesus is great through you.”

Twenty years have passed since that True Love Waits Sunday, but as Madeline L’Engle wrote, “I am still every age that I have been.” Over those two decades, I’ve internalized that message of earned and performative self-worth I got as a teenager. It shifted from worth rooted in sexual purity to one tied to academic achievement, transformed to professional success, and then on to marriage and parenthood and the illusive “balance” of doing all of it simultaneously. I still yearn to hear those words of acceptance that I needed then and need to this day.

As I see it, the heart of the Rite-13 Ritual is a commitment on the part of young people to seek divine wisdom throughout the journey of life and for the community of faith to pledge to be a place of unceasing support, friendship, and care for them. No strings attached. I’ve kept that bulletin insert, formerly a source of annoyance, on a prominent place on my desk. I turn to it on particularly hard days as a constant reminder of the truth of my own sacred worth that can’t be lost or earned. It simply is. “Your creation is wonderful, and we know it well!”

Katey Zeh, M.Div is a thought leader, strategiest, and connector who inspires intentionalKatey Headshot communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good.  She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rising will be published by the FAR Press in 2017.  Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website

From Competition to Collaboration: Reflections on Humility, Self-Promotion, and Gender


“Is self-promotion sinful?” Author Marlena Graves asked this question on Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics blog back in 2010. Reflecting on her experience of having a manuscript rejected by publishers for being a “no name” and not having a big enough platform, she wrestles with questions like “how much of what we do as Christians and churches is about promoting ourselves?” and “are we using the church as a vehicle to make a name for ourselves?”

Graves never directly answers the question  but she imples that most of the time self-promotion is sinful. She concludes that when we are presented with platform-building opportunities, most of the time the most righteous path is to for us to take a step back in order to revaluate and humble ourselves. But, other than turning down opportunities to grow our professional presence, what does humbling ourselves mean? Continue reading “From Competition to Collaboration: Reflections on Humility, Self-Promotion, and Gender”

Relaxation as a Spiritual Discipline by Katey Zeh

Katey HeadshotI have a productivity obsession. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an addiction, though in describing to a friend how euphoric it feels to check off a bunch of to-dos, he said, “You kind of sound like a junkie.” He may be right. Up until a year ago I didn’t think I had a problem. When I heard experts talk about self-care and meditation and “me” time, I’d roll my eyes a bit. Self-care is for wimps, I thought to myself. And I was certainly not one of those. I didn’t need time off for self-care. I had my to-do lists.

I started to question if I really had this all figured out when I was two weeks postpartum and back to work full-time because like most workers in the United States, I didn’t have paid family leave. Between the hormonal fluctuations and sleep deprivation, I lacked the mental clarity I needed to prioritize tasks. So then every task became the most urgent thing. On top of caring for a newborn and recovering from the birth, this created a perpetual state of mental exhaustion that was simply not sustainable. I needed to do something before I burned out completely.

One of the first steps I took was doing a self-assessment of the current state of my overall wellness–physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The first thing I jotted down was, “I’m stretched to my limits. I’m productive to a fault.” That was telling. My next step was to write out a wellness prescription. Since lists and schedules are my drugs of choice, could I try using them for good? I wrote out a self-care to-do list with a dozen different items, including weekly yoga sessions and scheduled downtime. Continue reading “Relaxation as a Spiritual Discipline by Katey Zeh”

Why I’m Not Watching by Katey Zeh

Katey HeadshotI just can’t. The Planned Parenthood sting operation videos. The GOP debates earlier in the month. I can’t bring myself to watch them. I used to jump without hesitation into the thick of the most vitriolic political exchanges and stand my self-righteous ground with the best of them, but I just can’t anymore.

I can’t. And I won’t. I do recognize that when I choose to tune out the noise of public debate, I am opting out of the conversation, at least in part. I shouldn’t be commenting directly on events of which I am not aware and informed. Nor should anyone else for that matter. I do end up relying on a community of commentators to fill in what I’ve missed by not watching. Continue reading “Why I’m Not Watching by Katey Zeh”

“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 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

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” 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 | |

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