Do You Know Why We Are Marching? by Marcia Mount Shoop

When we got into the car to go, I asked my twelve-year-old daughter, “Do you know why we are marching today?”

“To protest Donald Trump?” she replied.

I explained that some people may be going for that reason, but that was not the reason I was going.

“Are there any positive reasons you can think of for why we are marching?” I asked her.

She went on to name several things Donald Trump had said about women. “I guess those are all still anti-Trump things,” she said.

“I am marching because I am a mother, I am a sister, I am a daughter, I am a wife, and I am a survivor. That’s what I am saying if anyone asks me,” I told her.


I had already thought through this question. As a pastor of a church with people who have diverse political affiliations I am committed to being able to minister to everyone in my congregation. I have served churches in which my political views are in the minority and I have served churches in which my political views are in the majority. Both have challenging aspects, but nothing that I have experienced previously in terms of partisanship feels like it relates to what is happening in the United States right now. Those old partisan dynamics were difficult to navigate—it took discipline, but not one ounce of moral compromise.

The decision to march was not a partisan one, it was a moral one, and it was a spiritual one. If I didn’t march it I would be listening to a frightening interlocutor—and his name is despair.

Party affiliations are not creating the alienation at the root of what is happening. The challenges are much more painful—and if I stay silent or still in the face of this situation I would not be doing my job as a pastor or a mother. Continue reading “Do You Know Why We Are Marching? by Marcia Mount Shoop”

Confronting the White Christian Vote for Trump by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis week a politician from Connecticut reached between a woman’s legs and pinched her genitals saying that he loves this new world where he doesn’t have to be politically correct. Sadly, this is just another act of violence among many perpetrated based on the example of our President Elect, Donald Trump.

While many have been very troubled by Trump’s candidacy and ultimate election to the highest office in the nation – and the world – more than 80% of Evangelicals and 60% of Catholics gave their vote to Trump. Continue reading “Confronting the White Christian Vote for Trump by Gina Messina”

Positive Presence in Tiring Times by Chris Ash

Christy CroftI am tired.

I’m tired in that way that happens when mind-overload, followed incautiously into concrete corners, limits the ability to conceive of solutions and dig up hope. I’m tired of reading commentary and I’m tired of thinking about the seeming impossibility of resolution, though I seem to be doing both compulsively. I read the news and it is overwhelming. I read theory and it is immobilizing: the more I learn, the more I realize how every possible choice of action is complicated by its impact on some person or power structure.

I’m tired in that way that happens to people who take in the world just as fully through their bodies – through touch, sound, breath, feeling, and movement – as they do through their minds. I’m tired in the way of those whose hearts well love and grief that flow up in gentle washes or powerful surges until they must escape in sighs and sometimes tears.

We live in tiring times.

We love in tiring times.

For several years, I was a leader in New Thought churches that held strict adherence to the “Law of Mind-Action” – that we change the blueprint of the universe to manifest according to our thoughts and beliefs – and the “Law of Attraction” – that we attract all experiences into our lives based on our thoughts and beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious. Under both of these principles, the material world, and thus the body, are subject to the will of the mind – subservient, docile, and reactive – just as women (traditionally associated in many cultures with the land and processes of the body) were considered inferior to and expected to remain subservient to men. Continue reading “Positive Presence in Tiring Times by Chris Ash”

Violent Virtue by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonI just got home from the first yoga class I’ve attended since the recent (11/8/16) U.S. presidential election.  I cried for the entire 75 minutes—through forward folds, downward facing dogs, exalted warriors, and especially shavasana (corpse pose).  The young man (probably in his thirties) doing his yoga practice next to me asked after the closing Namaste, “Are you all right?”  “No, not really. I’m very upset.”  He nodded his head as if to say he understood.

Ever since the nation’s president-elect declared victory, I’ve felt a huge sense of angst.  Why?  A huge percentage (81%) of white evangelical voters propelled him to that victory. I grew up in a branch of the evangelical church.  The church, to a large degree, is all about translating a particular understanding of God’s will as “revealed” in Scripture into public policy and law, keen on imposing that interpretation on our pluralistic society. Continue reading “Violent Virtue by Esther Nelson”

Hate Trumps Love? by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis election cycle has left many of us in a serious state of mourning.  The idea that Donald Trump could be elected president following the many bigoted, xenophobic, and sexist statements he has made seemed impossible, and yet it has happened.  Our nation has been left divided with various reactions to our President Elect.  Likewise, I have been wondering if hell has frozen over, because for the first time ever, Glenn Beck and liberals agree.  

On the Trump side we have seen racist acts of violence across the nation.  Signs that say “white power” or “make America white again” have been showing up on church lawns, schools, and more.  And let’s not forget how many women have been told they are going to be grabbed by the pussy. If President Elect Trump can do it, why can’t they? Continue reading “Hate Trumps Love? by Gina Messina”

The Trump (Non)Contrition by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRegardless of bigotry and hate spewed by the Republican candidate for President of the United States, the American Christian Right has been among his strongest supporters. Following the disturbing video of Donald Trump discussing sexually assaulting women, many Republicans have jumped from the Trump Train and openly condemned his comments.  While some supporters continue to cling to the derailing campaign, particularly Evangelicals including Vice Presidential candidate Michael Pence, one must question, what would lead them to disavow this candidate?  Many thought a Trump Contrition was coming during the October 9th debate; and it was a true repentance that would allow Christians to overlook his bad behavior.  Continue reading “The Trump (Non)Contrition by Gina Messina”

I’ll Go With You: On Bathrooms and Theocracy by Chris Ash

IMG_0754Last month, I took a dear friend on a trip to the North Carolina mountains. Throughout the trip we were sharply aware that we were no longer in the progressive enclave where we both lived – the tiny area whose deep blue always stands out in votes-by-county maps after elections and whose responses to discriminatory legislation like HB2 – the controversial “bathroom bill” that prevented trans people from using the restrooms that correspond to their identities – has always been resistance.

Even in our progressive bubble, though, transphobic people found themselves empowered by legislative support to speak louder and more harshly to gender nonconforming people. Leaving that bubble for two days of rural travel with a trans friend meant a thread of tension that followed us throughout much of our trip, as every glance, every bathroom break and every interaction with strangers had the potential to become upsetting or frightening. Continue reading “I’ll Go With You: On Bathrooms and Theocracy by Chris Ash”

Religion and the #StateofWomen by Gina Messina

Pledge PhotoThe White House Summit on Women was held this week on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 and it was a great privilege to be among those invited to participate in this inaugural event.  There was an incredible line up of speakers and so much was shared. It proved to be an overwhelming day – in a very good way.  Topics addressed included violence against women, economic empowerment, and education.  In addition to the main event, there were breakout sessions on a myriad of topics presented by the most preeminent authorities in their fields.  I walked away from the day with a sense of urgency to find news ways to engage gender issues and social policy.  However, I also wondered how to bring religion into the dialogue and give greater attention to its impact on women’s issues in the US. Continue reading “Religion and the #StateofWomen by Gina Messina”

If Jesus Ran for President by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIf Jesus ran for president, what would his campaign look like?  Where would he stand on social policy? Who would be his running mate? Who would (not) vote for him?  With our current political dialogue dominated by supposed Christian views and a nation that overwhelmingly claims the teachings of Jesus as the basis for its morality, what would the response be if we came face to face with the (unintentional) founder of the tradition?  How would we really respond to Jesus’ teachings in contemporary society? And maybe more frightening, how would Jesus respond to us?

Imagine that Jesus was in the US today and launched his bid for the Whitehouse. Don’t imagine him announcing on the deck of an Aircraft Carrier, he’s more of a Homeless Shelter guy. Would he be the conservative “Christian” he is often labeled by the right? Would he be a Democrat as so many book titles have claimed? A libertarian? Green party? How do his teachings measure up with the various political parties and would there be room for Jesus at any of their tables?

What would Jesus think of our current and past presidents, nearly all whom have invoked the Lord’s name during their time in office.  What would he think of both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush claiming that God wanted them to run for POTUS?  What about Bush’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) claim that God guided all of his policy making decisions while in office? And what about Barack Obama’s statement that when it comes to his politics, at the end of the day, “God is in control”?

Although not bringing God into the conversation would be career suicide for any politician and a large population of voters in the US claim a Christian identity, few would actually vote for Jesus if he ran for president.  Many of the values and ideologies associated with Christian views are in direct contrast to the teachings of Jesus.  For one, Jesus was anti-materialistic and we are living in one of the most gluttonous nations in the world.  Let me say upfront, I am guilty.  I have an unhealthy obsession with handbags and little makes me happier than a good sale at Nordstrom. I own it. But that doesn’t change who Jesus was or his teachings. Even if he was alive today I don’t think Jesus would be swayed by Nordstrom—-although I have seen amazing sandals there.

We have adopted Jesus as an American Icon, and in doing so, have twisted his words and teachings to support our own ideas.  It’s enough to make one think those WWJD bumper stickers stand for “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” And so, if Jesus did run for President, it is impossible to imagine, in a country that has adopted him as its icon and claims a “Christian” identity, that Jesus would ever be elected. His understanding, loving  approach would probably bar him from even getting a reality show—which appears to be key for a presidential resume these days.

Jesus Tweet

That’s right.  Likely no Christian would vote for Jesus and most would attack him for his teachings and politics – yes, Jesus was highly political. Some might like his message, but the media would label him unelectable and the GOP would go after him for being a left-wing, pro-union, welfare supporting, Obamacare enthusiast and democrats would argue that Jesus is a nice guy but doesn’t know a thing about running a country. If it came down to it, and the country was under threat, Jesus would never push the red button. Both would rather him be a mascot for their campaigns – “Jesus the carpenter” – AKA the new “Joe the Plumber.”

While Jesus the American Icon might have a chance in a presidential election, Jesus the Jewish carpenter of the Gospels would be laughed off the ballot.

This article is an excerpt from  If Jesus Ran for President coming from the Far Press in Fall, 2016 and was co-written with Steven Mazan.comingspring 2016

Gina Messina, 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 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 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

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

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

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”

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

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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”

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”

Genderqueering by John Erickson

We find our versions of home in these communities and it is within these spaces where our home not only begins to define who we are but we, as a reflection of that space, begin to outwardly redefine the spaces we exist in. If we slowly begin, through our experiences to shape our homes based on privilege and power without self-reflection and acknowledgment of others, then we are no better than those oppressive forces we say we’re against.

Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, Yaz'min Shancez
Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, Yaz’min Shancez

This post is a response to a recent blog entry titled “Who is Gender Queer?” on this site from Carol Christ.  The post can be read by clicking here.  I want to thank my friend, advocate, and upcoming scholar Martha Ovadia for reasons only she knows!  Stay brave, speak up, be heard!

It is terrifying to know that something is wrong but not be able to speak truth to power.

It is even more terrifying to know something is wrong, be able to speak to it, and then silence those voices that do not have that same privilege, power, or position.

The struggle that many of us in positions of privilege and power face is not just that of being ostracizing and essentializing forces—it is that we, as allies, members of communities, or even those dedicated to a cause, can ourselves participate in the oppression we are fighting against and can do harm.

It’s taken me a long time to not only be comfortable with who I identify as, but also how I go about fighting and defining my life based on said identity and experience. However, the one thing that I have the ability to do is choose that identity more freely than others. Unlike Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, or Yaz’min Shancez pictured above, I did not have to face the types of oppressions they did, to which they sadly lost their lives, as a result of the fact that we exist in a society that can’t deal with the inability to leave things undefined or to allow people to define who they are on their own terms.

It is vital that although my lived experiences could never meet nor match the same types of oppression that these brave individuals had to face, I, as a white, cisgendered gay male, do not become part of their oppression through my own position and privilege.

As a man who exists in the world of feminism and within various women’s communities, I walk a daily tightrope of privilege and power to insure that I do not silence those that I consider allies, friends, mentors, or colleagues. As a man who exists in the world of the LGBTQ community, I walk an additional tightrope to additionally not take away from or diminish the experiences of those members of our community that do not have the same type of lived experiences as myself.   Even within minority communities, there are positions of hierarchy and within these hierarchies of knowledge, identity, or power, comes a responsibility to insure that the oppressed do not become the oppressors.

We find our versions of home in these communities and it is within these spaces where our home not only begins to define who we are but we, as a reflection of that space, begin to outwardly redefine the spaces we exist in. If we slowly begin to shape our homes based on privilege and power without self-reflection and acknowledgment of others, then we are no better than those oppressive forces we say we’re against.

I can’t speak for what identity feels like –I can only speak for what essentializing does, and what it does is reflected in the deaths of Lelah, Ash, and the many others who die nameless.   It is our responsibility, as allies, members of communities, and those fighting to end sexist, patriarchal, and, even now, homonormative oppression, to make sure that no more deaths occur on our watch or that truth is spoken to power even when power is masquerading around as truth.

John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies.  He is a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association.  When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

The Politics of Miztvot by Ivy Helman

headshotRecently, Ben of Ben’s Tallit Shop commented on an older post of mine on this website entitled: “How Literal is Too Literal? My Experience with Tallit Katan.   He wrote, “In my opinion, it makes sense to first try the mitzvah of tzitzit in private for a month or two to ensure you are undertaking it for the right reasons.  Making a political statement is not a valid reason (though some people, I imagine, would argue otherwise).  Mitzvahs and politics don’t mix.”

First of all, this comment is both sexist and patronizing!  A man would never suggest to another man to do what he suggested I do and “try the mitzvah… in private… to ensure you are undertaking it for the right reasons.”  I’d dismiss it entirely if I was that kind of person, but I’m not.  Sexism and patronizing aside (as if one could do that really), I would like to engage with his thoughts on the mixing of politics and mitzvot because I think that can lead to great reflection and insight for Jewish feminists.

Not all mitzvot have an inherently political nature, but many do.  In fact, one could even argue something as seemingly apolitical as lighting Shabbat candles could be political.  Lighting candles ushers in Shabbat peace for one’s household and ideally for one’s community even if that peace is only for one day a week.  Since this is at odds with the world’s political environment of fighting, war and violence, it could be interpreted as a political act.  After all, won’t every day in the redeemed world be Shabbat? Continue reading “The Politics of Miztvot by Ivy Helman”

Incarnating the Mystery with Psychological Awareness by Jean Benedict Raffa

image010As a college professor I taught Children’s Literature. Mythology, stories about humanity’s relationship with the gods, always raised a few eyebrows. Students tended to feel uncomfortable when this term was applied to their own faith traditions since it generally connotes “untrue.” So I found it helpful to note up front that myths are not necessarily literally or historically true, but they’re always psychologically and spiritually true.

From his extensive study of myths, psychologist Carl Jung concluded that we are all born with a “religious function,” an inherent sense of awe about, and longing to connect with the Sacred Mystery of life. He saw it as a faculty of our central archetype, the Self: our core and circumference, our god-image.  Myths, rituals and religious symbols are our attempts to incarnate the Self so that we can be infused with love, hope and holy wonder. Some myths are helpful in this endeavor. Others are dysfunctional; for example, myths which justify the dominance, exclusion or destruction of others considered less worthy or entitled.

When our primitive ancestors reflected on the miracle of life, the Self prompted the thought that because humanity is gendered, the Mystery must be as well.  Since Earth was the foundation of existence and had an inexhaustible fruitfulness, it felt like a Mother. This shaped our earliest images of God. Mircea Eliade noted: “In some cases, the sex of this earth divinity, this universal procreatrix—does not even have to be defined. A great many earth divinities…are bisexual. In such cases the divinity contains all the forces of creation—and this formula of polarity, of the coexistence of opposites, was to be taken up again in the loftiest of later speculation.” Continue reading “Incarnating the Mystery with Psychological Awareness by Jean Benedict Raffa”

Truth and Consequences–This Feminist’s Perspective? by Marcia Mount Shoop

Marcia headshotIn John’s Gospel, Pilate’s response to Jesus’ self-identification as the one who “came into the world to testify to the truth” is a simple question:  “What is truth?”  His question hangs in the air as he moves from that conversation to the throngs he sought to please.  Pilate took the temperature of that crowd to decide Jesus’ fate even though he, himself, found no reason to charge Jesus with a crime.  Pilate asks the question from a position of power—literally holding life and death in the ambivalence and maybe even in the sincerity of his words.

The “t” word has been center stage in our collective conversation of late with Lance Armstrong’s Oprah-event confession  and the Manti Te‘o girlfriend-dying-of-cancer hoax at Notre Dame .   The Internet is abuzz with reactions to both confessional moments.  Lance Armstrong’s confession apparently didn’t play well with the general public.   And people are weighing in about whether Manti Te‘o could really be so naïve or if he just didn’t know how to tell everyone the truth when the story got out of hand.   Continue reading “Truth and Consequences–This Feminist’s Perspective? by Marcia Mount Shoop”

Monthly Highlight: Emilie M. Townes

Emilie M. Townes

“In my teaching I want to get students excited about that notion of, you know, you’re not just here to get a Yale degree and have it on your diploma and be able to hang it on your wall…You should be here thinking about what kind of contributions can I make to society….What are you doing that helps enhance the lives of all of us, as opposed to (our) own little idiosyncratic research interests.”  – – Emilie M. Townes

Emilie Townes is a pivotal person in the field of Womanist and Christian ethics as well as a foremother and pioneer in Womanist theology. Cornel West of Princeton University said:

“Emilie Townes is the towering womanist ethicist of our time….In this ice age of indifference and evasion, her powerful voice and viewpoint summon us. And we thank her for her vision and courage.”

At an opening address at the Convocation in 2005, Townes stated that there is a need to live in a “deep walking hope” that shapes lives “in ways that are not always predictable, not always safe, rarely conventional” and protests “with prophetic fury the sins of a world, and sometimes theological world views, that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from our hearts, our beliefs from our actions.” Continue reading “Monthly Highlight: Emilie M. Townes”

Building a Bridge toward the Future: Will You Meet Me in the Middle? By Ivy Helman

On Tuesday, President Obama’s acceptance speech included the following statement about coming together as a country across differences of opinion.  He said, “We will disagree, sometimes fiercely about how to get [toward the future we hope for]…by itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward…”

How do we really do this work?  How do we come together across difference to make change?  How do we foster productive dialogue that produces genuine and real results?  In this dialogue, what principles do we use?  What values do we honor?  What criteria do we use to judge opinions of others?  When is an opinion wrong or when is an opinion just different from our own? Continue reading “Building a Bridge toward the Future: Will You Meet Me in the Middle? By Ivy Helman”

IN THE NEWS: Religious, Atheist, and Political Feminists – Unite?

This post is the first of a new weekly feature on Feminism and Religion that will be published every Wednesday. “In The News”  is designed to invite discussion on topics that are showing up in news and media outlets and are relevant to feminism and religion

Diane Winston recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times regarding the role of faith in politics. She comments that recent poll results give the impression that religion is not playing a significant role in the current elections, for how else does one make sense of the fact that the Republican Party’s ticket is made up of a Mormon and a Roman Catholic? However she is quick to point out that although religious labels may be passé, “the religious values that inform who’s taxed, what’s regulated, how jobs are created and when or where we help those in need,”  are still very much the driving force behind how people vote and with whom they form coalitions. Thus, in the U.S. seemingly incompatible religions as well as denominations within those religions have come together in an effort to control and legislate women’s bodies and autonomy. As the editors of the Religious Dispatches asserts, “the Moral Majority couldn’t have come together without a big interfaith effort.”  

But theirs are not the only religious voices on the scene. Continue reading “IN THE NEWS: Religious, Atheist, and Political Feminists – Unite?”

Rape is Not a Political Platform – Rape is a Violent Crime! By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Just when you think you have heard it all, here we go again – another politician with “open mouth-insert foot” syndrome.  Discussing his zero-tolerance policy for abortion, Missouri Representative Todd Akin made the following statement last Sunday about pregnancies that result from rape:

“from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.  But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something.  I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

In an inadequate attempt to apologize and clarify his words, Akin stated that he meant to say “forcible rape.” This clarification fares no better nor does the fact that he later acknowledges that women “do become pregnant” during a “forcible rape.”  It is interesting to note what Akin considers to be “rare.”  According to the Washington Post, approximately 5% of rape victims become pregnant.  Akin reduced this to a statistic – 1 out of 32,000 women.  This, for Akin, is a rare occurrence.

Stating that a woman’s body is capable of preventing pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape” demonstrates how out of touch politicians are and further (re)affirms the bigotry that exists within our political system.  The same politicians who have waived a “war against women” this year, try to promote policies that exercise control over what a woman can and cannot do with her body; policies that are  based on ill-advised misinformation.  Decisions politicians make for a woman – what she can and cannot do with her body – are rooted in personal faith beliefs, party-line agendas, and supporters (campaign financing dollars and lobbyists).  This year, a woman’s body has become a platform for votes.

Inasmuch as I would like to think Akin’s statement is an isolated event, Garance Franke-Ruta points out that this is not the first time a politician made a statement about rape victims and pregnancies: Continue reading “Rape is Not a Political Platform – Rape is a Violent Crime! By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Why Men (and Women) Can’t Have It All by John Erickson

Can women have it all? Possibly. Can men ever have it all? Maybe. Regardless of however we put it, the are ills to every good deed in the world and we need to get back to understanding how and why we use each other in order to fully understand that behind every good man might be a good woman but also behind every good women there might also be a good man.

Growing up, my favorite movie was The Associate staring Whoopi Goldberg as a woman at a Wall Street firm attempting to climb her way up the corporate ladder through hard work and dedication.  Her character Laurel Ayres does all the work and comes up with the ideas that clients eventually invest in, her partner Frank takes all the credit and eventually surpasses her at work by getting the promotion she had been vying for.  In a prodigious scene that I still vividly remember from my childhood, Laurel quits her job and starts an investment firm on her own; betting every cent and piece of property she has on the eventual success of her new business adventure.

In an attempt to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and play with the big boys of Wall Street, Laurel eventually discovers that although she can be (and is) the genius behind many of the great ideas that would save companies millions, she still needs to have her ideas expelled by a man she creates in order to win over clients, which eventually leads her to become successful.  However, while Laurel is reaping in the benefits of having Mr. Cutty, her made up business partner, by her side, she eventually learns that no matter what she does she will always be secondary to her male business partner. Continue reading “Why Men (and Women) Can’t Have It All by John Erickson”

“Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson

Nice girls don’t say the word vagina.

I have a beautiful picture of vagina hanging on my wall.  However, for the longest time it was in the back of my closet, with a plastic bag covering it.  I wasn’t ashamed of it but my ex-boyfriend, like most gay men, refused to have it on the wall where he could see it.  He is now long gone; the vagina is now out and proud.

I bid on the picture one fall during a showing of the Vagina Monologues at Claremont School of Theology.  One of my best friends was in the show and I had always loved its powerful message.  I walked out of the theatre, waiting for my friend, and there it was: the picture of the vagina.  I found myself caught up in its beauty.  Its gaze had mesmerized me.  The outlying layers of red, the contours of its shape, they all began to mold into a figure before my eyes.  While I have never thought of myself as a religious person, I realized that at that moment I was no longer looking the old photo but rather I was staring at the outline of the Virgin Mary.  At that moment, I realized that I had to have the picture.

My ex boyfriend was ashamed of the photo.  I let him shame me into putting it in the back of my closet and cast it away like it was nothing.  Like the experience, call it religious or not, had never happened.  When we ended our relationship, I found myself inconsolable and pacing up and down my stairs in a never-ending cycle of sadness and downheartedness.   As I was pilfering through our items, I came about the picture.  I saw it and for a split second, I was no longer sad. Continue reading ““Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson”

BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own by Gina Messina-Dysert

Have you been a victim of the “Culture Wars”?  Jonathan Merritt was, and it inspired him to write his latest book A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.  According to Merritt, the culture wars have led each of us (who identify as Christian) to define Christ in terms of our political party.  The Religious Right have claimed a political and pietistic Christ who must be protected from liberals who have sought to chase Jesus out of our “God-Blessed” nation.  And Christians on the left have fought against the oppressive theocracy they believe the right wing seeks to implement.  Neither side’s Jesus likes the other, and according to Merritt, neither represents the Jesus of the Bible.

Merritt argues that participating in politics foolishly gets churches into trouble and results in a divide within community.  Christians must answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” for themselves.  By transcending the culture wars, we can return to the Bible, see Jesus with “fresh eyes,” and find a “faith of our own.”  Merritt explains Christians who are reclaiming their faith are doing so in search of life transformation and unity among those once divided by politics. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Power and Wealth in The Hunger Games by Lisa Galek

Unless you have been living in grim, dystopian world for the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen or heard something about The Hunger Games. The movie, which is based on the first in a best-selling trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, debuted several weeks ago to mass acclaim. It has already had the biggest opening weekend ever for a non-sequel and its advanced ticket sales eclipsed that of the most recent installment in the Twilight Saga.

Feminists can rejoice a little in the fact that this movie, which tells the story of strong, female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, has surpassed the Twilight movies in ticket sales. Unlike the Twilight movies, the plot of The Hunger Games does not revolve entirely around a romantic love triangle. Though two suitors do vie for Katniss’s attentions, the heroine has much more pressing concerns – like whether or not she will be able to survive until morning.

But, aside from the good news that tough, well-drawn female characters can perform well at the box office, the movie has also spawned some interesting discussions about government and politics. In fact, both liberal and conservative commentators have claimed The Hunger Games supports their personal viewpoints (See “Liberal, conservatives embrace ‘Hunger Games’ for very different reasons”). For me, the books and movie fall more squarely onto the liberal side of the fence for one reason – they call into question wealth and power and those who are unwilling to change existing structures of oppression. Continue reading “Power and Wealth in The Hunger Games by Lisa Galek”

No One Is Safe from the Parodist (Part 2) by Barbara Ardinger

I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this, but I once worked as a freelance copywriter for a multi-level marketing company.

I suppose I should be ashamed to admit this, but I once worked as a freelance copywriter for a multi-level marketing company. (Okay—I needed the money. It was a job.) I wrote the following piece one day when I was supposed to be writing real advertising copy. They were not amused. A few years later, when I was writing Finding New Goddesses (ECW Press, 2003), I pulled it out of my three-ring binder, renamed it Dr. Lucre’s Whoopee Pack, and Found (i.e., made up) Panglossolalia, the Found Goddess of Infomercials. Today, if we want to be politically correct, we recycle and reuse, so here we go again. I’ve changed the names in this infomercial and brought it up to date. When November comes, be sure to vote for the candidate of your choice.

Dr. Mittens’s Whoopee Pack

Good evening, friends, and welcome to my secret garden. I’m your friendly political commentator. I’m so glad you could visit me tonight as we take a short break from biased documentaries and endless negative commercials. Friends, tonight’s movie, Attack of the Jobless Economist, will begin in a minute. But first, this.  Continue reading “No One Is Safe from the Parodist (Part 2) by Barbara Ardinger”

The Rhetoric of Freedom of Religion in the Debate about Contraception Coverage By Elise M. Edwards

Does freedom of religion include the right to impose your religious views on your employees?  Should freedom of religion exempt you from financially contributing to a medical benefit for your employees that you consider sinful?

According to an Associated Baptist Press article, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “called a new rule [by the Obama Administration] requiring insurance plans to cover birth control — including those paid for by religious employers that believe artificial birth control is a sin — a ‘horrible decision’ that poses a problem not just for faiths that object to birth control” in the January 28 broadcast of Richard Land Live.  Land believes that this policy infringes on religious freedom.  (Note that the health care policy  does exempt houses of worship and religious organizations that employ primarily those of the same faith, but not organizations like hospitals and colleges that employ and serve people of all faiths, or no faith. An article by Religion News Service, posted here, also on a Baptist media outlet, explains the policy in more depth.) Continue reading “The Rhetoric of Freedom of Religion in the Debate about Contraception Coverage By Elise M. Edwards”

Son of Man: An Updated Gospel Story of Jesus Set in South Africa by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

January 12, 2012

Son of Man is an updated story of the life of Jesus set in the fictional State of Judea that is modern day South Africa – complete with warlords and child soldiers.    It could easily be mistaken for modern day Rwanda or Darfur with its modern issues and political overtonesRoger Ebert stated, “The secret of the movie is that it doesn’t strain to draw parallels with current world events – because it doesn’t have to.”  The director draws parallels between the gospels and 21st century Africa.  According to Dartford-May, “we wanted to look at the Gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth.”  The director “captures the rhythms of African life in both rural settings and sprawling townships.”  “Feather-clad young angels offer an eerie echo and reminder of Africa’s lost generations.”

The movie also sticks with what Eric Snider calls “Traditional African trial music, dance, and costumes” as a type of worship or or allusion to Jesus’ godhood.  Judea is in flux; warlords and corruption take center stage.  Poverty, violence, and oppression affect the all of the people.  The key idea is that Jesus is a freedom fighter – one that fights injustice and oppression.  The director does not emphasize “Jesus’ divinity so much as his leadership, good sense and compassion.”  Jesus is not violent and his followers, most of whom were former child soldiers, are encouraged to respond non-violently, which goes against their upbringing and training. Continue reading “Son of Man: An Updated Gospel Story of Jesus Set in South Africa by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

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