Joan Chittister: God Doesn’t Want to Hold Women Back

chittisterWith the release of the new Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, we learned that “if women received pay equal to their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income.”

On FaithStreet, Sr. Joan Chittister also put out a great short essay on why God doesn’t want to hold women back and never has wanted to. It’s our human sin that keeps us from humility before God and equality among humanity.

“Don’t believe what they’re saying. The world is not in upheaval in our era because radical feminism has gotten out of hand.

No, our world is being shaken to the core and will never again be the same because its old systems are being challenged, its old certainties being rethought.

The political world has had to give up its reliance on the securities of the old geography. The social world has had to give up its notions of the natural privileges of class. The White West has had to give up its ideas of racial preeminence. And men are having to give up the old theology of male superiority.

In that old world, whole classes of people could be underdeveloped, abused, enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised — all with impunity. Unknown and unchallenged, local potentates, all male, declared their autocracy, and all-male institutions of every system institutionalized it. It was a world of nobles over peons, the powerful over the powerless, freemen over slaves, men over women. And all of them insisting to the oppressed that such stratified systems were, ironically, for their own good.

Most serious of all, religious people argued that God wanted it that way.

In the West, they said that the Judeo-Christian creation story taught that God designed, defined and created a hierarchical world that developed from one stage to another, from the dust of the earth to the crown of creation, Adam, the male agent of a male God.

In this world, women were not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” equal partners in the human enterprise, as those words imply. Instead, women were labeled “help-mates” rather than, as David Freedman points out, ”a power equal to,” as the corresponding Hebrew term is translated in other places in scripture. …”–Joan Chittister, OSB  Read the rest.

Video: Breaking the Habits of Machismo with Michelle Gonzalez and Jim Wallis

Prof. Michelle Gonzalez wrote an awesome article for the January 2014 issue of Sojourners (“if you don’t get it, you don’t get it”).

January.2014.cover_The title is Breaking the Habits of Machismo. When Pope Francis said we need a new theology of women, I asked Michelle to write an article in response.

We followed up yesterday with Sojourners’ first 50-minute Google Hangout. I moderated and Jim Wallis and Michelle Gonzalez led the discussion. We had about 70 people join us for the live portion and lots more are watching the video. Check it out.

PS. If you are looking for adult Sunday school material, then show this video and lead a discussion about it.

Rose Marie Berger: Todd Akin, There’s a Christian Seminary That Wants Its Diploma Back

by Larry Roibal

By Rose Marie Berger

Every time I hear references to Rep. Todd Akin’s crazy talk related to violence against women, I get nauseous. It’s a visceral physical response. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

One in every six of my sisters and one in 33 of my brothers in the U.S. have been the victims of an attempted or completed aggressive forced violent sexual act.

And gaining insight into the background of Rep. Akin’s muddled pseudo-science, such as is explored in “The Roots of Rep. Todd Akin’s “Legitimate” Rape Remarks” by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard doesn’t help me. It actually makes it worse. It risks reinforcing a set of propaganda under the guise of exposing it.

I have a hard time understanding how Akin, who is the son of a Presbyterian minister, has a Master of Divinity from a prominent Christian seminary and is an active member of a Presyterian Church of America congregation, could debase himself in such a way that he has no qualms about putting his political agenda ahead of the truth and well being of women. As Christians, don’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard?

No doubt he doesn’t see it that way.

No doubt he is profoundly uncomfortable with the moral gray areas that some women must navigate when it comes to rape, pregancy, abortion, STDs, morning-after pills, permenant gynecological damage, psychological trauma, spiritual desperation, loss of control, complete loss of safety, trust, intimacy and all the others dangerous and shifting decisions that a rape victim must make. No doubt he believes that what is best for him is best for all. We may have to agree to disagree. But one thing that’s perfectly clear is: Mr. Akin should end his career as a public servant.

At least 51 percent of the voting public deserve much better than what he has to offer. …

Read the rest of this commentary at Huffington Post.

Dorothee Soelle: Manipulating Human Desire

Dorothee Soelle

“Trivial religion in the age of consumerism” has made human desires totally manipulable. All desires to be different, to become a new being, to relate differently to others, to communicate in a new way, have been exchanged for the wish to possess things. It makes a difference whether a person says at some point in life, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), or whether the yearnings that take this direction of radical change find no language in which to express themselves. These lines are not promoting some bourgeois inner spirituality. Their context speaks against such an interpretation. It simply states the human desire to be other than one is (“renewed”) and to have a “right” spirit, a less vacillating one.”–Dorothee Soelle, “Rebellion Against Banality”

From The Strength of the Weak:Toward A Christian Feminist Identity by Dorothee Soelle (Westminster Press, 1984)

‘Pussy Riot’ Sentencing: Can’t Jail Female Fury

Handcuffed members of Russian punk feminist collective. T-shirt says "No Pasaran."

Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted today of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin’s repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Their “performance prayer” titled “Hail Mary, Putin Run!” (see video and lyrics) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced today to two years–time served credited against the sentence, so they’ve got another 19 months to go.

While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, Wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison – as a woman – is not the kind of thing we do for money.

According to Reuters,

“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage. … State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term. Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. “They are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge,” Alexei Navalny, one of the organizers of big protests against Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court. “This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin.”

The Associated Press reported,

The judge relied extensively on the testimony of church laymen, who said they were offended and shocked by the band’s stunt. “The actions of the defendants reflected their hatred of religion,” Syrova said in the verdict. She also said that the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine. The Orthodox Church said in a statement after the verdict that the band’s stunt was a “sacrilege” and a “reflection of rude animosity toward millions of people and their feelings.” It also asked the authorities to “show clemency toward the convicted in the hope that they will refrain from new sacrilegious actions.” The case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times to 300,000 rubles (about $9,000).

Supporter for Pussy Riot in the pink balaclava of the movement.

I wholly agree that “the defendants’ feminist views challenged church doctrine.” As a Catholic woman, I’m familiar with how sensitive church doctrine can be. Sometimes it feel like just existing is a challenge to church doctrine. Which makes me think that church doctrine had become too removed from the real lives of people. Jesus became incarnate in order to exist in our real lives, not an idealized dream state.

In Female Fury by Sergey Chernov (St. Petersburg Times, February 1, 2012), the women of Pussy Riot describe their own place in the current Russian resistance movement and their musical lineage with punk rock, riot grrrrls, and third-wave feminism:

“The grassroots protest force is more radically-minded than official rally organizers imagine. We believe that a large number of people are ready to demonstrate without a sanction. People were happy to share the quotes from our songs: ‘The time for a subversive clash has come,’ ‘Live on Red Square / Show the freedom of civil anger.’” The group — which features from three to eight performers — sees itself as being “on the border between punk rock and contemporary art.”

“Contemporary culture is characterized by diffusivity, mutual influence and the interaction of different directions, the intersection that leads to transgression,” Pussy Riot says. “It’s possible to find features of 1990s Actionism in our performances, while the motif of the closed face of the performer — which has been used by many music bands such as Slipknot, Daft Punk or Asian Women on the Telephone, for instance, is borrowed from conceptual art where the tradition of not showing one’s face is present.” …

According to the group, one of the events that led them to form Pussy Riot was Putin and Medvedev’s announcement made to the United Russia party congress on Sept. 25 that they would change posts in the upcoming presidential elections due on March 4. The move has been compared to castling in chess, when a rook and a king swap places. “We don’t like this kind of chess,” Pussy Riot said. Since then, Pussy Riot has held unsanctioned performances in boutiques and at a fashion show as well as on the roof of a garage next to the detention center where the imprisoned participants of anti-fraud rallies were held. They unveiled a banner, lit flares and performed a song called “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest” and escaped without being arrested.

The group cites American punk rock band Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl movement as an inspiration, but says there are plenty of differences between them and Bikini Kill. “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse, non-standard female image,” Pussy Riot said. “The difference is that Bikini Kill performed at specific music venues, while we hold unsanctioned concerts. On the whole, Riot Grrrl was closely linked to Western cultural institutions, whose equivalents don’t exist in Russia.”

The performance in on the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church is shocking, evocative. But I’d argue that it is not blasphemy against God. To blaspheme means to injure the reputation of a religious deity or holy person or thing. The punk band actually treated God and Mary with a certain level of respect. However, they do injure the reputation of an institutional hierarchy that too often promotes a theology more akin to a Russian civil religion rather than Christian faith.

“Christians should always live uneasily with empire,” writes Jim Wallis, “which constantly threatens to become idolatrous and substitute secular purposes for God’s.”

Let me be clear. Most Russian Orthodox Christians are genuine in their faith, worship, and ministry. They are devout and are a blessing to those around them. But as a member of a church that has also at times abused its power, I can appreciate the performance art needed and the sacrifice made to shake up an unshakable institution. Remember Sinead O’Connor‘s bold 1992 indictment on Saturday Night Live of child abuse within the Roman Catholic church? She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and said “Fight the real enemy.” Look where her “blasphemy” led; the slow uncovering of massive crimes against children and the building up of a process, yet imperfect, for restoration and justice.

So, say a novena for the women of Pussy Riot. Light a candle in church for them. Even more, take a public action for justice, women’s empowerment, and freedom. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss them.

Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. She blogs at rosemarieberger.com.

Lynne Hybels: Dangerous Women Creed

Lynne in blue dress in Congo.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the evangelical mega-church Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, has branched beyond Willow Creek to become a leading Christian voice for women around the world. While proofing her regular column for Sojourners, I found this prayer below.

How wonderful if we read this aloud in our churches! (And since some still cling to the notion that “man” should be interpreted universally, then I think we could do the same for “woman” and interpret it universally.)

Dangerous Women Creed
by Lynne Hybels

Dear God, please make us dangerous women.
May we be women who acknowledge our power to change, and grow,
and be radically alive for God.
May we be healers of wounds and righters of wrongs.
May we weep with those who weep and speak for those who cannot
speak for themselves.
May we cherish children, embrace the elderly, and empower the poor.
May we pray deeply and teach wisely.
May we be strong and gentle leaders.
May we sing songs of joy and talk down fear.
May we never hesitate to let passion push us, conviction compel us,
and righteous anger energize us.
May we strike fear into all that is unjust and evil in the world.
May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.
May we shine like stars in a darkened generation.
May we overflow with goodness in the name of God and by the power of Jesus.
And in that name and by that power, may we change the world.
Dear God, please make us dangerous women. Amen.

Vera Brittain: ‘Human Mercy Turns Alike to Friend or Foe’

Vera Brittain
My summer reading includes Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels set in England during and after World War I. Maisie is an intriguing character is an age when much is changing for women–as suffragettes they are taking to the Parliament their fight for the right to vote; at the same time, the war with Germany is bringing many women to a very different “front line.”

Winspear’s novels prompted me to re-read some of the WWI “war poets,” whose description of war’s realities make them anything but jingoistic. Below is a poem by Vera Brittain who served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and requested to be sent to France in 1917. She was stationed at 24 General Hospital at Étaples, where she nursed German prisoners of war. The poem below reflects her experience:

THE GERMAN WARD by VERA BRITTAIN

When the years of strife are over and my
recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
away,
I shall still see, as a visions rising ‘mid the War-
time shades,
The ward in France where German wounded
lay.

I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
picious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
breath,
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
tedious cries,
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
and death.

I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.

I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
smile,
And the tale of three years’ warfare on her thin
expressive face-
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.

I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness
would find
Beneath her scornful energy of will.

And I learnt that human mercy turns alike to
friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping
nigh,
And those who slew our dearest, when their
lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.

So, though much will be forgotton when the
sound of War’s alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed
away,
I shall always see the vision of Love working
amidst arms
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners
lay.

From Verses of a V. A. D. (August 1918)

For more on Vera Brittain, read Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life by Deborah Gorham

Brittany Cooper: ‘If We Refuse to Believe Black Girls, We Call into Question Our Own Witness’

Dr. Cooper
Dr. Brittney Cooper, assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama, has written an excellent column in response to prosperity gospel preacher Creflo Dollar’s recent arrest for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter.

Dr. Cooper is co-founder, along with Dr. Susana Morris, of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a feminists of color scholar-activist group that runs a highly successful blog. Professor Cooper blogs for the CFC as “Crunktastic.”

Here’s an excerpt from When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence:

For the record, we never know the whole story about anything, if it didn’t happen to us. That doesn’t prevent us from making reasonable judgments based on the evidence. Christians use the same type of reason to profess our faith in a God-man, who was born from a virgin, crucified on a cross and Resurrected on the 3rd day. And we believe in his Resurrection, primarily on the basis of the initial testimony of some women who Jesus’ male followers weren’t trying to hear (Mark 16: 1-11). So in my view, if we refuse to believe Black girls when they testify about their experiences, we call the basis of our own witness and our own faith into question. Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance.

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes?

Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.

Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.

Frankly, we need to “radically rethink” our understandings of authority, love, violence, and respect in the Black Church. …

The Crunk Feminist Collective writes about race, feminism, and popular culture from a Hip Hop Generation perspective. The blog, which aims to make feminist scholarship accessible to a wide range of publics, has been acknowledged by writers at the L.A. Times, TheRoot.Com, Clutch Magazine, and New York Magazine, and it is routinely cross-posted on sites like Feministing.com and TheRoot.com. The Collective also does speaking tours, conducts workshops, and engages in a range of activist causes related to women’s issues.

NYT Runs Obit for Catholic Theologian Isasi-Díaz

Finally (!)  The New York Times has run an obituary for Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. My memorial for Ada will run in the July issue of Sojourners (at the printer now). Here’s a portion of Paul Vitello’s NYT article:

In part, Dr. Isasi-Díaz conceived of Mujerista, or “womanist” theology (from the Spanish word mujer, for woman), to distinguish her ideas from those of feminism — a term “rejected by many in the Hispanic community,” she wrote in 1989, “because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.” She hoped that “Mujerism,” which she considered a spiritual branch of the reform movement known as liberation theology, would help delineate the special community of need and identity shared by poor, Hispanic, Catholic women.

“Hispanic women widely agree that, though we make up the vast majority of those who participate in the work of the churches, we do not participate in deciding what work is to be done,” she wrote in a 1989 article in Christian Century, titled “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!”

“We do the praying, but our understanding of the God to whom we pray is ignored.” Dr. Isasi-Díaz argued that poor women, by the nature of their roles in their families and communities, “exercised their moral agency in the world” more profoundly than any other group of the faithful. They did that in the small daily choices they made, she said: between bus fare and a 40-block walk to work, for instance; or between breakfast for oneself or one’s child. Those choices embodied immense moral power, and deserved to be honored in the form of greater roles for those women in their church.

Read the whole article.