Letha Dawson Scanzoni’s Welcome to Christian Feminism Today

Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Letha Dawson Scanzoni

All We're Meant to BeLetha Dawson Scanzoni transformed my life with new revelations. My epiphany came through All We’re Meant to Be, which Letha co-authored with Nancy A. Hardesty, first published in 1974. This was the first book I read that gave biblical support for gender equality in the home, church, and society. All We’re Meant to Be also expanded my images of the Divine to include more than male. As I read All We’re Meant to Be, I discovered more than enough biblical support for the equality of women and men in marriage, in church leadership, and in all areas of life. In addition, this book introduced me to the “radical” notion that God might be more than male. Although Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had come out in 1963, I’d never heard of the book or raised any questions about women’s traditional roles. The call to gender justice could reach me only through the Bible and interpretations of it.

Is the HomosexualSince then, Letha’s work for LGBTQ justice has also inspired me. Another of her groundbreaking books Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, co-authored with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, applies the liberating message of Jesus to justice for LGBTQ persons and has contributed to my pastoral counseling and to my justice advocacy.

Letha has also become a supportive colleague and friend. As one of the founders of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT) and editor of its publications, Letha has invited me to write articles for the organization and to serve on the EEWC-CFT Council. She has challenged me to grow as a writer and justice activist.

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Letha’s letter that I include below is printed in the program of the recent Christian Feminism Today Gathering and published in Christian Feminism Today. Her letter gives not only a welcome to the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, but also a concise history of the organization and a compelling invitation to join our ongoing work.

Welcome to the 2016 Gathering of the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today! We’re so glad you’re here—whether you’re attending for the first time or back again after many times.

Some of you weren’t yet born when our organization formed in 1974. You may wonder what to expect from a group that began so long ago. Others, remembering a time when most people considered the words “Christian” and “feminism” incompatible, may wonder what this organization has to say to today’s changing world. Have we kept up so that we can speak to the challenges of 2016 and beyond?

Some of you may be concerned about the word “evangelical”— part of our official name. It meant “good news” when the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC) was incorporated but has now become a victim of identity theft by the religious right, which has appropriated it as a political tool for promoting “bad news” for women, LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, poor people, people of color, and the earth itself as our planet suffers the effects of climate change.

Twenty-six years ago, at one of our biennial conferences, I presented a plenary address titled “Back to the Future: Forward to the Dream.” At that 1990 gathering in Chicago, we would be voting on whether to add another “E” to our name, changing it from the “Evangelical Women’s Caucus” (EWC) to the “Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus” (EEWC) to reflect the greater religious diversity of our membership. (Currently, we often use the organization’s “doing business as” name, Christian Feminism Today, or EEWC-CFT.)

But leading up to that 1990 conference was the concern of some people that our organization was changing too fast from its original vision of women’s equality in the home, church, and society—that we were getting involved in too many additional justice causes and driving other Christians away. The most controversial of these justice concerns had been our 1986 resolution supporting civil rights for homosexual persons. We had lost many members over that resolution, particularly because we acknowledged that our membership included a small number of lesbians. Such opposition to our standing up for fairness and justice seems so absurd now. But there were serious consequences, making us outcasts in some Christian circles.

And so, in my 1990 speech, as our organization was acknowledging our expanding vision once again by adding another “E” to our name, I pointed out that since we seemed to show a penchant for the letter “E,” I would “use alliteration to compose a variation on an ‘E’ theme.” It would show that EWC’s vision has always been one of equality, empathy, education, empowerment, and expansiveness.”   And it is this same constellation of five “E’s” that I want to share as we think about another “E,” expectations.

Expectations: What we hope you’ll experience at this 2016 gathering

Equality. You can expect an emphasis on equality here because we’re convinced that roles and responsibilities in the church or any other religious body should not be assigned according to gender but based on the gifts and calling the Spirit has given to individuals. We’re also called to practice a spirit of equal respect and mutuality in all our human relationships, which we trust you’ll sense here. We strive to follow what Jesus said about not lording it over others or judging anyone, remembering we’re all siblings together in the family of God. We want this gathering to be a safe place where you can feel at ease.

Empathy.  Many of you have come to this gathering with heavy hearts, longing for someone to listen and understand. You may be experiencing physical or emotional pain. Maybe you’re grieving someone you loved. You may be facing financial distress. Perhaps you’re trying to decide what to do about a relationship that appears to be ending or has turned abusive. Maybe your children are facing difficulties, or you have decisions to make about aging parents. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and aren’t sure where to turn next. You may be struggling with personal issues of faith, or sexual orientation, or career choice. Maybe you’re lonely. We trust you’ll feel accepted here just as you are, knowing you’re loved by people who care and empathize. EEWC-CFT is a place where deep friendships are formed, many of them lasting a lifetime. We’re also a group that prays for each other and keeps in touch through a group email list.

Education. We like to learn and aren’t afraid to ask questions and even express doubts, so you can expect to find your mind stimulated by what you learn at this conference. We’ve been a studious bunch from the beginning, caring about serious scholarship in biblical studies, theology, hermeneutics, and other areas of the humanities, as well as the social, behavioral, and physical sciences. We believe in integrating our faith and our intellect, loving God with both heart and mind. That’s why we feature workshops and speakers who stretch our minds as well as warm our hearts. We’re exposed to new ways of thinking about the Bible, the world, and God, including biblically-based new names and images for the Divine, reminding us that God is beyond gender classifications and that referring to our Creator as She is just as biblical as the traditional He. And in view of new understandings of gender fluidity and a gender continuum, we may gain new language and understandings about each other as well. Learning is empowering.

Empowerment. From its beginning, this organization has stressed empowerment. We’ve encouraged each other to be all we’re meant to be, not held back by assigned roles, assumptions, attitudes, and actions of a patriarchal system that limits and restricts. We hope this gathering will help you feel empowered to find your voice and use it, unafraid to be assertive, to confront bigotry, to stand up against discrimination, and to channel your anger against injustice by working for change.

Expansiveness. This final “E” word is not primarily about numerical growth, although we do want our message to reach as many people as possible and hope to see EEWC-CFT grow. But it’s also about not letting our minds and hearts shrivel into complacency but rather opening them ever wider to a broadening vision of the Holy One and the work She has entrusted to us.

So we hope each of you will approach this gathering expectantly, enjoy your experience enormously, and leave here energized!”

Letha’s Welcome Letter, originally published in Christian Feminism Today.  Reposted with permission.

 

 

 

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“Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” workshop facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene

Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene

Another creative workshop I attended at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today (CFT) Gathering was “Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh.

LadyMidrash

 

Elisabeth sets the stage for their dramatic presentation of poems from her book Lady Midrash, explaining that midrash is the ancient Jewish storytelling tradition that asks “what if?” to fill in the gaps in scripture. In the introduction of her book Elisabeth writes: “Lady Midrash is inspired by the question, ‘what if?’ If women were important to scripture’s writers, or if the authors themselves were women, what would their stories reveal? How would received narratives change? Would we think about religion differently? As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb asks in She Who Dwells Within, ‘How might women have told their stories if they were central, rather than peripheral, characters in the Bible?’”

In her foreword, religion professor Kendra Weddle Irons writes: “In Lady Midrash, Greene uses sounds scholarship, attentiveness to details, creativity, and imagination to listen to women who are in the Bible but who have mostly been lost to us. This is accomplished in a number of effective ways from changing or providing new names, to bringing focus to cultural identity, to shifting the attention from male autonomy to female actor. The result is that women who usually are unnamed, unexplored, or even erased, are brought to our awareness so that we might hear their voices, might consider what they would have told us if they had been given a chance.”

At the CFT Gathering, Mitra Motlagh joins Elisabeth to perform dialogues and monologues from Lady Midrash. Here are two of the poems:

Eve

(The first woman)

Eve knew what she was doing.

She saw the knowledge—

life, breath,

and understood the love,

that it was good.

And there was evening

and morning

the seventh day.

 

On her way out of the garden,

done picking fruit

and naming things,

she picked up a flaming sword

of truth

to crush a snake,

realizing she’d never kick the habit

of discovery

or names.

 

Woman she was,

she called the other, man,

since he was part of her

but not all.

She learned to cover herself

against the world’s thorns

and saw to the care of its creatures,

its landscapes;

she walked with Wisdom,

she considered the universe

and love,

and saw that it was good.

Miriam

(The prophetess)

With experience

taking out of the water,

and assuring safe passage through,

Miriam sang with tambourine,

before she introduced

red algae into the Nile.

 

Her brothers could argue over

who stood on the shore

with arms outstretched,

but meanwhile Miriam

felt the gale force winds

begin to sweep the sea

and the reeds.

 

As they crossed,

Miriam led,

following the Shekinah.

Had God spoken only

through Moses?

 

Elisabeth invites workshop participants to ask “what if?” about the stories of biblical women. We form small circles to explore questions such as: What if Eve meant to take the apple? What if Miriam led the slaves through the Red Sea? What if Rahab wasn’t a prostitute? What if Jezebel wasn’t evil?

In another small group activity we use our imaginations as we work together to write a midrash. Elisabeth invites each circle to choose a biblical woman such as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Lady Wisdom, Bathsheba, Mary, Priscilla or any other woman in scripture and to emphasize a neglected part of her narrative, reverse her reputation, change the ending of her story, or in some other way change the way she is characterized in scripture.

Back in the large circle we take turns reading the poems we’ve created. The room is filled with excitement as we take part in reclaiming and recreating the stories of biblical women through midrash.

I had the honor of writing an endorsement for Elisabeth’s book Lady Midrash: Poems Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women. Here’s what I wrote that’s on the back cover of the book:

“With creative imagination and careful scholarship, Elisabeth Mehl Greene reclaims the sacred value of biblical women. These compelling narrative poems give honor to the cursed, voice to the voiceless, names to the nameless, agency to the powerless, recognition to marginalized females and the Female Divine—thereby affirming all women in the image of Divine Wisdom. The enlightening foreword, introduction, and end notes also make Lady Midrash ideal for church study groups, academic classes, and personal exploration.”

Read a review of Lady Midrash by Presbyterian minister Jean Rodenbough, published in Christian Feminism Today.

 

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Elisabeth Mehl Greene is a writer and composer working in a variety of creative writing and musical genres. Greene’s work of poetry, Lady Midrash, is published by Resource Publications. Greene received her doctorate from the University of Maryland and is currently a fellow at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. On her website you will find her blog and some of her music.

 

 

 

MitraMitra Motlagh received an M.A. in Counseling from Western Seminary in Portland, OR and a B.A. in Theatre and B.A. in Writing/Literature from George Fox University. She has contributed her poetry and theatrical knowledge in collaboration with Elisabeth Mehl Greene on various projects, including a libretto adapted from the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran and several musical pieces. Mitra is honored to continue this collaboration by performing selections from Lady Midrash, and she looks forward to using diverse approaches to helping people embody a more empowering narrative.

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“Inclusion as Prophetic Action: Creating Spaces Where All Are Welcome,” workshop facilitated by Alicia Crosby at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Alicia Crosby

Alicia Crosby

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering this summer, it was really hard to choose which workshops to attend because they were all outstanding. One of these workshops I chose to attend was “Inclusion as Prophetic Action: Creating Spaces Where all are Welcome,” facilitated by Alicia Crosty. Because I’d benefited greatly from Alicia’s workshop at the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference, I participated in her workshop at the CFT Gathering to learn more from her about how to create inclusive communities.Alicia

Like at the GCN Conference, Alicia begins the CFT Gathering workshop by going around the circle, asking all of us to state three things about ourselves: our names, where we’re from, and what pronouns (e.g. “she,” “he,” “they,” whatever) we’d like used to refer to us.

Alicia continues to model the inclusivity she advocates by hearing and valuing each voice at the workshop. She asks us to form small circles to explore these questions: What is inclusion? What does it look AliciaQuestionslike? What does it feel like? What’s the most inclusive community you’ve ever been a part of? What made it that way? What did you find most challenging? What did you learn? What kind of diversity was represented? Who was left out? What do you gain by making a community inclusive? What do you lose? How is building an inclusive space prophetic?

In the small circle I participated in, several of us mention Christian Feminism Today as one of the most inclusive communities we’ve ever been part of. I also talk about New Wineskins Community in Dallas and the national ecumenical, multicultural Equity for Women in the Church Community. We discuss how these communities are the most inclusive we’re part of because of their gender and racial diversity, inclusive language and symbolism, equal valuing of every voice, and egalitarian structure.

After our conversations in small circles, Alicia asks us to come together again in the large circle. She invites anyone to bring insights from the small circles into the large circle. Here are some of the insights:

What is inclusion?

  • being seen
  • all included
  • diversity of genders, races, faiths, classes
  • all equally valued in the divine image
  • everyone represented in the language and symbolism
  • all feel a part of the community
  • shared power
  • all feel comfortable to choose to participate
  • all welcome
  • all opinions count
  • respect for differences
  • letting all people tell their stories

What does inclusion feel like?

  • trusting
  • safe
  • empowering
  • shared
  • rewarding
  • freeing
  • vulnerable
  • uncomfortable
  • shared purpose

What does inclusion look like?

  • seeing diverse individuals
  • multi-colored
  • variety
  • soft spring green color
  • growing
  • orchestra
  • quilt
  • beautiful tapestry

What do you gain by making a community inclusive?

  • wisdom
  • creativity
  • freedom
  • knowledge
  • friends

What do you lose?

  • comfort
  • privilege
  • absolute truth

In the small and large circles we talk about some of the challenging aspects of creating inclusive communities. For example, by including one group we may exclude another group. People of some conservative religious groups may not join groups that have a diversity of sexual orientations and gender expressions. Religious communities may face the challenge of including enough diversity in worship styles so that people of all cultures and races feel included.

We also discuss some of the things we learn from our efforts to create inclusive communities, such as that it takes time and patience to create these communities, that shared stories have power to bring diverse people together, and that our wisdom increases in mutual relationship with a wide variety of people.

LogoTransConnecting the workshop to the CFT Gathering theme, “Prophets in Every Generation,” Alicia asks: How is building an inclusive community prophetic? Some reflections include that inclusive communities are prophetic in that they bring people of diverse cultures, faiths, genders, races, and sexual orientations together and give equal value and power to each person. They are prophetic in their egalitarian, instead of hierarchical, structure. They are prophetic in that they contribute to the elimination of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other injustices. Alicia also offers her wisdom as to how inclusive communities are prophetic in making space for psychic, spiritual, and emotional liberation while navigating the major challenges of creating safe places for people across a wide range of difference.

 

Alicia Crosby, a native New Yorker, is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Center for Inclusivity (CFI), an organization that seeks to “foster healing communities among people of all faiths, genders and sexual orientations with an ethic of inclusion that is locally embodied, sacredly held, and widely replicable.” Her affinity for strategizing and planning makes spending her days dedicated to managing the organization’s logistical and programmatic needs a great joy.

Alicia’s love of justice, contemplative activism, and community engagement led her to pursue an M.A. in Social Justice and a Certificate in Non-Profit Management & Philanthropy at Loyola University Chicago. She also holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Education, Psychology, and Pastoral Studies from Hollins University.

Alicia’s education paired with her professional background in religious, social service, and community empowerment organizations gives her the experience necessary to bring the vision of the Center for Inclusivity (CFI) to life through building out CFI’s network and running its day-to-day operations.

Learn more about Alicia’s social justice ministries and writing on the CFI website, her blog Chasing the Promise, Facebook, Twitter, and her social media project #ThisIsMyChristianity.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Embracing the Other,” presentation by Grace Ji-Sun Kim at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

LogoTransAnother challenging, inspiring presentation at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering was “Embracing the Other” by Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Grace drew from her new book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love. GraceBook

Grace begins with a statement of the importance of narrative theology: “Theology is biography; biography is theology.” She then tells her story of growing up with racism in school and sexism in the church.

GracePresentation1Born in Korea, Grace immigrated to Canada with her family in 1975 when she was five years old. That year, when she was in kindergarten, she had her first experience of racism. She remembers the pain she felt from the racial slurs directed at her and her Korean friends. Children bullied her and her Korean friends because of the way they looked, talked, and dressed. This racial bullying continued through much of her time in elementary school. Some people in white dominant society continue to treat her as different because of the color of her skin and the shape of her eyes.

Grace also talks about her experiences of sexism in the church she grew up in and in other churches since. “Asian American women’s leadership within the church and faith community is not highly regarded or is often met with resistance, and it is difficult for ordained women ministers to serve within Asian congregations,” Grace writes in Embracing the Other. “The roots of patriarchy are often theological, as male clergy seek to keep women in subordinate positions, quoting the Apostle Paul. . . without considering the cultural context and worship practices of the early Christian movement. The ‘white masculine’ ideal unveils not only the problem of racism, but the problem of patriarchy. While there is an inordinate amount of injustice and oppression towards people of color in our societies, women and girls are often the most vulnerable victims of oppression.”

GraceRacismSexismAt the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Grace continues to emphasize the interlocking oppressions of racism and sexism. She illustrates with the horrific treatment of “comfort women” during World War II. These Korean women captured during the war became sexual slaves to serve the desires of Japanese soldiers. Some of these “comfort women” were young teenagers when they were taken from their families and raped 50-60 times a day. Many of the women died of disease or were killed when they were of no more use to the men. Tragically, Asian American women continue to suffer from racism and sexism. They are “doubly bound” by the racism and patriarchy of Western culture and the patriarchy of their own culture, which expects women to be quiet, subordinate, and submissive. Grace also talks about the current horrible practice of human trafficking that continues to make “sex slaves” of women and girls of Asian descent who are objectified as Other.

Asian Americans, Grace points out, also suffer from the designations of “model minority” and “honorific whites.” The model minority image depicts Asian Americans as self-reliant, hard-working, successful, and assimilating. While on the surface appearing to aid Asian Americans, this model minority narrative hurts them by denying the existence of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and by pitting them against African Americans, Latino/as, and other people of color. Grace mentions that some people have discounted her story by telling her that she hasn’t really experienced racism. The term “honorific whites” also damages Asian Americans, implying a hierarchy of people by race and ethnicity with whites as the best and others perceived as almost like whites as second best. This term implies that whites are superior and that all need to strive to become like whites.

GraceBlurGrace asks how the church should respond to all this racism and sexism in our culture. Some, she says, are leaving the church because of the sexism and racism they find within the church. In Embracing the Other, she writes: “The church needs to wake up from its slumber and prophetically confront the sins of racism and sexism in our society today. . . . If we sit around and do nothing, we are permitting racism and sexism to exist and grow, because we do not insist that oppressing others because of their race or gender is contrary to Christian beliefs. How do we eliminate this oppression and achieve justice and shalom for all humanity and all creation? How can we join in deep solidarity with the freedom struggles of women and people of color?”

In her book and in her presentation at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Grace explores the power of the Spirit in helping us in our work of healing and justice. She outlines four steps to follow to begin embracing the Other.

(1) Overcome the doubt as to whether Jesus really wanted us to embrace the Other.

(2) Overcome the fear of the unknown. We are afraid to embrace those who are different from us and not build walls.

(3) Spend the energy, time, and commitment to embrace people. Embracing is not a verbal proclamation. It’s not a simple act of getting to know another. It requires patient and persistent love.

(4) We need to open ourselves to the Spirit who moves within us to move us to embrace those who are different from us, to embrace the Other.

Concluding her presentation, Grace challenges us to build a global understanding of Spirit. Spirit is associated with breath, wind, and life-giving energy. Spirit is the life energy we find throughout the world. Chinese call it “Chi” or “Qi”; Japanese call it “Ki”; Hindus call it “Prana.” In the Hebrew Bible Spirit is Ruah, bringing forth life and nourishing and sustaining life. The Spirit is associated with rice, the most essential thing for life, in Korea. Jesus sent the Spirit as the helper to lead us as we seek to love and be reconciled with the Other. The Spirit lives within us, empowering us to work toward the emancipation of all. Because Spirit is foundational to traditions around the world, this theology of Spirit can provide a more holistic understanding of Deity and human beings that extends beyond skin tones, culture, religion, and power within society. In Embracing the Other, Grace writes: “This theology of Spirit is more inclusive and welcoming of outsiders, women, and people of different ethnicities—those who may be subjugated or Othered.”

 

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, I had the honor of introducing Grace to give this plenary presentation. Here’s what I said:

”It is my joy and honor this evening to introduce Grace Ji-Sun Kim. I’ve been impressed with Grace since we were first together in a Divine Feminine focus group at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Canada, and several years later as we co-led a presentation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city. There in New York we began talking about collaborating on a book on intercultural ministry. It’s been great to work with Grace for more than a year on this book titled Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World. We’re excited to announce that Judson Press will publish this book next spring. Grace is currently working on three other books. Not only is she a prolific author, but also she is a popular speaker and social justice activist nationally and internationally. Grace does amazing work in the world.

Grace received her MDiv from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and she currently serves as Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is an ordained minister of word and sacrament within the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the author or editor of 10 books, including Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love; Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit; The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology; The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology; and Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine. Grace also writes for The Huffington Post, Sojourners, EthicsDaily.com, Wabash Center and Feminist Studies in Religion, which she co-edits.

Grace serves on the American Academy of Religion’s (AAR) “Research Grants Jury Committee.” She is also a co-chair of AAR’s steering committee, “Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism Group.” She is a steering committee member of AAR’s “Comparative Theology Group” and “Religion and Migration Group.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“If Eve Only Knew: Finding Hope in the Midst of Change,” workshop facilitated by Kendra Weddle Irons and Melanie Springer Mock at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock & Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock & Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

In the wake of the horrific violence of the last few weeks, Kendra Weddle Irons raises important questions few others are raising. In the blog “Ain’t I a Woman,” which Kendra co-authors with Melanie Springer Mock, Kendra asks: “Have you noticed the one constant that lies at the heart of the violence we continue to witness? Do you ever wonder why women are seldom the perpetrators of violence and instead are most often the ones who suffer from it?”

As I read Kendra’s blogpost, I thought not only about the widely reported acts of violence, but also of the seldom-reported epidemic of violence against females in our country and around the world. In the U.S. alone, every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or battered. One in three women in the world experiences some kind of abuse in her lifetime. Worldwide, an estimated four million women and girls each year are bought and sold into prostitution, slavery, or marriage. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write in their book Half the Sky: “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than people were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.” There are many more alarming statistics on worldwide violence against women and girls. These awful acts of violence are so common that they are seldom even considered newsworthy.

IfEVeOnlyKnew

 

 

In their blog, their book If Eve Only Knew, their teaching of university students, and their speaking at conferences, Kendra and Melanie not only raise awareness of violence, abuse, and discrimination against women, but also point the way to transforming church and society so that women and all others can become all we’ve created to be in the divine image.

LogoTransAt the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Kendra and Melanie facilitated an empowering workshop titled “If Eve Only Knew: Finding Hope in the Midst of Change.”

Kendra begins by engaging participants in a conversation about change. She asks us to form circles to explore our feelings about change, about some of today’s challenges that we’re particularly concerned about, about dwindling church attendance, and about characteristics of young people we hear in the media.

To illustrate something about the young people she and Kendra teach, Melanie reads from the introduction of their book If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood & Becoming All God Means for You to Be. In this excerpt she refers to a previous Christian Feminism Today Conference:

Kendra and I had come to the conference to talk about the effects evangelical popular culture has on the students we teach at our respective colleges. We wanted to help Christian feminists understand what they are up against: a Christian culture that continues to tell women they need to be submissive, silent, docile, and focused not at all on an outside-the-home career, but on raising children and caring for husbands. This was God’s exclusive design for women, and those who followed a different path were outside God’s will.

As professors, Kendra and I work with women excited about their vocations but faced with the pervasive message they’ve often been given by their evangelical upbringing, by their families, their churches, and by Christian popular culture. Our students learn early that women—by virtue of their biological relationship to Eve—are more deceptive, more prone to sin and impurity, more emotional, and less capable of making decisions than their male peers. A woman’s primary role is as a helpmeet, raising children. Lifelong vocations are for the very few women who do not marry. Any vocation involving church leadership is reserved for men no matter what a young woman’s calling.

Given the persistent thrum of these messages, it is little wonder conservative Christian women struggle to find a voice in their church communities and to feel affirmed in their life choices. It’s also no wonder that women graduating from evangelical Christian universities often express less confidence than their male peers, and their sense of vocational call is less clear upon graduation. Women who visit our offices seeking guidance often seem less self-assured about their futures, especially if they haven’t found the “Mrs.” degree they  are told is imperative with a conservative Christian college education. . . .

The evangelical blogs, magazines, and books these young women read, the music they listen to, and the organizations to which they belong send clear messages about who or what they should be. And all of it is delivered with the conviction that it’s godly, because “the Bible says so.”

At the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Melanie and Kendra offer hope that many young people are rejecting these stifling messages from conservative Christian churches and evangelical popular culture. But many are rejecting church entirely.

Melanie cites statistics showing that millennials, in fact, don’t see themselves as religious. Only 22% report attending church regularly, 70% say that church is irrelevant, and many do not see the church as making an impact on the world. Many churches, in trying to remedy the decline in attendance, have created specific ministries to draw people in based on their “affinity” for certain activities. In evangelical churches, affinity ministries are often based on what a church assumes men and women will enjoy doing. Affinity ministries for men promote hyper “masculinity,” illustrated by a men’s conference titled “Godly Grit: Aching for the Return of Fearless Heroic Manhood” and by a church’s giving away AR-15 assault rifles. Affinity ministries for women include craft nights and teas. To attract more people, many evangelical churches have also adopted a “performance mentality,” staging worship services with flashy lights and music. Millennials, however, are rejecting these performance-based services built on gender stereotypes, such as that men are powerful and independent and that women are relational and emotional. Millennials question gender binaries. Evangelical church leaders deride tolerance and promote exclusive theologies, whereas millennials embrace diversity and seek inclusion and unity. The hopeful word is that many young people are rejecting these theologies of exclusion. Is it possible to create churches where millennials and all people of all ages feel welcome? The hope is that, based on Jesus’s words “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15: 5), we can create churches that are radically nonhierarchical, communities of interconnectedness and mutuality.

In the meantime, as we’re living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture, the story of Tamar may prove hopeful. In the workshop Kendra uses feminist teaching methods to draw out the collective wisdom of participants, asking us to explore these questions in circle conversations on the story of Tamar in Genesis 38: What do you find interesting? Are there aspects about the narrative you find problematic? Is there anything encouraging here? Our circle had a wonderful conversation about the strictures of the patriarchal culture in which Tamar lives, about how our patriarchal culture still stifles us, and about Tamar’s amazing ability not only to survive but to exercise her own agency in securing justice for herself in a patriarchal world. In If Eve Only Knew, Kendra comments on this text: “People usually see this narrative through a lens of sexuality and incest when reading it for the first time. Yet sexual encounter is not the prism through which the author encouraged his readers to look. Rather, sex was merely the means Tamar used to establish justice when the patriarchal world denied what she rightly should have received. . . . Tamar holds the key to this complex story by shifting our attention from the presumed major character Judah, and the assumptions that go along with reading from a perspective of privilege. In doing so, we can see Tamar’s courage and initiative.”

In their Christian Feminism Today workshop, as in their blog and book, Kendra and Melanie offer hope in the midst of our changing world, hope that together we will embrace our full humanity to become all we’re meant to be in the divine image. Their liberating message points the way out of our violent culture to Wisdom’s paths of peace and justice (Proverbs 3:13-17). They conclude If Eve Only Knew with these words: “Wisdom Woman stands in our midst, too, inviting us to be all we are meant to be.”

 

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons teaches religion at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, and blogs with Dr. Melanie Springer Mock at Ain’t I a Woman: De/Constructing Christian Images . Motivated by injustice within the church, Kendra seeks to challenge the status quo—in her teaching and writing—especially with an eye for how the church can move beyond its sexism. Her most recent book is in collaboration with Melanie Springer Mock: If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All You are Meant to Be (Chalice Press, 2015). Her first book—Preaching on the Plains: Methodist Women Preachers in Kansas, 1920-1956 (University Press of American, 2007)—examines United Methodist Women who preached in Kansas prior to 1956. In addition, Kendra is a frequent contributor to Christian Feminism Today.

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock is a professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. A prolific author, Melanie’s essays have appeared in Christian Feminism Today, The Nation, Adoptive Families, Mennonite World Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Oregonian, among other places. In 2003, Cascadia Publishing House published her book, Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors. And in 2011, Barclay Press published Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, a collection that Melanie co-edited with Rebekah D. Schneiter. Melanie is also the other half of the writing team on If Eve Only Knew and Ain’t I a Woman: De/Constructing Christian Images, taking turns with Kendra in posting thought-provoking, challenging, funny, and always engaging posts several times a week.

 

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