A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, by Rev. Connie L. Tuttle:

Rev. Connie L. Tuttle

Rev. Connie L. Tuttle’s prophetic ministry first came to my attention when I interviewed Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman for Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers. Monica spoke highly of Connie as one of her mentors in ministry and talked about how much she loves Circle of Grace Community, a feminist church in Atlanta that Connie pastors. After Changing Church came out, I started a blog that included stories of many other ministers, both clergy and laypeople, who are changing church and society by reclaiming multicultural female divine images. Connie, I learned, was doing just that, so I interviewed her for my blog. On my blog I also included a condensed version of Monica’s story from Changing Church. Later I brought their stories, along with many others on my blog, into my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World.

Recently Connie’s book, A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, came out. I was inspired by her book and wrote the following review, originally published in Christian Feminism Today.

In A Gracious Heresy Rev. Connie L. Tuttle combines her gifts as a compelling storyteller, powerful prophet, and creative spiritual guide. Also, it took courage for her to write this book, and even more courage to live the stories she tells. Her divine call is so urgent and so palpable that nothing can stop her. She endures rigid communities, betrayal by trusted ministers, and oppressive church policies to follow her call with passion, perseverance, and unquenchable faith. She even believes she is called to play a part in changing the church.

With hands clenched over the back of a pew, Connie stands at the meeting of the Atlanta Presbytery gathered in 1994 to debate an amendment to The Book of Order that would allow for the ordination of gay men and lesbians. She takes this stand, praying that her presence, her “self-ness,” her witness, will make a difference. Then the “presence of the Holy” fills her, taking her back to her childhood on her grandparents’ farm in Oregon. With lyrical descriptions, she writes of her first experiences of the sacred in nature. These memories center her at the Presbytery meeting as a man asks, “Who are these homosexuals and what do they want with our church?”

Connie uses this question as a springboard to tell readers who she is, and she does so with authenticity, wit, and page-turning suspense. With vivid details of sounds, colors, tastes, and smells, she takes us into her childhood experiences as an “army brat” in France, Germany, the Pacific Northwest, North Carolina, and Georgia. For example, we taste with her the succulent ripe strawberries picked from a garden in a small French village and see the horrific images at Dachau, Germany. Dauchau, along with the racism she observed in Southern states, awakened Connie to the problem of evil and to her call to fight injustices. Along the way, she goes through the pain of broken relationships; the struggles of supporting her daughter as a single mom; the freedom of coming out to herself and then her family; the disappointment of thwarted explorations of her call in the wrong places, like at a Moonie retreat, and the challenge of being the first open lesbian at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Understanding her call to ministry becomes a driving force in Connie’s life. Her difficulty in defining the concept of call resonates with me.

I’ve tried and come up with different answers at different times in my life. I can point to extravagant spiritual experiences that shouted at me, the wary un-listener. Or whispers in the night that enveloped me for the moment and faded in the light of day. Call is not so much words as it is feeling. Not the imposition of feeling but the rise of relationship beyond words. (p. 23)

In one of her beautiful accounts of numinous experiences, Connie describes looking across a chasm in the universe to the Light on the other side. She knows that she can never bridge the chasm, but that she only had to reach out with her “longing” and that “God would always reach back and that God would do God’s work” and she would do hers.

Connie’s call includes becoming a prophet. She feels that she is the “very last person you would consider to be a prophet,” but that it’s not a “career option” like becoming a teacher or a doctor. “It’s a call. An irritating and irresistible call.” Injustice makes prophets “angrier than a bee swarm in a tornado.”

Prophets tend to make people uncomfortable. They irritate, intimidate, challenge, and enrage the general population. . . . They champion unpopular causes. . . . Prophets challenge the certainty of doctrine with the uncertainty of what happens when God is unleashed. They offer hope. I only pray my witness offers hope, advocates for justice, insists on compassion. (p. 2)

Another of the many parts of this book I appreciate is Connie’s setting the story of her prophetic call against the background of current events that helped shaped her. For example, she opens the chapter about starting seminary in 1983 by naming events that also occurred in that year: Nazi war criminal, Klaus Barbie, was arrested; a special Congressional commission released a report criticizing Japanese internment during World War II; Guion S. Bluford became the first African American and Sally Ride became the first American woman launched into space; Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin in prison to forgive him. Connie concludes the paragraph: “And I became the first open lesbian to matriculate at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The world was changing and I felt like a part of that inevitable change. It was a hopeful time.”

Hope for change keeps Connie going as she has to defend her call to be a minister over and over again, beginning with a summons to the dean’s office soon after she enters seminary. She tries to “hold the prophetic and the pastoral in dynamic tension” as she responds to ongoing interrogations from administrators, students, professors, and even the president of the seminary. She had thought clinical pastoral education would be a safe place, but her peers and supervisor, all male, ask offensive questions about her ministry ability, her call, and her “very being.” She laments that they can only see her through some “Lesbian-shaped lens that distorted everything” she says or does.

In her second year of seminary, at a meeting to assess her candidacy for ministry, one of the committee members suggests that she should not have disclosed her sexuality. She responds, “How can I be in relationship with God if I don’t have integrity?” She also gives the committee a paper she wrote about “homosexuality and the Bible.” I wonder if she included references to Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollencott, a book she mentions giving to her parents when she came out because she wanted them to have this resource that takes a positive stand for LGBTQ people, supported by the Bible. Even if these committee members and others who had questioned her had read the book, they still may have been motivated more by fear than about concerns for biblical fidelity. In one meeting with the seminary president and other administrators, she has the courage to name their fear of losing financial support: “I think your real concern is economics. If you let me stay here, graduate from here, you are afraid that financial giving to this institution will suffer.”

In the last chapter, Connie takes us back to the Atlanta Presbytery meeting she describes at the opening of the book, the meeting nine years after her seminary graduation, where she continues to stand, not allowed to speak. “What mattered is that I was there,” she writes. “I was present, standing, and faithful. My silence was a voice crying in the wilderness, a clumsy prophet challenging the people of Godde.” She had begun using this spelling, Godde, to symbolize “the Sacred encompassing all gender expressions.” Connie’s graphic account of standing silently at the Presbytery meeting helps us feel her fear and grief as the vote is taken and the amendment that would have affirmed the ordination of lesbian and gay candidates failed.

That was 1994, sixteen years after the publication of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? in 1978. Not until 2012 did the Presbyterian Church (USA) vote to allow the inclusion of lesbians and gay men to ordained ministry, twenty-six years after Connie graduated from seminary. In 2018 the church voted to ordain all LGBTQIA+ people called to ministry. Even though change came slowly, too late for Connie and many others who suffered rejection, I believe her tenacious prophetic witness contributed to these important changes. In the Epilogue we also learn that although the Presbyterian church refused to ordain Connie, in 1995 Circle of Grace, a progressive, ecumenical, feminist church in Atlanta, Georgia, ordained her; she has served as pastor of this church since then.

I highly recommend A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet to all who delight in a captivating story and who want to join the story of bringing liberating change to church and society. The thought-provoking questions at the end of the book provide a guide.

Review of A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, originally published in Christian Feminism Today. Reposted with permission.

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Building Bridges, The Challenge of Being In-Between—Kendra Weddle, Letha Dawson Scanzoni, and Jann Aldredge-Clanton

It was an honor to join Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Kendra Weddle in a presentation titled “Building Bridges, The Challenge of Being In-Between” at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering. The theme of the Gathering was “Standing Up, Speaking Up in Such a Time as This,” based on Esther 4:14. Drawing from our new book Building Bridges: Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Friends, Kendra and I highlighted some of Letha’s work, showing how much it’s needed in our world today. As in the book, we also included excerpts from stories of people whose lives she has transformed through her writing, mentoring, and leadership of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT), an organization she co-founded. Then Letha gave us her words of wisdom for “such a time as this.”

Kendra and I connected the work of Letha and EEWC-CFT to the current “Me Too,” “Church Too,” and “Time’s Up” movements. These movements confirm all the justice work Letha and EEWC-CFT have been doing for decades, creating a viable way forward for women who are now waking up to sexist realities all around us, including in our churches. Many are now speaking up and resisting patriarchal structures, like exclusively male leadership and language in churches, that form a foundation for abuse and violence against women. But we didn’t get here without someone doing the spade work, digging in the biblical narratives to apply the liberating message of Jesus to women and others who have been marginalized. That work was accomplished in large part by Letha Dawson Scanzoni in collaboration with others like Nancy Hardesty and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

Kendra and I explained that we chose to take a feminist approach to our book Building Bridges, so this is not a traditional biography that spotlights one person. While Letha Dawson Scanzoni, one of the most important founders of Christian feminism, is certainly a worthy subject of such a book, her life suggests a different kind of approach. We decided that her story could be best understood by connecting it with the stories of those whom she has influenced and those who are continually being transformed by her life and work. Her story is a story of feminist collaboration. Her story is the story of EEWC-CFT. Her story is our story.

The title of our book comes from Letha’s work of building bridges to spread the good news of the liberating message of Jesus that includes all. To spread this good news she and her friends have built many bridges including:
between Christian feminism and the wider culture;
between evangelical and mainline Christians;
across genders and gender identities;
across races;
across sexual orientations;
across generations.

In the CFT Gathering presentation, Kendra and I highlighted Letha’s books All We’re Meant to Be (co-authored with Nancy Hardesty) and Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (co-authored with Virginia Ramey Mollenkott) and her work with EEWC-CFT.

In All We’re Meant to Be, Letha and Nancy establish their methodology of biblical interpretation as christocentric, and focus on the historical and cultural context and on the major themes of the Bible. They acknowledge that they read through the lens of Jesus. In places where the Bible isn’t clear or contains contradictions, the person of Jesus takes precedence. Letha has been difficult for evangelicals to criticize for she remains steadfastly convinced of the centrality of Jesus. Because Letha and Nancy understood Jesus’ message as one of liberation, this key idea provides a focus through which to examine all questions. Historical and cultural contexts are necessary to understand a biblical passage within its time period, and studying them is not intended to reduce the value of the text (a key fear that still motivates critics today). Letha and Nancy claim we must know what something might have meant then in order to take seriously what it might mean today. Focusing on major themes guards from the fallacies of using a proof-text method. The liberating work of Jesus is the main theme Letha and Nancy use. So a passage like 1 Tim 2:11-12, that some people still quote to keep women from church leadership, must be examined in the light of Jesus’ liberating message and actions.

In the Introduction of their first edition of All We’re Meant to Be, Letha and Nancy write: “Women have just as much right as men to think of themselves in God’s image.” They provide substantial biblical support for their main theme: gender equality based on the divine image including female and male. First published in 1974, All We’re Meant to Be became an instant hit and received Eternity magazine’s Book of the Year award. Historian Pamela Cochran calls it “the most influential work in helping launch the evangelical feminist movement.” More rewarding than awards and accolades to Letha and Nancy were readers’ comments to them. They begin their third edition of this book by writing that over the past two decades since the first edition came out, hundreds of women and men across the country have walked up to them and said, “Your book changed my life!” All We’re Meant to Be and Letha’s other published work, her work through EEWC-CFT, and her mentoring continue to have transforming power. Building Bridges includes stories of a diverse group of people, drawn from interviews.

Here are some of the quotes we included in the Gathering presentation:

I was searching for something that would put the pieces together of a feminist biblical hermeneutic that spoke to the harmful biblical interpretations that I had grown up with in the church. All We’re Meant to Be is timeless in that it still actively stands against traditional evangelical interpretations of Scripture that unfortunately keep returning.Jennifer Newman, 2014 Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship recipient

Letha has given me strength to flex my muscles as a confident, strong African American woman. When I read All We’re Meant to Be, I could literally hear Letha’s voice and feel her passion, commitment, and wisdom. I found myself in the pages. I was affirmed as a single woman with a mission of social justice for all. —Leslie Harrison, womanist minister, EEWC-CFT Council member

All We’re Meant to Be inspired Kendra and me in our writing of If Eve Only Knew. The idea that has resonated with me most fully is the central claim that we are created to be all God means for us to be, and that we need to live fully into God’s calling, despite the many barriers placed in our way. —Melanie Springer Mock, English professor, author

In Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, first published in 1978, Letha and co-author Virginia Ramey Mollenkott also interpret Scripture through the lens of the liberating message of Jesus. They apply this liberating message not only to women but also to people who have been marginalized by church and society because of sexual orientation. Virginia gives credit to Letha for the title of the book: “Letha had come up with the title that made many anti-gay Christians angry because it tweaked their guilt over their judgmentalism.”

At the beginning of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Letha and Virginia write: “The question that makes up the title of this book shouldn’t be necessary. After all, Jesus made it clear that every person is our neighbor.” Jesus did not narrow the identity of our neighbor to geography, race, or religion but only to need. Letha and Virginia make the case that Jesus’ countercultural actions mean that in every instance where people are oppressed by social and faith-related structures, the work of justice must be done. Taking a stand for LGBTQ justice cost Letha the acceptance she had formerly enjoyed as a public figure within the evangelical community. Many people accused her of being on a “slippery slope” theologically. But she insisted that she was following Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Letha and Virginia had the courage and compassion to write one of the first books by Christians that takes a positive stand for LGBTQ people. This book has been life-changing and life-saving for countless people.

This book was a gift, just a gift. It quite literally saved my life. —Elizabeth Kaeton, Episcopal priest, hospice chaplain, pastoral counselor

In no small part because of Letha Dawson Scanzoni, I’ve been able to express my sexuality in ways that are loving and life-affirming. —Jeff Lutes, former executive director of Soulforce

What allowed them to find the courage to write this book, even though they must have known most people would certainly not react favorably? I figure that Virginia must have been starting to understand this work was about her own life. But why would Letha do it? That, I think, sheds light on who Letha is. —Lē Weaver, EEWC-CFT’s Director of Public Information

At the Gathering we also highlighted Letha’s transformational work with EEWC-CFT. Letha did not start out to create an organization or a move­ment when she began writing about biblical feminism in the 1960s and ‘70s. Instead, she wrote to address the various ways women were oppressed by church leaders and theologians who made inaccurate assumptions about the Bible, and indeed about women. And yet, no one has had more influence on EEWC-CFT than Letha. Her steady leadership and guidance as well as her longtime editorial work on the organization’s newsletter (EEWC Update) and subsequent website have shaped the mission and function of the organization.

EEWC-CFT began as a women’s caucus formed within Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) in 1974 to consider issues like the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and removing sexism from Christian education curricula. The following year this group, at that time called Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), met on its own at a national conference in Washington, DC. At this and other conferences Letha gave plenary addresses, inspiring women to claim God’s call to fulfill their full potential, empowered by an outpouring of the Spirit to step out without fear. Between 1974 and 1978, the group solidified, forming local chapters and a national organization with a statement of faith, bylaws, and elected officers. The 1978 publication of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? laid the foundation for the organization to vote at the conference in 1986 to take a stand for LGBTQ rights. Many people who opposed this prophetic stand left the organization to form Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). Letha continued to guide EEWC-CFT as editor of publications and manager of online content. In 2014 she delivered another challenging plenary address, calling Christian feminists to reach across geographical and ideological boundaries and to become more aware of the intersectionality of all oppressions. It is this sense of an ever-widening circle of justice that punctuates Letha’s view of where EEWC-CFT has been and where it will go in the future.

Letha has continued to increase her connections with people of many generations, races, sexual orientations, and religious affiliations.

It is because of EEWC-CFT and women like Letha and Nancy that I can continue to question and critique documents and practices of faith, while still proclaiming myself to be a woman of faith. Their groundbreaking work and guidance empower new generations of Christian feminists to continue moving forward toward the goal of a truly holistic and equality based life for all people of faith.— Katie Deaver, 2015 Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship recipient

All in the CFT family have welcomed me into their fold with open hearts and open minds. ‘Welcome’ is a good word to associate with CFT because this network of incredible people embodies the Feminine Divine as they foster space where those committed to equity and equality can find a space to belong. —Alicia Crosby, cofounder and executive director of the Center for Inclusivity

Now I know that I am not alone in my convictions and that feminists are diverse and dynamic. Feminism isn’t just a part of my life, but something that is woven into the character of who I am and has fundamentally changed how I think, feel, and relate to others. EEWC-CFT has aided in the stitching. —McKenzie Brown, CFT Gathering emcee

As WATER has grown more diverse, EEWC-CFT is a natural ally. I find EEWC-CFT to be a vital and welcome partner in the work of feminist, religiously rooted social change. Future scholars will comb the archives with excitement as they find the countless contributions that Letha has made to EEWC-CFT and the larger feminist religious community. —Mary E. Hunt, Catholic feminist theologian, cofounder and codirector of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)

Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Letha concluded the presentation with words of wisdom and challenge.

She spoke about being a reluctant prophet and about feelings associated with following a prophetic call: “You feel terribly alone. But you feel the call. And you need to do it. You pray, ‘Give my courage. Save me from my fear.’ Often the prophet feels resistant and struggling. I particularly felt that when writing Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? But our loving Godde Sophia is with us. We are ALL called for such a time as this.”

The book Building Bridges, Letha said, is “about all of us.” She expressed gratitude for the book: “I’m grateful they wrote it or you wouldn’t have the story. But I like to think of it as OUR story together.”

The story began for her when she became “bothered by the limitations placed on women in the church.” She acknowledged the importance of timing: “I was the least person you could imagine as radical. First, there was the women’s movement, and then Stonewall. It’s about timing. This is your time now.”

Letha challenged us all to find and follow our liberating call for such a time as this: “Ask yourself who you are meant to be. Think about it. Are you on the road for doing that? If not? Why? How can I help my neighbor? Each of us must ask ourselves this question. What is my responsibility to my neighbor?”

 

Thanks to Dr. Christy Sim for the photos from the Gathering.

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Standing Up, Speaking Up in the Gospel of Mary—Deborah Saxon & Mark M. Mattison

Dr. Deborah Saxon & Mark M. Mattison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark M. Mattison & Dr. Deborah Saxon
(photo by Dr. Christy Sim)

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering Dr. Deborah Saxon and Mark M. Mattison gave a fascinating plenary presentation titled “Standing Up, Speaking Up in the Gospel of Mary.” These two biblical scholars illuminated a text used by followers of Jesus as early as the second century. This long-ignored text portrays the courageous leadership of Mary Magdalene in the early Jesus movement. Deborah and Mark used this long-ignored Gospel of Mary to help us think together about the challenges and opportunities for us today as we stand up and speak up for what we believe.

In conversations with Deborah at the 2016 Christian Feminism Gathering, I learned of her research and writing, some of which is published in her book The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts. A little more than seven years ago, I learned about Mark’s work on the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament and featured him on my blog and later in She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World. I have been impressed by the depth of Deborah and Mark’s biblical knowledge and scholarship.

In their presentation at this summer’s Gathering, Deborah and Mark began by displaying art from the early Christian centuries. Some of these artworks show Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other women in positions of authority and leadership in the early church. Although women are often denied leadership in churches today, ancient art and texts reveal women as leaders in the early Jesus movement.

Moving on to the Gospel of Mary, Deborah and Mark pointed out that this Gospel is about Mary Magdalene, but not written by her. The Gospel of Mary was discovered a little over a century ago in Egypt, but more than half of it is missing. It was originally written in Greek early in the second century and later translated into Coptic.

Deborah explained a portion of the Gospel of Mary that gives a perspective on the interconnection of all things in nature. “Every nature, every form, every creature exists in and with each other, but they’ll dissolve again into their own roots, because the nature of matter dissolves into its nature alone.”

In the canonical Gospels Mary Magdalene plays a prominent role as a follower of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) and the first witness of the resurrection (John 20:1-18), “the apostle to the apostles.” The long-overlooked Gospel of Mary adds to the story of her as a leader of the early followers of Jesus.

Mark compared the part Mary Magdalene played as a teacher of the other disciples to the role of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus mentions as teaching “all things” and reminding them of everything that Jesus had told them. These verses from the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of John illustrate this comparison:

Deborah and Mark pointed out passages in the Gospel of Mary that record the disciples’ questioning Mary’s authority as a teacher and leader (translations by Mark):

In response Andrew said to the brothers and sisters, “Say what you will about what she’s said, I myself don’t believe that the Savior said these things, because these teachings seem like different ideas.” In response Peter spoke out with the same concerns. He asked them concerning the Savior: “He didn’t speak with a woman without our knowledge and not publicly with us, did he? Will we turn around and all listen to her? Did her prefer her to us?”

Although Andrew and Peter didn’t believe Mary, the only woman in the group of disciples, she had the courage to stand up and speak up for what she knew to be true:

Then Mary wept and said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what are you thinking? Do you really think that I thought this up by myself in my heart, or that I’m lying about the Savior?”

Then Levi spoke up in Mary’s defense:

In response Levi said to Peter, “Peter, you’ve always been angry. Now I see you debating with this woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her  worthy, who are you then to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That’s why he loved her more than us.”

The Gospel of Mary doesn’t record the male disciples questioning Levi’s words, just as today men are often believed more than women, Deborah and Mark observed. Male advocates, like Levi, are then important.

You may want to explore these questions that Deborah and Mark posed to participants at the Gathering:

1. Have you ever heard of the Gospel of Mary before tonight? What parts of it do you find most interesting, compelling, or relevant to your own life and social context
2. What are the challenges Mary faces in speaking out in her Gospel? What challenges do you face in your own life? What form do they take?
3. What sustains you or helps you in speaking out? What inspiring contemporary examples can you share that parallel Mary’s courage?

 

Dr. Deborah Saxon

Deborah Saxon, Ph.D., teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the author of The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts. Deb researches newly discovered Christian texts, women’s voices, the inclusive perspectives they reveal, and the intersection of gender and religion.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark M. Mattison

Mark M. Mattison is an independent writer and scholar. He is the author of The Gospel of Judas: The Sarcastic Gospel; The Gospel of Thomas: A New Translation for Spiritual SeekersThe Gospel of Mary: A Fresh Translation and Holistic Approach; and The Goblin Gambit. He was one of the creators of the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament.

 

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Locating Your Role in the Story of Our Collective Liberation—Alicia Crosby

Alicia Crosby

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering Alicia Crosby gave a thought-provoking, inspiring keynote presentation titled “Locating Your Role in the Story of Our Collection Liberation.”

At two events several years ago, I had the joy of connecting with Alicia and participating in her workshops on creating communities where all are welcome. On this blog I have written about my experiences in these workshops. In conversations with Alicia I have also learned about her passion for following her call, which led her to co-found and lead the Center for Inclusivity (CFI).

Alicia began her plenary presentation at this summer’s Gathering with guidelines on “Setting Up Our Space”:

  • compassionate listening
  • refraining from making judgments/assumptions
  • speaking up
  • respecting and expressing boundaries
  • confidentiality
  • reflective listening
  • respecting our different perspectives
  • respecting our different relationships with Christianity

Then Alicia illuminated the biblical story of Esther, from which the Gathering theme “Standing Up, Speaking Up in Such a Time as This,” was drawn. When I was growing up in Sunday school and Girls’ Auxiliary in my Baptist church, I loved the story of Esther. But I never heard that Esther was a concubine before she became queen, that she was one of many young women forced into the king’s harem, and that she and the other women had to go through a year of “beauty treatments” to please him.

Alicia continued to shed light on this story through the perspectives of the marginalized. While the king was throwing a long, lavish party for all the noblemen and military officers, we never hear about all the common people and we don’t see the refugees from the wars won to build his large empire.

After King Xerxes banished Queen Vashti for refusing to parade in front of him and the other drunken men at his party, he had young women brought into his harem to take turns to see which one pleased him most. But we don’t hear about the young women when they were forced to come to try out to be queen, Alicia said. “They were taken against their will. Violated. They were held captive at least a year. What happens to the human spirit when you know you’re held against your will for a whole year? And when you leave, your body has been used? What happens then?” There’s so much in the Esther story that I never heard or thought about, like trafficking and violence against women.

Mordecai was also marginalized in this story, Alicia pointed out. He was a Jew in Persian culture. He refused to bow down to Haman, the king’s top official, as the king had commanded. Alicia compares Mordecai to young black people who’ve been oppressed by police officers and don’t feel they need to show them respect.

When King Xerxes went along with Haman’s plot to destroy all the Jews, Mordecai publicly lamented. But he pushed Esther to act, instead of acting himself, Alicia said, “like black women asked to save people, to speak out. Mordecai threatened to out Esther as a Jew if she didn’t speak up to the king, like people outing others for their own benefit” (Esther 4:13-14).

“What can we take away from the story of Esther?” Alicia asked. Here are some things Alicia mentioned that she saw: “Like Mordecai, we can be marginalized and still contribute to the marginalization of others. We also see this in the eunuchs in charge of the king’s harem. Agency was taken away from Esther and the other women, but Esther still stood up and spoke up. Vashti was also a heroine in the story; she said ‘Time’s Up. No more.’”

Alicia continued her presentation by asking us to form small groups to examine our own social locations, using these questions:

  1. What are my identities?
    2. What facets of my identity allow me to experience privilege? How does that privilege function?
    3. What are the ways in which I experience marginalization?
    4. What people groups have more privilege than me?
    5. Who experiences oppression and marginalization that I do not have to face?

Alicia concluded her plenary talk by challenging us:

  1. “What resources do you have that you can contribute to our collective liberation? If you think we’re all free, I’m not sorry to tell you we’re all not.”
  2. “How will I work to share the resources I have with others so that we can all be free?”
  3. “What role(s) can I play in the story of our collective liberation? Some of us are teachers. Some of us are listeners. Some of us can build things. Think of who you are and the gifts you have and how they can be leveraged. What are you doing? What are you going to do?”

My thanks goes to Dr. Christy Sim for the photos from the Gathering.

Alicia Crosby

Alicia Crosby is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Inclusivity (CFI). Her passions for justice, spiritually engaged 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 has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Hollins University.

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Christian Feminism Today 2018 Gathering—Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison

Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison

Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison inspired and challenged us at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering worship service and in her workshop “Don’t You Forget About Me: Black Female Issues Rarely Addressed by Society in Her Context.” The theme of the Gathering was “Standing Up, Speaking Up in Such a Time as This,” based on Esther 4:14.

 

 

 

 

In the Sunday morning worship service Rev. Dr. Harrison led this powerful responsive “Prayer for the People—For Such a Time as This” that she wrote:

Leader: We know, through our DNA, all of us come from the four corners of the earth.
We have been oppressed, depressed, segregated, and amputated.
Oppressed by a patriarchal system and each other.
Depressed by those who refuse to acknowledge our gifts, our intelligence, and our wisdom.
Segregated from our fullest expression based on gender, race, sexuality, and so many other distinctions.
Amputated from our thoughts, our spirits, our experiences, and our futures.
However, we stand tall and speak with strength because we were created . . .

All:      For such a time as this.

 Leader: We give thanks to our Creator for all the good works which prepared this world for our entrance.
We give thanks to the Creator for orchestrating our emergence into time, to
maximize our usefulness as co-laborers in the restoration of justice.
We give thanks to our ancestors for being stepping stones to wisdom and
cornerstones of strength as we embrace these many challenges . . .

All:      For such a time as this.

Leader: We will stand up and speak up to overcome oppression, depression, segregation, and amputation.
No longer will we sit mute in moments of injustice.
We will stand up and speak up because each life matters.
We will stand up and speak up because everyone should be able to live out their dreams.
We will stand up to march, we will speak up to raise consciousness, and we will
use our dollars to change the economics of political injustice . . .

All:      For such a time as this.

Leader: We will fast, just as Queen Esther called for a fast.
We will turn over our plates to actions which perpetuate selfishness, greed, discrimination, stigma, poverty, and hate.
We will stand tall filled with indignation, audacity, courage, valor, moxie, and boldness
to right that which is wrong and demeaning whenever and
wherever necessary. . .

All:      For such a time as this.

Leader: We will work to free our siblings who are bound by archaic traditions and regulations.
We will strengthen systems that are just, uplifting, and uniting.
We will assist the oppressed, depressed, segregated, and amputated.
We will move toward the enactment of justice for all . . .

All:      For such a time as this.

Leader: We will stand up, we will speak up, we will lift up, and we will turn up.
We will invite ourselves to the table when and where decisions are being made.
We will walk boldly and decide our own fate.
We will stand up to demand justice for ourselves and others.
We will speak up for those who have been silenced . . .

All:      For such a time as this.

Leader: Our ancestors, all genders, all races, all creeds, proved that we have the ability to
stand and speak up even in the face of great adversity.
It is their examples that we were created to follow, to pursue justice with dignity and courage.

All:      We remember who we are and what our ancestors accomplished.
We stomp out injustice, share hope, tolerate only that which is good and just, and teach that love conquers all.
We are the ones who ensure our neighbors feel welcome.
We do the right things for the right reasons at the right times.
We are the ones standing up and speaking up,
For such a time as this.

© 2018 Leslie Harrison. Used by permission.

Later in the worship service Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison delivered an inspiring sermon titled “For Such a Time as This.” She highlighted three strong female voices in the book of Esther.

Queen Vashti, she says, is one of King Xerxes beautiful trophies. “King Xerxes is as drunk as a skunk, and he wants his trophy to come down” so he can show her off to all the men at his lavish banquet. “The queen says ‘there’s no way I’m marching around all those men. He’s got the wrong woman here.’ Vashti stands up and speaks up: ‘No. I’m not giving up my pride and self-esteem.’”

The second strong woman is Esther. “She’s an orphan; all her family is gone but a distant cousin, Mordecai.” Leslie continues: “When the king asks for all the beautiful women, Mordecai says, ‘go ahead and apply for the scholarship.’ Esther’s learning stuff. But Mordecai is crying and is a hot mess. She didn’t know there was stuff happening outside the walls of the castle. Esther says if I go before the king, it will be bad. So I’m going to keep living. I’m not doing anything. Her cousin says ‘don’t think you got up into royalty just for yourself. You’re there for a purpose. Do what you need to do.’ So she goes before the king, probably anticipating her death. But she does it anyway. And the king welcomed her.” Because she stands up and speaks up, Esther saves her people.

Rev. Dr. Harrison identifies the third voice in the book of Esther as Christ-Sophia. “Her name isn’t spoken, but it is Christ-Sophia moving in the hearts of people, giving Esther the wisdom to do what Godde asks. It is Christ-Sophia who gives Esther the courage, and it is the presence of Christ-Sophia that changes the heart of the king to accept Esther as she is.”

Rev. Dr. Harrison applies the Esther story to our lives, saying that some of us are living a privileged life. “And we see the people wailing outside the gate. How many of us are willing to hear what the needs of the people are? How many of us are willing to give a kind word? How many of us are willing to share the wisdom we have? Think about how we can go down to the wall. Why are the mothers crying? Because their babies were taken away. Because of inhumane immigration practices. Because there’s a wall.”

“We are tired of being tired. But we can’t be so tired we go somewhere and lie down. We have to stand up. Stand up against injustice. Let us find the courage and energy we have in Christ-Sophia to stand up and speak out. Because it’s for such a time as this.”

On Saturday morning Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison also challenges us in her workshop titled “Don’t You Forget About Me: Black Female Issues Rarely Addressed by Society in Her Context.” Here is her workshop description:

“Black females are the foundation of America. We nursed our babies and the master’s babies at the same breast; we nurtured and trained the master’s children hoping to keep our children from being sold further into slavery. We walked away from slavery but remained slaves of our husbands, families, and a society that refused to acknowledge our presence, our power, and our debilitating issues. Over the years, we have learned to stand tall and speak up through our actions rather than our voices. During the Civil Rights movement, it was our tired and sore feet that desegregated buses and marched for equality. We did not become a major part of the early feminist movement because so many of the issues did not pertain to us. We love America; we would die for America. And now we ask America, ‘Don’t you forget about me!’”

Drawing from womanist theology and literature, Leslie begins with a famous quote from Alice Walker: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”

Leslie names some experiences in the history of African American women:

  • oppressed
  • voiceless
  • misrepresented
  • miseducation of children
  • deletion of role models
  • distortion of image
  • alienation from known history
  • dehumanization of race and culture
  • Middle Passage—slaves, bonded servants
  • separation from family and neighbors
  • stripping of identity
  • increasing of inner strength

She continues by naming and celebrating some African American women who laid the foundation of feminism and womanism and some who are continuing this work:

  1. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, author, orator, social reformer and founding member of the National Association of Colored Women
  2. Katherine Ferguson, whose freedom was bought by a friend for $200, and who established the first Sunday School in New York
  3. Sojourner Truth, who delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851
  4. Esther Cooper Jackson, civil rights activist, social worker, and founding editor of the political and literary journal Freedomways
  5. Claudia Jones, immigrant from Trinidad, journalist who wrote against gender and racial discriminatory practices, whose best known piece was “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman”
  6. Mary Church Terrell, advocate for civil rights and the women’s suffrage movement, charter member of the NAACP, one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women
  7. Angela Davis, emphasized triple oppression of racism, sexism, and classism experienced by black women, who said: “ I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept. “
  8. Anne Moody, author, civil rights activist, who wrote Coming of Age in Mississippi about her experiences growing up poor and black
  9. Amandla Stenberg, actress, created video “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows,” calling out the appropriation of black culture: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as black culture?”
  10. Solange Knowles, actress, singer, songwriter, uses music as her form of activism, number-one album titled A Seat at the Table
  11. Alice Walker, author, activist, introduced word “womanist” to emphasize exclusion of women of color in early feminist movement and to focus on the intersectionality of racism, sexism, and classism

Leslie further emphasizes that womanism focuses on the experience of black women and the well-being of all. She says, “I refuse to be an ‘angry black woman.’ I’m an energy conservationist.”

My thanks goes to Dr. Christy Sim for the photos from the Gathering.

Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison

Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison is a listener, a friend, and a voice for the voiceless (until they find their voice!). She recently completed her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy at Eastern University. Her Master of Divinity is from Palmer Theological Seminary. She is an Itinerant Elder of the African American Episcopal (AME) Church. As a life coach, she is passionate about helping people live into their dreams and purpose. Leslie currently works as pastor and chaplain at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and in its hospice program. She is vice-coordinator of the CFT Council. Among Council members and in our online community, Leslie is beloved for her gift of earnest and eloquent prayer.

 

 

 

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