Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis greets auditors of the Synod on the Family. Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Whether women can, or should, “have it all” —  both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.

But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.

In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.

He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.

At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.

Mariam Sobh 02-03-2015
Photo courtesy of Alexa Pilato / RNS

Friday prayers at the Women's Mosque of America. Photo courtesy of Alexa Pilato / RNS

A downtown Los Angeles interfaith center that once served as a synagogue was the site of a historic worship service last week, as dozens of women gathered for Friday Muslim prayers in what is being dubbed the first women’s-only mosque in the United States.

M. Hasna Maznavi, founder and president of the Women’s Mosque of America, and co-president Sana Muttalib, said they are following the example of women pioneers at the forefront of Islamic education and spiritual practice.

“Women lack access to things men have, professional or religious,” said Muttalib, a lawyer. “I think this is our contribution to help resolve that issue.”

Maznavi, a filmmaker, said women-only spaces have been part of Islamic history for generations and still exist in China, Yemen and Syria. In the United States, nearly all mosques separate the sexes. Women pray in the rear of the prayer hall or in a separate room from male congregants.

About 100 women attended the jumah or Friday prayer on Jan. 30 in a rented space at the Pico Union Project, just a few minutes from the Staples Center.

Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave the sermon.

Photo via bepsy / Shutterstock.com

Cassock for altar server. Photo via bepsy / Shutterstock.com

A Catholic priest who recently took charge of a San Francisco parish has said only boys can be altar servers, a move that is sparking both criticism and praise and comes amid a wider debate over conservative concerns that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”

Casey Fleming 01-05-2015

A pregnant feminist reflects on the need for good male mentors in a society loaded with damaging masculine norms. 

the Web Editors 12-19-2014

1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons 
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.

2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.

3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."

4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.

Kaeley McEvoy 12-11-2014
Cheerleaders at the side of the field. Image courtesy CLS Design/shutterstock.co

Cheerleaders at the side of the field. Image courtesy CLS Design/shutterstock.com

The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are advised by management on which type of feminine product they should use for their menstrual cycle. They are told that they cannot wear clips or tie backs in their hair. They have been asked to perform backflips on demand at an annual golf tournament where men placed bets on which Buffalo “Jill” would ride in his golf cart.

For all these imposed regulations and for hundreds of hours of work, members of the NFL Buffalo “Jills” Cheerleading Squad did not receive a penny of wages.  

In April, five former Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against the NFL franchise for "exploiting the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."  

The worst part of this is: I don’t care.  

When I was growing up I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I barely had a Barbie doll. I raced my brother’s Big Wheel on foot. I never had the desire to stand on the sidelines and cheer for other people, namely men, that were considered more athletic than myself.  

So when I heard the news of the Jills’ unfair treatment, my personal sympathy level was somewhat low. They wanted to be cheerleaders, right? They signed up to wear short skirts and tight tops and dance in front of millions of people — they didn’t have to do that.  

One commentator on the Jills’ lawsuit said, “Nobody forced them to be cheerleaders. They weren't enslaved. Stop with the pity party.”  

And there lies the rub. What’s really at the root of these issues?  

the Web Editors 11-14-2014

1. Interstellar Isn't About Religion (and Also It Is Totally About Religion)
"While the film has a marked admiration for science—it is science, in the end, that helps humanity to rescue itself—it has just as much respect for wonder and awe and what you might call, in the broadest and perhaps even the narrowest sense, faith."

2. Drones Now Patrol Half of U.S.-Mexico Border
In an era of increased security but finite resources, the U.S. government has dispatched Predator Bs to sweep remote areas and detect people (or cows, it seems) entering the country.

3. Why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Is Better Than The Daily Show and Colbert 
Where Stewart and Colbert simply reaffirm shared values, "Oliver’s brand of journalism (which is, of course, couched as cheerful Sunday-night entertainment) often has an actual, demonstrable impact on public consciousness.”

4. The Most Heartbreaking Place in America Is Called ‘Friendship Park’
ThinkProgress’ Jack Jenkins and Esther Boyd traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to chronicle the struggles of immigrant life. In this first piece, they tell the story of immigrants whose only glimpse of family is through an 18-foot steel fence between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

the Web Editors 10-10-2014

 1. A Fitting Nobel for Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi
“The Nobel committee has given an award to a seventeen-year-old, the youngest Peace Prize laureate ever. In one way, that is an act of faith about what and who Malala Yousafzai will become—not only about who she has been.”

2. Lecrae: 'Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers'
"Christians have really used and almost in some senses prostituted art in order to give answers instead of telling great stories and raising great questions," says the wildly successful rapper.

3. WATCH: Columbus Day Under Attack
The Seattle City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with ''Indigenous Peoples Day." Leave it to Stephen Colbert to defend this "traditional holiday."

4. Islam and the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas: The Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck Debate
Sam Harris says, "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas." But isn''t saying this, in fact, scapegoating Islam and Muslims?

Julie Polter 10-07-2014

Paternal Insights edited by Anderson Campbell / Sing Freedom by Robert F. Darden / In Between by finelinefilms.org / More than Metaphor edited by Shelia E. McGinn, Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, and Ahida Calderón Pilarski. 



the Web Editors 08-01-2014

1. Visualization: Casualities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Washington Post is keeping a regularly updated tally of the deaths in the current conflict. The stunning visualization paints a grim picture.

2. I Need Feminism Because…
A Tumblr using the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism made the Internet rounds last week. Sojourners' writer Catherine Woodiwiss offers her take: "In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism."

3. Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight
From The New York Times:"This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [conservatives] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet."

4. Wife Beating Gets a Standing Ovation in Baltimore
"… the sheer gall it takes to celebrate fans’ adoration of a man who beat his fiancee and mostly got away with it indicates the larger problem: The NFL is too big to fail."

5. The New Face of Hunger
One-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat. This powerful photo essay chronicles the stories in three parts of the country. Click through the gallery for the moving images.

6. New Baby Doll Is Anatomically Correct, And Moms Are Freaking Out 
"An outraged mom recently shared a photo of an anatomically correct baby doll on Facebook. I don't get it. When did it become taboo to talk about body parts with our kids?"

7. WATCH: What Would Happen if People in Poverty Received Tabloid Treatment?
A new campaign from a Canada-based service organization puts real people struggling with poverty in the place of the Kim Kardashians of the gossip-mag world. Check out the video and magazine mock-ups.

8. What's the Story of Your First Days in America?
From visiting McDonald's to questioning Southern hospitality, the fascinating series First Days documents immigrants' transition into the U.S.

9. Are You Too Proud of Your 'Natural' Lifestyle?
"While I certainly sympathize with concerns over chemicals and additives in our food, with the degradation of the environment, with the overprescribing of antibiotics and the soaring cesarean section rates, I’m keenly aware that many of the advances now freely scorned by those proudly adhering to ‘natural’ lifestyles are the very thing that make a flourishing, healthy life possible for so many people."

10. A Few Times Vandalism Did the World Some Good
While we're totally not advocating vandalism … the " … or Love the Neighbor as Thyself" response was pretty great. See all of these heroes-of-the-questionably-legal sort at the link.

Catherine Woodiwiss 07-30-2014
Human rights, woman shape. Image courtesy Bombaert Patrick/shutterstock.com

Human rights, woman shape. Image courtesy Bombaert Patrick/shutterstock.com

In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism.

That there’s disagreement over how we talk about women’s empowerment in the U.S. isn’t surprising — feminism is a collection of unique people with unique visions of a good life, trying to figure out how to preserve past and present good, correct past and present wrongs, and forge a new way ahead together.

But it is tragically, perennially clear why speaking up against male-controlled narratives in church or school or novels or movies or business or government, against generations of excused behavior for men and oppression for women, against ongoing systemic injustice is still so crucially necessary.

From reading what these “anti-modern-feminists” have written, I don’t believe any of them would take umbrage with that. It’s a pity, then, they are rejecting the term feminism — their challenges would be great additions to the dialogue. More education and conversation about what feminism is, and how we do it, and where it can go, is clearly needed. Without it, I’m not at all sure how much farther forward we’ll be able to go.

Jon Huckins 06-25-2014
Father with two daughters, Dubova / Shutterstock.com

Father with two daughters, Dubova / Shutterstock.com

I have two daughters.

They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through childlike wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like … every day … day after day … early morning after early morning … nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world.

Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their backs while they sleep and prayed for them.

I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation.

I pray for their past, present and future.

In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the church, and in everyday life.

Suzanne Ross 06-04-2014
Image via Maleficent Facebook page

Image via Maleficent Facebook page

If the new Disney Studios movie Maleficent is, as some are saying, a feminist attempt to redeem images of weak and powerless women in fairy tales, then it is a cautionary tale. Feminism has always been its own worst enemy when it strives to create women in the image of men rather than encourage women to abandon rivalry with men and seek their flourishing elsewhere. This is a story about the redemptive power of a mother’s love. I wonder how many feminists will embrace that message?

In a piece over at Sojourners, Jamie Calloway-Hanauer notes that Steinem frequently speaks of the effects of religion on the feminist cause.
Jason Chesnut 02-17-2014

Word Collage on Stop Violence Against Women. Via mypokcik/Shutterstock

Christian men - males who are caught up in the ancient, raw, and radical Jesus movement, this is to you:

It's high time we say something, do something - good Christian men, stand up. Women are being raped and sexually abused across the world, and we continue to theologically shrug our shoulders. It's just the way it is, we say.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we turn a blind eye to the ways in which our holy scriptures have sanctioned this throughout history.

Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Gloria Steinem at 'Make Equality a Reality' event in Los Angeles in November, Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week, feminist Gloria Steinem said that religion is the “biggest problem” facing feminism today.

Steinem made this assertion in response to a town-hall style question she was asked during an interview with Jennifer Aniston at the MAKERS Conference. The MAKERS Conference was born of the PBS documentary, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” and was held to develop an “action plan to define the agenda for women in the 21st century.”

Steinem was asked, “What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is?” to which she replied, “What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.”

Kelli Woodford 01-02-2014
Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

How about if we put down our dukes and listen? Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

“The less engaged people are, the more they tend to criticize. The more engaged people are, they have far less time [and] energy with which to criticize.”

She might as well have completed the above statement with the dismissive wave I heard in her voice. But she didn’t.

She’s a pastor’s wife. Her bread and butter (and heart and soul) are wrapped up in the local church. I have been there. Perhaps the mile I walked in those shoes helps me understand the sentiment. And I think there is a place for tempering unjust criticism from sources that seem negatively biased. That protects people, sure.

But I can’t let it go at that.

Using a strong scriptural and historical foundation,  self-described “happy-clappy Jesus lover” Sarah Bessey  relates in her book, Jesus Feminist,how the church has responded “to the movement of the Spirit throughout the centuries, and [how] gender inequality is only one more example of justice seeking in progress.” Bessey tells of God’s redemptive love through the ages, and how women have served and are serving their homes, churches, communities, and the world at large to bring forth that love. The power of women coming together — or acting alone — for God is clear: Women, she writes, can move mountains, even if one stone at a time. 

If a world devalues half its members, for every woman who moves a mountain, there will be another woman suffering. Bessey notes the disturbing fact that “Many of the seminal social issues of our time — poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse — can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes, and character of God.” And with that sentence, conviction begins. 

Rose Marie Berger 11-06-2013
In recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, 40  women under age 40 write essays in, what Femmevangelical’s blogger Rev. Jennifer Crumpton calls, “the Christian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.”
Crumpton, interviewed this fall by Fox News' Lauren Green, asks “How can we ‘lean in’ to our faith in a way that empowers us and makes us know that we have a voice, know that we have value and worth, know that we can do anything, even that we can be leaders in the church, even be reverends behind a pulpit?”
Elizabeth Palmberg 11-05-2013

The Fatherless series (book one and two). FaithWords.