VAWA expired back in February, leaving shelters and survivors worried about their futures. However, on March 7, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced an expanded version of VAWA in the House. While it’s been introduced bipartisanly, it’s almost entirely supported by Democrats, who comprise 110 of its 111 co-sponsors. VAWA is reauthorized every five years and with each new reiteration has been expanded to offer new services for communities and individuals that are suffering. In the latest proposed legislation, many Republicans object to assisting two of the communities designated for special protections: Native Americans and transgender individuals.
I spent the first 18 years of my life blissfully assuming all Protestant churches allowed women to preach. At my home church, a tiny Presbyterian (USA) congregation in San Antonio, women spoke from the pulpit as often as they brought lukewarm casseroles to Sunday potluck. But when I left home for college, another first-year ambushed me in the dorm kitchen with his mouth full of 1 Timothy, bursting my egalitarian bubble. While I have since memorized the scriptural justifications for my equal existence and participation in the church, a new study by Church Clarity reveals that I am still far from living in a world where all Protestant churches allow women to lead.
The work of liberation is long and hard, but music is one way we are sustained and renewed. I asked women in the throes of decolonization, activism, community organizing, pastoring, and liberative writing what songs encourage them as they engage in the work of justice and resistance. Here are their responses.
Perhaps now, more than ever, Christians need to redefine their relationship to rage — particularly women’s rage. The nation watched Dr. Christine Ford testify about her alleged assault while maintaining a gracious demeanor whereas Brett Kavanaugh was allowed to rant about his supposed mistreatment. This double standard stems from centuries of social conditioning, as well as a rather sexist interpretation of the Bible that argues women are to be silent and submissive.
The urgency of this #MeToo moment, especially its potential disruption of normative social behavior toward women, has led to the challenging of inter-communal attitudes including those expressed by religious institutions. Congregants from diverse establishments of faith, including Christians and Jews, have come out in opposition of not only the repression of sexual abuse victims but against clerical power structures. Muslim women, who are often spoke of rather than to, are also using this moment to advocate on behalf of themselves and each other.
On the 20th anniversary of her canonization, we have the opportunity to reassess St. Edith Stein’s life and legacy. Instead of remembering her simply as a tragic victim, we can take a deeper look at the work she undertook during her lifetime. Over the course of four decades, Stein dedicated her life to civic engagement and political resistance. From volunteering with the Red Cross in World War I, to participating in the women’s suffrage movement in Prussia, to fighting for equal educational opportunities for women, to writing against the rise of the Nazi regime, Stein is much more than the “Holocaust martyr” – she is the patron saint of political resistance.
Do you feel powerless to challenge and change the deeply entrenched privilege that was on display last week? Don’t give into that feeling. You have the power to change the world. Look at how it’s changing already.
Asking for a friend …
To start: listen.
Christian leaders, on the whole, have failed to address the abuse and assault experienced by more than half of all Christian believers. When was the last time your congregation dedicated a sermon or service to sexual harassment, assault, and abuse? If you are fortunate enough to have experienced such a service, you’re the exception to the rule. Despite attending all sorts of churches within a variety of denominations and despite sitting through countless sermons, I have not once heard violence against women addressed in any significant capacity. I’ve heard homilies on the Leviathan, the Nephilim, and the dimensions of Noah’s ark. I have not heard a single sermon confronting a problem that affects nearly every woman in every congregation, and around the world
Start here: “You are beloved.” “You will recover.” “God is with you.”
“Worse health outcomes, especially among pregnant women. A jump in emergency room usage. More communicable diseases. Higher poverty and housing instability, including among U.S. citizen children. Lower productivity. Reduced educational attainment. And ‘downstream and upstream impacts on state and local economies, large and small businesses, and individuals.’ What are all these terrible things? They’re all potential consequences of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule—according to DHS itself.”
I doubt the evangelical response to Tamar would have been as enlightened even though she had “proof.” The rhetoric would look more like this: Tamar took advantage of Judah at a time of grief for her own economic gain. She should have had her father speak to Judah about his negligence first and given him a chance to defend his action. They would cite what a good family Judah came from, being the son of Jacob and the great-grandson of Abraham. Except for selling his brother into slavery, he’s been a model citizen. They wouldn’t dare validate Tamar’s subversive act as a form of social justice, as a call for repentance and redemption
Despite the lack of coverage her faith has gotten, the influence of Christianity on her advocacy has remained constant. It is often difficult for people to associate Christianity with activism because it has become so weaponized, she says. “Christianity has been co-opted by people who have a political agenda, and have a very particular narrative that is steeped in racism, and classism, and sexism, and all of these other forms of oppression,” she tells me, “I’m the kind of Christian that recognizes who Jesus was — and Jesus was the first activist that I knew, and the first organizer that I knew, and the first example of how to be in service to people.”
Although New York state has passed $15 minimum wage legislation, there are thousands of home health care workers, mostly immigrant women of color, who are paid only half of the hours they work.
Epifania Hinchez, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in her 40s, worked as a home health care worker for 17 years in NYC. The heavy-lifting – her last patient weighed 290 pounds and could not walk – required in her job led to shoulder and wrist injuries, as well as nerve damage which has required surgery. For her entire career as a home health attendant, she has only been paid for 13 hours of her 24-hour shifts.
In the midst of recent public sexual assault allegations – including those against various church leaders – some Christians bring up the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. While the ostensible reason for these references is to remind us of the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” in protecting the accused, the implicit purpose and functional result is to discredit victims. If we can find a woman in history who lied about sexual assault, the insinuation goes, then we should hold off on deciding anything until all the facts are in.
JUDITH CASSELBERRY'S ORIGINAL LOVE WAS MUSIC. She has been a guitarist and vocalist her entire adult life, including a 1980 to 1994 stint as part of the duo Casselberry-DuPreé. She now performs with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely. She has shared the stage with Sweet Honey in the Rock, Odetta, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, and Elvis Costello, among others.
Along the way, while still performing, Casselberry earned her bachelor’s degree (in music production and engineering) and then, a few years later, a master’s in ethnomusicology, during which she discovered a passion for teaching. So she went to Yale, earning a doctorate in African-American studies and anthropology in 2008. She is an associate professor of Africana studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, teaching courses on African-American women’s religious lives, music and spirituality in popular culture, music and social movements, and issues in black intellectual thought.
Casselberry’s forthcoming book, The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism (Duke University Press), employs feminist labor theories to examine the spiritual, material, social, and organizational work of women in a New York-based Pentecostal denomination, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith (COOLJC). In the course of her research, Casselberry immersed herself for more than two years in the life of True Deliverance Church in Queens, N.Y. She spoke by phone with Sojourners senior associate editor Julie Polter in late January.
Sojourners: You examine the “religious work” of women—including prayer, teaching, care for the sick and grieving, liturgical music and movement, and guiding converts. Why did you choose this framework?
Because for her, designing clothes for Muslim women is less about a modest fit and more about carrying out an Islamic ethic. Of course, it’s also about style. “The modest fashion industry didn’t have anything that was speaking to the fashion-forward and edgy Muslim girl,” Ijaz says. “They’re all speaking to a person that I would see as my mom or my aunt.”
“I am so pro-protest and call-out and raising hell. I feel it coming,” one Auburn graduate and Alabama native, who recently moved to Minnesota, told me.
"I think the opportunities to act on these convictions for the good of others will continue opening. I hope they do. I’m ready for them.”
She called for the end of "the boyfriend loophole," referring to the 20-year-old Lautenberg Act that barred individuals who are married, in a domestic partnership, or have children to own guns. Outside of that realm, domestic abusers are still allowed to own guns.