Women

Book Explores 'God's Radical Notion' of Feminism

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. 

Key Domestic Violence Resources

In “Naming the Sin,” (Sojourners,December 2013) Michelle D. Bernard seeks to answer this all too important question: Are churches doing enough to stop domestic violence — or are some churches enabling it?

Check out these resources to help you and your faith community address the sin of domestic violence, including this video that shows the first step to ending the cycle of abuse — telling survivors, “I believe you.”

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What Good Is a Ph.D. for Reading the Bible?

Kjetil Kolbjornsrud / Shutterstock
A close-up of a christian woman reading the Bible. Kjetil Kolbjornsrud / Shutterstock

When I was a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University’s New Testament program, I had the honor of preaching at an ordination service for a classmate who was being ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Following the service, a number of my classmates asked me why I wanted to spend four-seven years working on a Ph.D. in New Testament when I clearly had a "gift" for preaching. I responded that it was actually my academic study of the Bible coupled with my life experiences that illumined and enlivened my preaching.

I did not grow up reading the Bible. I was almost 19 years old and a U.S. Army soldier stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany when I purchased my first Bible. A series of life-changing events led to me "accepting Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior." A few months after purchasing my first Bible, I attended a revival service at a local church. I returned to post that evening describing the service to fellow soldiers, who, along with myself, comprised a group self-identified as the "Soul Patrol." We were African-American Christians who strongly believed in the necessity of Christian evangelization.

Women and Taboos: Leaning In, and Getting Frank About Faith, Sexuality and the Bible

In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.

In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith,  40 women under 40 address head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church. 

In her book Lean In, author Sheryl Sandberg notes that while women are outpacing men in colleges and graduate schools, one cannot see this translate to positions of power within corporations. For this imbalance to be righted, Sandberg asserts that women must take charge of their circumstances: “The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person. We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”

This is no less true of women in the church, and leaning in is exactly what the essayists of Talking Taboo are doing.

While Sandberg focuses on issues such as long work hours, daycare, and more flexibility for working moms, the common, though not exclusive, themes of Talking Taboo are sexuality and biblical interpretation.

Alternative Seasonal Reading

THE DAYS shorten and the scriptures get wild and woolly and Advent begins. Meanwhile, the secular holiday season builds in a frenzy of car commercials (does anyone really get a car for Christmas?), sale flyers, and often-forced cheer. Here are a few books—memoirs, spiritual writings, and art—that can be interesting, grounding, and inspiring companions for a complicated time of year. (They also are much easier to wrap than a car.)

LIFE STORIES

Good God, Lousy World, and Me: The Improbable Journey of a Human Rights Activist from Unbelief to Faith, by Holly Burkhalter. Convergent Books. Decades in political and human rights work convinced Holly Burkhalter that there couldn’t be a loving God—until she became a believer at age 52.

Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write, edited by Marybeth Christie Redmond and Sarah W. Bartlett. Orbis. I was in prison, and you listened to my story. Moving works from inside a Vermont prison.

God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith, by Phil Madeira. Jericho Books. Nashville songwriter, producer, and musician Phil Madeira offers lyrical, wry observations on faith and life, from his evangelical roots to musing on a God who “knows she’s a mystery.”

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, by Christian Wiman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Wiman, a poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, tells of his harrowing illness and a return to faith.

The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s, by Jeanne Murray Walker. Center Street. A moving, honest, and often surprisingly hopeful account of a writer and her sister accompanying their mother as she experiences dementia.

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Works of Economic Fiction

JAMES DOBSON and Kurt Bruner get three things right in their recent novels Fatherless and Childless: Euthanasia is wrong, married couples should make time to have hot sex, and stay-at-home moms should get some respect.

Pretty much everything else in the novels, the first two-thirds of a trilogy (book three, Godless, is due out in May 2014), is way off and internally incoherent. The plot starts in 2042, when an aging population and economic malaise have motivated the government to legalize euthanasia. Businessman Kevin Tolbert, recently elected to Congress, lectures his peers about the need to stop euthanasia and encourage parenthood in order to revive the economy. His wife Angie’s high school friend Julia Davidson, an allegedly progressive and feminist reporter, is assigned to write a story about him (lecture alert). Meanwhile Kevin and Angie struggle (with mercifully few lectures) with their third child’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. Subplots deal with a disabled teen and an elderly dementia victim who turn (or are pushed) to euthanasia.

Actual euthanasia, as disability-rights groups such as Not Dead Yet have documented, often turns on society defining “dignity” according to physical ability and health instead of the innate value of a human being. These novels, however, ask us to believe the main impetus for euthanasia would come from the drive to reduce the federal deficit, to deal with “swelling entitlement spending.”

What spending? The novels’ elderly and disabled characters are drawn or pushed toward euthanasia because of family financial troubles: There is no mention of any Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid help going to any of them.

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Naming the Sin

Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock
Zwiebackesser / Shutterstock

JULIE OWENS had no way of knowing that, within days of saying her marriage vows, she would become a victim of domestic violence. She grew up in a Christian home. Her father was a pastor. Her brother was a pastor. Her uncles were pastors. Her parents had a beautiful and enduring marriage. She was well educated. She was well traveled. And she was deeply in love.

During her honeymoon, Julie quickly realized that her husband now believed he owned her, a belief that would soon be followed by verbal abuse and, toward the end of their marriage, physical abuse.

The abuse began with an irrational jealousy. Then the name-calling began, along with accusations of infidelity. He isolated her from her friends and family. He showed up at the school where she worked as a special education teacher to “check on her.” Later, he started taking the car keys away from her. He even cut the spark-plug wires in their car so that he would always know her whereabouts. He threw dishes at her, disconnected the phone in their rural home, and threatened to harm her, their pets, friends, and even their unborn baby.

Three months into the marriage, Julie knew that his behavior was not normal and the couple separated.

Over the course of the next three months, she went to marriage counseling while her husband went to substance-abuse counseling. In search of help, she spoke with counselors, pastors, and others—yet not one of them ever uttered the words “domestic violence.” Instead, she was told that her husband was dealing negatively with “stress” and that he was “acting out” because he was raised in an abusive family.

Julie believed what the experts told her.

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Called to Lead

IT IS EASY, and a lot more comfortable, to identify and name dysfunction outside your family. It’s an entirely different endeavor, however, to label inappropriate behavior in your own home.

That’s the situation I find myself in as a lifelong member of the black Baptist tradition—one that, by and large, refuses to ordain women ministers and call them into the pastorate. I can no longer keep silent. My spirit won’t let me be quiet about a system where injustice is nurtured.

Women are the backbone of African- American Baptist congregational life, yet they traditionally have been blocked from ordained ministry. I’ve watched this for years in Kentucky where I was born, raised, and currently live; experienced it in other places where I have resided; and heard the same story from Baptist female colleagues in ministry around the country. The same is also true in many white Baptist congregations, such as those affiliated with the Southern Baptist tradition. But I’m speaking here about the world I know personally.

Ironically, some of these black congregations and pastors who are unwilling to honor God’s call on the lives of women seeking ordination are the same ones who are quick to name a plethora of injustices perpetrated against black people as a race, and to demand quick resolution.

Doors for women called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have opened a little in recent decades. More women are being licensed, the precursor to ordination in the Baptist structure. But the process usually stops there, and women are left patiently waiting to be blessed into the fold. These “ladies in waiting” are allowed to lead ministries, teach, and occasionally preach, but rarely permitted to go beyond that.

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Vatican: Female Cardinals Aren't 'Even Remotely Realistic'

Cardinals enter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2013 at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

The Vatican on Monday moved to quash speculation that at least two women would be among the cardinals that Pope Francis will name in February, saying such a move was “not a realistic possibility.”

Over the weekend, Irish media reported that Francis could name Linda Hogan and Mary McAleese as cardinals. Both are associated with Trinity College in Dublin: Hogan as a professor of ecumenism, and McAleese, the former president of Ireland, as a former professor.

Some Italian media that carried the story speculated that Cecile Kyenge, the Congo-born Italian minister of integration, could be a candidate as well. Kyenge is a devout Catholic and a graduate of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

Could Pope Francis Make Women Cardinals? A Pipe Dream, and an Opening

Cardinals enter “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, March 12, 2013, at Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”

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