to do justice blog

Reflecting on Theological Giants

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James H. Cone. Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary, NYC

On Saturday, like many people across the country, I heard the news that James Cone had passed. Serving on the Union Theological Seminary faculty for almost fifty years means that Dr. Cone literally taught generations of seminarians, and I was fortunate to be one of those folks.

I still remember the first day of his systematic theology class, in the first semester of my first year of seminary. Sitting in that lecture hall in 1992, with nearly 100 students and watching him take the podium and explain to us that he was a the-o-lo-gian (in his classic, high-pitched, Southern drawl), and what that meant for him as a scholar and a black man from Arkansas, was highlight of my seminary career.

He taught the contemporary “half” of the systematic theology course which focused largely on the twentieth century, but he came alive when lecturing about liberation theology! As the father of black liberation theology and one of the leading liberation theologians since the publication of his 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power, Cone had a front-row seat for the development of liberation theologies across the globe from the 1960s through the 1990s when I had him as a professor.

He could be an electric lecturer, and more than once, his weekly lectures ended in standing ovations. It was inspirational to learn about the liberation theology from a man who knew personally most of the people whose work he taught. He told personal stories about their lives and their work and made the social contexts out of which their positions developed come alive.

Cone’s own development of black theology was a response to the notion that Christianity was “the white man’s religion.” He responded with an adamant, “No! The Christian gospel is not the white man’s religion. It is a religion of liberation, a religion that says God created all people to be free.”

This message, which is at the heart of all liberation theologies—that Christianity is a religion of liberation—is what drew me to Union Theological Seminary to study with the giants of the field at the time, including Beverly Wildung Harrison, James Cones, Delores Williams, and Larry Rasmussen.

While giants in the field, they were also folks, and folks are flawed—all of us. Cone was criticized throughout his career for his failure to adequately address his own sexism (though he had been persuaded to use inclusive language by the time I had him in class). Likewise, my mentor, Beverly Harrison, struggled with her own internalized racism throughout her career as well. I learned from these theological giants both the importance and necessity of liberation theologies that transform our faith, our life, and our world as well as the reality that we all fall short in this lifetime. In watching these mentors, I learned the necessity of always being on the lookout for my own demons and shortcomings.

The liberation insights I learned from Cone and others are foundational to my own feminist liberation ethics and particularly informed the argument in my new book, Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice. Like Cone, I refuse to cede Christianity to those who seek to own and define it in ways that reject liberation and freedom. In my case, I refuse to cede Christianity to the pro-life voices who insist that Christianity is against abortion.

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The Danger of Evangelicals – It’s Not About Hillary Anymore

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leirbagarc / 123RF Stock Photo

We Didn’t Have a “Choice”

In the aftermath of the 2016 election many evangelicals claimed that with Hillary on the ballot, they had no choice but to vote for Trump. One prominent evangelical went so far as to systematize and categorize the many reasonsthat evangelicals dislike Clinton.

Apparently, there are six such categories ending with the simple “we just don’t like her.” It has become a well-worn fact that eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. A statistic that absolutely floored me and many other non-Evangelical Christians after the election.

Trump is the “Dream” President – Really?

However, the fact is Hillary has virtually disappeared from the national political stage and Evangelicals continue to support Trump in record numbers undermines any credibility that white evangelicals are “values voters.”  At least with regards to any values that I have ever known to be associated with Christianity.

Jerry Falwell Jr. even dubbed Trump evangelicals’ “dream President.” This is baffling to anyone familiar with the traditionalist politics and rhetoric of the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority, which was spearheaded by Jr.’s father, was notorious for its moralizing against gays and lesbians, feminists, abortion, and other issues deemed “sinful” by Falwell’s conservative, traditionalist brand of evangelical Christianity.

But, it appears that philandering, participating in prostitution, sexual assault and generally boorish behavior are ok with Falwell and his crowd of evangelicals.

This new generation of evangelicals – the Trump-evangelicals – don’t seem to care about personal character at all. Their primary interest in promoting an ideological agenda of capitalist individualism has eclipsed any capacity to recognize the common-sense values of decency, kindness, and radical love of the stranger that marked the ministry of Jesus.  The man these men claim to follow.

Ideology Trumps Christianity

While I have no love lost for their fathers (Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell), the fact that the sons – Franklin and Jerry, Jr. actually supported the campaign of Roy Moore in Alabama, who was largely regarded as a sexual predator, raises serious questions about the morality of this generations evangelical leaders.

The fact that evangelical support of Trump is at an all-time high now, 18 months out from the 2016 election speaks to a deeply dangerous fact about evangelicalism in America today. Ideological commitment to capitalism and individualism has “trumped” the majority of evangelicals ability to recognize the radical call of the gospel and the prophets to love of neighbor and shaping our society in ways that care for the least of these.

Christian Values I was Taught

I think about the words of the benediction that my father spoke at the end of every service while I was growing up:

Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is a simple but profound message of what I learned is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

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Paul Ryan Surprised to Find Christianity is Political

 

House_Chaplain_Patrick_J._Conroy

Two weeks ago, Paul Ryan fired Father Patrick J. Conroy, the first Jesuit chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Father Ryan is also the first House chaplain ever to have been fired.

Conroy was nominated for the position in 2011 by Speaker of the House John Boehner in consultation with Nancy Pelosi and has been reelected every two years at the beginning of each new session of the House.

While Conroy was not given a reason for being asked to resign, he did note that a prayer he offered in November as Congress was debating the new tax bill caused a surprising response from the Speaker’s office.

His prayer included the following:

May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. . . May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.

The following week someone from the speaker’s office chastised Father Conroy saying, “We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political.” Not too long after that reprimand, Ryan told Father Conroy directly, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

Conroy countered, “That is what I have tried to do for seven years. It doesn’t sound political to me.” And yet, this prayer was the first time anyone from the speaker’s office had ever accused him of being “too political.”

What’s going on?

At its core, what this controversy highlights is an ongoing divide in this country over what it means to be Christian. This is not a struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism (Ryan and Conroy are both Catholics) but a struggle between an understanding of faith as a private affair focused on individual piety and salvation and faith as a community endeavor focused on promoting the common good.

As a lifelong Presbyterian, I look for candidates for public office who are also concerned about addressing poverty, racism, social exclusion, violence against women and minorities (including sexual minorities) and other social problems that ravage our communities.

As a Christian ethicist, I believe that all people of faith bring our faith commitments and beliefs to the public square when we debate public policy and legislation and that we should. The faith commitments that we hold naturally shape how we think about economic and social policy.

My faith as a progressive Christian is rooted in the social gospel tradition of Jesus’ championing of the poor and marginalized and the Hebrew prophets insistence that the community care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – those who are most marginal in our society.

Jesus and the Poor

Jesus didn’t say to the lame, “Rise up and go get a job!” or to the poor, “If you only worked harder you could care for your family!”

No. Jesus recognized that the structures of his society were unjust. He also recognized the vagaries of life and that circumstances of ill health, untimely death, a lost job, or other tragedy are part of life. When he said “the poor you will always have with you” (John 12:8), it was not an invitation to accept the reality of poverty as an inevitable fact of life. Rather, it was an assessment of the injustice inherent in human societies and a challenge to us to do better. A challenge to us to do what Deuteronomy 15 calls us to do:

“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. . . . Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.”

Poverty in the U.S.

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What is Progressive Christianity?

 

to do justice cover

The term “progressive” has long been used to represent an understanding of Christianity marked by an awareness of social sin; a consciousness of institutional and human potential and shortcomings; and, an emphasis on the church’s mission to engage the world.  The root of the term is “progress” and denotes the ways that humans over the centuries have become more conscious of our common nature and our common needs and acted out of compassion and our concern for justice to address those needs. Rather than focusing on charity alone, progressive Christians seek to transform the social systems and economic structures of society that marginalize people and the natural world. The term “progress” does not imply a single, uniform social goal.  Progressive Christians draw upon a variety of rich resources (Christian teachings and tradition, science, experience, social sciences, philosophy, etc.) to gain a greater understanding of the problems that we are facing and to work in collaboration with others to help our society, our world, and the church to make progress towards God’s vision of a new earth.

Progressive Christianity and scripture

Progressive Christians find firm footing for their social justice pursuits in scripture. At the heart of the biblical witness are the concepts of justice, covenant, and hospitality.  Prophetic books have provided us with some of the most memorable verses referring to justice in scripture.   The prophet Micah gives one of the clearest and most memorable references to God’s concern for justice.  In the sixth chapter of Micah, God challenges the Hebrew people to remember how God acted to liberate them from the oppression of the Egyptians in the Exodus.  God called people like Moses to lead them from bondage toward a more promising future. Micah challenges the Hebrew people to remember God’s justice as the foundation of human action.  What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? (Micah 6:8) Jesus is remembered in the gospels as standing within a larger Jewish prophetic tradition. Through his teachings and actions Jesus resisted the unjust laws of his time that served to marginalize and oppress. He reminded others of their larger commitment to God’s covenant relationship; a covenant implying the responsibility to seek justice for the most vulnerable.

Our common narrative as a faith community in rooted in the covenant relationship that God established with creation.  This covenant tradition begins with Noah, is renewed with the descendants of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and again by Moses on behalf of the Israelites. The covenant tradition implies, not only a relationship between God and the people of God, but it implies that the people of God are a community bound together by bonds of kinship, faith, and responsibility. Through God’s covenant the whole creation experiences God’s blessing.  The term “blessing” is often misused in contemporary conversations to refer to individual economic and material well-being. Biblical notions of covenant and hospitality fly in the face of the dominant social attitudes of power, responsibility, and individual freedom.  The New Testament describes the actions of Jesus in the world as renewing the covenant between God and God’s people to enjoy God’s blessing, one in which the believing community is not only accountable to their kin and to God, but they are charged with offering hospitality to their neighbor. As Jesus interprets the Great Commandment “to love your neighbor as yourself” in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, Jesus challenges his listeners to remember their hospitality codes and obligations to include strangers, enemies, and those who are in peril. Jesus did not say, “Help those who are deserving.” Rather, quite the opposite. In Matthew 25:34-40 he instructs his followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit with prisoners. The call of Christ to offer hospitality in the world is rooted in the common humanity that we all share as children of God.

Progressive Christianity’s Impact on Society 

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/todojustice/2018/04/07/what-is-progressive-christianity/#WhW3HUI2b3KVGguy.99

Will You Go to Church on Easter?

aisle-bench-cathedral-161060Will I go to church on Easter?

I guess it’s only fair to answer that question honestly myself before asking readers their take on the question.

The best answer I can give today is probably? (And yes, there is a question mark in my voice when I answer).

Like many progressive Christians, I often struggle to go to church.

Why go to church?

It’s not really the getting up on Sunday mornings instead of sleeping in or relaxing or reading a book or talking a walk. I like to do all of those things and I find all of them restorative and sometimes sacred acts. After all, I’ve getting up and going to church on most Sundays for fifty years now.

I know its popular to say things like, “I feel as close to God in nature as I ever could in church” or some such variation. And I know that to be true too. There are many places where I feel the presence of the sacred and where I feel it is possible to celebrate and praise that which I experience as holy and numinous in the world.

But there is more to going to church than praising God. I know, right? Given the dominance of “praise music” it’s sometimes hard to remember that these days. Maybe that’s one of the reasons “praise music” annoys me so much (well, that, and the insipid, patriarchial, Jesus-centric lyrics).

So, of course, one aspect of church is praising God or the divine or the sacred or whatever you choose to call that which you believe/revere. But it is so much more than that. To think that the divine needs or desires our praise is so anthropocentric. The holy does not have an ego that needs to be stoked, folks – that’s us – humankind.

I believe that going to church is largely about two things – being community to one another and opening ourselves to hear the divine word from others. Neither of which we can really do by ourselves, in the woods or wherever else we might choose to spend our Sunday mornings (or whenever your worship time might be) by ourselves or with our intimate others.

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Does it matter if my ancestors owned slaves?

This week marks the 124th anniversary of the slave uprising in Haiti, which played an important role in the abolition of chattel slavery. Sunday, August 23rdis the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition. It is a day where the world is asked to pause and consider the legacy of slavery and the power of social movements like abolitionism.

Growing up in the US American South as a white child, I learned about slavery in particular ways. Living in the midst of battlefields, patriotic statues of Civil War generals, and family stories of burying silver as Sherman’s troops approached, shaped me in unknown ways. The cotton fields of my childhood were a visual reminder of the back-breaking labor that had fueled the economy, not just of the southern states but the whole country in its early years. Slavery was an embarrassing history lesson in which my ancestors had fought on the losing side of the American Civil War.

As I got older, I read slave narratives and histories of slavery, watched documentaries and movies and visited museums where I saw the instruments used to torture people on a regular basis. As I learned more about the brutal reality of slavery, I realized that my understanding of it had been deeply shaped by my experience of being white.

As a white woman, I wondered how my ancestors answered the questions of racial justice in their time and in what ways my life has been affected and even enriched by the hardships and injustice that were suffered by enslaved Africans. I wondered if anyone in my family had owned slaves.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter if my ancestors owned slaves. After all, my privilege as a white woman in the U.S. in the 21st century is real, whether my ancestors owned slaves or not. The horror of slavery transcends race and nationality in much the same way that genocide anywhere is a stain on the human community.

I vividly remember the palpable feeling of the moral evil that emanates through the slave castle of Elmina in Ghana and the slave chambers near the Zanzibar slave market. As I walked through the “Door of No Return” that leads down to the tiny holding room in Elmina where hundreds of people were forced to wait for the boats that took them to the Caribbean and North America; I became a living witness to the horror of what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

Looking around that damp, dark, and death-filled space where unspeakable evil occurred for over 300 years, I thought about the fact that it was white Christians who built castles like Elmina and who perpetrated and profited from the slave trade for centuries. White Christians, who were quite possibly my ancestors, sold and traded their brothers and sisters while worshiping together in churches that often sanctioned and blessed the trafficking in human flesh. Their wealth and prosperity and the wealth of their countries was built up through the sin of human exploitation and oppression.

Acknowledging the moral depravity that was complicit in the existence and promotion of slavery as well as the Christian justification for slavery is an essential foundation for thinking about the contemporary problems of racial injustice that shape life in many countries around the world. Whether or not my ancestors owned slaves, I am accountable for my complicity in the racial injustice in the world today. Knowing and teaching about the slave trade is important in a world that is still rife with racial disparity. The crippling poverty of contemporary Haiti can only be understood in the context of the political history of the Haitian people. Likewise, the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States must be read against the historical backdrop of slavery and its legacy in which black lives have not mattered nearly enough.

When my father died fifteen years ago, I came across a faded newspaper clipping that mentioned that a distant ancestor of mine had owned a slave. While this fact was only a passing reference in the article, it’s the only thing I remember.

I do not know the ways in which slave-owning benefited my ancestors or what ways it may have contributed to my own class privilege. Certainly, the fact that one of my distant ancestors owned a slave does not make me culpable for his actions. What does matter is that, as a white woman, I develop a racial consciousness that recognizes the relationship between historical oppression and contemporary injustice; a racial consciousness that can identify the ways in which my Christian faith has been used to oppress black people and to justify slavery; a racial consciousness that propels me to fight against the contemporary racial injustices in our world.

Remembering the slave trade and the abolitionist movement is particularly important for historically white churches in countries that were part of the slave trade during the WCC Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace. We must remember and lament our complicity in the slave trade because our memory and our grief honor the countless victims who suffered and lost their lives. This lamentation is particularly important in contexts, like the Southern United States, where a glorification of the “Old South” seeks to gloss over the atrocities of our history under the guise of “celebrating our heritage.” The horrific murders at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC this summer can only be understood in the context of racial hatred that simmers beneath support for the Confederate flag.

Remembering the abolition movement is equally important because it offers us hope and a model for widespread social transformation even where that social change will disrupt the entire economic order. If ever we needed hope that that sort of social transformation is possible, it would be now – in the midst of a neoliberal economy that is causing widespread immiseration around the world.

During this week of remembrance, we would do well to ask ourselves why it is important to remember the slave trade and the abolition movement in our own contexts.

This was first posted on the WCC Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace website.

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What Christian Feminism Can Teach Us About Dealing with Our Racist Past

In many states across the country, annual Democratic Party fundraisers are promoted as Jefferson-Jackson dinners to honor the two men often credited as the founders of the Democratic party. A number of states are beginning to drop the Jefferson- Jackson link in the face of increasing interest in racial and gender inclusion.

In the midst of a country where black lives appear expendable and some white people are unable to recognize that memorializing their ancestors should never be done in ways that celebrate the Confederacy and its’ mission of defending slavery – the question of how we handle our past is a question we have yet to effectively grapple with as a nation.

Jefferson’s revolutionary commitment to democratic equality established the foundation of our country’s independent spirit in the Declaration of Independence, in his words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” His writing was poetic and inspirational and his words have served to motivate and encourage generations of Americans to uphold and fight for the principles of freedom and equality as basic human rights.

The problem is, Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves. Not only was their labor and immiseration the foundation for his own tremendous wealth and social position, he carried on a long-term relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. While Hemings left no record of the relationship or her feelings about it, as his property she would have had no choice in the matter.

What do we do with the seemingly contradictory realities that Jefferson was committed to freedom and equality AND that he held slaves?

Of course, it wasn’t just slaves who were excluded from the Revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Women were not allowed to own property and were, in fact, treated in many ways as the property of their husbands under coverture laws that cast wives as subservient to their husbands.

And let’s not forget Andrew Jackson who is credited as the first Democratic President and one of the founders of the Democratic party. Not only did he own slaves, he helped usher the Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress and oversaw the removal of Native Americans from their lands via the brutal and genocidal Trail of Tears.

Were Jefferson and Jackson heroes or villains? It’s complicated.

History is complicated. Life is complicated.

As a woman, I have to live in a world whose history is overwhelmingly misogynist and patriarchal.

As a Christian woman, I was born into a religious tradition that has sanctified misogyny and institutionalized patriarchy.

As a Christian feminist, I have chosen to stay in my tradition despite this history. After all, given how deeply these problems are embedded in the history of the world, rejecting everything associated with misogyny and patriarchy isn’t really an option.

Christian feminism offers some insight into thinking about various ways to “deal with” oppressive histories.

Let’s start with the Bible.

I love the Bible.

Yes, it is full of violence against women. Yes, most of the female characters are denied voice or their stories are told for them. Yes, there are passages that have been interpreted in ways that have hurt women through the ages. Yes, there are some passages that are simply rude, demeaning to women, and in my estimation, simply wrong (I’m looking at you Paul and pseudo-Pauline writers!).

The Bible is also full of wisdom, and insight, and justice and compassion. It is a text that has shaped history and guided civilizations. It is a text of power and inspiration. I love to study it – on my own, in dialogue with other scholars, and in small groups of people committed to God and justice and to making the world a better place.

Is the Bible oppressive? It’s complicated.

I don’t find the Bible oppressive because I have learned how to study and interpret it in ways that are liberating rather than oppressive. We all interpret scripture. Even Biblical fundamentalists and literalists profess a particular interpretation of scripture, even if they think they don’t. Ignorance or denial of interpretation isn’t evidence of the contrary. Rather, it is evidence of a profound misunderstanding of how text functions, especially sacred texts.

My relationship to Jefferson and Jackson is much like my relationship with the Bible and many of the Church “fathers” who said some pretty horrible things and some pretty inspirational things. I study them in a similar way to how I study the Bible. I search their writings, their actions, and their lives for truths that I find meaningful, inspirational, insightful. I study them for what they might help me discover about justice in our own age. I also study them with my eyes wide open to the injustices that they actively caused and those in which they were complicit.

The problem with setting people up as “heroes” is that people are human and humans are flawed. It probably makes sense for states to rename their annual fund-raising dinners. But it doesn’t make sense to deny or reject Jefferson and Jackson completely. The question that we must continue to grapple with as we seek to shape a more free and equal society is how to live with and learn from our past instead of rejecting, rehabilitating, or glorifying it.

Trump, Republican Misogyny, and the Attacks on Planned Parenthood

I must admit that I wasn’t particularly surprised by Donald Trump’s comments to Megyn Kelly during and after the Republican Presidential debate last debate. After all, Trump has a reputation for misogyny and for disrespecting women. Ironically, perhaps, his outburst and attack of Kelly exemplify the very political problem that Kelly was attempting to ask Trump to account for as part of his bid for the Presidency.

Interestingly, Trump attempted to deflect attention from his treatment of women by accusing Jeb Bush of having a “problem” with women. This, too, is no particular surprise. Even before Bush’s most recent statement to a Southern Baptist Convention event in Nashville that, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” the group Ultraviolet shared the following five things you should know about Jeb Bush on their facebook page:

ultraviolet

Hillary Clinton is rightly shifting the attention from Trump’s misogyny to the larger problems about what the Republican party (and the Republican candidates) have to say about women more broadly.

The comments by Trump and Bush exemplify the Republican party’s “woman problem” which isn’t so much as a woman problem as it is basic misogyny. As I said in a recent post, misogyny is the hatred of women. Something quite evident in the attitudes that attempt to engage in sexual shaming (Bush) and in reducing women to animals and/or their sexuality (Trump).

In an event on Monday, Clinton said, “While what Donald Trump said about Megyn Kelly is outrageous, what the rest of the Republicans are saying about all women is also outrageous.”

Hillary is right. Republican attitudes toward women are not only archaic, they are often offensive, paternalistic, and sometimes veiled in a vaguely Christian religiosity that needs to be challenged and debunked.

Let’s start with the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood in recent weeks, which is not only outrageous, it’s downright misogynist.

Republicans across the board have revived their attack of Planned Parenthood in the wake of a campaign by the anti-abortion group “Center for Medical Progress” which has been releasing secretly taped and heavily edited videos intended to manipulate the public’s emotions rather than talk about women’s health.

So let’s talk about women’s health, specifically, women’s reproductive health.

Let’s start with some facts.

Half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

Half of those unplanned pregnancies are the result of contraceptive failure.

Many of the other half happen to women who can’t afford contraception.

More than 19 million women in the US need publicly supported contraceptive services and 30% or 5.8 million of them are uninsured.

Fewer than 1% of women place their children for adoption. The decision to continue an unplanned pregnancy is a decision to raise a child.

Only women get pregnant. Getting pregnant, having babies, and raising children affect women’s health.

The facts are that Planned Parenthood is a significant provider of affordable women’s health care, particularly for poor women, in this country.  78% of their patients have incomes at or below 150% of the poverty level. One in five women in the country will use Planned Parenthood’s services at some point in her life.

Abortions make up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services.

One-third of Planned Parenthood’s services consist of providing contraception and they provide contraception to 80% of their patients.

More than a third of their services attend to the testing and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) which impact women differently from men and can cause sterility and neonatal death if untreated.

The Republican attack on Planned Parenthood is political. It is intended to play to a pro-life constituency and is largely couched as a concern over abortion but Republican dislike of Planned Parenthood goes much deeper than abortion. It’s about the desire to control women’s sexuality and women’s bodies. Single mothers and sexually active teens are topics for shaming and control in too much conservative political rhetoric. The Republican concern over Planned Parenthood is also a concern over providing contraception to women who conservatives, often Christian conservatives, don’t think should be having sex.

The median age that Millenials become sexually active in 17. Planned Parenthood is not causing them to become sexually active, Planned Parenthood is just concerned with making sure they have access to good and accurate sex education and to contraception, including protection from STDs.

These are women’s health issues. Planned Parenthood didn’t invent sex or abortion. But they are responding to the reality of women’s reproductive and sexual health needs better than any other provider in the country. Trying to control women’s sexuality by defunding Planned Parenthood is just one illustration of the problem of misogyny that plagues Republicans.

Anyone who truly wants to reduce the abortion rate in the United States should be rushing to increase the funding of Planned Parenthood so that more women will have access to safe and effective contraception. More money for Planned Parenthood wouldn’t increase the number of abortions in the country, it would decrease the number.

The best avenue for reducing abortions is not bullying women into not having them, it’s helping provide better health care, sex education, and access to contraception so that we reduce the unplanned pregnancy rate.

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Misogyny is Exhausting

Misogyny is exhausting.

Today I have been working on explaining and documenting the history of misogyny and patriarchy in the church as backdrop for understanding the contemporary debate about abortion in the US.

Not only is navigating the history of misogyny exhausting, it’s given me a headache too!

I think it is easy for many Christians to forget how misogynist our tradition has been. Particularly if we worship in communities that accept women pastors and lay leaders.

Misogyny is defined as the “hatred of women.” It’s a pretty bold claim to say that there are elements of our history and our culture that actively express a “hatred” of women. Many people find that language too extreme and would prefer “softer” language – discrimination, prejudice, condescension, disregard, perhaps even objectification (seeing women as sexual objects rather than as fully human equals).

The thing is, throughout history many historians, philosophers, political leaders, and prominent theologians have treated women is demeaning and abusive ways. There is nothing “soft” about the sentiments expressed by many male philosophers and theologians. Nor is there anything “soft” about the social control of women that often accompanies misogynist and patriarchal attitudes.

Here are some of the texts I’ve been working with today:

Tertullian (early 3rd c. CE) – You are the Devil’s gateway. It is you who plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree. You are the first who deserted the divine law. You are the one who persuaded him whom even the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die. . .

Augustine (late 4th – early 5th c. CE) – The woman does not possess the image of god in herself, but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned as a helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God, just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one.

Barth (early 20th c. CE) – The covenant creation dictates a certain order, a relation of priority and posteriority, of A and B. Just as God rules over creation in the covenant of creation, so man rules over woman. He must be A; he must be first. She is B; she must be second. He must stay in his place. She must stay in hers. She must accept this order as the right nature of things through which she is saved, even if she is abused and wronged by the man.

I use these quotes when I teach my students about the misogyny that is embedded in the development, history, and theology of Christianity. These quotes unambiguously establish women as not only inferior to men and removed from God but as the very “Devil’s Gateway.” It seems pretty clear that these men did not think much of women. These statements even seem to be a little “hatey,” don’t you think?

These kinds of ideas – that women are the root of sin and evil, that women must be subservient to their husbands, that women must accept our inferior status in life – all of these ideas are rightly understood as part of a misogynist tradition in Christianity, a tradition that has contributed to larger social attitudes and behaviors in society that collectively express a fairly serious “hatred” of women.

Unfortunately, these misogynist attitudes are not just a part of Christian history, they continue to function in influential ways in contemporary Christianity.

I recently wrote about the offensive ideas about women that some Orthodox Christians hold in the ecumenical movement. But misogynist ideas about women, women’s social roles, and women’s leadership in the church are also alive and well in conservative and some evangelical circles too.

Controversial pastor Mark Driscoll who started the mega church Mars Hill in Seattle said this about women, “Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture.”

And, of course, who can forget the Pat Robertson gem from 1992, “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

WOW! He really has no idea what feminism is about does he?

While misogyny is deeply embedded in the development, history, and theology of Christianity, this does not mean that Christianity is inherently misogynist or patriarchal. It is human beings who shape attitudes and beliefs about human nature, the sacred, and our religions through our teachings and our practices. And it is human beings who have created patriarchal church structures and misogynist theologies. The real danger of these misogynist theologies lies in the way that they shape attitudes about women and the way that women can (and even should) be treated.

Another way in which this hatred of women has manifested in our society is in the double-standard that exists between expectations about men and women’s sexual behavior. While some churches may preach against sex before marriage, it is only women who are truly expected to comply. Women who have sex outside of marriage are labeled in many ways – whore, promiscuous, slut, tramp, harlot, strumpet, bimbo, floozy, hussy, tart, trollop, jezebel, and referred to as “loose” or “fallen.” We do not have parallel words for men.

Because Christianity has played an important role in shaping cultural attitudes about pregnancy, abortion, and the sacredness of life (among other things), it is important to recognize the ways in which the Christian tradition and its theological ideals have been influenced by misogyny and patriarchy so that we can reshape our beliefs and practices to recognize women’s full humanity, women’s moral agency, and the fact that women are equally loved by God.

image Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_passiflora70′>passiflora70 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Why My Heart Breaks When Churches “Leave” the PCUSA

My regular bike ride takes me past a small rural Presbyterian church that has been struggling with a decreasing congregation over the last ten or twenty years. It is the nearest Presbyterian church to our old house and so I have attended worship there several times over the years.

I’ve even preached there once or twice when a friend of mine pastored the church for a number of years and asked me to fill the pulpit when she was on vacation. Like many small churches, they worried about their declining numbers. My friend tried to help them focus on reimagining their role in the local community and how they might be a faithful church rather than to obsess too much over church growth (or lack thereof).

So, I have a connection to this small church and its congregation and always think fondly of them and my friend as I cycle past the church several times a week.

I also know that this church has been struggling with the issue of homosexuality in recent years.

Several years ago I was on an Presbytery panel that focused on “Amendment One” in NC, which sought to define marriage as “between one man and one woman.” I presented an overview of the PCUSA’s support of civil rights over the years alongside a summary of the divergent expressions of marriage in the Bible. I argued that regardless of how Christians felt theologically about the issue of homosexuality, legal discrimination against any group of people is unjust and contradictory to the witness of the PC(USA).

The interim pastor of Memorial Presbyterian was on the panel supporting Amendment One and its proposed discrimination of gays and lesbians.

I can only imagine how members of this church received the recent news that the denomination had voted to allow pastors and churches to celebrate gay and lesbian marriages. I knew that they had been having conversations about leaving the denomination over these changes.

A couple of months ago, the sign in front of the church read “Welcome EPC.” In the world of Christian acronyms, this stands for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church – a denomination created in the early 80s for Presbyterians who felt that the denomination was too “liberal.” I wasn’t entirely sure what the sign meant – were they welcoming members from the EPC to worship? were they welcoming community members to a new EPC congregation? were they testing the waters of transition with their weekly message? Who knew?

Yesterday, when I rode past the church I noticed with great sadness that they had covered over the iconic PCUSA crosses on that very sign. The sign still reads “Memorial Presbyterian Church” but with the erasure of the denominational symbol of the PCUSA, this small church has joined many other churches across the country in leaving behind the mainline Protestant tradition to embrace an evangelical tradition representing conservative values and rigid, intolerant interpretations of scripture.

pcusa cross

My heart broke a little as I rode my bike past that church. It broke for that congregation whose prejudices against gays and lesbians pushed them to leave a community of churches that they have been a part of since their formation. It broke a little for my Presbytery that has now lost another church from our community of faith. It broke a little for the knowledge that it was likely the prejudiced teachings of earlier traditions of Christianity that helped to shape the prejudice and bias that continues to mark this community’s reading of scripture.

I believe that the Christian faith is full of wisdom that can help lead people to live strong, faithful, justice-filled lives rooted in community and compassion for the created world. It is not the only source of wisdom for a meaningful life, but it is an important source that motivates, inspires and helps to heal and guide billions of people around the world.

Christianity can also be used to hurt, exclude, shame, and harm other people. Often by people whose interpretation of Christianity is rigid, intolerant, and exclusive.

As a living faith, Christianity grows, changes, and responds to the world in which it lives. Christians learn from science, from history, from experience, and from people witnessing to their knowledge of the sacred – even when it is different from our own.

In recent years, many Christians have had to unlearn many hateful and inaccurate things that the Christian church and tradition has taught about homosexuality in the past. Many of us have learned from our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters new ways of understanding what it means to be created in the image of God and this has helped us to see and understand scripture in new ways.

These shifts in interpreting scripture are an example of how Christianity continues to live and grow and have meaning for people of faith in our world. Over the centuries we have reinterpreted our understanding of many things that were once thought fixed due to our “interpretation” of scripture – slavery, divorce, the role and status of women, and sexuality are just a few of these.

My heart breaks for Memorial Presbyterian Church and the many other churches who have left the PCUSA and other mainline denominations over the issue of homosexuality. Not because of the continued fracturing of the body of Christ, although that makes me sad too. Not because I think my denomination is best and the churches who leave can’t be faithful Christians somewhere else. Not because they have taken their property and walked away from Salem Presbytery.

What I see is fear and intolerance winning out over justice. And it breaks my heart.