31 May 2013

May 21 Early Influence Endure by Mary E. Hunt

Posted originally on Feminism in Religion Forum

Attention all campus ministers, youth workers, student chaplains, and assorted colleagues who work with young people: A number of leading women in the Protestant world began their work in and around the student movements. Their lives show that your work lasts forever!

Sara M. Evans’ edited volume Journeys that Opened Up the World: Women, Student Christian Movements, and Social Justice, 1855-1975, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003) includes many of their stories. It is dedicated to Ruth Harris who was its “organizer and cheerleader” when the authors met in person and on the phone to reflect on their lives. Ruth Harris, a longtime feminist colleague who worked very effectively in the United Methodist Church, died recently well into her 90s. Looking at her life and her impact on others made me think about how early influences endure through a lifetime. For many women in religion, experiences in various student movements were formative in ways that shaped their careers and contributions to the world.

Ruth was born in Nebraska in 1920. She studied music, and then applied to the Women’s Division of the Methodist Board of Missions to become a teacher. She trained at Scarritt College, a women’s school in Nashville that prepared students for domestic and foreign church work. Her church work began in China in 1947 and continued through active participation in the civil rights movement.

She served the United Methodist Church both in the Women’s Division on student issues and later for the Board of Missions as first executive secretary of University World. She was a tireless supporter of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and one of the guiding forces behind the development of the Methodist Mission Intern Program. Countless young people got their ecumenical starts in programs and projects in which she was active.

Ruth Harris was a modest giant among women at 475 Riverside Drive in New York City, the Interchurch Center, where many of the mainline Protestant churches had their headquarters for decades in the twentieth century. Some are still there. The stories of the early women in those bureaucracies deserve a book that I hope someone will take on soon while there are still people to interview.

The great United Church of Christ leader Valerie Russell, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ's Office for Church in Society and former head of the City Mission Society of Boston, got her start in the YWCA. She became the assistant to Dorothy Height who was head of the National Council of Negro Women. They and many other YWCA women put eradicating racism at the top of their agenda. Val Russell, a lay leader like Ruth Harris and so many others before the ordination of women really caught on, died at age 56 after a career fuller than many who live to riper ages. She touched many young women’s hearts and minds. Her story is in the book thanks to Letty Russell’s writing.

Margaret Flory was a Presbyterian wonder who has written books of her own. She worked in that church’s bureaucracy starting the Junior Year Abroad, Frontier Internship in Mission, and Bi-National Service groups. Her ecclesial offspring are legion, her influence profound around the world which is more tightly connected because of her work. I met her when I was appointed to the Frontier Internship Program in the late 1970s. Ruth Harris was the Methodist funder of that “experiment in mission” which sent so-called “creative young Christians” (we FIs debated each term!) to places where the Protestant churches did not have missions. Margaret liked that I was the first Catholic participant. My years as an FI in Argentina turned me into a global citizen and an ecumenical, later interreligious, stalwart.

I thought of these women when I attended a recent SCM-USA 2013 National Leadership Conference in Chevy Chase, MD (suburban Washington, DC). Young colleagues came from around the U.S. and abroad for a long weekend of training and strategizing. One SCM colleague from India shared her region’s work. These seminary and college women and men are revitalizing that movement in ways that I predict will catch fire. Professor Rebecca Todd Petersled off the speakers with a presentation on contemporary ethical challenges.

Senior Friends of the WSCF met together and with the students over the same weekend to talk about ways of supporting this important work. One concrete expression was the donation of copies of the Journeys book to each student so that they could link their own journeys with those who went before them. Several Senior Friends, notably Alice Hageman, a retired feminist minister and lawyer, and Jim Palm, retired longtime director of the Stony Point Center, told poignant stories of own rich histories of involvement in this movement for peace and justice and how it shaped their lives.

I was struck by the comments of one young gay man who spoke of problems in a local student group over his sexuality. I was happy to point out to him that of sixteen authors in the Journeys book I could assure him that at least five, and probably more, were lesbians. They include the incomparable Charlotte Bunch, who cut her justice teeth on the student movement in the 1960s, founded the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and went on to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President Bill Clinton. I alerted this young man and the rest of the group to the fact that they follow in the large footsteps of powerful, many of them ‘out’, women.

Read the book to see how many of the women pioneers trace their roots to Ecumenical Student Conferences in Athens, Ohio, or to YWCA sponsored antiracism events. Lots of links to Duke University in the 1960s and 1970s make clear that some campus pastors there were on the job. Duke alum Nancy D. Richardson tells about the influence of the YWCA and related progressive groups on her formation. She became involved in campus ministry and student services at Boston and Harvard Universities. She was one of the founding co-directors of the Women’s Theological Center (WTC), which in turn shaped dozens of women in the field into feminist activists/academics.

The threads are interwoven as people meet one another, begin to read and discuss the same authors, take courage and example from one other’s activism. Today’s dynamics are similar. Plus, we have technological possibilities our foresisters never dreamed about. One especially fun, creative example was the thirtieth birthday conference (yes a real conference) that my friend Emily Goodstein,  held at Hillel at George Washington University. It was informative, imaginative, and did I say fun with extra funds and donations going to Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC on whose board the celebrant serves.

Take heart that today the digital, Skype, Webcast, and even in-person meetings that religious leaders develop for and with young people are shaping lives for the long run. If they are half as successful as the amazing people and events that preceded them we are in good shape as a world.

May 15 Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, and Spiritual Healing by Gina Messina-Dysert

Originally posted on Feminism and Religion.

Recently I had the great pleasure of presenting on the WATER Teleconference Series and dialoguing with women from around the world about how to promote healing in a rape culture. Likewise, in a previous post I discussed rape culture in the Church and its impact on victims of sexual violence and the greater community.  Within a rape culture, those who experience sexual victimization endure physical, emotional, and spiritual wounding. It is a victimization unlike any other, and one that we must continue to discuss in search of healing.

This topic is important to me for obvious reasons. As a woman, mother, and social justice activist, I am passionate about eradicating gender based violence.  This said, I also have direct experience with this brutality that plagues our society. Having worked with rape survivors for more than a decade, I have witnessed the suffering endured as a result of such violence.  My own mother died prematurely as a result of sexual and domestic violence; having come to learn of the horrors she lived through has greatly impacted my understanding of the deep spiritual wounding experienced due to our culture of shaming and blaming – our rape culture.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

May 14 Courage Needs to Make a Comeback to Create Change by Mary E. Hunt

Posted originally on National Catholic Reporter.

Courage is an old-fashioned virtue that comes in many forms: physical, social and political. I have paid attention to it of late -- both its absence and presence -- in the hope that highlighting courage will make it multiply. A dose of courage would go a long way toward solving many ecclesial and civil problems.

Same-sex love is increasingly seen as part of human diversity, but ugly incidents continue to remind us that courage is still needed to love freely. Nicholas Coppola had been an active parish volunteer at St. Anthony's Parish in Oceanside, N.Y. He visited the sick, taught, raised money, acted as a lector, even served at the altar as an out gay man. Then someone anonymously reported to the local bishop that Coppola had married his partner.

This prompted an auxiliary bishop to inform the pastor, a Jesuit, that "it would be of concern" if someone teaching in a Catholic parish were known to be married in a same-sex union. Fair enough -- congratulations are in order for the happy couple -- but that was not what he meant. The pastor, claiming no options, relieved Coppola of his volunteer duties. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions in support of this generous man who only wanted to serve. Oddly, the bishop of the diocese of Rockville Centre mailed the signatures back without explanation.

I do not know any of these people personally. But what if some of them had acted courageously, standing up to a bishop who made a questionable pastoral judgment based on a timid tip? Both the pastor and the auxiliary bishop who did the dirty work for the bishop could have resisted. Imagine if either had refused to participate and simply told the local bishop he could deliver his own ultimatum to a faithful church volunteer. The shame alone might have stopped this unspeakable incident from occurring.

Feminist philosopher Mary Daly said as a person learns to swim by swimming, you get courage by acting courageously. She meant every dimension of the tautology. Agreed. It takes a certain gumption that these fellows apparently do not have -- at least not yet.

Others have it. The Rev. Thomas Ogletree -- a theological ethicist, Methodist minister and retired dean of Yale Divinity School -- officiated his son's same-sex wedding. Conservatives in the United Methodist Church are protesting the act.

"Sometimes, when what is officially the law is wrong, you try to get the law changed," Ogletree said. "But if you can't, you break it."

Thomas Ogletree said of his father, "He does the right thing because he believes in doing the right thing. And then, if there is any question about that, he is willing to stand up and place a claim for that in a public way."

That is a succinct definition of courage one parent passed on to his child.

Some people develop courage eventually. Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Religious, revealed recently he was not involved in the discussions that led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to order a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an order that precipitated a massive negative reaction. By his account, the Vatican situation was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. He admitted humbly with obvious regret that at the time, he "didn't have the courage to speak." Pity, because it might have averted a major rift that will take a long time to repair. But now that he has summoned the courage, I hope the dynamics will begin to change.

Basketball player Jason Collins displayed what one sportswriter called "social courage" by coming out as the first openly gay man in a major professional sport. Good for him. Billie Jean KingMartina NavratilovaBrittney Griner and scores of other out lesbians in the women's sports world did not merit calls from the president and well-wishers by the thousands, but I will save that for another day. The point is that courage, wherever it is exhibited, is cause for celebration.

Hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo are a contemporary profile in courage. Regardless of their alleged crimes, it is high time to close the prison. Witness Against Torture has an active petition campaign designed to spur President Barack Obama to courageous action. What remains to be seen is just what the president's moral tipping point is in a complex situation. Guantanamo is a long, drawn-out political disaster that has been simplified quite dramatically by the unspeakable force-feeding of courageous inmates. Sometimes courage comes too late.

Anne McGrew Bennett, one of the great pioneers of feminist theology, was courageous on multiple levels. She was arrested for disorderly conduct trying to speak with draft records officials in 1970; was relentless in her efforts to bring about inclusive symbols and images in Christian prayer, worship and theology; and was a founder of the Gray Panthers.

"She insisted on things that other people postponed insisting on," her son said. Timing is all in acts of courage.

I ponder how or if one can compel another to act courageously. Do we have the right to expect that mere human beings will surmount self-interest and act for the common good? I am not naïve about how complicated many decisions are -- weighing competing goods, preventing bad outcomes, limiting damage, and all the other complexities that make up a moral calculus. But I do know courage needs to come back into fashion in a big way in our wired time if we expect positive change.

[Mary E. Hunt is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual in Silver Spring, Md.]  

30 May 2013

June 12 Teleconference with Monica A. Coleman

MonicaColeman“Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought” Wednesday, June 12, 2013 1 PM – 2 PM (EDT)

 Monica Coleman’s writings focus on the role of faith in addressing critical social issues. She writes about church responses to sexual violence in The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence. In Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology, Dr. Coleman discusses inter-religious responses to the joys and pains of black women’s lives. She is the co-editor of Creating Women’s Theologies: A Movement Engaging Process Thought. In her most recent edited work, Ain’t I a Womanist Too?: Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought (Fortress Press, May 2013), Monica traces this new movement within religious studies with deep roots in the tradition of womanist religious thought while also departing from it in key ways.

A scholar and activist, Monica A. Coleman is committed to connecting faith and social justice. An ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. Coleman has earned degrees at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and Claremont Graduate University. Monica is currently Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions as well as co-director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. She is also Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

As a survivor of rape, Monica became committed to speaking out against sexual violence in 1996. She founded and coordinated “The Dinah Project,” an organized church response to sexual violence, at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, TN.

Because of her work with religion and justice, the interdenominational preaching magazine The African American Pulpit named Dr. Coleman one of the “Top 20 to Watch” – The New Generation of Leading Clergy: Preachers under 40. Coleman’s articles have been featured in a variety of publications including ESSENCE, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Philosophia and Aspire: Women of Color Study Bible.

She blogs on the intersection of faith and depression at and writes a biweekly column, “Women, In Flesh and Spirit” at, the website named by Newsweek as “the place to get smarter about religion.” She has been featured as an interviewed guest on NPR, blogtalk radio shows, and She teaches weekly Bible study in her local church, and speaks widely on religion and sexuality, religious pluralism, churches and social media, mental health, and sexual and domestic violence.

Recommended reading and video related to this teleconference include:

 "Must I Be a Womanist?" Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion

 "Ain't I a Womanist Too?" Inaugural Lecture at Claremont School of Theology (Video)

Email "Register Me Teleconference" to by Tuesday, June 11, 2013 in order to receive dial-in information.