28 July 2010

Where God Has Placed a Comma

As part of our internships at WATER, Ikhlas, Elizabeth and I took a “field trip” to the United Church of Christ DC headquarters this summer, where we met with the Rev. Dr. Mari Castellanos, an esteemed member of the UCC church and social justice activist, who is policy advocate for domestic issues at the UCC.

Dr. Castellanos welcomed us warmly with a stream of information about the church: commercials, literature, inclusivity, focus on social justice, all of which impressed me with their broad welcome, clearly stated core beliefs and progressive outlook. “God is still speaking,” as the UCC unofficial motto goes.

A few days later, I saw UCC principles in action at the wedding of Sue, my godmother, and her partner Claire in Chicago. The ceremony was held at Wellington Church in Chicago: we were invited to “come as you are.” Like the UCC church, the wedding incorporated many different traditions, including Cherokee poetry, readings from the Bible, Cris Williamson songs, Shakespeare sonnets, and the poems of Khalil Gibran. An impassioned call that the marriage, though not recognized in the eyes of the state of Illinois, was legitimate in the eyes of UCC was met with cheers from the congregation.

The progressive interpretations of the Bible, combined with a welcoming community, illustrated to me the importance of women’s theology, ethics, and ritual. We lit candles on the altar, sang songs, and responded to the call to worship. The brides’ vows were even different from the usual I do’s and reflected their belief systems.

I was reminded of the unofficial UCC creed: never place a period where God has placed a comma; I was also reminded of the other UCC phrase: God is still speaking; indeed, everyone with a voice who wanted to contribute may speak in the UCC church.

27 July 2010

New Book from WATER!!

New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views
edited by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu

Feminism has brought many changes to Christian churches. From inclusive language and imagery about the Divine, to an increase in the number of women ministers, churches will never be the same. Yet, even now, there is a lack of substantive structural change in many churches and a certain complacency within denominations.

The contributors to this book are the thought leaders of the future who are shaping, and being shaped by, the emerging directions of feminist Christianity. They speak from across the spectrum, and from the many racial and ethnic groups that make up the Christian community. Taken together, their voices offer a starting point for building new models of church and society.

Issues covered include:

  • Feminist Theological Visions
  • Feminist Scriptural Insights
  • Feminist Ethical Agendas
  • Feminist Liturgical/Artistic Frontiers
  • Feminist Ministerial Challenges
A must-read for anyone in Christian ministry, as well as religious feminists in and beyond the Christian tradition, and church-based study groups. (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 300 pages, $24.99 plus s+h).

To order book click here.


Elizabeth Speigle

I love the color green. I also love water, and WATER! I am a sociology major with women’s studies and religion minors at Goshen College (IN), entering my final year this fall. I have many, many ideas about what to do afterwards… and will take forever making a decision, as per my personality. Women’s choir is my absolute favorite activity in college, though doodling in class would be a close second. I’m from Harleysville, PA, and grew up in the Mennonite church. I also love photography, reading Barbara Kingsolver, and giraffes.

Nellie Beckett

I am a rising first year at Smith College in picturesque Northampton, Massachusetts. I plan to study English, political science, religion and women's studies. During my time at WATER, I have not only engaged in critical feminist theology and social justice but perfected my cake-baking, coffee-making and table-setting skills.

Ikhlas Saleem

I'm a senior at Wellesley College majoring in Religion with a focus on development and social justice. I'm from the Islamic tradition. Like Elizabeth, I'm scattering to formulate post grad plans, which I hope will involve some type of travel! When I'm not "working" on future plans I enjoy watching Mad Men, reading historical novels and walking around the city. As I'm from Atlanta, Ga, Summer is my favorite season of the year and my time at WATER has made it that much dearer to me.

22 July 2010

Updates at WATER!

The WATER office has been busy, busy, busy this summer updating and revamping our social networks to keep YOU better connected. We hope you have found the posts to Mary E. Hunt's articles and other information on our blogs helpful and convenient.

WATER intern Elizabeth Speigle, Diann Neu and Zelinda Fouant have been working diligently for weeks on updating and reorganizing our website,, and creating our eNewsletter which you should have received yesterday.

These social networks help to keep you connected with WATER, but we also want to hear from you! So, indulge us and follow us on twitter @WATERvoices, become a fan of our fbook page It's up to you, choose your medium.

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Cry For the Catholic Church

Argentina's legalization of gay marriage is a defeat of the Roman Catholic church every bit as much as the political opposition.

By Mary E. Hunt

Two women drinking coffee together in a Buenos Aires cafĂ© during the dictatorship (1973-1983) could have been arrested merely for being together. Today they can marry. What a difference a few decades can make. Eva Peron was right in her address to her people from the balcony, as crooned memorably by Madonna in the movie Evita: “The truth is I never left you/All through my wild days/My mad existence/I kept my promise/don’t keep your distance…”

To continue reading article click here.

14 July 2010

Catholic Prof Teaches that Same-Sex Marriage is Violation of ‘Natural Law’

By Mary E. Hunt

Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was not rehired for the Fall 2010 semester. He claims that his right to free speech was violated when he taught a course on Catholic theology that included the notion that same-sex relationships are in violation of natural law. He made no secret of the fact that he agreed with the institutional Catholic Church’s teaching and by all reports offered no other Catholic positions on the question.

Predictably, the institutional Church is unhappy, conservative media including the local Fox affiliate are all over the story, and Dr. Howell is being supported in his efforts at redress by the Alliance Defense Fund. The Fund was created in 1994 in response “to the urgent need for the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom” by religious leaders including Bill Bright, Larry Burkett, and James Dobson, among others. “Their prime concern was the dramatic loss of religious freedom in America’s courts and the resulting challenges to people of faith to live and proclaim the Gospel.” It is a good guess that a court case is in the offing.

To continue reading article click here.

Vatican to Equate Women’s Ordination with Priest Pedophilia?

A document to be released later this summer is reported to include the ordination of women in the same category as sexual abuse by priests.


While Protestant churches like the Presbyterian Church USA have their annual gatherings in the summer, the institutional Roman Catholic Church, with no such meetings to worry about, uses the season to issue documents from on high. According to published reports, the Vatican is soon to release new norms that govern matters of sexual abuse by clergy. (Ho hum—but wait, there’s more.) They are expected to include the ordination of women under the delicta graviora, the same category of grave sin that governs sexual abuse by priests. Cue the music of doom!

To continue reading article click here

12 July 2010

Summer Teleconferences

Here at the WATER office this summer we have continued our series of teleconferences, this time featuring speakers from our upcoming book, New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views, edited by Mary Hunt and Dianne Neu, due to be released this July. So far, we have had teleconferences with prominent scholars Victoria Rue and Rosemary Radford Reuther. Listed below are brief summaries of the discussion topics and links to listen to the teleconference. There is also a reflection by Laura Downton, a recent graduate of Princeton Seminary, who came to visit the WATER office for the Rosemary teleconference. Please enjoy and feel free to continue the discussion on the blog or any thoughts you may want to share. We look forward to having you join us for our next teleconference on September 15, 2010 1 p.m. EDT with Professor Tracy West of Drew University.


Thanks to Victoria Rue for a wonderful conversation on “This is My Body: Feminist Ministries at the Grassroots.” Victoria talked movingly and insightfully about her hospice work (“a chance to love”), her liturgical work as a Roman Catholic woman priest at the Sophia in Trinity Catholic Community in San Francisco and her theatre work as a writer and director where she weaves life journeys with justice concerns. Feel free to listen to the conversation, use it for teaching or discussion. It is on our Web site under the heading "Monthly Teleconference Series"

Victoria has suggested the following resources:; her Web site; the site for her ministry; the site for the RCWP organization

Among her publications are:

CancerBodies: Women Speaking the Unspeakable, Feminist Theatre Enacts Feminist Theology (Doctoral dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, 1993).
Acting Religious: Theatre as Pedagogy in Religious Studies (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2005).
• Victoria Rue, "This is My Body” forthcoming in New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views edited by Mary E. Hunt and Diann Neu. (Skylight Paths, 2010).

• She also recommends: Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. 2001).


Thanks to Rosemary Radford Ruether for leading our conference call. It was a wonderful chance to hear her sweeping overview of the field of feminist theology. Much of that part of her presentation can be read in her chapter entitled “Feminist Theology in Theological Education” in the forthcoming (this month) volume New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views edited by Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu, available through WATER.

Rosemary mentioned a number of resources. Two that she singled out are:

1. African Women, Religion and Health: Essays in Honor of Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye, Isabel Apawo Phiri and Sarojini Nadar, editors, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006.

2. Taiwan’s Buddhist Nuns by Elise Ann DeVido, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, June, 2010.

Among Rosemary’s many publications is the invaluable three-volume Encyclopedia of Women in North America, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006. It is 1,464 pages and not inexpensive, but every institutional library should have it for a comprehensive look at and interpretation of the various topics covered.

Rosemary also spoke of her recent experiences in Taiwan. What a fascinating scene it is with Buddhist nuns growing in number and influence, feminist theologians teaching and organizing, students being exposed to feminist work in their regular studies. It is about time we organized some sharing trips so that lots of women, in addition to scholars, can find ways to exchange information and experiences. Three of our colleagues—Audrey Lockwood, Donna Quinn, and Ikhlas Saleem—raised variants on the question of how to involve/include young people and those who are not privileged educationally.

Another topic was whether male scholars (and, I would add, activists) “get it” when it comes to feminist theology. This is a hard question, but one that remains to be discussed as efforts to be inclusive as often met with resistance or simply being ignored.

We are grateful for Rosemary’s continued stalwart leadership.


By Laura Markle Downton, M.Div

I was first introduced to the WATER network through Diann L. Neu's contribution to Dissident Daughters: Feminist Liturgies in Global Context (ed. Teresa Berger) entitled “Come, Sophia Spirit,” just before beginning my first year at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Hungry for a connection to women-church and for spiritual resources to accompany me on my feminist journey, WATER was a welcome discovery! Since that time, as a result of the information sharing on the WATER listserv, I have attended gatherings such as the “Women, Religion and Globalization” conference sponsored by the MacMillan Center at Yale University last fall, and received a scholarship to attend the “Women and Power: Connecting Across the Generations” conference hosted by the Omega Institute.

Recently I relocated to Silver Spring, MD and discovered that the WATER office is literally around the corner from my home. This has enabled me to be a part of the monthly WATER meditation and just this week, to join the WATER network in teleconference with Rosemary Radford Ruether. While discussing the future of feminist theology in theological education, Ruether swept us into the presence of the vibrant and liberating work of Buddhist and Christian feminists in Taiwan with whom she has more recently been working.

During the call, Mary Hunt pulled down a mountain of Ruether's books from the shelves of the WATER office library, creating a visual representation of Ruether's prolific contributions to the field of feminist theology. This visual reminder is one that will remain with me for its exposure of the absurdity of theological programs or discourses that treat womanist, feminist, or mujerista theologies as an intellectual afterthought rather than as a rich, complex field of scholarship.

As a result of WATER, these opportunities have expanded my imagination as I have encountered a chorus of voices of women from diverse locations, generations and traditions redefining power relationships to build a world of inclusion and wholeness. I am grateful to WATER for building these invaluable global bridges of connection that make a new world possible.

Resources for further information on the conferences can be found here and here.

Ikhlas Saleem, Elizabeth Speigle, and Nellie Beckett (Summer Interns, L-R) with stack of Rosemary's publications:

Marriage: Sacraments and Politics

Mary E. Hunt

Catholics have sacramental understandings of marriage and ordination to which they are entitled. But the institutional church is not entitled to foist those on the rest of the population. On ordination they do not even try. On marriage I suspect they will fail.

Marriage is a many-splendored thing. There are myriad definitions of what is a dynamic and changing phenomenon. It is not hard to recall when women were considered inferior partners in marriage, when marriage between persons of differing racial groups was not allowed, indeed when rape was permitted in marriage. Social institutions change, but the need for community and the imperative of finding loving, just and generous ways of organizing ourselves as a society remain constant. Marriage is one among several ways to do that.

Read the full article by Mary E. Hunt in the National Catholic Reporter.

09 July 2010

Women Deliver: 2nd Global Conference 2010

By Ikhlas Saleem, Summer 2010 WATER Intern

As an intern for the summer with WATER, I had the amazing opportunity to attend two days of the three-day Women Deliver conference commencing on June 7-9th in Washington, DC. The conference featured several speakers, including former CNN chief international correspondent and anchor Christiane Amanpour, actress Ashley Judd, Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates (who pledged 1.5 billion) and of course we musn’t forget the 3,200 participants, women and yes, a few men, that traveled from around the states and 146 countries to share their experiences and contribute to the MDG5. In addition to the participants, five UN heads participated: UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, and UNAIDS.

There were a multitude of workshops and panels devoted to maternal and newborn health, family planning, HIV and AIDS, development and empowerment, etc., but what was most intriguing is Women Deliver’s awareness that for these concerns to even be realized, it requires addressing the cultural and religious norms that exist for women living in various regions. Our own Mary Hunt presented at a panel on “cultural agents of change delivering for women.” The main purpose of the panel was to bring forth the perspective of different cultural agents of change, taking into account regional and gender balances, and how they deal with maternal mortality. Here, Mary discussed the need for us to begin deconstructing prevalent dominant patriarchal theology and gives shape to a society where women are continuously mistreated and left with few options to assume control of their own health. Other panels explored young women and their environments, delving into issues of their physical environmental conditions as well as economics and family and societal pressures. There was also a discussion on the negative response from the religious right, both in America and abroad, resulting from the post-1994 Cairo conference.

The Women Deliver 2010 Conference reminds us that women have delivered and are continuing to deliver solutions for girls and women around the world. Thus, the focus of the conference was not only developing ways in which to fix problems with women’s healthcare, but rather on sharing the contextual solutions that already exist, making sincere connections, overcoming the barriers and challengers to women’s health and determining sources of funding that can assist in promoting and advancing these solutions. Countless stories have shown us that when women are provided adequate resources and support, women deliver.