21 February 2014



An hour-long teleconference with
Grace Biskie, Gina Messina-Dysert, Tara Woodard-Lehman, Katey Zeh
February 5, 2014, 1 pm - 2 pm EST

WATER thanks Katey, Gina, Tara and Grace for sharing their chapters and their ideas with us. Following are notes that are meant to accompany the audio version of the event.

Katey Zeh, “A Pregnant Silence,” pp. 186-190
Katey spoke as an advocate for international maternal health. She is part of United Methodist efforts to share resources around the world. United Methodists have supported contraception as a good around the world, but now have to revisit the question of its morality in the U.S. thanks to conservative political efforts against the Affordable Care Act. She questions why some people in the U.S. don’t seem to care about maternal mortality. It is a challenge to get church communities to talk positively about contraception.
Katey made the point that churches fail to prepare people to be moral sexual beings. They tell them what not to do and when not to do it, but they skip over the complex moral decision-making that goes into having a family including family planning, adoption, etc.

Gina Messina-Dysert, “No Women Need Apply,” pp. 93-97
Gina looked at the question of women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. She claimed it was not just a Catholic issue but also a human issue of gender-based discrimination. She spoke of the power of the Vatican in the global community, and the need to acknowledge missing voices at table. She pointed to Karen Torjesen’s book, When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), and Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican (New York, NY: New Press, 2008). She also suggested several organizations that work on these issues including the Women’s Ordination Conference, which produced the YouTube version of “Ordain a Lady” video by Kate Conmy. Another such group is the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement (see RCWP and ARCWP)
Gina said that women’s ordination is a taboo subject in some Catholic circles. Some women have been punished (for example, with problems getting, keeping, or being promoted in jobs). She noted that another important movement in Catholic circles is that which she called the “Discipleship of Equals” approach using Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s phrase, which does not push for ordination so much as the development of base communities in which the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously. Her view is that ordination is a stepping-stone to equality for Catholic women.
Gina reported on the 2012 dialogue between Mormon and Catholic women on ordination. This helped to launch the “Ordain Women” group for Mormons.
In summary, Gina said that while she is not called to ordination, she sees women’s ordination as crucial to end discrimination. She also admitted that there is a long way to go before real changes take place in Catholicism.

Tara Woodard-Lehman, “Broken in Body, Slain in the Spirit,” pp. 74-79
            Tara described some of her own brokenness of body, physical pain and limits.  She said it reminded her of Jesus words, “This is my body, broken for you.” to which she wanted to reply, “Hey, right back at you, Jesus, broken for you.” As a woman, she did not want to expose her vulnerabilities
because women are often called the weaker sex, the weaker vessel.  Moreover, she spoke of how our culture emphasized the language of strength over weakness, capability over disability, thus devaluing the power of vulnerability. Referencing the shadow side of the language of “empowerment,” it easy to slip into myths of self-sufficiency and perfectionism. There is a lot of pressure in Ivy League schools to be perfect and have it together such that many women feel isolated. It is as if speaking of bodily pain is breaking some unspoken feminist code.
Popular culture has a health/fitness focus. Church culture adds faith healing to the mix. After a
spontaneous lung collapse, Tara began to think anew of the Holy Spirit as she integrated the disparate threads of faith. Now she retells the story of what healing means for her and how the Holy Spirit is connected to her body.

Grace Biskie, “A Woman Undone,” pp. 191-198
Grace shared her narrative about being in a hard marriage, being in Christian ministry, studying in divinity school, and feeling tempted to have an affair. She described her efforts to make choices in that situation and how her community helped her. She discussed how she negotiated the situation with her husband, how she dealt with suicidal thoughts, and the idea of leaving her husband and children.
Now that the crisis has passed she is still not back in her degree program, but her position and leadership in her own community have been helpful. She felt that if there had been other women in ministry around her they would have been a source of support for her. By telling her story, she is breaking a taboo about issues that are considered shameful in many communities.

{Editor’s Note—Most of the writers of this book have not met one another. A conference seems in order!  These forty essays by women under forty make a good jumping off place for discussion. MEH}

Gina remarked on the importance of the project and the need to continue conversation. Blogging and other forms of social media are useful. She also spoke of self-esteem issues for so many Christian women.
            Katey mentioned the isolation that one can feel when speaking about reproductive justice. The project helped to alleviate some of that. Speaking out on women’s health and reproductive rights is dangerous in faith communities. Some are drawing back on these issues. One needs a larger community for support when it is tough going within one’s local community.

Calls from participants followed:

1. One caller asked Gina about Roman Catholic structural barriers to women’s ordination. The Presbyterian Church could ordain women in 1950 because there was a structure to do it. Does the Roman Catholic Church have a mechanism to allow women to be ordained?
Gina replied that the tradition focused on why women cannot be ordained and the institution has held on to it fiercely. She mentioned the Roman Catholic Women Priests group whose ordinations she feels should be acknowledged as valid. In fact, there is no structure for lay participation to pressure the clerics-only Vatican in this regard.

2. Another caller loved listening to all of the discussion, the careful wisdom, and the voices flowing into each other. Tara’s remarks helped the caller, who is healing as rape survivor by an Episcopal priest, to move along in her own healing. After 30 years of silence thinking it was her own fault she is now dealing with it differently.
Tara thanked the caller for the courage to name her own abuse. Tara was just back from a retreat with 16 student leaders. She spoke of women apologizing for their own experiences of physical/sexual assault and their fears to name it. She resists the language of strength, but likes the language of courage/guts to start working things out.

3. A first time caller asked Katey if she worked with Planned Parenthood because of the
branding overlap of the term “family planning.”
Katey said that it was used by the U.S. Agency on International Development as well. It means more than just avoiding pregnancy and includes healthy timing/spacing of children. Empowering women to time and to space pregnancies in ways that are healthy is a better phrase than contraception to get people on board.

4. Another caller spoke of the sexuality/spirituality connection, which does not work until women can claim sexuality as a positive good. So much Erotophobia underlies rape culture. The question is whether there is a way in which giving over power to God/the Divine One gives up one’s own power?
Tara said she struggles a lot with this. She recommended Gender & Grace: Love, Work & Parenting in a Changing World by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen as a resource (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990). She described her childhood formation in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition (that emphasizes human agency) and then her move to the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition (that emphasizes divine agency.) She described being in the “arms of God who is much larger than I am.” She distinguished power as vulnerability and weakness liberated from the self. She resists employing masculine language about God.

Grace added that it is not too much of an issue for her because she thinks we have choices to make, that God allows people choices.

WATER thanks these speakers and callers for a fascinating hour. Our next teleconference will be
“Conscience and Calling: Ethical Reflections on Catholic Women’s Church Vocations” with
Anne E. Patrick on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 from 1 pm – 2 pm EST. There is more information and details on how to register on WATER’s website.

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