This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various religious traditions and institutions. With so much going on, the selected items are the editor's choice. Reporting on good role models is a high priority. The following sections are included in this issue:
The promotion of gender equality in religion is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world religions. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box, which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported, by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.
If you know about recent developments that should be mentioned in this page, please write to the Editor.
Excerpts from Chapter 1, by Christine E. Gudorf, pages 10-13:
"It is not difficult to list the most common forms of violence against women legitimated in world religions. They would be:
"1. Marital rape or enforced pregnancy. Many traditions - Christianity, Hinduism, Islam.... have understood.... marriage as conferring control of women's bodies - or at least their sexual bodies, as in Islam - to husbands....
"2. Wife beating. In many traditions, male headshipp of the family is assumed, if not demanded, and that headship includes the right of husbands to discipline wives as well as children, using corporal punishment among other types of discipline....
"3. Limitations on, or exclusion from, property ownership. Many religions have legitimated unequal inheritance rights for daughters vis-a-vis sons, and some have excluded women from ownership of land....
"4. Sexual harrasment and/or the restriction of women to domestic space. Many religions in the past, and still parts of a number of religious traditions today, have defined .... that women be restricted to the domestic sphere for their own protection.... from violent and predatory males....
"5. Religious exclusion. Within religions themselves, women have been largely excluded from both positions of leardership and access to religious knowledge. Until the last century and a half, all the Abrahamic religions excluded women from leadership and usually from scholarship....
"6. Spiritual inferiority. As if it were not enough that women have been excluded from all decision making and interpretation within most world religions, women have usually been interpreted in religious thought as inferior to men in important ways....
"Obviously, a variety of factors has influenced support for violence against women in religion. It is important to note that these factors do not, for the most part, originate directly in humanity's impulse to religiosity, though religion has often had an important role in legitimizing and sustaining various factors supporting violence against women. Patriarchy preceded the origins of even the oldest of the contemporary world religions, so that contemporary religions came into being in cultures already imbued with patriarchy, a patriarchy that had often been legitimated by prior religious traditions now extinct. Not only did contemporary religions "inherit" a patriarchy that included tolerance of violence against women, but religion also tends to be conservative, in that it passes on, both orally and in texts, accounts of divine activity in the historical world. Those accounts are always socially and culturally situated. Religion's role in preserving revelation, mixed as it is with its historical and cultural context, and the difficulty of distinguishing revelation from context, together incline religion to conserve the cultural context along with the revelation, though this tendency is not absolute."
This web site offers an excellent synopsis (with passage quotations, annotated citations, and links to other web sites) about the status of women in the Bible and in early Christianity. It is structured as follows:
During Old Testament times, when the roles of women were severely restricted
Statements by Christian leaders after the 2nd century CE
Statements by Christian leaders and commentators
Church leaders and commentators, prior to the 20th century
20th century writings/sayings on the role of women
NB: By following these lists of biblical and post-biblical statements, the reader is able to verify the descriptive versus prescriptive passages about women, and the significant discontinuities that must be researched, as pointed out by Daniel Maguire in Section 1.
New book breaks silence on sexual abuse of women by clergy
Stephen Brown, Ekklesia, 20 May 2011
Creative Commons License
In an energetic book launch featuring Jamaican drummers and an Indian 'Bollywood' dance lesson, the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) released a new publication seeking to break the silence on sexual abuse of women by clergy within the church.
Titled When Pastors and Priests Prey, the book aims to raise awareness about identifying, preventing and overcoming clergy sexual abuse of women, according to Christine Housel, General Secretary of the WSCF. "We hope that this effort will begin a cultural transformation within the worldwide church."
The book, which was supported by the WCC Women in Church and Society project, offers insights from researchers, advocates and survivors. Also included is a speech by former President Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World Religions in which he states: "The truth is the male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter."
Dr Fulata Lusungu Moyo, WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, called the compilation "a prophetic project."
For many of the book's contributors, sharing their story became a form of therapy, said Moyo. "When we read their stories, we realise they have moved from being victims to survivors. They have become healers – wounded healers."
One of the book's contributors described the manipulation her pastor used against her after sexually abusing her: "He taught that to follow Jesus Christ meant we must forgive each other every sin against us. He begged me for forgiveness. He blamed me for causing his temptation. I blamed myself and tried to avoid being attractive. Nothing worked."
Even as the book's contributors detail painful stories of abuse, they also acknowledge the clergy themselves can help lead the battle against future sexual abuse by pastors and priests.
In her essay about clergy abusing women in Congo, Esther Lubunga Kenge writes that the abusive acts shrouded in secrecy must be brought into the light. "Those who were hiding behind the silence of victims should face the exposure of their actions to the public. Thank God not all clergymen are rapists," she writes. "God has genuine shepherds of the flock ready to sacrifice their lives for the sheep."
Dr Valli Batchelor, the project's coordinator, said that if the silence surrounding abuse is broken, only then will there be change.
"Victims are often so trapped in confusion, guilt and self-blame," she said. "Women victims are likely to remain silent and, as a result, suffer severe depression and higher rates of suicide."
Inviting women to talk about their trauma was an integral part of compiling the book, said Batchelor, who was born into a Hindu family and then baptised in the Christian faith.
As Batchelor invited IEPC participants at the book launch to dance, she told them she finds that physical movement helps people relax and release trauma. In the book, she writes: "I have found that the dance medium is both expressive of the emotional hurts and needs of violated women and children as well as being cathartic and liberating for the individual in participation in group dramatic dance."
Batchelor believes that the collective global church community needs to face the fact that clergy abuse of women might be taking place in their own community, wherever that might be.
"Many people from churches say, 'Maybe it happens, but not in my church.' I'd like to challenge that."
She said she'd like to see a cultural transformation within the worldwide church. "Sexual abuse is a violent use of power," she said. "It is not an affair – because of that balance of power."
Set against the back drop of the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion, the story follows
the tragic love affair between Luke and Phoebe, whose lives would shape the world for generations to come.
The Story: "In the first century A.D., in the dawning of the Christian world, a young Greek named Luke seeks to prove his worth to
his betrothed - Phoebe, the only daughter of a rich magistrate from Philippi - and sets out on a journey to
Rome. He takes with him scrolls of papyrus given to him by Phoebe to make a journal of his travels.
"During his journey to Rome, Luke encounters a new sect of Christians who spread the word of Jesus by doing great
humanitarian works in His name. Unlike his faith, these Christians accept everyone equally and encourage women to
accept leadership roles.
"He discovers women are important members of the new sect, called "The Way," in large part because the initial
gatherings were held in private homes and not in churches or synagogues. Since women hosted these gatherings, it was
only natural that they be church leaders.
"Luke was drawn to the new sect in part because of his fiancée, Phoebe, who was not satisfied with the confining
role of women in her world.
"Luke arrives in Rome and is stuck by the violence and cruelty of the gladiator games. He ends up giving medical
aid to an injured gladiator, the brother of a follower of the New Way and through him discovers a remedy for the
violence that he has seen.
"Eventually, Luke gains employment as an assistant physician in the imperial palace and there he is tempted by his boss'
daughter Diana. An accomplished artist, Luke paints a detailed portrait of her but in the end he resists the
temptations, vowing himself to his one true love, Phoebe. Later even the emperor Claudius' wife Messalina tries to
endear herself to Luke but when he resists her charms, she vows revenge on him for the humiliation of rejection.
"All around Rome, the world is rapidly changing as the conflict between Jews and Romans spill out into the
streets, prompting Claudius to expel all Jews from Rome, even those of the new sect of Christians. Being a new
follower, Luke is forced out of the city. In the confusion, Messalina's greed turns Claudius against her and she is put
to death as a traitor. The Emperor decrees that any man who shared her bed to be sentenced to his wife's fate. Luckily
for Luke, his expulsion from Rome protected him from being arrested and put to death.
"Luke sets off for home and along the road meets Paul, an Apostle of Jesus and invites him to come to Greece. The two
then travel together to Philippi.
"Back home, Phoebe hears of Luke's sentence of death and not knowing his fate, she consults the Oracle of Delphi. As
fate would have it, Luke arrives not long after Phoebe leaves and the two barely miss each other and Luke follows
her to the Oracle.
"Phoebe's experience at the temple is thrown into chaos when Luke arrives and the medium shrieks – claiming she had a
vision of Luke believing and serving one God. Phoebe and Luke try to make sense of their newfound faith and the idea
that it encourages favorable treatment of women.
"Because of his beliefs, Paul is put on trial by Phoebe's father and despite this, Luke and Phoebe are secretly
married in a private ceremony. On his wedding night, however, Luke is arrested and put on trial for entering
Delphi. During the trial, Diana appears and shows Phoebe the portrait Luke painted of her. Phoebe rejects Luke and
seeks counsel with Paul, who tells her to find her place in the new movement.
"Phoebe finds more than that and becomes a leading deacon in the new movement and eventually is to be sent to Rome as
Paul's pilot. She is not accepted by everyone as the evil Nimrod opposes the involvement of women in religious
matters. In his rage, Nimrod rapes and murders Phoebe, destroying the exulted role of women in the Church at the
"The story ends where it begins, with Luke looking out over the Harbor of Neapolis where, as a recent graduate, he
recalls the gift of a moonflower given to him by Phoebe. That moonflower – which opens at dusk and closes before the
break of dawn – sits behind Luke now as he contemplates his future and future of the moment, and of the tragic loss of
his great love.
"A gripping story that sets a tragic love story against the epic events of history,
The Lost Moonflower is a journey about love,
loss, betrayal and most of all, faith. A cautionary tale of our cruelty and unfairness, it is all an important story for
our times and one that might – like Luke and Phoebe – once again change the course of human events."
Book Review: This novel is about Phoebe, a female deacon in one of the Pauline churches in the early years of Christianity. But it is also about one of the crucial issues in Christian churches today: whether or not women should be ordained to the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate. It is a controversial issue today, as it was when Phoebe was serving the church in Cenchrae (the seaport of Corinth in Greece, late first century CE). Romans 16:1 and Acts 18:18 are at the center of the story, which nevertheless manages to integrate many texts of the New Testament into a tapestry of unlimited divine grace working through humans with limited minds and hearts. Many Protestant churches have gone through the turmoil of ordaining women, and some are still paying the price of internal tensions and bitter debates; patriarchy has a long tail. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches still refuse to consider the issue for reasons that only God can judge but surely have nothing to do with divine revelation. Would Jesus today, in our newly "globalized" world, choose to elect twelve male apostles to represent the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel?
The history of Christianity (as documented, for example, in the monumental Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Viking Press, 2010) is a progression toward deeper understanding of Jesus and his mission (Cf. John 16:12-13), but always in the midst of tensions, misunderstandings and other problems arising from the limitations of the human condition. Patriarchy preceded all the religious traditions that still exist today, and corrupted them all from the very beginning; a corruption that is nowhere more evident than in the Gospels and, in particular, the accounts of how Jesus was crucified by the Romans, at the instigation of the local religious authorities, after a life spent doing good to others and proclaiming God's mercy. The Lost Moonflower is an engaging novel and one that admirably reflects the inner tensions experienced by the early Christian communities; tensions that will continue to challenge the Christian churches as long as they are pilgrims in this world.
The Lost Moonflower could be a source of meditation about the current process of discerning God's will regarding the ordination of women. The Greek Orthodox Church has recently reinstated the ordination of women to the diaconate, albeit only in a very limited way. The Roman Catholic church has not ruled out women deacons, but is not visibly moving forward either. For more information on the cultural and religious issues lurking underneath The Lost Moonflower story, visit the book's web site and check the links to articles on women and their roles as deacons. Given the enormous influence of religion in human affairs, the continued exclusion of women from roles of religious authority is bound to reflect negatively on sustainable human development. If God loves humanity, can this possibly be God's will?
In this book Wadud takes a critical look at Islam and it’s treatment of women and gender relations from a distinctly pro-faith starting point. Wadud converted to Islam while at university in the early 1970s, and since then has grown in her faith and worked in different parts of the world including Malaysia and Sudan. She has come under fierce controversy from fundamentalists for her treatment and discussions about Islam, including the fact that she led a prayer in South Africa and in New York. The book, however, is about a lot more than those events and should be read for more than simply to find out more about the controversies.
What I really loved about Wadud and this book is that she clearly identifies as Muslim and loves the religion and her God. Unlike the other memoirs and discussions by feminists about Islam, this one is very pro-faith and talks about how Islam is a feminist religion and how to reinterpret it and re-read the Koran in a feminist light. It is a very compelling and interesting book.
The author begins by stating that her vision of Islam is not the only or the true Islam. There are many Islam’s as there are many interpretations, and that is how Allah meant it. She says on page 6 in her introduction:
It is just as easy for liberal Muslims to dismiss Muslim terrorists by saying that they are not “true” to Islam. When I engaged in such oversimplification and reductionist claims, I inadvertently implied I actually had the power to express and posses the “true” Islam. The arrogance of this claim allowed me to remove myself from the responsibility of standing against certain evils performed in the name of Islam. … We are all part of a complex whole, in constant motion and manifestation throughout the history of multifaceted but totally human constructions of “Islam.”
Through recognizing the numerous different interpretations and that no one can truly claim the “true” Islam, she says, she was able to grow and learn more and truly express herself and her views. I think this is something that a lot of religions are guilty of, expressing themselves as the only or the perfect interpretation of a certain faith (think Catholic vs Protestant vs United and so on) .
I have to say that with no prior religious study experience some of the book was slightly technical and advanced to me, but it was still very interesting and accessible. The author talks about a lot in this book, and I will really only be able to give a quick overview of some of what I got from this book. I do highly recommend it as a great feminist book about Islam.
A main point that Wadud starts with is language and definitions. With so many definitions out there for some words, she says, how can we truly know where an author is coming from. She says a good definitely for Islam is “engaged surrender”. If the term submission is used that erases human will and consciousness from the faith, but it is obvious that not every Muslim is perfect, so there must be a human will part. By calling it engaged surrender you acknowledge the unique gift that Allah gave to humans which is free will. It is through free will that humans choose to surrender to Allah – though they must have that free will.
Compulsion is listed as a sin in many places through the Qur’an, and Wadud uses this, and her engaged surrender definition, to show how women must be given full agency to make their own decisions in order to be true Muslims. If Allah meant for all to surrender, they must be given the same rights. She, of course, says it so much better than I can summarize!
The other key point that really jumped out at me and made me think was the discussion of language. Language, Wadud says, is not perfect. Think, for example, of the verses of the sun rising – the sun doesn’t actually rise, the earth moves around the sun which gives the appearance that the sun rises. Allah of course already knew that the sun didn’t rise, but he was limited by the language and knowledge of the time. This means that what the Qur’an gives us are guideposts and signs that we must use to point our way forward as science and knowledge surpasses that of the time of revelation. She says on page 214:
Human language limits Allah’s Self-disclosure. If revelation through text must be in human language, in order for humans to even begin to understand it, then revelation cannot be divine or Ultimate. This is distinguished from the idea that revelation is from a divine source; rather, it indicates how the source availed itself of the limitations of human language to point toward the ultimate direction for human moral development, otherwise known as guidance.
That really resonated with me as an interesting point that I had never thought of. Of course our sacred texts must confine themselves to our language. Our language isn’t perfect. As we learn more we see the clues.
Overall this book had a lot of really interesting points that made me think about a lot in Islam differently, and in a more positive light (though I had always seen it more positively than many). There were parts of the book that I didn’t like as much and those were where the author discusses the controversies surrounding some of her speeches and public appearances, which were interesting, but the religious discussion was more interesting to me. A great, but heavy book, that will stay with me for a long time.
For more information on Islamic feminist scholarship:
Last week I traveled to Mobile Alabama, the heart of the Bible Belt, to a leafy, green college town replete with billboards for megachurches and imminent apocalypse (according to Christian broadcaster Family Radio Worldwide, May 21 is the new time and date). I had been invited by the Secular Students Alliance and the Gender Studies Department of the University of South Alabama to talk about my new book.
During my lecture I faced a standing room crowd of heretics, fence sitters, curiosity seekers, and true believers bracing for a circus sideshow. Traveling across America to speak on freethought and abolitionism during the 19th century, white feminist atheist Ernestine Rose was smeared as being a “thousand times below a prostitute.”
Centuries after Rose, the association of faith with female virtue and morality is still pervasive in our post-feminist post-racial Christian nation. Indeed, for some women of color, being “married to Jesus” is the only lifeline to genuine personal and spiritual validation. As Anthea Butler has noted, “having a husband meant that they could not give their ultimate all for the number one man on most African-American womens’ lips, and it’s not Denzel.”
Jesus' meeting with Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb is fraught with symbolic spiritual meaning. This is part of a series of reflections on the symbols of the Easter Season by the Editor in Chief of America Magazine, Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher"). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-14)
Mary Magdalene Apostle to the Apostles "Apostola Apostolorum"
Religious educators and pastoral agents in Latin America's Christian base communities know her for her catechetical radio series, Un Tal Jesús, co-produced with her brother José Ignacio, which imagines a brown-skinned Jesus fighting for social justice. Central America activists know her for her writings on the church during El Salvador's civil war and particularly for her collection of vignettes about the life of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Romero, piezas para un retrato. Today, people in her adopted country, Nicaragua, know her as a prize-winning author of children's books and a defender of their rights. Maria Lopez Vigil is all these things and more, and we are pleased to bring you the English translation of this recent article by Laura Rodríguez Rojas from El Nuevo Diario (10 April 2011) to catch up with this extraordinary woman, as she shares her thoughts about the world and the Church today.
Entering her office, nothing reveals that Maria Lopez Vigil was a nun for 13 years in a convent in Barcelona. The place is small and crowded with books, but it has two large windows that let in a bright sun.
She dresses simply. A blue skirt and white shirt. Wears no hint of makeup or jewelry, which shows that for her, material goods are in the plane of unreality. Only a small detail reveals that this is not an ordinary woman, a painting by Remedios Varo called Weaving the skin of the world.
At first glance it seems like any other painting, in which one sees a small workshop where industrious women are weaving the skin of the world, but a trained eye can discover the paradox. The person who leads the group of weavers is dressed as a man, but is also a woman.
At 16 she left Cuba
And it's that María López Vigil has always been a revolutionary who has contrasted the norms set by the Vatican with a more human and feminine image of God.
The wrinkles on her face reflect the passing of the years in her body, but her words and the brightness of her eyes contradicted her age. She assures that she is still the same girl who emigrated from Cuba at age 16, all that has changed is the number of subjects she has had to study in this earthly world.
María López Vigil left her homeland for ideological reasons since, due to the triumph of the Cuban revolution, her family decided to emigrate to be faithful to their dogmatic view of a Catholicism that didn't yield to Communist ideas.
"To the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington DC
Bishop Leonard Blair, Toledo OH
Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, Indianapolis IN
Archbishop José Gomez, Los Angeles CA
Bishop William Lori, Bridgeport CT
Bishop Robert McManus, Worcester MA
Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Fort Wayne - South Bend IN
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, Paterson NJ
Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Detroit MI
"In the cover letter to the U.S. Bishops on March 30, 2011 that accompanied the Committee on Doctrine's criticism of my book Quest for the Living God, Cardinal Donald Wuerl stated that the Committee was always open to dialogue with theologians and would welcome an opportunity to discuss my writings with me. In my one public statement on the matter, released April 1, 2011, I also expressed a willingness to dialogue over these matters.
"In a letter dated April 28, 2011, I was informed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl reiterated this openness to dialogue, and expressed the willingness of the Committee on Doctrine to receive any written observations that I would wish to make with regard to its Statement about my book. The observations which follow are in response to this invitation.
"I write these observations in the spirit of the Egyptian bishop Athanasius. I've always appreciated his words, written during the conflict that ensued after the Council of Nicea when three groups contended vociferously over the right way to express Jesus Christ's divine identity. Athanasius, who upheld the homoousios (one in being) teaching of the Council, noted that his party and the homoiousios party (similar in being), originally perceived as opponents, were actually on the same side as compared with the subordinationist Arian position. In the effort to forge unity, he wrote:
"Those, however, who accept everything else that was defined at Nicea, and doubt only about the homoousios, must not be treated as enemies; nor do we here attack them as Ario-maniacs, nor as opponents of the Fathers; but we discuss the matter with them as brothers with brothers, who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the words." (De Synodis 41)
"The Committee on Doctrine's Statement declared that my book contains misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors with regard to Catholic teaching. My statement spoke of misrepresentations, misinterpretations, and an incorrect picture of my book in the committee's Statement. I also expressed regret that a prior conversation had not taken place to perhaps allay these difficulties. In view of our common concern for the church and for the richness of its teaching, I hope in these observations to discuss the matter with you as sister with brothers, "who mean what we mean, and dispute only about the words."
"Thank you for this invitation to dialogue.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J.
Distinguished Professor of Theology
June 1, 2011
Cc. Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., Executive Director"
"To Speak Rightly of the Living God: Observations by Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ on the Statement of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about her book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God
"The first observation I would like to make underscores the obvious: Quest for the Living God is a work of theology. It is not a catechism, nor a compendium of doctrine, nor does it intend to set out the full range of church teaching on the doctrine of God. Rather, it presents areas of Christian life and study where the mystery of the living God is being glimpsed anew in contemporary situations. Hence the subtitle, Mapping Frontiers."
To read the entire text of Sister Johnson's "Observations" (38 pages), click HERE.