What it’s All About – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingEvery so often the Church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, ##decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about,  anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not Children of God.

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Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.” “You black people may clap in church, but not us!” “That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader who is LGBTQ and you hear…

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 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?” “They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!” “We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the Devil rubs his hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians? Pshaw…

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.” “Your husband approves?!” “You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.” “What does your husband think?”

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@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 203 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United Sates, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

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Because everyone has to pee.

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folkx had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

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“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.


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Before coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

 

Creating Holy Spaces for Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism – Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas, Professor of Theology and Anthropology @ LSTC

ThomasLinda sitting“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” – thus begins the writer of Psalm 133. My own school, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, in response to recent events both in the city and in the seminary, has recently ended an intensive week of lectures, panel discussions, and “Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism.” All of these things were done with the hope of achieving this unity, this shalom. And my thoughts for this weeks post hope to fill you all in on what’s been going on. These have truly been momentous times for my school, and I have been heartened and strengthened by all of the responses. Please read, enjoy, and share. Let’s keep this conversation going!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


On January 15, 2015 African American Presidents and Deans of theological schools in the United States issued an open letter to their colleagues throughout theological education.  The letter was a call to action for leaders of theological schools to “arise from the embers of silence” in the face of racial violence and injustice. Those who wrote this needed epistle –  no different than Paul’s letter to the Romans  or that sent by Martin Luther King from the floors of a Birmingham jail – exposed the murder of black and brown bodies by those sworn to serve and protect. It challenged Christians leading institutions of theology to step up to claim the sanctity of black and brown children of God  – their own siblings.

These leaders put forth a series of questions, but most significantly, they ask:

“How can we continue with business as usual in our theological schools in the midst of so many egregious injustices?”

It is this last question, in particular, that pierces the souls of those who lead, teach in, and attend theological schools.

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Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel – and former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke has been officially charged with murder in Laquan McDonald’s death.

The New York Times then upped the ante on April 16, 2016 when they unambiguously proclaimed “Chicago Police Department is Plagued by Systemic Racism.” A task force appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued its report, saying “Racism has contributed to a long pattern of institutional failures by the Chicago Police Department in which officers have mistreated people, operated without sufficient oversight, and lost the trust of residents . . .” Even the Chicago Police Department’s “own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

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Medical examiner report showing the 16 bullet entry-and-exit-points in Laquan McDonald’s body.

Chicago’s population is almost evenly split between Whites (31.7%),  African Americans (32.9), and Latinos (28.9%) – but violent confrontations between people of color and the police are horribly skewed. The report revealed that between 2008-2015 there were 404 shootings of which 74%  were Black, 14% were Latino, and only 8% were White. 

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“Disturbed” – for mixed media, a reflection on the cross and the murder of black bodies. By LSTC student Sami Pfalzgraf.

 

The final tipping point then came just three weeks ago – on April 19, 2016 – when Professor Richard Perry, read a statement of protest after the all-white panel for discussion on “Law and Gospel” had been introduced. Dr. Perry had recently treated this same subject in an article in the February issue of The Lutheran in an article titled “Multicultural Ministry: Is it a Matter of Faith or a Fad?” He mourned that “…the ELCA remains among the least racially and ethnically diverse denominations in the U.S. Many questions can be asked about this situation. Why is it that, more than a quarter century since we set lofty goals, only 3 to 4 percent of us are people of color?” Dismayed by this inability to change, Prof. Perry asks: “Is there something about the Lutheran ethos that is a barrier to incorporating how racially and ethnically diverse people understand God and Jesus Christ operating in their lives? Is multicultural ministry a matter of faith or following a fad?”

His protest statement from a few weeks ago echoed this sentiment:

“. . .once again, an event, in my area of expertise, fails to include me or another North American Lutheran of color theologian.”  The panel “models and reinforces a view that North American people of color, who are Lutheran, have nothing of value, theologically, to contribute to a “conversation” on what “Lutherans” understand about “the law!” That is offensive and needs to be called out!”

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The Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

So the question remains: What does a seminary in the United States of America and in the racist climate of the city of Chicago do in light of the open letter to the presidents and deans of theological schools in the USA? What do we do in light of the report from a task force of esteemed scholars about the racism in the Chicago police department? What do we do in light of Professor Perry’s statement?

On February 2, 2015 Presidents and Deans of ELCA theological schools committed themselves to give attention to racial injustice in the United States. The statement pledged that leaders of all eight ELCA seminaries would publicly challenge and oppose racial injustice “in vigorous and prophetic ways in our schools.”

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Presidents and deans of ELCA theological schools admitted that those attending and working in theological education were predominantly white and, what’s more, fell dreadfully short of keeping concerns about racial and social injustice in the foreground of their work. Yet, even with that being the case the call for action from African American presidents and deans of theological schools across the nation meant “. . .[they] cannot be silent.” They continued, “We confess that the fear of being uncomfortable or making others uncomfortable has contributed to render some of our efforts inadequate.” However, they continued, “We are grateful for all those in our institutions and churches who have been and continue to be prophets for racial justice and freedom” while at the same time  “recogniz[ing] that our efforts need to be more consistent among all that we do throughout all our theological education institutions” –  and that remaining “silent when we should speak” is failure.

This is a stunning articulation of a commitment for social justice – especially since the President and Dean of my own seminary, The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, are also signatories on the statement – the Rev. Dr. James Nieman and the Rev. Dr. Esther Menn, respectively. It is no wonder that there was space for Dr. Perry to make his prophetic statement.

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LSTC President, Rev. Dr. James Nieman and LSTC Dean, Rev. Dr. Esther Menn

So what do we do in light of Professor Perry’s statement?

Dr. Perry’s statement is connected to the open letter African American Presidents and Deans. It was not simply a rhetorical manifesto or clarion call uniquely tied to the panel. It was a cry for humanity, his black humanity, to be recognized and valued. This cry resounded “Black Lives Matter” –an assertion of his existence. His words were deeply spiritual, linked to the history of a people who have experienced centuries of collective oppression representing the communal expression of a people insistent that it is a reasonable, right, and holy thing for them to have a nondiscriminatory existence.

LSTC graduate, Dr. Carlos Santos writing for the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, in response to the Open Letter of African American presidents and deans, pens:

“Historical amnesia, personal guilt and (un)conscious bias often get in the way of helpful conversations about the issue of race in the United States of America and elsewhere.” Consequently, he asserts, “we must dare to explore the past, we must be humble in understanding our own feelings of guilt or anger or self righteousness, and we must place it all under the cross of the One who died to redeem us from our own self-destructive ways and to open up a new way, a way of peace, reconciliation and true justice for all.” (Journal of Lutheran Ethics, October 2015).

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In the weeks following Dr. Perry’s protest, LSTC then presented an embodied response to the questions asked in both the Open Letter as well as Dr. Perry’s article in The Lutheran. During the last week of classes we did not continue with business as usual in the midst of so many egregious injustices at our little seminary. We engaged in sacred conversations.

 

These took place in at least three ways. The last day of my Martin Luther King, Jr. class on April 29 was one response. I invited Dr. C. Vanessa White, of the Catholic Theological Seminary, to give a lecture titled, “Martin Luther King, Spiritual Formation, and Leadership.” The last hour of the class then featured a panel shared by Professors Jan Rippentrop and Richard Perry on the topic, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: Theologian, Ethicist, and Preacher.” The seminary’s students themselves then our work concluded with a series of “Sacred Conversations about Institutional Racism” from Sunday, May 1 through Friday, May 6 – all lead by students, faculty, and staff.   So, with the Spirit’s leading, things began to unfold and fall in place very easily.

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LSTC Seminarians at the local watering hole, Jimmy’s, during one of the Sacred Conversations

Consequently, and with impressive thoroughness, these small group discussions, presentations, and panel discussions wrestled with  racism in a way often made difficult by the two great, evil powers of greater US society: white privilege and white guilt. Yet in recent days at LSTC, these twin powers were acknowledged and shaken under the power of the cross.

I also wish to thank Bishop Wayne Miller, the President of LSTC the Rev. Dr. James Nieman, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Thomas, and Rev. Kimberly Vaughn all the many LSTC graduates who prayed without ceasing during our sacred conversations. I also thank all the co-facilitators and participants who followed the Holy Spirit’s call to make this so memorable and effective. And lastly, I want to thank those unable to attend and I even thank those who had no desire to attend because all are beautifully made in the image of God and therefore are siblings in Christ.

All of you took your place at this table, and I thank you for it.


Linda Thomas at CTS eventDr. Linda E. Thomas has engaged students, scholars and communities as a scholar for almost twenty years. She studies, researches, writes, speaks and teaches about the intersection and mutual influence of culture and religion. Her work is rooted intransitively in a Womanist perspective. With a Ph.D. in Anthropology from The American University in Washington D.C. and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Dr. Thomas’s work has taken her to South Africa, Peru, Cuba and Russia. She has been recognized as an Association of Theological Schools Faculty Fellow as well as a Pew Charitable Trust Scholar.

 

Killing Lutefisk Lutheranism – Erik Olaf Thone, Candidate for ELCA Ordained Ministry

Picture 002A wise man once said “By the time that you think that evil might be around, it has actually already come inside and made itself at home.” This is true for the church as much as anywhere else, and we had a powerful reminder of this last week at my home seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I’ll leave this week’s author, M.Div. student Erik Olaf Thone, to give you the details  – but rest assured these have been powerful days of late. The Holy Spirit is shaking my community but good. Hopefully, what Erik’s written will shake you good too. Please read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


My seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Americaa denomination where 96% of its members are white – and last week this reality became uncomfortably clear. On Wednesday, April 20, 2016 LSTC hosted a faculty panel to discuss preaching “Law and Gospel,” or how and when Christians should preach mercy, grace, and forgiveness as opposed to judgment and the necessity of action. It is an important subject for Lutherans.  The professors on the panel were all qualified to address the subject but the panel reflected a flaw often seen in the ELCA – despite there being a small number of faculty of color on campus – all of the participants were white.

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According to Pew Research, the ELCA is literally the whitest Christian denomination in the US – second from the bottom on this chart.

Protesting this persistent problem, the Rev. Dr. Richard Perry – African American ELCA pastor and Professor of Church and Society and Urban Ministry at LSTC – stood before approximately 70 LSTC students, staff, and faculty, and read a carefully prepared statement elucidating his disappointment that, as has happened in countless other ways and events in the ELCA, his perspective as an African American Lutheran (let alone any non-European perspective) is not really valued as “Lutheran.”

In concluding his statement, he invited all assembled to attend a lecture on this exact subject – the conflation of white-ness with Lutheran identity – in his Contemporary Christian Ethics course. The panel then adjourned, and then they and the attendees then went to Dr. Perry’s class for the remainder of the afternoon period.

I’ve heard a variety of critiques of my professor’s actions, however, focusing on the circumstances surrounding this panel is to miss the point.  Whether or not the other members of the panel were qualified or if Dr. Perry could have been more tactful in his protest matters about as much as what Michael Brown may have said to police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri before – though unarmed and a considerable distance from Wilson’s vehicle – he was murdered.  As Jim Wallis writes in his new book (which I would highly recommend): The facts in specific cases are often in great dispute.  But the reality that young black men and women are treated differently than are young white men and women by our law enforcement system is beyond dispute.[1]

 

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Memorial for Mike Brown on the site of his shooting – Ferguson, MO 3/2015

At this very moment an unnerving shadow weighs heavy upon the conscience of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and I hope everyone feels it.  Not everyone present would agree with my interpretation of the words and actions of Dr. Richard Perry here on our campus last Wednesday.  Not everyone present experienced it as an inspiring prophetic display that we were privileged to witness. I did. Not everyone present heard hope in the midst of his anger, frustration, and hurt.

I did.

Some critics have lost themselves in debating the “facts” of his prophetic outpouring, but this avoidance of the real issue is an act of privilege available only to those of us who are white. This evasion is a passive acquiescence to injustice and the most damaging perpetuation of racism.  We must ask ourselves: will we focus on the prophetic message or the prophet’s means to convey the message?  Will we hear the prophet Isaiah’s good news or dismiss him because we’re uncomfortable with his naked dramatization (Isaiah 20:3)?   Will we commit to the Kingdom of God Jesus preached or conform to the unjust, unearned, comfort and good order of the status quo?

The prophets never brought the conflict and Dr. Perry did not bring the conflict to LSTC.  The shadow of racism has been an ever-present plague upon this nation since before its founding. This includes the LSTC campus – whose land used to be the home of many black families who didn’t want to leave.  It is a national and a global evil. This is a Church problem.  This is an LSTC problem. It is not a problem “out there”; it is a sin deeply embedded within each of us people who believe we are white – and to remind us Dr. Perry brought the sword of Matthew 10:34:

[Jesus was saying] I come not to bring an old negative peace, which makes for stagnant passivity and deadening complacency, I come to bring something different, and whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated, between the old and the new. Whenever I come a struggle takes place between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come not to bring a negative peace, but a positive peace, which is [community], which is justice, which is the Kingdom of God.[2]

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“Only whiteness has the right to determine what it means to be Lutheran in this church. This. Is. Not. Right!” Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr., Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Dr. Perry preached the Law because if you seek justice tension is good.  Conflict is good.  Struggle is good.  Be uncomfortable.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a peace beyond the absence of conflict.  Those of us with privilege, however, are generally unwilling to welcome the struggle that leads to this positive peace.

If anyone can claim the privilege of the ELCA’s Euro-centrism it is I. 

One of the “frozen chosen” of Minnesota, my home-congregation of Advent Lutheran Church hosts an annual lutefisk dinner.  I was born with a Lutheran Book of Worship in my hands.  As a child, I fell asleep to Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  I attended an ELCA College named after the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.  I never sit in the front row of pews.  My middle name is Olaf!  Scandinavian heritage should be celebrated, but if northern European descent is conflated with Lutheranism then there will never be a place for Dr. Perry or other people of color in the ELCA and all talk of diversity is a self-deluding facade.  Further, if any Christian denomination is exclusive, explicitly or implicitly, to a particular race or ethnicity it is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That excluding church is no longer representing the Body of Christ where “there is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28).

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The Rev. Dr. Richard Perry, Jr.

It is a good and faithful thing to have webcasts on confronting racism, to host diversity workshops, and to post articles on Facebook and Twitter, but as Dr. Perry so boldly reminded us – we mustn’t imagine this means we have somehow moved beyond our own racial prejudice.  Indeed, I have talked about racial justice more in my last 8 months at LSTC than ever before in my life, but I’m coming to realize that some of this talk is merely consolation for people of white.  Worse, it can be a way to excuse ourselves from honest personal reflection on our own complicity with white privilege: “I attended a Black Lives Matter action, studied abroad in India, and did mission work in South Africa so I can’t possibly be racist.”  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” (Matthew 7:3).

I am a racist.

It has been no easy journey for me to reach those four words, but I believe that if there is hope for our school, church, and country white people must move beyond our defensiveness to accept the difficult truth: “No matter who you are, where you live, how you have acted—and even if you have fought hard against racism—you can never escape white privilege in America if you are whiteTo benefit from oppression is to be responsible for changing it.[3]

I am a racist.

Being racist doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you’re still becoming the person you’re called to be, purging yourself of the racism that is the inheritance of every white person born in this country.

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That afternoon I asked Dr. Perry to forgive us for our complicity in the racism he condemned; it isn’t that easy.  He responded by calling us all to close our closet doors, fall to our knees, search our hearts and minds and seek forgiveness from God alone.  This is not a moment for cheap grace.  We have in this moment an opportunity for transformative repentance.  This moment might change the course of our school, the Church, and the country.  In this moment we will be measured as prophets or passive servants of the status quo. 

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In the words of Dr. King: “We must make a choice.  Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds?  Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity?  More than ever before we are today challenged by the words of yesterday, ‘Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’”[4]


Resources

For anyone who would like a copy of Rev. Dr. Perry’s statement to the “Law and Gospel” panel, feel free to email him at rperry@lstc.edu. He is the oldest black professor teaching Christian Ethics in the ELCA, and after his retirement in July of this year he will be deeply missed by the seminary.

Got White Privilege? is a powerful video and resource website put together by our neighbors at Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC).

Teaching Tolerance – a new initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Judith Butler, also recently had a sit-down with the New York Times to explain the beauty behind #BlackLivesMatter as opposed to #AllLivesMatter.

The Rev. Joelle Colville-Hanson wrote a piece on current ELCA leaders creating memes with the hashtag #DecolonizeLutheranism, humorously and persistently challenging the Euro-centricity of Lutheran identity in the US…

…which has lead to the development of a conference on #DecolonizeLutheranism – taking place at LSTC in the fall of  2016. For more information, email fherrera@lstc.edu.

 


Erik at CLLCErik Thone is completing his first year at LSTC as part of the M.Div. program.  He’s entranced as a candidate for ministry with the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA.  Prior to coming to LSTC he spent four years serving as the Youth and Family Minister at People of Faith Lutheran Church in Winter Garden, FL.


 

[1] Jim Wallace, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, 5.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr. “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” In A Testament of Hope, 51.

[3] Jim Wallace, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, 35.

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 20.


Re-Naming God and Smashing Idols – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student at LSTC

Linda Thomas at CTS eventHave you ever heard a grown man squeal? That’s precisely what happened when I asked this week’s writer, Francisco Herrera – the blog manager for “We Talk. We Listen” – to write a piece on theological language and gender. Though he mostly writes about race and power in the church, he also has a keen interest in sexuality, gender and power and it shows. And through his humor, he leaves us all with a jolting reminder that, if we don’t open ourselves to myriad ways of talking about God, then we can very well sacrifice others on the idols of our own theological complacency. Take a peek and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


My first serious object lesson in adventurous theological language happened about four years ago when I had to prepare a Bible study for a class. The professor gave us four Biblical excerpts from which to choose – two safe (from John 3 and John 5) and two risky (Ephesians and The Song of Songs) and left it up to us to decide.

The first presenter, who we will name “Emily,” chose the snippet from Song of Songs, and had us start the exercise by reading this juicy bit to ourselves:

Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes,leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me,“Arise, my darling,my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”  

(Song of Songs 2 : 8-13)

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“When we read Scripture,” she began, “we tend to understand it through three basic hermeneutical lenses.” At this point she started writing on the board. “It is either God speaking to us, Jesus speaking to us, or people speaking to each other.” She paused for effect and then looked calmly but determinedly back at the class. “So my question is this…

“If this excerpt from the Song of Songs is God speaking to us, what does it say about God?”

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Woman and Flowers – Marc Chagall

The responses from the other students were sweet and anodyne. God loves us. God cares for us. God wants to be with us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Riled up, but leery and afraid to start trouble, I did my best just to sit and keep quiet. Emily wasn’t having it, though. And likely intuiting my impatience, she soon keened her green eyes and elvish grin hard upon me and asked:

“So Francisco…what do you think?”

Duly summoned, and with the knowingest grin easing across my face, I steadied myself and replied:

“God is a woman… who loves us, who desires us, who wants to make love to us, who longs for us in a perfumed garden, eagerly waiting to give herself to us with passion and abandon.”

And as I spoke, seduced by my own imagination, there I was – languishing in some highland orchard, hiding myself among the apple and peach blossoms – oiling my skin, lining my eyes with kohl, waiting for my Lord to come so that that he could delight in me, and I could delight in him.

tumblr_m4pda2yY5p1r0y25wo1_1280.pngThough utterly predictable, the group freak-out that ensued was truly one for the books:

“Well, I don’t think it is right for you to sexualize women like that.”

“But I don’t know how you could say that, there aren’t even any masculine pronouns here.”

“But appealing to that base kind of imagery is something completely unbefitting of a pastor.”

And my favorite question/accusation?

“I don’t know how you could have possibly come up an answer like that anyway…”

To which I grinned and, calmly gesturing at Emily, retorted: “Well, I’m simply following her paradigm.” Emily was maybe a bit too discreet to look me in the eye that moment, but I could still plainly see that the ends of her grin were stretched back on her face tight enough to lick her ears. It may have been problematic to think of myself as a highly-aroused, female concubine- but oh my was it ever fun and revealing!

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And yes, I was being provocative, at least for this crowd, but I believed my insolence towards the class honest and just. Despite the shocking nature of what I said, in truth, my comment was actually a classic example of biblical literalism. If this excerpt is God speaking to us, well then, God is a woman who wants to have sex with us – apples and turtledoves and young stags and all. No imagination necessary. What’s more, these soon-to-be-pastors’ well worn theological tropes – though socially acceptable – completely drained this holy Scripture of its unquenchable fire and, well, butchered its song. But what really took my breath away was how quickly students moved to hush me – scandalized by the idea that God could possibly be a sexually active woman.

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Had I talked about her in more socially acceptable tones – as if God were a woman like a statue of the Virgin Mary: flawless, impassible, and white-washed – I doubt they would’ve protested. Suggesting that God could be like a woman with passions and desires on the other hand, like pretty much all of the women that I have ever known, was just too much.

No one wanted to explore my ideas, extrapolate or even humor me condescendingly. They just blindly contradicted my musings and tried their best to move on. It chilled me to the bone – conscious or no – to realize that my own peers were committing a kind of theological idolatry. Their understanding of the relationship between sex and gender and God was so upset by my insolence that their basic response was to try to shut me up. Looking back in hindsight, feminist liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid would have called my interpretation a classic example of indecent theology; speaking unapologetically about gender, sex, power, and God in such a way that it exposes the hypocritical violence inherent in so much respectable “church talk,” even (and sometimes especially) progressive theological God-Talk.

And at that point I could truly appreciate how shocking and vital it was to speak of God not only as “not male,” but in brave and shocking ways, indecent ways – because doing so exposes the hidden idols in our theology that so often blind us to the pain and suffering  and oppression that we initiate and/or perpetuate.

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“Christa” – Edwina Sandys

Let’s even do a test here, now, and pay attention to yourself and see how you twitch:

Think about God as: a sexually active woman, as “daddy” (Abba), speak of Christ as “Crista”a controversial statue depicting Jesus as a nude, crucified womana woman in labor, as the plague of the first-born, as a good Samaritan. Even in literature. Think of  Shug, from Alice Walker’s epochal the Color Purple, talking about how she felt closer to God while having sex; or Nedjma’s scintillating memoir on Islamic womanhood – The Almond – where she reflects on how God loves us so much that they delight in our delight and “even watches over us while we snore.”

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Using such powerfully transgressive language for God often does a fine job of exposing destructive limitations in our theology, limitations that we have been taught, even inherited – and hence makes it easier for us to query them and, as with any idol, to smash them. And if we don’t, we run the risk of sacrificing our friends, loved-ones, colleagues, and parishioners on theologies that serve nothing but our own arrogance, convenience, or own our unholy hungers.

Plus you might even make new friends! – as Emily and I most certainly shared a quiet giggle to ourselves, leaving class together and sporting the same sly, knowing smirk.

We’d broken a few barriers that day, and hopefully, some more imagination would come from it. Some more grace might come from it, too, and maybe – just maybe – even some more love.


10426792_10152402252785213_3657317853318980302_n.jpgBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005 He completed his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012 and then began Th.M./Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Fall of 2014 – his emphasis on World Christianity and Global Mission. A polymath and a scatterbrain, when he isn’t preparing for school stuff he blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com and Tweets at @PolyglotEvangel.

My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

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A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
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Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
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So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
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So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
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I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”


A White Male’s Take on Why Gender Matters – Benjamin Taylor, PhD student at LSTC

ThomasLinda.jpgThis month, “We Talk. We Listen.” will be featuring multiple responses to Women’s History month written by male Christian leaders. ELCA Lutheran PhD student Benjamin Taylor is the first contributor, and his post does something quite wonderful: he gives 1) a good overview of common male-centered oversights in Christian theology while simultaneously 2) providing the reader with a wealth of information on feminist theologians and their works. It is worth a good, careful reading, even three or four readings. So dig in, and don’t forget to share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


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My act of writing a piece for “We Talk. We Listen.” on feminist theology [1] must begin with a personal recounting of my own experience, a telling of how I journeyed into the present. I am a white man—more precisely, I am a white heterosexual man, and even more precisely I am a white, heterosexual man with relative privilege. Each of these qualifiers are important to who I am. Each of these qualifiers afford me a set of protections and advantages over against those who do not identify as male, or who is not white, heterosexual, or privileged.[2]

Although many women theologians self-identify as “feminist theologians,” it is crucially important to point out that the contexts, methodologies, insights, projects of feminist theologians vary from individual to individual. In this sense, we should be wary of the tendency to generalize “feminist theology,” or “feminist theologians.” Also, it is important here to problematize the identification of “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian” with “white women.” While myraid women of all races and ethnicities self-identify as “feminist,” in the USA context the term usually signals “white women.” That said, it is also important to note that “feminist theology” goes far beyond white woman. For example, some Latina theologians identify themselves as “Latina feminists,” while some self-identify as mujerista. This point is important for reasons of representation. To identify “feminist” as “white woman” is to deny the agency of and the voice of Latinas, black, queer, Third Word, etc. theologians and theorists who identify as feminist. Also, at the same time, it is important to note both intersectionality and the interdisciplinary nature of feminist and contextual theologians who are women. The incorporation of diverse voices and backgrounds as “feminist” allows for the diversity of voices, overlapping experiences and shared concerns to be heard.

A few weeks ago in her piece for “We Talk. We Listen,” Dr. Wenderoth wrote about how way that the language we use shapes the way we see the world. Likewise, MDiv student Allison Bengfort reflected on the ways in which society teaches both men and women to objectify women—men to objectify women sexually and women to objectify themselves for the benefit of men. Rev. Julie Ryan witnessed to the rich mosaic of work that is the ministry of clergywomen within the ELCA. And Marissa Tweed reminded us that even though women are ordained in the ELCA, clergywomen continue to face the struggles and challenges that come with being a clergywoman in a deeply partriachial culture, both within the church and in the society at large. These powerful and diverse reflections reveal both the interdisciplinary nature and intersectional approach within the study of feminist theology.

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Feminist theologians,[2] by and large, start from the premise that men have maintained a monopoly on God-Talk throughout the history of Christianity. In other words, feminist theologians argue that men have exercised their power to tip the theological scales in their benefit as they shaped the Christian tradition. These androcentric (male-centered) theologies work hand in hand to create and sustain partriachial societies. In explaining the patriarchal nature of these societies, feminist theologians have looked at the way power has revealed itself in their own societies.

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As often as power is exercised explicitly, it is often exercised implicitly. In Feminist Theory and Christian Theology, feminist theologian Serene Jones writes about the experience of giving birth in a hospital.[3] Upon giving birth to her baby, the hospital staff placed a pink cap onto her newborn, thereby assigning her newborn the gender identity “female.” Jones uses this narrative as she explains the theological construct of original sin: “In the first ten seconds of her life, my daughter had been placed in a web of social meanings that shaped expectations about her. My daughter’s being ‘born into sin took form of a pink cap, a set of hospital rules, and the complex web of social interactions they initiated.”[4]

As we are born (“fallen”) into sin, we are also born into a set of sexual, cultural and political constructs that condition our lives and our self-expression.

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by Kimberly Peeler-Ringer

Jones’s example illustrates the perniciousness of power in our society. Power not only oppresses the one it deems to be Other, it also represses the one it considers to be Other. Power shows itself by hiding itself under the banner “this is the way things are and this is the way things must be.” Many feminist theologians argue that men have hijacked the symbols and narratives of the Christian faith to legitimize and exercise their patriarchal oppressive power over women. Some obvious examples within the Christian tradition are I Timothy 2, in which the male writer of the letter warns women to be silent in church, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s decision not to ordain women on the basis of their sex. Instead of viewing these examples apolitically through the lens of “tradition” or “custom,” it is important to name it for what it is: a manifestation of the patriarchal society in which these decisions were made.

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But it is also important for us to go beyond these common examples. Feminist theologians note that male theologians have long taken their particular experience of being male (and usually, white, heterosexual and privileged) to be the universal experience of all people. When this happens, the experience of being a woman in a partriachial society is negated. As a result, many feminist theologians have incorporated their own experience of being a woman in a partriachial society as a way of subverting this androcentric tradition. In addition, many feminist theologians look to other resources within the Christian tradition to subvert the sexist, racist and homophobic power structure in society.  A few examples, from both feminist theologians as well as from the wider field of contextual theologians, help to show the diversity and the wealth of voices that challenge androcentric theology.

I am the youngest member of my family. I have two older brothers, and when the family discussion (finally) gets to me and what I “actually do” with my time, I often utter the words “feminist theology” or “black theology.” When they ask further questions, they assume that the qualifier “feminist” or “black” means “other.”

In reading and engaging with contextual theologies (feminist, womanist, black, Dalit, queer, mujerista), it is crucial that we do not understand “contextual” to be “other,” which so often is interpreted to mean “less-than.”  We must remember that Western theology, from Augustine to Tillich, is just as contextual as the theologies that we live into and envision in our constructive theology classes. It is merely that constructive or contextual theologies are more honest about their identity and more open to the experience of difference than are other “traditional” theologies.

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Early, and often ignored, women leaders of the church.

At times, judging by our slate of courses, our community does not always acknowledge the bountiful gifts brought by diverse theological voices. It can be difficult. The acknowledgement of different voices is fraught with tension. In my own experience, I have struggled with this tension as I came to read these theologians very late in my academic journey. That is a tension I still carry within myself. The engagement with voices that differ from my own offers me a chance of reflection and of self-examination along the journey.

And in this, I invite you to come along.


beneditedBenjamin Taylor is a PhD student at LSTC, where he studies systematic theology and continental philosophy. He enjoys reading, traveling, writing, playing golf, and walking his playful—if, slightly misbehaved—dog, Riley. He also works as the Graduate Research Assistant in the JKM Library and serves as the Sittler Fellow in the Joseph Sittler Archive. Ben completed his qualifying examinations on feminist theology in March.


 

[1] Although many women theologians self-identify as “feminist theologians,” it is crucially important to point out that the contexts, methodologies, insights, projects of feminist theologians vary from individual to individual. In this sense, we should be wary of the tendency to generalize “feminist theology,” or “feminist theologians.” Also, it is important here to problematize the identification of “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian” with “white women.” While myraid women of all races and ethnicities self-identify as “feminist,” in the USA context the term usually signals “white women.” That said, it is also important to note that “feminist theology” goes far beyond white woman. For example, some Latina theologians identify themselves as “Latina feminists,” while some self-identify as mujerista. This point is important for reasons of representation. To identify “feminist” as “white woman” is to deny the agency of and the voice of Latinas, black, queer, Two-Thirds World, etc. theologians and theorists who identify as feminist. Also and at the same time, it is important to note both intersectionality and the interdisciplinary nature of feminist and contextual theologians who are women.

[2] My own experience living in Hyde Park is an experience of negotiating this privilege—realizing it, struggling with it, speaking to it, hiding behind it, coming to terms with it, being embarrassed about it—sometimes all within a matter of hours.

[3] In using the verbiage “feminist theology” or “feminist theologian(s),” I follow the crucial distinction between “gender” and “sex” that is largely assumed in feminist theological discussions. By this, I mean that sex refers to one’s own biological makeup, while gender refers to the set of cultural meanings and social designations that society ascribes to one’s performance in society. See Linda E. Thomas and Dwight N. Hopkins, “Womanist Theology and Black Theology: Conversational Envisioning of an Unfinished Dream” in A Dream Unfinished: Theological Reflections on America from the Margins, Eleazar S. Fernandez & Fernando F. Segovia, eds., (Marynoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 2001), 72-86. On “sex,” Thomas and Hopkins write, “By sex, we signify the biological designation that human beings receive at birth. Thus, sex is a biological construction based on genitalia (78).” On “gender,” Thomas and Hopkins write that “Gender is a socially constructed category. By this we mean that it is not a biological category…Gender is not formed overnight, nor even is it a finished product; it is dynamic and subject to the ongoing formation of human culture (77-78).”  Heteronormativity has long portrayed gender as a binary: either one is male or female. This binary needs to be problematized. Gender is a performance that does not need to fall into traditionalist determinations of what is male or what is female.

[4] Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 117.

What I Think Is Essential for People to Know about Ordained Women in Ministry in the ELCA and Elsewhere – Rev. Julie Ryan

Picture 002Rev. Julie Ryan, interim pastor for the ELCA Synod in Metro-Chicago and writer for Augsburg Fortress, gives a reflection on women in ministry so dynamic and so moving you have to read it out loud. A literal exploration of this month’s focus statement – “What I think is essential for people to know about women in ministry” – Pastor Ryan’s creation has a step and a rhythm that sounds as much like a work of bee-bop as it does a sermon. So give it a whirl – read it out loud to yourself and friends and feel hard on what it means for women to follow the call.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


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I…

I believe I can confidently speak for all women in ministry, everywhere, when I say that we would like a spa. Or a multitude: “Spring up, O well!”

The Book of Numbers says that as our ancestors wandered in the wilderness, they sang, “Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!”[1]  I was honored to be asked to write for this blog, but have struggled with the title I was given, laboring over abstract disclaimers and definitions.[2]  “Spring up, O well!” had sprung up in response to the spa.  But, “Sing to it!”  The prophet Miriam was dead, but new generations needed to be able to join their voices in song.  Sing to it!  An invitation, an enticement, a rubric. 

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WOMEN

We’re a   r  e  a  l  l y   b  i  g   category.  In so short a piece I write about women primarily as distinct from men, even though we all keep learning how gender and sexuality are more complex.

MINISTRY

“Ministry” is also a voluminous category, encompassing more than ordination.  Many women serve for decades, having earned all the qualifications of their brothers, but without the benefits of public recognition.  Some of us who sensed a call had to leave the church body that had awakened it in order to respond.  While ordained ministry complements other forms of service which reveal the gifts of the whole body of Christ, I focus on it as the newest (in recent centuries) and most conspicuous form for women.[3]

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WHAT IS ESSENTIAL TO KNOW

We exist.

There are people who don’t know that.

Really. 

And those who think we shouldn’t exist, or that we constitute a fad, or portent of church decline.  In the late 1970s I used to walk up University Avenue and frequently see a car parked near LSTC with the bumper sticker, “There’s nothing sinister about a woman minister.”  I’ve always wondered whose it was.  In most of the world the idea has yet to catch on.

But we’re here;  we may or may not be queer;  some of us like to rhyme our verses and our bumper stickers;  but all of us love to play with words—because being entranced[4] by God’s visible, audible, delectable words is what drew us to this crazy profession in the first place.  They sang to us.  The Word became flesh in the communities and in the loving, capable, leaders we knew.  The living waters sprang up in us through chances to participate and lead.  We found joy in singing to them:  learning, practicing, developing our identities and skills.

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NUMBERS AND POWER;  BEING A “LIVE ONE”

Globally, women are nearly half the population, yet a fractional minority of religious leaders.[5]  Locally, though our numbers have increased exponentially, we exist in small enough percentages to continue in the church as tokens.[6]   

Numbers matter—but how?  Some of us felt utter elation the first times we saw and heard women vested, ordained, celebrating the eucharist, and preaching.  But deep-rooted, lasting change will take several lifetimes.  A long view is essential;  progress isn’t smooth, but advances in zigzags or waves.  Many of us still await equal respect and opportunities in our profession.[7]

We take heart from the parables of Jesus and the ironies of Paul:  God’s power and life work among us as through small things like grains of yeast and mustard seeds—hidden leavening and flavor.  Through people and crosses the world deems foolish.  We trust that our presence has impact beyond what we can perceive.

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While women have long served as ministers in Pentecostal and some mainline denominations,  ordination is a relatively recent phenomenon in the more liturgically centered ones.[8]  Often, especially after leading life-cycle rituals, we’re still the first “live ones” somebody has experienced.  Sometimes it’s fun and uniquely satisfying, but there is also cost to being a symbol.  As the saying goes, we have to be twice as good to be thought half as effective.  We are treated less as individuals than as representatives of a type.  Many of us always hold in our consciousness how anything we do reflects upon all women in ministry.

My generation was making up ministerial identity as we went along, and relying upon one another.  We had to be creative in searching for models and mentors, since there were so few who looked and sounded like us.  We found them in men, women in other professions, and women religious.  We also looked to fiction for inspiration.[9]

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HEARTS STARVE AS WELL AS BODIES:  GIVE US BREAD, BUT GIVE US ROSES, TOO[10]

Our world in many ways is a wilderness, as we consider the lives of women.  Violence is everywhere:  trafficking, honor killings and actual witch hunts, mutilation promoted as adult initiation.  Less dramatically, hostile workplaces and unsafe homes.  The world needs both justice to right the wrongs, and beauty to counter the chaos.  The world needs our song. 

Sing to it!

The word became flesh.  In our incarnationally-centered faith, the ordination of women as leaders of ritual is an embodiment of the hopeful eschatological vision where baptism into Christ—Spring up, O well!—does away with socially-constructed barriers:  no more Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female.[11]  Ideally, it’s a sacramental expression of the fullness of a humankind that is created in the image of God, redeemed in Christ, and graced by the Holy Spirit who is poured out upon both daughters and sons.  Having every form of ministry open to women is a nonverbal testimony of what we believe about God, and about the will of God for human flourishing.  

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The Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén (former LSTC Professor of Sytematic Theology and Religion and Science), attends her installation mass at the Uppsala Cathedral, on June 15, 2014. She is the first female archbishop in the Swedish Church’s history. AFP PHOTO / TT NEWS AGENCY / Pontus Lundahl

 

Sing to it!  Our songs need words, yet our words cannot ever capture the holy.  We encounter God deeply, intimately;  at the same time, God remains a mystery.  Our loving triune God is paradoxically  known through metaphors of human relationship while also existing marvelously beyond gender—or any other finite idea or pattern.

We remember Jesus, who put his life on the line for us and said, This is my body…my blood.  As his words are spoken, and bread and cup are shared, God is revealed with greater resonance through the variety of those speaking and serving, and the bodies of all are dignified as they participate.

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Mary Southard, CSJ, “Women Singing Earth.” (Courtesy of Ministry of the Arts / http://www.ministryofthearts.org)

Sing to it!  We believe that the gifts of God are poured out upon all—no exceptions;  and the gifts of all are urgently needed.  As we welcome those both like and unlike ourselves, we learn new rhythms and harmonies for the song, and hear expanded meaning in the Scriptures.

Worship is practice for the reign of our lavishly generous God.  The sum of the assembly is more than its parts.  As women in ministry we bring to the assembly and to God’s table something that hasn’t been there for nearly two millennia.  Like Jesus, we alienate those who judge our very presence as a sign of contradiction.  But we inspire people who never had the chance to experience it before, and sometimes even convert the alienated.

Forty years ago, most children had never seen a woman pastor.  Today, there are girls and boys who can’t imagine a church without us. 

The font of vocational dreams has widened, refreshing the earth.

Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!  Sing to it!


 

IMG_20160318_2205182_rewind.jpgI was baptized at 10, confirmed at 18, ordained at 32.  I’m white, straight, and married, although single during the first years of ministry.  I’ve worked for five years each at LSTC and the ELCA Churchwide Offices;  served two settled and seven interim pastorates;  and continue to write worship resources for Augsburg Fortress.


Notes and Resources:

A wonderful internet resource for young female clergy.

[1] Numbers 20:17, NRSV.  After the unpleasantness with the plague and the bronze serpent.

[2] Here they are:  THINK (HOLD TOGETHER PARADOXES, LET DIALECTICS PLAY)

It’s vital to acknowledge both that there has been significant progress for women in ministry, and also (good Lutheran paradox) that we still have a long way to go.

I take for granted that each of us is an unrepeatable individual, and—another paradox—belongs to various overlapping group identities (gender, race, culture, etc.,) that play indispensable roles in who we are.  Honoring individuality means receiving people as more than categories and types.  Owning our distinct social location means accepting our history with its responsibility and gifts.  Both are essential.

To state the obvious, there’s not an automatic direct connection between being part of a particular group or having a common set of bodily experiences, and thinking or acting in a particular way.  Think college professors Condoleezza Rice and Elizabeth Warren;  first ladies Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama.  Because of multiple factors in play, there usually are connections, but we can’t assume how they operate.  Moreover, even if we have the same goal as other people at the table, we might well disagree about how to get there.

My own well-being is best articulated and served by both me (as the person living my life) and others, who can perceive or do things I can’t.  Both viewpoints are necessary.

[3] Scholars have found ample signs of women’s liturgical leadership in the earliest centuries.

[4] Not to be confused with the transitive verb, “entranced,” from the ELCA candidacy process!

[5] The Pew Center estimates that 32% of the world’s population is Christians.  Among Christians, those who do not ordain women are the majority:  62% are Roman Catholic or Orthodox.  Among Protestants, some large denominations don’t ordain women, and have even moved in the past couple of years to reiterate their prohibition of ordination.  These numbers don’t account for people of other religious traditions.

Meanwhile, we are 25% of the ordained ELCA clergy.  The March 2016 issue of The Lutheran counts us as 35% of active ELCA clergy.

For International Women’s Day 2014, the Huffington Post featured a slide show, “Fifty Powerful Women Religious Leaders to Celebrate.”  They represent different religions around the world.  The Lutheran clergy are  Archbishop of Sweden Antje Jackelén, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and ELCA pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/08/women-religious-leaders_n_4922118.html

[6] Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s now classic Men and Women of the Corporation (1977 and 1993) posited a typology of four possible majority/minority distributions within an organization:  100: 0 (uniform);  85:15 (skewed);  65:35 (tilted);  50:50 (balanced).  She accurately described the increased visibility of and pressure upon tokens (vs. dominants) in a skewed group.  Tokens are subject to disproportionate pressure to excel, isolation, and role entrapment.

She speculated that more evenly balanced ratios between women and men would bring about greater equality, but had no data available to work with.  Her research gave rise to the “critical mass” theory:  namely, that as numbers of a minority group rise, so do its fortunes.  People using her research presumed that greater numbers would automatically bring about greater justice, but that presumption didn’t take account of backlash.

“Rethinking Tokenism:  Looking Beyond Numbers” (abstract).  Janice D. Yoder, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, 1991:  http://gas.sagepub.com/content/5/2/178.abstract

“Critical Mass Theory and Women’s Political Representation.”  Sarah Childs, University of Bristol;  Mona Lena Krook, Washington University, St. Louis.  2008:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sarah_Childs2/publication/231897457_Should_Feminists_Give_Up_on_Critical_Mass_A_Contingent_Yes/links/5587d4a608ae7bc2f44d5eae.pdf

“Tokenism” in Wikipedia (last revised 2/3/16):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenism

 

[7] “Female clergy earn 76 cents for every dollar that male clergy earn.  Across all professions, women on average make 83 cents for every dollar men make.”  Moreover, the pay gap for clergywomen widens with experience.  Editorial, “The Pay Gap at Church,” Theological Education issue of The Christian Century, February 17, 2016, p. 7.

Discrimination is more difficult to deal with where it officially doesn’t exist.  Harassment and micro-aggressions, especially being trivialized and patronized, cost significant energy.  Where’s that spa?

[8] The first Lutheran women were ordained in 1970 (ALC and LCA) and 1976 (AELC).  The Episcopal “Philadelphia

Eleven” were ordained in a protest ceremony in 1974;  the denomination came around in 1976.

[9] From my reading.  Surely there are more.  (I’m leaving out nuns for reasons of space.)  Meanwhile:

Fiction featuring African American women of ceremonial power:  Baby Suggs, from Toni Morrison’s Beloved;  August and her sisters, from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

A Navajo healer:  Margaret Cigaret, from Tony Hillerman’s Listening Woman

In the following list, the religious leaders are white, down to the ice age:

Women rabbis:  Rhonda Shapiro Rieser’s Rabbi Lynda Jacobs Klein of A Place of Light;  Jonathan Rosen’s Rabbi Deborah Green of Joy Comes in the Morning.

Women Episcopal priests:  Gail Godwin’s Rev. Margaret Bonner of Evensong;  Madeleine L’Engle’s Mother Catherine of A Severed Wasp.  Murder mystery series featuring Episcopal priests:  Michelle Blake’s Rev. Lily Connor (set in Cambridge, MA);  Phil Rickman’s Rev. Merrily Watkins, also an exorcist (set in the borderlands between England and Wales);  Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Rev. Clare Fergusson (set in far upstate New York).  Very funny murder mystery series:  Kate Gallison’s Mother Lavinia Grey (set in New Jersey).

Hyde Parker Sara Paretsky’s Hardball has a hospital chaplain of another denomination, Pastor Karen Lennon.

Holy women in fantasy:  the central characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novels about ancient Britain;  Margaret Furlong’s young adult Wise Child trilogy;  Jane Auel’s ice age Clan of the Cave Bear series

[10] “Bread and Roses”:  famous song of the women’s labor movement, with origins in Chicago.  Text written in 1911, inspired by lectures and/or a sign at a rally.  Lyrics are included in this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_Roses

It was set to music once again by Mimi Fariña.  Recorded by Fariña and her sister Joan Baez:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWkVcaAGCi0

[11] Galatians 3:28

 

 

“Boys Are Bad!” – by Allison Bengfort, M.S.W. and Candidate for Ministry, ELCA

Linda Thomas at CTS event

In continuing Women’s History Month we now have an intimate reflection on how sexism influences even the most “enlightened” of upbringings. Starting from her childhood until the present day, Allison Bengfort speaks directly and revealingly of the ways that sexism was tangled into all aspects of her life – and the ways in which she works to remove them, one-at-a-time. Read, enjoy, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


 

Maybe you consider yourself a feminist. 

Maybe you don’t.

Maybe you think you can be not-sexist, and not-a-feminist.

Maybe you think there is no need for feminism any more. 

We can do it

I was born in 1987.  No one ever told me that I could not be a doctor, a lawyer, a pastor, or anything else that I would ever want to be.  I grew up going to coed schools, where girls were always the top students in the class.  My father did all the cooking and cleaning, and my mother was never a stay-at-home mom.  All these signs point to progress – congratulations, feminists!  It seems that your work is done.

Unfortunately, this is not the full story.  Sexism was woven into my reality, whether I knew it or not.  The media consistently bombarded me with sexualized representations of women, and the lives of my friends and family were predicated on patriarchal assumptions.  Many of these assumptions were passed on by the people closest to me in seemingly innocent, playful ways. 

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My father is a lovely person with a fantastic sense of humor.  He is also a Roman Catholic who thinks that women should be allowed to be priests.  When I was little, he often tucked me in at night.  He made up epic stories about my stuffed animals getting lost and finding their way home again.  He had several phrases that he repeated each night, such as “I love you,” and “God bless you.”  One of the things he often did was lean over my bed and whisper in my ear.  “Boys are bad!” he would say.  He’d smile, I’d roll my eyes, and we would continue our goodnight ritual.  My mom’s version of the story includes my dad doing this even when I was a baby.  Apparently, he would check on me in my crib and whisper, “Boys are bad!”

Danger bad boy

It was supposed to be a cute story.  Sweet, even.  It showed that my dad loved me and was protective of me.  However, comments like this are also how I learned what it meant to be a girl.  Through this catchphrase and other conversations with my dad, I learned that all boys wanted from me was sex.  I was told that boys had trouble thinking about anything else, and that they would always be trying to “get me in bed.”

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Boys would make advances, and I was the territory they advanced upon.  Thus, I needed to protect myself.  I was to act as a security guard, protecting my virginity, which was an asset reserved for my future husband.  Strangely, I was never told that I myself might want to have sex, and that I would have to counteract my own sexual impulses as well.  While I knew all about the male sex drive, male arousal, and male orgasm, I did not know there were female versions of these things.

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So, what did it mean to be a girl? It meant being an object.

So, what did it mean to be a girl?  It meant being an object.  Being something that is looked at, chased, and obtained.  I have a distinct memory from middle school, in which I was picking out an outfit for church.  I had a crush on a few boys at our church, and I wanted them to like me.  I remember having an idea that I wanted to dress “for the boys.”  For the boys.  As in, for their enjoyment.  I wanted to give them something nice to look at.

 

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After all, this was my role – to be looked at and lusted after. 

If you had asked me if I was a feminist in middle school, I would have said no.  After all, it’s impossible to know what you do not know.  I didn’t realize that I was ignorant of my own sexuality, and I didn’t know that my pattern of objectifying myself was harmful.  I had no idea that viewing myself as being “for” men was at all unhealthy.  In fact, I thought it was natural. 

If you had asked me if I was okay with using male language for God, I would have said yes.  After all, English has no gender-neutral personal pronoun.  We need a pronoun for God, so why not use “He”?  I wasn’t offended.

feminism definition.jpg

In college, I was surrounded by feminists for the first time.  I began to realize, through both personal experience and academic study, that my ideas about gender and sexuality did not hold up.  The objectification of human beings is not, in fact, natural.  Sex is not something that men do to women, and there is no reason that women’s bodies need to meet anyone’s standard.  Instead, the sexualization and objectification of women is a way that our society maintains male dominance.  It is about the use and abuse of power. 

Similarly, referring to God as “He,” is not neutral.  The term “God” represents whatever a group of people regards as most holy, most precious, and most worthy of imitation.  Referring to God as “He” lifts up maleness as the default, the ideal, and the source of power.  For as long as we are uncomfortable referring to God as “She,” we can be certain that we are not yet free of our patriarchal programming. 

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“Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man” (11:9).

Unfortunately, the concept of women existing for the sake of men is not just a secular idea.  For many Christians, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.  Eve was created second, for the sake of Adam.  As explained in First Corinthians, “Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man” (11:9).

The bad news is that Christianity is complicit in the patriarchal programming that we continue to pass on to our children.  The good news is that we as church leaders are in the perfect position to make a difference on this issue.  Sexism is still alive and well, but we are not powerless!  The way you do theology matters.  Experiment with using female language and metaphors for God.    Adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion.  Whenever you notice differing expectations, treatments, or norms for men and women, get suspicious.  Ask yourself how patriarchy may be playing a role. Tackle Biblical passages that reflect patriarchal norms, and don’t hold back – the Bible does not need defending.

GOD AS WOMAN
Experiment with using female metaphors and language for God.

I am a feminist. 

I believe that God is present in me, just as She is present in men. 

Boys are not “bad,” sex-crazed animals that cannot control themselves, and girls are not objects in need of protection.  Do not assume that sexism is over, and do not leave it to others to speak up.  You can make a difference. 


 

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Allison Bengfort, MSW, is a senior M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  In addition to experiencing the negative effects of objectification in her own life, she has witnessed the trauma that results from this culture in her work with sexual assault victims and their families at the Sexual Violence Center (Minneapolis, MN) and the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center.  Allison is a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is looking forward to beginning an internship next year in Seattle, WA.

Additional Resources
Ellen Pao (former head of Reddit) talks about sexism in the Silicon Valley.
Images used in an ad campaign highlighting the global reach of sexism.
An article on how teachers in Great Britain are combating sexist programming education.
A YouTube video featuring blatant displays of sexism on Fox News.
Photographer Allair Bartel’s series “Boundaries” shows the reality of every-day sexism.

Why Gender Inclusive Language is Essential – Dr. Christine Wenderoth, Ph.D.

Picture 002Our Women’s History Month focus now switches to gender inclusive language. Dr. Christine Wenderoth – Director of the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick (JKM) Library in Hyde Park, on Chicago’s south side – gives a solid, simple history lesson as to the origins of gender inclusive language, as well as a rather potent illustration as to why it will always be “a thing” – at least until everyone finally appreciates it.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


My undergraduate school [Oberlin College] was the first college in the world to admit women [1837] alongside men, so the first coeducational college.  It is no surprise, therefore, that inclusive language was a part of my college experience, part of the requirements for academic assignments during my years there. All papers had to use gender inclusive language, or be penalized a full letter grade. 

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Oberlin College

 

 

I graduated from Oberlin in 1971, 45 years ago. I mention that only to indicate that gender inclusive language is not a new thing.  It is so not a new thing that it was the topic of the 1745 publication, A New Grammar by Anne Fisher [she, alas! advocated using “he, his, him” to stand for personal pronouns of all genders].  What may be new today is the struggle to get away from binary gender indications in all our language, but wrestling with language and the gender power it conveys has long been with us.

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Gender-inclusive Wordle 🙂

Yes, for us old timers, it can be demoralizing that gender exclusive language is “still a thing”.

Why does it matter? 

Back in 1989, hymn writer Brian Wren in his What Language Shall I Borrow? God-Talk in Worship: A Male Response to Feminist Theology [NY: Crossroads Press, 1989] told us clearly why it matters: 

If

Every naming of God

Is a borrowing from human experience,

And if

Language slants and angles

Our thinking and behavior,

And if

Our society

Makes qualities labeled “feminine”

Inferior to qualities labeled “masculine,”

Forming women and men

With identities steeped in these labelings,

In structures where men are still dominant

Though shaken

And women still subordinate

Though seeking emancipation…

Then it follows that

Using only male language

(“he,” “king,” “father”)

To name and praise God

Powerfully affects our encounter with God

And our thinking and behavior.

Wren, p. 1

Words control, words wield power; language, thought and action are inextricably connected and therefore language is always a political act. To speak and write in exclusively male language is, whether intended or not, an exercise of patriarchy, an exercise allowing men to keep holding the power, an exercise excluding women from that power.  Contrary to Ms. Fisher’s 18th century recommendation, “he” means male. Psychological tests have shown again and again that the use of male language translates in people’s minds into images of male persons and culturally conditioned masculine “attributes”.

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Inclusive language is not exclusively a matter of personal pronouns, of course—it’s about the power of all language to shape, to hurt, to control, and to encourage. And the power of language is still with us. Just this week in an article in Inside Higher Ed, it was reported that a respected listserve for scholars of [city and regional] planning, geography and related fields has been embroiled in a debate about and begun by a [supposed] joke posted by one of its senior participants.* Some participants objected to the sexist joke; other participants objected to the objections. 118 professors ultimately issued a joint statement and left the listserve, in large part because they “were as outraged over the reaction (or lack of reaction) to it [the joke] as by the original attempt at humor. While some members of the group were quick to condemn the joke, many others accused those of taking offense of overreacting and some defended the joke.” The statement of the 118 went on:

“All those who have signed below (and perhaps many more) have been truly astonished and disappointed by the overt contempt that has been launched by a vocal few at some of our colleagues who have been brave enough to call out sexism where they see it. It started with a sexist joke, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The defense of the joke, the hostility toward those who were offended, and the need to shut down the conversation by telling those objecting to the joke to leave the Listserv is unacceptable in a forum that is supposed to serve the planning community as a whole. We agree that [the listserve] has become an ‘old boys club,’ where most women, younger scholars and other marginalized groups are not, and perhaps never have been, welcome. We have essentially been shouted down.”

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Our language keeps on betraying us.  What is “just a joke” to some is just as clearly an indication that “most women, younger scholars and other marginalized groups are not, and perhaps never have been, welcome.” The call for respectful, inclusive speech and thought that has been issued and explained for over 45 years [and more!] has not yet “taken”. For so many of us, this call to be included in the conversation and in the very speech of public life is not something new and cutting edge.

It’s not something surprising.  It’s not something radical. It is common sense, a signal of the speaker or writer’s attempt to be at least aware of issues of inclusion and exclusion.

This is why it’s so crushing to sit in a worship service [for example] and hear the same old patriarchal vocabulary that I heard in 1970, and then to hear the same old “oh, get over it” from people upset that I’m upset.  We know from so many discourses—the current political debates, the Black Lives Matter movement, the pleas of trans people to honor their pronoun wishes—that words are not “just” words.  Words are not something to “get over”. Language carries assumptions and power and history.  The fact that 45 years after my first encounter with inclusive language it still hasn’t taken root is a sure signal that feminists and womanists still have so much gender work to do…and that the work is going to take a long time to come to fruition.


 

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Dr. Christine Wenderoth joined the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in 2004 as Director of the JKM Library. She also serves as associate professor of ministry. The JKM Library houses one of the largest theological collections in the United States and is operated jointly by McCormick Theological Seminary and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.


 

*(The joke goes like this: “Judy married Ted; they had 13 healthy children. Sadly Ted died. She married again, and she and Bob had seven more lovely children. Bob was tragically killed in a terrible car accident, 12 years later. Judy remarried a third time, and this time she and John had five more fine children. Judy finally died, after having 25 wonderful children. Standing before her coffin, the preacher thanked the Lord for this very loving woman and said, “Lord, they are finally together.” Ethel leaned over and quietly asked her best friend, Margaret, “Judy’s had three husbands and 25 children. What do you think he means by saying they’re finally together?” Margaret replied, “I think he means her legs!” As told by Scott Jaschik, “When a Joke Isn’t Funny”, Inside Higher Ed, February 29, 2016.)

 

A Black Catholic Lay Woman’s Views on Pope Francis’ Visit to the United States – Kimberly M. Lymore, M.Div., Dmin.

Linda Thomas at CTS eventDr. Kimberly M. Lymore is African American, Roman Catholic, and a lay leader in Chicago’s world-renowned St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church. Her reflection is a fitting closing piece to this month’s focus on Black History, covering the Black Roman Catholic community and their response to the inspiration and controversy of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States – as well her feelings on Catholic Social Teachings and the importance of the laity. Read, enjoy, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


 

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was both exciting and disappointing. It was exciting because Pope Francis has infused not just Roman Catholics, but everyone in the country with a renewed perspective on what it means to be Christian for such a time as this. But it is also disappointing because it seems as if women and people of color are still treated as second-class citizens within this institution we call “the church.”

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Pope Francis spoke truth to power at his historic address to Congress. We Roman Catholics are generally known for our nearsightedness, of often focusing on two issues: abortion and same-sex marriage. However, Pope Francis barely referenced these issues – instead speaking on immigration, abolishing the death penalty, racial injustice, the arms trade, poverty, women and the laity, and caring for the environment (the focus of his most current encyclical, Laudato Si).
Pope Francis also brought the best kept secrets of Catholicism to life: the Catholic Social Teachings. Catholic Social Teachings consist of encyclicals written by popes and apostolic letters written by bishops that, throughout history, have addressed social concerns like human dignity, work, family, economic equity, politics, solidarity, and environmental issues.

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The Seven Parts of the Catholic Social Teachings

Throughout all of Pope Francis’ talks in the United States he constantly reiterated the need to treat everyone with dignity – be they the immigrant, the homeless, the prisoner, the divorced, or the victims of sexual abuse. He forcefully declared that the dignity of human life runs from conception to the grave and called for the abolition of the death penalty.

The Pope called for solidarity among the wealthy and the poor. He spoke to “the haves,” saying that their wealth should be shared and geared toward creating an environment of common good where everyone flourishes. Those that have the ability to create jobs should do so in order to assist in bringing about economic justice for those who are in poverty.

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This radical pontiff – who wears Payless instead of Prada, who shuns limos to ride in a Fiat, whom many devote Catholics question if he is even Catholic – reminds us of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Gospel that calls us to feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, to clothe and shelter the homeless.

Pope Francis prayed and ate with the homeless, posed for selfies, blessed babies and physically-challenged children, and he embraced the prisoner. All of these actions gave a lot of hope to a lot of people. Francis keeps showing us what discipleship looks likes in these times when the Gospel has been perverted into a very insular and internal way of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

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Though I cannot deny that the coverage of his visit was a bit obsessive, it was a breath of fresh air from the media coverage on Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Yet after all the coverage (which I admit I did not watch in its entirety) the lack of diversity and eurocentrism among the participants (lectors, priests, bishops, etc.) and the celebrants present at each mass – and even the way in which the masses were celebrated – was brought to my attention through various Facebook posts and commentary. It was also brought up that the mainstream media sought out white males to give their commentary on the Pope’s visit – with the lone exception of Michael Steele, who added no value.

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Television Crew on the Papal Airliner

 

While Pope Francis mentioned the plight of immigrants he never specifically mentioned anything about Black and Native American Catholics. Maybe he is not aware that in most dioceses in the United States, and especially in Chicago, they are closing predominately Black Churches because there are not enough people in the pews to financially sustain the buildings and operations of a church – this is despite the fact that, historically, Black Catholics have a higher rate of giving per capita than other Catholics. Maybe his handlers, who are white male priests, have not even discussed the vital role of Black Catholics in the United States and how they contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our church.

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Worshiping at my home parish, St. Sabina.

After having these alleged faux pas of the media called-out, Dr. C. Vanessa White, an Assitant Professor of Spirituality and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and past convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS), requested those Black Catholic Theologians to share their interviews through the BCTS listserv. Black Catholic theologians began to send in links of their interviews (see below). As for the role of women in the church, Pope Francis mentioned the important contributions of women in the life of the church. But the old adage still applies, “actions speak louder than words.”

Until the church makes significant advances in their treatment of women and make serious efforts to include women at the decision making table, anything Pope Francis has said or will say are only words in the atmosphere with no impact.

In conclusion, I admire Pope Francis for his approachability and his willingness to not only speak truth to power but also to hold his bishops accountable as he pushes to implement the vision and mission that God has given him as the Chief Shepherd. Likewise, I can truly say that I am proud to be a black lay woman working in the Roman Catholic Church – despite its shortcomings. After-all, what denomination doesn’t have issues? We are all working to fulfill the purpose and destiny that God has put in us. There are too many other important issues that our congregants are facing and the church needs to step up and be the light in the darkness of the world. While a visit from the Pope is nice, like the songwriter penned, “on Christ the solid rock I stand…”

ptim3.jpgSince 1983, Kimberly Lymore has been a member of The Faith Community of St. Sabina, which is known for its dynamic worship and social activism.  In 2000, Kimberly decided to leave Corporate America and pursue full-time ministry.  On September 1, 2000 she became the full-time Pastoral Associate at The Faith Community of St. Sabina. She is also team leader for the Worship & Praise Ministry (formerly, Liturgy Committee) and Eucharistic Ministers. Kimberly is also on the preaching staff for the 8:30 service. Kimberly is responsible for all the sacramental preparation of Sunday School children and Adults and all technology for the church. She is involved in several women’s ministries, National Consortium of Black Women in Ministry and Women in Urban Ministry.  Kimberly received her Masters in Divinity with a concentration in Word and Worship in June of 2003 from Catholic Theological Union. In May of 2009 she received her Doctor of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. Her thesis article was titled, “God Doesn’t Tilt: Making the Connection Between Worship and Justice.”


 

Resources
Links to interviews by Black Catholic Theologians on Pope Francis’ Visit to the United States.

Shannen Williams Talks Black Nuns, Racism In The Catholic Church | Black America 

Interview with Bishop Fabre, Marc Morial and Rev. Dr. Maurice Nutt, by Aaron Morrison, Diversity and Civil Rights reporter for the International Business Times, a sister company of Newsweek.
Roland Martin devoted a substantial portion of his morning news program to a Black Catholic perspective on Pope Francis’ visit.  Among those he interviewed were Rev. Dr. Bryan Massingale, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and Rev. George Clements.

Article about Sister Lynn Marie Ralph, S.B.S. and how she and other women religious were literally moved back in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to make room for the clergy while awaiting Pope Francis.

‘A black president, yay!’: 106-year-old finally meets the Obamas, dances like a schoolgirl.