Feminism

Remarks for an Interfaith Response to the President's Policies

The first question someone might raise upon hearing of an Interfaith response to the president’s policies might reasonably be, “Why are faith leaders involving themselves in partisan politics by holding a press conference?”

The answer to that question, most simply put, is that the kinds of policies and the legislative agenda coming out of Washington D.C. . . . all the way down to our state capital are a matter of profound concern to us gathered here. To put a finer point on it, the issues—ranging from the proposed budget, to the Executive Order, to the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act are not merely partisan political issues to us—they’re moral issues, issues that strike at the heart of our most precious moral and religious commitments.

From my own tradition, I can say with certainty that Jesus never said: “Go ye therefore into all the world . . . and make life as miserable as possible for poor people who need financial and healthcare assistance. And while you’re out there spreading misery, don’t forget to ensure that refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ people have as grim an existence as you can possibly make it.”

That doesn’t sound anything like Jesus . . . or the Prophet Muhammad, or Moses, or the Buddha—or any of the faith traditions we hold dear. But you might be forgiven for thinking that those are exactly the marching orders handed down from certain political leaders . . . both in Washington and Frankfort. If it were possible to craft a social and political agenda that would fail more stunningly to represent the best expressions of all of our faith traditions, I’m sure I don’t know what it would be.

How we treat those seeking refuge or work or a start on a new life, how we care for the environment, how we empower women to have control over their own bodies and careers, how we refuse to enable systems that continue to oppress and deny human dignity to African Americans and LGBTQ people, how we ensure affordable healthcare to all people, how we protect the rights and the safety of our Muslim and Jewish neighbors . . . these things and not our commitment to dogmatic purity, we believe, are the true test of our faith.

We are called, as the deepest expression of who we are as people of faith, to give voice to the voiceless.

We will not be silenced!

Why the Church and Its Allies Must Come Together to Fight Oppression Now

By Derek Penwell

In the aftermath of the recent presidential election it is no understatement to say that many people are anxious about what lies ahead. Women and minority groups have understandably begun to organize, so as not to be taken by surprise should they find themselves the targets of harassment, legal intimidation, or violence.

I believe the church has a role to play, along with other religious communities and non-profit justice organizations. As such, I recently reached out to over 200 hundred area clergy, and over 25 different non-profits in the city where I live to gather together, to see how we might offer support to one another as we brace for the worst. Below is the statement I gave about why we need to stand in solidarity with one another now.

In the wake of the presidential election those who are celebrating victory are calling for the country to unify behind the new administration. Such a call for unity, however, rings hollow for many who feel threatened by the aggressively hostile rhetoric of the winning campaign—not to mention the violent acts of some of the President-elect’s supporters. Those threatened by the repeated denigration of women and minority groups rightly wonder how they can be reconciled to the very people who have expressed such antipathy toward their fellow citizens.
But perhaps even more hurtful is the awareness that such large numbers of otherwise good people were willing to overlook the fear and hatred being sown by the candidate and his allies. The feelings of betrayal extend beyond the disappointment at having lost an election to the dawning realization that a significant portion of the country has made peace with the potential victimization of so many of its citizens. Consequently, calls for the country to “come together” sound like a way for those newly empowered to tamp down dissent—a dissent, which is not so much political in nature, as it is moral.
As leaders within the religious and non-profit communities, we’re also aware of the need for unity. However, our belief is that the kind of unity necessary is one predicated on truth and a commitment to the flourishing of all our friends and neighbors, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender expression, or ability. Moreover, the kind of unity we envision draws its strength not from a desire to consolidate power, but from our deeply rooted values and beliefs about the worth and dignity of all people.
As faith leaders, we can speak pastorally about the fear and dislocation people are experiencing as they anticipate the implications of disquieting policy proposals. We can speak in ways that no one else is capable of speaking about the spiritual nature of our call to protect those who are most vulnerable among us. We are motivated not by any benefit to us, but simply because—across religious traditions—our commitment to caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—which is to say, those who often find themselves alone and without voice—is at the very heart of all of our religious expressions.
As leaders within the non-profit world, we have intimate knowledge of how some of the policies that have been proposed will negatively impact those whom we love and serve. We know the weak points in the system, and where those who will be disadvantaged are most likely to encounter difficulty. And we know that without the concerted effort of all of us who find ourselves at the intersections of justice work, too many people will be left behind, too many will suffer under the boot of oppression.
Whether it is fear of deportation of refugees or the undocumented; or a justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color—leaving them in constant fear of the very authorities charged with protecting them; or the institutionalization of bigotry toward LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations; or the coarsening of attitudes toward women that will inevitably continue to underwrite rape culture and an environment hostile to women’s flourishing; or a society that defaults to treating Muslims with suspicion and hatred; or a world in which those with disabilities are systematically disadvantaged—we know what the disastrous possibilities of such a future promise.
But if we come together, if we embrace the unity that finds its strength in our shared commitment to justice for all our neighbors, we can begin to reassure them that they need not live in the fear that they will be abandoned by the very people tasked with advocating on their behalf. And our unity will send a message to those in power that the values and beliefs that bring us meaning and purpose will not allow us to look the other way while our friends and families are torn apart by bigotry and fear.
We’re better than that.

A Confession from a White Male Progressive Pastor

By Bruce Barkhauer

The day after the election, I noticed that the servers and waitstaff, none of whom appeared to be “from here” (Dallas, TX), were very quiet in the hotel restaurant on the post election morning. They went about their duties politely, but with a countenance of uneasiness.  In the afternoon, as I waited for my plane, people of color and ethnic diversity looked back at me with questioning, almost empty eyes.  

I am a white male, close to sixty, a bit overweight and on whom clothes never hang quite right -  and for all the world to guess, one who looks like he voted to elect Donald Trump President of the United States.  “The Donald,” who by his own words has made these people to feel unwelcome, unworthy, un-American – and somehow un-human.  I wanted to apologize to every single one of them.

A gay couple clung to each other in the terminal as if they would crumble if they dared to let go.  It is hard to speculate what the future will be like for them with an electorate that has handed all the levers of power to people who think they should not be able to love each other or enjoy the same rights and protections that my wife and I do.  I fear for my daughter, who is gay and married to her partner.  I wanted to tell them, all of them, that I have their back and that I am glad that they are a part of the fabric of our country and that they make us better and stronger for all their diversity. In the worst way I wanted to make eye contact with them to assure them they did not need to fear.  I felt unclean, ashamed. I wanted a shower - but this will not wash off.  The privilege afforded by my race and gender is the judge and jury of the sin from which I most often benefit, but did not choose.

The ugly truth is that I cannot promise them that they will be okay and safe from their neighbors or their government. But I will stand with them. I cannot promise that the undocumented will not be deported, that the LGBTQ person will be safe from abuse or that their elected leaders will protect or even care about them if they are. But I will seek to protect them. I cannot promise a place for the refugee family fleeing the terror of war and the broken covenant of a government that will neither protect or provide for them. But I will try to make a place for them.

For women who already suffer from a culture that glorifies their sexuality while denying their right to their own bodies; a society which tells them their contribution in work and creativity is worth less than a man’s labor for the same endeavor; and an pervasive attitude that says they should accept unwanted advances and physical contact as “just the way it is” because boys will be boys - I honestly don’t have a word of encouragement that this will change.  We have elected to our highest office one who by his own behavior expressed these very “values,” and thus we continued to affirm those twisted values to be normative and acceptable. I will name it for what it is and that it is wrong.

For the kid bullied at school, I cannot promise you that your pain and exclusion will stop since we have chosen a bully to sit in the oval office.  But I will stand up for you.

Tears well in my eyes - but they just won’t fully come.  It would be a welcome catharsis. With my shame there is also anger.  Yes, I am angry at those who chose this candidate because in their desperation for a change they could control in our halls of governance, and their fear of a change they could not shape in our world, they accepted the high cost of moral bankruptcy as a fair exchange.  

I am angry with evangelicals who since the 1980s have made “character matters” their mantra but gladly sacrificed it all on the alter of the Supreme Court nominees. It is idolatry of the most subtle sort because it seems so righteous.  

I am angry at the media for making this election about everything but the issues and who found more value in reporting news as entertainment instead of accepting the high calling of journalism.  Without unbiased reporting, fact checking, and public accountability, a democracy cannot flourish and is subject to tyranny. We forget this at our own peril.

I am angry that emails became more important than tax returns. I really do believe where your treasure is that is where your heart can be found.  Money, and what we do with it, reveals character.  That information was kept hidden from us for a reason, and somehow that became acceptable. We should have been asking persistent serious questions and demanding they be answered.  His opponent was figuratively stripped naked and paraded down main street via congressional hearings and federal investigation so that no secrets could have possibly remained.  Every dark corner of her life received the light of sordid exploration.  It revealed her imperfections, which oddly paled in comparison to her opponent’s without anyone noticing.

My real anger, however, is directed at myself.  I placed my hope in the wrong thing.  In my own progressive optimism, I began to believe that the government of my country could reflect the values of my soul.  Perhaps “Washington” really could support an egalitarian community that saw commonwealth as primary, and thus individuality as a fruit of rather than the goal of liberty.  With gains made in recent years suggesting greater inclusivity, I became both encouraged and lazy.  I also saw the attempts to restrict the voices of minorities as Jim Crow raised its ugly head, but I believed our better angels would win the day because the attempts were so blatant that decent people would never allow it to stand. In my imagination, a new Supreme Court justice would help undo this mess, as I too crafted an idol from an empty chair on the high court. 

I was wrong and I confess it to all who will read these words. The error was placing my hope in something less than God.  As a theologian, I know that putting trust in anything less than the Ultimate will lead to ultimate disappointment. I want this country to reflect my values, but believing that putting someone in the White House or the Statehouse could make that possible was destined to be disaster.  It doesn't mean it is not important, just that is not an end in and of itself.

We do well to remember our own history.  It was the government that killed Jesus and sought to eliminate his movement of “the way.”  When it could not stop Jesus’ movement, the government co-opted it to secure its own hold on power and to preserve its own values.  A motive from which we seemingly have never fully escaped.  Being too close to the seat of power carries great risk.  Distance allows for prophetic perspective. 

Creating a culture of generosity, welcome, justice, grace, and one that affirms the value of every person as a child of God is not the work of government – it is the work of the church.  We can wish that our government could someday be the catalyst that makes this the law in our land - but we cannot place our hope there alone to make it so.  And in the end, the law for all of its benefits, cannot legislate the province which is the human heart.  That is reserved for the work of transformation, which again, only God can do, and do so only with the willing.  

Bringing a compelling word about a better way of being is the only real hope of living up to the values we claim for ourselves as a nation. We need to engage not just in campaigning but in the work of conversion. 


And so we can acknowledge our anger, grief, and sadness at the result of the election.  But despite this crushing blow, we are not without hope.

Hope has always been a slim shimmering light in the darkness of despair, a courageous whisper softly spoken against the din of populist provocation, a tender branch unbroken thoughwhipped by the blustering winds of earthly principalities, and above all a belief that what might be is greater than what now exists. 

This election should serve as a reminder to the Church - you have what the world needs, the change that it longs for but does not recognize. This is not the time to be paralyzed by our grief, or bound up in our anger, but with resolve on our tear stained faces to get to work as stewards of the good news of the Gospel. 

It is up to us welcome to the stranger, create safe spaces for LGBTQ people, to care for the poor, to tend to the needs of the sick, to protect the earth, and by our living in beloved community to leave no doubt that all lives matter.  We can pressure the government to conform, but we cannot worship at its alter nor stand voiceless against its abuses.  The faith we proclaim believes that the cross and resurrection are less about us getting into heaven, and more about getting heaven into us, and through us, into the world.  

I’m embarrassed to be a middle-aged white guy today - but not at all ashamed that I voted for the first women to represent a major party for president.  I am deeply disappointed, but I am not without hope.

Updating Common Sense: What Christians Really Believe

As a kid I took for granted the fact that popping out of the womb as a male beat the hell out of the alternative. Any girl with half a brain, if given the choice, would obviously opt for checking “male” on the census form.

In fact, so clear was this bit of wisdom, and so desperately did young males my age need it to be true that we used “woman” as a slur: Sissy. Fem. Girly-man.

One time I called my little brother a woman in front of my mom. She said, “You know, woman isn’t a dirty word. There’s no shame in being a woman.”

I said, “Sorry, Mom.” But deep inside I knew she was wrong. Everybody did. The reality of male superiority was woven into the fabric of the universe.

But it wasn’t only women. I also took it as read that being gay made you somehow defective. We used sexual orientation as an epithet, too. You know the ones. I don’t need to repeat them.

We just knew these things, as surely as we knew the earth revolved around the sun, or that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is 180º, or that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time.

We didn’t argue that men were superior to women or that gay people had made some shoddy lifestyle choices any more than we argued about gravity or the law of the conservation of matter or entropy. Because, why would you?

That’s what taking something for granted means: You don’t have to argue about it anymore. It’s the way the world is. It’s not even conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom implies that there might be another side to the story. This stuff is just eye-rollingly obvious.

But then one day that stuff about women and gay people didn’t seem nearly so obvious anymore. I realized that I knew women who were smarter and funnier and more successful than me. I spent time with LGBT folks who seemed much more together, much more empathic, much more generous than I am. Now, a lot of that stuff I once took for granted seems not only laughably false, but something that I should be actively attempting to stand athwart.

We need to take a look at this whole “taken-for-grantedness” thing. We need to update common sense.

I was reading some analysis recently about the HuffPost/YouGov poll that indicates a problem with Americans’ perception of the budget deficit. In short, the deficit has been steadily falling over the last four years -- which you’d never know by asking the average American, 68 percent of whom believe otherwise.

Why the disparity between reality and perception? Because reality changes, while perception very often does not.

People, according to George Lakoff, make sense of reality by relying on a deeply embedded structure of frames. These frames are the taken-for-granted things we use as shortcuts to understand a complex world.

In many ways frames operate as “what-everybody-with-any-sense-knows-to-be-true.” In the worlds they construct and over which they have dominion, these frames are things that no longer even need to be asserted, let alone argued. Everybody just knows.

But we’ve come to understand that some frames are so wrongheaded that we have a moral responsibility to leave them behind -- like the idea that some classes of people are fit for nothing more than slavery, or that women are inherently hysterical and unfit for positions of responsibility outside the home, or that sexual orientation is a choice to be made -- a choice that is open to praise or blame. Obsolete and unchallenged frames can be moral liabilities.

The liability of certain frames is also true when it comes to religion. Christianity, for instance, has long suffered from some popular certainties that need to be shed. The “taken-for-grantedness” of some frames in popular Christianity is no longer just a hidebound inconvenience; it’s an obstacle to faith. But because the fundamentalists who rely on those yell louder than anyone else, their vision of the world sits at the forefront of the public consciousness as “the Christian position.”

Well, some of the frames popularly believed to be “the Christian position” aren’t; they are distortions of what many folks who claim to follow Jesus believe.

So, here is a list of popular Christian frames that come to mind that need to go away:

Christians are credulous dolts, who view science as a threat.

  • In fact, an overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics and white mainline Protestants take evolution to be the way we got here.

  • Across the board, a significant majority of Christians believe climate change is underway.

  • A majority of Christians (Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic) view stem cell research as morally acceptable or as “not a moral issue.”

Christians hate gay people.

Christians are nationalists who hate immigrants.

I’m tired of playing defense against fundamentalism. Fundamentalists don’t occupy “the Christian position,” which requires some kind of special deference, not to mention the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate. Christianity, in large part, is much more progressive than is popularly taken for granted.

Common sense about what the majority of Christians believe needs an update.

(This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.)