Something We Do: Advocate

Think Advocacy

A recurrent question around LPTS is “What is the Women’s Center?” and “What does the Women’s Center do?” It’s tempting to answer the question with some kind of list: it does things like bring in speakers at lunch, arrange film nights, sponsor the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture, organize a team for the AIDS Walk, put on The Vagina Monologues, that kind of thing. Or, with directions: it’s in White Hall, where the sign is in the window. But the question could be answered a little more formally, by looking at what the Women’s Center says about itself, in its mission statement. This month, partly in honor of experienced students’ return to campus and new students’ arrival, it seems wise to do that. In the briefer mission statement, the Women’s Center says it will:

  1. Discern new ways of being and living into these realities by support and advocacy for women and other disenfranchised groups;
  2. Supplement the academic program of the Seminary and provide a prophetic voice on the Seminary campus;
  3. Celebrate and affirm the gifts and contributions of women in all spheres of life in past and present;
  4. Provide a safe space to discuss and hear one another’s stories and supply resources for information and edification.

September seems like a good time to elaborate some on each of these larger kinds of activities, which together might be summed up as: “Advocate, Educate, Celebrate, Congregate!”

Many people do think of the Women’s Center as an advocacy organization of some kind – where advocacy means something like “The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.” Sometimes people think of advocacy as roughly equivalent to “shouting” – which can make people uncomfortable – or “always going on and on about, you know” – which can be boring.

We think of advocacy as something a little quieter (well, sometimes), and more interesting. Advocacy means creating a base of supporters who are educated about women’s issues, their relationship to fundamental theological, ecclesial and pastoral concerns, and their implications for the living out of Christian faith. These supporters are then in a position to become advocates as well, advocates of a more inclusive and comprehensive vision of the transformed world towards which Christians are called to bend their efforts. Advocacy involves taking the persuasive case for something to people who otherwise might not have heard it, or realized how glad they would be once they did.

A main message of Women’s Center advocacy is that women’s issues and gender issues are relevant, important, and concern everyone.

That’s a simple message, really. It doesn’t seem controversial. And yet – it is not always obvious that women’s issues are relevant. It is still easy to think that when our main concerns are theology or Scripture or designing worship, gender is really beside the point. It is still easy to fall into the trap set by our culture, of ignoring gender except for when it’s in the “right” places, like the family, private life, intimate relationships, or shopping for gender-appropriate clothing. We can then imagine that if we don’t think about or refer to gender, our theological reflection and ideas are gender-free, our construction of the political life of the church has nothing to do with gender, and so on. Advocacy is how we remind our collective self that whether we ignore the influences gender has on us, or whether we pay attention to them, they are there in everything we do – and if we ignore what we do with them, we’ll miss whatever chance we have to do anything new and better with them.

It is not always obvious that women’s issues are important. It is easy to think that what is most important is what appears – in newspaper headlines and TV trailers, on seminar agendas and reading lists, in all the best commentaries and the classic theological sources. Women’s issues don’t always seem to rank up there with the economy and the environment, or global mission and evangelism, or ethics and the Christian life, or whatever we recognize as things that really matter because we know the people they matter to really matter. But. As we learn to see how gender is relevant, we come to realize that in every human issue we know is really important, there is always already a women’s issue present; women are human, and every human issue is a women’s issue. There is no significant justice issue that does not reveal significant gender dynamics – when we bother to look. There is no significant intellectual issue that does not sound profoundly different in gendered conversation – when we bother to listen.

It can, in fact, happen that the ubiquity of gender influences masks their importance. Presuppositions about gender are woven into basic aspects of human life – appearance, gesture, language. Individually small but continuous, ubiquitous practices, that operate at a glacial pace, have a large effect. Efforts directed at changing those influences can seem like a focus on trivialities. Until – for instance, in the matter of “inclusive language – someone is challenged to count up the instances of masculine language used for God in the average worship service, and then multiply that by the number of all the worship services someone attends in a year, or 10, or their lives, and then to consider whether the influence exerted on a person’s understanding of the divine is or is not a sizeable one.

It is not always obvious that women’s issues and gender issues concern everyone. It’s still easy to dismiss the language of “gender issues” as code for things people who are not straight men would care about. It’s easy, because gender still defines many people to such an extent that “gender” itself seems like those people’s exclusive property. Advocacy insists that gender is a property of everyone’s humanity, that each of us has a particular gender through which we interact with everyone else in our lives. Each of us has an experience that gender — our own, and others’ — has had a hand in crafting. So “gender issues” are everyone’s issues. If we want to understand ourselves, and others; if we plan to counsel others; if we anticipate attending or planning or leading worship that will speak to people where they live; if we hope to extend the welcome of Christ to anyone in the body they live in, then we will do well to pay attention to how gender affects the way we do those things, and how people respond to us when we do.

Some people think that the time for advocacy around women’s issues has long since come and gone. According to that story, “all that ‘women’s liberation’ stuff” is so that 70s show; women have votes and jobs and grad school and pastoral calls now, so what is left to advocate for? According to us: just things like an end to violence against women and girls, access to education for women and girls around the world, the flourishing of lively and profound worship that fully incorporates women’s experiences and revelations, and all the other tremendous things that people who recognize that gender is relevant, important, and concerns everyone become able to wish for and work for.


God Beyond Gender

An iconic interpretation of the concept of the triune God

by Heather Thiessen

The Women’s Center advocates gender inclusive and expansive language as part of its mission. For us, then, this month’s decision by the United Churches of Christ to substitute “triune God” for “Heavenly Father” as part of a constitutional change was encouraging, despite the discouraging controversy it engendered. (See Peter Smith’s 7/16 Courier-Journal article.) We agree with Professor Amy Plantinga Pauw’s comment on the matter, that “there has to be real pastoral sensitivity around this issue” of language for God. As she notes, our language for God is the language of prayer, which is the language through which people intelligibly relate themselves to God. These God-words are theo-logy of the most fundamental kind.

That theology, or language, says much more about us than it says about God. What it says about us may not be easy or pleasant to recognize or accept. One of the functions of that needed pastoral sensitivity is to help people come face to face with the pervasive, unarticulated gender bias that is one of the deep wellsprings of resistance to expansive language for God, and to realize that it is permissible and desirable to challenge it.

Despite our determination not to make graven images of God, we tend to fall back on familiar clusters of meaning in our heads and hearts in our public and private rituals. While these meaning clusters are supported by Biblical language, their content comes largely from the world around us. It includes everything we know about various kinds of people — fathers, mothers, children, servants and so on — and their various relationships. It includes everything we know about which kinds of people can say or do what, to whom, when and where, and what all of that means — what conveys strength, e.g., or kindness, and whether the quality conveyed is positive or negative, good, bad, or indifferent.

Those clusters of meaning are awash with gender. It is commonplace for discussions about gendered language for God to appeal to God’s Spiritual genderlessness: God is famously “beyond gender.” But the human beings who make this claim are not. Whenever English-speaking people think of a personal, as opposed to an impersonal, reality, they are always already thinking of a gendered reality: him, or her. Thus, while we can honestly claim to believe in a God who is beyond gender, our ritual practice — particularly to the extent it invokes God as a personalistic reality — cannot support that belief articulately. We are driven over and over again to use gendered language, because it is the language we have available to us.

Because we do use gendered language, and have for millennia, we find that the challenge facing a person of faith in using new terms of reference for God is sharpened by the way gender plays a part in their clusters of meaning. To what extent can the new terms articulate or support the familiar understanding of God, the “same God,” that has been worshipped until now in other words? Or, if these new terms promote a change in the understanding of God, to what extent is that change experienced as a positive expansion of the possibilities attributable to God, or to what extent is it experienced as a denial or diminution in God’s positive attributes? It is at this point that we are liable to come face to face with one or more widespread, pervasive, normally unarticulated strands in our web of beliefs that have to do with gender.

Anyone can try this thought experiment:
First think of a familiar prayer that uses masculine-gendered language for God (e.g., “Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .) Then, try praying that prayer using feminine-gendered language for God (e.g., “Our Mother, who art in Heaven . . .) Pay attention to how this address to God feels. If it feels comfortable, try to put words to that comfort; “it feels good, because . . .” If it feels uncomfortable, try to put words to that discomfort; “it doesn’t feel right because . . . ” Finally: what does the feeling have to do with everything you know about the difference in meaning between the masculine term and the feminine term? That is: what does this experiment reveal about your own background assumptions about gender?

Very often, reasons for discomfort with this exercise take one or both of these forms: (1) I don’t feel I am addressing the same God when I use feminine language; or (2) I feel I am addressing God improperly — the word I am using doesn’t fit the God I am addressing, in a way that seems to take something away from God. Those feelings, in turn, give us clues about our understandings of these gendered terms. If I feel I am addressing a different God altogether, I may begin to realize the extent to which the image of God I cherish is, in fact, a distinctly masculine or patriarchal one, which cannot be supported by feminine language. If I find that I feel a feminine term is improper for God, that it takes something away from God, I may have to face the extent to which my own background assumptions about women include some form of inferiority, that makes those terms feel less than fully adequate to figure the divine. Either way, an exercise like this can face us with the extent to which we continue to hold a patriarchal understanding of God, which is held in place by our continued use of patriarchal language. As long as we never question our language practices, we can make statements like “My God is beyond gender,” fully believing them, while in practice worshipping and relating to a God we understand in distinctly masculine ways. Only when we begin to pay attention to our practices around language for God does this subtle form of idolatry come to awareness, and with it the limitation that imposes on our openness to encounter with the living God.

Once again, it is important to recognize that this exercise doesn’t pretend to tell us much about God, but about our own, usually implicit and unthinking, accepted and taken for granted, assumptions about gender. We can get at those assumptions by paying attention to the way we use and respond to language — its denotations and connotations, its emotional resonances — because language is our tool for communicating meaning. That’s also why the words we use for God shape and contain what we mean about God and what God means to us and for us.

For some, the problem with changed language for God is that the new language will not support an understanding of God that supports arrangements of power and privilege from which those people benefit. But for most, the even more profound challenge is that it opens up an avenue for fresh encounter with God, beyond accustomed and comfortable language and understanding. That opening is profoundly uncomfortable, and the intimation of an imminent uncomfort it announces ultimately has little to do with gender. It is rather the unsettling, frightening and yet fascinating awareness that the God we might really encounter is One who exceeds our categories and transcends our settled understandings so radically that no knowledge we already possess or imagine to be satisfactory is going to withstand that revelation.

Bracing the community of faith for that transformative encounter will really call for pastoral sensitivity.

updated 07/26/11

Click here to help fill the Women's Center's cup.

Help fund the Women’s Center’s ongoing programs during our Summer Donation Days!

You can go to OUR ONLINE DONATION SITE, the LPTS Online Donation Site (designate your gift to the Women’s Center), or send your check payable to LPTS – WOMEN’S CENTER FUND to The Women’s Center at Louisville Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Rd., Louisville, KY 40205.

Thank you!

“for the building of community . . .”

The doctrine of the Trinity represents the effort to approach God as community in the depths of the divine being

Fourth in a series of reflections on the mission of the Women’s Center
by Heather Thiessen

“The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions, for the unveiling of the continuing oppression of women of all races and nations, and for the building of community locally, nationally and globally.”

What does it mean to work for the building of community locally, nationally and globally, and why would this task of building community be important — so important that it is one of the missions of the Women’s Center? How would we even begin to go about that mission?

“Community” is a word with many and contested meanings; sociologists, who presumably know something about what communities are, reportedly have over 90 different uses of the term. The difficulty seems to arise around what dimensions are critical for identifying “community.” Everyone knows it has something to do with a group of people, but does that group of people need to (1) occupy a shared space, like a village, a city, or a country; (2) share interests and ideas; (3) work and live together, in specific ways – for instance, cooperate on projects, with or without a specific “communal” quality of interaction; (4) have a sense of “belonging” to one another, a shared identity? Those are some of the more common identifiers of community. They may combine in various ways in real live groupings of people, giving rise to the question of whether any particular group constitutes a community.

Without being too doctrinaire, or identifying ourselves too closely with one or another sociological school, we might note that most of the activities of the Women’s Center have a community-building component, almost by definition, and usually by design. It has something to do with the fact that the programs and activities of the Women’s Center are built around assembling, gathering, communicating, often involving concerted action, or sharing food. Those are all fundamental community-creating activities, as we understand it.

So, the Women’s Center as a space provides a focal point for the building of a community that can identify itself by its relationship to that space: Friends of the Women’s Center, the people who have come to know themselves and one another in and through gathering, interacting, and working in that space, in the direction of a mission that we have come to understand better in the course of working for it.

As an educational space and program, the Women’s Center articulates and disseminates ideas, and identifies and cultivates interests — both in the sense of what people come to care about, and in the sense of what is beneficial or necessary for people. That is, we understand that it is in seminarians’ best interest to become more interested in gender issues, and to have opportunities to explore that developing interest. So building a community of interest focused on gender issues grows out of the other elements of the Women’s Center’s mission. And as an educational space and program focused on gender, it almost goes without saying, those gender-focused efforts tend to cultivate the community of interest, in both senses, that builds on shared experiences of gendered embodiment in our shared social contexts. We hope they also cultivate the wider community of interest that can build on shared awareness of and care for those experiences, however different our gendered embodiments.

As a collaborative organization, which accomplishes its activities by organizing planning groups and mobilizing wider participation in the execution of its activities and programs, the Women’s Center’s work tends towards the development of a community in the sense of a group of people who work together. Over time, the growing group of people drawn together by the experiences of having once worked on such projects, at different times, with different goals, becomes an inter-generational community as well. Members of that community may not have worked on the same project in the same year, but can recognize themselves as collaborators in a larger effort that reaches across the years.

The greater goal of all of this community-building activity is precisely the formation of a community in the sense of mutual belonging, of shared identification — with the mission, the purposes, of the Women’s Center, which is to say, with the mission, the purpose, of justice for all people, and an understanding of justice as a project that requires attention to gender and the elimination of injustices based on gender. And while we believe that one day this community ought to be co-terminous with the Christian community, which ought to be fully committed to the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the reign of heaven to the world, and then with the inter-faith community, which ought to be fully committed to global justice and peace, we recognize that the building of a community that shares this belief about what justice entails — respect for and celebration of women’s divinely-created humanity and a divinely-created humanity’s gendered diversity — is an indispensable step in that direction.

All of which helps to indicate why this mission is important. Community is that embodied form of life together that cultivates the goods of human life, and the recognition and appreciation of those goods, specifically in their location in one another and our relationships one to another. Community, then, is something more than expedient relations of exchange, or co-existence in space, such as might characterize anonymous transactional relations in our society. Community involves recognition of ourselves and one another as people, with individuated gifts and strengths, challenges and vulnerabilities, stories and aspirations. For us, community involves recognition of ourselves and one another as people whose lives are equally the work of a God who is always already community in the depths of the divine being, and who has created us to be, become, and display the image of that community in our own lives.

So as we walk across the 2nd Street bridge in the Louisville AIDS Walk, as we communicate with friends in Wisconsin or Odessa, as we raise money and contribute to the healing of victims of violence in Kinshasa, as we gather to share conversation around a shared lunch or breakfast table in the shared space that is the Women’s Center, and come to share one another’s concerns, questions, stories, triumphs and dreams in the process, we are building community, and living towards the encompassing community for whose arrival we long, which is the real missio Dei.

Click here to help fill the Women's Center's cup.

We hope members of the extended community cultivated in and by the Women’s Center will contribute to the community-building work of the Women’s Center during our Summer Donation Days!

You can go to OUR ONLINE DONATION SITE, the LPTS Online Donation Site (designate your gift to the Women’s Center), or send your check payable to LPTS – WOMEN’S CENTER FUND to The Women’s Center at Louisville Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Rd., Louisville, KY 40205.

Thank you!

Mission – ‘to work for equality’

Equality is a necessary, relevant, and desirable goal

The Women’s Center has a mission statement. It comes in longer and shorter versions, something it has in common with the Westminster Catechism. In its briefer, condensed form, it reads:

The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions, for the unveiling of the continuing oppression of women of all races and nations, and for the building of community locally, nationally and globally. To this end we seek to:

  1. Discern new ways of being and living into these realities by support and advocacy for women and other disenfranchised groups;
  2. Supplement the academic program of the Seminary and provide a prophetic voice on the Seminary campus;
  3. Celebrate and affirm the gifts and contributions of women in all spheres of life in past and present;
  4. Provide a safe space to discuss and hear one another’s stories and supply resources for information and edification.

[Read the longer Statement of the Purpose and Mission of the Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary]

Periodically reviewing and reflecting on that mission, which articulates the reasons we do what we do, seems helpful. It reminds us of our historical roots, and helps us recognize the persistent relevance of this work in the present. Just as important, it acquaints or reacquaints members of the communities we serve with the Women’s Center’s vision and goals, and with their connections to the common enterprise of reconciliation in the church and the world. Summer, when the work of the Women’s Center focuses on planning for the coming academic year, seems like a good time for this review and reflection. Devoting some close attention to this mission, which drives the activities and events we are so absorbed in planning, seems likely to focus our efforts on what matters most. To this end, during the coming weeks Wimminwise will devote a series of entries to reflecting on key elements of the Women’s Center’s mission statement.

“The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions . . .”

The word “equality” in the context of the Women’s Center’s mission statement is a sign of the Women’s Center’s historic roots in the women’s movement of the 1970s and 80s. The women who made that movement move used the language of women’s rights unselfconsciously. They diagnosed the persistent problems women faced, and had faced historically, in every society as those of profound inequities around gender. Inequalities in division of labor, income and wealth, education, mobility, access to critical resources like health care and nutrition, power and privilege, formed a vicious cycle with an entrenched ideology of women’s inferiority and men’s superiority. That pervasive ideology of male superiority allowed most people most places to take for granted that women were “for” a restricted set of social functions, typically silent ones; that women were, “just saying,” deficient in key areas (strength, intelligence, competence — all, one might note, legitimators of the power women were reaching for in society); that not only was it “a man’s world,” but that the world was going to stay that way, either because it could not or should not change.

The face of that world has changed, to a degree, in the intervening three or four decades. One index of that change is available in looking at media from the 1960s, in which the classified ads list help wanted – men and help wanted – women, and images of the public world — a press conference, a political convention, a business meeting, a seminary graduating class — reflect a world without women.

Some of those changes raise the question of whether working for equality is still necessary. It is now easier for some women, in some places, to take for granted that all the equality people need or desire has been achieved. Some women, in some areas of social life, in some groups, in some countries of the world, are on visibly more equal footing with men. The mission of working for equality now includes articulating the continuing necessity of that work, reminding those of us who might be tempted to privileged denial not to focus exclusively on the areas of greatest achievement while ignoring the manifestations of perduring inequality elsewhere.

Some may wonder whether work for equality is relevant to the demands of the present. Sexual difference theorists, for instance, have argued that liberal egalitarian language obscures the important and under-theorized dimension of sexual difference. Womanist thinkers and other intersectional theorists point out that multiple determinants of structural patterns of domination — race, class, and sexuality pre-eminent among them — complicate accounts of and demands for equality. The language of “women’s experience” is an over-simplification, and calls for “non-discrimination” or “equal opportunity” are inattentive to the asymmetries inscribed in male and female embodied subjectivity. But against those who might jettison the language of equality, we would maintain that the word “equality” always pointed towards and is now capable of accommodating these more complex, nuanced, and attentive accounts of human happiness and flourishing.

Because, as has been said repeatedly, “equality” in this context does not mean “identical” or “the same.” The concern that it does is a perennial red herring, raising the diversionary question of whether equality is really desirable. The problem of sameness is really more the problem of the persistent androcentrism that is challenged by work for equality. The androcentric understanding of “man” as the human norm is profoundly unaware of the gendered particularity of the word “he;” it accepts without question the premise that “humanity” has one essential and fully acceptable way of appearing and being in the world, a male way, and that difference from that way represents a falling-away from ideal humanity. This androcentrism contributes to resistance to inclusive and expansive language in liturgy, hymnody, and scriptural translation, since it cannot fail to register “Father” as a more honorific title than “Mother,” or “Lord” as a more authoritative position than “Teacher.”

What equality means, among other things, is that when we say “a person,” we can mean “a woman” fully as well as “a man,” and that when we say “people,” we consciously understand ourselves to include both men and women, of all descriptions, in that designation. It means that we do not in fact presuppose that “the real prople” are all men, or that women are deficient, “lite” or honorary people. It means that we do not imagine women to be people insofar as they are like men, but something different from people — women, actually — in all the ways women differ from men. Work for equality anticipates a day when that consciousness is simply and actually practical common sense, because it is consciousness formed in a world in which equality is a reality.

The mission of the Women’s Center is to work for equality for all people. That means that we advocate for the difficult, necessary, relevant, and desirable goal of coming to terms with the meaning of a humanity created in the image of God in its diversity. We believe this is consonant with a scriptural and religious tradition that looks forward to a time when God’s spirit is poured out equally liberally on all flesh, and sons and daughters alike prophesy with equal voice.

Continuing Conversation

The Women's Center hosts breakfast for alumnae Tuesday, May 3, 8:00 a.m. as part of the Festival of Theology and Reunion

One of the central tasks of the Women’s Center is to foster conversation. Most of the programs we undertake have conversation as their central element. The recent Margaret Hopper Taylor seminars challenging domestic violence revolved around conversation. The regular lunch hour presentations by local or visiting experts on subjects relating to women and their lives always include conversation on topics flagged as important by the presenters, or raised as issues by the attendees. Observances of occasions as diverse as Pay Equity Day and the Transgender Day of Remembrance involve participation in a larger public conversation, and incorporate more private conversations around and about the events afterwards. The Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture is about recognizing and honoring the prophetic challenge raised by a woman scholar of racial-ethnic minority heritage, by listening to her words, and entering into conversation with her.

Such conversation is central because it matters. Conversation is the mother technology — technology in the sense of a way of making something, of bringing something about — for conveying our experiences and our ideas, our meanings, to one another. When conversation is real, that is, when it is a give and take of experiences and ideas, of meanings, of selves, it becomes part of the stuff that we are. That matter-ing makes conversation a vital vehicle for change – change in understanding, change in belief (the only form of knowledge we really have), change in attitude, and change in practice. In fact, it may be the only vehicle we have that can make change a matter of desire, something to be worked for and welcomed together with our conversation partners, rather than something imposed mysteriously by circumstances or imperiously from above.

Thus, although people sometimes insist that the Women’s Center is continually engaged in “preaching,” the souls associated with the Center hope something else is going on. We hope that what we are doing is calling people into deeper conversation, centrally around issues having to do with gender, and repeatedly around issues that have gender as one of their dimensions (most issues, it seems to us). We hope that, because we understand that when conversation dries up, becomes a matter of talking at or displaying images at people, the mattering that conversation can do ceases. We hope that, in particular, because we believe our church needs to pursue the change-making, self-re-forming conversation around gender, as does our world.

Some people may have formed the impression that such conversation must always focus on problems, and must always be carried on in a loud and angry voice — maybe because that is almost the only form of conversation around gender that has been allowed to surface in the spectacular arena we sometimes call “public consciousness.” Why that might be, in turn, is a topic for another time. What matters here is recognizing that the conversation has many registers, many of them far less audible in the public arena. That arena accords little space to most conversation, in fact, signifying it as of little value. Unless the words we exchange are formally therapeutic or official or commercial, that arena has no metric for them, and less space. That is all the more true when such seemingly unprofitable conversation occurs among women.

The point of having a space (WE LOVE IT!) that could be called a Women’s Center was and still is that it makes possible the conversation that women need and want to have. That conversation includes gathering up and giving voice to the human experiences women have weathered and are weathering, relaying the messages women have absorbed in the course of their work, and detailing the consequences, whether positive, negative or neutral, along with the impacts on self-worth, physical well-being, and spiritual vigor, that all this living in and with the condition of womanhood has entailed. There is a place in that conversation for women to lift up their own work, to celebrate their achievements in one another’s presence and tell the stories of how they came about, for women to recognize one another and themselves as whole human beings.

An event like the alumnae brunch is a small thing in itself, a simple gathering of friends and acquaintances over a meal. From the vantage point of the public arena, it might seem hardly worth mentioning. As part of this ongoing program of fostering conversation, however, it takes on greater significance. It takes its place as part of the ongoing program of making spce and time for certain conversations, vital ones, for which there is no space or time elsewhere. It constitutes a deliberate making of space and time for women to share what they have experienced, identify in that what they have learned, to draw on that learning to encourage and sustain one another, and to affirm one another’s continuing value. The celebration of the gifts and accomplishments of women sometimes takes place most vitally in the more intimate space between two or three, where the act of conversation leads to the joyously clear realization of what there is to celebrate.

More Bible!

image with text read slowly

Read slowly to make for understanding

Tonight, 6:30 p.m., will be the first meeting of the Bible study we have been hoping to get underway this semester.

Most of the questions about the Bible study are still to be decided, and we will address those tonight. We have not made a final decision about whether this is to be a woman’s-only study, or whether men will be able to participate, although we are leaning towards OK’ing men’s participation. We have not made final decisions on format, or on what we mean by “study” — like how much original language work we want to do, whether we will use commentaries, etc.

The primary purpose of the study is simply to exercise our “thinking faith,” and to deepen our appreciation of and familiarity with the Biblical text, together.

Of course, since it is a Women’s Center study, we will be intentional about attending to the way(s) gender figures in the text and our reading of the text. We may find we want to identify texts where gender themes are especially prominent. But I hope we will resist that temptation — and not just because I already have a set of texts to study for Sunday mornings! It’s because my philosophy is simply this: gender is ubiquitous. In other words, every Biblical text has a gender dimension, includes or excludes its readers as gendered beings, and contributes to our [always gendered] understanding of reality. While our gender calls attention to itself as salient more at some times than at others, we are never apart from it. Consequently, we always read the text as gendered readers. We do not really need to go out of our way to find texts that will give a group that wants to pay attention to gender questions plenty to consider.

Besides that, just as women’s issues are human issues, human issues are women’s issues — women being people, as it’s our mission to remind ourselves and our world. Bible study is essentially a practice that focuses attention on the relationship of humanity to God, God to humanity. Like life itself, it is an open invitation to people created in the image of God, male and female. A Bible study like this will, we trust, be a vehicle for coming to a deeper and more searching understanding of what that means, whatever specific texts we read.

We are looking forward to the meeting tonight, at 6:30 p.m., in the Women’s Center. All are welcome!

Why Louisville AIDS Walk, II

Louisville AIDS Walk Sunday Sept. 26

Click Here to Support Team Women's Center!

(Remember: Team Women’s Center will walk in the Louisville AIDS Walk on Sunday, September 26! Be part of it by joining the team online here: {CLICK THIS LINK} and then contacting more friends, family members, former employers, teachers, and others who can sponsor your effort. You can make an online donation at the site, as well. This is a way to raise money for services to our neighbors in the Louisville area who are living with HIV/AIDS and their families. The Women’s Center team will assemble on the Belvedere downtown at 2:00 p.m. — we think that will give us enough time to turn in the funds we’ve raised, get our team picture taken, and be part of the walk that begins at 3:00 p.m. Please contact the Women’s Center at if you need or want a ride from the Seminary to the Belvedere!)

As noted earlier, the answer to why the Women’s Center at LPTS walks in the Louisville AIDS Walk has a historical and a theological part. We addressed the historical part a few days ago. Here is a view on the theological part:

The theological part has something to do with stigma. That might best be illustrated by thinking about the average church prayer list. Picture that list. It’s probably long — the list at my church covers half a page of the bulletin. The one we used for years at the Wednesday evening Bible study was a full page, two columns. Think about who is on that list, and what we know about them. Most often, it lists the people in and known to the congregation who are sick, or in the hospital, or about to have surgery, or at home recovering from surgery; people whose mothers or fathers or cousins or aunts recently died, in accidents or at an old age. Now picture what you do to get a name on the list. Picture yourself walking up to the church secretary and saying “I’d like the church to pray for my niece/daughter/mom who has been diagnosed HIV+.” Picture yourself standing up in the prayer meeting and saying “I could use prayer for the challenges of living with my HIV+ status.”

We know those prayer requests are more difficult to make than the ones asking for prayer for our relatives and friends suffering with cancer or needing joint replacements. We know that people who are living with HIV/AIDS are living with a disease that entails all the affliction of disease, plus a still-powerful social stigma that makes it difficult for a person to acknowledge that disease, to seek the help and treatment needed, and to experience the grace and care of the community.

Participating in the Louisville AIDS Walk moves that grace and care out into the community in an active way. We believe God’s grace is active; Jesus exemplified active grace; Jesus’ disciples are called to that practice. The theology on that point is simple and direct.

But the reasons we know there’s a stigma attached to HIV/AIDS underscore yet another theological reason for Louisville AIDS Walk-ing. We know that among the reasons for that stigma are punitive and rejecting attitudes about “what HIV/AIDS means” that persist, even in the churches that should be — we also know — the places that proclaim the good news of reconciliation to the world. We have probably all heard people give voice to those attitudes. They may not even be couched in the form “Who sinnned, this man or his parents?” They may express judgment directly: “Well, that’s what people get when they . . .” or “AIDS is God’s punishment for . . .” Often, what HIV/AIDS is said to be a punishment for amounts to a rejection of rules for gender and sexuality said to have been made by God.

We must insist on a different vision of God. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim that the stance on gender that holds that women are bound by divine command to serve men by making babies and taking beatings is stenotic and mistaken. The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, especially where it lingers in the church, often derives from that same stenotic position on gender. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim a vision of God informed by the revelation of created diversity (e.g., Gen. 1:27), an expansive call to worship (e.g., Isaiah 56:3-8, Rev. 22:17), and an emphatic stress on justice and wholeness (e.g., Micah 6:8). The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS evaporates in the light of that vision.

The Women’s Center’s mission and vision urge solidarity with everyone who faces oppression, exclusion or aspersions on grounds of gender — including many people living with HIV/AIDS.

That is another reason the Women’s Center participates in the Louisville AIDS Walk.