Batabas: Communicating the Language of Christian Feminism’s Past and Future

A photo of Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Linda Bieze, and Alena Ruggerio.
Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Linda Bieze, and Alena Ruggerio

This article is a transcript of a presentation given at the 2024 50th Anniversary CFT Gathering, Saturday, June 22. Editing was minimal, except as noted.

by Dr. Alena Ruggerio

I have been spending some time recently learning about the story of Barnabas, the apostle from Cyprus mentioned in the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul. Maybe you already knew this, but I didn’t know that his name wasn’t actually Barnabas, it was Joseph, or in Greek Iosef [Ιωσήφ]. But Barnabas was the nickname that the Apostles called him.

A graphic representing the early apostle and bishop, Barnabas.
Barnabas, early Jesus follower, apostle, and bishop.

If you break down the etymology of his name, BAR or as I listen to recordings online, it’s more like “ba” (you sort of swallow the “r”) is Aramaic for “son” just like BAT is Hebrew for “daughter” as in “Bar Mitzvah,” meaning son of the commandment and “Bat Mitzvah” daughter of the commandment. So, the name Bar-nabas translates to something like son of encouragement, son of comfort, son of solace, son of consolation.

I read several commentaries, and they don’t really seem to know exactly why Barnabas was given that name. It might have been because he was generous with his wealth. He sold land that he owned and donated the proceeds to support the apostles in Jerusalem. It might have been because he was willing to be hospitable to the newly converted Saul of Tarsus after Saul had been persecuting the followers of Jesus. It might have been because even after the rift in their friendship that put an end to their traveling together, eventually Barnabas seemed to have offered forgiveness and reconciliation to Paul. All we know for sure is that the author of the combined Book of Luke and Acts sums up the character of Barnabas in Acts chapter 11, verse 24, “He was a good person, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

How powerful that this man, originally named Joseph, could take this new name Barnabas that more fully reflected his character of encouragement, and comfort, and consolation. That ability to choose new words to better reflect realities is what my life’s work as an incurable word nerd has been all about.

My thesis is and has always been that Christian feminism is achieved through many means. Of course it is achieved theology. Of course it is achieved through biblical scholarship. It is achieved through ecclesiological history, pastoring, art, music, theatre. But also through communication!

I’ve been trying for many years to further the practice of Christian feminism by means of communication, and I’m hoping that we can take one more step forward in that project today.

This work is based on the research of linguistic scholars Edwin Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, and cultural anthropologists Shirley Ardener and Edwin Ardener, and feminist rhetorical critic Cheris Kramarae. Their basic assumptions are that language is not neutral–our grammatical structures and vocabulary are shaped by inequitable social relations.

So, oppression is baked into our vocabulary and our grammar.

One of the ways that happens is that marginalized groups are not given vocabulary in the common discourse to name our experiences. And that makes our experiences harder to recognize, harder to value, and harder to act upon. Which in the scholarly literature is called the muting of a marginalized group.

It is a feminist act, therefore, to coin new language to give names to our experiences.

And it is a Christian feminist act because many world religions have traditions of ascribing incredible power to language, especially the words associated with sacred scriptures.

To touch briefly only just the monotheist traditions, for example, consider that the Hebrew creation myths that we find retold in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, both refer to God speaking creation into existence. There are creation myths from all kinds of different ancient civilizations, all over the world, but not all of them center creation as having happened through the spoken word the way that Genesis does.

And then we inherit that tradition as Christians, and we find things such as the Christian Gospel of John, of course, where we have “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There are different interpretations of what this Word might really be, but ultimately in the original Greek, logos translates directly as the word word.

In Islam, the prophet Muhammad is commanded to “Recite in the name of the Lord” the words he received from Divine speech. The word “Quran” itself means “Recitation” in Arabic. So, all three monotheist traditions acknowledge the holy significance of spoken words to create our realities and our spiritualities.

And even when we’re dealing with everyday things, instead of sacred texts, we all know that there’s this feeling of great relief in having a name to recognize and validate the realities that we’re experiencing.

For example… One of them that is at the front of my mind nowadays is this phrase “Post Exertional Malaise.” This phrase has been known to the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, community for decades, but it was an entirely a new word to me until two years ago.

Almost exactly two years ago, I contracted Covid, like most everybody did—but in 10–30% of people who got the Covid virus, it doesn’t go away after the initial infection. It stays in the body and attacks the heart, and it attacks the mitochondria, so as somebody whose Long Covid has been getting progressively worse over the past two years, knowing the official words, “Post Exertional Malaise,” helps me deal with it.

Post Exertional Malaise is the medical term for the crash of fatigue I go through after any kind of physical, or emotional, or intellectual exertion. I really resonated with a person online who described what Post Exertional Malaise feels like. Imagine having the flu and jet lag and a hangover all at the same time. That’s how it feels. But we live in a world where some people don’t even acknowledge that Long Covid is a real chronic illness. So, it is very important that the diagnosis and its symptoms have legitimate signifiers in our language to explain and to validate what’s going on. Just having the words is a relief.

I’m always interested in the new words that keep getting added into our common discourse. And you know, I collect them! Some of them are of special interest to feminists. I wonder how many of these you’ve heard of before.

The first group of freshly coined new words and phrases reflects the constant need to push against the shame that our culture tries to make us all feel for inhabiting human bodies, when in fact they have been fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

Two of those new words are coerced modification and aesthetic inflation.

Jessica DeFino is a feminist journalist who writes a column about the American beauty industry. When talking about decisions that we make to alter our bodies such as covering my gray hair, getting a nose job, or injecting fillers and Botox to reduce lines on the face, or taking injectable weight-loss drugs like Ozempic without a medical diagnosis, DeFino writes this:

“What you do to your face and body is your choice, sure. But also: When we make individual choices to adhere to societal beauty standards, we do so in response to cultural pressure and beauty norms (I call it ‘coerced modification’). Our own participation then increases the cultural pressure we and other people feel and further normalizes these practices (I call it ‘aesthetic inflation’).”

In other words, every time I modify my own body to conform to the social pressure of coerced modification, which I do, that moves the goal post for every other woman about what is expected for everyone to look like. DeFino goes on to say, “That pressure and those norms contribute to widespread issues like age-related anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, risky beauty behaviors, and obsessive thoughts…”

I should point out here that other feminist schools of thought somewhat disagree with DeFino, arguing that in a culture where one’s conformity to normative beauty standards can often make the difference between whether or not you are considered eligible for a romantic relationship, whether or not you are considered viable to be hired and promoted, or whether or not you are even visible in public, no individual woman should be criticized for making whatever modifications to her body she needs to survive until the culture itself of body-hating for corporate profit is overturned.

But the point here is, this argument about coerced modification and aesthetic inflation has been brewing in feminist circles for at least half a century that I’m aware of, but when DeFino creates new phrases for these ideas, it gave them more legitimacy and it makes it easier for us to wrestle with them.

A graphic showing three words crossed out: body shame, body positivity, and body neutrality. The next newly coined term is body reflexivity. Feminist philosopher Kate Manne defines her term body reflexivity to mean, “My body is for me.”

The evolution of the thought around this concept is basically that we start from a cultural baseline of body shaming. In response to this extremely damaging position—which contains within it documented undertones of racism, classism, and ableism, as well as the obvious sexism—a movement for body positivity arose.

But there were some critiques and drawbacks about body positivity, and so the discourse moved on to body neutrality.

Kate Manne points out, however, that both body positivity and body neutrality are well-intentioned and commendable forms of resistance against body shaming, but she says they are also problematic because they are still playing the game of ranking bodies and trying to force everyone to feel the same about our bodies. And not everybody feels the same. Manne says, “Fat phobia is a system, and I choose to opt out of that system by living in the world as if my body were mine and only mine.” And that is what she calls body reflexivity.

I’ve seen another group of words and phrases arise in the area of new usage to move our language away from unnecessarily gendering people and breaking down the false binary of gender. For instance, do you know this word, pibling? Have you heard it yet? Pibling means, “a sibling of one of my parents.” Formerly, I would have called a sibling of one of my parents my aunt or my uncle. But those terms are gendered. First of all, why do we need to tag the gender of that person to refer to them? And second, that person might not identify within that masculine or feminine gender binary. So, to call them my pibling rather than my aunt or uncle is more inclusive.

Similarly, the term nibling means the child of my sibling. Nibling is a gender-inclusive word to replace niece and nephew. This word nibling has actually been around since the 1950s, but at least in my circles, especially online, it seems to really be gaining in usage right now. And that’s a pretty normal thing, that new words that are coined might take decades to enter into the common discourse. I think that’s something that gives me a lot of hope. This might be an evolution where words that we coin today might become common parlance fifty years from now. Wouldn’t that be amazing.

The next term, xenogender, originated on the old social media platform Tumblr, and I first heard it used by a student in my Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies course earlier this year. Of course, I recognize the etymology of the word—xeno means strange or stranger, foreign or foreigner, in Greek. And that’s where we get the word xenophobia. Apropos in 2024…

In terms of gender, The LGBTQIA+ Wiki says: xenogender is “a non-binary gender that cannot be contained by human understandings of gender; it is more concerned with crafting other methods of gender categorization and hierarchy such as those relating to animals, plants, or other creatures/things. Xenogender individuals may use ideas and identities outside of the gender binary to describe themselves and avoid binary gendered identifiers. They may feel they cannot place a label on themselves, or feel as though they lack the terms to fully express their gender identity…” In other words, for people who feel that there is no language that can accurately signify their own gender identity, to fill that lexical gap they can choose to claim the identity of xenogender.

My last example in this category of evolving words to describe sex and gender comes from a recent piece of scholarship that I was writing about this time last summer. I was writing a paper for an academic conference about lipedema, which is a genetic disease I found out a few years ago that I have. Happy Lipedema Awareness Month, here in June, as everybody who’s already friends with me on Facebook already knows very well.

Lipedema is a disorder that causes fat cells to enlarge and to harden, and to become encased in painful capsules of fibrotic tissue. Lipedema tissues tend to blow up in the butt, thighs, calves, and upper arms during periods of large fluctuations in estrogen such as during menarche, pregnancy, and menopause. It was such a revelation when I found out that this disease existed because it explained so much about what was happening to my body! Communication person that I am, I wanted to study the discourse around this disease and present that at a communication conference. But I very quickly ran into a dilemma about how to write about the people who experience lipedema. In 2024, it is no longer acceptable to just say that this disease affects women, because that’s not inclusive of transwomen who legitimately are women but might not have bodies that go through menarche, pregnancy, or menopause.

And then I learned that I shouldn’t say “female-bodied people” instead of women, because some trusted folks I asked online said that the phrase “female-bodied people” is a TERF dog whistle. I didn’t know that. No TERFs are dog whistling at me. If you’re not familiar with that phrase, TERFs are Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, and I do not want be identified with that group.

What those trusted folks online ultimately suggested was that I refer to the human beings whose bodies can develop lipedema as “estrogen-dominant people” as opposed to “androgen-dominant people.” And I was told that this is the current usage considered most gender inclusive among the medical researchers writing about bodies as they’re differentiated by sex hormones. As always, though, language is alive and is constantly changing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if even quite rapidly, this vocabulary continues to evolve.

I want to bring up one more category of examples of new language of interest to us as feminists, which comes from advancements in racial and ethnic studies. You’ve probably heard the term misogynoir before. This word is credited to Black feminist Moya Bailey. Misogynoir refers to the intersection of racism and sexism that forms the unique prejudice faced by Black women. The word breaks down etymologically as:

  • Misogyny, which of course is its own Greek portmanteau—mis meaning against or hatred of, and gyn means women. Misogyny means a hatred of women.
  • Noir, meaning black. But the word noir was intentionally chosen by Bailey and her co-authors for its double meaning. Because it refers both to a racialized identity and also the genre of novels and movies—as in “film noir”—to emphasize that misogynoir is especially prevalent in stereotypical visual representations of Black women in pop culture: film, television, music, and the internet.

The last example I want to point out in this section of my presentation is the phrase land acknowledgment, which I started hearing and seeing used at my university several years ago. I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather here for this Christian Feminism Today conference is occupied and contested territory of Native peoples. What is now referred to as Indianapolis is the traditional and ancestral territory of the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people. I pay respect to their elders both past and present, and I feel grateful to them for their hospitality on this land. What I did there, just now, is an example of a land acknowledgment.

A lot of the white American families today who have a story of a distant relative who was an “Indian princess” in their family tree, are actually obscuring what was more likely an African-American ancestor that previous generations were not willing to acknowledge.

The story that comes down in my family has a slightly better chance of being true, because heartbreakingly, she was not an Indian princess, she was an Indian slave. My great-great grandmother, Estella, was born into the Shawnee tribe, whose ancestral territory spanned what is now Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Due to the systematic genocide against Native American people perpetrated right here on this land, Estella’s parents could not afford to raise her, so they surrendered her to a German couple, who “adopted” her to exploit as a house servant. I haven’t been able to confirm this story with genealogical documentation because the German couple who secured ownership over Estella created a birth certificate naming themselves as her legal parents.

My point here is that as intersectional feminists, the practice of stating a land acknowledgment reminds me not only to work towards Indigenous justice, but also that the violent process of colonization has distinct intersecting implications of gender and class, as in the story of Estella, and as news headlines continue documenting what Native communities have always known, colonization has also had abusive associations with religion. Which is something that is our responsibility to contend with.

All the examples I’ve talked about so far touch on areas of interest to general feminists, or secular feminists, if you will. What about the new words and phrases in our community of Christian feminists? Well, as you might remember, I’ve been working on this project at Christian Feminism Today conferences and my Gracespeak Lexicon Facebook group for almost two decades now, and I have to thank so many people in this room for contributing your labor and creativity to those ongoing efforts.

A graphic with the words: sopheeding, grandveiling, and libranesis.You might remember some of the new words we’ve coined to describe Christian feminist realities over the years. Some of my favorites include:

  • Sopheeding, which means to receive communion from the hand of a woman. I will never forget, at one of the first EEWC conferences that I ever attended, Dr. S. Sue Horner delivered a workshop session on the history of Christian feminism and the history of this organization. She was raised in a much more conservative tradition than I was. I remember just feeling astounded and moved as she broke down in tears describing how one of the first EWC conferences that she attended was the first time she had ever received communion from the hands of women, and what that meant to her. Now, I call that sopheeding.
  • Another example is grandveiling, which is the cloak of protection woven by the love and prayers of our great-great grandmothers that surrounds and protects each of us.
  • And then there’s libranesis, from the Latin for balance scales. Libranesis means “Successfully maintaining the unstable position of the both/and.” Both Christian and feminist. Both Christian and queer. Libranesis.

We did that, together.

I’m hoping that in this session today, you would be willing to continue our work of brainstorming together names for more Christian feminist realities and experiences. So that when we make these new words or phrases, it will bring us one step closer to the world being able to recognize those experiences, and honor those experiences, and act upon them. We are in the process, right now, of unmuting our own muted group.

For you today, I offer three options. And in a second… (I’m a college professor I can’t help but ask you to please do something.) So, in a minute, I’m going to lay out three options—all experiences of Christian feminism in one way or another. And I’m going to ask you, please, to choose one of them that you would be interested in joining together in a small group to work on, to brainstorm a possible new word or phrase, to signify that experience.

Here are your options:

  1. The intentional practice of uplifting young Christian feminists and forging multi-generational friendships.
  2. Ferocious self-determination is a value both Christian and feminist.
  3. Despite caricatures of feminists as humorless, we are often incredibly funny.

What new words did you create for these Christian feminist realities?

[In the small groups, participants went to work creating their new words. The group responses were presented by a member of the small group and are summarized below.]

Group One Responds:

We talked about how folks from other generations don’t really speak the same language that we do. We don’t always realize that the things they are experiencing are the same things that we experienced, just in a different context. But we can’t always relate in the same vernacular that they use. But we need to listen and affirm their experiences. The word we came up with is:

Genecho

It’s generational, and then echo, because experiences go out and then come back.

Group two responds:

As women who are aging, it feels like I can’t be seen or heard anymore. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we lay on the ground and let people walk on us! We have a right to stand up for ourselves. The words we came up with are:

GynoChristoChutzpah

This one is fairly self-explanatory. But we also came up with:

Theclism

This is a reference to Thecla, an early apostle. She was a powerful woman, a disciple of Paul, she occasionally dressed like a man, and she also baptized herself.

Group three responds:

Started with discussion the word “hysterical” which was often used when men didn’t want their wives anymore, so they described them as “hysterical” and had them committed to insane asylums. We wanted to reclaim that word to be positive. And then we talked about how we used to use the word comedienne, vs. comedian. And we talked about how someone would say something and you didn’t laugh, and you’d say, “Well, it wasn’t funny.” We talked about how our funny is “smart.” We aren’t sure how to spell it, but this is our word:

Hysterisophedienne

[Alena resumes]

I thank you so much for the creative work of coining these words! It is hard! That’s part of the theory behind muted group theory. It is hard to identify those experiences that have not been given signifiers in our language. And it’s hard to come up with a word or phrase that resonates and is immediately recognizable and legible but is new. The work that you just did is a Christian feminist act of communication.

In the prior three times that I’ve been honored to be invited to serve as a plenary speaker at CFT conferences over the years, the conference planners would just give me the conference theme and the scripture, and I would have pretty much free rein to adhere as closely or as perfunctorily to the theme as I wished. But this year, in honor of our 50th anniversary, the conference organizers made a special request that I would talk in this speech about Letha Dawson Scanzoni. Well, I didn’t tell you this, but these three Christian feminist experiences are dedicated to and inspired by the memory of Letha.

Let’s take them one by one.

First, the intentional practice of uplifting young Christian feminists and forging multi-generational friendships, what we now know as genecho.

I wrote a doctoral dissertation about her published work, but if it had been left up to me, I would have never met or spoken to Letha Dawson Scanzoni, because I would have never felt prepared to approach her. I would have never felt worthy.

Thank goodness it wasn’t left up to me. Those were the days of the early online discussion boards and email listservs. I posted a request for help because I was trying to find the second edition of All We’re Meant to Be. I could get a copy of the first edition, and I could find a copy of the third edition, but that crucial second edition where Letha and Nancy explained a couple of their key theological shifts was nowhere to be found at that time for under a hundred dollars.

Fortunately, somebody on the Phoebe list read my request and forwarded it along to Letha. And all of a sudden she reached out to me. First through email and then on the telephone, the conversation basically progressed like this:

Oh hey, I can just send you a free copy of the second edition.
And, oh hey, I’ll inscribe it for you.
And then, oh hey, who are you and what are you into?
And then, hey, do you want to write an article for the magazine?
And then, hey, why don’t you come to the next conference?
And then, hey, why don’t you speak on a panel at the next conference?
And then, hey, why don’t you stand for election to the Council?

And it just continued to progress from there, with Letha really intentionally opening professional doors for me and offering personal friendship to me, a young feminist at that time (forty years her junior) for the next two decades. As Liz said, this was her talent. This was what she dedicated her life to, cultivating other feminists. If you read the CFT website in January when she died, you already know the story of one of the most significant moments of genecho in my life, when Letha and Linda Bieze decided to include me into a weekly phone call that every Friday for twenty years spanned three generations, three states, for three hours a week. It was full of Reta Finger’s Bible studies, and our own personal film club, and some of the best friendships I’ve ever had in my life.

Next, ferocious self-determination is a value both Christian and feminist, take your choice, either GynoChristoChutzpah or Theclism.

Everything that Letha did and everything she wrote was in defense of self-determination, for herself personally, and for everyone on the planet. That’s what “All we’re meant to be” really means to me: the freedom to fulfill our highest potential regardless of our marginalized identities, and inclusive of our marginalized identities. The right to decide how to be a follower of Jesus in the way best suited to each of our Divinely-given talents.

Next, despite caricatures of feminists as humorless, we are often incredibly funny, each a hysterisophedienne.

Letha was a hysterisophedienne. She was quietly hilarious. I wish I had started this right from the beginning, but in the last few years of her life, I decided to start writing down some of the funny things that she said during our weekly phone calls and our annual visits.

Some of her funny one-liners were about her childhood and her education.

She was telling us one time, “When I was a student at Eastman School of Music, we were required to take a course in physical education. So, I took modern dance. And I was so bad at it. I mean I couldn’t even keep my tights up!”

And then one time, we were talking about how sports athletes use the large muscles of the body, but musicians are actually athletes of the small muscles of the body. And Letha said, “I know musicians can develop carpal tunnel and arthritis in their hands. That’s why I taught myself how to play my trombone with my foot.”

She also combined her frustration with recent politics with her sense of humor. You know, she avidly followed the news, and our phone calls couldn’t start until after she had watched her news report.

One time, she was criticizing the mindless evangelical support of the president elected in 2016 whose name I do not speak. She said, “Talk about the golden calf, well he’s the orange calf.”

Talking about the invasion of Ukraine, Letha said, “I notice that some of those dictators have names that easily lend themselves to nicknames. Putin, for instance, is very close to puke.”

Some of Letha’s funny one-liners were just about her daily life:

Linda and I joked, and I’m sure all of you had this experience of how we’d frequently get emails from Letha at two, three, or four o’clock in the morning. And I’ll always remember those summers while I was staying at her house, it would be getting late so I’d go to sleep on the futon in the living room, and she’d say, “Yeah, okay, that’s great.” And then she went into her office and would just keep working on her computer for hours and hours into the night. One time we were talking about that and Letha said, “You know, I’m not an insomniac. There are just too many interesting things to learn in the world that are more important than sleep.”

One time, we were talking about the things we collect. I was saying that I collect rhinestone tiaras and crowns, and I collect snowflake jewelry. And Linda said that she collects Fiesta dinnerware and Friendly Village dishes. And Letha said, “I don’t have collections. I just accumulate books and music and friends.”

After she had her stroke, it wasn’t safe for her to live in her longtime apartment in Norfolk, Virginia, anymore, so she moved to an apartment closer to where her younger son David lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Letha was telling us about her new apartment, and she said, “It has so many more windows than my old one in Virginia. That’s very nice, but windows are just a distraction—less wall space for my bookcases.”

In her later years, she also kept up a very good sense of humor about her declining health.

One time she said, “I’ve had Respiratory Syncytial Virus, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, a stroke, breast cancer, multiple joint replacements, Covid-19, and pneumonia. I seem to have looked for variety in all things.”

In the years just before she died, Letha was really frustrated by the way she would fall asleep at all hours of the day, but she tried to find some humor in it. You’ve met our star guest attendee at the conference, Holly the greyhound. [Linda Bieze’s dog, Holly, attended all the conference events with her.] Linda has adopted two greyhound dogs rescued from racetracks over the years, and one time Linda was telling us about how funny it was that these greyhound dogs who are so famous for how quickly they can run, actually spend most of their time in retirement lying around and napping. So Linda had said, “My greyhound Holly acts just like a cat.” Letha replied, “Or just like a Letha.”

My very favorite joke, though, which is the perfect combination of who Letha was as both a sincerely religious person and also a hilarious human being happened thirteen years ago ALMOST TO THE DAY right here in Indianapolis. I love the symbolism of coming full circle to tell this story back where it actually happened, because it’s such a little moment but it’s my absolutely favorite memory of my best friend.

Letha and I were here in Indianapolis staying at the home of Sharon Bowes. The day before there had been just a torrential downpour. Rain, rain, rain, and more rain. The next morning, the rain had stopped, and we were all together in Sharon’s car driving somewhere. As we were on the road, we passed a Southern Baptist church where their parking lot look like it was just covered in what looked like an entire foot deep of water. Sharon looks out the car window and says, “Look at that flooding! That Baptist church is almost completely under water!” And Letha looks out the window and very calmly replies, “That’ll teach them next time to sprinkle.”

λήθη, lethe, means “forgetfulness” and ἀλήθεια, aletheia, means “truth”

In closing, I’d like to tell you just one more story. The topic of names came up rather frequently in our telephone conversations. I would talk about how my name Alena is the Russian or Czech version of Helen, which means “ray of light.” Linda would mention how her name means “beautiful” in Portuguese and Spanish, and it has an older derivation in German meaning “soft” or “tender.” And Letha would say that her own name came from the Greek, but there were two different theories of its origin. On the one hand, it could have been derived from lethe, which is the Greek word for forgetfulness. On the other hand, it might have been derived from aletheia, which is Greek for truth. Of course she always said she preferred the latter. I thought it was so perfect how a woman who did so much for Christian feminism was called by the Greek name for truth.

But then one time when the subject of naming came up, Letha actually coined a new Christian feminist word of her own. She said, “I’ve always imagined that if I could choose my own name, I would want to be known as somebody like Barnabas from the Book of Acts. But I wouldn’t be called Bar-nabas, the son of consolation. My name would be the daughter of consolation. You know, Batabas.”

How powerful. Like everybody who loved her, and the hundreds of thousands of people around the world whose lives were touched by her work, I will suffer with the grief of her loss for the rest of my life. But what a delight to know that this woman we all knew as Letha Dawson Scanzoni also claimed another name in her heart that reflected her life’s mission of encouragement, and comfort, and consolation.

In the words of the Book of Acts, Batabas was a good person, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

© 2024 by Alena Ruggerio and Christian Feminism Today.

Please contact us for permission before reprinting any portion of this article.

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Alena Amato Ruggerio
Alena Amato Ruggerio, Ph.D. is Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication, Media, and Cinema at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. She is a longtime member of SOU’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Council, including serving as the Interim Coordinator of Women's Studies for one year. She also served for eleven years on the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today Council, and has delivered plenary addresses and workshops at several CFT conferences. Dr. Ruggerio is the editor of Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers (Lexington Books), and the coauthor of Feminism in Practice: Communication Strategies for Making Change (Waveland Press). She lives in the southwestern corner of Oregon with her husband Bradley and their astonishingly adorable cats.