It started happening somewhere in Indianapolis, Indiana. Slowly but surely, a poor, unsuspecting living room was quietly lost to the CFT Gathering…
On July 26, 2018, we were so excited because we finally got to start our conference in St. Louis. Feminists were flying high (you know, literally, in planes).
We told people, “If you aren’t able to come in person this year, have no fear. Granted, you’ll miss out on big egalitarian hugs, BUT we have a social media team ready to make you feel like you’re with us in spirit!”
Big headliners began to arrive even before registration was open. Pictured here is one of our keynotes, Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, who is well known for writing gender-inclusive hymn lyrics. She’s the author of 11 books, including a brand new one titled Building Bridges.
This woman is a legend!
Ms. Letha Dawson Scanzoni is one of the founding members of Christian Feminism Today (formerly the Evangelical Women’s Caucus).
Back in the 70s this Wonder Woman was challenging patriarchal interpretations of the Bible long used to restrict women. We are where we are today because of her fierce spirit. Letha is truly an amazing she-ro. (Learn more about CFT’s herstory here.)
It’s always exciting to be with Letha!
Can you feel the love from where you are?
Christian feminists were gathering together and loving on each other!
Pictured here is our resident Yoga Mama, Lisa DeWeese, and our emcee, McKenzie Brown.
Long-time Christian Feminism Today member (who attended the first meeting 40 years ago!), Ms. Jeanne Hanson, smiles with Dr. Christy Sim.
Jeanne’s been on the CFT Executive Council (complete with a stint as coordinator), served as office manager, and been on the council through the years! She’s given so much over the years and we love her!
Deb and Lē get the conference started by introducing an activity intended to weave CFT members together. Everyone was given one strand of the weaving, with a tag on it. The tag had someone’s name written on it.
Attendees spent time with “their” person at the conference, getting to know them, and then wove their name into the tapestry. Members unable to attend were also woven in.
Here’s the result!
By the end of the Gathering, the name of every participant and CFT member was woven together to create a tapestry of our diversity.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Mark Mattison and Deb Saxon gave the opening plenary at the 2018 Christian Feminism Today Conference.
They spoke about the extra-canonical text the Gospel of Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a person of authority and leadership during the time of Jesus.
Women’s authority in the early church was, often quite literally, covered up by ensuing generations of male leadership. Mark and Deb explored ancient art and texts that proved women played significant roles in the development of the faith that became known as Christianity.
Read this beautiful part of the text, which talks about the interconnectivity of all things.
In true feminist fashion, each plenary began with announcements presented by our emcee McKenzie Brown, who was generous enough to dig deep and share with us her very best cat jokes.
Then we drew names of people who had made pledges to the organization, and they got to select from fabulous prizes, like books and CFT gear.
Song leader Katie Deaver and pianist John Saxon (pictured) led us in singing Jann Aldredge-Clanton’s inspiring hymns.
Friday morning started early! Pictured above is Peg Conway with one of our founding members, Letha Dawson Scanzoni. Peg is known for her book Embodying the Sacred which is about preparing spiritually for birth.
Within the pages, she shows how the physical process itself is also spiritual. Peg led a workshop Sunday morning on self-care.
Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton presented the Friday morning plenary session on their new book about Letha, Building Bridges. They ask: Have we turned a new “Paige?”
We didn’t get here, a point where women are speaking up, without a foundation from people like Letha Dawson Scanzoni – who is the topic of their new book #BuildingBridges.
Many people accused Letha Dawson Scanzoni of being on a “slippery slope” when she followed up her book on gender equality, All We’re Meant to Be, with her book on equality for lesbian and gay people, Is the Homosexual my Neighbor? Kendra and Jann discuss the “slippery slope” fallacy in the new book, explaining the “slippery slope” argument is simply an attempt to control people, stemming from fear.
Kendra shows how Letha suggests the “love your neighbor” paradigm is the basis of LGBTQ equality. This is a person-first approach, rather than relying on a set of propositions. This paradigm is based on empathy and getting to know people, to better understand them.
Using the abortion debate as an example, we are told it’s wrong to first tackle the ideas. Letha would say… get to know the person first. Understand the person.
Letha Dawson Scanzoni also spoke about the new book #BuildingBridges and her work in affirming women and LGBTQ people in Christianity.
“This [book] is about all of us. I’m grateful they did it or you wouldn’t have the story. But I like to think of it as OUR story together.”
“I was bothered by the limitations of women in the church.” That was the beginning.
Letha says to pray:
“Give me courage.
Save me from my fear.
We are ALL called for such a time as this.”
Leslie Harrison led “Don’t You Forget About Me.” It was a session about Black female issues rarely addressed by society in her context.
Leslie told us that Womanism is to feminism just like purple is to lavender. #AintIawoman.
Melanie Springer Mock (George Fox University) led a workshop on raising feminist teens. First, she had the group brainstorm on our own influences and barriers to feminist thought. Later, Melanie asked the participants to think about how this is different for youth today.
The Gathering even had our own bookstore provided by the St. Louis independent bookstore Subterranean Books (woman owned!). For sale were many books written by our own CFT feminists.
Subterranean Books also brought a great selection of empowering books for children.
Sherry Jordon led a Friday workshop on Re-Imagining Spiritual Practices for Healing and Wholeness.
You can get the whole book Bless Sophia for free online from the Reimagining Community. This is a book on worship, liturgy, and ritual. It’s filled with prayers, music, liturgy, art, and more.
“Reimagining” started in 1993 at a conference. It was a watershed moment in the history of Christian feminism, Sherry says. Over 40 denominations were represented. “It was powerful and therefore threatening.” The group was charged with heresies of goddess worship and using women’s bodies. Several women lost their jobs. There were threats of violence and even rape.
The backlash had two unintended consequences. First, it made Christian feminism something talked about on the national level. Second, the Reimagining Community formed. They were going to just do one conference. But a new community grew around their shared suffering. There were more conferences, small groups, and three books written.
The story is often lost, so Sherry has taken on the task of keeping it alive by telling the whole narrative whenever she can. The oral interviews archived at Duke University. See more at: http://re-imaginingcommunity.org/
In years gone by, attendees at EEWC conferences called themselves “the sisters of summer,” since conferences were always held in the summer. These three women started off as the “young’uns,” back when they were among the very few young people in attendance. But now they’ve adopted the throw-back moniker, and now call themselves “the sisters of summer.” We adore them!
Ashley (on the left) has been a member since 2012 and was elected to the executive council in 2016. McKenzie Brown (middle) has served as the emcee extraordinaire at the last two conferences! Jennifer Higgins-Newman was the first Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial scholarship recipient. She presented her research at the 2014 Gathering.
The Christian Feminist movement is moving forward with these sisters!
Nicole Cortés, J.D., and Sara John presented Antecedentes, Análisis, y Acción: Standing with Immigrants in Trump’s America on Friday afternoon.
“7,000 people have died trying to come here so they can live your life…making immigration harder does not stop the flow of people to the US, it causes people to put themselves in greater danger for the same goal.”
We all felt invigorated and much better informed after their engaging presentation!
Jera Brown’s workshop asked the question, “Is pleasure a virtue?” And Jera went on to ask participants other questions, including:
“What is the role of pleasure and sexual desire in our spiritual lives, and in the pursuit of a life of virtue and integrity?”
“A virtue ethics framework asks three questions: who am I; who do I want to become; and how do I get there? I’ll add a fourth question: how can pleasure help you become the person you want to become?”
Finally, Jera noted that Catholic theologian and professor Todd Salzman suggests moving from an act-based ethic to an ethical framework based on a whole person, including our sexual selves. We can use this ethical framework to shift our thinking about how things that bring us pleasure can be a part of a virtuous life.
Mary Lokers not only led a workshop in which she shared self-care practices that informed her own journey to wholeness, but she also made her reflexology services available to Gathering attendees for a very reasonable fee.
Everyone agreed, their feet were happy after a half hour with Mary’s magic touch. “I feel like I’m floating!” said one attendee after her session.
Thank you, Mary!
In the words of our hilarious emcee, McKenzie Brown, “Calm down now. We’re at a feminist conference with serious issues. Stop all that fun.”
Ha! Never! We feminists have fun!
Alicia Crosby and Christy Sim demonstrate by having a great time before Alicia’s plenary presentation.
We should probably take a moment to express our gratitude to Christy for being our social media specialist at the Gathering.
The amazing Alicia Crosby, with the Center for Inclusivity, was our Friday night headliner.
Alicia is an activist, justice educator, and minister who addresses the spiritual, systemic, and interpersonal harm people experience.
Alicia made us all work in her plenary, and we loved it! There were frequent times allowed for short, small group discussions participating in her talk.
She asked the crowd to examine our own social location. Such thought-provoking questions!
1. What are my identities?
2. What facets of my identity allow me to experience privilege? How does that privilege function?
3. What are the ways in which I experience marginalization?
4. What people groups have more privilege than me?
5. Who experiences oppression and marginalization that I do not have to face?
Alicia Crosby then got into the story of Esther and blew all of our minds. “I don’t know what you know about [the Bible story of] Esther… but all I knew forever was that she stood up for such a time as this and saved Jews.
“Did you know King Xerses threw a 5-month party for military officers, noblemen, and so forth? Five. Months.”
“We don’t see the refugees” from the war that these men were celebrating. We don’t see those who suffered while that wealth was displayed for months. All we end up knowing is Xerxes parties. And while Xerxes is partying, he demands his wife, Queen Vashti, come before him wearing nothing but her crown. Vashti says, “Oh heck no!”
But this leaves Xerxes with a problem. What does he do now that his queen has disobeyed him? The suggestion of his drunken party guests was to get rid of her. Get a new wife. And send a message to the people that a man is the ruler of his home and he can say and get whatever he pleases.
“It’s a political thing.”
Then we learn all these girls and women are brought in to potentially be his new wife. But we don’t hear very much about what they went through, what they were forced to do in their months of training before they were brought before the king.
We do know they were taken against their will. We do know they were violated. And each of them was apparently held captive for at least a year.
Alicia asked us to consider “what happens to the human spirit when you know you’re held against your will for a whole year? And when you leave…your body has been used? What happens then?”
Esther could actually have been in captivity for up to 4 years. She’s unknown. She doesn’t have her family. She’s on her own. Then she, of all the captives, becomes queen and gets brought to the palace.
Alicia reminds us there’s so much in this story we will probably never know, much we will never think of, more than we will consider. There’s toxic masculinity. There’s trafficking. There’s violence against women.
Alicia asks: “What can we take away from the story of Esther?” in her plenary talk. Alicia tells us what she sees in the story.
“One can be marginalized AND complicit in marginalization. We see it in the eunuchs. We even see it with Esther. She doesn’t make any big moves until her life is at stake.”
“There’s people we never hear about. Everyone we hear about is nobility.” What about everyone else?
Alicia ended her presentation by asking the participants to consider the following:
- “What resources do you have that you can contribute to our collective liberation? (If you don’t think we’re all free…I’m not sorry to tell you we’re all not).”
- “How will I work to share the resources I have with others so that we can all get free?”
- “What role(s) can I play in the story of our collective liberation?”
She added that some of us are teachers. Some of us are listeners. Some of us can build things. Some of us can be present.
“Think of who you are and the gifts you have and how that can be leveraged. Ask how you’re being complicit. What are you doing? What are you going to do?”
There was a joke going around the conference.
You’ve heard of the three musketeers. You’ve heard of the three amigos. You’ve heard of the three persons of the trinity. But have you heard of the three doctors??
Christy Gunter Sim (pictured left) is an expert in healing after the trauma of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her research has focused primarily in understanding the body’s survival mechanisms in threat in order to train faith leaders to understand common victim behavior and help reduce secondary trauma.
Katie Deaver (pictured right above) is a feminist theologian who’s focused on domestic violence in the church. Katie just spoke at the National Women’s Music Festival on Christian and Pagan feminism.
Michelle Panchuk (middle) researches religious trauma. She’s also the philosophy professor at Murry State and just published an article in Res Philosphica on the shattered spiritual self.
During their plenary, Dr. Christy Sim linked the impacts of the brain’s responses to trauma to the feelings and actions that an individual may display after a traumatic event.
You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to understand how she broke it down! And she might have given audience members #goldstars for getting right answers!
When Dr. Michelle Panchuk spoke, she used David Haward’s “Naked Pastor” drawings to show the effects of religious trauma. Dr. Katie Deaver helped link together the correlation between feminism and trauma theory.
The three docs didn’t make everyone laugh, have the slightest bit of fun, or anything like that.
Or. Maybe they did.
Julia K. Stonks, J.D., PhD, also presented a plenary on Saturday. To start her presentation, she presented a scenario to consider in groups of two. Should the law force people to behave ethically, or should it simply be used to prevent damaging actions?
Julia addressed the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision, asking the audience: should the law protect religious beliefs, or should it protect beliefs and actions?
Is it the actions of people that are important (ex: the action of baking a cake) or the belief (ex: the bakers belief on sin)? In other words, can the baker believe anything they want but be forced to act in an agreed way?
Julia discussed this issue in light of precedent. It was a fascinating hour of learning about the legal process!
Other statements that stuck with us:
“…make injustice expensive, with your wallet. If there’s a communal statement about a product, individuals can have an impact.”
“There is power in small groups of people who get together to, over time, make a point”
“I want to give you the tools to act where you can, and the confidence that over time those actions can make a difference”
“When is the last time you changed your mind?” Julia asks. “Likely the last time you changed your mind was in the context of a relationship. Relational connections help people to change their minds.”
Julia urges us to do what we can do. “We can’t get rid of [those who control money and power]. But we can relationally sit down with them and talk to them, meeting them where they are.”
Perhaps a political leader cares about bullying in schools, but stands harshly against LGBTQ people. If you want to change their thinking, start by talking about what they care about, bullying, and then connect your passion…maybe how LGBTQ students are bullied.
The workshops on Saturday were packed with amazing topics and resources.
During Chandra Snell’s well attended workshop, attendees participated in a discussion centered around her theme of “Discerning Our Spiritual Gifts in Such a Time as This.”
Susan Cottrell, LGBTQ advocate who specializes in ministering to evangelical and conservative parents of queer people, presented cutting-edge research into how to talk to conservative Christians.
The key, she revealed, is to start with concepts that are easy for them to relate to and understand. Similar to what Julia said in the morning’s plenary session, start by meeting them where they are.
Doctoral student at the University of Iowa, and 2016 Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship recipient, Rev. Darcy Metcalfe, gave one of the student presentations on Saturday.
Darcy provided attendees with an exploration of how humans are quantumly entangled with the Earth and all that is, and because of this, how we treat each other and the world around us matters.
Erica Saunders, the 2017 Hardesty scholarship recipient, a student at Wake Forest Divinity School, was our second student presenter.
First Erica explained the basic terminology, cisgender and transgender. Cisgender comes from the Latin “on the same side” (gender aligns with sex assigned at birth). Transgender means not aligned with assignment at birth.
She shared disturbing statistics.
The 2011 transgender discrimination survey showed 41% of transgender people had attempted suicide. 70% were not granted access to an ID that aligned with their gender identity.
A 2015 survey showed 49% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted.
In 2017, at least 28 people were murdered for no other reason than being transgender. Most were trans women of color.
Erica helped the conference attendees think theologically about justice for transgender persons, stating:
“We need to honor gender diversity as a reflection of the divine.”
“I think organizations need to affirm trans people’s unique insights by explicitly welcoming them into full membership and leadership.”
“We must welcome trans people through hospitality and accessibility in language and space.” She clarified that we need to move away from using exclusively male language for the divine, or even saying “brothers and sisters,” because that excludes those who do not fit on a gender binary.
“And bathrooms,” she said wearily, “I am so sick of talking about bathrooms. If at all possible, please provide non-gendered restrooms.”
There was time for getting to know other feminists, too. There was time with our tribe!
A dinner table that starts out with just a couple people grows and grows, just like the feminist table! There is no end, and all are welcome!
What can we tell you about Saturday night’s presentation, “Stories and Music to Move Us:
Diverse Portrayals of Standing Up and Speaking Up?” We can tell you it was created by Jennifer Higgins-Newman, Paula Trimble-Familetti, and John Saxon. We can tell you that Jera Brown, Jeanne Hanson, Helen Claire Ferguson, Ashley Cason, Mary Lokers, Erica Saunders, and Susan Cottrell shared their stories with us.
What we can’t really tell you is how captivating, how moving, how sacred this presentation felt as those among us courageously shared their truth. It really was one of those time when you simply had to be there.
After that serious time, the fun began. Everyone laughed and laughed as we took pictures together. The amount of joy in these photos leaps off the screen!
Here are some of our elders, our founding members. And here they are…really, really not being serious at all! Having fun, like they have for the last 45 years of EEWC-CFT.
Here are our first-time attendees. They seem to be having as much fun as our elders!
And now you get to meet all our reverends. A pious lot. Nope, no fun here either.
Meet the doctors. They’re always thinking.
Just wouldn’t be a CFT photo shoot if Letha didn’t do her Wittenburg Door pose (yeah, it’s an inside joke). Here she is with three of our Hardesty scholars.
We know you’ve been waiting for this one, it’s the whole crazy crew.
Then, all of a sudden, it was Sunday morning. Even though it was our last day together, it turned out to be amazing. For the first time, there was an additional workshop slot before the Sunday morning worship service. Reta Halteman Finger presented on Revelation. This workshop complemented her recent Bible study series on her Reta’s Reflections blog.
In her workshop description, Peg Conway promised that her experiential workshop would present and teach a series of holistic, body-centered practices to relieve stress, rejuvenate energy, and anchor oneself in the whole of creation.
Peg lead the group in Tai chi to release compassion into the world and care for ourselves.
The bottom line? Self-care doesn’t have to be dreary or a challenge. It can be a ton of fun too.
Sunday morning worship was upon us. The altar was carefully prepared.
We were delighted when Criselda Marquez walked in. She drove all the way from Indianapolis for the service.
All of our reverends participated.
Rhondda MacKay presented a moving invocation, honoring the native people upon whose land we held our Gathering.
We all sang hymns written by Jann Aldredge-Clanton, including “Time’s Up, We Shout!”
Rev. Dr. Leslie Harrison led the community in a responsive reading that she wrote. It was absolutely beautiful.
Claire Beutler-Cruise led the communion experience with many of our other reverends helping out. Mary Lokers and Linda Posthuma read scripture. Helen Claire Ferguson gave the benediction.
Christy Sim took the words to the responsive reading and created some art around them.
We know, through our DNA, all of us come from the four corners of the Earth.
We have been oppressed, depressed, segregated, and amputated.
Depressed by those who refuse to acknowledge our gifts, our intelligence, and our wisdom.
Segregated from our fullest expression based on gender, race, sexuality, and so many other distinctions.
Amputated from our thoughts, our spirits, our experiences, and our futures.
However, we stand tall and speak with strength.
Click the thumbnails above to view larger versions of pictures from the worship service.
Leslie Harrison’s wonderful sermon centered on our theme Bible verse and the whole story of Esther.
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14 (NIV)
Leslie explained that there are three female voices in the book of Esther.
#1 is Queen Vashti.
She’s all that and a bag of chips and a Pepsi. She’s beautiful. She’s one of King Xerxes’ trophies.
King Xerxes is as drunk as a skunk. And wants his trophy to come down, but the queen says, “There isn’t no way I’m marching around all those men. I don’t even do that around the house. He’s got the wrong woman here.” Vashti stood up for such a time as this.
“No,” she said, “I’m not giving up my pride and self-esteem.”
Vashti made a good choice, not going before the king. But the king’s boys are telling him, “Your woman isn’t listening to you, and now our wives will think they can say no to us. We’ve got to be the kings of our castle.”
#2 is Esther.
She’s an orphan. All her family is gone but a distant cousin. When the king asks for all the beautiful women to come to the palace, she gets sent. Her cousin tells her to “go ahead and apply for the scholarship.”
And she does, and she wins it. She gets to be queen.
Esther’s learning stuff all the time as the queen. But her uncle is crying. He’s a hot mess. See, Esther doesn’t know about the stuff happening outside the walls of the castle. And when her cousin tells her that the Jews are in trouble, Esther says, “If I go before the king, it’s bad. So, I’m going to keep living. I’m not doing anything.”
But her cousin reminds her, “Don’t think you got up into royalty just for you. You’re there for a purpose. Do what you need to do.”
So, she goes before the king, probably anticipating her death. But she does it anyway. And the king welcomes her.
#3 is a voice, and Her name isn’t spoken.
For me, the third woman in the story is Christ Sophia, moving in the hearts of people, giving Esther the wisdom to do what Godde asked. It is Christ Sophia who gives Esther courage, and it is the presence of Christ Sophia that changes the heart of the king to accept Esther as she is.
This is how it is in our lives. Some of us are living that privileged life. And we see the people wailing outside the gate. How many of us are willing to hear what the needs of those people are? How many of us are willing to give a kind word? How many of us are willing to share the wisdom we have?
Think about how we can go down to the wall. Why are the mothers crying? Because their babies were taken away. Because of immigration. Because there’s a wall. Because there’s mental health issues.
We are tired of being tired. But we can’t be so tired we go somewhere and lay down. We have to stand up. Stand up against injustice. Let us find the courage and energy we have in Christ Sophia to stand up and speak out. Because it’s for such a time as this.
And then, the benediction. It was all over but the hugging and the heartfelt good-byes. Just two more years until we gather again.
Photos by Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Ashley Cason, Jen Higgins-Newman, Christy Sim, and Lē Weaver