Sr. Carol Keehan takes another stand

The name of Sister Carol Keehan might be familiar to those who closely followed the health care debate. President of the Catholic Health Association and a member of the order of the Daughters of Charity, Keehan first drew the ire of conservative Catholics by her public support of Obama’s planned healthcare reform (http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?id=52811576-3048-741E-1065143912120232). Now Keehan is in the news again, this time for her defense of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

If you follow reproductive health news, St. Joseph’s will be a familiar name for you. The hospital became the target of an investigation led by Bishop Thomas Olmstead after its board allowed a life-saving abortion to be performed on a patient. According to Olmstead, a woman’s life was not an adequate reason to abort.

Keehan disagrees, and has released a public statement supporting the hospital and condemning Olmstead’s decision to revoke its ability to advertise itself as a Catholic hospital. The debate here cannot be underestimated: Olmstead and his backers are attempting to define Catholicism, and under that definition, women will continue to be denied lifesaving medical treatment.

So high praise to Sister Carol, for her clear commitment to her vow to help the poor, and her courageous stand against Bishop Olmstead. Link to the story here: http://www.ncronline.org/news/catholic-health-association-backs-phoenix-hospital.

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Follow up

Again, many thanks to everyone who read and/or commented on my piece for Feministing. It was a privilege to contribute and I’m pleased at the level of interest that has been piqued about the topic of feminism and religion. That was the point of the series, and I’ll be very excited to read upcoming posts. I’ve received a lot of questions about feminism and gender roles in conservative Christianity since the piece came out. Today, I’m going to try to answer a few of those.

Christian feminism is a minority view, but it exists, and I believe it is gaining ground. I mentioned egalitarianism in my article. Egalitarianism, aside from being a prime candidate for entry in my hypothetical Christianese dictionary, can loosely be described as feminist Christianity. There are a couple great egalitarian organizations. Probably the most active of these are Christians for Biblical Equality: http://www.cbeinternational.org/. They also publish a journal, Priscilla Papers , and Mutuality magazine. Nor is egalitarianism a fringe movement. It boasts endorsements by Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, and numerous other theologians, pastors, and authors. And I’ve added a new page to this blog with a list of egalitarian resources for anyone who’s interested.

So no, Christian feminists don’t work in a vacuum. They are still outnumbered, in some denominations more than others, but support certainly exists. I can credit a feminist Christian professor at my university for exposing me to egalitarianism. Until I met her, I hadn’t realized that the misgivings I had long possessed about the concept of female submission could have a legitimate theological basis. I still believe that egalitarianism (and pacifism, though that’s a topic for another post) is the most correct interpretation of the New Testament. To those who call Christianity a patriarchal religion: yes, it was. Often it still is. But the blame for that can be laid at the feet of those who choose to interpret it that way. It’s patriarchal when it’s being used to serve a patriarchal agenda. But it’s unfair to condemn it as inherently misogynistic. Yes, there are fucking terrible moments in the Old Testament. In fact, most of can be filed under that category. But if you ask most Christians on the street if they believe that Christ came to the world to redeem it, you will receive an unequivocal yes. The message of Christ can be used to redeem the bloody acts of inhumanity, the ethnic hatred and the misogyny, to create  a better world as a prelude to the one that exists beyond that.

If I were to believe in something, I would believe in that. And as an agnostic, I feel no contradiction in embracing the beauty of the possibilities represented by that sort of theology. I support anyone who clings to it as I once did.

There remain legitimate questions about different interpretations of reproductive rights, and I plan to address those in an upcoming post. For now, I hope this follow up answers a few questions and provides enough resources for an intro to egalitarianism.

 

on moving forward

Despite my introductory post, the first entry in this blog is only slightly about religion, and is political as far as the personal is always political. Sometimes you just need to write. And today, I’m going to write about seeing the man who sexually assaulted me on the street.

It began nearly a year ago, during a bitter Midwestern winter that sucked the emotional fortitude out of everything living. He was my boyfriend for one destructive, chaotic month. It’s strange that the human mind, capable of so much beauty and innovation, can deteriorate over four weeks. But that’s what happened for both of us. He spiraled slowly into the grip of his mental illness, and he dragged me down with him. The events will be familiar to anyone who has survived an abusive relationship. You’ll know, perhaps without being told, that every fight was always my fault. That I was a bad girlfriend, a bad person, and a burden. And when the assault occurred, he was only giving me what he knew I wanted, and that I should stop being such a diva. And I shoved it away to the back of my mind. He was right; I was overreacting. It was a misunderstanding. And God knows why I wanted to take a week’s worth of showers, and why I felt that even if I did I’d never feel clean again.

I went on antidepressants the week of the assault. Two weeks later, he told me he didn’t love me anymore. I snapped. The depression got the better of me, and I spent the night in an ICU with a belly full of charcoal. He came to see me in the hospital, and later he told me I’d said things to him that hurt his feelings. I don’t remember anything I said. Maybe I finally told him the truth: he’d assaulted me, and psychologically abused me, and that I’d finally believed everything he’d ever told me about myself. And I left the hospital and tried to move on with my life. I attended classes, I went to therapy. Picking up the pieces of my life felt as precarious as learning how to walk.

The insults escalated into threats, and a month after I walked out of the hospital, I found the strength to go to the police. But there’s a catch to this story: my abuser is the son of my university’s president. That university is a conservative Southern Baptist institution, situated in the Midwestern tail of the Bible Belt, and sex is forbidden for unmarried students. Admitting the assault meant admitting an otherwise consensual relationship. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened. So my personal adventure with the great exercise in futility that is reporting partner abuse in America remained limited to the threats and psychological harassment. Nothing got done. The man who’d nearly raped me got a job on campus and a front row seat at my graduation, courtesy of his father. The closest I’ve ever come to justice occurred when I looked him straight in eye after the ceremony, and he looked away first. It’s the only admission of guilt I have ever received from him.

It’s been seven months since that graduation. I’ve moved to a new town, which though not far from my university is still far enough down the road to give me a needed change of pace. Then I saw him two days ago, walking down the street with a girl I know, with not a care in his face. He saw me, I saw him. Cue panic. I gathered my things and fled.

But I’ve had some time to think since then and I’ve arrived at an important conclusion. He has taken enough of my life, and it ends here. It ended when he kept walking down the street. And although the scars of what he’s done will never disappear, the pain can fade. It’s time to take my life back. So I’m writing this at the same coffee shop table I was occupying when he swaggered down the street. If he’s back, he’s back. I’ll be here, and I’m not leaving.

The reason I’m baring my soul on this blog is simple: I know my story isn’t unique. Partner abuse already carries a stigma within American society, but it is especially rampant in American Christian circles. As I was preparing to visit the police over my ex-boyfriend, I attended a Bible class during which three of my female classmates insisted that abuse is never a reason to divorce. That attitude needs to die. Abuse should never be tolerated for any reason. And I wish that instead of sermons on abstinence, America’s youth group leaders would at least occasionally include one on identifying and resisting abusive partners. Religious women who have survived partner abuse often have nowhere to turn, particularly in denominations like my university’s that adhere to a doctrine of men as the leaders of women. If telling my story can spur women to demand a safe space within their religions, I’ll repeat it as many times as I can.

Maybe, out of all the pain this one man has caused me, something good can be constructed.

Welcome to the blog!

Welcome to Anthony B. Susan (explanation at the top of this page). This blog is going to be a little different from the average feminist/politically progressive venture. I write from the perspective of a former self-identified member of the religious right. There isn’t much intelligent discussion among progressive circles regarding the beliefs of American Christians. Christianity is complicated, and the popular demonization of all American Christians as right wing, anti-gay, anti-feminist nuts reflects a poor understanding of the trends that currently define Christianity in America.

Christians can be gay. Christians can be feminists. Christians can love the environment. And yes, Christians can even be pro-choice.

Of course, Christians can also be the opposite of those things, and they tend to be the sort that attract the most attention. The purpose of this blog, aside from being a place for commentary on all things political and feminist and anything in between, is twofold: to confirm or dispel the preconceptions many individuals possess about Christianity, and to provide clarity on the complicated many-headed creature that it has become in the 21st Century.

As for information about me: I’m a white ciswoman two classes away from finishing a BA in International Studies. This means that this blog will often have a global focus. My international experience is a little limited: to date, I’ve spent a semester in Wales, a week in Ireland, and another week in Brazil. I fully intend to build on that experience. My academic interests are international relations, media, religion, and political theory, and I am unapologetically geeky about all those things.

Commenting rules are simple: be thoughtful and be polite. I dislike stupid arguments even more than I dislike rudeness. Otherwise, I’m not a fan of censorship, so if you can state yourself articulately you are welcome to comment as much as you like. If you have suggestions for a special series or questions you’d like me to address, add those in the comments.

Welcome to the blog!