Friday, October 22, 2010

Feminist theology in Africa

We are pleased to share this interview with the doyenne of African Feminist Theology, Mercy Amba Oduyoye. Dr. Oduyoye (photo), a Methodist, is the director of the Institute of Women in Religion and Culture at the Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana and founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.-- RG

'Jesus was a feminist'
by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah,
50.50 Inclusive Democracy
22 October 2010

‘Jesus was a feminist!’ asserts Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a feminist theologian based at the Holy Trinity Seminary in Accra, Ghana and founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. Simple words perhaps, but in the context of a growing normalisation of religious fundamentalist views, these are brave, doctrine-shattering words. On the second day of the African Feminist Forum, participants are debating the impact and patterns of religious fundamentalism in Africa, and considering feminist responses to it from both within and outside of religious discourse.

In Ghana where Mercy Oduyoye lives, Christianity dominates in terms of the numbers of followers (followed by Islam and Traditional Religions). Although the state is meant to be secular, official events will usually include Christian, Muslim and Traditional invocations. Questioning of doctrine and statements such as ‘the Bible is a historical book’ are not looked upon favourably by many in Ghanaian society. Indeed, Mercy herself reflects that when she has spoken up in some Christian circles she has sometimes felt like, ‘I would be lynched if I didn’t have my friends with me’.

I sat down with Mercy to discuss the Bible, feminism, and her vision.

Q: How does one approach the Bible from a feminist perspective?

Mercy: A feminist believes that women are human beings, and should be treated accordingly. Secondly, when you read any text, you read it from where you stand and from your own experience.

If I take a Bible story, I’m reading with my mind focused on the fact that this is supposed to be a message from a God of Love, Compassion and of Justice who wants human beings to behave like beings created in his own image. And so if I find a passage that doesn’t look like it has compassion, I ask myself, ‘who is writing this and why?’ The Bible is a historical book. Every one of those books within it came from a particular culture, a particular period in time. Also we often don’t read the Bible thoroughly enough- within the Bible itself you have a critique of some of the more conservative teachings that people quote out of context.

Q: Who is a feminist theologian?

Mercy: A feminist is a woman who listens to the kind of God who loves and is compassionate and wants human beings to thrive. You’re a theologian because you want to critically look at your religion and ask yourself, ‘what is my religion doing in the community?’ ‘What is my religion doing to me?’ ‘What are the ethical principles coming out of this religion and are we doing it right?’

Q: There is a growing wave of African Christian clergy who are using the Bible to justify discrimination and hatred, and women's continued inequality. Does the Bible itself justify this, or is this just an abuse of the Bible for political ends?

Mercy: The Bible is not a monolithic scheme. If you read the Bible from a feminist perspective there is no way that you can say ‘God wants women to be oppressed’. The scripture is misquoted and it is used to justify anything. There are sixty six books in the Bible and each one has its own history with links running through. Ancient theologians like Luther say that the thread that goes through the Bible is the love of God, and any person that doesn’t make me feel like you have to honour another human being, deal with them as human beings, talk to them kindly, respect their humanity, that person is not a Christian, they are simply using it for their own ends. Any religion can be used in that manner.

Q: Is there momentum amongst progressive African theologians to respond to the abuse of Bible, and to support an agenda for equality as a Christian ethic?

Mercy: We have a genre of theology that we call Liberation Theology ; there are theologians from the global south whose main aim is to ensure that the Bible is used as a liberatory text from God. Within this we have the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, who specifically target how women read the Bible and work with women. We started in 1989 and now we have written over 300 book, so there are a lot of writings by women theologians and men theologians who are liberation theologists. The people whose aim is to make money from the name of Jesus are in a category quite separate from those who think the name of Jesus should empower us to respect humanity, to respect other persons, to respect the integrity of creation. We are all loved; they said God so loved the world, they didn’t say God so loved human beings, but the world, the whole world is in God’s care and that is what we are trying to say and write all the time.

Q: Which major religion, in your opinion, is more favourable to women and women's rights?

Mercy: None of them is, none of them. I’m a Christian myself and when you talk about women in Africa the response you get from both African men and women is the idea that Christianity has helped to liberate women, because now women have now been able to go to school and so on. And yet it took until 2010 for the Anglican Church in Ghana to ordained the first three women as deacons.

In Genesis 1: 26, the affirmation there that Jews, Christians, Muslims should be telling the whole world is that God created the human being ‘A dam’ in God’s own image, male and female created, simultaneous creation of male and female. In human language Adam comes from the word ‘from the ground or the soil (a-da-ma)’ and what God is saying is, this is the being I took from the ground, from the soil, and then later on it became a proper name for one person. God created human beings equal, men and women both in the divine image and that is what is most important that all believers should know.

Q: Some people argue that feminism is not compatible with Christianity because feminism argues against God's ordained roles for men and women. Do you agree?

Mercy: I think people don’t understand what Christianity is about. They think Christianity is the oppression of women and Christianity is not the oppression of women. If you want to see what Christianity does with women, go back and read your New Testament and see how Jesus treats women. Jesus was a feminist!

Q: Do you think there's a conflict between modern feminism and traditional Christianity?

Mercy: I don’t see what conflict there is, if traditional Christianity is Christ-like then it should be friends with feminists who are also struggling to be Christ-like.

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is the programme officer for communications at the African Women’s Development Fund


Thursday, October 21, 2010

What we’re reading…

American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary: This latest contribution to the spiritual literature about Our Lady carries the blessing of one of the country’s leading experts on the Virgin of Guadalupe, Fr. Virgil Elizondo, who calls it “a must for anyone who has any doubts about the power of Mary’s motherly presence.”

Deirdre Cornell, daughter of one of the editors of The Catholic Worker newspaper, Tom Cornell, has studied the figure of Mary extensively both as a theology student and later as a missionary, working with the immigrant community in Newburgh, New York and as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Oaxaca, Mexico. In this text, she focuses specifically on three representations of Mary: the well-known Virgin of Guadalupe, and the lesser known Virgin of Juquila and Virgin of Solitude.

Deirdre’s pilgrimage to these shrines is interwoven with historical and cultural anthropological information about popular devotional practices in Oaxaca and in the Mexican Catholic diaspora on this side of the border, and also with narratives of her own experience as a missionary and mother of five (her youngest twin girls were born during her stay in Mexico).

Much of what Deirdre (I have to call her “Deidre” because I remember her from when she was a girl and I, a college-age guest in her parents’ home) says resonates with me. Like her, I was put off by the image of Mary in traditional European Catholicism -- this impossible to achieve combination of maternity and virginity, praised for her submission to a patriarchal God and a patriarchal Church. Mary was put on a pedestal but never really respected. So, like Deirdre, I happily embraced Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the inculturated Virgin who chose a poor indigenous man, San Juan Diego, to bear her message and fearlessly told a bishop what she wanted, when, and where. I welcomed this Mother who accompanies her children in the struggle in the fields and now in the annual Antorcha Guadalupana relay that links the communities of origin to Mexican Americans’ new homes in el norte. Our Lady of Guadalupe looks down benevolently from the walls of soup kitchens and homeless shelters on her suffering people. This is the Mary that Deirdre so lovingly brings to us in her book, and you should get acquainted with Her too. (Orbis Books, 2010. ISBN: 9781570758713)

Bendecidos, Sanados y en Victoria: This second volume in the series “Colección Esperanza” published by Minuto de Dios in Bogota, Colombia, is a set of reflections about the charismatic renewal and, specifically spiritual healing, by Fr. José Eugenio Hoyos, spiritual director of the Renovación Católica Carismática in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. For better or worse, I am too familiar with the subject -- and with what the book could be -- to be able to give it more than a mixed review.

On the positive side, Fr. Hoyos does an excellent job of situating charismatic healing in its rightful place. He begins the book with a passage from the Book of Sirach (38:1-9) that demonstrates that, contrary to common misconceptions, spiritual healing is not intended to be used instead of conventional medicine, but complements it. He amply supports the practice through Biblical citations.

Fr. Hoyos also demonstrates how charismatic healing interacts with the major sacraments of the Catholic Church, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Again, the charismatic renewal, Fr. Hoyos insists, does not claim to supplant traditional Catholicism, but can invigorate it. His book recognizes the centrality of sacramental faith. It is also effective in explaining the healing power in the hands of the lay ministers of the Renovación and how this is distinct from the laying on of hands by consecrated men of God in the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, for example. This being said, Fr. Hoyos steadfastly rejects the common belief that only ordained people can lay hands effectively.

Ironically, the book fails most in what it initially set out to be – a compilation of healing testimonies gathered from Fr. Hoyos’ extensive experience in healing ministry. The testimonies are relatively few, relatively new, concentrated in the final chapters, and occur outside of the Diocese of Arlington even though most of Fr. Hoyos’ ministry has taken place there. Are we to believe that he is a prophet without honor in his own community who cannot work miracles there? Yet, I’ve personally listened to hundreds of testimonies during my brief time in this movement.

The second problem is lack of depth. Fr. Hoyos presents a media-ready image of his elite corps -- the Ministerio de Sanación, Liberación e Intercesión, the black and white clad ministers who do most of the work in the healing Masses. This “too good to be true, too blessed to be stressed” image actually does a disservice. The real miracle is that this group of people who are frequently struggling with their personal problems and doubts, is able to put their own issues aside and lovingly focus God’s healing energy on the suffering souls who come to the Masses. I am one of them and I can assure you that we are far from saints. We have chronic health problems, marital crises, economic and immigration difficulties, even depression and addiction. We struggle with anger, spiritual laziness, fatigue and hopelessness, but we have chosen charismatic prayer as an alternative to giving up. Some personal stories and perspectives from senior members of the Ministerio would have made this book richer and deeper.

With respect to the third gap I note, I suppose it would be unfair to expect a book titled “Blessed, Healed and Victorious” to address what happens when that is not the outcome – at least not from a normal human perspective. What do you say to the person who prays and prays and never receives healing? What do you tell people who have repeatedly interceded with God for a loved one who lived a saintly life but still died way too young and in pain? What comfort can you give the young woman who wants so much to have a baby and sees so many other women become mothers after they receive a healing touch but in spite of all her entreaties to God never knows the joy of carrying a child? We ask people how they are and expect them to parrot back “bendecido, encendido y en victoria” when the truth is anything but “blessed and fired up”. This is because we cannot answer this question adequately, so we run away from it and insist that others put on a happy face instead of accompanying them where they are.

Finally, this book suffers from poor editing. In some ways, it’s still more of a scrapbook than a book. There are entire chapters that seemingly have nothing at all to do with spiritual healing and are there only because they are ideas Fr. Hoyos found interesting – the metamorphosis into butterflies, the oft-repeated footsteps of Jesus reflection (“…that was when I carried you”). A somewhat edited version of Fr. Hoyos’ own healing story, which he says led him to get more seriously involved in this work, has been placed at the very back for some unaccountable reason (most of us, knowing it was there, looked for it first!). There are factual errors, e.g. the reference on p.62 to “La Lengua de Rafael Azcona”. This was actually a movie called “La Lengua de las Mariposas” and the script was by Rafael Azcona. There are stylistic errors too. For example, although the book is written in Spanish and published in Latin America, it inexplicably uses the English method of Biblical citation throughout the text. Between these sorts of missing details and the use of vapid stock photos, one gets the impression of a title that was rushed to print before it was really ready for prime time.

In conclusion, I would hope that, since this book has been quite popular, it will go to a second edition. At that point there will be an opportunity to bring it up to the standard of some of Fr. Hoyos’ other works, expand it, and give it the depth and personalization it deserves. Until then, we are "orando y perseverando". (Libreria Minuto de Dios, 2010. ISBN: 9789587350500)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hispanic political leaders react to Latinos 4 Reform

UPDATE 10/20/2010: Might want to check out Robert Deposada's appearance on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word, MSNBC.

UPDATE 4:15 pm 10/19/2010: Responding to strong protests, Univision has told The Associated Press the controversial Latinos For Reform ad urging Hispanics not to vote was pulled from its Las Vegas Spanish-language radio station today shortly after its debut. Univision also says it will not run a companion ad on its Spanish-language TV broadcasting network and will continue to encourage Hispanics to vote. Bendecidos, encendidos y...for the moment...en victoria!

Yesterday we reported on Latinos For Reform, a Republican Party oriented 527, which is planning to run ads aimed at suppressing the Hispanic vote in the November general election. Reaction from Hispanic political leaders who are absolutely outraged by this unAmerican tactic are starting to come out and we will bring them to you as they emerge.

From Nevada, where Democratic incumbent Harry Reid is a prime target of the ad:

Adding its voice to the chorus of denunciation is the National Alliance of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) which has been active in trying to get Latinos to participate in both the 2010 Census and the electoral process. In a statement to La Opinión, the group's director, Arturo Vargas, called the Latinos for Reform ads "cynical" and said they reminded him of those who tried to discourage Latinos from participating in the Census.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Latinos for Reform: Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Update 10/19/2010: Robert Deposada, the man behind Latinos for Reform, gave an interview with TPM which clarified some more things: 1) that Deposada co-directed Americans for Border and Economic Security with Dick Armey. 2) With respect to the infamous P.O. box mentioned below, Deposada said it was a mistake on the website but then digs himself in deeper as he tries to clarify the matter: "'In 2008, because the laws were so strange, we hired a political compliance company that handled our reporting and accounting.' That was Arceneaux, and during that time the group used her PO Box." A plausible explanation, I'm sure. We stand by our conclusion that this group is all about an electoral victory for the Republican Party and doesn't give a hoot about immigrants.

¡Ojo, hermanos y hermanas!

Rebel Girl was looking at the news today and noticed a press release from a group calling itself Latinos for Reform. According to the press release:

Latinos for Reform announced today the launch of a national ad campaign in targeted states urging Latino voters not to vote for Members of Congress that have failed to deliver on their immigration reform promises. The ads, in both English and Spanish, are available at

"It's an election year, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to hear promises about immigration reform," said LFR President Robert Deposada. "What is surprising, however, is that these politicians really believe that they can continue to make these same promises during every campaign season without ever delivering on them – and that we continue to allow it."...

Hmmmm...Well, of course we don't want to vote for people who have let our community down...sounds so reasonable and innocuous. So Rebel Girl goes to visit the website to see who these people are and to view the ads (English version above). Funny....their ads don't say anything about not voting for Republicans, who haven't done anything for immigrants either (maybe because they never promised to do anything in the first place since most of their constituency would like to deport anyone who wasn't born here and quite a few who were too). It's all about the Democrats. I wonder why?

So Rebel Girl asks herself: Who are these people? The website carries a standard disclaimer but all it will tell you is: "Paid for by Latinos for Reform. Latinos for Reform authorized the content of this message. It has not been authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. Contributions or gifts to Latinos for Reform are not deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes." Of course not.. because this is just another right-wing 527.

They've been around at least since the 2008 presidential elections when they put out blatant race-baiting anti-Obama ads in Spanish, according to NPR which ran an English translation of part of the ad:

Barack Obama a friend of the Latino community? The record demonstrates the opposite. Did you know that after the 2000 census that showed a tremendous growth of Latinos in Chicago, Obama told reporters in Chicago that while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking power from the African-American community. You heard right...but there's more. Did you know that Obama has never hired a Latino to a senior position in his office throughout his legislative career? Did you know that Obama has opposed trade with Mexico, Central America and Colombia, yet supports free trade with Africa?

You get the idea. No other information available but guess what? Latinos for Reform's PO box 26366 in Alexandria, Virginia has been shared by a whole series of right-wing PACs: American Spirit Fund, Virginia Liberty Fund, Storm Chasers, and American Liberty PAC -- all with the same treasurer, Susan Arceneaux, a well-connected member of the Republican Party and a long-time aide to Rep. Dick Armey. Remember the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Ms. Arceneaux was also associated with them and the now-defunct Admiral Roy F. Hoffmann Foundation, which just happens to have the same address and PO box as Ms. Arceneaux's collection of PACs and as Latinos for Reform, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Swift Boat Vets. Would you trust any group using that PO box number to be objective and concerned about your interests?

As to the group's funding, there is no information yet available for 2010 but during the 2008 cycle, the biggest contributors to Latinos for Reform were John T Finn of Redondo Beach, CA, son of a prominent pro-life family, who gave $45,000, underwriting the anti-Obama ad mentioned above in several markets, Frank Dudenhefer, a personal injury lawyer from New Orleans who heavily funded Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and then switched his support to McCain/Palin in the general election, and Rogelio Fernandez of Fresh Meadows, NY, a pharmacy owner and previous small-time Republican contributor. Dudenhefer and Fernandez each gave $10,000.

As for Robert Deposada, who put $3,000 himself into Latinos for Reform in 2008, he has worked for the Hispanic Business Roundtable and The Latino Coalition, both of which are intimately linked to corporate interests and the Republican Party. Mr. Deposada was formerly director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee and in 2001served on President Bush's commission to advance the administration's plan for privatizing Social Security. The hermano's Facebook page says he likes the "Tea Party Patriots", which tells you which wing of the Republican Party presently has his allegiance. He has also personally donated substantial amounts of money, almost entirely to Republican candidates. So perhaps you wonder how those organizations stand on immigration reform? Funny you should ask.

The Latino Coalition's "Advocacy" area under "Immigration" yielded only an old action item opposing U.S. regulations on Mexican truckers. However, in 2008 they issued a press release on the issue that reads:

The Latino Coalition applauds Senators John McCain and Barack Obama for talking about immigration reform. However, the fact is that Senator McCain has demonstrated real leadership in addressing this highly controversial issue.

Senator McCain risked his political career to find a comprehensive solution to our nation's complex immigration problem. He has demonstrated a commitment to secure the border, create a guest worker program and to treat immigrants with respect and dignity.

On the other hand, Senator Obama sided against bipartisan immigration reform legislation and instead with narrow, special interests intent on killing efforts to find real solutions.

We hope that the next president and Congress will put away the rhetoric and act to fix our broken immigration system. Thanks to the efforts of Senator McCain, a foundation has been laid for meaningful reform. It is in the best interest of our nation, society and economy to complete the job.

As for the Hispanic Business Roundtable, their record on immigration is just as sketchy. They did endorse H.R. 2202, Immigration in the National Interest Act back in 1996. The bill and its Senate counterpart passed in a heavily partisan vote by the Republican majority. The legislation was subsequently vetoed by President Clinton.

Now let's look at la numero dos in Latinos for Reform, Ms. Naomi Lopez-Bauman, a long time colleague of Mr. Deposada. She is a self-employed policy expert who has been associated with a number of libertarian think tanks over the years including the Cato Institute, the Pacific Research Institute and the Pelican Institute. We don't know much about her position on immigration. She has opposed statehood for Puerto Rico and is co-author of a 2000 report on the medically uninsured in Texas which blames government policy of providing some forms of health care even for the uninsured, even for undocumented immigrants, for the fact that 24 percent of Texans are medically uninsured. As someone with some graduate level education in health administration, I'm left speechless by this conclusion.

In conclusion, do these sound like people who really care about whether or not American politicians are keeping any promises to the Latino community about immigration reform? Or are they just trying to keep Latinos at home who might otherwise turn out and vote Democratic? They don't care about you or real immigration reform. All they care about are their Republican cronies.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sr. Teresa Forcades: a couple of speaking engagements

For those of you who keep tuning in for an update on Sr. Teresa Forcades, we can tell you that she appeared on a program on TV3 (in Catalan) called Bricolatge Emocional (approximately 4 minutes into the video). We can also give you a couple of upcoming speaking engagement dates:

November 11, 2010: Sr. Teresa will be participating in the Dialogue series organized by the Comissió d’Actes Religiosos de les Festes Decennals for the Jubilee Year of the Mother of God of La Candela de Valls, 7:30 p.m., Casa de Cultura, Barcelona. She will be interviewed by the editor of Foc Nou, Jordi Listeri, about the challenges facing the Church today.

November 15, 2010: Cines Alexandra, Barcelona (Spain), 7:30 p.m. Sr. Teresa will be speaking in conjunction with the screening of "Vision", a new film about Hildegard von Bingen that has received excellent critical reviews. The presentation is part of a series "Muestra de Cine Espiritual" and the rest of the series looks pretty good as well so, if you live in that area, click here for more information.

January 11, 2011: Sr. Teresa will be one of the guest lecturers in a class at the University of Cordoba (Spain) this semester. The class is on "Religion, Humanism and Culture: The Memory of Europe in a Global World. The Turn of the Millenium, Democracy and Postmodernity." Anyway, Sr. Teresa will be speaking at 7 p.m. on "Universality as an ethical benchmark: The materialist theology of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek." Are you an average lay person who has never heard of these two philosophers? We hadn't either. That's why the names are hyperlinked to their Wikipedia pages!

Click here for more information about this program...