International Day of the Girl…and Women?

I know today is Indigenous Peoples Day. But I started to write this last week on International Day of the Girl. Is it ok to celebrate women today too? I think so. It seems like a good time to share a post I wrote this summer for my church blog.

As I often proclaim, I am bad at math. But sometimes the numbers are so easy to figure, even I can see it: 25-4=21. 

For 21 out of the last 25 years — in other words, from July 1994 until now — Woodridge United Methodist Church has had a female Lead Pastor. In the beginning of July we celebrated Pastor Danita’s official reappointment, meaning that number will continue to grow. The United Methodist Church has ordained women for more than 50 years– although the earliest known woman ordained to preach came in 1866. So our little 21 out of 25 statistic really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But I’m convinced that it is. 

Here at WUMC, with that 21 out of 25 number, we’re so used to having women as Lead Pastor we may be fooled into thinking women are doing fine in churches everywhere — or at least all over the UMC.

Yet, even in the UMC, women make up only about 25% of our clergy. Further, women of color make up only about 4% of our clergy. Male pastors are more likely than female pastors to be appointed to biggest congregation and the wage gap is especially egregious with female clergy paid 76 cents for every dollar a male colleague makes. As followers of Jesus, seeking justice is our calling. Having an unjust and unequal pay system for our clergy makes for a horrendous witness. That is wrong and needs to change.

Simultaneously, we have to continue to change hearts regarding female clergy. This is obviously true in the larger Christian landscape where the two biggest denominations (Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics) refuse to ordain women at all; and very, very few nondenominational evangelical churches do. But hearts and attitudes need to change in the UMC as well.

The North Carolina Conference of the UMC emailed its female clergy asking for comments they have received about being a woman in ministry. The Conference released a video of those comments — wherein male clergy colleagues were asked to read the responses*.

We as a church and as a society need to do better and be better. As we strive toward that goal, I give thanks to God for those 21  years and counting — and give thanks for the ministry of The Reverend Linda Foster-Momsen, The Reverend Linda Misewicz-Perconte, and The Reverend Danita Anderson. Thank you for being my colleague, mentor, and friend.

*North Carolina’s video reminds me so much of the award-winning video Chicago-based sports journalists, Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, released a couple years ago. It’s much more graphic than the clergy video, but very much worth your time and revulsion to watch. Again, for girls and for the women they become all over the globe, we must do better and be better.

Women and girls

“There’s nothing like having a daughter for turning you into a feminist,” remarked a parishioner after a sermon I gave sometime ago. While I remember neither the specific statement I made nor exactly when this exchange occurred, I vividly remember thinking, “I really hope I was a feminist before we had a daughter. Maybe I haven’t been as strong and vocal an advocate for and with women as I thought?”

Girls are the secret weapon in the war on poverty. But only if they’re protected and educated. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

However, on this International Women’s Day (March 8) it is all too tragically clear that simply having a daughter – or a sister or an aunt or a wife or a friend or a cousin or a mother – is not enough to transform people into feminists*:

Domestic Violence

Via United Methodist Women.

Women ages fifteen to forty-five are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. – Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Hoping and praying that those awful, sobering, gut-wrenching, heart-rending statistics change is a good first step, but it isn’t enough.

I definitely haven’t paid enough attention over the years to the excellent work and advocacy being done by UM Women: Fighting domestic violence, partnering with civic leaders, and providing a plethora of resources and events. We can join these already-in-progress efforts.

Girls who stay in school during adolescence marry later and are less likely to be subjected to forced sex. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

How else can we support equality on this International Women’s Day? Again, no wheel-inventing necessary, simply learn from and move with others leading the way:

  • The ONE Campaign offers 5 ideas, all of which you can do from your computer (or, you know, other devices).
  • Wold Chicago is hosting a great event today. My mom and my wife are attending it. Hopefully I can get them to share about the event in a future post. (Full disclosure: World Chicago’s Executive Director, Peggy Parfenoff, is a long-time family friend.)
  • Read A Girl Can from Mercy Corps. Their pictures, stats, and video will enrage you, inspire you, and move you to action.

A girl who can read teaches her mother to read, tells her brothers about women’s rights, and makes school a priority for her own children. – Mercy Corps’ A Girl Can

In the spirit of ONE’s idea #5: Looking back on my formative years, before I knew terms like feminist, advocate, empowerment, equality, or gendered roles, I knew that our family didn’t always fit the usual mode. Sure, Mom cooked most of the meals. But Dad did the laundry and we all helped clean the house.

Mom and Dad had the same level of education and both worked similar full-time, outside-of-the-home jobs.

Dad painstakingly worked to keep all the landscaping immaculate. He knew every flower, plant, tree, and (horrors!) weed. Mom was the one with the collection of sports trophies for softball, basketball and bowling. The Sports Illustrated subscription came to her. It was a big accomplishment the day when teenaged Dave finally beat Mom at ping-pong for the first time. Teaching me to throw, catch and hit a baseball? Mom did that. Learning proper form and release shooting hoops? That came from Mom. Scoring bowling by hand? Reading a box score in the newspaper? Correctly marking each play on the baseball score card? Mom, Mom, and Mom again.

Thank you, Mom (and Dad) for teaching me strength, partnership, and equality simply by being who you are. I love you. I hope Joann and I can pass on those lessons to both our son and our daughter.

Your turn! How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

*Yes, I realize that is a loaded term for some, a term to avoid. However, I truly don’t understand that at all. If women are people too, then what could possibly be bad about “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men“?? I’m not being glib here, I truly don’t see the problem or issue or controversy.

Victory! What’s next?

Thursday was a really good day.

After months and even years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives FINALLY passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – and with it the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA)!

The General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church reminded us what The United Methodist Church says about Family Violence and Abuse:

We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. – UMC Social Principles 161.G

The bill had already passed the Senate and President Obama has said he will sign it right away. Most of the news I saw about this focused on how the main bill protects all women, including native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT women. As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), herself a rape victim, sharply put it with a paraphrase of 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate, Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t they women?”

Yes. Yes, they are.

But the VAWA also included the TVPRA as an amendment. TVPA expired over two years ago; we finally have it back! What’s that mean? I’ll let two of our best anti-trafficking partners – Polaris Project and International Justice Mission – tell you.

From Polaris Project:

This bill sets important funding benchmarks, encourages distribution of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number by federal agencies, establishes grant programs for state agencies to assist child victims of sex trafficking, strengthens the ability to prosecute those who fraudulently hire individuals in foreign labor contracts, and more. [read the rest]

IJM adds that the 2013 version of the TVPRA has new provisions as well:

  • Gives the State Department authority to partner with overseas governments to stop child trafficking in targeted areas. It’s much more specific and measurable than previous programs
  • An emergency response provision helps the State Department quickly deploy teams of experts into crisis areas—like the situation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake—where disorder and poverty can leave children or other vulnerable poor especially susceptible to trafficking.
  • New tools to help prosecute traffickers and people who exploit the poor.
  • Continued support for existing programs that support survivors of trafficking both in the U.S. and overseas. [read the rest]

After this victory, as President Bartlett used to ask, What’s next?
Time to talk hunger again, that’s what.

Our friends at Bread for the World ask, How is it possible that people in this country continue to go hungry, despite our abundance of food?

As an answer to that question, they are partners with a new film from Magnolia Pictures and its accompanying social action campaign. “March 1st marks the premiere of A Place at the Table, a new eye-opening documentary that answers the question through the lives of three people. Their stories reveal the depth of the hunger crisis in America and the factors that drive it.

Watch the trailer. But be careful, the trailer does its job – you will want to see the whole movie. Good thing then A Place at the Table is available right now On Demand and through iTunes. Find A Place at the Table on Facebook and Twitter.

I’d love to hear your reactions to the film in the comments.

‘Break the Chains…Women Are Not Possessions’

It’s noon on Valentine’s Day. It’s time to dance and break the chains!

If I could be, I would be downtown dancing with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) or War Chest Boutique: Naperville to join in with 1 Billion Rising.

UPDATE: Check out pictures from CAASE’s rising in Daley Plaza. A friend who works downtown declared, “They made quite the ruckus today!”

CAASE 1B rising

Since I can’t be with them, I contemplated recording a little dance on my own…but thought better of it. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot (which I would), I’ve been in youth ministry for two decades now. Looking like an idiot is part of the job description. No, I thought better of it because I want you to keep reading, not run away in horror never to return. I thought better of it because I don’t want to even give the appearance of making light of this effort.

Where does the 1 billion come from in 1 Billion Rising? 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s 1 billion women.

It is long, long, long past time for all of us to stop treating women as possessions, as nothing more than bodies to be used, abused, and discarded.

It is long, long, long past time for Congress to reauthorize both the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The delay in these actions is unconscionable and shameful.

I urge you to contact your Congress persons right now, today about these acts. Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our grandmothers, our friends are fully human and must be treated as such.

UPDATE 2: As I prepared a version of this post for my church blog I thought about how complicit the church is in perpetuating the mistreatment of women. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Yes, it’s true, the culture in which the bible was written treated women as property, as little more than baby-making machines (more sons, please). But that was two and three and four thousand years ago. Don’t we know better by now?

The church as far too often led the way in treating women terribly. We’re not just talking ancient history here either. Still today, far too many churches tell women their only place is in the home completing domestic chores. Far too many churches still tell women their only important role the only role allowed is that of wife and mother. Still today, far too many churches tell women it is sinful to leave their abusive husband. All of that must stop!

Instead of me being goofy, I offer you this incredible video. Watch it then do a little dance and make a little noise to end violence against women and human trafficking.

Moments that matter

In my list of favorite things from the election I mentioned victories for women (most notably, the defeat of the heinous and vile rape apologists). Something I inexcusably left off that list: all the victories by women. To wit:

  • 77 women now in the U.S. House of Representatives, a record (and possible another depending on how Arizona turns out).
  • 20 women in the U.S. Senate, a record.
  • The first openly gay Senator.
  • The first Asian-American female Senator.

More great moments caught on video…

1. Celebrating the victory for equality in Minnesota (via Upworthy). Fast forward to about the 2:30 mark for the best part.

2. President Obama saying thank you to campaign workers. There is just something about telling people you are proud of them that is overwhelmingly emotional. I often get this way talking with our youth group after a big accomplishment.

3. Finally, this from Rachel Maddow. I couldn’t agree more. Our country needs a viable conservative voice to be part of the conversation and debate about how to create the best policies. Our country needs a conservative voice that isn’t obsessed with white privilege. A voice that isn’t anti-women, anti-gay, anti-nonwhites. Reasonable conservatives, please come back to us!

What were your top moments from the election and its aftermath?

Seething anger, making space

I love my wife. I love our daughter. I love my mom.

I love my aunts. I love my cousins. I love my sisters-in-law. I love our niece.

I loved my grandma.

I love my friends. I love my parishioners. I love my neighbors.

I love the scores and scores of teachers, doctors, clerks, nurses, crossing guards, baristas, writers, musicians… all those with whom I’ve crossed paths at some point in my life.

Where would I be without all these women in my life?

Our daughter being affectionate, melting my heart.

These are the people I think of when I read and hear and see politicians making deplorable, unconscionable, hateful, degrading, minimizing, ignorant, misogynistic statements about women.

These are the people I think of, these people whom I love. These people whom I know, these people about whom I care. I hear these statements, I think of all the women in my life And. I. Seethe. With. Anger.

Any and all – be they male or female, politician or religious leader, or anything else – any and all who seek to create a world in which our daughter and all these women are treated by law or by custom as anything less than fully human are my mortal enemies.

I hear these statements that insult and disparage women and I want to curse profusely like Quad City Pat did. For, as my friend Richard said, “How can you not react without such language?”

I hear these statements that treat women as less that fully human and I want to lay them out so all the world will see their abiding hideousness like Brainwrap did. Twice. That’s right, there are enough such statements to fill two charts and maybe more. Think about that.

I hear these statements and I want the men who made them to be ridiculed, debased, exposed. Like Stephen did. That’s satire at its absolute best: demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that the emperor has no clothes. That’s what comedy is for: empowering the oppressed against the hegemon.

Then, just as my righteous anger reaches its apex, I read this: An Open Letter to Politicians about Rape by The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, Ph.D. (h/t Bruce Reyes-Chow)

“My name is Marcia.  I am 43 years old and I am a rape survivor,” she writes. “I am writing to you because I’ve learned that silence can be deadly for rape survivors when it goes on too long… What I need to say is STOP!  Stop using rape as a political weapon, as a chess piece in this game of survivor, as a way to call out your opponent.  Stop.”

Marcia concludes:

If you want to hear our stories, the cacophonous voices of those who actually live these truths, then you’ve got to stop speaking for us.  You do not speak for me.  You do not speak to me—not those of you who say rape is a part of God’s plan, not those of you who say “see, they don’t care about women’s health care.”  Your words cut through me.  Your words remind me how small my world becomes when the truths of those who have been there fall silent.

And that brought me up short. I love my wife, my daughter, my mom and all the rest and I am still seething with anger. But I don’t want to be part of the problem. I’m going to shut up and try to make space for Marcia and all those who are victims of sexual assault.

Please, read Marcia’s whole letter.

And consider supporting the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Support Services. Or RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Or…?

What else should we do to make safe space for survivors to speak safely and honestly?

Source: via RAINN on Pinterest


Good Tribune article on human trafficking

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune had one of the better articles I’ve read on local efforts to fight human trafficking. Our friends at CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation) even get a shout out!

Annie Sweeny: New task force targets traffickers who force children into sex trade

Inside the Harrison Police District station, the officers sat in a semicircle to be briefed about the shift ahead in one of Chicago’s most beleaguered areas.

But on this recent day, the topic was not the shootings and murders on these West Side streets, but a crime often pushed far back into the shadows — the thousands of young girls and women who are prostituted, pushed into the violence of Chicago’s sex trade.

FBI Special Agent Jonathan Williamson and Chicago police Sgt. Traci Walker were there to announce a new joint effort by the FBI and Chicago police to target child traffickers in the city.

“Our main goal here is to go after guys pimping out juvenile girls or putting any underage juveniles into the sex trade,” Williamson said. “Certainly, most, if not all, (investigations) are going to start with you guys on the street.” Read the rest.

Well said!

Welcome to my version of that blog post staple, the weekly recap/links roundup/info dump. My intent is to highlight stuff I came across this week (or, you know, at least fairly recently) that I found well-written or inspiring or bizarre or…well, or perhaps stuff so good I wish I’d written it myself. I suspect blogging deity, Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) will feature prominently here.

Enough preamble! On with the Well said! list!

1. I’m just going to go ahead and admit this: I’d never heard of the country of Bahrain until maybe two weeks ago. Call me a stereotypically ignorant USAmerican, I guess. But I know now. Pretty sure I could even find it on a map.

The last few weeks I couldn’t hardly pull myself away from the coverage of the protests in Egypt. I was especially moved by their non-violent nature. Is there anything more inspiring than sucessful non-violent protest and revolution?

But it wasn’t all violence-free, was it? The absolutely horrible and horrifying story of the physical and sexual assault of CBS News correspondent Lara Logan serves as probably the highest profile example of said violence.

Some of the reactions to Logan’s assaults have been almost as violent and nearly as horrifying. Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. gets it right denouncing those reactions. I especially like how Pitts refers to those attacking Logan now as “something named…”

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste:

But what is also appalling — arguably, more appalling — is the reflexive objectification of a woman who has been violently violated. To read these comments and the many more like them circulating the web, it is easy to forget that we are talking about a real attack upon a real woman who must now grapple with real consequences. It’s as if some feel Logan’s tragedy exists only as a vehicle for them to score political points.

2. Speaking of Egypt, this is a few weeks old now, but I still think it’s amazing. She was right. They didn’t leave until Mubarak was gone. That’s some serious strength. Via Sojourners


3. I could just repost pretty much everything from slacktivist. Seriously. If you aren’t already, you need to read Mr. Clark. Go! Do it now! He is a genius. Here’s a taste of Evangelicals and the politics of spite:

The headline is depressingly unsurprising: “Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed.”

The combination of stupidity, selfishness and resentment for resentment’s sake here is an unholy abomination that makes me want to scream and throw things. And I would, if I thought screaming and throwing things would help get through to these folks, but at this point I have no idea what would get through to them. Neither facts nor faith seem to matter to them at all.

4. CJ Adams on The North Star, The Polaris Project Blog

If there is once piece of advice I could give to men who are interested in contributing their skills to the important fight against human trafficking it would be this: talk less, listen more.  (Says the guy writing a blog!)

Adams wrote a two part post How can men oppose sex trafficking? It’s easy: respect women. The above quote is from part 1. In part 2, he really calls male activists and men in general – calls me – to task.

When men start thinking that they are called to bust down the doors of brothels and rush in to save the day, they are often committing the same fundamental crime against women that human traffickers have already committed—the only difference is that instead of treating a women as if she is a thing to be sold, they are treating her as a thing to be saved.

Our goal should be to demonstrate the type of equality that will make the notion of a trade in women un-imaginable to our children.

If my male peers and I learn to respect women as we work together to end this problem, we will create a world where our daughters and sons will not be able to fathom the type of gender inequality that contributes to sex trafficking today.

Now that’s well said!