Category Archives: Response

God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission

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University of California Press; 1997

Griffith’s work[1] centers on research about prayer-filled women within an international, Pentecostal, evangelical, parachurch organization (still running today) called Aglow Women’s Fellowship. While reading and analyzing her research about the initial attraction, then success, of this international women’s organization, it made me wonder why and how it was so effective. It seemed obvious at first—Aglow was an opportune space for evangelical women to find community. Yet, there were other available spaces for evangelical women like the local church. So,what role did the local church play in the unintentional push of people towards the parachurch and what did the parachurch offer people that they pulled people away from the primary commitment to the local church?

Religious leaders have contested amongst one another about the the tension and fragile relationship between local churches and parachurch organizations time and time again. In “The Church and the Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage,”[2] Dyrness explains both sides of the argument. Local church leaders feel concerned that parachurches “drain leadership and finances and often lack doctrinal or operational accountability.” They hold very strong convictions that the church, which is Christ’s bride, is the most important earthly organization that will last when all others will fade. It is the brand that it most common worldwide. The article mentioned was written in 1984, but the topic has not ceased to bubble up again in this decade.

Recently, there was a publicly aired interview conversation between two mainstream, evangelical, male church pastors, Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren. Driscoll asks Warren “Why are you still in the local church? Why not something else?” Driscoll implies that Warren could be creating nonprofits, parachurches, or doing other things that could make international impact. Warren answers, “I learned a long time ago that the church is God’s agenda. The church is the only things that is going to last.” Warren clearly states the primary importance and position of the church in God’s kingdom plan and his current ongoing work above other even Christian organizations.

On the other hand, White states that parachurch leaders believe that churches are “either insensitive to or incapable of meeting specialized needs.” Aglow is a parachurch that encourages members to be loyal members of their local churches because they understand that the church is primary, while parachurches are supplementary to religious followers. However, the problem is that time, financial and emotional commitment to this group would seem otherwise. The strength of Aglow was that it focused on the specialized needs of women, thus helping the women feel more important and personally connected through the network of small groups. These women were being regularly heard and even supernaturally healed, opportunities that weren’t as readily encouraged within some local churches—especially depending on the denomination.

The rise and success of evangelical Christian parachurches can be seen as manifestations and symptoms of the lack/gap that the local churches have in meeting the needs of people. Thus, there needs to be a healthy partnership and communication between local church leaders and parachurch leaders to work together in serving the people of their communities.


[1] Griffith, R. Marie. God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission. Berkeley: University of California, 1997. Print.

[2] Dyrness, William A. “The Church and The Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 8.3 (1984): 135-318. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. Dec. 2012.

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Thank You, St. Jude

Yale University Press; 1996

Robert Orsi’s work[1] resurfaces a long fought battle among women universally—finding their own voice and then finding a space that allows their voices to be heard. The Voice of St. Jude, a widely popular American Catholic magazine that began circulating within the U.S. in the 1930s, provided that specific public space for immigrant daughters who wrestled with balancing the life in between dual cultures of Americanism and Catholicism. Letters were sent to this magazine by young immigrant daughters of the Catholic faith who desperately pleaded for help by praying to St. Jude asking him to intercede to Jesus on behalf of them.  Part of this desperate longing for external help arose because traditional support networks through ethnic enclaves (once available to the older first-generation immigrant community) were no longer useful as young, second-generation, Catholic daughters were forced to work outside of their homes and neighborhoods to help the family make ends meet. The majority of the men in these women’s lives were unemployed, unmotivated and often depressed. These burdensome circumstances recurrently led this specific group of women to fall deeper into hopelessness. What these women needed and desperately desired was their own community and network of support—in other words a space to speak, be embraced and heal.

Reading this text through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own[2]gives an opportunity for another layer of analysis. Woolf initially uses the backdrop of the fiction writing industry as a way to construct her argument about the lack of physical and figurative space for women in the workplace, but this critique also allows a way for others to use her text to speak about the larger reality of the lack of women’s space in the world of patriarchy. Woolf confidently states, “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” She understood that often the act of writing (then secondly the publication of that text) unleashes, releases and rescues individuals from feeling suffocated, imprisoned and insignificant about their lives. Writing is self-voicing. Having a voice that is heard reinforces significance and a certain amount of power. This power affirms the potential to influence others with the words that one writes or says regardless of who it actually affects. Writing used as an outlet can also heal.

Interestingly, their loyalty and trust depended on a mortal, mediator saint whom they believed would petition on behalf of them to Jesus Christ (the ultimate Savior in the Catholic faith). Unlike Jesus, Jude’s mortality and unknown identity provided the perfect foundation while the magazine provided the perfect platform for these women to imaginatively reform and renegotiate their own understandings of womanhood for their generation. It was women affecting other women’s lives under the label of a man. Much like women writers in the past who used pseudonyms to publish their works for others to read. If looked at simply, St. Jude’s voice was actually a literary vocal team of women who molded The Voice of St. Jude to continue to provide the women a vehicle that could be used to form and shape their voices—because speaking and being heard was enough to give them hope to continue living just a while longer. All in all, regardless of the limits that existed in their society, the space existed—constantly growing, transforming and encouraging women to enter into a greater abundant life filled with gratitude and hope.

So, a few closing questions arise. How would their religious experience and understanding of womanhood have been different if St. Jude had been a woman? If the person whom the magazine was dedicated to had been someone other than St. Jude, would the women have been as devoted to him/her? How much of their devotion to St. Jude was due to the supernatural religious hope and how much of it was due to the alternative enclave community it provided? At large, has the Internet (especially blogging) replaced magazines, radio and other older forms of communication to be used as modern places of expression, healing and community? Which community has blogging benefited the most and which has it hurt the most? Has the Internet further restricted or expanded spaces for Catholic women and other women of faith rooted in patriarchy?


[1] Orsi, Robert A. Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1996. Print.

[2] Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway ; A Room of One’s Own. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. Print.

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“The Invisible War”: Outing one of America’s best kept secrets

Click on the image for a link
to view “The Invisible War” film

 “[In the U.S. military], we see a guy get five years for drugs and two weeks for rape.”

Earlier this fall, I was invited to a private screening of a documentary film called “The Invisible War.” This film was chosen as the Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s  2012 Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering (both Emmy-nominated documentary filmmakers),  “The Invisible War” was created to expose “one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military.”

For a soundbite, this film explores the personal narratives of women who were sexually assaulted and/or raped during their service in the U.S. military. This issue proved to go far beyond the lack of processed assault reports —a similar problem for the wider population of civilian women who raped outside of the military environment . One of the main issues that the film exposes is the faulty investigation and prosecution process after reports are made. This is due to the fact that the process is left in the hands of the survivors’ military unit commanders who are more often than not friends with assaulters (frequently senior officers, supervisors, etc.)  or assaulters themselves. Convictions of these assailants are rare and even if they are found guilty, punishments are so light that they could be seen as merely “slap on the wrists.” According to one survivor, she realized that the most commonly implemented method of handling the situation is to “eject the victim and keep the perpetrator.”

To make matters worse, U.S. veteran survivors are continually denied the benefits to pay for injuries caused by the sexual abuse. Instead of punishing the assailants or trying to help the injured survivors, victim-blaming is another commonly accepted practice within the military (accusing them using various phrases like: what was she wearing, she was asking for it, she should’ve expected it when entering into a male-majority environment, etc.). No severe consequences or hardly any disciplinary actions are given to these men for these atrocious (usually multiple) acts on military women. Thus, the cycle has continued for years and has been kept hidden by the higher male military officials and commanders in fear of shame or serious punishment. The idealism and complete trust in the military need to be reconsidered because there is a serious disjunction in the system if the very men who are enlisted and enthroned as protectors of our nation are the same soldiers who are raping our female soldiers. The unjust prosecution structure of our U.S. military system allowed for this war to have remained dreadfully invisible, until now.

The urgency, importance and critical matter of this film demanded responses from both lawmakers and viewers from the general public. For example, Kori Cioca, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran denied benefits to pay for a face injury from a military sexual assault, was offered entire medical cost coverage by a viewer who saw the film. Like this viewer, the majority of responses to the film was that of shock, sadness and compassion. Thankfully even some actions were taken even if it did only create minor changes to the currently warped system.

According to sources on Wikipedia:

“Following The Invisible War’s initial allegations of widespread harassment and sexual assault at Marine Barracks Washington, eight women filed suit against military leaders for maintaining an environment that tolerates rapists while silencing survivors.”

“On April 16, 2012, [Secretary of Defense Leon] Panetta issued a directive ordering all sexual assault cases to be handled by senior officers at the rank of colonel or higher. This effectively ended the practice of commanders prosecuting sexual assault cases from within their own units. Panetta later told one of the film’s producers that watching The Invisible War contributed to his decision to revise this policy.The filmmakers applauded these changes but said that the Pentagon needed to take further steps, requiring that investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases be handled outside of the military chain of command.”

I’ve always harbored simultaneous feelings of appreciation and sadness about watching eye and heart-opening documentary films. The appreciation stems from the labor of these filmmakers—and even more so for the courage of these participants who are willing to be featured on camera—to create films with the purpose of bring more awareness about these controversial and heart-wrenching issues that we’d normally prefer to skim over when seen in text or when brought up in conversation. However, the sadness arises from the ending of these films that always seem to feature a website or petition of some sort in order to stir viewers to take action to help those in need. I always wondered how far these films when to influence the actual situation and how much of it went to just more intellectual societal awareness. The results of this film, although the changes were minor, brought me more hope about the positive and real influence the film industry can have to not just change complex ideas/issues in theory, but to change actual individuals’ lives in today’s world.

For more resources:

Official movie trailer: The Invisible War —Trailer

Full streaming movie: Source 1 or Source 2

Interview on ABC’s The View: Part 1 and Part 2

Interviews of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering: BYOD video interview and Huff Post article

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Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America

Indiana University Press; 2001

Ann Braude’s work[1] presents her incredible research findings about spiritualism and its influential partnership with the promotion of women’s rights in the mid-late 19th century America. When the Spiritualist movement arose, it is compelling to find that it was actually adolescent girls rather than adult women or men who were the most common spiritual mediums. This information raises numerous questions about the specific understanding authenticity and its popular association with girls in the late 1800s as well as the kinds of ideas that are circulating about the same issue in this modern century.

During previous centuries, words like “pious”, “pure”, and “moral” were customarily used to describe women. It was an obvious connection that Americans made, considering what they thought about the public and private spheres. Thus, even if spiritual participants were both male and female, most spiritual activities were conducted within the women’s private sphere—their homes—instead of the organized church. Braude expounds that spirituality was linked to femininity; therefore, mediums were most commonly women and girls.

More specifically, she argues “Americans throughout the country found messages from spirits most plausible when delivered through the agency of adolescent girl.”  While testimonies from children might be more likely to be dismissed as childish chatter, Spiritualists believed that a young girl had the potential to be more innocent—untainted and moral—than older women. This innocence further attached itself to the idea it also presupposed trustworthiness. Although Spiritualists’ primary reason for spurring this new trend was to find mediums who made it easier for spirits to speak through, the byproduct was that it offered girls a radical platform to experience and practice public work despite the discouraging backdrop of their current society’s norms on proper girl behavior. Unfortunately, Spiritualists’ efforts perpetuated the suppression of girl’s actual agency because, with their role as mediums, girls were only viewed and treated as passive vessels.

In the 21st century, a greater emphasis on the legitimacy and authenticity of children’s testimonies has allowed space for further implementation  in child empowerment—everything from self-expressive creations to the expansion of child’s rights. Dr. Marnina Gonick, professor and author, wrote Between Femininities chronicling her research on adolescent girls who actualized their own agency by creating fictional films that were in fact testimonies of their own life stories. Their stories allowed them to personally vocalize various types of issues they were experiencing as young, developing girls. Gonick and Yasmin describe the project to be an extension of “postmodernist privileging of girls’ voices, resistance and agency.”[2]

Although Spiritualists and postmodernists provided girls with the chance to stand and speak in wider public spheres, both groups chose to do so for drastically  different reasons. Spiritualists believed that pure, innocent, girls were  ironically non-participatory, transparent mediums whom the spirits could use to speak through. On the other hand, postmodernists continue to believe in encouraging girls’ agency on the basis that, regardless of age, girls thoughts, perspectives and experiences are valuable narratives that should be heard by their peers as well as the larger society.


[1] Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-century America. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001. Print.

[2] Gonick, Marnina, and Yasmin Jiwani. “BETWEEN FEMININITIES: Ambivalence, Identity and the Education of Girls.” Resources for Feminist Research 31.1 (2004): 14-6. ABI/INFORM Complete; GenderWatch; Los Angeles Times; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Criminal Justice. Web. Oct. 2012.

 

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