Archive for May, 2016

5 Feminist Reads for the Summer

4 comments Written on May 24th, 2016     
Filed under: Book & Commentary, Resources

Mandi Cherico recently graduated with a Master of Divinity from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Born on the East Coast and raised in the Midwest, her interests include feminism, aesthetics, and Beyonce.

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Growing up, I didn’t know what feminism was. I had always been an independent girl, but I never knew about any larger movement having to do with this tension I felt about being confined to gender roles.

In my senior year of high school, I had an English literature teacher, Mrs. Butcher. Mrs. Butcher was one of those cool, young teachers who high school students want to pattern their lives after. She was a strong and confident woman, committed to her faith and not afraid to speak the truth. She was both unflinching in her critique of the patriarchy and an avid wearer of bright lipstick. In short, she spoke my language. Mrs. Butcher introduced our class to feminist literature, and my mind was opened. These authors wrote about things I had been thinking my whole life but never been able to name. They taught me that there were words for this strength in me; this deep personal resistance I felt towards antiquated gender norms. The things I read in this class set me on a path of liberation, not only for myself but for other women, particularly in the context of the Church.

While feminism and gender equality require us to practically engage with and for both women and men, we’d be remiss to not read the writings of the women who shape and power the movement both inside and outside of the Church. Here are just a few books that I would recommend for anyone on the journey to claiming gender equality.

bad feministGay is the new darling of feminist literature, and she’s earned it. Her personal essays and cultural critique are just. so. good. This collection of essays draws on pop culture, modern relationships, body image, racism and the perils of professional life. Be warned – it is sometimes graphic in nature, but her hilarious and real accounts of what it’s like being a the kind of feminist who watches The Bachelor is winsomely relatable.

A-Year-of-Biblical-Womanhood_Held Evans has become a household name among Evangelicals and faithful skeptics in the blogosphere. This book is her first-person account of a year following Old Testament rules for women, including her time spent living in her backyard during menstruation and the joys of wearing ankle length skirts. It’s funny and personal with reflections that challenge how the Church has interacted with women and gender through the years and into today.

girls to the frontYou don’t have to be a fan of rock music to thoroughly enjoy this account of feminist punk bands of the nineties. With interviews and years of personal research, Marcus weaves together the fascinating young feminist Riot Grrrl movement which challenged the violent, boys-only world of punk culture. Bands forged in this movement have a deep impact on musicians of today as well as grassroots feminists in general. In true punk fashion, the book contains some graphic content.

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copyThis is a great read for people who are new to the concept of biblical feminism, or perhaps have reservations about feminism in general. If you’re uncomfortable with wearing the label of “feminist,” this book will challenge your hesitation. Bessey’s writing is approachable and heartfelt. She speaks candidly to women in all walks of life but especially to those who are wives or mothers.



SisterOutsiderLorde is an amalgam of wisdom, rebellion and fierce advocacy. Black, queer and female, she is one of the best sources on what it means to be marginalized in American society. Lorde is not a follower of Christ but she writes with truth and power that every person can learn from. Read this one if you want be challenged in your understanding of sexuality and social location. One of her greatest quotes: “the Master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house.”



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2 comments Written on May 18th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Jo Ann Deasy is an ordained Covenant pastor currently serving as the director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh, PA.

Antoinette_Louisa_Brown_BlackwellSeveral years ago, as part of my doctoral dissertation, I had the opportunity to interview a group of young women who had grown up in a Covenant Church that fully affirmed the role of women in all roles of leadership in the church about their identity as women and the role of the pastor.  These women were thoughtful and articulate, but had rarely been given an opportunity to talk deeply about these topics.  They strongly affirmed the unique strengths of women, seeing them as much more nurturing, caring, and emotionally sensitive, but they also believed women were more passive and too emotional to be effective as leaders, especially during times of crisis.  They fully affirmed women as pastors, but felt more comforted when a male pastor offered them care and wondered why any of their peers would ever want to be a pastor. At times they didn’t even recognize their own ambivalence about women pastors and their own identities as women until the words came out of their mouths.

I don’t think their struggle was particularly unique.  They are the struggles many women face in a culture that sends such mixed messages about the roles of women, somehow both idealizing and devaluing them at the same time.  How can we help women in the church claim a stronger sense of their own worth and dignity?  How might we change some of the cultural narratives that shape them so that they might fully embrace who they are as children of God?

One possibility is for us to reframe how we think about traditional gender roles by drawing on the history of evangelical Christian women who tried to change the world.[1]

In the late 19th century, women claimed their universal right as mothers to change to society. They saw their role as leaders drawing on the image of mothers as the guardians of morality and the protectors of families. They started social service agencies, orphanages, mission societies and temperance leagues that gained international reputations. In a study of conservative women from the Presbyterian Church, theologian Mary McClintock Fulkerson found women drawing on similar images. They focused on the unique ability of women to care for those in need, particularly women and children around the globe. Those images gave them strength, power, and a mission within an otherwise restrictive environment.

Jarena_LeeIn 1819, Jarena Lee is thought to be the first women authorized to preach in the United States.  She traveled thousands of miles of foot preaching as an evangelist for the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In the late 1800s, Antoinette Brown was ordained by the Congregationalist church; Catherine Booth was co-founding the Salvation Army; and Amanda Berry Smith, a former slave, was leading evangelistic crusades in the United States, England, India, and West Africa.

These women, both in the 19th century and in contemporary conservative churches, often created their own separate organizations, parallel to existing structures and within these parallel organizations they were able to lead boldly, mobilize other women, change society, and serve God globally.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a powerful force in the 19th century that fought to restrict the use of alcohol in society because of its damaging effects on women and children and the Presbyterian women missions organizations are but one example of the many ways Christian women have served the world for Christ.

In the Evangelical Covenant Church, women also created their own independent structure.  Women Ministries originally functioned entirely independent from denominational structures.[2] For many years, Women Ministries was known for focusing on the role of women in the family and global missions, but they have always had that same desire to change the world.  Recently they have been extending their call to care for women and children beyond the home into the world through advocacy around issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking.[3]

 Women often hear mixed messages about their worth from the world around them.  They need to hear the stories of women who were strong and courageous, who embraced their roles as wives, mothers, and daughters of God as a call to change the world around them, to witness, preach, and fight for social justice. They need us to talk about these women in our sermons and our Sunday School classes, to celebrate them as we talk about history and heroes.  They need to see the pictures of these women up on the walls of our schools and churches.

And, they need time and space to talk about what it means to be a women, to critically reflect on the messages they are hearing, to discuss how they are navigating the various messages they are receiving. And they need to be toldWOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD over and over again that they have been created as women fully in the image of God, called to serve, to lead, to witness, and to change the world for good of the kingdom.

[1] The following draws significantly on my dissertation, “Called to the Image?  How Discourses about Gender and Ministry Shape the Potential for Young Women to Develop A Pastoral Identity,” Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, 2010.

[2] Women Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church does not appear as part of the denominational constitution until 1978 when it is first listed under the administrative boards of the denomination as the “Board of Women’s Work.” (The Evangelical Covenant Church, Covenant Yearbook 1978, Chicago, IL:  The Evangelical Covenant Church of America, 1978), 356-357. Women Ministries is currently listed along with the other denominational ministries in the constitution and comes under the governance of the Annual Meeting of the ECC. However, it is the only denominational ministry that still bears its own administrative costs (The Evangelical Covenant Church, Covenant Yearbook, 2008-2009 edition, Chicago, IL:  The Evangelical Covenant Church of America, 2009), 372-373.

[3] Women Ministries launched Advocacy for Victims of Abuse (AVA) in 2004 and in partnership with the Department of Christian Formation and the Department of Compassion and Justice launched Break the Chains, a program to combat human trafficking, in 2008. See Women Ministries, “Women Ministries Welcome,” The Evangelical Covenant Church,, Accessed 24 October 2009.

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Striving For Imperfection

4 comments Written on May 10th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Megan Herrold is a pastoral intern at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. She is currently pursuing an MA in Christian Formation at North Park Theological Seminary, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.

Imperfection (2)Lately I’ve been embracing the art of imperfection.

It started when I began reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. She studies and writes about shame and vulnerability. In her research, Brown noticed that women commonly experience shame when they make mistakes or are less than perfect, because we have an entrenched belief that we’re supposed to be perfect in all that we say and do.

Consequently, if we make a mistake, we feel it not as doing something wrong but being wrong—a mistake suggests there is something inherently ‘wrong’ about us.

(I want to mention briefly that in what I’ve read, Brown doesn’t mention anything about the cultural backgrounds of the people in her research, so her conclusions that I discuss here may apply more to white American women than to women of other cultures.)

I really identified with this desire to be perfect all the time. It’s actually somewhat crippling when it comes to taking leadership roles: I find myself in this loop of not feeling comfortable or right for a new role if I can’t do it perfectly, but not being able to do the new thing perfectly until I’ve tried a few times. It’s similar to the Imposter Syndrome Jo Ann Deasy wrote about last month.

In the last year or so, before I even read this book, I had found myself referring to my “perfectionistic tendencies” in conversations with friends, in counseling, and with my internship advisor. But when I talked about it before, I called it part of my personality. Brown’s research suggests a different source for this perfectionism. If a phenomenon is this pervasive among a socially delineated and identifiable group, it’s hard for me to believe that it isn’t at least somewhat socially constructed.

In other words, Brown’s observations suggest to me that I’m a perfectionist because that’s what society wants me to be, or tells me I should be.

Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately, I’m not really sure—I have a bit of a contrary streak. If someone tells me who I’m supposed to be or what I’m expected to do, I automatically don’t want to be or do it. It’s a good part of why I never saw the movie Avatar. Or Les Misérables. They were both movies that “everyone” was seeing and “everyone” just had to see. So of course, I didn’t.

I heard a speaker at church a few years ago (not the pastor, someone else on the teaching team) make a joke about how he doesn’t really know anything about women; the only things he knows are shoes, purses, and chocolate.

It made me angry to hear someone try to reduce me—and more than half of the rest of the congregation—to those three things, even as a joke. It also made me proud that two of them didn’t apply at all to me. I’m not super particular about purses or shoes. Most of what I own are hand-me-downs and my mom and her sisters have more than once said I should replace what I have because they’re so worn out.
I do like chocolate, but after that joke, I didn’t eat any for months. Just the idea of eating any made me slightly nauseous. I didn’t want to be this person someone else expected me to be.

This time, my contrariness has decided that I’m not going to be perfect anymore. (I laugh at how I try to write that as if I ever was perfect to begin with.) Instead I’ve started embracing the times that I make mistakes (minor ones) as a sign that I’m letting go of other people’s expectations of me.

And it’s just…so…freeing! I can’t tell you what it’s like to have this pressure off. It’s like I’ve lost a huge weight off my shoulders. Or like losing 20 pounds, but not even caring because who cares what I look like anyway? Everything from “Is my hair still perfect at the end of the work day?” to “Did I use the most theologically correct preposition when I was praying during communion?”
In addition, when I decided to feel happy about minor mistakes, I found I had a lot more to be happy about than when I was striving for perfectionism.

Obviously I don’t go out looking for mistakes I can make—why bother when there are plenty for me to make without going to all the effort of actually trying? What a waste of time. And I don’t want to do a bad job in new leadership roles, but it’s helpful to remember that maybe God can use me for good in the midst of my mistakes. I don’t want the fear of imperfection to keep me from the joy of God working through me like that.

So I’m happy to say that I plan to keep embracing my unintentional mistakes for awhile.


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5 comments Written on May 3rd, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

IMG_2539Rev. Cathy Kaminski is the lead pastor at Trinity Community Church in Cincinnati, OH. Her entire life she has had the privilege of knowing and being influenced by strong women. Her hope is that she can follow and be that example for others.

football on green grass

Recently I was at a soccer game for one of the littles in our church. Soccer “game” is a loose term, it was more like a swarm of bees running after the ball. Or maybe ants on something sweet…they were a bit slower than bees. It was most certainly entertaining. The coach, try as he did, had a difficult time explaining the fundamentals to the four year olds. But what was more entertaining was sitting with the family.

I sat on a blanket with grandma and dad as they desperately encouraged their loved one to run in the direction of play. The dad would shout out helpful tips, then his mom would correct him. It was hilarious. Each generation passing down wisdom. Each generation choosing to listen or not.

The dad looked at me and said, “Everyone in my life knows what’s best for me.” He was commenting on the fact that be is blessed to have a family of strong women who often give him their two cents. Now here he was, putting his two cents in for his son. I couldn’t help but laugh.

But what struck me was something quite different. This dad is a new leader in our church. Their family have been coming for a little over three years and this past January he was elected to our council. He is such a strong voice and we are tremendously blessed to have him on our team. I never really thought about the people in his life that taught and shaped him, helping him to become the leader he is today. For this dad a huge influence in his personhood and leadership are the strong females in his world.

This got me thinking. What or rather who does it take to build up the next generation of strong leaders? What does it take to be a person of influence and as that person, how do we build up others? Sometimes in discussing this we talk about gender, but I think we might be missing the boat if we limit the discussion to this perspective.

Does having a female leader somehow diminish the capacity for strong male leaders? This is a question I have been asked at different points in my life. On the outset, this posed question always rubs me the wrong way. Do we take the time to ask the reverse? Does a male leader somehow diminish the capacity for strong female leaders? I mean that just seems ridiculous! However, when I breathe and take a step back I can be honest enough with myself to say sometimes yes. But not in the ways you might think.

Hear me out: we all read that question with a unique life experience that colors our understanding. Growing up in a conservative complementarian church, (where only men could be head leaders), I heard it from the pulpit that having strong male leaders was key to the development of younger men. Without male role models the younger generation missed out. What hurt me was the lack of awareness for young women. We too miss out when we do not see strong female leaders in the church. Yet, there is a whole other component of this conversation. When we encamp this discussion in gender, we lose sight of the greater definition of a strong leader. We forget that both genders are integral to the encouragement and building up of the younger generation and it is not so much having a male leader for young men and a female leader for young women, but have diversity in leadership and voice to give example and teaching to all.

I looked at this dad, who has been surrounded by strong women his whole life. This did not diminish his capacity for leadership. I would argue it equipped him to find his voice and become the leader he is today.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in gender that we forget God is first and foremost calling us to be HUMAN. And as humans we embody the Creator’s image and share that love, mercy and justice with the world. That is what it means to live out our faith and that is a crucial piece of what it means to be a leader in the church.

We need strong leaders, male and female. We need leaders that know the importance of making space for other leaders. Men who intentionally seek out female leaders and women who seek out male leaders. We need men and women pastors who set the example of strength which equips others to follow. We need to know that God calls and equips all people to have a role in the church and when we become homogenous, in any way, the overall community misses out.

It is not about how female leadership can diminish the capacity on male leaders or vice versa, but it is about being strong and encouraging and teaching others to find their strength!

This dad is a strong leader. He is also a person of tremendous faith. The people of integrity in his life helped to build up his personhood and skills for leadership. Looking at this beautiful family I saw a picture of strength building up strength. Males and females. And that’s a precious gift.


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