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SCE Women's Caucus

We must learn what we are to know of love from immersion in the struggle for justice.

On Remembering and Surviving

Thelathia “Nikki” Young, Bucknell University

Every single breath we take is a miracle

We were not meant to survive

We were meant to die, to be buried, to be trampled underfoot

Every heartbeat is a miracle

We were not meant to survive

We were meant to disappear, to wither into nothing in the soil

Every brain wave is a miracle

We were not meant to survive

We were meant to see only devastation, to bind ourselves with the shackles of someone else’s vision

Every muscle response is a miracle

We were meant to evaporate from history, to never have existed in the first place

We were not meant to survive.

But we did.


That we – people who are marginalized in America – have the audacity and the unction to continue in existence makes people question reality. Constant efforts to snuff out our lives with acute and massive violence, to squelch our spirits with demoralizing policies and laws, to render us hypervisible invisible entities, to dilute our cosmological imaginings with watered down notions of divinity… all this effort means that our survival makes no sense. And yet, even as some among us die, we must remind one another that we are surviving.

When I walked into my Race and Sexuality class on November 9, my students looked downtrodden and demoralized. For some of them, the election was the first realization that we do, in fact, live in a national context where racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and xenophobia are substantiated by violence and threats of further violence. For others in the class, nothing new happened on election night; the country simply confirmed and punctuated its own history of social and political oppression. In both cases, students struggled to articulate their feelings and floundered in the face of the country’s undeniable callous disregard for (social) justice.

I wanted a way to remind them of our collective survival. I needed a way to re-teach them about the power in our resilience, so I reminded them that my people – black people – have been living miraculous lives for a long time. That is, we have persisted in our existence, despite social, political, religious, and economic efforts to eviscerate us. I reminded them that we are science fiction, that our ancestors imagined us into being.

Our job, I suggested, is to remember, analyze, and take note of truths that can be erased, of experiences that can be dismissed, of subjectivities that can be denied, of lives that can be ignored. We have to remember. And in remembering, in recognizing, we have to face the tough complexity that emerges.

After explaining this process of remembering to the students, I led a discussion of Audre Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival.” Students read the poem aloud and reflected on what it would mean for them to break their own silence, lift their own voices of protest and/or rage, in response to social and political realities that they would not longer accept or ignore. We also engaged a slightly altered version of the activity below, which I used during a workshop at a DignityUSA conference.

Out of our Own Mouths – Exercise for Remembering

  1. Have workshop participants do a 2-minute free-write. Ask them to jot down a memory of a time when homophobia/transphobia/heterosexism in the church had informed or shaped their relationship with religion and with their own sexual and gender identities.  (Note: this could also be used for other social identity markers, and it does not have to be connected to religion.)
  1. Then pair participants, preferably with someone they do not know or with whom they are not extremely close. Make one a listener and the other a teller (after having explained the value/virtue in the roles of listening and telling).
  1. Invite the teller to share their story for 2 minutes. Invite the listener to listen actively but silently. Note: it is not a conversation; rather, it is a compassionate communication.
  1. Now, ask them to switch roles for the next 2 minutes.
  1. Now ask each person to share (2 min. each) how this experience affected their sense of self, how it actually impacted their notion of them selves as a sexualized being.
  1. After a moment of break – allow folks to breathe! – ask the first listener to think about how they SURVIVED that experience. That is, what allowed them to get to where they are today? Note: this still works if the experience was not physically traumatic. Get the participants to think about their own capacity for resistance/resilience. (Consider providing an example.) Allow the listener to speak for 2 minutes. Then, invite them two switch roles.
  1. Ask for volunteers to share experiences, retelling the stories from the perspective of their survival/resistance/resilience.
  1. Debrief:
  • What did you notice in one another’s stories? What stood out to you about the stories?
  • How did it feel to share this experience? How did it feel to listen to someone else talk about this?
  • In what way did this exchange impact your own sense of sexuality, etc.?
  • What did the example of resilience/resistance teach you about your own capacity?
  • Why is it important to reframe this story?

Nikki Young teaches undergraduate students about intersectionality, queerness, race, and social justice. Her research focuses on black queer values, particularly in relation to constructions of kinship networks and constructions of liberation. Black Queer Ethics, Family, and Philosophical Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) is her first book. She is currently writing a new book, Home Free: A Transnational Ethics of Black Queer Liberation.

Solidarity as a Foundation for Social Change

Rebecca Todd Peters, Elon University

As a feminist scholar-activist, I find that the rhythms of my life are an intersection of teaching, loving, lecturing, friending, struggling, parenting, preaching, and (as an introvert) sometimes hiding! None of these activities are discreet and separate tasks – I am not a mother at home, a teacher at my university and a minister when I’m at church. I am always all of these identities simultaneously – personally and professionally.

Sometimes, however, one or another of my responsibilities takes precedence in my life. In the days and weeks since the election, I have found my time increasingly filled with activities bent on helping to understand, educate, and mobilize in opposition to the threats to human dignity, personal safety, and democratic rule that are embodied in the person of Donald Trump and in the increasingly autocratic and authoritarian administration he is assembling. My own work on solidarity and justice has proved enormously helpful for me in this moment and I hope that it might be of use to others as well. While my book, Solidarity Ethics: Transformation in a Globalized World, was written for first-world Christians seeking ways to live with integrity in the midst of a global economic order set up to privilege and enrich countries in the global North at the expense of countries in the global South – it offers much potential for our current situation.

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I will highlight four ways the logic and argument of the book can be useful in classroom, in churches, and in broader facets of community organizing to help students and broader publics address the threats that currently face our country and the world. First, since the book is written for first-world Christians, it is approachable and accessible. While the ethical claims are rooted in Christian tradition, it is not an exclusivist position and is written to invite broader conversation. This makes it useful both in the classroom as well as with churches and community groups. More importantly, the approach to social change laid out in the book emphasizes the necessity of both working for change as individuals in our personal lives AND in recognizing the structural nature of social problems and urging readers to find ways to engage in larger avenues of structural change that offer the chance of more effective long-term transformation. In short, I argue that personal change is necessary but insufficient for large-scale social change and that people must join together in collective actions that can bring about the kind of social change that will lead us toward justice.

Second, one of the goals of the book is to help readers recognize that the task of solidarity is not merely symbolic but that it requires work, investment, and commitment. One way of demonstrating the rigorous expectations of solidarity is to present a continuum of moral agency that ranges from sympathy to responsibility to mutuality – with the claim that authentic solidarity can only be forged from a position of mutuality. By encouraging readers to think about whether their actions are rooted in sympathy, responsibility, or mutuality – chapter two pushes readers to think more deeply and critically about how they are positioned vis-a-vis the work of charity, justice, service, mission (whatever they call it) that they do. Challenging readers to ask what mutuality requires can be a helpful tool for self-examination.

Third, critical self-examination is an important aspect of Solidarity Ethics and while it begins with the task of working to create relationships of mutuality across lines of difference, I also argue that people must examine and attend to the meaning of their various forms of privilege before they can expect to be able to create relationships of mutuality – much less relationships of solidarity. Chapter four helps guide discussions about privilege and how privilege functions in ways that allow readers to engage in critical self-examination in productive ways that promote structural analysis rather than devolving into guilt and shame.

Fourth, while solidarity is a broad and familiar concept in the public sphere, the idea of solidarity has also been coopted in ways that downplay the challenge of what true solidarity requires as well as the potential it offers for promoting deep democratic engagement rooted in Christian values of community, cooperation, hospitality, and the common good. By offering four concrete steps – metanoia, honoring difference, accountability, and action – that solidarity requires (chapter three), the book outlines criteria for helping to think about solidarity. These criteria can help individuals and communities think about how to shape social action that is socially responsible and deeply informed by the principle of social justice.

This book is not an action guide that tells people what to do but rather a theoretical framework that helps privileged readers think about how to root the tasks of social justice and social change in a radical mutuality that rejects social hierarchies (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.) and the prejudices and sins that accompany them.

I wrote this book because I needed a book to use with students and church people who asked me what they could/ought do after I had helped to open their eyes to the problems of social injustice and inequality in the world. I have taught it with undergrads, seminary students, and in many local churches. I hope that others will also find it useful in helping guide discussions about how we ought to respond to the world in which we live.


Rebecca Todd Peters is a feminist social ethicist and Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University in North Carolina. Her latest book is Solidarity Ethics: Transformation in a Globalized World, and she is completing a book on abortion and reproductive justice that will be published next January with Beacon Press.

Guides for Activism

Heike Peckruhn, Daemen College

I find the following resources useful to identify concrete political and social ways of engaging for social change.

Written by congressional staffers, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” analyses the strategies of the Tea Party and the lessons to be learned for grassroots organizing (while noting important differences of political objectives). For action items, short-term and long-term, on how to hold members of Congress accountable and move them into desired action, this guide is a great resource. The website itself now offers more than just the actual guide (in English and Spanish), it offers a way to connect with local groups to tap into existing work done, or register a new group in an area, as well as a calendar for action items/events (national, regional, and local).

Another specific and action oriented general publication is “26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets” (download possible after signing up for a free account with the website). Connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, it takes an intersectional framework when articulating strategies for resistance. I find it useful particularly because it counters an ableist (physical, mental, and emotional) image of activism, and lists various ways of being engaged in social justice efforts.

Both of these resources are already written from a certain political stance. The first may explicitly name resisting “the Trump agenda,” though it is broader than that in terms of joining a progressive political movement. The second one takes an intersectional, progressive stance for granted as well.

Depending on student demographics or course objectives, these may or may not be useful resources. I have used the “Action Continuum” in civic engagement courses towards the end of the semester – after learning about terms like privilege, justice, fairness, oppression, etc. When discussing “how to get involved” (no matter what the social or political stance of the student might be), the first image that most often comes to students’ minds when discussing advocacy or engaging in solidarity with someone else’s struggle is “protesting.” The Action Continuum casts many positions as “actions.” I have found it useful in the classroom since it casts silence or being a bystander as an action itself on a spectrum and posits us all already as actors in various situations of oppression-resistance, in different capacities and different positions. It demystifies political and social engagement while encouraging students to look for and identify the many groups and communities that are already engaging in social change work. I have also found that it lowers the perceived risk or energy needed when seeking social change.


Heike Peckruhn completed her doctorate at Iliff School of Theology with her dissertation, Sense-Making Bodies: Feminist Materiality and Phenomenology in Constructive Body Theologies. She describes herself as shaped by anabaptist theology and postcolonial theory. How we make meaning in embodied ways and how we engage in communal action towards increased social justice are at the heart of her research.

ISAIAH: Repairing the Breach

Amy Levad, University of St. Thomas, MN

I do not take naturally to activism.  In a classroom, I feel like I’m in my element; it seems natural to me.  It feels right.  Holding a sign at a rally, speaking to an elected official, testifying at the State Capitol: my heart pounds, and not in a good way.

Over the past year, as part of a sabbatical, I have had the good fortune, however, to research an organization that cultivates community leaders by helping them to understand how their personal stories relate to public life and by fostering risk-taking in service of the common good.  ISAIAH, a federation of the PICO National Network, “is a vehicle for congregations, clergy, and people of faith to act collectively and powerfully towards racial and economic equity in the state of Minnesota.” In learning about ISAIAH, I have begun to feel more comfortable with activism, or preferably, community organizing, as this organization has enabled me to own more fully as mine the role of scholar-activist.

One thing that has struck me over the last year is how committed ISAIAH is to formation of community leaders through practicing the habits and virtues of civic engagement (very broadly understood). This realization was crystallized for me last spring at a leaders’ retreat.

The gathering, in a suburban parish on a quiet spring Saturday, followed an action at the State Capitol, in which ISAIAH, along with partner organizations, disrupted a public hearing in opposition to the leasing of a shuttered private prison in rural Minnesota by the state.  The action was ultimately successful as it led Governor Dayton to vow a veto of the measure, but for many people there, it was unsettling.  At the retreat a few weeks later, the day began with a sermon on Jesus’s turning of the tables in the Temple (Matthew 21), continued with singing of “God’s troubling the waters,” and at one point, an invitation to throw a chair across the room, practicing disruption for future events (the “invitation” took the form of a pastor unexpectedly standing up during a liturgy and flipping the chair over, then encouraging others to do likewise). As I watched very nice Minnesotans toss around this chair, I could see them become more comfortable with disruption. Many reflected after the end of this exercise that where disruption had frightened them, they now considered it a valuable tool within their repertoire for social action.  They were disruptive in a low-stakes setting; perhaps they could be more comfortable with disruption – and just a bit braver – when the stakes might be higher.  Practicing disruption helped form a habit in the group, habit is the bedrock of forming virtues, and at this historical moment, throwing some chairs (maybe figurative chairs) around in the service of equity, love, and justice seems pretty virtuous.

dsc_8357In the spirit of fostering habits and virtues that serve these commitments within myself, of owning my role as scholar-activist, I am committing to 100 days of resistance in communion with ISAIAH.  The idea isn’t mine.  At a gathering this past Saturday, “For Such a Time as This: Building Our Prophetic Resistance,” over 2,000 people committed (in the spirit of the prophet Isaiah who calls us to be “repairers of the breach” in our communities) to rejecting complicity in violence and dehumanization. In a handy folder, we each received a 100-day calendar and color-coded stickers, along with lists of acts of resistance from prayer to petitions, tweets to testimonies.  For each day that we complete such an act, we get a sticker.  With two small children in my house, I’m a sucker for a sticker chart.  The calendar ends on my birthday, a fitting time for someone seeking to grow into herself, perhaps a slightly new self, in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Resistance is a habit, and habits need to be tended to become virtues.  For at least the next 100 days, I’ll be tending this habit, along with at least 2,000 other people.  In some ways, this plan feels small, individualistic, personal.  In other ways, it feels as if it is binding me to a community, a tradition, a history of upholding the dignity of all people and opposing the indignities thrust upon particular groups of people in very particular ways. We were reminded on Saturday that each of us may only be carrying out 100 small acts.  Together, though, we are carrying out 200,000.  And that feels big.  It feels right.  It calms my heart.

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(Note the circled item in this picture.  It says, “Read from the selected bibliography (in process).”  Which means it needs to be written.  Of course, I have ideas, but if you also have ideas – please send them on to me.)


Amy Levad teaches Christian ethics to undergraduates in Minnesota.  Her research focuses on mass incarceration, particularly Christian responses to it through community organizing, education, and ministry.  Redeeming a Prison Society: A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration (Fortress Press, 2014) is her most recent book.

On “Becoming Ugly” and the Insult of Being a Woman

MT Dávila, Andover Newton Theological School

Madeleine Davies’ “Becoming Ugly” (Jezebel, 12/29/16) is NOT an apologetics for radical feminism in the years of Trump. She grounds her comments not so much on the suffering of others, as I’m used to doing, but on the insult to womanhood, the painful scarring insults that are the daily bread of being a woman today:

What we as women are forced to carry—because we’re vulnerable and because we are strong—goes beyond the natural disorder of things. Our suffering is not natural; it’s calculated and insidious—the passing of a bill, the protests of a college football team, the success of an actor, and verdict of a judge.

Or, more glaringly, a man who’s bragged about sexually assaulting women being elected to the highest office in the U.S.—not in spite of his vicious misogyny, but partly because of it.”

It might seem to many that the difference here is too subtle to matter. What is the real difference between “suffering” and being “insulted”??

When I read Davies’ piece I once again swim against wave after wave of assaults on my personhood by virtue of nothing else than being female. While, yes, there is suffering in that, there is a deeper form of insult that at its core wishes that I accept my disposability, my inhumanity, my lack of rationality, my strict identification with my ovaries and uterus, and the standards of beauty that seem to only hinge on a spectrum that measures a woman’s worth based on whether the male of the species would find me attractive enough to violently take my sex at his pleasure, or not. Davies’ observations reminds all that misogyny is an insult to humanity, and while it is behind much suffering and violence, it bears analyzing as different from the suffering and violence brought on by civil war, failed states, or gang violence. Remember that in all those situations violence against women is used as insult to the other side: rape as a war crime, or the feminicide that often accompanies getting even with or insulting a warring gang.

In “becoming ugly,” Davies reminds us that as long as we remain acquiescent to the insult of being a woman, we are spared the literal insults of “bitch,” “c**t,” “ugly,” or “hag” often tossed at so many of us who yell “STOP” at the many other metaphorical insults to our bodily and mental integrity. She describes her current state as one of perpetual rage:

For the first time, I don’t know how to move past my boiling anger or laugh it away. Also for the first time, I have no desire to. Preferable, I now think, is to stop laughing, to become as repulsive as I can in an insult to these men—so many men—who hate women and the women who adulate them. Vanity keeps me from throwing away my makeup and sanity keeps me from, as I often feel the repugnant urge, breaking the mirror with the surface of my own face and leaving us both cracked open. But I also can’t deny my current impulse to become as ugly and unlikeable as I can, merely to serve as constant reminder of the ugliness inflicted upon us. 

Oftentimes in theological and ethical reflection we resort to an almost surgical precision – and distance – to describe women’s suffering through the lenses of queer, womanist, or mujerista theology. We use these hard-won tools to reflect on what salvation and liberation might look like in advancing the cause of women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, women’s health care, women’s rights, and so many other important issues. Davies’ reflection is a reminder that our very stance when reflecting on women’s issues should almost always be the rage of one who bears the insult and scars of a world bent on continually reminding us of our lesser state. To that world Davies screams,

We’ve been told time and time again that prettiness and likability will protect us from harm, that to be good women, we must play by these rules, but this is a lie. Nothing will protect us except for ourselves—and what’s more fortifying than a defensive exterior? There are days when all I want is to become a human road sign, a blinking hazard to any man misfortunate enough to cross my path: “I WANT TO OFFEND YOUR SIGHT. I WANT TO OFFEND YOUR EVERYTHING.”

Davies reminds me that my classroom sometimes ought to be “offensive,” or decidedly lose perspective on the current challenges facing women and girls in the US and globally. In particular, Davies reminds me that the stance of my current president toward me is one of insult: grabbing, name-calling, demeaning, erasing, bullying. Becoming ugly, then, is the resistance of insulting back, exposing the hypocrisy of less-than-half-attempts at equality, freedom, and justice.


MT Dávila is a lay woman in the Roman Catholic tradition. She completed her doctorate at Boston College with a dissertation titled A Liberation Ethic for the One Third World: The Preferential Option for the Poor and Challenges to Middle-Class Christianity in the United States. She is currently writing on the option for the poor as a resource to interrupt and transgress the culture wars and polarization among U.S. Christians.

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