Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Speaking for Women

By Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

     When I was growing up, my dad would often speak for me. He would introduce me to his friends and then start talking to them on my behalf. He would answer questions that were directed at me and often responded in ways in which I would not have responded. He did this, at least in part, because my Korean speaking ability was very limited. However he also spoke for my sister and my mother.  
     I was recently invited to speak on “Business Matters” hosted by Tony Iannelli (Channel 69 in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania). I was one of the four panelists, joining Kate Wilgruber from Allentown Women’s Center, Dr. Larry Chapp, De Sales University, and Attorney Richard Connell, who were invited to debate the inclusion of coverage for contraceptives in health care packages. The two male panelists were against the inclusion of contraceptives in health care coverage and the two women panelists were for the inclusion.  The debate was lively and sparked good conversation as some spoke from their personal religious beliefs and encounters with women who are in need of good health care.
     I frequently disagreed with Dr. Larry Chapp who is a Roman Catholic Theologian teaching at De Sales University, a Roman Catholic college. He argued against the morality of using contraceptives and objected to the mandate of providing contraceptives within Roman Catholic institutions and based his argument on the First Amendment. I argued that the current Roman Catholic position on this issue went against Freedom of Religion. A person working in a Roman Catholic hospital, university, institution is not the same as joining a church and should be given the benefits of any employer working in a non-religious workplace.  A worker employed in a Roman Catholic institution does not have to ascribe to the teachings of the church or even need to believe in the Christian God to be employed there.  Thus, it would be against the First Amendment to impose Roman Catholic teachings on the workers and not cover the use of contraceptives for their women employers.
     Protestants believe that sex is not only for procreation as it is a gift of God. However this understanding is also inherent in the only sanctioned birth control method allowed by Roman Catholic Church, the ‘rhythm method.’ With this condoned method there is a recognition that sex does not always lead to procreation. If they truly believed sex was only for procreation why would they even permit the rhythm method?
     During Vatican II Pope John XXIII asked a commission to examine marriage. The commission consisted of women, laity, priests, and bishops and at the end of the study period the commission endorsed the use of contraceptives. It was later in 1968 that Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae which reported that contraceptives should be banned and overturned the commission’s earlier report. Why wouldn’t the commission—which included women and heard the important voices of women on a concern related to women’s issues, bodies, health, respect, dignity and well-being—have more validity than men speaking about women without consultation.  
     As I ponder the argument that the Roman Catholic Church is using today, I cannot help but think about how my own father used to speak on my behalf, answer on my behalf, and tell others how I felt.  I want to ask today, when will men stop speaking on behalf of women especially when it pertains directly to women’s issues?
     I am now a mother of three children and no longer allow my dad to speak on my behalf. I believe women of all faith traditions should speak up loud and clear on issues which affect their everyday lives and fight for our human rights.  

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women's Christology(Pilgrim Press). 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Abrahamic Traditions on the Silk Road

By Kwok Pui Lan

The Silk Road refers to the network of roads connecting Ch’ang-an (modern-day Xian), the ancient capital of China, to the Mediterranean, with spurs into the Indian subcontinent, the northern Eurasian steppe, and southern Iran. When caravans went East and West on the ancient Silk Road, trade and commerce brought people of different cultures and religious traditions into contact with each other.

The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) organized a one-day conference on March 3 to explore the interactions and cultural exchanges of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam along the ancient Silk Road. Speakers of the conference included scholars in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, early Christianity and theology, Syriac-speaking Christianity, Armenian Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and Christianity in Asia. The big lecture room at Sherrill Hall was filled to capacity with some 100 scholars from other schools within the Boston Theological Institute, EDS faculty, students, staff, and alumni/alumnae, and other guests.

The theme of the conference “What Would It Take to Move the Map?” was provocative. As Professor Lawrence Wills, who organized the conference with Professor Patrick S. Cheng, said, “There is increasing evidence of a rich history of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who moved eastward all the way to China, at a time much earlier than was previously believed.” The conference aimed to broaden our understanding of this long history of interactions of Abrahamic traditions.

A map is a tool to look at the world and to organize and constitute reality. It takes vision, courage, humility, curiosity, and restless inquiry to move the map to include the religious exchanges along the Silk Road.

I was asked to comment on the proceedings from the day in a final session. Here are a few of my observations:

First, we have to expand our imagination of the Christian tradition to include the many branches of Christianities and their interactions of other religious traditions. In the United States, the teaching of church history tends to focus primarily on Western Christianity, with little mention on Greek and Oriental Christianity.

For example, in his survey of textbooks on church history, Professor Cheng pointed out that many leave out or mention in passing Nestorian Christianity in China. This narrow and selective way of understanding church history fails to do justice to the complex and multilayered Christian traditions and impoverishes our knowledge of the many expressions and experiences of the divine.

Second, in order to expand our imagination, we need to learn to decolonize our minds, such that we will not read history and create cartography based on Eurocentric lenses. In his concluding remarks, Professor Christopher Duraisingh spoke of cultivating multiple consciousness and developing the capacity to see maps as synchronic and not diachronic. This reminds me of what the late Edward Said, the pioneer of postcolonial discourse, has said of contrapuntal reading of history—reading history as intertwined and territories as overlapped.

Decolonization of the mind means that we have to be aware of the impacts of the Latinization of the world in the first “globalization,” in which the people in the Americas were brought into the orbit of Europe in the early modern period. The Roman Catholic Church played important roles in this remapping of the world. Those of us who are Episcopalians would do well to remember the consequences of the Anglicization of the world. The British Empire has shaped and remapped the cultures and histories of peoples under its colonial control and the Anglican Church has played a vital part in it.

Third, we have to learn to live in a multipolar or Post-American world, cognizant of the shifting geopolitics and the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China as key players in shaping global economy and world affairs. China’s phenomenal economic growth will change our ways of looking at East Asia and its long interactions with Central Asia, West Asia, and Europe.

China has developed a new Silk Road strategy in order to secure oil and gas from the Middle East to fuel its economic growth. Vast pipeline networks have been built in the region and the Iron Silk Road project, an ambitious Eurasian railway network is being built to connect China to Turkey, Iran, and the European countries.

The ancient Silk Road is being remapped by many powers to serve present economic and political purposes. Our awareness of cultural and historical interactions in the past will help us to live in this brand new world of the twenty-first century.

Kwok Pui Lan is the William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School and her most recent book is Globalization,Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue