2nd Latin American Conference of Gender and Religion

Tomorrow I'm packing my bag once more (using the well known rule that packing takes as long as you have, which in my case will be 5 minutes) and heading off this time to Brazil (and on a plane not by bus. It'll be some time before I can look a bus in the face). I'll be attending the above conference for the rest of the week.

The theme of this year's conference is Epistemology, Violence, Sexuality and amongst the keynote speakers are Nancy Cardoso and Ivone Gebara. STETS readers will know Ivone from her book, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation which is on the reading list for the ethics module. I will try not to be too star-struck.

The conference is held at Escola Superior de Teologia (The Graduate School of Theology), São Leopoldo, Brazil. EST is a Lutheran theological institution and one of the most important Latin America. I have discovered:
1. I shall be staying at a home for elderly people (no comment)
2. Every other paper being given is in Portuguese (I really really hope there is translation).

São Leopoldo is on the outskirts of Porto Alegre where the World Council of Churches Assembly was held in February. I'm hoping to make at least one return visit to the most beautiful cafe in the world, if I can find it's new location without Tamara's help.

My paper (currently well over an hour, to be cut down to ten minutes) is about how church worship can be experienced as violence by women. Violence in terms of:
the exclusion of women from key roles within the service (such as presiding at communion),
the negation of women's experiences or concerns (such as an unwillingness to preach on domestic violence for example),
the over-use of male metaphors for God and faith,
a lack of critical interpretation of biblical texts that portray women in a negative or stereotypical manner,
violent theology (such as the constant demand for self-sacrifice, especially for women.)

I have sung songs that women have written,
but seldom in church on a Sunday.
I have even prayed to my Mother God,
but not in the sacred rites.
(Miriam Therese Winter (1991) WomanWord: A Feminist Lectionary and Psaltar. Women of the New Testament. New York: Crossroad, p.266)

I've been reading various articles as well as interviewing women at my church here about their experience of worship. One thing that's emerged strongly is the connection between the marginalization of women and that of people for other reasons such as ethnicity, age or sexuality.

Some of the strategies for resisiting violence and surviving the Sunday service are:
making space for women during the service, and being willing to step into that space
ensuring women's ordination and leadership continues to grow and be supported
rethinking the model of one leader or preacher each Sunday and developing more participative liturgies
sharing stories
welcoming diversity in language, metaphors, voices, theologies
making use of senses and symbols
peace-making and justice-creating
speaking about the reality of everyday life joys and struggles, and everybody's bodies.

Rebeca Montemayor, an ordained baptist from Mexico offers her alternative creed spoken at her ordination service as an example of such work. Here is a brief extract.
Creo en la santa Cena
La santa Cena es un recordatorio de las mujeres solas, abandonadas, que trabajan duro para poner en la mesa el pan cotidiano; por sus cuerpos cansados, violentados, rotos; a la vez, se recuerda la mesa de las mujeres que sirven con cariño, alegría y solicitud; esto es esperanza de resurrección.

I believe in Holy Communion.
The Holy Supper is a reminder of the single, abandoned women who work hard to put food on the table each day; by their tired, violated, broken bodies; each time remember the table of the women that served with love, joy and attention; this is the hope of resurrection.

(Rebeca Montemayor (2004) “Espacios Sagrados Negados. Ministerios Ordenados de Mujeres, un Proceso Inconcluso en Iglesias Protestantes de América Latina.” in Sylvia Marcos (ed) (2004) Religión y Género Enciclopedia Iberoamericana de Religiones EIR 03 Madrid: Editorial Trotta, p.200)

I was going to also add something about the women-church movement but this post is getting long so I'll end now and maybe return to that some other day.