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Premiere of Kenyan, Christian, Queer

Premiere of Kenyan Christian Queer: 5 Days To Go! poster.

This coming Friday (31 July 2020) is the world premiere of the film Kenyan, Christian, Queer: Struggle for Faith, Hope and Love, directed by Aiwan Obinyan. 

You can see the trailer here

For an earlier Shiloh post on the book of the name Kenyan, Christian, Queer, by Adriaan van Klinken, see here.

About this Event:

Is it possible to be African, Christian and queer? The members of the first LGBTQ church in Nairobi Kenya certainly believe so. The Cosmopolitan Affirming Community (CAC) seeks to promote an inclusive and progressive form of Christianity, in the midst of a rather conservative society.

The screening link will be live from 9am to 12midnight (Eastern Africa Time/Kenya Time) with a live Q&A at 2pm BST (= British Summer Time) / 4pm EAT (= Eastern Africa Time) / 9am EST (= Eastern Standard Time).

The Q&A will feature:

  • Aiwan Obinyan (Film Director)
  • Pastor David Ochar (CAC)
  • Bishop Joseph Tolton 
  • Prophetess Jacinta Nzilani 

Book your ticket now, to receive the link & password for the secure film screening and Q&A.

You can book your free tickets here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kenyan-christian-queer-premiere-tickets-113871003236?aff=CACAdriaanTFAM

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Introducing…The Shiloh Podcast!

The Shiloh Podcast logo.

The Shiloh Podcast has arrived!

Rosie Dawson, award-winning journalist, theologian, and host of The Shiloh Podcast shines a light on the stories and practices of religion that either contribute to or resist rape culture. Through conversations with scholars and practitioners, the podcast invites us all to think about ways that we can challenge and dismantle rape culture in our own communities.

Feast your ears on our new trailer and introductory episode, where Rosie discusses the origins of The Shiloh Project with Katie Edwards, until July 2020 one of the project’s co-directors.

Don’t forget to review, rate and subscribe to be notified of new episodes.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/0ZPIZec92xIr5hGJvlBiAm

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COVID-19 Lockdown Series: Mmapula Kebaneilwe

A Bit about myself:

I am Mmapula Diana Kebaneilwe, a Womanist scholar and Senior Lecturer of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at the University of Botswana. I did my PhD with the University of Murdoch in Western Australia, and completed in 2012. The title of my Thesis was “This Courageous Woman: A Socio-rhetorical Womanist Reading of Proverbs 31:10-31.” (The thesis can be found online here.) I have a wide range of research interests, including; women and the Bible; HIV, Aids, the Bible and women; women, gender and the Bible; the Bible and environmental issues; rape culture, gender and the Bible. Above all, my keen interest concerns gender justice and hence, researching on issues relating to women is important to me. The quest stems from my own context, which is patriarchal and marred by gender-based violence.

What I have been up-to during the COVID 19 Lock-in

To be honest, COVID 19 has left me confused, worried and without motivation or energy to do much. However, as the lock-in proceeds into the third week in my country (Botswana), I seem to be unstiffening a bit and I guess I am now getting accustomed to my ‘new normal’ of being just at home. I believe I am also getting to grips with the current reality and learning to live with the fact that the entire world is faced with a pandemic and everyone is affected in some way or other. On a more positive note, I have been doing what I enjoy most, which is gardening. I have started a small vegetable garden, which I have mixed with my usual plants and flowers that I tend every day. I find this very healing to my soul.

I also have a lot of academic work to do during this time (much of it is backlog from a few months ago). The work includes co-editing for a volume on ‘Mother Earth’, a book project, which is a collaboration with different scholars who presented papers at the 2019 Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, held in Gaborone, Botswana. I am also working on my book, which is adapted from my PhD thesis and which has come back from a second round of the review process, just a few days ago. I have also received back reviews for a chapter that I am contributing to a project on #Jesus Too, edited by Jayme Reaves and David Tombs.

Aspects of my work, past and present that might of interest to the Shiloh Project supporters?

I think some of my work that might be of interest to supporters of the Shiloh Project may include first, my PhD Thesis (2012). This is so because in that I explore some of the issues that relate to the intersection between, the Bible, culture (in this case Botswana culture) and women. Attention is paid to the portrayal of a woman in rather strong and affirmative ways in Proverbs 31:10-31. Such is not commonplace in the Bible. I bring the portrait into engagement with how women are treated in my culture, especially in relation to their male counterparts and in relation to marginalization and disadvantages for women on different levels. My conclusion is that the text of Proverbs 31:10-31 unapologetically advocates for gender equality.

Another of my past works that may be of interest is an article titled “The Vashti Paradigm: Resistance as a Strategy for Combating HIV.” Ecumenical Review 63/4 (2011): 378-384. As the title suggests, in this article I see Vashti, a female character in the biblical book of Esther, as a heroine. Her subversiveness and defiance in the face of male oppressive authority celebrates her dignity as a woman. I advocate that Vashti can speak also to those who find themselves in similar situations of oppression. My conclusion is that despite the potential danger in challenging oppressive systems, cultures and contexts, like Vashti did, ‘it is never too late to say no to oppression’. 

A forthcoming article might also be of interest, “The Untold Story of Mrs Noah: The Hebrew Bible, Gender and Media: An Intertextual Critical Discourse Analysis.” This is forthcoming in the BOLESWA Journal of Theology (2020 sometime). This piece is co-authored with a colleague and friend, Dr Sibonile  E. Ellece, from the English Department of the University of Botswana. We try to reconstruct the life story of the wife of Noah. We argue that because of its androcentric nature, the Bible tends to omit the stories of many women, including that of Noah’s wife. We call the otherwise unnamed woman ‘Mrs Noah’ in order to problematize the un-naming, which not only obscures but virtually erases her identity. Our conclusion is that in our patriarchal contexts, too, women often suffer from a lack of media coverage, conveying the sense that their stories do not really matter, at least not as much as men’s stories. But in reconstructing Mrs Noah’s story, using intertextual critical discourse analysis, we maintain that she was a woman of courage: a wife, a mother, a home-builder and Noah’s pillar. She, too, like her legendary husband, must have professed strong faith, ensuring her survival and that of her family, while most of the entire world perished.

What is helping me most during this unprecedented time of COVID 19?

Like I mentioned before, gardening and decorating my home is something I enjoy doing. I spent my first day of lockdown painting one of the rooms in the house. I love it. I then started spending mornings and evenings doing some gardening, which includes planting vegies, trimming duranta plants, cultivating the soil around my little roses and other flowers, and just cleaning the yard – stuff I often do not have much time to do under normal circumstances. I have since been doing some yoga and pilates each evening in order to stretch my otherwise aching joints. This has been very helpful and is making me feel good, both physically and emotionally. I have now added some skipping rope exercises where I do 300 skips a day and that makes me feel fantastic. Of course, I am also trying to stay away from frequent visits to the kitchen and the fridge for some nibbles, because though these are particularly accessible ‘places’ currently (given the stringent restrictions on movement) it is not such a good idea to spend too much time there.

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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview: Laurie Lyter Bright

Since shelter in place began in Wisconsin, I’ve been balancing pastoring a church through a virtual Lent and now Holy Week, executive directing a non-profit that supports peace-building through interfaith schools in Palestine and Israel, working on my dissertation, and keeping two very small children alive and happy. My husband’s a full time grad student in nursing, so our days are full. Work takes place in the margins around our new reality, and maybe that’s closer to where work should have always been in terms of priorities. I’m surprised by how the preciousness of time has been illuminated in this crisis.  When writing can only happen between the start of nap time and lunch, you learn to write very efficiently.

My dissertation work emphasizes the role of the Christian church (particularly U.S. manifestations thereof) in co-creating rape culture and is seeking ways for the church to be a part of disrupting rape culture instead. My new work in progress for the Shiloh Project series with Routledge Focus is exploring the role of the prophetic in both the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.  Getting to interview and collaborate with scholars in these fields has been an absolute privilege and I’m grateful for the access to technology that allows me to keep moving forward on both projects even in a time of lock-down!

I am running the full gamut of feelings in this season and allowing myself space for all of those emotions is what’s keeping me going.  I am profoundly thankful – that my family are healthy, that my kids are too young to be scared by what’s happening, that my partner is also my best friend, that my work can be reasonably accomplished remotely, etc.  I am profoundly sad – at the loss of life, the co-morbidity of the weight of poverty and racism in my country, the suffering that was preventable, and more. I am angry – at the pathetic excuse for leadership in my government, at our collective fear responses. I am proud – of the community spirit that rises above, the difficult but necessary questions and conversations that are rising to the surface.  And I am baking right up to the edge of an unhealthy amount of cookies.

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Daniel in the Homophobic Lion’s Den

Here’s a post by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna Stiebert about her second research visit to Nairobi, where she participates in a project with Ugandan LGBTQ+refugees. The project has the title “Tales of Sexuality and Faith: The Ugandan LGBT Refugees Life Story Project”and is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust. Its lead investigator is Adriaan van Klinken

The project is focused on stories: life-stories, stories of the Bible, and stories that combine the two. At its heart and centre is a group of refugees, a collective called The Nature Network. Johanna talks about the project and its intersections with Shiloh-relevant themes, such as religion and vulnerability to violence, in an earlier post. Here are some of her reflections on the project’s recent developments. 

Stories and Lives

Stories matter. In my life certainly stories and story telling have played a major part since as far back as I can remember. Growing up, I was the youngest member of a multi-generational household and even before I learned to read stories, stories were told and read to me. I loved folk stories and fairytales but I especially liked stories about me, set in the-time-before-I-could remember. I loved the stories of when I was very small, about the funny or naughty things I did. 

I demanded to hear such stories of my earliest life over and over again. I demanded details and eventually heard multiple versions, with different embellishments (and probably some exaggerations and inventions). Those stories somehow linked me to the protagonists of other stories; they made me feel important, an agent. They linked me to the past, to a bigger, world-connecting meta-story. I like stories to this day.

My academic work focuses on the study of the Bible. It was the stories that first drew me in but also the people I met through studies and teaching – and their stories. Approaches of biblical interpretation have become more honest about how our identities and experiences shape our interpretation and increasingly, life stories and Bible stories have been coming together for me.

Nairobi Stories

Adriaan has been travelling to Kenya, making friends, hearing stories, making stories, and gathering material for his publications for some years. When he and the people who move into and out from The Nature Work developed ideas around life stories and Bible stories, I was eager to get involved. By then, I had also become involved in a number of other projects, all of them relevant to the Shiloh Project, that explore the use of stories and images derived from the Bible to open up discussions about gender-based violence. Because the Bible – while variously interpreted in different settings – is a shared text, it has been an effective medium for connecting me with people whose identities, lives and experiences are very different to mine.

I have only been to Nairobi on two short visits – the second was last month, in January. My impressions of the city are a succession of little snapshots – of bustle and crazy traffic, but also of sweeping parks with leafy trees; of roadsides displaying an array of wares, from potted plants to double beds, playground items to beaded bracelets; of colourful roadside fruit and vegetable markets and little enterprises selling cut flowers or grilled corn on the cob. We drove several times through Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum, which is highly concentrated with busy-ness – washing drying, wood being cut, tiny shops crammed together selling everything from cellphone units to clothes alteration. Sometimes, such as in the large malls, I could completely forget where I was – other times, in Kibera, or seeing grazing warthogs by the roadside, marabous perched on monuments, or monkeys on the walls of residential buildings, you knew you were definitely in Kenya.

But back to life stories. When something sharp happens in our lives, when we are, for instance, accused of something we haven’t done, then the telling of our stories becomes more carefully constructed. We choose our elements with care, so as to recount vividly and persuasively what really  happened. This also happens when we are treated unjustly in other ways – and many of the stories we heard at The Nature Network reported being accused of ‘recruiting’ minors, of being willfully deviant, of choosing depravity to dishonour family and community and religious affiliation. The life stories collected as part of this project were invariably told with vividness and fluency. The refugees were used to telling their stories – they were often telling them for survival, including as part of their efforts to secure resettlement with UNHCR. 

The stories told featured rejection, threat, violence, vulnerability, condemnation from family and community and church representatives. Sometimes there were stories of a painful past and of a present in which the story was turning towards more hope. New families were formed within The Nature Network, families not of blood ties but of ties of love and solidarity and acceptance. New religious networks were established, with prayers that bonded together and with a God who loved unconditionally – a God who created queer and whose image was therefore queer. 

The Story of a Project: Tales of Sexuality and Faith

The first stage of the project consisted of collecting life stories of refugees associated with The Nature Network. The majority of this was conducted by two members of the Network one of whom, Raymond Brian, is its co-founder. During interviewing, contributors were asked about the role and presence of religion in their lives and whether they had a favourite Bible story. Some interesting things emerged here. Many stories – from all over the Bible – were sources of inspiration. Jesus was repeatedly identified as an ally – as someone who embraced those on the fringes of society and who spoke out against condemning others. One interviewee mentioned identifying with David in the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). The reason was that the interviewee felt small and up against a Goliath of mighty and imposing challenges in day-to-day life. Like David they had little to work with – a small stone, metaphorically-speaking. But that small stone could be utilized to achieve something bigger and assert their rights and be vindicated. A second story that popped up was Daniel in the Lions’ Den (Daniel 6) – because the interviewee this time identified with the threat all around but simultaneously with a strong sense, too, that like Daniel they had done nothing to justify such threat and hostility. It was this story that seemed like a good one to draw on more.

Daniel in the Homophobic Lions’ Den

Before Adriaan and I arrived in Nairobi, the members of the Nature Network spent time reading the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den and discussing it in groups. By the time we joined them the story was quite familiar. Now it was time to relate it to personal experience.

On 12 January we all gathered at the Network’s main venue, on the outskirts of Nairobi.

We shared breakfast and introduced ourselves and each other; we discussed expectations for the day – which ranged from the practical (to receive a refund for travel expenses) to the experiential (to learn, be entertained, and form connections and new friendships) – and rules (to respect one another and listen, and to all participate). 

Next, Chris gave a summary of the earlier meeting – where the text of the Bible was read and discussed in focus groups. A decision was made to read the text again – this time with the specific plan to try and make the story relevant to the present.

In our groups, as soon as we sat down with the biblical text, printed out on paper, to read it aloud together, a mood of seriousness descended. I think this is discernible in the pictures.

When we all got together to pool what had taken place in our groups, the discussion got very lively. We looked together at the characters and at the events of the Daniel story – who and what could these be in the present setting?

In the Daniel story there is a king, King Darius, who is somewhat sympathetic to Daniel but none the less submits to his governors who remind him of the laws. Who is this king today? Who are the governors?

Suggestions came in thick and fast: the king is the government of Uganda, or the President of Uganda. The governors are oppressive elements of African culture and pastors using the Bible to condemn, as well as members of parliament. Daniel is the LGBTQ+ community – being unjustly persecuted. The lions are maybe family members who are sometimes harmful and obstructive but not always, or enemies within the LGBTQ+ communityitself who sometimes deny their sexuality, or who choose to blackmail others when it suits them to do so. The den is identified as Kenya and as prison… Some spoke up to say they found the punishment of the governors’ wives and children wrong, others saw this as collateral damage, or as the punishment of those who didn’t speak up but benefited from their powerful family members’ privileges. 

After some discussion, a play was put together, performed and recorded. This all happened very quickly– from discussion to completion of the recording took no more than 3 hours. The idea of weaving stories together and of transporting an ancient story into the lived present was quickly embraced and vividly imagined and reenacted. There were some fabulous spontaneous ideas and there was much articulate expression both of condemnation encountered and liberation desired.

The King is the President of Uganda. (In this reenactment he has a consort.)

The governors are members of parliament and representatives of churches, as well as a mufti from an Islamic congregation. 

Daniel is a representative of the LGBTQ+ community.

The den is prison.

There are also in this reenactment members of the police force, of the press and supporters of Daniel.

God’s voice can be heard at the beginning and end.

Here is the recording, ‘Daniel in the homophobic lion’s den’. Enjoy.

It was a real joy watching the play at each of its various stages. The strength of feeling and the power of story telling really come across. There is a new immediacy and resonance to the old story of Daniel. I, certainly, will never read this story again in the same way. And when we all watched the completed recording together everyone was very engaged and delighted with the end result.

In time, we – members of the Network, Adriaan and I – hope to publish a book about the project. 

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Let Him Romance You: Rape Culture and Gender Violence in Evangelical Christian Self-Help Literature

Last year Dr Emily Colgan (Trinity Theological College, New Zealand) visited the UK and gave papers at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield. For those who missed them, you can catch up by listening to the recording below.

Emily is an active Shiloh Project member and will be publishing a book with our project series Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible with Routledge Focus. Emily’s research on Christian self-help literature and gender-violence is published in the Christian Perspectives volume of the Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion series edited by Caroline Blyth, Emily Colgan and Katie Edwards (Palgrave, 2018).

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 14 – Megan Robertson

Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

My name is Megan Robertson and I have recently completed my PhD at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in South Africa. My doctoral research focused specifically on investigating how the lived experiences of queer clergy in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) co-constitute the institutional cultures and politics of the Church. Since 2018 I have had the privilege of working at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, at UWC. The Centre seeks to contextually, theoretically, and methodologically challenge asymmetrical systems of power. It thus allows me a space to research and teach in ways which bridges the false binary between academia and activism and places justice at the centre of the work I do.

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

The picture of me in this blog is taken in front of Church Street Methodist Church, the congregation which I was a member of until my late twenties. For me this is a site of my own identity negotiation and also the space which continues to drive the activism which is integral to my research. The church which I grew up in not only shaped my belief systems but perhaps more significantly provided me with a place to which I felt I belonged. As a teenager and young adult I became more involved in the broader provincial and national structures of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and thus more aware of how the Church which provided a ‘home’ for me was also deeply patriarchal, heteronormative, racially segregated and hierarchical. I was also quite actively involved in the Church at the time when a minister, Ecclesia de Lange, was excommunicated for declaring her intention to marry her same-sex partner. Therefore, for me, the church and religion became both a place of significant belonging as well as a space for a great deal of injustice. These experiences inspire my research which explores how different people navigate religious belonging and exclusion and indeed transform those spaces in positive ways.

In my research I incorporate activism by exploring how politics of belonging, body politics and politics of the domestic and erotic are evident in the narratives and experiences of queer clergy who occupy positions of power and marginality in the Church. I argue in my work that the MCSA’s internal conversations around the inclusion of women and same-sex marriage are too narrow to do justice to queer experiences of exclusion, discrimination and violence in the Church. For the MCSA and other denominations seeking to become truly inclusive of queer, women (and all other) members, bringing lived experience into conversation with institutional cultures in research sharpens understandings of how the church can indeed be a place of inclusivity instead of rejection. In my work I am also interested in the activism participants themselves are engaged in as they inhabit the norms of the institution. In a complex religious context where gender-sex identities are contested I found that participants engage in activism in relatively covert ways through living their domestic and erotic lives, embodying clerical and Methodist identity and through silence. In illuminating these subtle forms of activism, the political project of my research explores the possibilities that varied ways lived experience can trouble normative powers of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

My fuel for doing research is activism. Before beginning my PhD and working in the Desmond Tutu Centre, I was disillusioned by academia and bought into the idea that dismantling social injustices and researching them were two separate tasks. However, I soon realised that the binary between activism and academia was a false and unhelpful one. It is my anger and frustration that continues to drive me to work towards a just and equitable society and it is in academia where I am able to make productive meaning of that anger and frustration.

Through the writing up of my dissertation, I have continued to be in conversation with some of the clergy who participated in my doctoral research. In these conversations we have begun to explore the ways in which my research findings can feed into the committees and activism work which they would like to pursue. Further, in my post-doctoral research I want to further explore the nature of queer activism in South Africa. My other passion is dance and theatre and I hope to explore the ways in which popular artists and performers in Cape Town interrogate the intersections of religion and sexuality on stage.

 

 

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 7 – Joachim Kuegler

Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

Since 2008, I am Professor for New Testament Studies at the University of Bamberg in Germany. My work lies at the interface of the academy, education and religion. Since 1988 I am also an ordained priest of the Catholic Church (in the diocese of Bamberg). I am one of the many Catholic men who, while benefitting from the gender bias of this Church, is suffering in the face of the traditional gender injustice so powerful in both doctrine and practice. The big goal of my work as a professor and priest is to let people know that God is a power that helps to overwhelm gender bias, gender-based violence and misogyny. I really don’t know if it will be possible to transform the Catholic Church into a tool of gender-fairness but at least I don’t feel alone in my attempt to do so.

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

For me it is quite easy to connect my research with activism. First, because the main topics of my research are gender and developmental justice. With our Bible-in-Africa-research we aim at tearing down the walls that colonialism created by organising an exchange with African students and scholars based on the principle of pluriform equality. Using the opportunities offered by a rich country (Germany) we try to give academics from Africa a chance to display their talent in exploring the Bible in a contextual life-oriented way.

Secondly, my double existence as professor and priest allows me to spread my academic insights into the area of an old and established but still vivid faith-based community. I always try to structure my preaching and my pastoral work with people living at our local Asylbewerber-Heim (‘centre for asylum-seekers’) according to the principle of gender fairness and global justice. In the last years church structures allowed me to organise funds for African students and financial help for immigrants – not to mention the spiritual support that a congregation can give to new-comers. I think, the quota of racist, xenophobic and misogynic people is lower among  active Christians than in some other parts of German society. Thus it is easier to find help and feel supported by the consent of many.

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

Activism is no ‘add-on’ to my academic work. Because I take my research insights seriously, they urge me to act them out accordingly. I cannot read Galatians 3:28 – ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ – and then go and preach that it is okay when women aren’t ordained. I cannot analyse Jesus’ beatitudes of the poor and then ignore those in my village that are suffering from being marginalised and ill-treated. But also, I am also learning from activism for my academic work. Which questions in research are really relevant? Which ones can I leave to those whose prime or even only goal is a university career? Between now and the Days of Activism in 2020 I hope to support especially ‘Maria 2.0’ (an equal-rights-movement of Catholic women) with as many public lectures as possible. I feel that my interpretation of biblical texts is really welcome in this movement.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 6 – Barbara Thiede

I teach full-time in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and serve as the Program Director for our department’s graduate program. I am also an ordained rabbi and teach for ALEPH – Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

In both settings, I teach a range of courses focused on gender, power, class, and race. These fall, broadly, into two categories. As a historian of Jewish history, I teach the history of European antisemitism and the marketing of the Holocaust. As a biblical scholar, I teach a wide range of courses that focus on gender, power, and violence in the Hebrew Bible. I am currently writing a full-length monograph entitled Male Friendship, Homosociality and Women in the Hebrew Bible. I am also working on a volume for the Routledge series “Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible” entitled Rape in the House of David: A Company of Men.

Writing about causes I support has been a significant part of my activism in public realms, too. For some twenty years I wrote for a regional section of The Charlotte Observer as well as for the Observer’s Viewpoint page as a community editorial columnist. Here, I was able to address a range of issues, from domestic violence and sexual assault to antisemitism and racism. Likewise, my blog, Adrenalinedrash, includes writing on sexual violence, racism, and antisemitism from a rabbinic perspective.

From my earliest days at UNC Charlotte, when I created the first women’s group for addressing eating disorders, to my campus involvement today in our annual Sex Week, addressing the very real concerns of my students has been one of my primary goals. One in every four of my female students will be the victim of sexual assault during their undergraduate careers. While teachers of Religious Studies regularly engage with class, gender, race, sexuality, and ability, classroom conversations are often detached from the rape culture that surrounds them. But the rape culture of the Hebrew Bible is familiar to my students for a reason; like today’s rape cultures, it relies on a web of male friendships, alliances, and social relationships that are essential to its preservation. In the classroom we can analyze how hegemonic masculinity that supports rape culture works both in ancient texts and in contemporary settings. And we can talk about what must be done to change the statistics and make college campuses safe for women.

Though I am involved with efforts to combat racism and gun violence as a speaker and rabbi, much of my activism has centered on working with local church and civic groups. For almost two decades, I have regularly addressed sexual violence and hegemonic masculinity in the Hebrew Bible in a wide range of denominational settings. Because biblical authors present sexual violence against women as permissible, we need to interrogate the texts we hold sacred.

I participate in marches and rallies and speak for a host of causes I support – from protecting voting rights to winning citizenship for undocumented immigrants to saving our broken planet. And I have found that my greatest impact takes place in classroom, faith, and community education. There, I can develop relationships, open doors, unpack a conversation, and empower those I am working with – from the eighteen-year-old college students to eighty-year-old grandmothers. We are all needed in the struggle against rape culture.

Between now and the 16 days I will be helping students at UNCC with the organization of this year’s Sex Week (sexual violence is a key topic), writing a piece for my blog on the male alliances that support rape culture in both the Hebrew Bible and our own time, and working with a full class of students who are writing their final papers – almost all of which center on sexual violence in Hebrew Bible. Teaching in two different academic settings, spending many Sunday mornings with faith groups, and writing offer me opportunities to address and confront the rape cultures we must combat and eradicate. And in our time.

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 1 – Ericka Dunbar

To celebrate the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign, which coincides with International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we spotlight activist Ericka Dunbar. You can learn more about Ericka’s work here.
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I am Ericka Dunbar, a Ph.D. student at Drew University, completing my studies in the area of Bible & Cultures. My focus is the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. My dissertation is entitled: “Trafficking Hadassah: An Africana Reading of Collective Trauma, Memory and Identity in the Book of Esther.”

My research connects to activism in several ways. Foremost, in my research, I utilize intersectionality and polyvocality as frameworks that enable me to expand traditional interpretations of biblical texts. The application of these frameworks illuminates the ways that Africana girls and women often experience intersectional oppression at the hands of patriarchs and colonial entities. For example, both Hagar in the book of Genesis and the virgin girls from Ethiopia and other African locales in the book of Esther, are taken from their native lands and sexually exploited by patriarchs and colonial subjects.

When reading the narratives intertextually, systematic oppression of Africana females due to intersectional identities becomes evident. Africana girls and women are sexually exploited at the intersections of ethnicity, gender, class, and in relation to interlocking systems of power and domination by patriarchs and colonial subjects. In these texts, ideologies of Africana inferiority are promoted and social hierarchies are created, frequently relegating Africana females low on the hierarchy (as concubines and slaves). Both the ideologies and hierarchy function to justify the abuse and oppression of Africana females.  Consequently, Africana girls and women become sex slaves to patriarchs and kings that extract their bodies from their natal homes and transport them to other locales for the patriarch/king’s sexual pleasure.

In addition, the application of these frameworks provides an opportunity to integrate the voices and experiences of Africana girls and women regularly ignored or minimized by interpreters, namely the nameless virgin girls in the book of Esther. This type of activism resonates with the type of activism reflected in the #SayHerName movement.

#SayHerName raises awareness of the countless Black girls and women that are victimized by police and anti-Black racialized violence. It centers the stories of those whose experiences of police and racialized violence are muted in both historical and media representations.  My work parallels this movement in that I give voice to the often overlooked and ignored experiences and traumatization of Africana girls and women in the ancient biblical contexts. However, not only do I focus on Africana girls and women in ancient contexts but I also illustrate how the girls’ and women’s experiences in the biblical narratives resonate with the experiences of Africana girls and women trafficked and rendered sex slaves during the transatlantic slave trade and even into the present.

While, the #SayHerName movement focuses on Africana girls and women that are killed by police in the US, I focus on sexualized violence perpetrated against Africana girls and women. I also emphasize that Africana girls and women were recognized as property of colonies in ancient contexts and during the slave trade. Therefore, they received no legal protection from rape and sexual enslavement. I point out these facts as a means of highlighting that current police brutality against Africana females is a legacy of patriarchy and colonial domination. In addition, the failure of law enforcement and legal systems adequately to protect Africana victims from sexual exploitation or to punish offenders is in large part a horrendous legacy of racist stereotyping and colonialism.

Perhaps some contemporary examples of the sexual exploitation of Africana females will illuminate the types of injustice that advocates such as myself are speaking out about. Three women, Cyntoia Brown, Chrystal Kizer, and Alexis Martin who were trafficked and sexually exploited in the USA as minors, either have been or are being prosecuted for defending themselves against their traffickers. The forfeiture of protection by police and legal systems is another form of violent brutality. Moreover, the lack of protection from an abuser and the criminalization of victims exacerbate their suffering.  Girls and women should not be criminalized for protecting themselves or escaping abusive exploitation. Therefore, I not only emphasize intersectional oppression and elucidate damaging ideologies but I also critique systemic oppression and the failure of legal entities to uphold justice and protect vulnerable persons.

Secondly, I teach with an emphasis on trauma and social justice. It is essential for me to prepare students for the world and ministry by shaping lives that are committed to not only critical thinking but to justice as well. When I help students to recognize inequalities and trauma in the ancient world of the text and in our very own contexts, we create conscientious communities that are responsive to discriminations and disparities. As co-learners, we help each other recognize the mechanisms of power and how power can be used to transform systems and conditions to ensure justice and equity for all members of society.

One way that we promote equity and justice is by creating a space that affirms the humanity and dignity of all. We allow diverse knowledge, experiences, and interpretations to enhance the learning space and we respond to critical issues that impact humans globally. I find that in addition to contextualized learning, interdisciplinarity is a great asset for social analysis, promoting critical thinking, and interpreting information to discern solutions. Moreover, we discuss and respond to these issues both inside and outside of the classroom. Practices that demonstrate an orientation to social justice include a trip to the Civil Rights Museum, activism through social media engagement, involvement in protests/rallies/marches/voter registration drives, implementing and organizing church programming to address social issues, and/or involvement in organizations that create/impact legislation. There are a wide range of practices that our learning community engage in as a means of embodying our scholar-activist identities. We supplement book-knowledge with experiential knowledge to produce changes in the communities in which we serve.

Alongside teaching at Spelman College and the Interdenominational Theological Center, I serve as a representative on the Joint Action for Advocacy for Justice and Peace Convening Table, National Council of Churches (USA), and on the faculty team for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor’s Dale Andrews Freedom Seminary hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund. The seminary course is an immersion experience for seminarians who desire to engage and cultivate prophetic voices with communities that contend against systemic injustices that directly impact children and youth. Scholars, community and church leaders, and activists gather at this week-long Institute to describe and model non-violent direct organization and collective action for justice though public theology, communal, and congregational praxis.  This past summer, I took two of my former Spelman students to the institute and transported two others from Candler School of Theology at Emory. I’ve taught students at Spelman that participated in other CDF programming as well. I have become a mentor beyond the classroom to many of these students and to other students that I’ve met through the Forum for Theological Exploration. These relationships are meaningful to me because of our relatedness as Africana women and our shared focus on child advocacy and on challenging sexualized violence against Africana women in ecclesiastical structures and society.

In late October, a Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, USA) student by the name of Alexis Crawford was sexually assaulted by her roommate’s boyfriend and then allegedly murdered by her roommate and the roommate’s boyfriend. This atrocious event shook the Clark Atlanta community as well as the members of the other schools of the Atlanta University consortium, (two of which I serve as an adjunct professor) and the wider community surrounding these institutions. Specifically, the students in my Intro to Old Testament class at Spelman were traumatized by this killing because of the sheer callousness of Alexis’s abuse, their proximity to Alexis’s apartment and school, the failure of legal entities to protect Alexis, and because many have expressed experiencing similar instances of unsolicited sexual advances in their lifetimes. This killing illuminated for us that our scholarship is not divorced from the world around us. Rather, our scholarship is informed and impacted by the communities and societies that surround us. This semester, it has become increasingly clear that there is an exchange between the theories we engage in the classroom and our lived experiences beyond the classroom. In the last couple of class sessions since Alexis went missing and was found murdered, my students have been reflecting upon experiences of trauma and assessing how the educational processes we’ve engaged in this semester continue to aid in our ability to identify and challenge social injustices in practical ways.

Besides writing, teaching, and mentoring, I also travel and present papers on sexual trafficking and collective trauma at international conferences. Two of my papers/presentations are being turned into an article and book chapter and published in the next couple of months. Last summer, I presented a paper entitled, “For Such a Time as This #UsToo: Representations of Sexual Trafficking, Collective Trauma and Horror in the Book of Esther,” delivered at the 2018 Religion and Rape Culture Conference at the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, England). This paper has been turned into an article and is being published in a special edition of the journal Bible and Critical Theory. This past summer, I presented a keynote paper entitled “Sisters of the Soil: Surviving Collective, Cultural Traumatization: Intertextualities Between Hagar, the Ethiopian Virgin Girls in the Book of Esther and Mother Africa,” at the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians 5thPan-African Conference (Celebrating the 30thAnniversary of the Circle) at the University of Botswana (Gaborone, Botswana). An excerpt of this paper was translated into German and published in FAMA (Switzerland). The longer keynote paper will be published as a chapter in a book entitled Mother Earth, Postcolonial and Liberation Theologies by Lexington Publishers.

Activism is important to me because it galvanizes persons to participate in collective action to ensure every member of society is treated fairly and equitably. Activism and advocacy are means to inspire and create change. Students are capable of effecting social change thus it is important to reflect on and engage in advocacy and activism within and outside of the classroom. During the 16 Days of Activism I will continue to educate persons about the mechanisms of sex trafficking and its psychological, emotional, and physical impacts on Africana girls and women. I intend to tell the stories of girls and women whose lives have been impacted by sexualized violence as a means of increasing awareness of gender-based violence and to prevent and end sexualized violence against girls and women. I also hope that any efforts to decriminalize the sexual exploitation and trafficking of person will be thwarted.

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