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

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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

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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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#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse

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by Jayme Reaves and David Tombs

Since giving a Shiloh Project Lecture at SIIBS, the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, in January 2018 we have been continuing our work on ‘#MeToo Jesus’. Our paper ‘#MeToo Jesus: Naming Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse’ has now appeared in the International Journal of Public Theology (December 2019) and is available on Open Access here. In the article we explore ways that recent readings of Jesus as victim of sexual violence/abuse might connect with #MeToo, and vice-versa. 

We start with Matthew 25:40, ‘You have done this to me too…’ as affirming a metaphorical connection between the experience of abuse survivors and the experience of Jesus. We then look beyond the metaphor, and discuss more literal and direct readings of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse. We consider the work of David Tombs (1999), Elaine Heath (2011), Wil Gafney (2013), and Michael Trainor (2014), who each read Jesus as a victim of sexual violence and we note similarities in their work. The last part of the article tackles a question that we are sometimes asked about this reading, ‘Why does it matter?’ or ‘What good does this do?’. Exploring this question has been at the forefront of much of the work since the lecture, as part of the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project. We are particularly interested in how this reading might help to address the victim-blaming and victim-stigmatising which often accompany sexual violence. You can read more about the ‘When Did We See You Naked?’ project here, and listen to David’s interview (4 mins) with Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report (18 April 2019) here.

To examine this, we have been working with another colleague, Rocío Figueroa Alvear, at Good Shepherd College, Auckland (New Zealand). In 2018 Rocio interviewed a group of male sexual abuse survivors on their responses to naming Jesus as victim of sexual abuse. You can read the report on interviews with male survivors here. It is striking that this group of survivors were split on whether the reading is helpful for survivors, but they all agreed it was important for the church. 

Rocío and David are currently interviewing nuns and former nuns who have experienced sexual abuse. This has involved discussion of an abridged version of David’s article ‘Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse’ (see here). The shorter version was first published in Estudos Teológicos in Portuguese, and is now available from the University of Otago also in English, Spanish, French and will soon be in German. We hope to share our findings from the interviews next year.

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David and Rocio have also been part of a New Zealand group led by Emily Colgan, which includes Caroline Blyth and Lisa Spriggens. We are developing a tool-kit for use in churches on understanding sexual violence. It was really good to pilot some of the resources in November at a workshop with Anglican clergy and church leaders in Auckland.

During 2019, David has also had a research grant to work with Gerald West, Charlene van der Walt, and the Ujamaa Community at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on a contextual bible study on Matthew 27:26-31. This looks at how the stripping and mockery of Jesus might be read as sexual violence in a South African context. It has been interesting to see the difference that translation can make to responses, and to hear from students how the bible study was received when they used it.

Jayme Reaves has been leading workshops with church groups, activists, and clergy both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  While these workshops are not aimed at victims/survivors of sexual abuse, they are facilitated sensitively with the understanding that there are no guarantees as to who is in the room. Building on this work and on the workshops conducted by Rocío and David elsewhere, Jayme is forming plans for a potential project in Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and is currently seeking funding and local partners that will expand the work in two areas: working directly with victims of sexual violence in conflict contexts and their support networks, and building in an ecumenical and interfaith dimension with a view to developing a faith-based resource towards addressing the stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence.

Looking ahead, we are excited to have two books in preparation. The three of us (Jayme, Rocío and David) are co-editors for the book When Did We See You Naked?’: Acknowledging Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse with SCM Press (forthcoming in 2021). We are delighted to be working with a fantastic group of international scholars on this collection. Meanwhile, David is writing for the Routledge Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible Series on The Crucifixion of Jesus: Torture, Sexual Abuse, and the Scandal of the Cross, for publication in 2020.

To promote further discussion of #MeToo issues, Jeremy Punt (Stellenbosch University) is planning a session on ‘#MeToo and Jesus’ in the Political Biblical Criticism Session (see here) at the 2020 International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Adelaide, Australia (5-9 July 2020, see here). The Call for Papers is here and still open until 29 January 2020. We plan to be part of the conversation. If you are going and interested, why not send Jeremy a proposal? Or come along and join the discussion: we would love to hear what you think. 

David is also looking forward to seeing Shiloh colleagues and others in Dunedin in August 2020. The New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) are hosting the 22nd Quinquennial World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). Colleagues in the University of Otago Religion programme have been working hard on all the organisation. It promises to be a great conference in a beautiful setting, so why not plan to come to Otago in 2020?

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UN 16 Days Of Activism: Day 15 – The Salvation Army Family Ministries Team

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Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do? 
Hello! We are David, Liz and Deb and together with 7 colleagues based around the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland we form The Salvation Army Family Ministries Team. The Salvation Army is a denomination of the Christian Church which believes in putting Christian faith and love into practice. The Family Ministries Team exists to empower, equip and enable people of all ages to journey together, building appropriate relationships with others, having the intention of bringing them to faith in Christ and spiritual maturity.
 
Family Ministries within The Salvation Army provides resources, support and training for children, adults and families including Toddler Groups, Parenting Programmes, Women’s and Men’s Groups and much more.
As a team we have decided that one of our priority areas of work will be continuing to develop an effective and helpful Salvation Army response to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, as well as holding perpetrators to account for their behaviour. The ‘In Churches Too’ research published in 2018 indicates that individuals within Christian relationships experience a similar level of domestic abuse to the general population and in some cases the Church is poorly equipped to respond. The Salvation Army has a long history of responding to the needs of victims and we want to ensure our response is as good as it can be. 

How does your research or your work connect to activism? 

At the present time we have anecdotal evidence of domestic abuse being a significant negative factor for many people we come into contact with, whether through our Churches, community programmes, Lifehouses [hostels] and many other settings. Many different individuals within The Salvation Army have some expertise through personal experiences and specific community and residential victim programmes and we are seeking to draw this knowledge and expertise together to promote good practice in our response to victims.
We also engage with the public debate around domestic abuse, responding to Government consultations and keeping up to date with the agenda.
 
The Salvation Army Family Ministries Team has recently engaged in a conversation with the Centre for Public Life at Leeds University and we are very much hoping to build on this relationship in order to collaborate on research into Domestic Abuse and further develop our response to victims and perpetrators. As part of this we are very interested to hear about the work of the Shiloh Project.
 
And with regard to the issue of  modern slavery, the Salvation Army is responsible for delivering safe houses and all the much needed support for victims and is very much engaged in speaking out against this evil wherever we can.
 
Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?
 
Activism has always been at the heart of The Salvation Army, from it’s campaigns in Victorian times to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 or to challenge unhealthy and dangerous working conditions to more recent government challenges on gambling legislation or benefit changes.  Activism is therefore important to within Family Ministries and to coincide with the 16 days of activism regarding violence against women and girls, we set up a stand at our UK Headquarters to raise awareness amongst our work colleagues. We attach a picture of us with our colleagues from the International Development Team who work to raise the issue of violence against women and girls internationally.
 
Additionally  we also visited the TLC art exhibition at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters, show casing art created by a group of domestic abuse survivors from a Salvation Army project. This project was led by an artist who is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. Once this exhibition finishes, the art will be sold and the proceeds given to the TLC Project.
 
In the intervening year before 2021’s 16 Days of Activism, we hope to have fully established our Domestic Abuse Steering Group and begun the work of educating, training and resourcing our colleagues to always respond well to victims and perpetrators, and to have progressed our research relationship with Leeds University.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 13 – Amanda Pilbrow

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Tēnā koutou.

My name is Amanda Pilbrow. Like you, there are many parts to who I am. Creatively interwoven are strands of being an artist, a theologian, a speaker/presenter/guest lecturer, a mum, a wife, a tattooed pixie-cut introvert that loves gin and single malt whiskey. Open water gives me a sense of breadth, room to breathe, a sense there is more to life, a hope for the future. I can do small talk but prefer real connections, listening to peoples lived realities. I’m an x-pastor, who through her breakthroughs and breakdown, discovered a loving, inclusive, pursuing God. I have recently completed my master’s in applied theology: Navigating Faith, Sexuality, and Wholeness in Aotearoa New Zealand: Seven LGB-Christian Narratives. While this is finished, I sense it is just the beginning of my next chapter.

Breaking down stereotypes that form and contribute to a sense, or indeed a lived reality of second-class citizenship glues my soapbox firmly to the ground. I grew up believing, without any opportunity to question, that men ruled – they had the last say, the deciding vote, the position of privilege. Don’t get me wrong – I love men – one fine man in particular for over 30 years. He holds a mighty high standard for others to meet. In saying that, we have been on this journey together, discovering equality, mutual respect, honour, and believing the best of each other.

The journey was not without incident, without debate, without apology. How do you unlearn so much that has undergirded your upbringing? Moreover, how do you crawl out from under that second-class citizen rock, find the courage to climb up, and even more, stand in the place you were always meant to be – equal – wholehearted – authentic? How do you help the other crawl out? To lift some of the burden? To cheer them to climb further.

For me, I can only describe this painful process as a holy conviction, an invitation, an awakening that changes how I see – forever. As a woman who was meant to know her place, God, or the Divine, or the higher power – whatever fits well with you – called me to discover who I was. And here’s the catch. Once you discover or is it uncover, the dark shadow of imposed second-class citizenship it becomes impossible not to see it in other places; in other people; woman and children. It is also impossible to not recognise the structures and belief systems that enforce, intentionally or otherwise, power and cultural structures that secure and support inequality, that enable violence, that ensure subjugation, causing some to exercise power and control over others.

This ‘seeing’ became so uncomfortable for me; it formed into ‘righteous’ anger. A sense of disorder that continually left me feeling off-balance. An anger and disorder that became an unrelenting hunger to learn, to read, listen, interview, and write and ultimately change. A hunger to discover peoples lived realities as they found themselves in marginalised and un-equal situations, violent or simply overlooked.

From this place, my master of applied theology thesis was conceived, gestated, and delivered. My sense ofmarginalisation forced me, in the very best way possible, to see the marginalisation of others. And while the theme ‘orange’ is focused on violence on women, as we crawl out from this particular rock, find the courage to stand and be heard, may our voices reach and be heard far and wide and high to other areas of marginalisation and diversity. As we uncover and expose the culture and power structures that enable and even incite violence against women, may we too be caught into seeing violence towards otherness and be righteously angry, disordered and off-balance so that we have to act? So that we can peel and take a bite of the orange on behalf of others.

I’m not sure I ever considered myself an activist until now. Perhaps more a peacemaker – as opposed to a peacekeeper. A resistance fighter if you like, rather than a status quo bystander. But what if an activist is a better fit? What if acting on my righteous anger and discomfort means standing on that rock and claiming equality and equal citizenship for others, for all. What if, by exposing the culture and structures that divide people causing such destruction, wholeness and authenticity prevail making us all safe, valued, equal, seen, and known? These thoughts continue to invite and awaken me to act in 2020. I hope to extend the invitation into righteous anger, discomfort, and a sense of being off-balance. I hope my research will encourage and permit others to listen to the lived realities of others. I hope to promote the unlearning necessary to re-learn and re-discover equality and hope.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 12 – Sarah-Jane Page

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

 My name is Sarah-Jane Page and I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. My research focuses on how religion intersects with gender and sexuality. I map the ways in which religious individuals experience tensions between their identities and their faith, also recognising that individuals also utilise religious belief as a source of support. The projects I have worked on have included looking at how young religious adults navigate their sexual identities, and the challenges and opportunities this brings. I have also focused on the discriminations clergy mothers in the Anglican Church face from an institution that has not prioritised their needs and experiences. I am currently working on two projects: assessing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and its focus on the Anglican Church (I am undertaking a sociological analysis of this to determine the discourses of the Inquiry, who gets to speak, and what the implications of this are); as well as a project focusing on public forms of activism against abortion (e.g. prayer vigils at abortion clinics) and how we manage the tension between freedom of religion and belief, vis-à-vis the right to access healthcare services without fear of harassment.

 How does your research or your work connect to activism? 

 My work focuses a lot on tensions around religion and making sense of this. Sociological research has the power to explore beyond anecdote to understand a phenomenon in more detail – its broader patterns, and understanding how certain experiences are more widely shared. From this basis we can then start to propose solutions. I am currently co-editing a special issue with Dr Kath McPhillips (Newcastle University, Australia) on Gender, Violence and Religion, for the journal, Religion and Gender. This special issue focuses on howreligion intersects with institutional, familial and public gendered violence. We currently have a call for papers out, inviting contributions.https://shiloh-project.group.shef.ac.uk/religion-and-gender-journal-call-for-manuscripts-for-special-issue-on-religion-gender-and-violence/

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

 

I see research as a fundamental step in being better-informed about issues of gender violence and discrimination, making it far harder to make claims such as the commonly-heard view that “gender violence is rare and exceptional”. Qualitative research in particular gives voice to marginalised stories and accounts, so that they can be heard and recognised. Research is not perfect, and can contain its own biases, but the power of research to recognise the patterns of discrimination should be taken seriously. This is why I am a strong advocate for research funding into this area. I will be showcasing my research in the coming year, including at the Australian Association for the Study of Religion conference, where I will be taking about child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church. I also have a book coming out (co-authored with Dr Heather Shipley of the University of Ottawa) called Religion and Sexualities: Theories, Themes and Methodologies, which focuses on how we make sense of the role religion plays when we analyse sexuality, noting on the one hand the scale of injustices, but also on the other, the religious spaces which do affirm equality and justice regarding sexuality and gender identity. I am also writing a new book (with Dr Pam Lowe, Aston University) on anti-abortion activism in the UK.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 11 – Laurie Lyter Bright

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

I’m Rev. Laurie Lyter Bright – mom of two, writer, Presbyterian (USA) minister, doctoral candidate in education, non-profit executive director, and activist.  All of that keeps me busy, but in my free time, I like to feed my curiosity about the world by traveling with my husband and little ones!

How does your research or your work connect to activism? Be sure to mention your proposed volume for the Routledge Focus series and your PhD research, as well as work you may be doing in the church.

Both my personal life and professional work center on the celebration of humanity in its fullness, and a desire to create a more just world. The focus of my dissertation is on the church as a site of co-creation of rape culture, and as a potential site of disruption of rape culture, using pre-existing pedagogical pathways in the church. My proposed volume for the Routledge Focus series is examining the prophetic nature of #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement. While my desire to create a world without rape culture has been an inherent part of my work since high school, my newer role as a mom (my daughters are two and two months) has only increased my desire to co-create a world that honors women and respects the autonomy and humanity of all people.

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

Activism matters to me because it is a chance to use the privilege and platforms I have access to to amplify the experiences of others, to draw attention to spaces of injustice, and to encourage the complacent toward involvement. As a pastor, I advocate in my preaching and teaching, particularly examining the radical inclusivity practised by Christ. As a non-profit executive director of an interfaith organization in Israel and Palestine, I practice activism by challenging the assumptions in the U.S. of a complex and frequently misunderstood part of the world. And as a scholar, I am an activist in my writing and research. In the next year, I hope to complete my dissertation, stretch my own knowledge and understanding, and invite new communities into conversation about the ways we historically/currently support rape culture and the ways we can help dismantle it instead.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 10 – Helen Paynter

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

I am a Baptist minister and an Old Testament specialist. I teach Old Testament and Biblical languages, based at Bristol Baptist College. In particular, I am the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence.  The CSBV is a study centre dedicated to working in the area of the interpretation of biblical texts of violence. It exists to promote and conduct high-quality scholarship, and to serve the churches in the UK and internationally by offering accessible resources to equip them to read the scriptural texts of violence well, and the challenge the ways in which the Bible is sometimes weaponised for the promotion of violence. We hope thereby to enable the church to offer counter-violent counter-extremist narratives in situations of conflict or tension.

 

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

One of the areas that I am passionate about is the interpretation of biblical sexual violence, which has been interpreted – at various times in the history of the church – in some very disturbing ways. I have recently completed a book on the dreadful story of the Levite’s wife from Judges 19, called Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s wife. This will be coming out soon in the Routledge Focus series. In this book, I offer what is known as a ‘reparative’ interpretation of the text; that is, while acknowledging the horrors it presents and the ideology that may lie behind it, seeking to read for some suprising positives that the narrative offers. As part of this work, I did quite a lot of research into modern situations of sexual violence with which this ancient text has contact, particularly the horrific Delhi Bus Rape. I draw these comparisons in the book.

Another project I have been involved in was the #SheToo podcast series, produced by Rosie Dawson for the Bible Society. I was a consultant and contributor for this series, wherein Rosie interviewed various female scholars from different faith perspectives on some of the narratives of sexual violence in the Bible.

The other arm of the CSBV, which looks at the weaponisation of the Bible, has led me to write a second book this year, to be published by BRF in 2020. The title is still under negotiation, but the current working version is ‘The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why submitting to abuse is not a Christian wife’s duty’. Tragically, domestic abuse is sometimes sustained by abusers through appeal to various biblical texts, and churches also sometimes contribute to this by the misapplication of biblical principles. As a Christian minister, I am not only deeply disturbed by this, but feel a sense of responsibility to attempt to address it, and this book is intended for that purpose. It is aimed at women who are trapped in abusive marriages where the Bible plays a part in their abuse, and also at those who seek to help them, and at church leaders. I am hoping that it will reach an international market as well as a domestic one, and that through it, women will find themselves empowered to find places of safety and resist manipulative attempts to keep them trapped in situations of abuse.

 

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

I think I’ve probably covered the first question above. Between now and the beginning of December next year, I hope that both of these books will have been published, and that I will be able to speak on the subject at various national and possibly international platforms. In particular, I am hoping to be in a position to attend and contribute to the Baptist World Alliance quinquennial meeting in Rio next year, where there will be a specialist subject stream on gender based violence.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 9 – Chris Greenough

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

My name is Chris Greenough and I’m Senior Lecturer in Religion at Edge Hill University. I research and teach on gender, sexuality and religion. My research to date has mostly focussed on LGBTQ+ religious and spiritual identities, queer theologies and queer biblical studies.

 How does your research or your work connect to activism?

As an academic, I engage and contribute to activism in various ways. When we think of activism we think of protest and the public assembly of like-minded individuals, collaborating to fight against injustices and for change. But, aside from this, we are all activists in our communities: in our classrooms, on social media and in our one-to-one interactions. I am a former secondary school teacher and part of my current role is initial teacher education and I work hard to ensure our future teachers are confident to work with LGBTQ+ issues.

Reflecting on how I am activist in the classroom, I have an article in the special edition of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, edited by Johanna Stiebert. In the article, I explore the notions of risk, experimentation and failure, as well as of tackling specific issues relating to resistance of queer biblical criticism based on religious faith.

There are regular TV and media discussion panels debating questions about how LGBTQ+ lives and Christianity are seemingly incompatible. In conservative religious settings, we see how verses selected from the Bible are used to condemn same sex relationships/marriage, transgender recognition, gay and lesbian parenting or adoption and these form the positional statements of major Christian denominations. In this sense, my work is activism that speaks back to what is, in fact, really toxic theology. My first monograph, Undoing Theology, highlighted the harmful effects of traditionally dominant theology in Christianity on the lives of non-normative individuals. In his review of my book, Adrian Thatcher says, “We need to learn the pain that we cause. This is a bold, truthful book”.

Yet, being bold is not always easy. Activism comes with challenges and obstacles. Sara Ahmed puts this perfectly, “when we speak about what we come up against, we come up against what we speak about” (Living a Feminist Life, 2017: 148). As a queer scholar, I am undisciplined. That means I do not hold much allegiance to any of the traditional disciplines I work across: they each require a critical undoing of the powers and privilege which has produced and shaped them. As someone who writes on queer theologies and biblical studies, I am occasionally confronted with furrowed frowns as a reception to my work. If queer research makes people feel uncomfortable, it highlights the hegemony, gatekeepers and ‘methodsplainers’ at work in our disciplines. It highlights prejudice and discrimination to queer individuals. For me, resisting academic normativity in the pursuit of social justice is activism. I am entirely grateful to my academic scholars and friends at SIIBS and the Shiloh project for their support.

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

The next twelve months are going to be busy! I’m delighted and incredibly proud to be working with Katie Edwards on a book for the Routledge Focus Book Series on ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’. Our title aims to explore contemporary reactions and readings to the naming of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse: #JesusToo: Silence, Stigma and Male Sexual Violence. In contemporary culture there is undeniably a culture of stigma associated with male sexual abuse. Despite this stigma, at least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted: https://1in6.org/ . There are also numerous myths around male sexual abuse that need further discussion.

I’m also going to be Guest Editor for a special edition of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies on Queer Theory and the Bible. The term ‘queer theory’ was first coined in 1990, so this seems a fitting edition to celebrate 30 years of queer!

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 8 – Raymond Brian (AKA Mother Nature)

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

I am Ugandan, Transgender refugee who lives now in Kenya. I came to live in Kenya in 2015 and from then on I started working as a social change agent in Kenya. As a social change agent, I was in charge of mobilizing Refugees. In this, I had to link Refugees to the various social services which included getting full documentation; going for HIV Testing at various health services centers including Kenyatta National Referral Hospital; aiding in assessment and interpretation work with UNHCR/HIAS.   But, before that I had worked with grassroots in various ways in Uganda. First, I worked with the National Referral Hospital’s Skin Clinic, under the Most at Risk Populations’ Initiative (MARPI) as a Peer Educator. Secondly, I was a mobilizer for a self-help group called Youth on Rock Foundation; I was the Secretary for another Self-help Organization called Come-Out Post Test Club (COPTEC); and I was also a mobiliser for Icebreakers Uganda (IBU).

These introduced me to the needs of marginalized communities. Also, this experience got me enough skills to work under Dr. Stella Nnyanzi as a Field Work Officer for a project called Law, Gender and Sexuality (LGS) which lasted for two years. Then, from there the Doctor left to join a newer post at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). I also got an opportunity to join her there. I worked as a Research Assistant then. All in all I worked for four years under Dr. Stella Nnyanzi. Then, I left Uganda and came to stay in Kenya. I co-founded the Nature Network after I realized many of the refugees were seeking support from me. The support ranged from conversation, companionship, forming a social support group which we called Nature-Network which eventually got funding for group activities. Nature-Network is modelled on a Family-Based Therapy Model where we take on the titles of respect in a family unit. So, I had to take the responsibility to become the full-time leader of Nature Network.

How does your research or your work connect to activism?

Right now, I do various activities. These include managing Nature Network; we have a coalition under which all organizations are joined. Nature-Network is part of this coalition. I work there as the Field officer. I got fortunate and now work with a firm specializing in Digital Media Organization called None On Record (NOR). I work as a Personal Assistant to the Executive Director. This has helped me improve on my management and documentation skills. I use these both at the job as well as at the Nature Network.

My activism includes: Ensuring safe space in form of housing support toward Refugees; Nutrition support; mobilizing life support resources; providing a space for continued interaction among Refugees; ensuring there is formal documentation for Refugees to avoid arbitrary arrests; ensuring we have an open arm reception for New Refugees; engaging in networking with other service providers to address targeted needs; and connecting with well-wishers and friends with whom we interact on a number of levels.

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

When I read about 16 Days of 2020, it reminded me of the incidences of vulnerability and risks faced by marginalized communities including: LGBTIQ+; People Living with HIV; Refugees; Victims of Torture; Victims of Rape; Victims of Gender Based Violence; and Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Secondly, it reminds me that there are solutions to the problems people face. What I hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020 are the following:

  1. Participate and be able to paint the whole world “Orange.” This way, I shall contribute to the conversation on eradicating rape and gender based violence in our communities.
  2. To network with all those organizations working to eradicate rape and gender based violence.
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