Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Translation Prompts Debate on Islamic Verse

Laleh Bakhtiar of Chicago has spent over two years working on an English translation of the Qur'an. If she did not realize it then, she now knows that Chapter 4, Verse 34 is one of the most debated and hotly contested in the Quran. Chapter 4, Verse 34 of the Quran states that a rebellious woman should be - depending on the translation - admonished, left alone in bed, beaten, scourged or even spanked, unless her behavior improves. Below, four translations, including one by Laleh Baktiar follow.

Interpreting the Quran - Chapter 4 Verse 34
S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali, The Holy Qur'an (1964)
Men have authority over women on account of the qualities with which God hath caused the one of them to excel the other and for what they spend of their property; therefore the righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen that which God hath guarded; and as to those whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and avoid them in be and beat them; and if they obey you, then seek not a way against them; verily, God is Ever-High, Ever-Great.

Thomas Cleary, "The Qur'an: A New Translation" (2004)
The men are supporters of the women by what God has given one more than the other, and by what they provide from their property. So women of integrity are humble, guardians in absentia by God's protection. As for those of whom you fear perversity, admonish them; then leave them alone in bed; then spank them. And if they obey you, then seek no means against them, for God is knowing, aware.

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, "The Glorious Qur'an" (1977)
Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are to be obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great.

Laleh Bakhtiar, "The Sublime Quran" (2007)
Men are supporters of wives because God has given some of them an advantage over others and because they spend of their wealth. So the ones who are in accord with morality are the ones who are morally obligated, the ones who guard the unseen of what God has kept safe. But those whose resistance you fear, then admonish them and abandon them in their sleeping place, then go away from them; and if they obey you, surely look not for any way against them; truly God is Lofty, Great.
************************************************************************************ Unfortunately, as in any religion, there are men that abuse women. Often Muslim men cite the previously quoted chaper and verse in the Qur'an as justification for their egregious actions. The following article by Kamran Memon entitled, Wife Abuse in the Muslim Community sheds insights on this growing problem. Another expertise on domestic violence in the Muslim community and author of an article entitled, A Perspective on Domesic Violence in the Muslim Community, Salma Elkadi Abugideiri, is a Licensed Profession Counselor in private practice in Sterling, VA. She works primarily with Muslim and Middle Eastern families helping them to address issues such as marital relations, mental health, and cultural adjustment. Abugideiri notes that little data exists on domestic violence in the Muslim community. However, she cites two surveys. In one, 63 Muslim leaders and community leaders report that at least ten percent of participants report having experienced physical abuse. In another survey of 500 Arab women living in the Dearborn, Michigan area, 98 percent were Muslim, 18 to 20 percent reported spouse abuse.

Wife Abuse in the Muslim Community
by Kamran Memon

( Editor's Note: many Muslims are uncomfortable with open discussions of this subject, and I understand some of their reservations. One of their objections is, "You're giving a bad name to Islam and making da'wah more difficult." Another is, "This is a very rare phenomenon and it's not worth giving Islam a black eye in public." To be honest, I do think that domestic violence is less common among Muslims than among non-Muslims, primarily because of the absence of alcohol and drugs as catalysts. However, there's no doubt that it does happen, and honestly brothers and sisters, even if it happened to only one woman wouldn't that be too many? After all, didn't 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) send an army to the rescue of a single Muslim woman who was abused? Allah has commanded the Muslims to stand up for justice. We must have the courage to confront our shortcomings and to stand up for the oppressed, even if the oppressors are fellow Muslims.)

Wife abuse has hurt many Muslim women, destroyed many Muslim families, and weakened the entire Muslim community. How much longer can Muslims afford to look the other way?

"And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put love and mercy between your (hearts)..." Qu'ran 30:21

"I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those who treat their wives the best." Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him)

While North American Muslims loudly protest the widely-documented Serbian abuse of Muslim women in Bosnia, the abuse of many Muslim women at the hands of their own husbands in North America is hidden and ignored by the community.

Domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women in America."Nearly one quarter of women in the United States - more than 12 million- will be abused by a current or former partner some time during their lives," according to the American Medical Association; and, despite Islamic teachings of justice and compassion, many Muslim women in the United States and Canada are no exception.

Based on information from Muslim leaders, social workers, and activists in North America, the North American Council for Muslim Women says that approximately 10 percent of Muslim women are abused emotionally, physically, and sexually by their Muslim husbands. (There are no hard numbers, because community leaders haven't taken the well-known problem seriously enough to research.)

Wife-abuse, which stretches across all ethnic, racial, educational, and socio-economic lines in the Muslim community, results in severe emotional and physical pain for many Muslim women, a stacking up of sins for many Muslim men, and many weak, unhappy Muslim families that fail to contribute adequately to the development of the Muslim community and the rest of North American society.

Despite the severity of the problem, the Muslim community has largely closed its eyes and devoted very few resources to helping the victims and stopping the abusers.

This is doubly unfortunate because family violence is one of America's most critical health problems (according to the American Medical Association and the U.S. Surgeon General), and Islamic leadership is needed to deal with this crisis; but Muslims are clearly in no moral position to lead society because they commit and tolerate abuse within their own community.


"Domestic violence is an ongoing, debilitating experience of physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse in the home," says the American Medical Association.

Although Islam promises women protection from such problems, the reality in many Muslim homes is different.

The most common form of abuse is emotional and mental abuse. In Muslim homes, this includes verbal threats to divorce the wife, to remarry, or to take the kids away if she does not do exactly as she is told; intimidation and threats of harm; degradation, humiliation, insults, ridicule, name-calling, and criticism; false accusations and blaming her for everything; ignoring, dismissing, or ridiculing her needs; neglect and the silent treatment; spying on her; telling her she is a failure and will go to hell; twisting Islamic teachings to make her feel worthless because she is a woman; restricting her access to transportation, health care, food, clothing, money, friends, or social services; physical and social isolation; extreme jealousy and possessiveness; lying, breaking promises, destroying trust; etc. Emotional abuse can take place in public or at home.

Although it's completely contrary to the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the Muslim community nonetheless tends to dismiss the seriousness of mental abuse, rationalizing it as a petty argument between husband and wife, and saying it's not serious unless he hits her. In reality, mental abuse does severe psychological harm to many Muslim women. It destroys their self-esteem and makes them question their self-worth; some have mental breakdowns and go insane.

Furthermore, psychological abuse can lead to physical abuse.

Physical abuseincludes pushing, shoving, choking, slapping, punching, kicking, and beating; assault with a weapon; tying up; refusing to help her when she is sick or injured; physically throwing her out of the house; etc. Physical abuse escalates in frequency and severity.

The third form of abuse is sexual abuse, involving forced, violent sex. For example, a wife may not want to have sex for health reasons, but the husband may force her anyway.

These three forms of abuse are usually related and occur of a long period of time. Muslim men, just like non-Muslims, often start with mental abuse and work their way up. Muslim women need to recognize the signs of escalating abuse.


There are a number of factors that make some Muslim men abusive.

Abusers are often part of a cycle, picking up the habit after watching their own fathers abuse their mothers in North America or in Muslim countries. And their own children learn this abusive behavior and abuse their wives. (This is an important point because the longer the Muslim community tolerates abuse, the longer it will be passed on from father to son, from generation to generation.)

For cultural reasons, some Muslim men accept the idea that it's normal for a man to hit his wife and that she is no more than a piece of his property.

Some Muslim husbands abuse their wives as a result of frustration resulting from economic hardship, political oppression experienced outside the U.S., problems with the children, or an inferiority complex.

Some abuse their wives because they want them to be more "modern" and less Islamic by removing their hijab (Islamic dress), while others are abusive because they want the opposite.

Some Muslims with superficial ties to Islam don't know that abuse is unacceptable due to their weak faith, poor Islamic knowledge, and lack of interaction with the Muslim community.

Tragically, some Muslim men actually use Islam to "justify" their abusive behavior. Focusing on rituals, considering themselves to be Islamically knowledgeable, and disregarding the spirit of Islam, they wrongly use the Qur'anic verse that says men are the protectors and maintainers of women to go on power trips, demand total obedience, and order their wives around. They disregard the Islamic requirement for the head of the household to consult with other members of the family when making decisions.

Then, if their wives dare to speak up or question their orders, these men misinterpret a Qur'anic verse that talks about how to treat a disobedient wife and use it as a license for abuse.


In reality, the Qur'an and Sunnah provide clear instructions on what procedures a husband must use in conflict situations where the husband is innocent and the wife is rebellious and at fault.

1. The first step is a peaceful discussion between the two of them about the problem and solutions. This is intended to soften hearts and eliminate misunderstandings.
2. If this doesn't work, the next step is for the husband to tell his wife his expectations in a firm, decisive manner.

3. If the rebelliousness and disobedience continues, the husband is supposed to leave the bed, which is really a punishment for both of them for not being able to resolve their differences.

4. If that fails to solve the problem, representatives of both sides meet to try and arbitrate.

5. As a last resort, if he thinks it will prevent divorce by letting the wife know how serious he is, the husband can use a light slap on the hand or shoulder but not on any other part of the body, and it shouldn't leave a mark or scar.

Anything beyond this is Islamically prohibited.

This procedure is to be followed _only_ when the wife is the cause of a serious problem and the husband is innocent, compassionate, and well-behaved. If the husband is the cause of the problem, he has _no right_ to do any of this.
Unfortunately, Muslim wives often accept un-Islamic treatment from their husbands because they don't know their Islamic rights, and they don't realize their husbands are crossing the Islamic line.

Abusive men are completely disregarding the Islamic teachings of kindness, mercy, gentleness, and forgiveness, just as they are disregarding the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who never hit a woman and was extremely gentle and compassionate with his family.


One problem is that many Muslims don't want to get involved in the "private" family affairs of other Muslims. Rather than enjoining good and forbidding evil, rather than trying to stop abuse in a friend's or neighbor's family by offering to mediate between the husband and wife or by encouraging them to speak to Muslim counsellors, many irresponsible Muslims close their eyes and pretend they don't know there's a problem. So the abuse goes on.

Another reason why abuse isn't stopped is that many abused Muslim women simply don't seek out help. They're afraid that if their situation becomes public they will lose their privacy because Muslims gossip so much, and they fear the abusers will become more hostile when the negative publicity gets back to them. Furthermore, many abused Muslim women remain silent because they lack confidence in themselves and believe that they somehow deserve the abuse. Abused Muslim women also keep quiet out of a feeling of hopelessness and a belief that no one will help them, out of financial dependence on their husbands, out of a desire to keep homes together for the children's sake, or out of love for the abusive husbands. Other Muslim women accept the abuse as a fact of life and learn to live with it.

Of those who reach a breaking point and seek help, many Muslim women turn to imams but often find them unhelpful. Imams often tell these women to be patient and pray for the abuse to end. Some imams make the abused Muslim women feel guilty, telling them they have brought the abuse upon themselves and instructing them to go home and please their husbands.

Other imams, who are sincerely but mistakenly misinterpreting Islam by putting the importance of family privacy above any harm that might come to the individual woman, tell the women it is wrong for them to discuss their problems with anyone other than their husbands. The imams's reactions stem from ignorance, cowardice, or friend-ship or blood relationship with the abusive husbands. Relatively few imams have had the wisdom and courage to tackle the problem head-on. As a result of this, many abused women don't bother turning to imams for help.

Looking for other sources of help, many abused Muslim women have turned to relatives only to be told to accept the abuse because making a big deal out of it could hurt the relatives' family honor and reputation.

Finding many imams and relatives to be more cruel than Islamic, abused Muslim women often turn to Muslim female activists and Muslim women's organizations for help. While these activists are often untrained in crisis intervention, they are getting the abused women out of their houses and hiding them until Muslim men can be sent to try to reason with the husbands. They often collect money from other women to give to the abused women until it's safe for them to go back home. When continued attempts to salvage the marriages have proven futile, these activists counsel the abused women on how to get out of their marriages.

As for national Islamic organizations, most have largely ignored the issue of wife abuse, neglecting to highlight the problem and solutions during national conferences or to devote resources to helping abused Muslim women.

Overall, the services provided by the Muslim community for abused Muslim women take care of one-quarter of the need, according to Muslim activists.

Because the Muslim community often leaves them to suffer, many abused Muslim women turn to shelters run by non-Muslims for help. Seeing abused Muslim women at shelters leaves non-Muslim social workers with an ugly picture of Islam. As far as many of them are concerned, Islam is no more just and compassionate than Christianity or Judaism because the Muslim community tolerates wife abuse too. Going to a non-Muslim shelter can result social workers taking children away from troubled Muslim homes if they think it is better for them to be in a more stable environment, which often ends up being a non-Muslim home.

Many women go even further, leaving Islam altogether because the Muslim community fails to live up to the Islamic promise of protection, brotherhood, and sisterhood.


The Muslim community has clearly failed in its obligations to protect many Muslim women and to bring many cruel Muslim men to justice. The community needs to deal much more effectively with wife abuse in order to stop the immediate suffering of people in abusive situations and to help build healthy Muslim families.

First, the community must accept the fact that there is a problem and that it doesn't know how to deal with it.

Then a core group of trusted, active Muslim men and women in each North American city, who are committed to ending wife abuse in the Muslim community and to strengthening Muslim families, must become knowledgeable about Islamic guidelines on the family and be trained in crisis intervention and counseling. Unfortunately, some community "leaders" will be too ignorant or arrogant to seek such training; but they must not be allowed to get in the way.

Since there aren't yet many Muslims qualified to teach crisis intervention and counseling, several Muslim women throughout North America have started learning these techniques from non-Muslim social service agencies (listed in the phone book under wife abuse, domestic violence, or crisis intervention). Other Muslim women and men need to follow suit. Whatever they learn from these agencies should be cast in the light of their Islamic knowledge of properly functioning Muslim families.

Once they know what they're doing, members of core groups across the continent should recruit and train others in their communities in crisis intervention and the Islamic perspective on the family. There should be a network of at least 100 trained counselors in every major North American city.

A list of trained Muslims and their phone numbers (or one Muslim hotline number) should be circulated throughout the community in each city so that abused women know whom they can turn to for meaningful help.

Most of women approaching the network initially will be physically abused Muslims. Victims of mental abuse will less likely to reach out at first because many have become accustomed to the abuse and accept it as a way of life. But educational programs at community gatherings -- explaining what Islamic family life should be like and explaining that there is help available for abused women -- will let emotionally abused Muslim women know they have a way to stop the pain.

These trained Muslims should give abused women shelter (at people's homes or at community facilities, such as a rented apartment) for periods ranging from several days to several months depending on the extent of the abuse, while counseling them.

Beyond this, taking into account the fact that many Muslim women will still turn to non-Muslim shelters because they don't want to deal with the Muslim community or because the community program is not big enough to help them, the Muslim community should sensitize people running non-Muslim shelters to the particular needs of Muslim women; and trained Muslims should visit the shelters regularly and constantly remind shelter operators that they are available to help whenever a Muslim woman comes

While caring for the abused women, the trained Muslims should counsel the abusers separately, making them aware of the reasons they abuse, of the fact that their actions are truly harming their wives, that such behavior is completely un-Islamic, and that God will hold them accountable.

After separate counselling, the next step would be joint counselling for the husband and wife, and then counselling for the entire family.

The objective should be to heal the family, but divorce may be necessary.

Another option, that some Muslims in New York have tried, is to punish Muslim men for their abusive actions. A "security force" warns, and then beats up, if necessary, Muslim men who continue beating their wives. Usually the abusers get the message; this is the only language many of them understand. Some men have to be beaten before they wake up and are ready to listen to rational, Islamic arguments.

Police and psychiatrists may have to be involved in severe cases of chronic abuse.

Community education is an indispensable factor on top of all this. Starting today, throughout the process outlined above, community leaders and other concerned Muslims need to educate people -- about the problem and about efforts to help victims and prevent future abuse -- through Friday khutbahs (sermons), educational seminars, and workshops. These educational programs can themselves reduce abuse by letting people know the community isn't going to tolerate it anymore. The community isn't going to tolerate it anymore.

Furthermore, the community needs to extablish classes to teach Muslim men, young and old, how to be proper husbands and fathers and to teach Muslim women, young and old, how to be proper wives and mothers. Many Muslims don't know their rights and obligations in these roles.

In addition, in order to prevent future family problems, parents and community leaders must teach children and young adults to be compassionate, to value the family, and to resolve problems in an Islamic, non-violent manner.

It's also important for Muslims to go into fields like psychiatry, women's issues law, social work,and counselling.

No Muslim community in any North American city has taken all these steps. Unfortunately, the entire plan could take years to implement. (Of course, that makes it all the more necissary to start immediately.) But when theses steps are taken, abuse should decrease if not stop in the Muslim community, according to Muslim social workers and activists.

If, once all these steps are taken, there are more abused Muslim women in specific communities than these networks can adequately help, then Muslims should establish good quality, properly staffed, and well funded Muslim shelters. Many communities may not need to go this far, but some may.


It sounds like a lot of work, but the problem is serious enough to warrant a lot of work.

The Muslim community has shamefully tolerated abuse for a long time. How much longer will Muslim families (and therefore the Muslim community) be weakened by abuse? How much longer will abusers be allowed to run free and unpunished in the community? How much more abuse will Muslim women have to endure before the community decides that enough is enough?


Friday, March 23, 2007

Theology of Evil and Sin

Many of my peers have taken the very popular course on "Evil" at Meadville Lombard Theological School where I attend here in Chicago, IL. Unfortunately,I have not been able to avail myself of the course. Yet,that has not stopped me from thinking and writing about the subject. Furthermore, reading about the toll that the partitioning of India took on its people and the devastation from the many religious conflicts in India among the Muslims, Sihks and Hindus has caused me to think a lot about the evil of violence. What would make fellow compatriots hold such hatred? What would make former neighbors as in Rwanda and Bosnia turn on each other? Fundamentalism of any kind appears to lead to rigidity, absolutes and extreme hostility towards those that do not share ones beliefs. Recently I discovered that one of our Unitarian Universalist scholars, Rev. Dr. Bill Jones who is noted for his work on racial oppression, has also worked with abusers. He asserts that we cannot judge the persons with whom we work. Additionally, that we must simply look into them and find the points of connection between ourselves and them without fear and without judging. Jones contends that this allows them to get to their principle stories of abuse and neglect. After a year or two they begin to feel guilt with respect to the person they abused. In this way they could get past their formational experieces and then re-create wholeness and retrieve the parts of themselves that they had separated out.(Soul Works, p140-141).

Another individual's work that captured my attention on the issue of evil is Dr Philip Zimbardo. His book,The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a read that I am looking forward to. Zimbardo conducted the world famous Milgram Experiment in 1962 that showed that decent, ordinary human beings will punish innocent strangers with shocks, agnony and even death at the urgings of someone in authority. Another experiment attributed to Zimbardo is the Stanford Prison Experiments on the psychology of incarceration. These experiments demonstrated the "blind obedience to authority" and the extent to which individuals will disconnect from their usual ethics if given "permission" by authority. Zimbardo's findings indicated that coaxing the volunteer "teachers" with exhortations like, "follow the rules" or "obey the contract" usually dispelled any reluctance to take the punishments to a higher level. Two of every three volunteers,or 65 percent, went all the way up to the maximum shock levels of 450 volts. The vast majority of people shocked the victim over and over again despite the "volunteer learners" increasingly desperate pleas to stop. Most dissented from time to time but the researcher prodded them to continue. Zimbardo carried out nineteen different experiments in the course of a year altering one social psycholgical variable and observed its impact, such as adding women in one, and varying the physical proxmity or remoteness of the victim. Each time the participant "teachers" acquiesed and delivered punishments under the spell of what Zimbardo refers to as "situational power." Zimbardo's work reflects his area of study which is situational psychology, that is, the study of the human response to features of our social environment, the external behavioral context, to others. Zimbardo's classic study has been replicated and extended by many other researchers in many countries, always with similar results. Thus, the study of evil is no longer uncharted territory. It should become a required class for seminarians as we grapple with the theology of evil in ourselves, others and world events.

Evil, contends Zimbardo, is so pervasive beause motives and needs that ordinarily serve us well can lead us astray when they are aroused, amplified, or manipulated by toxic situational forces that potentially are harmful if not recognized and adjusted for. They come as a small turn away, a slight detour on life's journey, a blur in or mirror that may not at first be discernible.

"I was only following orders" words of Adolph Eichmann from Eichmann in Jerusulem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

According to Zimbardo, the trouble with Eichmann is that so many like him were neither perverted or sadistic, but merely terribly and terrifyingly normal. Torturers
upon examination are not unusual or deviant in anyway prior to pacticing their new roles. Of the 400 Al-Queda members that forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman studied he concluded, "These are the best and brightest of their society." Characteristics of Palestinian bombers reveal three prominent profiles: 1) intense patriotic fervor and 2) a willingness to submit to training and indoctrination and 3) the willingness to die for their beliefs. Less we here in the West think that we are exempt from such extremism then let us revisit Reverend Jim Jones on November 28, 1978 in Guyana when he persuaded more than 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide. The ultimate test is that many killed their children even though they had been exposed to repressive acts such as forced labor, armed guards, semi-starvational diets and punishments for the slightest breach of rules. The Congressman and media crew that had come to inspect the compound at the urgings of desperate relatives were also fatalities of this horrific mass suicide and were murdered before they left. Psychologist Mahrzarin Banaji asserts the following, "What social psychology has given to us is an understanding of human nature and the discovery that forces larger than ourselves determine our mental life and our actions - chief among these forces is the power of the social situation.

Genocide, torture and terrorism have become prevalent tactics in our increasingly disconnected global village. At the same time that we have a greater propensity to do "evil" our ethical foundation seems to be crumbling under the weight of the moral implications and the magnitude of our potential to wreak destruction. Where is the "City of God" in all this? Where are the "people of God" and where is the "Beloved Community" in these scenarios?

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King School for the Ministry,contends that the "breaking of the soul is sin and a betrayal of God."

May we be called to challenge evil in whatever form we are confronted with it. May we grow our hearts to heal the brokenness that moves us away from one another to cause such rifts in our very souls.
Blessed Be!

Unitarian Universalist Theology of Evil/Sin
Many have conceded that evil is “a difficult topic for religious liberals such as Unitarian Universalists"

"The purpose of evil was to survive it. Without ever knowing they had made their minds up to do it, they determined to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance. They knew anger well but not despair, and they didn’t stone sinners for the same reason they didn’t commit suicide- it was beneath them." Toni Morrison from Beloved.

Like the blacks described in the previous passage by Morrison, antebellum life while harsh, did not foster mass instances of suicide by blacks. Instead, if we ascribe to Morrison’s depiction of blacks, they perceived suicide as beneath them despite the harsh realities of slavery. While Morrison noted blacks’ refusal to indulge in suicidal tendencies in general in the face of slavery, Rev. Dr. Thandeka, an African American UU minister draws similar insights from the holocaust experience of Jews.
. . . There is something valuable about life itself, and no matter how hard and difficult life is, people still hold on to life. That’s why the vast majority of persons in concentration camps or in the Middle Passage did not commit suicide. They held on, because there is something about life that is of ultimate value.

Drawing from both Morrison’s and Thandeka’s observations permits an examination here of UU theologians’ failure to develop a strong doctrine of evil and sin. Perhaps, like blacks, it was beneath UUs view of themselves or their image of God to even entertain the concept of evil. Paul Rasor, UU theologian, appears to concur with Morrison and Thandeka’s observations that, “there is something in life that will not allow life to be suppressed.” Perhaps one of the reasons UU theologians have not developed a strong theology of evil is the over-emphasis on the “good” as the “something in life” described by Thandeka that has held sway over the focus on evil. This is not so farfetched if one reviews the Seven Principles that many UUs embrace. The Seven Principles emphasize universal themes such as the good in “every person” as well as respect for “all existence.”
We covenant to affirm and promote:
 The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
 Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
 Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations;
 A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
 The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
 The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
 Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

This emphasis on good in both God and humankind is noted in the pithy remark by Starr King, an early UU minister and pioneer. King asserted that the difference between the Universalists and the Unitarians was rooted in their two very different interpretations of Calvinism. “The Universalists believe that God is too good to damn them, whereas the Unitarians believe that they are too good to be damned by God.” This emphasis on good might have emerged at the detriment of UUs unwillingness to introduce and name evil as a possibility in their doctrine of human nature. However, this tendency to avoid the issue of evil has had long term effects for many UUs and their perceptions of the world. Lois Fahs Timmins, the daughter of well-known Unitarian religious educator, Sophia Lyon Fahs, challenged UU religious education for its failure to be more forthright in addressing evil with the following comments in 1996:

We spent 95 percent of our time studying good people doing good things, and skipped very lightly over the bad parts of humans . . . I was taught not to be judgmental, not to observe or report on the bad behavior of others. Consequently, because of my education, I grew up ignorant about bad human behavior, incompetent to observe it accurately, unskilled in how to respond to it, and ashamed of talking about evil.

If Timmins’ experiences are typical, and this researcher believes they are, then generations of UUs are “functional illiterates” about evil. Hence, the perception that UUs understanding of evil appears to be underdeveloped and inadequate is perhaps well-founded.
However, the Universalists in 1917, years before the consolidation of Unitarianism and Universalism proclaimed in the Declaration of Social Principles which was drafted by Clarence Skinner and adopted by the Universalist General Convention that evil is the result of “unjust social and economic conditions.”
Paul Rasor, UU theologian and director of the Religion and Social Issues Forum at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center, lends his cautionary voice in a very different direction that deserves serious consideration. Rasor contends that UUs failure to develop a strong theology of evil has weakened UUs prophetic voices to resist evil. One of the concrete areas in which this is noted is anti-racism/anti-oppression and multiculturalism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words enrich Rasor’s assertion and remind us what is at stake when, for whatever reason, prophetic voices are silenced. He contends, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Rev. Dianne Arakawa reminds UUs of some of the failures of our anti-racism work:

"Like most of you, I can recount the tragedies of the past that still plague
our Association: from the settler Indian wars of the seventeenth century
in Massachusetts, Puritan policies related to slavery, the mixed Unitarian
response to abolition, the unjust labor practices at the turn of the century,
and the racist statements of our denominational presidents in the first half
of the last century to the slowness to engage in the Civil Rights movement
on the part of some of our congregations, the derailing of the Black Empowerment movement in the sixties, and the lack of support for
congregations and clergy of color from Ethelred Brown’s time to our
present . . ."

Compounded by the fact that many UUs do not embrace the concept of Original Sin, which states that humans are born sinful, UUs are further handicapped in our language and our abilities to articulate a theology of evil. Instead, UUs use such language as “missing the mark” rather than sin/evil. Rev. Kim Beach believes that UUs, “get worried when we talk about evil (because) we feel we’re dipping into dualism, and we’ve been taught again and again that dualism is bad and monism is good. But if there’s evil, there is a certain amount of dualism going on in the world.” Beach notes that James Luther Adams, a revered UU scholar, had much to say about evil and even resorted to terms like demonic which he used to reference “principalities and powers” of the New Testament. Adams referred to the satanic as pure evil and the demonic as the distortion of the good. According to Bach evil is seen as self-perpetuating and self-justifying.
As a result of 9/11 events, increased dialogue has been generated in UU circles about evil. Warren R. Ross, editor of the UU World Publication, surveyed dozens of the leading UU preachers, teachers, and theologians on the issue of evil. Their comments are helpful in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of UUs theology of evil. Reverend Gordon McKeeman believes that “evil comes into the world when our good comes into conflict with others’ good.” Rev. John Buehrens, is fond of quoting 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on the nature of evil: “Evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community or the total community of humanity, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels.” Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt, an African American UU minister serving a congregation in New York, witnessed first hand the evil of 9/11. As a chaplain that worked in the midst of the rubble of the World Trade Center, McNatt believes that “people are born good and people make choices and that along with our inherent goodness there is also an inherent capacity for evil . . . there are some people who have something wrong with them.” Reverend Parker, one of the few UU ministers with joint fellowship as both United Church of Christ and UU minister, is hesitant to label people who commit evil acts as evil people. She cautions UUs against the tendency practiced and engaged in by all faith traditions “to numb or anesthetize our awareness of evil, . . . instead face(ing) it . . . fully and engage(ing) in troubling and deep questioning” about the nature of evil.
It is interesting to note that some UUs, such as John Buhrens, minister and former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, use the term evil and sin synonymously. According to Buhrens, the problem of evil (and suffering) happens for a variety of reasons: 1) Because there is randomness, 2) Because there are the sins of others and those we ourselves are implicated in, and 3) Because there are costs in overcoming evil with good. Most UUs do not accept the commonly held belief that sin is a part of the human condition as viewed in the Gospel of St. Paul and further evidenced in the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin.
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but in which dwells within me.” (Paul 7:1-20) fn

In contrast to Paul, some UUs believe that individuals are punished by their sinful actions and not for them. For UUs, sins are “wrong actions.” Thus, the evil that people do lives with them. Others believe there is no absolute good and evil. Ross’s findings indicate that most UUs believe that there are evil acts but not evil persons. In addition, for many UUs humans possess freedom of choice and can decide between good and evil, and the doing of good or the doing of evil. However, many UUs would concede that humans have a propensity toward good unless other factors corrupt this tendency. Furthermore, all choices bring costs as well as benefits. For UUs humans make the choice between good and evil. Process theologians, which include liberal theologians such as UUs, speak of a god that lures but does not coerce humans to good. Instead, they contend, God offers continually new possibilities. Ultimately, the final choice to choose good or evil belongs to humans. However, the process of choosing is not a one-time event, but a lifetime of choosing, and sometimes a moment-to-moment process. Process theologians believe that God, a creative energy in the universe, cannot force anything to happen, but influences the exercise of universal free will by offering possibilities. Thus humans have free will to choose between good and evil with no intervention from God. It is this freedom and risk in divine creativity that brings the possibility of evil. Further, it is these choices that contribute to human suffering. Thus, suffering is an inescapable fact of the human condition. It is human’s failure to do good and their choices therefore of “evil” that create “wrong actions” and thus evidence forgetfulness of the fragile connection to God-energy and the earth. Much of what a theist would ascribe to the “devil,” non theistic UUs would assert is the result of humans acting on their “free will” and making bad choices that result in their feeling cut off, disconnected and unloved. This in turn places them outside the bounds of alignment with the creative energy of the universe and God consciousness. Humankind benefits and thrives when we are in right relations with the god energy in the Universe. The contrast might be what Rebecca Parker refers to as the social construction of heartlessness or numbness of feeling.
In the researcher’s opinion, a UU theology of evil can best be summed up not by a UU minister, though many have made excellent contributions, and not by a UU theologian, although extensive discourses exist. The UU theology of evil can best be captured by Reverend Marianne Williamson, a Unity minister, who believes evil is simply loveless behavior. Applying this definition to a UU theology of evil that in its most basic approach casts humans as “missing the mark” and its most complex as the result of freedom of choice, Williamson’s definition spans the continuum between these two approaches.

May we continue to grapple with our theology of evil and sin so that we enter into a wholeness about who we are, what we are capable of and to unleash our untapped potential for goodness and just relations.
Amen and Blessed Be!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It is that Time and Place

Anyone that has birthed children or claimed any children as theirs knows what it means to want the best in life for them, and that is,for them to find their place in life and to be happy. We want to always protect our children from the encroaching "evils" of the world, and whatever that means in our lives and culture. The evil of violence. The evil of drugs. The evil of woundedness. So as I read my class assignments that recount the religious conflicts in India I am distressed. I am distressed because I know that the most vulnerable segments of the population are disproportionately affected even if that reality is not indicated in the popular media. But it is like that all around the world - women, children, elderly, infirmed and disabled are the victims of violence and hegemonic governments and yet we are not always aware of the insidiousness of such violence and repression. The mothers and fathers in Iraq cry out for their murdered children. The mothers and fathers in Darfur and Ethiopia and Mozambique cry out for their dying and hungry children. These children are our children. Until we care as much about these losses as we care about our own children's welfare there will continue to be wars and poverty and neglect. Let us not continue mindlessly down the path of ignorance and apathy. We cannot do everything but we do not have to be stymied because there is so much to do. We can make a difference in the world.

I wrote the following poem when my daughter called me one day in her second year of law school. She felt she was not going to be able to continue. She felt unsure of herself. She questioned her ability to compete and to marshall her inner resources. The words in this poem are the words I spoke to her as I called forth the power of God and the ancestors to claim the power that she needed to get through her crisis of doubt. Sometimes it is about that. We have to call on our support system, our friends and loved ones, our spiritual practices and whatever the Sacred means to us to get us through our crises so that we can continue the work that we have been called to do.

I pray that I live to see the day when parents do not have to fear for their children's lives. That they can put their energy into other things because war will no longer be a threat. May we work to draw that time closer. May we learn from the lessons of those that have come before us and study war no more.
Amen and Blessed Be!

It is that Time and Place

It is now time to call on the memories of the ancestors when they thought they could not walk another step toward freedom - and they did;

It is that time and place to call on the memories of the ancestors when the darkness of their live threatened to take away any inkling of hope and light, and they reached a little deeper and prayed still another prayer to get them through the long nights to witness still another sunrise.

It is that time and place to remember the oceans of tears shed to deliver us to this time, to remember the bent knees and bowed backs and the fervent voices asking, begging to keep loved ones safe and delivered from the hands of slavery and the violence of their everyday lives.

It is time to remember the smiles and warmth shown though they had far less, and little reason for optimism and yet they stayed on the path toward a better tomorrow.

It is time to hold fast to the unchanging hands and hearts and prayers of the ancestor that have brought us this far; Tthat taught us about a God who was able and bigger than lifes vicissitudes

It is time to make them proud and show ourselves what we are made of. To show them that their prayers and sacrifices and lives were not in vain, and did not go unnoticed and have not been forgotten.

Did you not know that this day would come? Did we not know that we would have to change places and be the ones praying for and working for better times? Did we not know that just as our ancestors were delivered that we would also be delivered?

Have we not seen the greatness and power of the Creative energy in the Universe called God? Have not seen God in one anothers faces? Does not God make a way out of no way? Do we not know who we are and whose we are?

It is that time and place now to know so that we must leave a legacy for our children and for all the children. It is that time and that place.

Baby, we are the ones we've been waiting for. And for this let us be eternally grateful.

Thank you Lord. Thank you Yawa. Thank you mother/father/God. Thank you Shango. Thank you Allah. Thank you Buddha. Thank you Ja. Thank you Jehova. Thank you Obatula. Thank you Krisna. Thank you I AM. Thank you Creative Energy in the Universe - the Morning Glory and the Setting Sun.

Afanasii Nikitin: The Account of a Russian Convert to Islam in 1468

For a fascinating read of a Russian trader whose travels took him all over parts of the then Ottoman Empire and his encounters with Islam view the following:

His account is certainly one of the earliest I have read. It caused me to reflect on the various ways that Islam was spread and how individuals lives interface then and now in very pragmatic ways. There are times that one cannot tell whether he converted to facilitate his business endeavors or if his heart genuinely was inspired by Islam. See for yourself and tell me what you think?

My Spiritual Journey

Today I woke up thinking about this blog that has become the recipient of my writings and my reflections as I prepare for the next phase of my life. Below is a very brief account of my spiritual journey. I have sought and successfully integrated those parts of my Christian background that I desire. Now in this phase of my life I seek to do the same with those Islamic experiences and theology that fit. This class, Islam in India is the path by which I am beginning that journey. Unlike most religions, Unitarian Universalism encourages us to seek truth and build our theology. I have done so with passion and integrity. May Spirit be pleased with my efforts.

My Spiritual Journey

There have been three faith communities and four denominations that have influenced my life. The faith communities in a chronological order include Christianity, Islam and Unitarian Universalism. The denominations include the aforementioned ones and Religious Science. This essay will focus primarily on Christianity and Religious Science. I grew up in a large two parent working class family with a deeply devout mother who was a Preachers Kid (PK). We “kept the Sabbath” and were not allowed to play, listen to music, perform work on God’s day for many years. Gradually my mother loosened up. I spent the first seventeen years of my life all day in church on Sundays and part of the week that included prayer meetings and choir rehearsal at the very least. I was a deeply devout child that loved being good and doing good and I loved church. For not only did it feed something inside that gravitated toward the sacred and holy, but it represented my extended family and my only real social outlet outside of school and my immediate neighborhood for many years. Until I began college at Wayne State University in Detroit where I grew up, I led a very sheltered life. As far as I can remember, I didn’t know any atheists or agnostics. I thought everybody believed in God even if everybody did not attend church. When I began Wayne State University I met student activists and intellectuals who were brilliant orators and debaters and many were agnostics and atheists. That was when I began my "God is dead" period. My childhood churches, first Mt. Huron Baptist church and later Greater St. Stephens Missionary Baptist Church, did not prepare me for engaging brilliant men and women who had the gift of gab and could easily challenge everything I said. Baptists were not big on questioning their beliefs and rote learning was pretty much the order of the day. So I had no answers for their questions. So I sat God on a shelf and proceeded to get on with my life. But how does one do that when their world view has been turned upside down? So I became an activist because that was something that I could hold onto and the example of Jesus was consistent with what I had learned and was now learning about justice issues. Coming from a poor working class background it was also an easy leap to Marxist Leninism. His sympathy for the poor and downtrodden and alignment with the workers at the point of production paralleled my life as the child of a father working in the steele mill at the Ford River Rouge Plant. I do not do anything halfheartedly so I traveled to Cuba for three months in 1972. That trip was a transformative experience in my life. We were selected from young activists all over the country. Some of the then young activists who today are household names were at the early stages of what would prove to be illustrious careers in social change. Individuals like Robert Allen (I have forgotten what he wrote, something about Race in America) but he was the long time companion of Alice Walker, although they were not together then) and Linda Burnham, a now well now attorney and social activist, were two individuals on the Brigage.

When I returned, I was feeling really restless as I rode in from the airport in New Jersey and the bright lights were illuminating my deepest fear and that was that I might not be able to sustain my passion and practice back in Babylon. I longed for a spiritual connection. I was very alienated from Christianity and so I knew that I would not be exploring that path. I liked the Afro centric philosophy of the Muslims and their emphasis on self sufficiency and Black economics. So I made my way to the nearest mosque and began the journey of a devout Muslima, moving through various sects for the next ten years before settling into the Sufi tradition. When some of the restrictions of living as a religious minority began to alienate me from my children, thus forcing difficult parenting choices I decided that I was spiritual and a good person before I became Muslim and that I would continue my journey. So I left the Muslim community in Ann Arbor, MI. That was a very difficult decision and I did not realize that my standing in the Muslim community and my leadership as a Muslima was based on the fact that I was a Muslim and not because I was a serious human being on a journey toward God. It didn't help that I had agreed to an interview with a reporter that took my words out of context and it appeared from the article that I had said that converts to Islam, particularly AFrican-American Muslims and Muslims from abroad worshipped different Gods. I also more than hinted at the racism. That coupled with my decision to cease practicing Islam was the kiss of death for me. Of course people were praying for me. I never realized that it one thing to request people's prayers and it is another thing for them to perceive you needing their prayers because in their opinion you are living in sin. I resented these self righteous prayers. It was a horrible time for me but I knew that somehow I had to step away and reclaim my perspective and regroup for my spiritual journey that lay ahead.

So I graduated from the University of Michigan where otherwise I have some fond memories and my children were exposed to a supportive academic community and the Muslim community that nurtured and financially supported us through undergraduate and graduate school. I began attending a non-denominational church in Atlanta where I moved after graduation. I joined, Hillside International Truth Center, pastored by Dr. Barbara King. I was working in the field of domestic violence and she led the prayer for a breakfast for law enforcement in Clayton County, where I worked.She started the prayer, "Mother, Father, God" and I thought - who is this woman and how do I find her church? I later joined because I loved the “power of positive thinking” combined with the sense of self agency and the theology that perceived God as energy and divine law that responded to our application of law. The current craze around the movie, The Secret, is a personification of those beliefs. However, I dreaded the thought of someone finding out that I did not believe that Jesus was the son of God or some of the other idiosyncratic beliefs left over from my Muslim faith that I continue to hold onto. Possessing the conscious and unconscious notion that I could “build my own theology” and that this was indeed pleasing to God and not blasphemy placed me in an awkward spiritual limbo. I stayed at Hillside for a year or two until my work schedule restrictions precluded my attendance at that or any church.

In the meantime I did the "Fire walk" that was popularized in the new age community. If you can get your head around walking across a burning bed of glowing coals then you can harness your mind to do almost anything. Many years previously, using the same kind of mentality for my 30th birthday I asked myself what was the most kick ass kind of thing I could do to tap my inner power and push the fears away (and I had a lot). By then I was a single mom with two children living on poverty wages. This as before returning to school. So I went sky diving! Sometimes even now when I get scared I remind myself that I jumped out of a plane and I have walked on burning coals. And I talk myself, pray myself and push myself through my fears. I have given up thinking that I can disappear all my fears. The most I can do sometimes is simply not let them paralyze me or hold me hostage. So I proceed - fears and all!

In the process of all my searchings I moved to a part of town where it wasn’t practical to drive across town to worship. When I examined my options which included every possible denomination I decided I wanted to check out Unitarian Universalists. That was fifteen years ago. In some ways my journey has been preparing me all my life for ministry, but I formally began that process in 2003. This year, 2007 I will finish Meadville Lombard Theological School, receive fellowship on December 1 and ordination, December 9 and in January, 2008 I will move to either Cape Town South Africa to begin my academic and ministerial careers. My plan is to affiliate with the University of Cape Town as a visiting scholar in either their Religious Studies Department and/or their Gender Studies Department. Also, the Unitarian Congregation in Cape Town is currently in search for a minister. How awesome is that? I would love to be called by them and work to bring Unitarian Universalism and "Beloved Community" with a focus on interfaith social justice as my ministry and gift. What would be blessed to receive is far more than I could even express. Isaiah 6:8 expresses it like this, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" and I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Blessed Be!

Unitarianism in the Khasi Hills of India

I have been studying about Muslims in India and the religious diversity as well as the religious conflicts. I would be remiss if I did not share information about the 9,000 Unitarians in India that I share my faith tradition with. I hope to one day visit them and learn more about them in their natural setting. I have met a couple who came to the United States to study.

History In A Nutshell
Written by Administrator
Monday, 12 April 2004
Unlike other Christian denominations Unitarianism was
not brought to the Khasi Hills by the Missionaries
from the West, but it was started by a youthful Khasi
whose name is Hajaom Kisor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri.
Unitarianism in Khasi Jaintia Hills and Karbi Anglong
District in Assam, like any of its sisters in faith in
different parts of the World is a unique religion with
an equally unique beginning. The late eighteenth and
early nineteenth century khasi-jaintia society
witnesses an emergent of giants and stalwarts of khasi
intellectuals and the doyen of Khasi literature in the
like of Babu Soso Tham, Pahep R.S. Berry, Nissor Singh
and his brother u Babu Hajom Kissor Singh, the list is
however by no mean exhausted. The mentioned
personalities were great littérateurs and of these
H.K. Singh was not only poet par excellence but he is
also religious reformer in his own right. Born to a
Khasi family whose father was an employee of the
mighty British Empire, the Singhs along with few of
their contemporary were perhaps few lucky educated
khasis. It is said that in those days one can count on
one’s hand the numbers of educated khasis and
H.K.Singh was able to complete his Entrance
examination(equivalent to class 10). H.K. Singh though
born a Khasi was converted to Calvinist faith along
with the whole family while he was studying at a
school in Nongsawlia Sohra. He being an educated and
an ardent quest for spiritual truth was well
acquainted with the traditional animist religion and
read his Bible thoroughly. He read the sacred text
from cover to cover and found that the Bible has only
reinforced his belief in one God, which in fact is a
belief not alien to the Khasis. His studies of the
Bible particularly the Gospels convinced him that
Jesus himself; a true Jews to the last worshiped one
God, which he called Abba. At the same time H.K. Singh
though he discovered that even the Bible and Jesus
teaches about the existence of one true God which is
similar to the belief followed by the Khasi, he
however is reluctant to go back to the Niamtynrai/Seng
Khasi (traditional animist religion) fold for other
theological intricacies.
H.K.Singh was struggling with the new truth that he
had discovered, he was in search of faith or religion,
which worship one true God as well free human from the
bondage of other super natural deities and at long
last his search led him to his goal. By divine
providence he met one Brahmo from (member of Brahmo
Samaj) from Kolkata on a visit to Shillong who
introduced him to Rev. C.H.A. Dahl a Unitarian
Missionary of the American Unitarian stationed at
Kokata (Calcutta). Singh’s contact with Dahl was like
the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and
the correspondence between the two has indeed greatly
influenced Singh. The communication between H.K.Singh
and C.H.A. Dahl came to an end only in the demised of
the later, which had shocked Singh and ironically the
tragedy happens only two months before Unitarianism in
this Hills saw the light of the day. H.K. Singh
inspite of all odds went ahead with his plan and
started “Ka Niam Mane Wei Blei” Unitarianism in the
Khasi Jaintia and Karbi Anglong on the 18th of
September 1887.

Violence, Religion and Ethnicity

One of the most powerful pieces I have read on violence and religion is an essay by Brian Sandberg titled, Beyond Encounters: Religion, Ethnicity, and Violence in the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1492-1700. It is fairly short, twenty-three pages and packed with expanded information about religious violence that many of us have intuited but now have confirmation because of his rigorously researched essay. My dream is to one day write a similar essay covering 1700 to our current times.

The essay can be found at:

Standing on the Side of Love

I wrote this essay to express why the faith community should be involved in social justice issues rather than playing it safe and being reclusive.

This paper addresses the critical question of why religious institutions should be engaged with public issues and how they might do so most effectively. The question of engagement is at the heart of the faith community’s relevance today as it grapples with connecting to the needs of individuals and society in such complex times. This paper will consider the sources that affirm religious institutions engagement in public issues. The paper then considers specific strategies for public witnessing utilizing lecture notes from the recent course taught by Bill Schultz titled, Problems of Public Ethics at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois and also drawn from his book, In Our Own Best Interest.
Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is. --Ghandhi

Many religious scholars maintain that religion functions for the well being of people. Among these scholars, John S. Mbiti asserts that morality facilitates harmony, control and enhancement of its institutions and individuals. Furthermore, Mbiti contends that religion protects the individual members and the survival of society. Rob Eller-Isaacs, Unitarian Universalist minister, recently defined the purpose of the church as follows, “To help engender the holy in people’s lives so that they might blossom into compassion and grow souls.” Eller-Isaacs suggests that Unitarian Universalist congregations are called to “transform suffering in their midst and in the world.” Similarly, Roger S. Gottlieb professes the following, “authentic religion must be an activist transforming presence in the political world; that the moral and psychological insights of religion are of enormous value for those seeking progressive social change.” Gottlieb, while asserting that religious groups in the twentieth century have not had to confront oppression, nevertheless maintains that religious voices are needed to “achieve the goals of justice, community and a rational society.” According to A. Kevin Rheinhart, individuals will be judged for their acts done or undone. We might extrapolate from the perspectives articulated by these authors that if it is the responsibility of individuals to act morally, it is also incumbent upon the religious institutions whose responsibility it is to provide spiritual guidance to do so in as public a manner as is possible whereby impacting the greatest number possible.
Returning to Roger S. Gottlieb, he contends that authentic religion must be a transforming presence in the world. One can extrapolate from Gottlieb’s contentions that in order for religion to be a transforming presence that they must be effectively engaged in the world to do so. Gottlieb identified some concrete ways that religion can be liberating. Upon close examination, they all presume involvement in public issues:
1. First and foremost it (religion) must change, develop and progress.
2. must be rooted in its own traditional ethical teachings
3. must learn to connect passionately held ethical beliefs to our political situation and to collective movements to change that situation
4. reach outside (of itself)
6. be willing to break with the past
Liberation theologians ascribe to the belief that God is known through the doing of justice. Thus, we could speculate that they would endorse public witnessing as a way to do justice, thus experiencing God. Virtue ethicists embrace the belief that our actions reflect who we are. Thus, they also would endorse public witness as a way to reflect values. Additionally, religious institutions should be engaged with public issues because they can legitimately serve as the moral authority, the voice in the wilderness, that prophetic voice warning of grave dangers – that is, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. They can provide the early warning signs through their prophetic messages. Case in point, the lack of will that failed to provide resources to the people of Darfur might have been circumvented if the moral outrage of the religious community had been in place to send out a call to stand up for what is deemed right and just. Again, part of the role of religious leaders is to be the moral compass of society. Personally, I believe that one of the basic roles of religious institutions is to call individuals into solidarity with others in order to transcend the tendency toward self interest. What better way than through public witness. Rob Eller-Isaacs contends that the purpose of the church is to engender the experiences of the holy in order to awaken compassion and foster a life of loving service. Thus, creating a spirit filled life would require that religious institutions be engaged in public witnessing. One of the primary contributions of feminist theologians is the rewriting of Christian theology to transform the concepts, methods, language and imagery into a more liberatory message depicting women’s realities. Additionally, many theologians of different persuasions would endorse the public engagement of religious institutions as a way to put their “faith in action.” Two final endorsements for public engagement by religious institutions are derived from two Black sources, Black literary tradition and the historical Black Church. The mission of every serious Black writer is hinted at in the poignant articulation by late author, Toni Cade Bambara. Her goal when writing is to “produce stories that save our lives.” Similarly, religious institutions mission is to save lives. Implied in that is the ability to reach individuals by being an outwardly focused institution that moves beyond the limited walls of its physical edifice and even beyond its denominational walls. Thus, in the twenty-first century, interfaith dialogue will be critical to changing the world. Three Black theologians that were committed to justice and love, community relatedness and altering oppressive situations were Thurman Howard, Martin Luther King, Jr and Al Haj Malik Shabazz (AKA Malcolm X). By their very ministries we can surmise their belief that being fully present to life’s conditions requires public engagement. We oftentimes foist that responsibility onto our “superstars” but were we to assume the attitude that we are all leaders we might live our lives differently.
. . . I always believe that struggle and the unleashing of moral energy in the form of moral outrage can make a difference no matter what the situation is. . . (Cornel West)
This next section contains quotes from several faith traditions that explicitly or inexplicitly support engagement in public issues:
Do not touch the property of orphans, but strive to improve their lot until they reach maturity. Give just weight and full measure. . . Speak for justice, even if it affects your own kinsmen. Be true to the covenant of Allah. . . (Sura:6, Ayats: 151-152)

Not one of you believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. (The Prophet Muhammad, 13th of the 40 Hadiths of Nawawi)

To work along you have the right, but never personally to the fruits thereof. Do not be actuated by the motive for return, do not be sunk in inaction. (Bhagavad Gita)

Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere: its temple, all space; its shrine, the good heart; its creed, all truth; its profession of faith, divine living. (Theodore Parker, 19th Century Unitarian Universalist minister)

As long as I have will and am physically capable, So long will I teach mankind to strive for truth, order and peace. (Zoroasrian scriptures – The Yasna)

This essay has reviewed arguments supporting religious institutions engagement in public issues. Are there arguments opposed to religious engagement in public issues? Those that are opposed might argue for the separation between church and state. These opponents would point to the extremes like Jerry Falwell to make their case. Other detractors might point to the “Faith-Based Initiatives” endorsed by the Bush Administration. This Initiative merges church and state to provide social services through faith community’s receipt of public subsidies for such services as after-school programs for children, job training, drug treatment, prison rehabilitation and abstinence education. The effort is based on a concept known as “charitable choice” that allows the government to fund churches and other ministries. In essence they are religious institutions engaged in public issues representing conservative solutions to social problems. Thus, charitable choice is a government endorsement of religious institutions engagement in public issues.
It is important to remember that religious institutions serve as bridges to a new and expanded humanity. As part of that bridge building, religious institutions can facilitate the long arc of the universe which we are told and know bends toward justice. However, that long arc of justice requires conscious intent on the part of religious institutions and cannot happen without their engagement in the world. Thus it is incumbent upon religious institutions to engage with public issues to enlarge the vision of humanity’s service to the world. Reverend John Heagle, a Roman Catholic priest, psychotherapist and writer reminds us that if we are seriously committed to the mission of our faith communities that we need to develop effective responses to put our faith into action on behalf of justice. In the end, our religious institutions help to shape and inform our decision making about our engagement in public issues. I believe that in order to live out those values our religious institutions must be engaged in the larger world, thus bringing a message of hope and renewal to the suffering and poor. The central narrative of the church of liberation, justice, reconciliation and peace requires moral ethics and practice of our faith. Rebecca Todd Peters succinctly states it this way, “Living as justice were our calling is a critical way of defining what it means to be human.” Our religious institutions have a duty to be at the fore front of efforts to teach the meaning of humane actions in an increasingly inhumane world.
In the next section this essay will examine how religious institutions can effectively engage public issues.
Effective Engagement
In a democratic society one of the most obvious ways to engage public issues is through the use of the democratic process. Engaging the democratic process is a viable and effective way to shape public opinions and policy and thus represents an important vehicle to be utilized by the faith community. Effective engagement involves strategies that include a community coordinated response addressing both the macro and micro levels. Once a congregation decides that religious institutions should be engaged in public issues the board and minister should include a component in the long range planning to solicit feedback on what particular issues members feel they want to put their human and fiscal resources behind. Once that is decided then creating a body of individuals to gather the necessary resources to focus on educating the congregation is an important step. Identifying others already doing this work is a crucial component in this phase of the work. Content experts and activists will be invaluable resources to effectively address the issues.
Effective public witness should involve sufficient advance preparation that invites questions such as the following: 1) what do we believe about this issue and why do we believe it? 2) how can we best persuade others about the efficacy of supporting this issue? 3) what are the foundational stories of those we are in opposition with? Finding ways to unpack the issues and getting people to address these questions are critical. Any conversation with others should begin with introspective components to allow for a groundedness and maximize self awareness first with your members before engaging others. This includes rigorous interrogation about ones motive for doing the work. Posing the question, “What does this mean to me?” is an important start. Getting rid of negative influences like paternalism, guilt and elitism will make more effective advocates with fewer buttons that can get pushed in public debates. Additionally, understanding the issues will ensure competency and confidence.
The scope of this essay does not allow the time to devote to coalition building. While building coalitions in the larger community is time consuming, it assures broad base support so that you are not engaging in individualist lone ranger tactics. So while who you know is important when identifying speakers or gathering references for a resume, having the ability to garner sheer numbers speaks volumes to politicians. Also, nothing is more depressing than a straggly group of demonstrators with ten or fifteen chanting slogans. An old maxim, Go big or don’t go at all, is appropriate here and nothing else needs to be said. Many of our congregations want to either be hit and miss or unwilling to commit to “protracted struggle.” We must know that we are in this struggle for justice and human rights for a life time.
As your congregation moves to public forums, Bill Schultz reminds us that one of the most effective ways to undercut an opponent’s argument is to be able to articulate their issues before they do. Also, framing the issue in ways that is attractive and provides appeal beyond our religious community is important if we want to recruit new allies. We also need to be able to engage the best of the American ideals. For example, pride in America is highly valued. Being able to juxtapose these values with dissident behaviors like recently publicized human rights violations at Abu Grave or Guantanamo Bay invites the use of a statement like, “this is not what we want our country to be known for.”
Identifying pragmatic arguments is another important strategy to be linked with telling stories about exploitation and inhumanity. This allows others to vent their moral outrage and simultaneously indulge their human compassion. It also allows for effective integration of statistics. Schultz reminds us that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic.” If we want to be effective and not come across as lecturers of boring statistics, then we have to put human faces to our statistics and witnessing, hence the effectiveness of story telling.
This essay concludes with a tool kit of tips on effective public engagement edited in

part from Bill Schultz’s book entitled, In Our Own Best Interests:

1. Moral suasion and law, that is, appeal to conscience and resorting to court reflect very effective strategies. World opinion counts- use it. However, they are best used in conjunction with number two;
2. Develop compelling practical reasons why people should care about and support the issue. What impact does this issue have on individuals in your audience and who is your intended audience?
3. Maximize use of technology. Email and internet have linked advocates with their constituencies in ways that level some communication playing fields. Use it to your advantage to build capacity, transparency and to strengthen coalition efforts. The educational and training implications have not even begun to be explored.
4. Nearly every movement for social change in the United States has combined a moral, religious or aesthetics dimension with a pragmatic rationale to win public approval. Framing your mission in both visionary and practical terms will go a long way toward your effectiveness.


More and more the world is coming in and shrinking. The global village is here at hand and the consciousness of the world is expanding tremendously. Religious institutions must be ready in these fragile and vulnerable times to assume a leadership role as spiritual guides on this journey toward a just and equitable world. They must be engaged with public issues as well as interfaith dialogue and modeling to the world what the best in humanity looks like as they contribute to the critical thinking of the times. Anything less will simply not do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Gendered Analysis of Globalization

This essay was oiginally written for Unitarian Universalist ministers. I present it here as a vehicle toward understanding globalization. One of the case studies includes Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola in India as well as oil manufacturers in Nigeria.

Many religious scholars maintain that religion functions for the well being of people. Rob Eller-Isaacs, Unitarian Universalist minister, recently defined the purpose of the church as follows, “To help engender the holy in people’s lives so that they might blossom into compassion and grow souls.” Eller-Isaacs further contends that Unitarian Universalist congregations are called to “transform suffering in their midst and in the world.” Additionally, Eller-Isaacs asserts that the purpose of the church is to engender the experiences of the holy in order to awaken compassion and foster a life of loving service. Reverend John Heagle, a Roman Catholic priest, psychotherapist and writer reminds us that if we are seriously committed to the mission of our faith communities that we need to develop effective responses to put our faith into action on behalf of justice. Similarly, Roger S. Gottlieb professes the following, “authentic religion must be an activist transforming presence in the political world; that the moral and psychological insights of religion are of enormous value for those seeking progressive social change.” Gottlieb maintains that religious voices are needed to “achieve the goals of justice, community and a rational society.” As a Unitarian Universalist I believe that we come to know the Holy through the doing of justice. Thus, we are called to be engaged with public issues.
The purpose of this essay is to illuminate the reader, primarily Unitarian Universalist (UU) clergy about globalization and its effects on women and the poor. UU clergy and clergy in general can often times assert their moral authority, and strive to be the voice in the wilderness, that prophetic voice warning of grave dangers – Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. UUs can provide the early warning signs through our prophetic messages. The lack of will resulting in a failure to provide resources to the people of Darfur might have been circumvented if the moral outrage of the religious community had sent a call to stand up for what is right and just. Mike Hogue, professor of theology at Meadville Lombard Theology School makes the compelling case if liberal religion is not paying attention they might miss their “moment in time”:
Religious liberalism is blind to the fact that our cultural-historic situation, this moment in
time is one that is ripe for the potential wisdom of religious liberals. Ours is ambiguous time of world compression. Through a variety of interconnected global economic, technological cultural, and religious patterns, ours is a time in which the world in which the world appears to consciousness, more intensely than at any other time, as a single space. The world seems to be shrinking. High-speed transportation and communication tech-nologies, for example, shrink geographic and interpersonal distances. And correlated to this perception of global compression are a dilation of consciousness and an increasing sense of moral ambiguity. As the world seems more and more a single space, a compressed world, so its constitutive diversity rushes in upon consciousness. . . In a globalizing time, every individual is linked to every other and all places are interlinked. Given the extension of human efficacy amidst global dynamics, then, acts have consequences far beyond their local origin, and many of these are difficult if not impossible fully to anticipate.

Following the noble tradition of some of our most prophetic voices, I wish to remind the readers of what is at stake if we fail to note “what time it is”:
Given global dynamics and their ambiguous potential for both colossally destructive and constructive outcomes, and given our moral vertigo this time is one of high moral stakes that presents us all, and religious liberals especially, with a high calling of moral clarification and responsibility…religious liberalism, as a whole is blind to its peculiar moral responsibility in a time of globalization to the extent that it fails to nourish the communal and ecclesiological conditions that need to be attended for this responsibility to be met.

The Theological Groundings of Public Witness and Actions

Part of the role of religious leaders is to be the moral compass of society. The prophets among the people surely must speak based on the demands of the religious covenant. Prophet Micah communicated the primacy of righteousness and justice with these words, “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Personally, I believe that one of the basic roles of religious institutions is to call individuals into solidarity with others in order to transcend the tendency toward self interest. What better way than through public witness on social justice issues such as globalization.
In the end, our religious institutions values shape and inform our decision making about engagement in public issues. This writer contends that in order to live out those values we must be engaged in the larger world, thus bringing a message of hope and renewal to the suffering and poor. Rebecca Todd Peters succinctly states, “Living as justice were our calling is a critical way of defining what it means to be human.” Similarly, Nancy Cardos Pereira, a participant at the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Brazil in 2006, adamantly expressed the following, “United States churches must confront the impact of economic globalization.” As ministers of conscience we must first understand the issues of globalization to effectively engage our congregants and communities.
In this paper I will focus on globalization and its impact on women. Why the focus on women? In general, the dominant discourse fails to address the full experience of women’s realities. Radicalizing the emancipatory analysis of globalization by bringing from the margin to the center the critique of the roles and experiences of women in the developing world adds a density that any serious treatment is compelled to include. Simply put, I desire to tell the stories of women’s lives that are not being told. There are effects of globalization that no one would condone and would act to prevent these kinds of negative effects if they were more widely known. Part of my job as I see it is to tell the story, to place these stories in the imagination of our clergy and ministers in formation. In doing so I am arguing for the need to enrich the political imagination of UU clergy and those shaping our economics. My niche is clergy, women, the poor and oppressed, hence, the focus on women. Thus, this essay explores the impact of globalization on women. It will identify the four globalization approaches: economic, political, cultural and religious. However, it will only focus on the economic approach.
Context of the Problem
From the sleekest skyscrapers proliferating in urban cities, to the most poverty stricken ghettos and villages, someone somewhere is either directly or indirectly talking about globalization and its affects on their lives and communities. While the claim that globalization is on everyone’s mind might be a slight exaggeration, what cannot be contested is that almost everyone is impacted by globalization. Yet, given women’s alarming conditions worldwide that reflect some of the poorest health indices and highest rates of violence, what is sometimes glaringly missing from the discourse on globalization is a gender analysis of its impact on women. The leaders of the world appear powerless to halt the steady onslaught of debilitating poverty, disease and crime in developing nations, while multinational corporations accelerate their marketing efforts to garner consumers and expand global markets to the detriment of the poor whose only hope is often to resort to informal economies to acquire some semblance of the “good life.” The growing numbers of young people globally involved in illegal activity is directly related to poverty, as well as the capitalist beliefs that equate materialism with happiness. Furthermore, quality of life is equated with having access to goods and services which is seen as a way to achieve happiness and respect from others. Internationalization has made permanent and secure employment a rarity for the poorest of the poor who resort to the informal economic sector that often includes street peddling, prostitution, drug and human trafficking and smuggling.
Globalization is defined as “a complex economic, political, cultural and geographic process in which the mobility of capital, organizations, ideas, discourses, and peoples has taken a global or transnational form.” In general, much of the opposition to globalization concerns the domination of wealthy countries policies and their failure to appreciate and alleviate the negative impact on developing countries and their citizens as the divide between the haves and have nots threatens to disastrously escalate out of control. What is at issue are two conflicting perspectives. One perspective is based on the rhetoric of the owners of capital which suggests that globalization is good for everyone and will produce great benefits for the developing and developed world. The other perspective is rooted in the reality of the impoverished nations of the world, the overwhelming majority that report a different reality. Along with these general concerns are more specific gender concerns. It is the failure in earlier years to consider gender in development that proved disastrous where for instance in the Africana world, the focus of this paper, women produce about 80 percent of the locally consumed and marketed food. The term, Africana world is used here to reference the continent of Africa and its inhabitants. Additionally, the Economic Commission for Africa estimates that females account for 60-80 percent of all labor hours in agriculture. Hence, once again, the failure to recognize gender hierarchies in society disadvantages women and contributes to their continued marginalization. Because the state is male dominated in most developing nations it distorts women's ability to shape their lives on their own terms. Furthermore, a male dominated state influences how women experience the laws, it policies and spending patterns. What is the connection, if any, between the plight of women and globalization? How are women impacted? Those are questions this essay seeks to address.
According to UN estimates women are disadvantaged in virtually every aspect of
their lives. Women’s marginalization reveals a fragile state of affairs globally as seen in

the following statistics:

Up to 3 million women a year lose their lives to gender-based violence or neglect
Millions more are victims of infanticide in countries that value male over female children
Women account for almost half of all HIV/AIDS cases worldwide, and in Africa, close to 70percent of infected people are women. Elderly women, often the poorest, are left to care for the children of AIDS victims.
As many as 4 million girls and women a year are sold into prostitution
Two million suffer genital mutilation, often in conditions that lead to lifelong pain, infection and premature death
One woman in five is a victim of rape or attempted rape during her lifetime.
The number of women over 60 is growing, but they are more likely than men to end their days in poverty.
Women are more insecure in the working world, unemployed longer and more frequently than men.
They are educationally handicapped; two-thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are women

These statistics poignantly reveal women’s unequal access to and lack of control over resources, resulting in their subsequent vulnerabilities that place them at greater risk essentially because they are women. There are literally no limits to the ways in which women’s lives are rendered vulnerable because of their gender. Women are paid less than men for the same work in the public sector, while receiving no compensation for their work in the private sector despite the fact that women’s domestic functions greatly reduce government’s costs for the care and wellbeing of family members.
Some 600,000 women die in childbirth, many for lack of medical attention or sanitation

Pragmatically, even women’s most basic biological functions, their ability to produce and nurture future laborers for the state and the global market, are at risk because of government’s inability to effectively provide for women’s basic health care as demonstrated by the aforementioned statistic on fatalities in childbirth .
The following section provides a review of the most prevalent paradigm, the

economic model. Although the other models will not be covered they include:

political, cultural, and religious.

The economic approach, the most prevalent of the approaches includes as its supporters the “owners of capital” and “engines of big business” that drive the growth and trade in the new global economy. Its supporters contend that the global market and not ideologies or political actors determine the future of the world, hence the significance of this model. While this approach was conceived in academia, scholars usually equate its genesis with the convening of the Bretton Wood Conference of 1944. This conference was convened post World War II to negotiate recovery efforts of world leaders for Germany and Japan. This economic approach acquired a number of monikers including some of the following: Washington consensus, laissez-faire, structural adjustment, big business, neo-liberalism, trick-down or supply-side economics. One of the strengths of this approach is its increased economic interdependence and the intergeneration of national economies into one economy within the framework of a capitalist market. Its supporters contend that markets are more efficient at providing services than governments whose regulations tend to inhibit economic growth, expansion and trade. Having addressed war recovery efforts, by the 1970s developed nations had turned their attention to their former colonies, a relationship that was characterized by extreme economic disparities and equally imbalanced power dynamics. As a result of this dependency the Africana world continued its cycle of underdevelopment historically fostered through the exploitation and diversion of its human and natural resources. The reality for the average Africana man, woman and child some contend, is that they are poorer today than they were at independence. Some of the factors that contributed to developing nations dependency included: terms of trade, high interest rates, embargoes and export of inflation . Furthermore, the acquisition of arms and racial and inter-group discrimination resulted in turmoil and chaos, furthering Africa’s dependency status.
Several significant changes characterize the economic approach: 1) a shift in commodities from capital and materials to knowledge; 2) changes in the mode of production from industry to information technology; 3) production driven by decentralized and geographically scattered sites that are based on cheap raw materials and labor; 4) emphasis on cooperation between economic institutions and national politics and 5) emphasis on comparative advantage, that is, consumer demand and availability of markets. Two current examples of comparative advantage are Singapore and Bangladesh. Singapore is now the biggest producer of computer hardware and Bangladesh is the biggest producer of men’s clothing.
Structural adjustment policies were borne on the backs of women in developing nations. Structural adjustment is a generic term used to describe the process by which many developing nations reshaped their economies to a more free market orientation. The government changes who the primary decision makers are and the mechanisms that determine what is produced and how. The assumption is the less government intervention in the economy the better. Many developing nations “complied” with structural adjustment as a condition to receive new loans from foreign commercial banks and/or multilateral institutions such as International Monetary Fund and World Bank. During the 1950s and 60s western economists erroneously thought that poverty in developing nations was due to a lack of capital. Thus commercial lending institutions flush with petro dollars courted developing nations with much needed loans during the 1970s. When poverty had not been eradicated it became clear that economists had erred. In an effort to render corrective measures the focus shifted to an emphasis on equity and distribution of resources. The early 1980s still produced the dismal failures of earlier decades. However, the irony was that even though some people rose out of poverty, other fell into its bottomless pit. The World Bank began structural adjustment lending in 1979. By the early 1980s commercial bank lending was dried up to all but a few developing countries.
Typically grandiose rhetoric that often characterizes the economic approach includes statements like the following, “globalization has practically ended competition and established a harmonious global market place” “The world is a much better place than it used to be, in large part because of the advances that globalization has allowed.” “The economic advancements that globalization offers can be shared with the whole human race.” “The success of growth and trade policies in the West means that globalization offers the same promise of hope to the global South.” This kind of rhetoric assumes that developing nations can relatively easily break into export markets. Instead, not only do they face uneven playing fields but additionally non-tariff protectionist barriers designed to keep them at bay. Such statements do not address the damage inflicted on poor nations by globalization policies. Detractors of the economic approach include scholars such as Karl Poltayi, who contends that to,“ allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their national environment would result in demolition of society.” George Soros, another detractor, declared the death of global capitalism with his doomsday prediction that, “Global capitalism is coming apart.” Additionally, Robert Reich, former United States Secretary of Labor warned against the erroneous assumption that focuses on the economic rather than what he contends is political.
Two case studies of globalization run amuck are gleaned from Coca-Cola and Pepsi in India and five multinational oil firms in Nigeria; Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Italy’s Agip and Exxon Mobil and Chevron from the United States. Beginning with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, there appears to be a double standard when it comes to multinational corporation (mnc) products. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have continued to sell their soft drink products in India even though they have been shown to contain high levels of pesticides. Three years ago the Indian government confirmed the danger. On at least ten different occasions since January 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has rejected the shipment of Coca-Cola products made in India coming into the United States because they did not meet (USFDA) regulations. The products were considered unsafe for the United States public but the same products continue to be sold in India. Plachimada, Kerala, one of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling plants has been closed since March 2004 because of community opposition based on the disregard for the well being of Indian consumers. It appears that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have not practiced corporate social responsibility in India. For example, they use millions of liters of water every day, yet pay nothing for the water. Coca-Cola has placed many of its bottling plants in “drought prone” areas that were already experiencing severe water crisis. Since the arrival of Coca-Cola five years ago tests indicate that the water levels have dropped ten meters. Tests conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board found excessive levels of lead and cadmium in all of the Coca-Cola waste that it surveyed. Prior to the survey, Coca-Cola was distributing its toxic waste to surrounding farmers as fertilizer that was produced in its bottling plants.
In Nigeria, the oil companies have come under death threats because locals feel exploited after forty-five years of no visible benefits. The five oil companies at question are Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Italy’s Agip and Exxon Mobil and Chevron from the United States. While the fragile Nigerian landscape has suffered from the imprint of 4,500 miles of pipelines, 159 oil fields and 275 flow stations that burn night and day and are visible for miles, the fishing and farming ecosystem have been badly damaged and perhaps permanently destroyed. Locals are demanding a share of the oil wealth in their territories and have essentially declared war on the oil companies. This has resulted in bloodshed between the government militia and local resisters who have resorted to kidnapping oil personnel for ransom. Meanwhile, prior to the advent of the oil industry in 1960 Nigeria produced agricultural products such as palm oil and cacao beans that made up nearly all of Nigeria’s exports. In an ironic twist, Nigeria now imports more than it produces. Nigeria is now among the 15 poorest countries in the world with 70 percent of its people living below the poverty line. The Nigerian government documented 6,817 oil spills – practically one a day for twenty-five years. Nigeria rates below all other major oil nations and its annual per capita income of $1,400 is less than Senegal which exports mainly fish and nuts according to Tom O’Neil, a journalist that visited Nigeria and witnessed the devastation first hand. In 2006 Shell and the other multinationals experienced record profits. Meanwhile, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a national hero and seven others were hanged by the Nigerian government to make an example of them and to discourage others from taking up militant protests. Meanwhile, things have not improved according to a recent Human Rights Watch Report:
Multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta have become drawn into the region’s conflicts in a way that had made the companies central parties to them. While there are real constraint on the companies ability to extricate themselves, they
have often failed to meet their basic responsibilities towards the communities around them. Companies have generally not responded effectively to human rights abuses committed by security forces assigned to protect their operations. They have also
failed to curb environmentally harmful practices such as gas flaring, or to eliminate the occurrence of oil spills caused by aging and poorly maintained infrastructures.

In one of the most comprehensive studies on globalization titled, Scorecard on Globalization 1980-2000, a team of researchers including Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker concluded that key measures of progress have declined globally in the past twenty years:
Economic growth and rates of improvement in life expectancy, child mortality, education levels and literacy all have declined in the era of global corporatization
(1980- 2000) compared to the years 1960-1980—a period in which many countries maintained protectionist policies to insulate their economies from the international market to nurture their domestic industries and allow them to become competitive. Those policies are the same ones on which U.S. economic prosperity was built. From 1980-2000, most countries followed the paths of public spending cuts, corporatization of public services, implementing fees for health care (and education in many cases), and removing government protection for young industries. Many of the world’s poor and mid-income countries experienced unprecendented levels of foreign debt and loss of their wealth to interest on loans during the period. . . Reduced progress in education as evidenced by declining school enrollment rates and literacy. Slower growth in domestic spending correlates to decreased educational spending.

Analysis of Globalization’s Impact on Women
The best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of women.

Before discussing globalization’s impact on women it is helpful to provide a brief overview on gender. Gender roles are socially constructed and represent the economic and institutional factors that define male and female roles in most societies. Gender as a term refers to the social and cultural determinants which reflect the existing differences between men and women; as opposed to biological differences determined by factors which are anatomical, hormonal and physiological in nature. In other words, women and men’s roles are created and not inherent. Men and women, females and males acquire gender scripts throughout their lives. These scripts reflect the systematic and structural differences that society ascribes to men and women. Socio economic processes cannot be understood in isolation from the cultural perceptions which people have of those processes. The changing ideas about males and females influence the transformation of production relations in a society under going radical changes. Individuals and groups of people may experience gender tensions during this period of transition. The position of women in a male dominated society is shaped by tradition, policymakers, and political economies, just to name a few of the influential factors. Gender is a way of signifying relationships of power. Women tend to be at a disadvantage in a male dominated society because of the tremendous power imbalances. Power is often transferred from males to males, thus denying women opportunities to participate in the brokering of power for the most part. Women's work in most societies to some degree or another reflect this deference of power. This sexual division of labor means that much of the work involved in reproducing labor power is done by women.
In situations concerning financial constraints, gender concerns are inevitably given a low priority, thus women are marginalized. This is the experience of many women in developing countries, that is, those governments that have a commitment to promoting women's equality, when confronted with fiscal realities compromise "women's issues". Women's issues are seen as "soft" and less important. If it appears there are benefits in supporting women's issues then the ruling elite will do so. Generally, the pattern in Africa has been that women are excluded from the decision making process.
Sources of Women’s Inequalities

According to Welch, women in Africa, especially those in rural areas, suffer more in comparison than in most other parts of the world. The primary source of women’s suffering identified by some scholars are cultural barriers interacting with low levels of economic development. In order to understand the unique nuances of women’s oppression in different cultural contexts, it is necessary to understand both the systems of production and the culture that supports the status of women in a given society. Thus, violence against women then is interrogated using the lens of a conceptual framework that recognizes the phenomenon of gender based violence which is merely the end result of both the material and ideological aspects of women’s status in a misogynist society that views women as property. Nicola-McLaughlin notes the international nature of the struggle of women and concludes that , “women are oppressed in a multidimensional fashion and all oppressions are not necessarily exhibited in economic relations but at the levels of the cultural superstructure.” The issue of violence against women will be addressed more fully at a later time in this paper.
Women's changing relationship to the state is often mirrored by their economic reality. Because state formation is a gendered process and overwhelmingly controlled by men in developing nations, women are never central to state power, thus, the laws, policies and resource allocation reflect the interests of males. Additionally women are far too often invisible entities and their markedly different access to and their relationships with the state tends to place them at a disadvantage, particularly in the developing nations. The following factors have been identified as concerns that impact women differently in globalization:
Multinational corporations target women employees
Lack of opportunities for females
Reinforcement of gender stereotypes
Hazardous work conditions
Family roles
Double standards
Discrimination against women workers
Structural adjustment loans
Retaliatory actions from males or family members
Multinational corporations target women employees – Multinational corporations have determined that female employees are better suited for assembly work. Women tend to be compliant and eager to please. Additionally, in many developing countries assembly work is considered “women’s work” and so males will not consider such work. Other women are attracted to the work because of the lack of opportunities in other industries. Furthermore, women are expected to and will work for less and multinational corporations exploit this factor. The lack of opportunities for females is often due to their subordinate status in society that precludes education. Thus women start off with more obstacles. In some settings it is more difficult for females to obtain employment in the public sector. In some societies it is not acceptable to work outside the home and to do so the woman will be going against the social norms. And yet, women are becoming the breadwinners when males for whatever reason are not available. Off shore sourcing is another way that multinational corporations are targeting women. While the upside is many women work for wages that exceed local expectations, the bottom line is the company is still exploiting her and she making considerably less because she is a “third world citizen” and because she is a woman.
Reinforced gender stereotypes - In many instances globalization has reinforced gender stereotypes in the following ways: offering lower wages than males, relegating women to “women’s work” and failure to consider women for supervisory or management positions.
Hazardous work conditions – women are subjected to unregulated and therefore, unsafe working conditions that can cause health problems and injuries. Women in textile factories are exposed to dust and lint that can lead to lung ailments. Women working in electronic factories are often exposed to carcinogenic chemicals and not versed on appropriate ventilation. Speed ups to make production can cause women to feel stressed and under pressure. In some instances women are not allowed to take adequate breaks for fear that production will run behind. Supervisors, usually males, may subject the women to verbal and physical abuse to intimidate them into pushing their quotas. Unfortunately, another occupational hazard for women is sexual harassment. Being subjected to inappropriate sexual touching, innuendos or forced to have sex with a superior in order to keep their job is a common abuse of power by some males in authority.
Family roles – World wide women are forced to endure double days, that is, time spent on a paid job outside the home and then they return home to work a second shift of domestic chores. Or another scenario might be that she cannot assume a job because of her responsibilities at home, yet she is expected to contribute.
Double standards – Females are often less valued in many societies. Therefore females begin life in utero subjected to being aborted. When they are born there may be less cause for celebration. House hold chores and child care are all assigned at an early age to females. Higher Education is commonly reserved for males. This cycle then limits female’s life choices. Some women working in a non traditional role such as a factory setting may begin to assimilate and assume western dress. Family members may reject her. Once no longer employed some women may find it difficult to reenter into their family system and resume their life. Some women leave their jobs because they realize the price is too great and that they will not be able to find a husband.
Discrimination against women workers – While MNC’s have been guilty of targeting women workers because they make better employees than their male counterparts, the same women are discriminated against once hired. Single young women without children appear to be the preference of MNC’s. If any women are unfortunate enough to become pregnant while employed they are usually fired. Pregnancy is considered undesirable and has nothing to do with the woman’s ability to sustain her output but the biased perception of pregnancy as a prolonged state of sickness and therefore a liability to be avoided. In work places where there are often no employee benefits such as sick leave for the occasional cold are not available. Sick days for morning sickness or doctor’ appointments are inconceivable. The possibilities of returning to work after pregnancy are nonexistent. Other discriminations include failure to provide feminine hygiene products and clean wholesome bathroom and break environments.
Structural adjustment loans (SALs) – SALs require cuts in public expenditures. These all impact women disproportionately. Women are nutritionally, culturally and economically less affluent than men in most instances. In a Zambian Integrated Rural Development Project increased instances of child malnutrition surfaced. Upon investigation, it was determined that among the children that had developed malnutrition the women had increasingly less time to care for them because they were working on their husbands cash-crops. At a time when more resources needed to be directed towards families, spending was directed towards large-scale prestige projects that tied development assistance to exports and the promotion of foreign policy objectives.
Retaliatory actions from male or family - A Sri Lankan woman participated in a local credit card program that allowed women to process cashew nuts in their homes. As a result of her economic success the woman initiated a legal separation from her abusive husband. Her husband and friends reacted hostilely. They subsequently labeled her a “hard” woman and allegations of prostitution were leveled against her. In another instance in a Mexican project the participants experienced increasing levels of domestic violence from their partners. Once it was understood that the males were using violence to reclaim their authority programs were created for the males. Globalization is affecting the social relations between women, men and their communities. It is important to understand that the improvement of women’s status can upset the fragile social relations between genders traditionally based on men’s power and control over women.
Gender based violence has been shown to increase as a result of development in the form of globalization, hence an effort is made to provide at least a basic treatment of this growing phenomenon.
Domestic Violence as a Development Issue
Never before has international trade been so crucial to the prosperity and even the survival of local economies. Central to the prosperity and survival of local economies in the global economy is women’s roles. Women constitute a large and increasingly critical segment of the labor force in many industrializing and industrialized countries. Yet women’s potential to contribute to their country’s development is threatened by traditional customs and power inequities that exist in a context of economic and cultural domination. Power inequalities that are imposed by local institutions and individual males in society are mirrored in economic relationships between powerful and powerless males in their mostly Southern countries and more powerful men in northern countries. And women are caught in the cross fire
Ten years after efforts to integrate women into development, the visibility and recognition of gender based violence as a development issue still poses obstacles to development programs and policy goals. Women, development and gender violence have only converged in recent years as a critical issue partly due to the synergy generated by the UN Decade for Women. Women’s global advocacy and feminist discourse helped to shift the development model from a Women and Development (WAD) and Women in Development (WID) model to the more current model of Gender and Development (GAD). During the earlier years of WID and WAD there were few efforts to link these issues prior to the Nairobi conference goals. For too long violence has been viewed as a personal issue between partners relegated to the private sphere. Robin Morgan’s lengthy examination of the state of women’s conditions in the 1980’s and more recently in seventy countries in 1996 dramatically depicted the heightened visibility of gender violence on a global agenda. Nearly all of the 70 contributors identified gender violence in their respective countries as a pervasive problem. Reconceptualizing violence against women as a social problem rather than an individual problem has helped to transform the perception of the problem.
In Papua New Guinea battery is identified by women as the main reason for divorce. In China 25 percent of the divorces are due to battery or family violence. In another instance in Madras, the Working Women’s Forum almost collapsed according to Carrillo when the most articulate and experienced women dropped out of the program after they experienced increased incidents of domestic violence after beginning the Program. The Association for the Development and Integration of Women (ADIM) in Lima combined its income generating project with support services from the local legal aid to battered wives and women abandoned by their partners. This decision reflected their understanding of the connection between the shift in power dynamics with the women’s access to outside resources and spouses resorting to the use of violence in an effort to control his partner.
Although we most often think of development in southern countries, Seitz’s work with impoverished Applachian women in the United State of North America reminds us of the parallels that are captured in the poignant words of one of her research participants, “Working outside the home, that sometimes makes it worse because the men can’t handle the women not being slaves.
UNIFEM funded projects from various regions of the world and has increasingly identified violence against women as a major barrier to women’s participation in or capacity to benefit from developing projects. In a review of the Country Human Rights Reports that surveys 70 countries, almost without exception, the “women sections” designated violence against women as a social issue. MATCH International, a Canadian NGO conducted a global survey in which violence against women was also identified as the most frequent concern. The findings inspired MATCH to launch a program linking their development mission with that of violence against women as a top priority.
Violence Against Women as a Human Rights Issue
The recognition of women’s rights as human rights has taken place in a global arena in the last two decades. It is not the false beliefs and bad attitudes of males, although that contributes to women’s oppression, but according to Narayan and Harding, it is the , “institutional, societal and civilizational or philosophic forms of sexism that have exerted the most powerful effects on women’s lives. Furthermore, these are the forms they note, that are least visible to women’s daily lives.
Some of women’s basic human rights articulated in the Declaration of Human Rights are
the following:
1) right to movement and to work outside of the home, 2) right to bodily integrity, that is, freedom from violence, 3) healthcare, 4) adequate standard of living and , 5) housing . Unfortunately, women are discriminated against in all of the world’s countries. This discrimination is often justified as being in accordance to religious aspects of many of the cultures practiced in the world today.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948
A global tribunal on non-governmental organizations met in Vienna in 1993 in conjunction with the Second World Conference on Human Rights to urge that violence against women be recognized as a violation of human rights. This request was an attempt to highlight the connections between the murder, torture and sexual coercion and abuse of women and their economic vulnerability.p24 A major worldwide petition drive was launched. The petition urged the conference to, “comprehensively address women’s human rights at every level of its proceedings”

Research findings indicated that the 1970s were marked by rapid growth of American and European multinational corporations in the developing world. While these companies expanded markets and made new goods available, they also exerted predatory competition on local industries that disproportionately impacted women. Women’s generally more vulnerable status is captured in the following expression, “When the man catches a cold, the woman catches pneumonia.” Some of the factors that result in globalization’s disproportionate effects include some of the following: 1) women are overburdened with "women's work," that is, work perceived as less valued, menial, undeserving of time and attention by husbands, developers, planners; 2) researchers, historians, etc. have failed to consider the work of women. This has had dire effects on women and in too many instances has rendered women invisible; women's work is not included in the Gross National Product of many countries, developed or industrialized; 3) Africana women use more primitive equipment and tools than men, and consistently work under more austere conditions; 4) traditional society views women as subservient to men and often imposes rigid gender roles. This sexual division of roles has serious implications in women’s development 5) Many Africana nations have failed to prioritize women equitably on their development agendas and have thus sent a message to Africana men that there is support for society's sexist behavior and attitudes; and 6) women have fewer options to support themselves and many become more dependent on males and are vulnerable to men's abuses of power, that is, battering, abandonment, sexual abuse, as well as economic fluctuations.
Two theoretical debates emerged in developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa. These two theories, dependency theory and underdevelopment theory provided a counter analysis to modernization theory that left many unanswered questions in the light of developments failures. Both theories are particularly relevant to the current discourse on globalization because they address one of the greatest concerns, that is, the unequal power dynamics that result from the relationship between the North and South. It is also a reminder that globalization is not new and that the concept of a world economy that presumed movement within and between the strata of an economy regulated by market forces was indeed not new.
The fiscal crisis of the 1980s resulted in developing countries inability to pay their external debts. The measures imposed by the IMF and the WB) in order to borrow money disproportionately impacted women. The previous years of generous loans from the IMF and WB came back to haunt developing nations as a result of changing policies. Loans were still available but with increasing policies calling for cuts in public expenditure, development of a more efficient and transparent and accountable state. During the 1990s the IMF maintained their Structural Adjustment Plan, while the WB began to gain a deeper understanding of other factors that affected economic performance. Factors such as non-market behavior, welfare economies, transaction costs, property rights and institutions were explored.

Ways to Get Involved
There are many ways that you as clergy can get involved and to educate your congregations. Here are just some of the important things that you can do:
Google “globalization” and learn more about it
Prepare a sermon and deliver it
Hold a forum and facilitate the discussion
Attend a lecture and draft one to two questions to ask; network and exchange contact information to begin communicating with local organizations
Invite a knowledgeable speaker to deliver a sermon and a participate in a forum
Add the topic to your next social justice conference, District Annual Meeting and General Assembly
Write a short article and submit it to your congregational and district newsletter
Identify a local organization that is addressing the issue of globalization and join their efforts
Adopt a country each year
Form a partnership with an organization in the developing world
Dedicate a collection plate to a local organization working on globalization issues

This essay explored the complex phenomenon of globalization and its impact on women with a focus on the Africana world. It described the theological foundation that compels our involvement as Unitarian Universalist seminarians and ministers with this issue. This essay demonstrated that globalization can bring about the transformation of society in the following ways: raising living standards, reducing poverty, strengthening the environment through development models and policies that are sustainable and establishing durable, deep-rooted policies under girded by societal transformation that accompany democratic processes. Aspects of globalization that threaten successful human development include: rising inequalities, marginalizing of labor and growing economic insecurities as a result of shifting geographic sites based on available cheap labor. Thus, it is necessary to propose a theory of globalization that affirms growth and trade as vital elements of economic development, while addressing poverty, degradation, insecurity and the rising disregard for personal well-being, all while considering the impact of globalization on women. As clergy and ministers in formation we are compelled to promote justice and inject our ethics in every day issues. We must wrestle with a disenchanted world that is increasingly susceptible to nihilism all while seeking to build new theologies and ideologies that strive toward right relations and model justice in the world.