A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi
The start of the Spring 2014 semester is right around the corner, which means that many academics like me are madly trying to put the finishing touches on their syllabi. The process of doing so has always been equal parts exciting and stress-inducing. Right now, however, I am feeling the pain. Why? Let me speak first to the joy. What I cherish most about creating syllabi is the constant opportunity for renewal. As a professor with a 2/2 teaching load (i.e., I teach 4 courses per year) and with academic freedom to teach what I want in concert with my institution’s curricular needs, I get to design new classes, reconfigure courses I’ve taught previously in light of new scholarship (or new topics or new pedagogical techniques I’d like to try in the classroom), and of course do it all in the context of a different crop of students each time. Other perks include consulting with colleagues at different institutions about how they’ve designed similar courses and receiving free or greatly discounted examination copies of the books I’m considering adopting. That twice-yearly deluge of new texts feels like Christmas! What, then, of the pain? Beyond the normal stress of having to meet deadlines under the constraints of time (after all, students should rightfully receive their syllabi by the first day of class), I have always felt the burden of responsibility at the syllabus-construction stage. To be sure, the anxiety I feel about the task is not attached to any insecurities about my teaching abilities, it’s tied to the heavy obligation I feel to my students and to the field to “do it well.” To illustrate, of the many ways that a course like “Introduction to Christian Ethics” or “Religion and Human Rights” could be taught (e.g., thematically, chronologically, using a “greatest hits” or a “voices from the margins”  or a “both/and” approach, focusing more on theory or applied ethical case-studies, etc.), I must in every case decide on what I think will be the best way given my sense of how the field is constituted, my strengths, and the needs and abilities of the particular constellation of students who are likely to enroll. Discerning all of that is not easy and there can be real losses to the choices I’ve made to further those ends, however reflective or conscientious I’ve been on the matter. One of the greatest losses I feel is in the limitation of the topics and texts that can be covered. That can’t be helped, for only so much material can be absorbed within a 13-15 week semester. I know that when I am making cuts, I am engaging implicitly or explicitly in the process of canon-formation. As readers of this (feminism and religion) blog know, any talk of canon is talk of power. Who or what to include? Who or what to exclude? On what basis does one make those judgments? Alas, the blog must end and the class prep must resume, for my Spring 2014 syllabi for “Feminist Ethics” and “Ethical Theory: Metaethics” won’t write themselves. Here’s to all students and fellow academics for a successful Spring 2014 term! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology  and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two co-edited book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics (under contract with Baylor University Press) with Ilsup Ahn, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives with Rebecca Todd Peters.   This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the...
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A Feminist Eulogy?

A Feminist Eulogy?
My grandmother, my last living grandparent, recently died. She was 84 years old. Because I’ve just come back from Taiwan where I participated in all of her funerary rites and delivered a eulogy therein, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing the dead.  Is there such a thing as a “feminist”  or feminist Christian way to remember the dead? What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy? My grandmother saw incredible change in her life: she was born under Japanese rule, lived through the decades-long imposition of martial law (after Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists fled the mainland in defeat from the Communists in 1949), and witnessed firsthand the “Taiwan miracle” of rapid industrialization and growth in the latter part of the 20th century. I knew her best, however, in the context of family: as a woman who worked alongside of my grandfather who was a doctor in southern Taiwan, who served as something like a home caretaker/nurse for him after he became semi-paralyzed mid-life from a  stroke, and who capably raised four kids and then came to cherish her ten grandchildren from them. I reproduce below a slightly redacted version of the eulogy I delivered, which my mom then translated into Taiwanese. I confess that as I was writing (and even delivering) it, the feminist in me was worried that I would be reinforcing–as opposed to interrogating–the idea that “good” women should serve others selflessly. (And that was a particular concern of mine because I knew a good portion of those assembled believed that). A-ma was a constant presence in my life, even though she triangulated between our house, my auntie and uncle’s house in San Marino, and her own and other relatives’ homes in Taiwan. My earliest memories of A-ma was of her cooking, cleaning, taking care of A-gong [grandfather], and reading the Bible. I can’t recall one episode when I heard her complain; she accepted her caretaking responsibilities with grace. Even with our language barrier, she did whatever she could to help my brother and me. When I was in elementary school, A-ma would generously send a large package of new clothes every summer for my brother and me to wear – this was in the late 1970s and 1980s, before clothes became inexpensive in the U.S. I also remember that in fifth grade, A-ma sewed me a beautiful pink dress and pink hat for “Civil War Day” and I won first prize for my costume. She was very proud. My fondest memory of A-ma when I was little girl, however, was when we used to go digging for clams. We would roll up our pants and the sleeves of our shirts and feel for clams with our toes. A-ma always managed to find the largest ones. After soaking and rinsing them, she would steam them for our whole family to enjoy. These were some of the best meals of my life. Apart from the birth of my two children in the last five years, Ama was present at every major milestone in my life: from my college graduation, to graduate school graduation, to my wedding day. I will also never forget the fun times we had when we were on vacation. I especially remember the look of glee on her face when she helped to reel in a 150 lb. marlin in Cabo San Lucas and then began practically lecturing the person cleaning and filleting the fish not to waste any of it and to keep the eggs. The only memory I have of A-ma upset about anything was on our trip to Alaska. When we were walking around town one afternoon, we...
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No More Of This in Academe!

No More Of This in Academe!
Last week, social media was ablaze over a September 18 Pittsburg Post-Gazette column entitled “Death of An Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik that had the following teaser: “Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83.”  Inside Higher Ed reports that the column went viral as “adjuncts across the country reported seeing something tragically familiar in her story.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education likewise covered the story with this tagline: “An Adjunct’s Death Becomes a Rallying Cry for Many In Academe.” This tragedy involves all sorts of issues with which readers of this blog are concerned: power, structural injustice, job insecurity, underemployment, unions, healthcare, and Catholic values (the last of these since Margaret worked at a Catholic institution), to name a few. To pay homage to Mary Margaret and to the plight of many today facing similar obstacles and difficulties, I invite you to read Daniel Kovalik’s full column. On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to. On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court…follow link to read the rest. Daniel Kovalik is senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union (DKovalik@usw.org). First Published September 18, 2013 12:00 am How can we work together to prevent more of these stories from happening? November 17, 2013 update: According to a recent Slate magazine article by L.V. Anderson, “the story…[i]s more complicated than the story that went viral. The reasons Vojtko’s life ended in misery had much less to do with her status as an adjunct professor than tweeters using the #IamMargaretMary hashtag might believe.” Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on a co-edited anthology providing a theological exploration of women’s...
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Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students

Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students
  I’m officially in “back to school” mode, as I put the finishing touches on my syllabi, get my course websites ready, and prepare my 5-year old son for Kindergarten. As I think about new graduate students studying theology or ministry, I’m reminded that while women make-up approximately 1/3 of all seminary students nationwide, at the place at which I work  (Claremont School of Theology), they comprise half of the student body. In honor of all the new, especially female, matriculates (at my school or elsewhere), I’m reposting below one of my first entries on this blogsite. It was entitled “Undermining Our Own Authority.” The advice I gave then still captures what I’d say now. *           *            * “I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult, if not exhausting, for women professionals to discern how to be strong and assertive (and thus be taken seriously) without coming across as arrogant or b*tchy. But there is indeed room for play between over-deference and cockiness, and the ability to code-switch while in formal settings would be a good step in the right direction for many of us.” Whatever your take is on Madonna’s feminist bona fides, she was definitely on to something in her 2001 hit “What it Feels Like For a Girl.”  Madonna sang about the tremendous pressures females of all ages face to conform to gendered norms of physical appearance and demeanor. I use her lyrics below to discuss some ways I have seen young women in academe subtly undermine their own authority. To cut to the chase: female students and junior scholars have a greater tendency than their male counterparts to engage in self-sabotaging patterns of speech, writing, and body language. I say these things both as someone who has worked with undergraduate and graduate students for the past 10 years and as someone who has had (and still has) to train herself out of certain bad habits. Many of us have been conditioned under mainstream conventions of femininity to self-efface, remain deferential toward men, and project an aura of a soft and inviting presence. The problem in academic settings is that these “ladylike” behaviors lead others to see us as insecure, under-confident, and unqualified. “When you open up your mouth to speak / Could you be a little weak?” (Madonna) Let’s start with public speaking. While there are several pitfalls to avoid, the one I’ll focus on here is very common: the tendency among women (and also, anecdotally, among “out” gay men who have affected speech) to end their declarative sentences with an upward lilt or inflection, effectively transforming their statements into questions. What I mean is the following. Instead of hearing this: “Today, I’m gong to talk about Kierkegaard. I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken.” I effectively hear this: “Today, I’m going to talk about Kierkegaard?  I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken?” To state the obvious, the speaker in the second set of sentences projects uncertainty, tentativeness, and a desire to please others. Those might be good things if the speaker is an already established senior scholar or is otherwise speaking in a context where s/he is clearly the one with more power or status (e.g., a veteran teacher to students), since the upwards lilt “works against type” in suggesting openness and an accommodating posture. But the upwards inflection generally won’t help those students or scholars who are trying to establish themselves as credible, competent, and authoritative. Embodiment, in short, counts. Speakers who appear younger or smaller in size than those in...
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Everywhere I am surrounded by tales of violence

Everywhere I am surrounded by tales of violence
 As I write this blog, I am nearing the end of my week-long family vacation in Palm Desert. While we’ve had lots of fun splashing around in the pool, everywhere I turn I am bombarded by scenes and memories of violence. Vignette #1: We left on Sunday, July 14–the morning after a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Regardless of what one thinks about the outcome, including the role(s) that race played in the altercation itself or the jury’s deliberations, the fact remains that 17-year old Trayvon Martin died as a result of gun violence (among other factors). That alone is something we should all grieve. Vignette #2: I like to catch up on news while on vacation but nearly regretted doing so when I came across this horrific story that took place in northeastern Brazil during a recent soccer match. On June 30, a 20-year old referee (Otavio Jordao da Silva) expelled 31-year old player Josenir Santos Abreu from a game, the two got into a fist fight, and then the referee pulled a knife and stabbed the player in the chest, who then died on his way to the hospital. Why the ref was carrying a knife in the first place remains unclear. The story quickly turns more grisly–a mob (comprised of angry players and spectators) stormed the field, stoned the referee to death, quartered his body, decapitated him, and then stuck his severed head on a stake in the middle of the field. I am at a total loss for words about this incident. Vignette #3: This morning, while browsing our hotel’s complimentary coffee table book about what to see, do, and eat in Palm Springs, I was struck by the glamorization of violence I read on one of their glossy pages. I reproduce it below in full: Frank Sinatra used to hoist a Jack Daniels flag to alert his Palm Springs Movie Colony neighbors–including Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant–that it was cocktail time. At this 1947 midcentury modern house designed by E. Stewart Williams, Sinatra reputedly threw then-wife Ava Gardner’s possessions onto the driveway after she tried to catch him with Lana Turner. Visitors to the house always look for the chip in the sink where Sinatra famously threw a bottle in a rage. You can see it, too. You can even rent the four-bedroom, seven bath Twin Palms Estate for a fun getaway for $2600 a night (there’s a three-night minimum and a $350 service fee). Of course, I get that interest in seeing the Twin Palms Estate is tied to celebrity worship and an appreciation for a particular style of architecture more than a love for violence per se, but I am troubled that tales of marital discord and violence presumably “up” the attractiveness quotient of this site. Vignette #4: Now closer to home, I am sad to report the lure of our culture of violence in my boys, ages 3 and 5, as well. As parents, our “no toy weapons” policy has meant that we’ve never bought them what so many of their peers have to keep cool in the summer–water toy guns. But in preparation for this trip, what we did instead was buy each of them a shark-themed water squirter. While they have been gleefully playing with their new toys on this trip, that hasn’t not stopped them from eyeing with envy, and asking to “have a turn” with, the water bazookas and  AK47 water guns that other boys at the pool have been daily playing with. Apparently, military-style weaponry, even of the toy variety, is just too tempting for my boys...
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It Was a Rainbow Graduation

It Was a Rainbow Graduation
I have the privilege of serving as Co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. I am ecstatic that we just hosted our version of a “rainbow graduation” at this year’s Commencement. The day before graduation, all CST graduates received a rainbow tassel as a free gift from the CSGR, with the following accompanying letter: May 20, 2013 Dear CST Graduate, This tassel is a gift from the Center for Sexuality, Gender and Religion (CSGR). It carries with it our congratulations as you receive your diploma from Claremont School of Theology. Well done! We invite you to wear this rainbow tassel at Commencement and to display it after graduation in a place where you and others will see it on a regular basis. The colors of the rainbow carry significance in many spiritual traditions; in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the rainbow signifies God’s covenant with the earth. The rainbow can also signify the diversities of human love, identity, and experience. A unique part of theological education at CST is a public commitment to the flourishing of, and justice for, persons of all genders and sexualities. On October 11, 2010, National Coming Out Day, the CST faculty unanimously approved the following statement: Claremont School of Theology affirms its longstanding welcome to LGBTQI students, faculty, and staff. This commitment is in harmony with the specific call of the United Methodist Church toward inclusiveness. It reflects our hope and expectation that welcome and inclusiveness will become the accepted norm throughout the world. Since 2011, the CSGR has been one of the sponsoring institutions of the Human Rights Campaign’s LGBT Summer Institute in Religious and Theological Study. CST was also selected in 2012 by the Religious Institute as one of the twenty most sexually healthy and responsible seminaries in the nation. Given that CST is a nationally recognized leader in these areas, we hope you will proudly reflect our values in the world as a CST alumnus. Wherever you serve after graduation, remember that this tassel communicates our best wishes and confidence in you. You are equipped to lead diverse religious, racial-ethnic and social communities, and we look forward to hearing great things from and about you.   With best wishes, Grace Kao                                            Duane Bidwell                                   Carleen Mandolfo Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR  —- [All Claremont Lincoln University graduates also received the same gift, with a slightly modified corresponding letter.] I was ecstatic to see the vast majority of graduates, as well as the faculty, staff, and other luminaries participating in Commencement eagerly don their rainbow tassels (n.b., when I told the president of CST of our plan one month beforehand, he said with a smile “I want one, too!” which then prompted us to purchase enough tassels for other non-students participating in regalia to wear one at graduation at their discretion as well). The tradition of hosting a “rainbow” or “lavender” graduation began at the University of Michigan in 1995 and honors the achievements, hopes, and struggles of graduates whose identities span across the spectrum of gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. These ceremonies usually take place at a separate time from the formal graduation ceremony and can include awards to outstanding individuals, a guest speaker’s exhortation, some reflections by the graduating students, and a commemorative gift (e.g., tassel, cord, stole, pin) that the graduates are encouraged to wear with pride during the formal graduation ceremony. As HuffPost...
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Speaking Up for Animals

Speaking Up for Animals
“I hope that readers will rethink their consumer choices, monies that have long been offered at the expense of nonhuman animals–overwhelmingly female and exploited because of their female biology. We choose where our money goes, and in the process, we choose whether to boycott cruelty and support change, or melt ambiguously back into the masses.”   This passage nearly concludes Lisa Kemmerer’s Introduction to her Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Lives (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Her book is divided into three parts: (1) Pondering what I put into my mouth, (2) Working for wildlife, (3) Potpourri: From dancing bears to undercover investigation. We find in this anthology 18 powerful stories of women animal advocates: women who have founded sanctuaries, volunteered in rescue and rehabilitation organizations, protested the inhumane treatment of animals in various industries, taken in stray or abandoned “pets,” gone vegan, and/or engaged in other forms of animal activism. I was deeply moved by this book. All the contributors report working as animal advocates out of some combination of pity or compassion for animal suffering and outrage at the injustice of their exploitation by fellow human beings. But each does so in a way that is deeply personal and narratively powerful. As readers, we are not simply introduced to an abstract concept of “animal cruelty,” we are told about Hilda, a still-live sheep that was literally discarded as trash on a stockyard “dead pile”–and then we learn how that shocking discovery led Lorri Houston to cofound Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. We read about Tua Rohd, a severely injured and “bare recognizable” gibbon who was captured from the wild in Thailand for the exotic pet trade. While recounting this story, Amy Corrigan, Director of Research and Education for the Animal Concerns Reserach and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, shares that she was “emotionally crushed” when this gentle creature died in her arms after only surviving a few days post-rescue. These chapters reveal real wisdom. One contributor, scholar-activist Dana Medoro, notes the importance of being “dexterous” when advocating for animals because “it’s difficult for people to absorb the shock of the information about all of the hateful ways in which humans treat and use animals.” Many others speak freely about the anguish, guilt, and grief they regularly experience in the work they do, knowing that they cannot save them all, or even most, and that they regularly face real “Sophie’s Choices” (on which animals to save and which to leave behind). What might be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the women who cite their religious commitments as motivating forces in their activist work: Anuradha Sawheny notes how her Hindu commitment to ahimsa grounds her compassionate approach to animals and accordingly her work for the Indian chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Linda Elin McDaniel, an ordained United Methodist Church minister and board member of the Christian Vegetarian Association describes her turn to vegetarianism as both a blessing and an enactment of her commitments to be peaceful, just, and compassionate like Jesus. For Sue Pemberton, it is her internalization of the Budddhist teachings on compassion and karma that lead her to help rehabilitate pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) at The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California. Kris “Risa” Candour, an African American woman, operates a Reiki natural healing practice for humans and their animal companions in Vancouver, Canada. To be clear, the book is not simply about women “saving” animals, but in several cases of animals “rescuing” them. Lynette Shanley, the founder of two Australian organizations (one for wildcats and one for primates), writes beautifully about how her own companion animals and her...
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Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism

Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism
On Sunday, February 10, the Tet parade in Little Saigon, Westminster (CA) went on as planned. Several thousand people turned up to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year, or what Khanh Ho, Assistant Professor of English at Grinnell College, has likened to “Mardi Gras, New Years, and Christmas all rolled into one.” Deliberately excluded this year from marching, however, were LGBT groups. I was saddened to have read that they were being denied the right to march because of their perceived incompatibility with Vietnamese values. I had become sadder still when I learned that it had been an Interfaith Council that had first pushed for their exclusion. I work at a progressive institution that takes seriously the value of interreligious partnership and cooperation; I also serve as one of the co-directors of our Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. So let me reproduce below the letter that we co-directors, under the principal authorship of my colleague Duane Bidwell, sent to the parade organizers in response to their planned exclusion of LGBT participants on cultural grounds. —- To Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee: We are grateful for the opportunity to appeal to you as leaders and elders of the Little Saigon community. We ask you please to welcome the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations by permitting its members to march in the 2013 Tet Parade, as they have done since 2010 with much community support. We write as a Christian pastor who studied with the late Ven. Buddhapalo, sponsored a Buddhist monk granted asylum by the U.S. government, and adopted a Vietnamese child; a second-generation Taiwanese American who has written a book on international human rights; and a lesbian bible scholar who has taught many Vietnamese students. The Lunar New Year, Tết Nguyên Đán, is a special and sacred holiday in Vietnamese culture and tradition. It emphasizes the unity and cohesiveness of family, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a part of Vietnamese families. LGBT people worship and provide leadership at Little Saigon temples and churches. Many are deeply spiritual, recognized as devout practitioners of their religious traditions. We acknowledge the concerns of the Vietnamese American Interfaith Council in Southern California, and we are aware of the complex social, political and cultural issues that surround the full inclusion of the Partnership in the Tet parade. Yet there is great diversity among Vietnamese Americans and among their religious communities. As a whole, Vietnamese Americans understand the pain of exclusion and living “in between” cultures. The ability to live with this ambiguity is a gift of courage—a gift that Vietnamese Americans offer to the nation as a whole. Perhaps one of the community’s challenges is living with that ambiguity in ways that honor emerging experiences and voices without imposing restrictions similar to those that have hurt Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the past? You remain in our prayers as you reconsider your choice about including the Partnership in the parade. It is a decision to be made with imagination, concern for harmony, and respect for tradition; it must be linked to the past but work to secure a future of unity and cohesiveness for the community as a whole. If we as religious scholars can be helpful to you in this process, please do not hesitate to contact us. We hope to see GLBT people marching proudly in the Tet parade, promoting love, support, good will, prosperity and justice for everyone. With respect and gratitude, Rev. Duane Bidwell, Ph.D.       Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Ph.D.        Carleen Mandolfo, Ph.D. —- To reiterate, we (and the many other LGBT supporters who had engaged in letter...
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The Future of Christian Ethics

The Future of Christian Ethics
The annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics is just around the corner (Jan 3-6, 2013). One of my responsibilities will be to meet again with members of the 2020 Future of Christian Ethics task force. Our “charge” according to the chair of the committee, Charles Matthewes, is as follows: The 2020 Committee will explore the current status of, and future prospects for, the field of ‘Christian ethics’ as a field of scholarship and teaching in the academy. It will do so with an eye to reporting the findings of its inquiries, and communicating what recommendations may be derived therefrom, to the whole Society of Christian Ethics, in order better to inform and guide the actions of the Society, now and in years to come. The Committee has two objectives. First, it seeks to understand, using all possible evidence, the current state of the field of Christian ethics — both in terms of its pedagogical, intellectual, and institutional presence in the academy, and in terms of its role (both pedagogically and institutionally) in American churches and ecclesial bodies. Second, it seeks to use that understanding to offer tentative practical recommendations regarding how best to commit the resources of the Society to the present encouragement, and future cultivation, of the field of Christian ethics in the academy and for the churches. In preparation for our meeting, each task force member submitted a 1000-word piece on the future of Christian Ethics. What follows below is a slightly revised version of my submission. — Several of the major tasks assigned to the SCE 2020 committee have weighed heavily on me in recent years, coinciding with my move from undergraduate to graduate teaching. While I have long taught “Christian ethics” (previously, as a portion of my undergraduate courses in “religious ethics” and now in a stand-alone manner in both introductory and advanced seminar courses at a seminary), I am now institutionally responsible for selecting and recruiting talented students for doctoral admissions and then training them to become the next generation of scholar-teachers. Many of the questions that Stanley Hauerwas discussed in his 2003 Journal of Religious Ethics piece “Between Christian Ethics and Religious Ethics: How Should Graduate Students Be Trained?” are accordingly my own: (1) What does it take to train graduate students in our field today—what do they need to know, with whom (if anyone) must they be taught to think, and do they “need to travel the same intellectual path my generation traveled in order to do the kind of work they associate with Christian or religious ethics?” (p. 406) (2) What should I understand myself to be doing in producing graduates in the “field,” when the nature and boundaries of the field are under dispute and when the realities of the job market, coupled with shifting church and religious affiliation demographics, may suggest different answers (i.e., it might be the case that training a competent Christian ethicist and training someone who can get—and keep—a job are two different things entirely). Here are some preliminary answers to these questions: (1)  The next generation needs to continue to know the moral vocabulary of and various approaches to character formation and decision-making that have long been associated with Christian ethics. (Let me add that while I am an unabashed defender of “rights talk,” the study of ethics would be enriched if we all remembered that our tradition of ethical thinking is much broader than the moral vocabulary of rights). (2)   The next generation should ideally do #1 in service to the church (particularly for those who teach Christian ethics to those training for ministry) and for the larger academy. (Yes, the first...
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