Former Jehova’s Witness Amber Scorah on how being a missionary in China changed her life:
When I got to China, things were really different, by necessity. Pro-selytizing is illegal. Religious meetings are banned. The preaching work and congregation meetings have to be conducted underground. This means that the handful of Witnesses in Shanghai can meet only covertly, which makes seeing each other more than once a week next to impossible. Preaching in the usual structured, door-to-door fashion is also, obviously, out of the question. For me, a Witness accustomed to a life of uniform routine, this seemed like an unprecedented adventure.
A couple of weeks after I arrived in Shanghai, I received a cryptic text message from a man who called himself James (some of us used fake names; we knew the Chinese government monitored electronic correspondence). He proposed meeting in a noisy local restaurant in the French Concession. I called his number when I got to the restaurant and he waved so I would know him. We chatted a few minutes, then he immediately got down to business. With a practiced manner, he explained the instructions from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to how to conduct my missionary work. I was to find a job, perhaps teaching English, as a cover. Then I was to start cultivating relationships with worldly people, both Chinese and Westerners. These friendships were to be made with the sole purpose of religious conversion.
This sounded crazy to me. Every day of my life I’d been taught to stay away from these people, and I had. I was the person who made excuses not to lunch with coworkers. Who never kissed the boy who loved me in high school. I was the one who didn’t join after-school sports or attend birthday parties or my prom, all for fear of contamination. But I had my instructions; there was no other choice.
I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.
We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women. The people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.
For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.
Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alekhina, 25, will be freed from prison three months before their scheduled release, according to Reuters. The two women and fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested for performing Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away from Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Feb. 21, 2012. Their crime: “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.”
Remember the Satanic Temple, which performed a ritual to turn Fred Phelps’ dead mother gay? They are still at it, now in Oklahoma. The Satanic Temple has filed the papers to put up a memorial on statehouse grounds, next to the state’s display of the 10 Commandments. They are doing this by citing Okla.’s religious displays legislation, signed into law in 2009.
The AP reports on the release of four women imprisoned during the Satanic Panic:
Four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 have achieved their first aim: freedom.
Their next step is to fight for exoneration, and that is what their attorneys intend to pursue before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera were released Monday night on their own recognizance. That was after a judge decided to recommend that an appeals court vacate their 1998 convictions as tainted by faulty witness testimony.
The fourth woman, Anna Vasquez, was released on parole last year.
The women haven’t been exonerated formally. Bexar County prosecutors have said they don’t intend to retry them if the appeals court vacates the convictions. However, they disagree with the women’s attorneys that they should be declared formally innocent. Exoneration would allow them to collect money Texas pays to the wrongfully imprisoned
Gay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church during an era commonly called the Dark Ages.
John Boswell was a historian and religious Catholic who dedicated much of his scholarly life to studying the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church. Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions that used the same rituals as heterosexual marriages. (He found almost no records of lesbian unions, which is probably an artifact of a culture which kept more records about the lives of men generally.) [...]
How could these marriages have been forgotten by history? One easy answer is that — as Boswell argues — the Church reframed the idea of marriage in the 13th century to be for the purposes of procreation. And this slammed the door on gay marriage. Church scholars and officials worked hard to suppress the history of these marriages in order to justify their new definition.
Guernica: How, after seeding that initial idea in their minds, did he end up trapping them—if that’s what happened—in the jungle?
Julia Scheeres: Here’s the key thing: Everyone who went to Jonestown thought they could leave at any time if they didn’t like it. But once they arrived, via a two-day river boat trip, Jones confiscated their money and passports. He told them that if they wanted to go back to the United States, they could swim back: he wasn’t paying their airfare. I believe his plan all along was to sequester them in an isolated spot and kill them. Most Peoples Temple members arrived in Jonestown in the summer of 1977, and he introduced the notion of “revolutionary suicide” soon after. They were shocked; they’d immigrated to Jonestown seeking a better life for themselves and their children only to discover their pastor was intent on killing them. One of the most heartbreaking things I discovered in my research was dozens of notes to Jones from residents begging him to let them return to California. One mother said her daughter was having nightmares after listening to debates on the best way to kill the one thousand residents of Jonestown, and that she didn’t know how to convince her daughter that “death was a good thing.” Many offered to send down their paychecks for the rest of their lives if he’d let them go. He couldn’t of course; they would have let the world know that he’d gone completely mad.
I think the folks who joined Jones’s church did so because they truly believed in his stated ideals of racial equality and social justice. That’s why he was able to convince one thousand of them to immigrate to the jungle of Guyana. Although history has stigmatized Jonestown residents as the people who “drank the Kool-aid,” I’d argue that they were noble idealists. Furthermore, they were murdered. They didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so at gunpoint. They sought the ideal, only to have their leader horribly betray them.
What all this means, I think, is that vodou became a fault line running through the very heart of Haitian society after 1804. For most citizens, and especially for the rural blacks who had borne the brunt both of slavery and the struggle for independence, it became a potent symbol of old dignities and new freedoms: a religion that, as Dubois notes, helped “carve out a place where the enslaved could temporarily escape the order that saw them only as chattel property” during colonial times, and went on to “create communities of trust that stretched between the different plantations and into the towns.” For the local elite, who tended to be of mixed race and were often French-educated, though, vodou was holding Haiti back. It was alien and frightening to those who did not understand it; it was associated with slave rebellion; and (after Soulouque’s rise), it was also the faith of the most brutal and backward of the country’s rulers.
These considerations combined to help make Haiti a pariah state throughout the 19th century. Dessalines and his successor, Henry Christophe—who had every reason to fear that the United States, France, Britain and Spain would overthrow their revolution and re-enslave the population, given the chance—tried to isolate the country, but even after economic necessity forced them to reopen the trade in sugar and coffee, the self-governing black republic of Haiti remained a dangerous abomination in the eyes of every white state involved in the slave trade. Like Soviet Russia in the 1920s, it was feared to be almost literally “infectious”: liable to inflame other blacks with the desire for liberty. Geffrard was not the only Haitian leader to look for ways to prove that his was a nation much like the great powers—Christian, and governed by the rule of law.
The Source Family is a new documentary about the far out hippie commune/cult of the same name. It debuted in New York City on May 1 and will be hitting indie theaters across the country soon. The Hairpin has a good write-up.