By Allison Stevens<BR>WeNews correspondent” align=”right”/></p>
<p><P>WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Maricela Morales left a recent national conference in Washington, D.C., on linking faith with feminism determined to bring the message to the grassroots level.</P><P>She plans to get female clergy members talking, through being the associate executive director of CAUSE, the Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy, a nonprofit group in Ventura, Calif., that advocates policies to aid low-income workers.</P><P>“We’ll plan to have a focus group with these women of faith regarding activism and the women’s movement and how the two shall meet, or meet more strongly, in the future,” Morales said.</P><P>The lessons learned there will help inform a larger group of leaders who are working to reunite two long estranged groups: the secular women’s rights movement and socially progressive religious activists.</P><P>“I’ve lived in both worlds of the secular women’s movement and faith-based movement and found myself quite frustrated at having to hop back and forth when they refused to talk to each other and work together,” Christine Grumm, president of the Women’s Funding Network in San Francisco, said during the national conference in June.</P><P>“If there ever was a time for women to come to the table . . . to work together, to do social change, it is now. We can’t wait any longer . . . We have to be in the public sphere speaking because that’s what we’re called to do.”</P></p>
<h2>Jump-starting Progressive Policies</h2>
<p><P>By identifying their shared values, both movements may be able to expand their bases and reenergize longtime supporters, proponents say. That, in turn, may jump-start policies favored by both groups that have been languishing in a Congress controlled by social conservatives. These include expanding federal welfare programs for those with low incomes, subsidizing child care and providing more generous family and sick leave policies.</P><P>“When we are clear about our values, the barriers between religious and secular women fall away,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a pro-choice Catholic Democrat from Connecticut who has worked from within Congress to weave an agenda together that incorporates feminism, faith and progressive ideas.</P><P>Last year, for example, she sent a congressional letter to Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, to protest threats to deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. This year she gave a speech at Georgetown University in which she framed her opposition to the president’s plan to partially privatize Social Security from a religious and feminist perspective.</P><P>Outside Congress, the first public effort to unite the groups began in June, when about two dozen activists, religious leaders and academics gathered in Washington, D.C., to launch the Working Group on Women’s Public Vision. The intention is to begin a national discussion about the shared values between the women’s movement and the religious social justice movement.</P><P>A second meeting is being planned for this fall to be held either in Washington or Atlanta. Participants plan to delve into real and perceived barriers between the two groups, examine the contributions feminist theologians have made and begin to cobble together a shared legislative agenda, said Amy Caiazza, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and a member of the group.</P></p>
<h2>Setting Policy Goals</h2>
<p><P>Over the next several years, the working group intends to make policy recommendations and plan public education activities on the new alliance, Caiazza said, adding that the group would soon begin to address concrete policy goals.</P><P>It won’t be easy. While participants at the first meeting touched briefly on domestic violence, welfare reform and poverty, Caiazza said the opening session was mainly about generating mutual trust, exchanging common hopes and confronting coalition fears.</P><P>Women’s rights advocates raised concerns that they would have to downplay their support for abortion rights if they linked arms with religious activists, many of whom oppose abortion rights, Caiazza recounted. At the same time, some of the religious activists expressed fears that they would have to quiet public expressions of their faith if they were to be accepted by the secular women’s rights movement.</P><P>Participants left the meeting with their fears eased, Caiazza said.</P><P>Those seeking to reunite feminism with religion were bolstered by a study released in June, authored by Caiazza.</P><P>She found that many religious women are motivated by issues such as economic fairness, alleviating poverty and building strong communities, goals traditionally cherished by both the progressive and women’s rights movements. </P><P>The study was based on interviews with 75 respondents, most of them women active in social justice issues, and supported by the New York-based Ford Foundation.</P></p>
<h2>Defining Morality</h2>
<p><P>Her findings contradict the widely held assumption that religious activists define morality by the same set of issues–such as same-sex marriage and abortion–that social conservatives have made policy priorities.</P><P>They also give feminist religious activists and progressive women’s rights advocates reason to believe they can fight–and perhaps win–the moral values debate that has been dominated by religious fundamentalists.</P><P>The effort to connect the women’s movement and religious social justice activists marks a great step for the women’s movement, said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland and an adjunct public policy professor at Georgetown University in Washington.</P><P>If successful, the effort will bring the U.S. women’s rights movement in a full circle back to its religious foundation, said Townsend.</P><P>Several recent books and at least one film–a documentary released this year called “Acting on Faith: Women and New Religious Activism in America”–explore the connections between religion, women and progressive causes.</P><P>Townsend recalled that the women’s rights movement came into being as a spiritual effort, a premise that religious feminist Helen LaKelly Hunt also explored in her 2004 “Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance.”</P><P>Early suffragists and abolitionists such as Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister from Philadelphia, and Sojourner Truth, a Christian slave who made her way to New York, referred to a calling from God in their push to grant women a voice in society and abolish slavery, LaKelly points out in her book.</P><P>In the 1970s, however, women’s rights advocates began to distance themselves from religion, which–thanks to Biblical passages that encourage women to stay silent and obey their husbands–they began to see as sexist, Townsend said.</P><P>“One of the challenges with the women’s movement over the last 20 years is we have neglected our religious traditions,” Townsend said. “That’s been unfortunate . . . We’ve seen the damage of that in the dialogue we’ve had over the last ten years.”</P><P><I>Allison Stevens is Washington Bureau Chief at Women’s eNews.</I></P><P></P><P></P><H2>For more information:</H2><P>Institute for Women’s Policy Research:<BR>The Ties that Bind: Women’s Public Vision for Politics Religion and Civil Society<BR> :<BR><A HREF=