Kris Kobach, Incapable of Decency or Shame or Compassion

Doesn’t anyone love Kris Kobach enough to tell him to stop? Doesn’t he have a mother or a friend who can speak to him earnestly, kindly, and directly and say, “Kris, you look like a monster?”

The Kansas Secretary of State is organizing a pro-gun rally on the capitol steps for tomorrow–the same day that Kansas students are joining other students nationwide in a walk-out to commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and call for an end to gun violence.

At least some of Kobach’s supporters will be open-carrying.

Kobach is attempting to make Kansas “the most pro-gun state in America,” which is a really revealing phrase: He doesn’t say that he wants to make it a place where people have the fewest restrictions on their 2nd Amendment rights or where the laws are sturdy around the right to gun ownership. For normal people, believing in the right to gun ownership does not mean that a person advocates for more guns–just like a person can believe in the right to an abortion without believing that more abortions are a good thing. But, for the Secretary of State, rights are less important than guns. Guns, more guns, more powerful guns, in more hands, in more places–that is the goal.


Above, Kris Kobach ponders his agenda for the day. Who should I harass first? Immigrants? Non-white voters? Children who live in terror of being gunned down in school? So many vulnerable people to be mean to, so little time! 

In defending this tasteless event, Kobach says that there are people, post-Parkland, who are trying to “challenge America’s gun culture.” They are trying to argue that “firearms themselves (are) no longer legitimate in America.” He, of course, means, this is a bad thing. But, first of all, it’s perfectly legal to challenge the culture and to argue that guns aren’t legitimate. Everyone, including those too young to vote, is allowed to argue for a different vision of America.

And, second of all, we can change the culture without changing anyone’s rights. Why the hell wouldn’t someone hoping to shape the future of Kansas’ politics want to get rid of American gun culture? Whether you love guns or hate them, whether you think we have an individual right to stockpile weapons or you think that arms are for well-regulated militias, you have to be able to see that our gun culture as it is is not working. We don’t have to change the law to change the culture.


You can try to be woke and still screw up when it comes to racism. That’s no excuse for not trying.

It’s not easy being anti-racist:

Schultz, whose company has been known for its inclusion and political correctness (to the point of occasional controversy), has received praise in the past for speaking out against racism. After the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when President Trump blamed “both sides” for violence, Schultz said that elected officials were not using “their voice with due force and eloquence to elevate the ideal of equality.”

But the Philadelphia incident raises questions about how deeply Schultz’s sensitivity on racial discrimination seeped into the company.

Conservatives, of course, are gleeful:

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Let’s first of all say this: If Chris Stigall is defending you, you probably need to deeply examine whatever it is in your life he finds praiseworthy.

That said: You can try desperately to be woke and still find yourself screw up on matters of race. It’s not because black people are trying to trick you into screwing up — it’s an odd trap that would leave the trappers arrested by police simply for being in a coffee shop — but because it’s easy not to see one’s own blind spots when it comes to race.

I’ve written in these parts about my own experience realizing I’d screwed up a racial issue. I don’t need to revisit it again here: It was that painful. But my own experience came after years of writing about white privilege, of trying to be an advocate for racial justice. And I still fucked up.

That’s not an excuse.

To listen to the Stigalls of the world, one might assume white people are owed credit for not being racist. But, as my wife says in a different context, you don’t get a cookie for doing what you should do. The fact that you take a beating when you – or your employees – do a racist thing is not proof of the unfairness of anti-racism.

You work against racism because it’s the right thing to do. And you do it humbly, knowing those blind spots might bite you despite your best efforts. And when somebody stumbles on the journey, well: Best to point it out, try to see that justice is done, then welcome them to continue on the journey.

It’s not easy. But it’s better, wiser, than turning our backs.


Do Black Lives Matter in church?

White on the outside.

I’d like to recommend this piece at The Marshall Project about a man who ended up leaving his church because of its indifference to Black Lives Matter issues.

While there are probably some mostly white churches that get it right on issues of racial justice, studies show that the majority don’t. According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelical Protestants stand out as the religious group most likely to say the criminal justice system treats people of color and whites equally with 57 percent endorsing that belief. More specifically, 62 percent say that police officers treat blacks the same as whites.

The distance between these beliefs and reality suggests that white Christians are failing to hear their brothers and sisters of color. And that failure raises serious concerns about the ability of mostly white congregations to advance the gospel of Jesus, a victim himself of state violence.

I think the thing that’s surprised me the most about the response of many white people — in and out of the church — is an underlying, rarely stated presumption that they understand the experiences of black people better than black people understand their own experiences. Listening is really hard. We’d all do well to practice it more often.

WHM Reflection: To Read and Watch and Teach

In reflecting on this year’s Women’s History Month, we have invited some Mennonite/Mennonear (near to Mennonite) women to share with us how they honor women. Today, we’re joined by Martina Cucchiara, professor of history at Bluffton College and co-editor of The Evil That Surrounds Us: The WWII Memoir of Erna Becker-Kohen, Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at Goshen College and co-author of Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism, and Rachel Epp Buller, professor of visual art and design at Bethel Collge and the author or editor of Reconciling Art and Mothering; Mothering Mennonite; and Alice Lex-Nerlinger: Fotomonteurin und Malerin / Photomontage Artist and Painter. They share with us what they have been reading and watching and teaching that honors women.

Martina Cucchiara: In honor of Women’s History month, I revisited my favorite women authors and discovered new ones.

Recently in one of my classes, we watched the 2009 BBC production of Emily Brontë’s 1847 incandescent, exasperating, and, at the time, scandalous novel Wuthering Heights. One of the many reasons I love Wuthering Heights is because Brontë so far overstepped the literary and social boundaries deemed acceptable in her time, one critic recommended that readers burn the novel.

Personally, I am reading Rania Abouzeid’s  No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria (W.W. Norton, 2018). An award-winning journalist, Abouzeid has been covering the Syrian war at great personal cost since 2011. In her excellent book, she takes the reader deep into this complex conflict, as she exposes the extent of human suffering and resilience in war.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Personally, I gathered and posted to social media about women and women’s issues at least once a day.  I did the same thing during Black History Month (February).  For Women’s History Month, I focused mostly on lifting up women of color, African American women specifically.  Every January, over Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I teach a class called Conversations on Race.  This year, students read Ida B. Wells, Michelle Alexander, and Bree Newsome.

This year I am, for the fifth time, performing in a local production called Michiana Monologues.  Inspired 10 years ago by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, this production invites local women to anonymously submit their stories, which are then turned into a script to be performed by other local women.  The proceeds from tickets to the shows and a silent auction are distributed to local organizations that support women, girls, and non-binary people in our region.  I’m also excited that students on our campus are producing the Goshen Monologues for the fourth year in a row.

Books that I’m currently reading: Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to The Women of the Torah and the Throne by Wil C. Gafney and The Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth Series.  I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but a good friend recommended the series, and I love it.  I will be seeking out more sci fi by African American women.  Next on my book list is Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy by Elizabeth Gillespie McCrae.

Rachel Epp Buller: Over the past year, I’ve been reading quite a bit of feminist science fiction, speculative narratives that envision alternate ways of being in possible futures. Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Charlotte Perkins Gilmans’ Herland, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale—all of these, whether utopian or dystopian, push us to reconsider our expectations for and assumptions about human and more-than-human relations—the ways that we exist, operate, and care for ourselves, each other, and our world in these precarious times.

As part of my current creative practice, I’ve also been reading a variety of epistolary histories. Much of what we know about women’s histories from different time periods has come to us through letters and diaries; some of what I’m reading also discusses the ways that women navigated boundaries between public and private spheres through letter-writing. And in a book on feminist correspondences from the 1970s, In Love and Struggle, Margaretta Jolly looks at the ways that feminist writers turned to letters as an ethical form of writing that might embody both care and resistance in their struggle for liberation.

Above, the covers of books our friends are recommending.



WHM Reflections: Who Should We Be Following?

In reflecting on Women’s History Month, we have invited some Mennonite/Mennonear (near to Mennonite) women to share with us their concerns and hopes about women. Today, we’re joined by Stephanie Krehbiel of Into Account, Renee Kanagy, pastor of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, Rachel Epp Buller, professor of visual art and design at Bethel Collge and the author or editor of Reconciling Art and Mothering; Mothering Mennonite; and Alice Lex-Nerlinger: Fotomonteurin und Malerin / Photomontage Artist and Painter, and Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at Goshen College and co-author of Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism. Here, each answers the question “Who should we be reading, listening to, and following on social media?”

I hope you are encouraged by what they share here–and that you take their advice and find some new folks to follow on social media!–RB-F

Stephanie Krehbiel: Wagatwe Wanjuki is my go-to source for commentary on current events related to sexual violence. She’s a writer and activist and rose to national prominence by taking on George Will of the Washington Post over his rape apologism. She’s as incisive and as badass as activists come. Also, she loves bunnies.  If you want to stay on top of Title IX-related developments, I recommend following the nonprofit legal organization Survjustice, and its founder, Laura Dunn. They’re currently suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her dismantling of Title IX regulations.

Renee Kanagy: The Women in Leadership Project  highlights women in their teens to elderhood.  Following it illuminates the beautiful particularity of women around Mennonite Church USA who are creative and bold leaders.

I also urge everyone to read the recent The Mennonite article covering the first conference in the United States highlighting scholarship of Mennonites complicit response to Nazism and anti-Semitism. We need to tell the truth. Doris L. Bergen, the keynote speaker, wrote the textbook on the subject. This is a woman writing about the silenced stories. [Editor’s addition: Check out the blog Anabaptist Historians for excellent engagement with this conference.]

Rachel Epp Buller: I highly recommend the writers of the Nursing Clio blog. It is an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog focusing on gender and medicine in a way that connects historical scholarship to contemporary issues. As the website for the blog notes,” Bodies, reproductive rights, and health care are often at the center of social, cultural, and political debates. We believe the issues that dominate today’s headlines and affect our daily lives reach far back into the past — that the personal is historical.”  I wrote for Nursing Clio for a few years in its early days, but throughout its existence, I’ve been continually impressed at the hard-hitting, relevant, feminist historical scholarship put out by these authors on a weekly basis. Over the years, many of the contributors have been graduate students, and they are leading the way in utilizing a digital platform to connect historical and contemporary issues.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: Definitely Stacey Patton.  She is a professor of multimedia journalism who writes, among many other things, about race and violence.  An adoptee and survivor of child abuse, Patton challenges the presumed necessity, by many, of corporal punishment. Her research on violence against African American children is currently focused on child lynching victims.


Above, Wanjuke, Dunn, and Patton.

WHM Reflections: Women we need to know more about

In reflecting on this year’s Women’s History Month, we have invited some Mennonite/Mennonear (near to Mennonite) women to share with us their concerns and hopes about women.Today, we’re joined by Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at Goshen College and co-author of Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism, Renee Kanagy, pastor of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, Martina Cucchiara, professor of history at Bluffton College and co-editor of The Evil That Surrounds Us: The WWII Memoir of Erna Becker-Kohen, Rachel Epp Buller, professor of visual art and design at Bethel Collge and the author or editor of Reconciling Art and Mothering; Mothering Mennonite; and Alice Lex-Nerlinger: Fotomonteurin und Malerin / Photomontage Artist and Painter.

Here, each answers the question “Who is a woman whose story you think needs to be better known?”

Regina Shands Stoltzfus: I would love for more people to know about Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  If people know her name, they know her primarily as an anti-lynching activist, which is appropriate.  However, I think it is important to also remember that she was a journalist.  This is astounding in and of itself, that a Black woman born in the mid-1800s pursued a career as a writer.  She used those skills in pursuit of justice for the victims of lynching and the record she painstakingly gathered are the data for an important and harrowing part of U.S. history.  Wells-Barnett also embodied the principles of intersectionality in her work.

Ida B Wells

Above, journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett. 

Renee Kanagy: Ruby Sale, the founder and director of the Spirit House Project. She is one of 50 African Americans to be spotlighted in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Something in the interview she did with Krista Tippett as part of On Being keeps calling me back.  She extends comfort by asking “Where does it hurt?” Oh, now that’s a question. And she calls me to turn and ask this compassionate question with other white folks who do not share my vision for what would make for a country, a community, where shalom holds for everyone. She has the lived experience, the strength and tenderness, to ask me and my tribe of European American Christians to initiate compassionate conversation from a place of inquiring “where does it hurt?”

Ruby Sales’ question asks us to sit with and experience pain: the hurt of rejection, humiliation, not measuring up or being known and loved at the core of our being. The question helps us develop the capacity to sit with and not gloss over or numb out to the pain. The question images that something transformative happens when we sit in the pain of another or our own. I’ve seen it happen—a shift, an easing, or companionship—and it is real, even as it is undetectable at times to the rational mind. Holding my own pain is essential to working at a great challenge facing women today: discernment, asking What is my work?

Ruby Sales

Civil Rights hero Ruby Sales


Martina Cucchiara: Rather than focus on one individual woman, I would like to focus on a group of women: the School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are an apostolic Catholic religious congregation that originated in Germany in 1833 with the explicit goal of teaching and serving poor girls.  The Catholic Church seems an unlikely place for women’s activism, but in an era where women had few opportunities outside of marriage, the nineteenth-century Catholic Church offered remarkable autonomous free spaces for women called to religious life. Fronta Schlund, born in 1872 in Bavaria, illustrates this point.  As was common for many rural women of her era, Sister Fronta’s marriage prospects were poor, and before her stretched a lifetime of drudgery on her family farm under her domineering father’s authority. For years, Sister Fronta fought her father, who forbade her to take religious vows until, finally, at the age of twenty-one, she escaped to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame, where she trained as a nurse. Her obituary testifies to the joy the young woman found in her profession and vocation, as everyone in her care agreed that “she was in her element” whenever she entered a sickroom. She was just one of many Catholic sisters who defied social norms of their age by living independent lives outside of the authority of husbands and fathers.

Today in North America, the School Sisters are courageous and uncompromising advocates and activists for women and girls, the poor, peace, and social justice.  As I am writing this entry, from March 12-23, 2018 the School Sisters are attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York, where they are campaigning for gender equality and for the rights and empowerment of rural women and girls everywhere.

You can follow the sisters’ activism and campaigns on Facebook or their website.

Mother Theresa Gerhardinger

Mother Theresa Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame

Rachel Epp Buller: My inevitable answer has to be German artist Alice Lex-Nerlinger, since I spent years researching and writing about her under-recognized work. She and her spouse were both artists and both achieved quite a bit of exposure in 1920s Berlin; as often happens with artist-couples, however, history books have often included his work but not hers or mention her only in passing. Both artists sought throughout their lives to make their work an instrument for social change; as members of the German Communist Party, both searched for, and repeatedly changed, artistic styles in hopes of finding the style that would most closely connect to the experiences of the common person, rather than just appeal to an art-world elite. While both artists prioritized issues of class, Lex is notable for the ways in which she introduced gender to the discussion of class, drawing attention to a wide variety of female labor experiences—between the wars, during  World War II, and as part of the postwar rebuilding in East Berlin.

You can find the first retrospective exhibition of her work here, read a bilingual exhibition catalogue, and check out On This Date in Photography’s blog post, with images, about her work.


Above, a photograph of Alice Lex-Nerlinger from the collection of Sigrid Nerlinger.

WHM Reflections: What are the issues we care about?

As Women’s History Month closes, we have invited some Mennonite/Mennonear (near to Mennonite) women to share with us their concerns and hopes about women.

Today, we’re joined by Martina Cucchiara, professor of history at Bluffton College and co-editor of The Evil That Surrounds Us: The WWII Memoir of Erna Becker-Kohen; Sarah Barrett (my dear sister),a social worker whose practice includes a focus on supporting trans people in western Pennsylvania and a lay leader with Stahl Mennonite Church; and Anna Liechty Sawatzky, a home visitor in a child abuse prevention program and the author of Live Your Call. Here, each answers the question “What is the challenge facing women today that you work hardest to address? That you care most about?”

I hope you are encouraged as you read their answers–RB-F

Martina Cucchiara: I am passionate about the education of girls and women, an issue that intersects with my research.  Access to education is a basic human right that empowers girls and benefits families and societies as a whole.  According to Maritza Ascencios, from the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Educating girls is a surefire way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status and health, reduce poverty, and wipe out HIV/AIDS and other diseases.” However, poverty, sexism, and oppressive cultural traditions prevent too many girls attending school in developing countries.

But we are not powerless and can address some of the injustices girls suffer. In honor of Women’s History Month, I encourage you to consider a donation to CARE.ORG.  If it is within your means, give a scholarship for a girl to attend secondary school in the amount of $143.00 or check out other giving options at

Image result for poor women

Above, a woman holds a banner that says “Poverty has a woman’s face.” The majority of the world’s poor are women. Globally, they earn 23% less than men, they contribute 1/8 of the world’s GDP in unpaid labor each year, and, over the course of a lifetime, work 4 more years than men.  

Sarah Barrett: My short answer would be: acceptance of LGBT women and women of color in our congregations.  My longer answer would be: making sure women have a voice at the table, especially within the Mennonite church, whether at the conference level, the church level, or in organizing events, especially ones that women have traditionally not been a part of.

I remember when I was asked to be a lay leader, a position of three years, with the third year being the head lay leader, a position that required monthly attendance at our church council meeting.  By the time my third year rolled around, my husband was teaching Wednesday nights at the local community college, my in-laws (who usually babysit for us) had their own Wednesday night Bible study to attend, and I had no one else available to watch my kids. I requested that we move church council meeting so that I could contribute (After all, I’d been asked to be a head lay leader to bring the voice of young, female, parenting, working persons’ voices to the table).  I might add that, before accepting the position at all, I had asked if the Wednesday night meeting was a requirement, as I knew my husband’s evening class changed from semester to semester. I had been assured council meetings would be flexible.
I was shocked when the other members wrangled with this, stating that a group of council usually went golfing on Thursdays, Kids Church was on Tuesdays, Fridays were out just because it was Friday, and Mondays “might” work.  Unfortunately, it never really quite worked out to meet on Mondays that semester, mainly because people said it would but then, when it came time to schedule, couldn’t.  Eventually, I stopped making the request to accommodate my needs, because it was clear that no one was going to budge to make sure that my perspective could be easily included.
I remember taking my children to the meetings at least twice (which meant my young kids missed their 8pm bedtime), the pastor’s wife watched my kids once, and I missed a few others.  In all of this, no one seemed to realize the bigger issue, except the pastor: that a person elected to hold a position was not able to do so because of the inflexibility of others.  I think that not making exceptions, room, a space at the table for the voice they wanted means the church lost out on how to grow, witness, and make space for other women, their partners, their children, and their love for church.
So, my longer answer would be: to make sure, no matter how much we have to change, grow, adjust, accommodate, babysit, move schedules, or do church differently, to create a space for a women’s voice, needs, wants, and love to be at the table.

Anna Liechty Sawatzky: As a home visitor in a child abuse prevention program, I work with women addressing basic survival issues. How do I get custody of grandchildren so they can be safe? How do I jump through the hoops to get food stamps? How do you get housing around here? What am I going to do with this child who is acting out as a result of trauma they’ve experienced? How can I put the pieces in place to go back to school? As a social worker, I have to balance helping clients adapt to the system as it is and advocating for changes to that very system. For example, a felony conviction may be the result of a racist judicial system, but we still have to work within the system to get it expunged so that you can get a job and housing without facing the discrimination that comes with a criminal record. This can be disheartening work. My goal is to advocate for changes to the system but also to work with women to advocate for themselves and their families.

Women’s History Month is marked for me by admiration for the daily determination of women who raise children, work jobs, care for family members, and stitch together the daily fabric of our lives.