The Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman has a lot of labels, beyond the two in front of her name: Theologist. Feminist. Scholar. Advocate. Church elder. Professor. Author.
On Wednesday, during a lecture at Pacific Lutheran University, she’ll talk about another aspect of having it all: how religious scholars can better understand how people view religion.
“I’m really interested in the places religious pluralism doesn’t know how to deal with: people who believe in more than one religion, or people who believe religions all believe the same thing,” she said in a recent interview.
“Scholars don’t like that. But people do do it. So then, how do religious scholars understand how it works?”
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Coleman spoke to The News Tribune about the part of her work that focuses on social justice.
Question: Your writings have focused on the role of faith in addressing social issues. The Pacific Northwest is one of the most “un-churched” parts of the country. How can faith play a role in communities where people of faith are a minority — and where faith sometimes is looked upon with suspicion?
Answer: I don’t think you can talk people into or out of faith. Sometimes we have more helpful ideas once we’ve had a faith. But I do think people who identify agnostic or atheist and people of faith can come together on issues of social justice.
You have to get to the concrete issue. Everyone can get together with a hammer and nail and work for Habitat for Humanity. Plenty of people who are secular and faithful care about the environment. Just doing the actual work is easier than figuring out how to come together.
At certain points, faith doesn’t matter to people in need. If you’re going to a shelter for help, I don’t think you care about the faith of the person you are going to for help. Now, later in a longer conversation, it might matter, but not at first.
Q: How can people of faith better convince the general population that they are interested in issues of social justice and not just conversion?
A: There are ways that is happening. More people of faith are writing for large audiences from the perspective of their faith about how social and political issues matter to them and the role their faith played.
Does the religious left need better public relations? Yes. Many organizations in the Pacific Northwest are doing good work, like Earth Ministries.
Q: Your work has focused on responding to sexual violence. What part of your story do you share with people?
A: I’ve written about my own experience as a survivor and a minister. It’s challenging to find support for rebuilding my faith. There were lawyers, psychologists and counseling centers, but few resources for rebuilding of faith. And sometimes church folks say really hurtful things.
Things like, “That happened for a reason.” “God has a plan and this is part of the plan.” Lots of people say, “God hates divorce and wants the family to stay together” to people in abusive relationships.
The implication is you weren’t called, or don’t love God the right way.
Q: Why is this still a problem in 2014?
A: Patriarchy. Patriarchy and violence are as old as humanity. That’s all I can think of. Some people say sin — we’re just highly flawed people. We don’t respond to tensions and stresses in the healthiest ways.
Patriarchy is accepted in almost all the world’s religions.
Now the good news is, every religion also has a good feminist movement. But because religions deal with the core of who we are — how we were put together and our core purpose — it’s sensitive. And we’re socialized: Most of us are the religion we are by tradition and not choice.
Not everything is as I would like it to be. But compare 2014 to 1914. We are doing better. Now when domestic violence hits the news, people are saying, “This is a bad thing.” Fifty years ago, people weren’t saying that. They were hiding.