It is this contrast I’d like to focus on, between Phyllis S. Schlafly and Mary Daly: Two women who touched Harvard’s campus. One who would be encouraged to speak only to women; the other forbidden from teaching only to them.
Harvard’s past as an exclusive, elite institution is oftentimes talked about in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. We must add religion as a facet of the conversation. Religion at Harvard goes far beyond the visible spires and facades — it rests, invisible, inside, waiting for us to turn on the lights.
I challenge HCFA and other parachurches on Harvard’s campus and beyond, as well as individuals who do not identify as Christian, to hold these seemingly diametric narratives at the same time: Personal fulfillment and vital religious community can come from within parachurch organizations, and we can recognize and rectify the political and sociological consequences of their development.
What I realize now, and what I’d encourage evangelical Christians everywhere to realize, is that a narrative does not need to be complete and tied with a bow to be told. It does not need to come to a conclusion regarding the acceptance of Jesus to be a worthy narrative of faith. Your testimony is not a cover letter. It does not need to be created with the purpose of being shared. It’s one thing for personal testimonies to be encouraged in Christian culture. It is another for them to be constructed with the sole purpose of being shared, rather than catharsis or healing or personal reflection.
which depicts a dead crusader and a mourning woman
In the Memorial Church, the commemoration of those who gave their lives in World War II.
The front of the sanctuary of Memorial Church, which boasts both a gold cross and a gold eagle.
The conflation of American identity and Christianity that is seen in Memorial Church, and Harvard, through its memorialization, reveals tensions and contradictions. The space is, in some lights, beautiful — it nods to an understanding of life that relinquishes agency. But alongside the beauty is a story, an association, that Harvard must take accountability for. In Memorial Church, the golden eagle is angry, and the cross hovers stately above. I stare back at them, aching to respond.
The spaces we hold — physical and non-physical — form, and potentially reform, each other. We must acknowledge the spaces that are already present, while also recognizing the absence of adequately representative space for some.
The South Transept Window in Memorial Hall commemorates the forces that motivated Union soldiers in the Civil War. Inscribed in the stained glass in Latin is the phrase “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name may there be glory.”
My column this semester is meant to acknowledge the overwhelming array of intentions and outcomes of religious peoples. But what I want, more than anything, is for this first piece to convince you not to solely study religion as a quantifiable rule.
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