By Umema Aimen ’14
Elizabeth McManus’14 is one of the women under 40 contributing to a just-released book, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith.
In her chapter “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees,” McManus recounts her personal struggles with the church’s perfectionist approach toward human sexuality.
“The church expects sex to be perfect. And sexual experience has to check three boxes; it has to be [a woman] with a man, within the bonds of marriage, and perfect. However, this expectation is fundamentally damaging as it disregards the human factor,” she explained.
These perfectionist ideas were ingrained in McManus as a child, and they made her feel shameful about herself and her sexuality. Now she wants to challenge these conventions because people are not perfect, and they bring their insecurities to a relationship.
“Sacred sexuality is not perfect. It considers human vulnerability and celebrates it,” she said.
McManus is a religion major; her academic interest also lies in feminist theology. Her desire to bridge classroom conversations with feminist spirituality led her to an internship this summer at the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South (RCWMS), a feminist and spirituality group in North Carolina. RCWMS conducted weekly meetings for Christian women, providing them with a safe and open space to talk about faith and gender. McManus saw these “Courageous Conversations” as an opportunity to end the polarization she felt as a feminist and Christian.
“How can I be a modern woman, empowered in my body and also a Christian? Why do they have to be at odds?” McManus said.
She felt that Courageous Conversations provided her and a dozen other Christian women with a completely safe space—something that academic feminist groups or church group discussions had failed to do.
“At MHC, it is safe to be a feminist, but my faith-based perspective makes me feel marginalized. I do not talk about faith because I fear I will isolate people with it,” she said.
At RCWMS, McManus could be a “feminist in faith”—a term she coined herself. It was a safe and inclusive space where she could freely share feminist and faith-based perspectives.
McManus also worked as a grief counselor for eight weeks. She used writing as a healing and spiritually uplifting process to help people deal with grief.
Empowered by her work at RCWMS, McManus is using her notes at the weekly Bible study group for women at the All Saints Episcopal Church in South Hadley. She wants to develop her notes into a curriculum that can be used by other church groups to have the much-needed conversations about gender and faith.
After graduation, McManus wants to go to divinity school to become ordained as a pastor, be a professor, or be a writer.
“Or maybe I will be all three,” she mused after a second thought.
In the meantime, she is pleased that Talking Taboo was released on October 15.
“I am deliriously excited to be in print!”