Hearing the voices of feminist ethics

“For many people, the word feminist is very difficult,” notes retired social ethicist William Everett of Waynesville. And the term “feminist ethics,” he adds, “is a great, oblong blur.”

But Everett thinks this weekend’s “Exploring Feminist Ethics” event in Asheville offers an opportunity to explore both feminism and ethics and to pick up useful tools and new approaches for such social endeavors as community organizing, nonviolence advocacy and conflict resolution.

Everett has served six years as a board member of Holy Ground, the Asheville nonprofit retreat ministry that is sponsoring the conference. He’s also a former professor of the organization’s co-founder and executive director, Sandra Smith.

He remembers Smith, then his student at Emory University, saying, “I’d like to give people in my community the same chance I’ve had.” She came up with the idea for a feminist-based organization that encourages spiritual and ethical exploration, and in 1994, she and another Emory student, Dorri Sherrill, founded Holy Ground.

This weekend’s event is a continuation of Smith’s mission. It brings community members together with professional ethicists renowned for their work in such areas as violence against women, racism, Christian ethical analysis, prisons, peacemaking, sexuality, economic and environmental ethics, gender, religion and law.

“We see this as an opportunity to consider a different paradigm than the dominant paradigm—the paradigm of ‘power with’ instead of ‘power over,’” Smith says of the weekend’s focus. The event is open to both men and women and, she says, is ultimately about relationships: “How can I be in relationships that really are mutual—not dominant/submissive? How do we hear all the voices, including the voice of creation?”

And speaking of relationships, Friday evening’s keynote speaker and Saturday’s five workshop leaders are all former students of renowned feminist theologian Beverly Wildung Harrison, a Union Theological Seminary professor now retired to Western North Carolina. One of the first women ordained in the Episcopal church and a pioneer in the field of feminist theologies and ethics, Harrison will be honored Friday night in a presentation by Carter Heyward, a professor of theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. A book-signing and informal party will follow Heyward’s keynote.

The “Feminist Ethics” event takes place at First Presbyterian Church in Asheville on Friday, March 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. ($25) and Saturday, March 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ($75). To register, call 236-0222 or e-mail holyground1@bellsouth.net.

— Nelda Holder

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