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By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA, Geneva

 

Being a World YWCA staff means always having something new to learn. I became fully aware of that last week, when our World Board meeting was held. Being a faith based organisation, the World YWCA often starts its meetings’ sessions by prayers, a meditation or a reflection.

 

Last Wednesday, world Board member Deborah Thomas led us through a very meaningful reflection on gender and climate change. Being from Trinidad, a Caribbean island vulnerable to severe weather conditions, Deborah underlined the awful and sad truth of climate change: global warming is leading to a rise in sea level and to various weather disorders, which could lead to the very submersion of small islands, be it in the Caribbean’s or in the Pacific. She stressed the dramatic climate change effects on communities, notably in the Pacific, where islanders consider their land to be sacred. The extreme weather conditions that seem to hit them more and more often are leading their elders to advise them to flee, which constitutes an absolute trauma for these populations.

 

If Climate Change is touching communities as a whole, it should not be forgotten that once again, women pay the high price of global warming. Indeed, in a large number of rural communities, women bear the burden of having the major responsibility for food security, which makes them highly dependent on local natural resources, thus on the variations in temperature and weather. The fact that they’re often put aside when it comes to policy making and environmental decisions increases their vulnerability towards climate change, all the more so if we consider the gender inequalities of access to resources.

 

But back to Deborah’s meditation. Amidst these grim facts and figures, she introduced a concept I had never heard of before: the Green Bible. In front of our bewildered faces, she must have understood that her audience was not familiar with the subject, and she proceeded to quickly explain it to us : “Have you ever heard of the Green Bible? No? Well, it’s a Bible printed on recycled paper, with every verses related to the environment printed in Green. While producing these Green Bible, people realised that the Bible mentioned the environment over a thousand times, while it mentioned love and heaven around five hundred times”.

 

Amazed and intrigued by these figures, I decided I needed to know more.

 

After a bit of research, here it was: The Green Bible, printed on recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover, produced to make Christians understand the importance of protecting the environment God has created for us. By using green ink to make the environment-related paragraphs stand out, the reader realises that going green is not merely a fashion, nor is it simply a political statement: it becomes God’s will and is therefore a faithful commitment that is to be respected.

green_site_02

However, far from being acclaimed by all Christians as a spiritual way of fighting climate change and respecting the environment, the Green Bible sparked controversy as some congregations seemed to think that it was not a Christian initiative but rather, a political one. Their fear is that the political aspect of environmentalism will overcome the spiritual message and interpretation of the Bible and distract believers from their mission that is to spread the Gospel.

 

Nevertheless, even if the Green Bible doesn’t seem to make consensus, more and more Christians are becoming aware of the need to respect our environment more, and to force governments to act against Global Warming. This movement, called Creation Care, is spreading more and more, outnumbering more conservative Christian streams who would like to preserve Christianity from what they consider to be a political opportunistic movement.

 

Although there is definitely a marketing argument to the Green Bible, it is important that Christians are given a tool that shows with such evidence the caring for the environment message that the Bible entails. Every effort to make this planet a better place is not to be disregarded. Besides, the Bible being the absolute all time best seller, it was time it was printed on recycled paper…

 

 

The Poverty Initiative, based at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has a mission “to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” Recently, at Camp Virgil Tate outside Charleston, West Virginia, they presented a week-long Leadership School with leaders from more than 20 organizations, including NY Faith & Justice, Domestic Workers United, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Jesus People Against Pollution, as well as international participants such as the Shackdwellers Movement from South Africa, the Church of Scotland, and Justicia Global from the Dominican Republic.

090904-leadership-schoolHere, Union alumna and Poverty Initiative member Kym McNair interviews Donna Barrowcliffe, the development manager from the Community Church of Ruchazie in Glasglow, where she works with the Church of Scotland Priority Areas Project (a project focusing on the poorest areas of Scotland). Donna was born and raised in a priority area.

Read the rest of this entry »

by Sonali Salgado, Inter Press Service (IPS)

The United Nations has realised that if it wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it will have to partner with like-minded faith-based organisations (FBOs).

“It is important to invite religious leaders and faith-based organisations and other secular organisations and work together. It’s the only way,” Gladys Melo-Pinzon of the FBO Catholics for Choice told IPS. “The U.N. and the other international agencies understand that it’s true,” Melo-Pinzon said. In recent years, the United Nations has tried to work more closely with faith-based organisations (FBOs). “We’ve been working with the U.N. and hope to continue working with them,” Yousseff Abdullah told IPS on behalf of the FBO Islamic Relief. For the past few years, Islamic Relief has worked with UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP). A joint Islamic Relief-UNFPA effort has led to the establishment of women’s centres in Sudan.

Unfpalogo

From August 3-4, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) gathered representatives of 41 FBOs -including Islamic Relief and Catholics for Choice – and numerous international agencies ranging from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the WFP for a meeting in New York. Since Dec. 2007, UNFPA has asked FBOs working in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean: “What should we do better? What should we do more? What projects should we work on, and in what particular ways?” At the New York meeting, Azza Karam of UNFPA told IPS, FBOs were presented the “shopping list of recommendations.” According to Karam, they were told to select the areas that FBOs and international agencies would “work on together for the next three years.” “UNFPA is hosting this meeting because it is part of the culmination of the vision of its Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid,” Abubakar Dungus of UNFPA told IPS. Since she became director of the UNFPA in 2000, Obaid has been leading the drive to collaborate with FBOs. “She has said that development work would be more strategic and sustainable when such actors – already among the world’s largest basic health-care providers – were engaged in common efforts on the MDGs,” according to Dungus. Obaid stresses that FBOs are key players in health care services. “In most developing countries, anywhere between 30 to 60 percent of basic health is being served through faith-based organisations,” Karam told IPS. “In Latin Ameica, 70 percent of hospitals are still run through or by the Catholic Church.” Moreover, the World Bank has noted that, in some countries, health services offered by FBOs are better than those of the government.

At the two-day conference here, FBOs and international agencies identified reaching gender equality and improving reproductive health as the goals on which they would collaborate. “Partnerships between faith-based organisations and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, are critical to enhancing efforts to reduce maternal deaths and end violence against women,” UNFPA said in a press release. Maternal health and female empowerment are two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000. The MDGs also include eradicating hunger and poverty; achieving universal primary education; reducing child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental stability; and developing a global partnership for development.

The maternal health goal is “at the heart of the MDGs but lags behind the most,” Dungus said. “This is the 21st century and yet women are dying because they’re giving birth or trying to give birth,” Melo-Pinzon stressed. According to the UNFPA, FBOs can assist in reproductive health not only because of their significant role in the health care industry, but also because of their position in individual communities themselves. There is “a critical personal and community-based connection between the people and the faith-based organization centres providing services,” Obaid said. Melo-Pinzon concurred. “The main actors who can approach grassroots and communities in general are people who are related to faith,” she told IPS. “When you’re in conflict,” she continued, “faith gives comfort.” Obaid noted, “the profound moral authority that religious leaders have” and “the fact that religious organisations are the oldest social service providers humankind has known.”

But, quite ironically, as some FBOs strive to improve reproductive health and gender equality, they are betraying the edicts of their church. In their efforts to develop reproductive health, Catholics for Choice, for instance, promotes access to contraception despite the Vatican’s strong opposition to contraceptives. “We are challenging the wrong policies of the Catholic Church, which is misunderstanding the principles of compassion,” Melo-Pinzon said. “We’re saying ‘you’re wrong! You’re wrong!'”

by Haeley Park, Intern with WCC UN Liaison Office

It was when I first entered into college when, all of sudden, I felt like I was brainwashed with Christianity. I was born into a devoted Christian family and grew up in a church environment all my life. I obeyed God’s calling by coming to the U.S. to become an international lawyer, when I was only thirteen years old. Life in a foreign country without family or friends was very hard, but I always was filled with joy, with presence of God’s protection and love.

For first time in my life, I started questioning about faith, Christian beliefs, Bible, and God since entering college. I kept on examining what it means to be a Christian and its position in the world. I was immediately thrown into a spiritual battle field and had bloody struggles. I developed criticizing and cynical views of Christians whose deeds seem to be contradicting between inside and outside the church. I kept on judging Christians and called them hypocrites.  I was in an extreme denial against God and His people.

God had sent me to the World Council of Churches’ United Nations Liaison Office as a summer intern, probably to humble me. The spiritual battle continued to rise to its peak as my wonderful supervisor who is now like my beloved sister, challenged me greatly about faith, Christianity, theology, justice, life, purpose, and beyond throughout the summer. One of many hot debates we had was about the position of women in the Bible. I was upset at the fact that bible contradicts gender equality principles and teaches women to be submissive and obedient to their husbands while my supervisor claims that the Bible does promote gender equality. To prove myself, I had to dig into the Bible for examples:

“You wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News…They [women] trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands… For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, when she called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do”(First Peter 3:1-2, 5-6).

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savoir…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:22-24,33).

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (First Corinthians 11:3)

I could not conclude anything regarding this matter, so I put it aside from my concerns. Then a few weeks have passed since the topic has been discussed. Then the unsolved question was unexpectedly solved yesterday morning. There is a worship service every Thursday morning at the Church Center of the United Nations, and I attended as usual.

Haeley picture EWIn the program, one pregnant woman who is a professional dancer, worshipped by dancing while carrying her baby inside her stomach. That was the most beautiful dance I’ve ever seen in my entire life and each movement she made literally pump my heart. It completely revealed mother’s love for the child and I was able to feel the sincere passion and loving heart for God through her dancing. I then realized that God gave a unique gift to women, to be a mother who is loving and caring. After all my questions and doubts regarding the gender references from the Bible, I learned that it’s not about commanding or obeying one another. Rather, it is about loving each other with what God has given uniquely to men and also to women.

In the US, slavery was officially abolished 140 years ago. “In reality, modern day slavery is not only alive and well, but growing in unprecedented dimensions”, Sheila Novak SDS says. in Human Trafficing: Modern Day Slavery, a resource packet for congregations, she informs that app. 27,000,000 men and women, girls and boys are enslaved in today’s world. Human Trafficing was created by the Sisters of the Divine Savior, in order to raise awareness and to equipp congregations to act against this modern scandal.

Grounded in the Christian faith, Human Trafficing includes practical background information, gives suggestions for bible readings, prayers, and sermons, helps with event planning from letterwriting campagns to FairTrade, and shows how a congregation can reach out to different age groups.

Download your own copy of Human Trafficing: Modern Day Slavery.

by Rev. Kathleen Stone

H.E. Miguel d’Escoto, the United Nations General Assembly President, recently said,  “The World cannot be much worse than it is right now”.   And of the economic meltdown:   “It is a political and moral failure”.

Is this expression merely an enunciation into the world of our failure, meant to make us feel guilt?  Or is the truth hidden in those words – a truth that will set us free into a renewed sense of hope?   It is my theoretical and theological understanding that until we speak the truth, no matter how hard that truth might be, we will not and cannot be fully free. 

It is a midwife truth. 

Unless a midwife acknowledges the reality of the pain of what is going on in the body, unless she understands that pain and from what process it emits, unless she allows the body to face that pain and go through it, the birth genuinely could be a disaster.   Can you imagine?    But, aware of the process of birth, though painful, there is an ushering forth of one of the most joyous and hopeful moments we ever will experience.

Over and over and over we are reminded of this powerful process.   The seed must be  broken open to grow,   the rainstorm must let loose before the rainbow,  the muscle must be stretched painfully to grow stronger,  the heart must burst open before it will find its compassion, the tears must flow before one will move towards a new life. 

I don’t understand it and don’t really like it but I know it’s the truth.  Wooed by the possibility of easily gained triumphs and a world that seems to capitalize on that possibility, I often fail to discipline myself to the long haul, through the grief and pain, to the experience of the real and substantive birth that will really be the joy I seek.  I’d rather deny, substitute, be wooed, or escape such pain. 

Having just arrived back from a powerful immersion journey into the most violent city in El Salvador, I don’t like the grief I feel upon reentry to the U.S.   I don’t like the fact that everywhere and anywhere there are places where I grieve – from international, national, community policy to the way I personally live my life and relationships.  Theoretically and theologically I know that that grief is the beginning of change, the beginning of revelation, the beginning of learning to Love more profoundly, the beginning of learning to manifest that Love through actions which insist that international, national and community policy is fair.  . . . . Theoretically and theologically I know that grief, resistance and determination accompany seeds and hearts cracking open.    I don’t understand it.   But I know it’s the truth.  It’s a midwife truth.

I am a third-wave feminist.  And sometimes, I have no idea what that means.

At the Ecumenical Women Orientation two weeks ago, we worked with feminist theologian Caryn Riswold to elaborate on what it is to be a third-wave feminist in today’s world.  Three generations reflected on whether the distinction of “third-wave” is even helpful. They worried about where the next generation will take us.  And, they expressed concern over whether feminism itself is dead.

Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation
Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation

Women spanning six continents reminded each other of the various perspectives that a global movement brings to feminism.  We noted with joy young women like Facia Boyenoh Harris of Liberia, who hosts a radio show for young girls, embodying a bridge between the second and third waves.  Privileged feminists of Ecumenical Women were reminded of the needs of a far greater population of women—those for whom reproductive justice is not an option; whose decisions are often made for them; whose bodies are made vulnerable to domestic violence, human trafficking, and crimes of war and terror.

Suddenly, we weren’t facing the nuanced standards of a privileged third wave anymore, riding on the shoulders of our mothers who fought before us.

2 Samuel 13 tells the story of Tamar, a young woman who is raped by her brother Amnon with the permission of her father—none other than King David, who the Bible so faithfully upholds as the greatest leader in Jewish history.  Because she is physically weaker than her brother, the passage tells us, Amnon is able to force her into having sex with him against her will. After this, we are told that because of the actions that he himself chose to perpetrate against her, he comes to hate her “with a hatred greater than the love with which he had loved her.”  So Tamar puts ashes on her head and she tears her robe in grief.  Her father David is angry but does nothing, and her brother Absalom encourages her “hold her peace.”

We never hear what happens to Tamar after this story. The horror of discovering this rape in the Bible is eclipsed only by the realization that even the author cares not what happened to Tamar after all was said and done.  Her life, her name, the “rape of Tamar” – these all serve in the text only as a function to explain why later her brother Absalom, who told her to stay silent, kills her brother Amnon, who raped her.  In the story, Tamar is property to be protected or violated. She is a figure whose violation represents not her own personal grief but her family’s public shame; a woman whose grief is but a footnote in the long opus to political power that we find recorded in the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from The Chicago Tribune, by Manya Brachear

Cotton swabs tucked between their jaws and cheeks, bishops from the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination sat in silence for three minutes on Thursday as they underwent testing for HIV.

Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA

Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA

Those few minutes of silence would serve to break another silence, one that the bishops insist has kept the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from addressing the global AIDS crisis and welcoming AIDS victims into the pews.

“We in the U.S. tend to think of this as a global pandemic unrelated to people in the U.S.,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who gave his own three minutes for the HIV test on Thursday. “For me as a married heterosexual man to be tested is a reminder that all communities are affected—if not infected.”

READ MORE –>

This post has been cross posted from the National Council of Churches.

This March, the Justice for Women Working Group of the National Council of Churches is celebrating Women’s History Month with weekly articles touching on a diversity of Women’s experiences in Churches and in the world.

Our topics will range from women of faith and their involvement in the United Nations, to the connections between the suffrage and abolition movements and what they can teach us about ending human trafficking today, to examining the connections between faith and feminism and the value of women meeting together through a focus group report on Helen LaKelly Hunt’s Faith and Feminism, A Holy Alliance.

But for now, during this first week of Women’s History Month, the week preceeding International Women’s Day (March 8), and the week beginning the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, we thought we would check out what our Member Communions are doing to celebrate.  Here’s what we found—for your convenience we’ve organized the links into three categories: History, Resources, and Advocacy.

First of all, some history:
∙ For general background, we found this article from womensenews.org helpful.

∙ Are you a women’s history buff?  Try this quiz from the National Women’s History Project
∙ The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends gives some interesting background on two prominent women of faith, Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth.
∙ Histories of women in the Reformed Church of America, and in the United Methodist Church.  Make sure to scroll all the way down!
Read the rest of this entry »

Ecumenical Women’s chair, Assistant Director of the Lutheran Office for World Community Emily Davila, was recently published in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics.  Her article is titled “A Human Rights-Based Approach to Advocacy: the Role of the Church.”

In her paper, Davila states,

As people of faith, we have the freedom to use language about human rights and poverty that emphasizes the dignity of the human person, tells the story and the conditions of persons living in poverty, as well as communicates the necessity for collective response. We must approach the future of human rights careful not to forget the achievements of the past, and support new and emerging regional and national human rights initiatives, especially those led by the Global South.

Idealist.org, a website where people and non-profits can connect and share ideas, recently released a podcast highlighting a faith-based organization called the Poverty Initiative.

What’s interesting about the podcast, while the Poverty Initiative does admirable work, is the second half — the part where the organizers explain their methods of exegeting the Bible.  In particular, they deconstruct the Bible verses that state “the poor with be with you always” and show how – rather than being a barrier to working against poverty – Christians can reinterpret this passage to act as an impetus for anti-poverty justice work.

Curious?  Give it a listen.

by Anna Karin Hammar and Jean Sindab
Into Action: A Resource for Participation in the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

As women we come seeking a reality to which we are called by our Savior. As women we come to affirm our life in Jesus Christ. As women we come to refute untruths, to challenge injustices, to confront oppressive structures that bind us. We, therefore, are called to declare the following truths:

One voice:
IT IS NOT TRUE that women should feel and experience that being a woman is of secondary value to the community.

All:
THIS IS TRUE that women are created women, the image of God, co-workers with God in caring for life, in struggling for the liberations of humanity and for a world order that respects each one’s dignity.

Read the rest of the litany.

Ten years after the close of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), we continue to learn from the lessons gathered. We continue to struggle. Although it was before my time as an international ecumenist, I have read that much of the progress made during the decade was largely due to the “solidarity of women with other women.” This was a time where we looked within, affirmed one another in the image of God and recognized gender inequality in our own house.

During this time of renewal and repentance; we set many goals to achieve greater equality for women. Part of the call during this Decade, indeed a recommendation, was for churches to create programmes, educational materials, networks and opportunities that specifically supported and empowered women.

Today, a similar call is happening within the United Nations. Ecumenical Women has been working with other women worldwide to support an initiative to create a single women-specific independent entity within the United Nations system and led by an Under-Secretary General at the highest level.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Prayer” by Julia Esquivel

You illuminate our darkness
And fill our sadness
With hope.

Because you are stronger than I,
I have let myself be a captive,
And your love burns in my heart.

The thirst for your truth
Has made me a pilgrim
From city to city
Until the day your Word
Is fulfilled,
And we are reborn
In your image and likeness

Captivate me, Lord
Till the last of my days,
Wring out my heart
With your hands,
Of a wise old Indian,
So that I will not forget
Your Justice
Nor cease proclaiming
The urgent need
For humankind
To live in harmony.

Read more of our Ecumenical Women Worship resources.

Contribution from Valli Boobal Batchelor, Australia

Recently returned from a simply awesome experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I am writing to reflect on dance choreography of a controversial biblical story titled Bathsheba’s Voice which premiered at the 42nd International Choreographers Showcase -a high profile art event.

Valli Bachelor

Valli Batchelor

As the choreographer, I felt that I was able to challenge many minds (especially my own) under the creative and safe zone of artistic expression. A review from the British Theater Guide published that “Valli Boobal Batchelor’s Bathsheba’s Voice uses Australian and Indian dance forms to tell the biblical story of Bathsheba as a metaphor for violence against women. There are arresting moments, such as Bathsheba’s seduction by David which here is portrayed as rape…”

My choreography was inspired by the UN’s White Ribbon pledge “not to commit, condone or remain silent on violence against women and children” and is a dedication to the reclaimed voices of Australian victims of clergy sexual abuse. It explores a biblical story on the sexual violence and subsequent cover up by King David against Bathsheba, his loyal soldier’s wife. It symbolizes the reclaimed voices of violated survivors of gender based violence by spiritual leaders in churches. The choreography draws from traditional dance forms yet allows freedom from the constrictions of techniques to enable the expression of experiences. It consists of intricate steps in varying speeds and rhythmic measures of various counts. The dancers portrayal of emotions are communicated through the slower tempo and high melodic vocals of Rasa [experience] and Bhava [expression] adapted from the south Indian Bharata Natyam classical dance style. Read the rest of this entry »

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