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by Rochelle Rawls-Shaw

Presbyterians from the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand prepared to lead this morning’s Ecumenical Women (EW)’s worship service at the 57th Session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) for over a month.

As we met and got to know each other on conference calls, we shared our nicknames and their origins; we identified our special talents (or talents we wished we had). We shared what friends or family would say to describe us to a complete stranger. Our conversations were a great beginning for a group of women who were blessed and being used to bless others who would gather together for worship.

IMG_0255The EW worship committee who assigned each organization a scripture passage associated with women in the bible and guidelines for worship services during CSW. We received the story of the woman caught in adultery – John 8:2-11. This story became the focus of our liturgy. Exploring the story, we  began to experience the Divine Momentum leading us.

The momentum built when we were introduced to Pamela Tankersley from Presbyterian Women of Aotearoa New Zealand. She had prepared a liturgy for International Women’s Day (March 8) based on our scripture and in remembrance of the brutal gang rape that occurred in India on December 16, 2012. She entitled the liturgy, “Laying down the Stones.”

The momentum continued to build as planning members suggestions to the liturgy. A prayer of invocation was added to the call to worship and assignments made to the various parts. Our team included talented singers who would lead congregational songs and a soloist who would sing “Safe Within Your Arms.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn for the service: “Christ Would Not Cast the Judgment Stone.”

We planned that the worship service would involve people who were not even present at the Church Center for the United Nations. Planning team members were invited to bring at least 15-20 stones with them to New York. A planning team member from Puerto Rico had members of her congregation bring stones to church that she brought to CSW.

This morning dawned and we made our final plans. We placed larger stones around the communion table and gathered the stones brought by the planning team members into baskets. As worshippers entered the chapel, each received a stone.

There was something about the stones.

A single red candle was lit. The service began. I strongly felt the Divine Presence.

IMG_0403After scripture had been read, songs had been sung, and words had been said, the worshipping community was invited to bring forth their stones and put them down around the table as symbols to remember the violence that our sisters have endured, to express our intention to put aside our complicity in that violence and to renew

Reflecting on the service, Laetitia Wells observed, “As the women brought their various stones to the table, I was moved during worship when I heard the loud sound of the stones hitting the table. Symbolically I felt that WE were taking a definitive STAND against violence against women and girls. Hearing the loud sound of the stones allowed me to think that we were eradicating the horrors that come with violence against women.” Jill Bolander Cohen commented, “This was a deeply spiritual and moving experience. It was really something watching women and men lay down stones which seemed to release something–something that weighed them down.” Jaime Staehle said, “Working together with women from all generations, walks of life, and places in the world was quite meaningful and really helped the theme of the service blossom.”

There was something about the stones–something special about being able to release some things that have burdened us all our lives. The Divine Momentum presented the opportunity for us to release them during our worship here today. Thanks be to God!

Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne

Please check out the following sermon preached this past Sunday at Sparta United Methodist Church in Sparta, NJ by Kathleen Stone, Chaplain to the Church Center for the United Nations.  It is specifically speaking about two texts from last Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Mark 12:38-44.

I’ve entitled this sermon, confessions from a woman’s eyes.

I feel a little bit that by the end of this morning, in the best of light you might look at me like I’ve uncovered the missing “r” that the monk discovered.   You see after all these 2000 years, and the 100s of years of painstaking transcription, writing down each letter with such precision, the monk discovers that an “r” had been dropped by some early predecessor who had worked painstakingly in the night to illustrate the scriptures.  You see, it was supposed to be “celebrate”….not celebate.

Now, lest you think I’m thinking this would be good news and everyone would be happy, imagine the traditionalists, imagine the church structures, and imagine all the conflict that this discovery would bring forth.

But, just to be straight up.   Here’s what I’m trying to do these days.   Scripture has been interpreted for 2000 years mostly through the eyes of those who really do not know the story of women unless they were married to them and even then, well……husbands, boyfriends, sons…..do you find yourselves sometimes just not understanding women at all?   Women’s experiences of life, the social, economic and political world around them and what they do about it really are somewhat outside men’s experiences of the same.

I remember this amazing poet I used to listen to quite regularly and he and a female storyteller did a seminar together.   In that seminar, they discussed what happens between men and women in relationship….And with great humor, David Whyte – the poet said…..you know…..the woman comes in and says…. “Dear, we need to talk about this” and the man responds, “Again?   Didn’t we talk about that last week?”

So, I ask you for a moment to think and feel along with me.   I know this can be challenging but give me and the God who has freed me and liberated me to tell my truth, for this moment, give me a hearing…….

These two texts were simply the texts assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.

Widows — Ruth and Naomi, as well as this unnamed woman in the Gospel story, they were all widows.   In ancient Israel, a widow, was the proverbial metaphor for someone who was utterly marginalized by the society in which they lived.  They are poor, not from their own merits, content of their character or any other reason than the written and unwritten cultural, legal, social, economic policies that impoverished them and told them they are without any power.   They are not powerless or voiceless because they have no voice or no inner power or have nothing to contribute to society.   They are not helpless or dumb or uneducated from the skills they need to live in that society …… they are impoverished and exiled because the society has dis-enfranchised them and determined that they are not worth a hearing, not worth a roof over their head, not worth food on their tables…not worth anything. They are not poor because they deserve it, are owed it, did it wrong, made the wrong decisions, etc.   They are poor because the policy of the land made it so that …….unless the widow was attractive enough for a man to remarry her, she remained destitute, and vulnerable to atrocities. 

This attitude was in ancient Israel (and in some places around the world still) considered normal; not many questioned this aspect of the social world.   The Prophets challenged it sometimes.   But mainstream temple politics certainly did not.  It was most often not raised up as a question in men’s literacy classes.   The widows themselves, I’m sure, critiqued the injustice, but most merely had to put their heads down and somehow manipulate their circumstances as best they could so that they’d be able to have another meal and a roof over their heads…..  These were women……seriously cursed not by God, but it could be taken out on God…..they were women seriously cursed by the social world in which they lived. …. As they both grieved for the life and perhaps love they had lost and had concerns for their survival at levels I don’t know whether many of us in this sanctuary can relate to.

Let’s look at the texts now that we have a bit of context.   We have a bit more of Ruth and Naomi’s life in text than the Widow in the Gospel text.

In Ruth and Naomi’s case, the horrendous nature of the political and economic and social consequences of being marginalized come forth into their lives….    First of all, they have to migrate.   Naomi determines to go back where she thinks she has a bit of a community from the past.   But, Naomi arrives back into Israel to gossip from the townswomen who do not quite recognize her, and question whether she is Naomi.   I wonder if grief and the hardship of widowhood and migrating across the desert had all taken their toll.    The women of the community (which I assume are all married)  had bought into the ways things were…..had bought into the horrors of a system of social, economic and political exclusion – probably saying things like  “but for the Grace of God, go I” and then saying, “What are you going to do;  look at her,  she’s so far gone”.  But, for whatever reasons, the community support systems that Naomi had wished for are just not there.  Naomi is no longer beautiful or young and I’m assuming she has some deep well of grief and anger that she needs to work through just because of that; but this next injury where her sisters from the past gossip and exclude her again — God, help us.

The incredibly loyal daughter in law Ruth thus must figure out a way for them to survive.   So, she goes out to glean the barley in Boaz’s fields.   Gleaning, for those of you who don’t know, was a legal way that the impoverished could have food in ancient Israel – like a food bank,  this was the leftovers…..they would follow behind the official harvesters and glean whatever little bits were left.   Whole loads of poor people often gleaned in the fields.

For a while this gleaning works for Naomi and Ruth, but in today’s text, the fields are harvested and so, like we heard, they have to figure out something new to survive.   Naomi, wise in the ways of the world, determines to use the one power the two of them have left,   Ruth’s youth, appearance and beauty…coupled with the power of sexual attraction…..  Naomi traffics Ruth – dressing her in very attractive clothing and perfume, Naomi tells her to lie down with the twice her age old man Boaz in the middle of the threshing floor.   This way, they might both have a chance of surviving.

Now let me stop here.   Tradition hasn’t usually looked at this text in the way I’m going to look at it.  Traditional interpretations seriously white wash Boaz.   The tradition says:   Boaz is a savior type figure who saved Ruth and Naomi and whose descendants eventually birthed Jesus.   We know, certainly, that without Boaz, the life of Ruth and Naomi would have most likely ended, unless they found another way to survive. ….…. . But from my vantage point, Boaz isn’t really worthy at the entire label of savior.   He simply uses his economic, political and cultural power as a landowning politically privileged male of significant social stature to get what he wants.  He neither really cares whether women who are still left in the fields have anything to eat…. nor figures out ways that there could be a more systemic address to feed the widows where they would not be so impoverished.   He simply figures out a way to save the one he wants, Ruth, who has done such kindness to him to lie down with him, an old man….. and realizes it’s probably a package deal with Naomi.

This is the moral dilemma with having power.   And this is what I want to talk about…..For I believe this is the challenge in both this story and the widow’s mite story.   When you have economic, social or political power, you can use it simply to get more of what you want or you can understand the systems and pressures that create the power imbalances and the totally unjust judgments of society……and do something about that…..notice it….tell the truth about it…..work to eradicate it.  I prefer to think the 2nd of these is Gospel Good News work.

In the Widow’s mite story, Jesus is pointing out not so much the Widow’s two cents as the Widow’s two cents in comparison to the Sadducees and Pharisees who’s relatively small but great contribution allowed them access to the power and privileges of the temple.  They were sure they were “in”, “righteous”, “the ones whose appearance seemed so clean” while at night they devoured widows’ houses.   How we could spend a long time on this when we think about bank bailouts, the housing crisis, the ways were made to participate in a system which is just not good for poor people, which does ok for the middle class but which does very well for the rich……….from birth to death…..

Recent elections?  Yes, we can use the power we have to get what we want, to make us feel important, to make sure we have the privileges we think important…..  Or we can use it to make sure that the systems change so that no woman or man or child ever has to compromise their fullness of life, the abundant life,  by giving their proverbial last two pence to the religious coffers…..or that no man, woman or child ever has to give their body to the Boaz’s of the world in order to belong, be a part, to eat, to have shelter, to be forgiven, to have a place…..everyone should have these things…..PERIOD.

What is the role of the Church – the Body of Christ – in such a world……..  

We can take a look at the Body of  Jesus’  in this middle of this culturally, politically and economically disastrously powerless world for widows, for those disenfranchised…those society has deemed not so important………He sits down where he can see what’s going on and he waits, and listens, and watches and from all of that, he slams the Pharisees and Sadducees – tells the truth about them and then…finds a widow, this unnamed widow – the one with nothing – no looks, no marriageability, no power in society and impoverished and notices her. …..There’s nothing pretty about what he gazes upon.  It’s painful.   She’s putting her last two pennies in the temple treasury….Don’t you want to shout, “STOP!”   But, he watches her.   He gazes upon her.     And then?   He raises her up.   He notices her love, her faithfulness, her hope, her story, her generosity, her richness and in pointing to the system of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he then condemns a system that would require her to give her last two pennies to the Temple treasury where she will receive nothing in return from their economic, political or social distribution of power…no power to sit up front, no belonging, no food, no redemption….nothing…..    He watches her.   The great Jesus who had crowds of people gathering around him, in the center of Jewish economic, social, political power, the Temple which was in the center of an unjust Jerusalem and he gazes upon the one who is “nothing” in the eyes of the world…

I’m not pretending to have answers about what the Church should do, but Jesus’ action here would be a good start.   I’m sure there was discomfort in the room when Jesus pointed out this concern in the Temple and to raise up a Widow’s tuppence as the better gift?   Where do we need to point out the concern in our life together, dear people?   And how would this truth-telling and compassion truly embody the good news Gospel?

[Athena Peralta, World Council of Churches Consultant on Poverty Wealth and Ecology, presented the below address during the United Nations’ General Assembly Hearing with Civil Society on the Millennium Development Goals, 14-15 June 2010, New York]

Tackling the roots of poverty

For Christian churches and the worldwide ecumenical movement, eradicating poverty is nothing less than a moral and ethical imperative. We believe that God’s will is for all humanity – regardless of gender, religious belief, race and ethnicity – to experience life in fullness and in dignity. Thus, together with many civil society organisations (CSOs), we at the World Council of Churches (WCC) applauded the United Nations (UN) in 2000 for taking leadership in the articulation and adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), foremost of which is the internationally agreed goal to halve the number of people “living” in poverty by 2015. Discussions on poverty eradication must continue to be a main concern of the UN, where broad participation of all nation-states and civil society could take place. As 2015 looms closer, there is an urgent need for the international community to revisit and deeply consider the structural, historical and interconnected roots of impoverishment and the required policy- and systemic transformations leading not just to the attainment of the MDGs but to the eventual eradication of poverty.

The WCC remains profoundly concerned that the global financial and economic crisis – which continues to wreak havoc on economies including in the Euro zone – has thrown tens of millions more people into poverty, swelling the ranks of the disempowered, hungry, thirsty, unemployed, sick and homeless, and further derailing the achievement of the MDGs. At this stage of the crisis, many countries are being forced to adopt stringent fiscal policies that imperil economic recovery as well as social and ecological protection – at a time when such protection is needed most.

If anything, the global economic turmoil has called into serious question the previously widely accepted role of deregulated and liberalised global financial and trade structures in reducing poverty: current evidence points to the opposite. Yet the international community appears not to have adequately absorbed these sobering lessons. Prevailing financial and trade paradigms are still driven, at core, by the pursuit of ever-higher growth rates and short-term returns at the expense of people’s economic, social and cultural rights and the health of our increasingly fragile ecosystems. Mere economic growth, however, has already been shown to be an unsustainable, inefficient – and in some cases, ineffective – way of addressing the global poverty crisis.

Against this light, the WCC reiterates its calls for governments and international institutions – with the democratic participation of all peoples – to pursue economic policies as well as build economic frameworks that move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth; universal provisioning of common social goods; sustainable consumption and production; and investments in small-holder agriculture (which continues to be the main source of livelihood for people and women in poverty), social reproduction and ecological protection.

Critical to lifting societies and people out of poverty is a much more equitable distribution of assets (capital, technology, land, education, health care, among others). A wealth of studies reveals that the lack of access by the poor (especially poor women) to assets necessary to achieve socio-economic security as well as higher productivity and income is a “fundamental constraint” on poverty eradication.

Emphasising the pivotal role of MDG 8 (global partnerships for development) in meeting the rest of the MDGs, governments and international institutions must seriously respond to widening inequalities among and within nations and the global financial and trade structures that propagate and deepen these inequalities.  Much more attention ought to be placed on developing policies and structures that enable wealth-sharing among and within countries.

Poverty eradication is of course a critical goal in and by itself. At the same time, the WCC has long argued that many of the violent conflicts that continue to rage in different parts of our world stem in large part from the socio-economic deprivation experienced by communities. Thus, measures to eradicate poverty and close socio-economic gaps are important pathways to strengthening social cohesion and achieving lasting peace at local, national and global levels.

We believe that mobilising the financial resources needed for poverty eradication and the achievement of the MDGs – particularly through creative forms of taxation inasmuch as taxes are the only sustainable source of development finance – is a matter of political will, yes, and also of moral courage. At the onset of the global financial and economic crash, governments in rich countries were able to put together trillions of dollars in a matter of months to resuscitate ailing financial institutions; and global military spending continues to increase, amounting to US$ 1464 billion in 2008 alone (SIPRI 2010). We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more import on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness. Clearly, the often put forward excuse of a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty is instead more indicative of a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care.

What the international community can and must do in 1660 days

Reshaping the unjust financial and trade structures that generate and reinforce poverty and inequality is a long-term undertaking requiring coordinated action and meaningful cooperation among and between governments and international developmental institutions, as recognised by MDG 8, beyond 2015. Yet this does not preclude the international community from taking immediate measures and initial steps towards deep-seated transformations. Therefore, the WCC calls on governments and international institutions to commit to the following actions at the MDG Summit in September 2010:

  • Enact urgent financial reforms and support further high-level discussions with substantial civil society participation under the auspices of the Financing for Development process to build an international financial architecture that not only distributes socio-economic risks fairly but finances job-creating production, social reproduction and environmental sustainability; and in particular with a view to:
    • Achieving stronger democratic oversight of international financial institutions, by making them subject to a UN Global Economic Council with the same status as the UN Security Council as proposed by the Stiglitz Commission;
    • Creating and/or transforming financial regulatory institutions and mechanisms and implementing financial transaction taxes to deter speculation (whether on currency, food and other commodities) and capital flight;
    • Supporting regional initiatives that decentralise finance and empower people in the global South to exercise control over their own development through bodies such as the Bank of the South, the Asian Monetary Fund and the Bank of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América;
    • Strengthening tax systems by establishing an international accounting standard requiring country-by-country reporting of transnational companies’ economic activities and taxes paid and forging a multilateral agreement to set a mandatory requirement for the automatic exchange of tax information between all jurisdictions to prevent tax avoidance;
    • Establishing a new global reserve system based on a supranational global reserve currency and regional and local currencies;
    • Setting up a new international credit agency with greater democratic governance than currently exists under the Bretton Woods institutions;
    • Setting up an international bankruptcy court with the authority to cancel odious and other kinds of illegitimate debts (learn details at Credit Fix) and to arbitrate other debt issues;
    • Regulating and reforming the credit agency industry into proper independent supervision institution(s), based on more transparency about ratings and strict regulation on the management of conflict of interest; and
    • Using innovative sources of finance, including carbon and financial transaction taxes, to pay for global public goods and poverty eradication.
  • Resume the Doha Round of trade talks and review free trade agreements based on the objective of transforming multilateral and bilateral trade and investment rules and agreements in support of realising the enshrined rights to food, water, health, education, and gainful and decent employment; and in particular to:
    • Implement workable common international regulations to end agricultural import dumping; and
    • Establish international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.
  • Channel resources away from military spending and odious and illegitimate debt payments to investment areas with potentially strong anti-poverty impacts, particularly small-holder agriculture, social development and ecological sustainability; as well as ensure that development assistance to poor countries is not diminished in light of current pressures to rein in fiscal deficits.
  • Discuss and adopt new and more balanced indicators that factor in social and ecological costs and benefits, and therefore better measure and monitor global socio-ecological-economic progress.

Anastassia Zinke interviews Rev. Joyce Kariuki, acting general secretary of the Anglican Councils of Africa.

Was this your first time attending the Conference on the Status of Women (CSW)?

I have been here several times before.  The last one I attended was the CSW focused on the Girl Child.  I think this is the fourth time that I have attended a CSW.  This year I was requested by the archbishop to come.  They send someone yearly, but some years for personal reasons I have been unable to serve as the delegate.

What have you learned or taken away from this year’s CSW?

We cannot let the Beijing Platform for Action to be eclipsed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or be dropped as a tool in addressing women’s rights.  We are far from achieving our goal.  It is a struggle to keep this movement going, to achieve the empowerment of women.  The Beijing Platform is useful to us though, because it reminds us and equips us to keep this struggle going.  It helps articulate women’s issues.  We can refer to it and make sure – through the use of the right language – that others understand.

What are the pressing issues that you see in Kenya?  In the church?

Also, gender equity in the church needs to be addressed.  We are far behind the governments in terms of gender equity.  This will not do.  The church ought to be the model for society.  We also have to acknowledge the huge reach that we have.  We reach everyone: girls, women, men, and boys.  We have the ability to ensure that the message is being heard.

This can be complicated however.  There is a debate that the girl-child has been promoted so much that the boy-child has been left behind.  So now I include the boy-child, so that it is about holistic participation in change.  However, we have not forgotten that that the child-girl has been in a difficult situation.  We all have become involved, and help them become and stay students.

Another significant issue is domestic violence against women.  When there is violence, a woman is reduced to nothing.  We need to change this.  The church has not been able to address this yet.  During this conference, however, I heard a South African man talk about his work of leading men to address violence against women.  Men themselves condemning the violence.  They see that it is their issue.  This is powerful and a model that I would like to see adopted in Kenya, so that men don’t push the issue aside.

In Kenya, we are changing the constitution.  This presents a great possibility for women.  We need to finish this process.  Though we can critique the government, we cannot let this opportunity pass.  We must recognize that we all function under the government, so we need to partner with the government to get the constitution to its the best stage.

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A personal reflection by Jonah Gokova, Zimbabwe, first published in Gender and religious education

I wanted to be different
I was born in 1956 in a family of very devout Christian parents who both were active leaders in the Methodist Church. I was number two in the family but first born son. I have a young brother who comes after me and four sisters.

Traditionally my status in the family was higher than the one of my sister who came before me. In my case, my sister is seven years older than me! It is not about, who is older; but who is the son. This emphasis was repeated throughout my formative years and even up to now.
The Zimbabwean society, in which I was born, is not different from any other society in the world in terms of social expectations relating to gender roles between boys and girls who grow up to be men and women. There was an unwritten law, which regulated behavior and was read as the following: boys must be tough, boys do not cry, boys do ‘men’s work’ outside the home. At every step the requirement on maleness had to be confirmed. Physical ability, toughness were objectified as necessary ideal, that had to be achieved by every boy in our society.

I had four sisters who had an enforced ‘cultural and religious obligation’ to cook, wash dishes and clothes for me. In my younger days I was not satisfied with this arrangement and wanted to be different from other boys in my community. I was interested in assisting my sisters in doing household chore and I gained a lot of satisfaction from it. I learnt to cook, to iron and to perform household tasks, normally done by girls and women. My mother encouraged me to work together with my sisters and I enjoyed sharing the tasks with my sisters. My brother was rather different. He enjoyed playing with other boys away from home and his level of gender sensitivity is not notably high today.

Well my involvement in all this is definitely not the result of some fantastic gender theories I had read before. At that stage of my development I was not even aware of the work of feminists, who later assisted me with tools of analysis of social organization and unequal power relations that seem to be consistent in our societies today.  I was simply doing what I felt as the right thing to do at that moment. It is important to note that my mother played a crucial role in encouraging and supporting me. She did not read any of the feminist theories and up to now, at the age of over 80 years, she is not familiar with the gender theories that are beginning to inform our critic of social and power relations between men and women in society.

It is very possible that as a leader in Church she must have been influenced by her belief in God  to develop a sense of justice, that is reflected in the way she worked hard to create opportunities for her daughters, and the encouragement she gave me to develop a sense of equality between me and my sisters. I listened to her and I have never regretted.

My concept of salvation
As I look back I always ask myself, what specific contribution has the church made to my gender consciousness? What I remember from Sunday school theology and youth leadership lessons in the church is that God has always been neutral to these issues. Gender stereotypes have always been glorified as God-ordained. Boys should strive to positions of leadership while girls should be submissive and learn to obey.

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logo-assembly-enAn international gathering of women from across the Lutheran communion at Bogis-Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland, kicked off the first Pre-Assembly in a series of seven that will precede the Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), to be held in Stuttgart, Germany, July 2010.

Referring to the Assembly theme, “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread,” Mr Jaap Schep, acting director of the LWF Department for Mission and Development (DMD) called upon women to prepare a strong contribution on gender perspectives to issues that are on the assembly’s agenda.

Schep expressed his hope that the pre-assembly participants “will not be overwhelmed by the many negative trends in global food production.” He urged them “to create a strong call for this world to become a sustainable community that must” include gender justice.

“Is it not for the same reason that some 2 billion women around the world wake up much earlier than anyone else to prepare for the necessities of the day?” Schep asked participants, linking women’s role in providing bread and the WPA as the first pre-assembly.

Participants in the 27- 31 October pre-assembly include 34 women representatives from LWF member churches in the Federation’s seven regions.

Schep urged the WPA participants to use the opportunity of coming together “to make a strong contribution to the process of preparing yourselves for the Assembly of our communion.”

“The prevailing gender inequality is also clearly present in the context of our daily bread,” said Schep, citing what he had witnessed during DMD-related visits to projects of LWF member churches. “I see in many regions women working on preparation of the daily food … and men usually talking with other men … I have seen food being distributed unequally. And I have seen women, especially mothers, taking the least [portions],” he said.

During the opening worship, women were invited to speak out their names, and to share bread and bowls from their regions, as well as words and ideas that were inscribed on a patch work cloth. The women also remembered fellow delegates from Cameroon, India and Nigeria who had been invited to take part in the meeting, but did not receive visas.

Deliberations at the four-day international meeting include issues of women and power, women’s participation in decision making and women and justice. The participants will also have the opportunity to get acquainted with the LWF Assembly rules and procedures.

The DMD desk for Women in Church and Society has organized the WPA. Five regional pre-assemblies will take place in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, as well as an international Youth conference, organized by the respective DMD desks.

More information on the Pre-Assemblies is available here.

by Onleilove Alston

This Bible Study Resource is one part of a series of Bible Studies that examine The Last Week of Christ Life and The Last Year of Rev. King’s Life, created by The Poverty Initiative, an organization “dedicated to Building a Movement to End Poverty Led by the Poor”. This is an interactive, multimedia Bible Study that can be used in various settings. We offer a variety of resource choices so that you can tailor the study to the needs of your group.  This type of Bible Study was created by The Poverty Initiative by working with grassroots community groups and is called textual reflection, where we engage the Biblical text with contemporary writings. In no way is this Bible Study comparing the life of Dr. King to the life of Christ but by looking at the life of our fellow man we can see that it is possible to live out the teachings of Jesus in the public square to the end of social change.

 

Mary of Bethany Contributing to the Movement....

Mary of Bethany Contributing to the Movement....

This Bible Study examines the role women played in the ministry of Jesus and in Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, showing that the leadership of women is needed in ministry and  social movements; Christ set this example.

For the entire Bible Study (including resources and links) visit:

The Last Week of Jesus and the Last Year of Martin Luther King: Women in the Movement

By Simon Khayala, BD student St. Paul’s University, Kenya and a youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

Despite the Beijing Declaration that “Women empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision making process and access to power are fundamental for achievement of equality development and peace”, women still feel discriminated. Based on a one-sided interpretation of culture and scripture, discrimination of women is often reinforced by the churches. 

Traditionally the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3 was used to blame women. Eve, the first women, seduced Adam into eating the fruit from the forbitten tree. Hence all women today have inherited that blame. Women were seen as inferior, weak, disobedience and easily tempted. But if we read through Genesis 3 carefully, we will realize many positive things about Eve. Aspects, which the churches neglected far too long. 

Genesis 2:18 (RSV), says “…it’s not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”. The Hebrew word azer (helper) does not mean any form of subordination as it was always preached. In fact, azer has divine attributes (Heb 13:6, Psalms 10:14). The Bible discribes God as a helper to us. In John 15:26, Jesus tells his disciples he will send them a helper, the Holy Spirit. This implies that Eve was in the correct image and likeness of God.

In Genesis 3:6 we see Eve as a rational being. She is able to reason out to see that the tree was good for food and to be desired to make one wise. The Hebrew word raah (to see), also means “understanding or awareness”.

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Jan Gossaert, gen. Mabuse, Adam and Eve (1520)

Who does not want to be wise? All of us desire wisdom. To me the mother of all human wisdom is Eve, because it was until she ate the fruit that we acquired a higher status to become like God (Genesis 3:22). 

Eve was also the provider. Where was Adam when Eve was looking for food? In fact, Adam is portrayed as irrational being, because he never questions where Eve had found the fruit, but just ate it. This may imply that it was a tendency of Eve to provide food for Adam. Being the provider Eve again is in the image and likeness of God, because our God is also the provider (Psalm111:5).

 

Therefore our perceptions towards women on the basis of the story of the fall of man should change. Women may indeed have a unique gift which men don’t have.

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…

 

 

For many women who weren’t able to attend (or who weren’t old enough to know what was going on oat the time) the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995 exists only in the realm of the imagination.  For me (age 12 at the time) the words “Beijing conference” conjure up the list of areas of the Beijing platform and visions of huge crowds of global women.  That was until I saw “The World Through Women’s Eyes.”

In the time leading up to the Beijing conference, a group called The U.S. Ecumenical Women’s Network: Beijing and Beyond, was focusing on the importance of calling media attention to Beijing and spreading the stories that would be shared there.  This group of women decided that one of the most effective things they could do was create a video (yes, it was VHS then) documenting the conference.  Through the magic of modern technology, we were able to transfer this VHS tape to DVD, and then upload it to YouTube.

It is with great thanks to the women who had the foresight to make this video possible that we encourage you to watch, send it to your friends and networks, and inspire a new generation with the stories of your own involvement in the global women’s movement.

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.

by Diana Sands.

To begin, I would like to borrow an exercise popularized by a very creative teacher and writer*. Below I have copied a quote from a human rights advocate. All clues to the identity of the writer, the writer’s religion, and the writer’s country of origin have been obscured. Please read the following three paragraphs and try to guess which religion is referenced, which country the writer is from, and if you’re really daring, who wrote it.

 “I have been a practicing [religious faith] all my life and a [lay leader and teacher] for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with [my religion], after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the [religion’s highest] leaders, quoting a few carefully selected [religious text] verses, … [declared] that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as [religious leaders].

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries…

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of [prophets] and founders of [the] great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of [God]. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

Can you guess? I am sure that the media, which is truly a global influencer these days, must have had some sway over your guesses. Be honest with yourself. Did you guess the writer was a formerly Muslim woman from the Middle East or Central Asia who was fed-up with the politics of Islamic leadership in her community? Maybe you sensed a trick question and guessed a formerly Muslim woman from the West? Well, the writer is former United States President Jimmy Carter writing about why he is leaving Christianity. This exercise can show us lots of things about ourselves – I think primarily it shows that Islamophobia in the Western media is influencing us in very divisive ways. We have been distracted from the reality that women suffer subjugation and dehumanization at the hands of so many religious leaders across faith traditions. We have almost forgotten that opportunities for interfaith solidarity and cooperation around women’s rights are indeed possible through progressive and respectful dialogue.

Read the rest of this entry »

THE STORY OF RUTH AND NAOMI
Adapted from the NRSV Biblical Story by
Rev. Kathleen Stone (writer)
DeWanda Wise (editor)
As performed with dancer, actress and voice at the
Commission on the Status of Women, 53rd Session
Ecumenical Women Opening Worship
February 28, 2009
8:30 a.m
Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the United Nations

DOWNLOAD RUTH AND NAOMI SCRIPT AS PDF

_mg_4929Story telling:

They say—those “Theys” who write books and tell us how to think about things—They say this: (sarcastically) “The quiet, idyllic mood of the book of Ruth and the charm of its gentle heroine has given it a special appeal to many generations of readers.”

But we know better. Having been schooled in the life of strong women, we know the true story; amended in wedding chapels, churches and cathedrals, told to children as bible story, is NOT idyllic, quiet, charming or gentle. This story is a tale of desperate grief. A story of survival in an unjust world. This is a story of a woman who, according to the law of the day, is a non-person. She, women, we are possessions. Objects. Burdens. Birthing, Sexing, Accessories. This story is a story of land being Mans’ and food being Mans’ and Blessings belonging to Man. A story where a woman breaks her back to birth, to bake, to sweep, to plant, to harvest, and without a man, she can buy neither land, food, shelter, nor safety. It is a story of a woman bereft. Her deprivation of NO interest to the ways things are.

This is what WE know.
We know this not only from this story,
But, we know it today.

So, let’s listen. Read the rest of this entry »

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