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Check out the following video from the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations Rev. Dionne Boissiere, who discusses the use of difficult Bible texts in this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women and how we should interpret such texts. Specifically, she explains the use of 2 Kings 6: 28-29, the story of “The Two Starving Mothers” to center a worship service around Millennium Development Goal #1, “eradicating poverty and extreme hunger” which was led by our young adult delegates on 11 March 2014.

IMG_5071A Reflection from the End of CSW Week 1 and International Women’s Day, by Haley Mills, from the Student Christian Movement USA and part of the World Student Christian Federation delegation to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women

Friday ended week one of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Appropriately, Friday was also International Women’s Day. A march was held to celebrate this day. Women and men marched bringing human rights theory to life and truths of the power of women to voice. Banners displayed, voices raised, and smiles flashed as rainy snow fell. Simultaneously, in offices and meeting rooms, women and men discussed proposals, language, and strategy. I sat surrounded by smart phones, legal pads, and coffee cups rather than banners, signs, and chants.
I’m willing to admit that I was not sorry to not be in the cold or wet, but I was a little disappointed not to join the visible, palpable camaraderie of so many spirited women and men united to celebrate women. Nevertheless, the work of words comprises an integral component of the CSW. From the words of the resolution (and proposed agreed conclusions) to the words of sacred texts, these writings influence the lives of women across the globe, for better or for worse.

For me, that is why I enter these textual worlds. Diving into the biblical interpretation reveals the work of the Holy Spirit and the ways in which the text as been manipulated. The Bible invites me into the conversation with the God who created this world and the people who have walked with that God. Following the path blazed by of the Communion of Saints requires discernment, humility and community to enter this conversation. Voices from all corners of creation must be joined to see the Spirit working.
In the same way, wrestling with the agreed language cannot be done alone. All voices must be present to ensure the full protection of women and the comprehensive recognition of their rights. I must listen to my sister, whether I fully agree or not. As a Christian delegate, I pray to recognize the liberating work Jesus the Christ at work in the deliberations, discussions, and debriefs continuing to “proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18b-19, NRSV).

 

An Inter-generational conversation between two delegates to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, Jennifer Bailey, a Church Women United and National Council of Churches and Fulata Moyo from the World Council of Churches.  Jennifer and Fulata discuss the corruption of sacred texts by some advocacy groups at the United Nations and the diversity of faith perspectives on gender rights.

IMG_4974Rana Chamadi, World Student Christian Federation Delegate, Member of the Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon writes about her experience on 3 March, 2013.

Today was a long day: We waited two hours in line to get our UN passes, went for a quick lunch, took the subway all the way across town to get to the Bible study at “the box of God” then came back to the hotel and spent the evening preparing the first ecumenical women worship service on Monday morning. It was really tiring but also very inspiring to be among this group of young educated women who are working hard to make the voice of unnamed women heard.

“If peace was defined as an absence of violence against women, no country would be considered peaceful”. It’s these simple , yet powerful words,  that marked me today. Our WSCF delegation met with other groups of young adults for a contextual Bible study. It’s during this meeting that I heard this important statement and it made me realize, that despite the fact that the women we met with came from various places and were very different, we were all the same when it came to the issue of violence and women’s rights. We are all aware of the issues women are facing, all we need to do is get the message through at the CSW to make an impact then work on the implementation of the change. The change is in our hands, at the “grass roots” level, and that is a big responsibility. These coming two weeks will only be the beginning of our journey of advocacy for women’s rights and I hope I’ll live up to my duties.

 

by Abraham Simatupang, Indonesia. First published in Gender and Religious Education.

The more children you have the luckier you will be
My parents are from the Batak ethnic group, a sub-ethnic group in the north Sumatera province. My father is the fourth of thirteen children. My mother has eight siblings, though three of  them died in infancy. To have a big family was not unusual in Sumatra at that time. Lots of children meant a great help for the family. According to the Batak’-tradition or “adat”, the more children you have the luckier you will be.

I am the eldest of four children, and was born in 1960. At that time, the political and economical situation was not stable in Indonesia. My mother told me that stable was curt and expensive. Most of the people could not afford it. However, since my mother worked as a pharmaceutical assistance in the Health Department of Indonesian Air Force, she got rations of baby formula from her office. My father was still a university student when they got married. In the beginning of their marriage my mother was the breadwinner. After he had finished his study, he started his career as a junior lecturer at the University of Indonesia. Hence, both worked to support the family. I learned that my mother took a significant role in nurturing the family and being a good host. We lived in a small house in the capital city of Jakarta. I remember those times when we hosted our extended families and relatives from the village who wished to move to the city. It was not unusual to have many guests and share our house with many people. They helped us with housework, while they were studying or looking for employment.

In my childhood gender role was not clearly differentiated.  My brother and I were given the same tasks as the girls. Dish-washing and house cleaning were not unusual for me. Sometimes I helped pumping the water from our well. My parents often told me to look after my brother and sisters, especially on the way to school. Before I went home from school, I had to assure that my sisters and brother have already gone home. If not, we would go home together by foot or by becak, a tricycle with driver. At that time, as the big brother I learned to take responsibility for my siblings.

We went to Sunday school in a protestant church nearby our house. I was always fascinated of the characters of the Bible’s heroes, like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Deborah, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Peter and Paul, told by our Sunday school teachers and the way they were called by God, men and women, to accomplish difficult tasks. In the majority of cases they had to make sacrifices. I learned that God calls anybody, regardless of which gender, to be God’s messenger and to be God’s partner for completing God’s plans.
Today women have more chances
Indonesia is an agricultural country. Like other agricultural countries, Indonesia has strong traditions where gender-related role allocation is very strongly differentiated. For example women were responsible for children while men took care of provision of food and shelter.
But, nowadays, since people are more open to influences from the outside, values change and gender-related issues or gender-role in society are no longer easy to define. To some extent, this gives benefits to female members, because they have more opportunities to fulfill their dreams as individuals. They can pursue higher education or career if they want. Many women work to earn money, not only for themselves but also for their families.

We even had a woman as president and a number of women are leaders in provincial or regional government.  A higher quota of women, up to 30% of the members of totally 550 of the national parliament, has recently been discussed extensively.

The fight for gender justice, however, is not fully realized. Certain groups, who have their own principles, try to slow down this process. They still require traditional custom like arranged marriages and imposing curfew for women in certain areas.

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by Samuel Nyampong, Ghana. First publisched in Gender and Religious Education.

Women get children and are not able to think

The traditional perception of females in Ghana up to the latter part of the 20th century was that females could not undertake arduous tasks and were better suited for child ‘producing’ and domestic, trading and farm work. Intellectual and professional developments were the preserve of men. A Ghanaian proverb explains it better: “Obea to tuo a etwere obarima dan mu” (When a woman is able to acquire a gun, it is the man who keeps it in his room).

A research on Position of Women in Ghanaian Society has confirmed that women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Given the male dominance in traditional society, some economic anthropologists have explained a female’s ability to reproduce as the most important means by which women ensured social and economic security for themselves, especially if they bore male children.

This ingrained perception about females gave justification for fathers to give their daughters to early marriage so they (fathers) would reap the benefit of receiving a dowry in the form of drinks, cash, cattle and other material goods prescribed by Ghanaian traditional customs. Early unprepared marriage has plunged many girls and women into difficulties which have entangled and imprisoned them with no hope of emancipation. Today the Constitution of Ghana guarantees equal rights for males and females.

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

Introduction

I would not have written about this topic, if I did not believe that the Bible has important things to tell us, not only about spiritual matters but also about material concerns. Anyone who begins to study those parts of the Bible which deal with poverty and riches will come up against what at the first sight seems to be a confusing amount of contradictory material. At first riches are a blessing, but latter they become a curse; at times poverty seems to be praised, but elsewhere it is regarded as a disgrace.

Remember some of these examples from the Bible: “Blessed are you poor” (Luke 6:20); “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer” (John 16:33); “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world?” (Mark 8:36);  while other text put all emphasis on poverty as a spiritual problem.

Poverty and riches are not independent phenomena. One person is poor because another is rich. Poverty is not a state of deprivation which has come about by chance; it is determined by the structures of society. In trying to understand these issues of poverty and richness we need to understand the social developments of the poor and rich in the Bible.

Vocabulary for poor and rich in the Bible

The Bible has a large vocabulary for describing the poor man and his situation. In the Old Testament, the commonest word for the poor is ani: It is used 77 times, above all in the Psalms (29 times). Literally, ani is used to denote a person who is bowed down, and who occupies a lowly position. The ani has to look up to others who are higher than he. He is humiliated; he can not stand up right because of economic and social pressure. The ani however is not contrasted with the rich, but with the man of violence, the oppressor, who put the ani in his lowly position and keeps him there.

The word anaw is very closely associated with ani. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, anaw tend to be less materialistic. The anaw is someone who is aware of being of little account before God; the anaw is humble and/or gentle. Here the emphasis can be more on poverty as a spiritual attitude.

The word dal is used above all for physical weakness and material poverty with no other connotations.

For the prophet Amos (2:6ff), being poor is comparable with being righteous (tsaddiq).

The New Testament also has different words for describing the poor man and his condition. Prochos is the commonest of them. The prochos is someone who has to try to live completely without means and is dependent on the help of others.

The Old Testament has a variety of expression about riches; riches influences power, possessions, abundance, nobility among other. The same is true of the New Testament. To be rich is to have an existence of good thing, where there are no shortages. In biblical thought riches are initially success guaranteed by God to those who observes the laws of the covenant. Abraham is the living example of this un-problematic view of riches. His possessions are sheer blessing. These kind of blessings and possessions are however not a privilege obtained at the expense of others. If one man is rich, all members of the tribe are rich. The words used to describe the poor in nomadic times seem to be of non Israelite origin.

Poor and rich: Social developments in the Bible

There came an end to this nomadic life and Israelite became farmers and began to settle. But before settlement in Canaan there seem to have been no clear distinctions between the poor and the rich. At this time there were no extreme social problems, economic conflicts and social class, the family was a financial unit (Leviticus 27). When the tribes of Israel settled in the land of Canaan around 1200 BC, they turned from being semi-nomads to small independent farmers; this made them to become rivals.

Anyone who was given an unfertile piece of land soon become poor and was compelled to sell himself and his family to slavery. The system of values changed even more quickly through intermarriage with Canaanite families which were more skilled at agriculture. The possession of property became the centre of interest. People began to increase their possessions and become rich.

At the time a distinction arose between the poor and those who owned land. The development of an economy involving dealing in trade and land disrupted equality of the families. Some families became rich and others slowly became poor.

Conclusion

We can conclude that, even in the bible poverty is directly connected with the structures within which people live. Poverty does not develop of its own accord; people do not become poor because they are idol – they become idol because they are poor. This means that solving the problem is never a matter of the poor – it’s the task of the rich. The rich is reminded into his responsibility and to an increasing degree of his guilt. He must transform his social success into a blessing for his fellow country men; he must be the one to encourage opposition to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, he fails to do this.

In reality, for all the public criticism made by the prophets and in spite of legislation, the social development continued and the gulf widened further. This is similar to our present world: the rich continue to become richer at the expense of the poor. In most parts of the world a few rich individuals continue to accumulate more wealth at the expense of many poor people.

Recommended reading with helpful ideas for the discussion: Conrad Boerma, “The rich man, poor man and the bible”  (1976).

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 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.

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by Meagan Manas, cross-posted from NCCC Women’s Ministries

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35-40

In this spirit, a group of women gathered in 1879 to found the Women’s Home and Foreign Mission Society in the American Lutheran Church. Through collections gathered in “mite boxes,” this organization has collected more than a million dollars to fund various projects around the world. Some of the first projects included financing women missionaries, including two female missionary doctors, Dr. Anna Sarah Kugler, and Dr. Betty Nilsson, and building schools, both coeducational and for girls only, like this one in China.

A Woman manages her product at a market in Accra, Ghana

A Woman manages her product at a market in Accra, Ghana

According to the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), “It is estimated that women hold more than 51% of the personal wealth in the United States, and they are set to inherit trillions of dollars more as the World War II generation begins to transfer its wealth. Women are expected to control 60% of the wealth in the United States by 2010.” The mission of WFN is to connect these women with opportunities to fund other women around the globe, women who are in poverty and truly the least of “the least of these.”

The movement, led by women inside and outside of the ecumenical community, to consider specifically women and children in the world’s poor when writing policy or contributing money is now seeking a new target: gender budgeting in all levels of our communities, governments, and world.

What is Gender Budgeting?

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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 »

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