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by Frederick Clarkson, first published in the WomensENews commentator on February 24, 2010

A religious think tank has issued a manifesto about breaking the silence in religious communities about a host of sexuality issues. It hasn’t stirred much media attention, but Frederick Clarkson thinks it could be revolutionary.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The Religious Institute has just issued a 46-page report on the state of sexuality in religious communities and a manifesto that seeks to transform the status quo.

Goals include improved pastoral care of marital relationships, domestic abuse and infertility, and training for prospective clergy in sexuality-related matters.

The institute calls for religious leaders to provide lifelong age-appropriate education for youth and adults and to become more effective advocates for comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health in society.

Clergy are often first responders in matters of domestic violence and potential (and actual) suicides by young people struggling with sexual identity. The Religious Institute points out that these first responders have usually received little to no training for the job.

A singular strength of the document is that it offers an uncompromised progressive vision that does not conform to recent fashions in seeking “common ground” with conservative
evangelicals and Catholics.

Particularly striking in this regard is its call for a society in which there is full access to reproductive health care, including abortion, marriage equality and full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of religious communities.

Since it was announced two weeks ago, the report, “Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade,” has generated little media attention beyond a few regional newspapers and online news sites.

Sometimes, this is the quiet way revolutions begin.

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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).

The Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network has recently launched the Restoring Dignity initiative, engaging senior religious leaders, women and men of all faiths, survivors of violence, and youth to End Violence Against Women. The response to the initiative, “so far has been inspiring”, says Jacqueline Ogega, Director of the Women’s Mobilization Program at Religions for Peace, a collaborator of Ecumenical Women.  Faithful women and men are taking leadership and becoming active in the Restoring Dignity– End Violence Against Women campaign at http://religionsforpeace.org/initiatives/women/restoring-dignity.html.

restoring dignity 

 

 

Please join and take action today!

With the official launch of Phase II of the UN Secretary-General’s and UNIFEM’s Say NO—UNiTE initiative, the initiative will count actions by individuals, governments, civil society partners and faith-based partners. You can show your support by visiting the Say NO website and take action by:

On this webpage, you are invited to create your own resources and actions, update photos from your interfaith event, and even link videos to youtube! And the best part, it’s very easy to use! But if you have any snags, send an email to GlobalWomenofFaith@religionsforpeace.org for technical support.

 

TAKE YOUR FIRST ACTION TODAY! Sign the Call to Action to the UN Secretary-General by 23 November 2009.

 

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 Onleilove Alston

Note: Though DWU works on issues affecting domestic workers in the U.S. the issues faced by its membership are shared by women worldwide. The exploitation of women workers is an international human rights issue. According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the U.N. :

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD   for the display of his splendor. THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; THEY will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:1-4

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (the Domestic Worker) Bill of Rights passed”.

“Without God we can’t do anything”.

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors”.

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell Leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work
will be valued equally”.-Mission of Domestic Workers United

During the spring of 2006 I started to closely read Isaiah 61 and began to gain spiritual encouragement from meditating on God’s care for the poor and oppressed. I began to study this scripture whenever I had the chance. In 2007 I started to work with New York Faith & Justice after meeting founders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Anna Lee and Peter Heltzel at Pentecost 2007. In the Fall of 2007 New York Faith & Justice did an in-depth Bible Study on Isaiah 61 and from this study I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness”, and “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated”. This new insight revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. Instead of just preaching the gospel to the poor, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities! If you are a person of privilege instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if like me you come from the ranks of the poor you are called to rebuild and restore your community. This re-reading of Isaiah 61 is further supported by my work with the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program. The Poverty Scholars program brings poor activist from across America to Union Theological Seminary to take part in an educational program of conferences, theological reflection and action planning centered on re-igniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

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crossposted from unaids.org

According to a new report published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimated 50 million women in Asia, who are either married or in long-term relationships with men who engage in high-risk sexual behaviours, are at risk of becoming infected with HIV from their partners.

logo unaids_en

The HIV epidemics in Asia vary between countries in the region, but are fuelled by unprotected paid sex, the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment by injecting drug users, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men. Men who buy sex constitute the largest infected population group – and most of them are either married or will get married. This puts a significant number of women, often perceived as ‘low-risk’ because they only have sex with their husbands or long-term partners, at risk of HIV infection.

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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.

cross-posted from UNIFEM

Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic, widespread human rights violations in the world. It occurs in every country, rich and poor, and affects women and girls, regardless of age or socio-economic status.  Despite its alarming proportions and deleterious effects on so many levels, it has long been a silent epidemic that has only recently, due to decades of tireless effort and dedication by the women’s movement and concerned human rights activists, been placed high on global, regional and national policy-making agendas.

To advance UNIFEM’s work and accelerate progress in implementation and upscaling, the organization’s vision and future directions are set out in this 2008-2011 Strategy, A Life Free of Violence: Unleashing the Power of Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality. It looks at seminal reports, worldwide initiatives, and expert consensus and emerging issues in academic, advocacy and policy circles. It also provides an overview of UNIFEM-supported programming, work in progress at other UN agencies in the context of UN reform and other opportunities available to accelerate progress, such as the Secretary-General’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

Under the overall theme of ending impunity and strengthening accountability, the strategy’s four pillars centre around: furthering implementation of existing commitments and promoting upscaling; aligning informal and formal justice systems with international human rights standards; addressing rape as a tactic of warfare in conflict and post-conflict situations; and targeting primary prevention with key groups, especially men and young people.     Download your own copy.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released report HIV vulnerabilities of migrant women: from Asia to the Arab States: shifting from silence, stigma and shame to safe mobility with dignity, equity and justice (full-text, 2.27 MB). The report is a result of a study that focused on the vulnerabilities of Asian women who migrate to work in the Arab States. The women migrants, who bring substantial economic benefits for both – countries of origin and host countries, become easy targets for violence and sexual exploitation. Lack of legal coverage and limited or no access to health and social services make these women especially vulnerable to HIV. The report provides methodology of the study, key findings and recommendations, as well as regional analysis, country reports on four countries of origin and three host countries.

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!
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In preparation for the March meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-53) at the United Nations, Ecumenical Women has launched an advocacy guide: Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church: Ecumenical Women’s Guide to Advocacy.

The resource prepares delegates from faith-based non-governmental organizations for effective action at the annual United Nations meeting.

Including a brief history of advocacy by women of faith at the United Nations, the guide provides an overview on how to advocate for women’s rights at the UN, gender-equality action strategies for congregations, and theological reflections on gender equality written by women and men from around the world.

DOWNLOAD Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church: Ecumenical Women’s Guide to Advocacy
DOWNLOAD Ecumenical Women’s Addendum, CSW-53
DOWNLOAD Press Release

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