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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.

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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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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more about “EW Worship photos preview“, posted with vodpod
Additional professional photos will be posted by Monday, March 9. 2009.

by Kathleen Stone, CCUN Chaplain

Morning worship is extremely important for the Ecumenical Women delegation. Being able to effectively ground the day in a firm Biblical faith along side a commitment to address injustices facing women around the world is an incredibly important skill. Both practically and theologically, claiming biblical stories together every morning is powerfully energizing, and has become a focusing tool for those who then spend the day at the United Nations. Doing so every morning during the Commission ushers amazing power to change the ideologies that limit women’s choices and power.

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This year, Ecumenical Women’s Opening Worship at their orientation told the story of Ruth and Naomi. Through dancing, singing, original music, drumming and storytelling, the original, creative telling powerfully moved those gathered. Ruth, as Naomi’s caregiver in a world made for and by men in ancient Israel, was revealed as a powerful, fierce caretaker of Naomi in an unjust world. The storytelling emphasized the fact that Ruth and Naomi’s ONLY chance at survival was for a young, beautiful, loving, fierce, generous woman to sexually and illicitly sleep with a man who was old enough to have been her father. This year, the worship space displays an original participatory artwork commissioned by Ecumenical Women. The artist, Ms. Mary Button (www.marybutton.com) chose to imagine the moment when Ruth clung to Naomi, thereby saving her life. Ecumenical Women place extraordinary import on the representational nature of those who are delegates so each morning prayers for women around the world from the delegates are written on strips of paper which are made into beads and are then sewn onto Ruth’s dress. Because the situation facing Ruth and Naomi is still prevalent in our world and because women’s overwhelming burden of caregiving is so often overlooked in social, economic and political policy making, this story was extraordinarily relevant to the theme of the Commission.

Many thanks to the performing artists who contributed to the service: Dajhia Ingram, dancer; Cassondra Kellum, voice; DeWanda Wise,  actress; and Grace Pugh Hubbard, keyboard.

Ecumenical Women delegates to Commission on the Status of Women were given the opportunity to translate Ecumenical Women’s input into the agreed conclusion into prayers of confession, petition and thanksgiving during morning worship on Thursday, February 28th.

This document contains excerpts from the draft of the agreed-upon conclusions. Ecumenical Women suggested additions and changes to the draft agreed upon conclusions, followed by prompting questions. Then three short sentence prayers were created from the thought around those agreed-upon additions: a prayer of confession, a prayer of petition and a prayer of thanksgiving.

We hope you might pray these prayers with a deep and committed heart for the sake of the disproportionate number of women suffering abject poverty. On Monday, governments began to determine the language needed within the agreed-upon Conclusions. By augmenting the agreed-upon conclusions in such a way as Ecumenical Women have desired, it is just possible that we will begin to rebuild an economic system which has at its core a desire for more resources for development, more decisions for development, and less injustice in the financial mechanisms, in the hands of those who are unable to access them under the current mechanisms: the poor.


CSW Worship 7

Originally uploaded by Ecumenical Women

On Saturday, February 23, Ecumenical Women gathered for our orientation on the 52nd Commission on the Status of Women.  On that day, we joined together as women from many different areas of the world, cultures, ethnicities, denominations, and identities of all kinds, to form a coalition of women advocating for gender equality at the United Nations, from a faith-based perspective.  We worshipped together, learned together, reflected together, and ate together!  And after all that togetherness… we advocated together! 

Photograph by Kimberly Llerena.

About a month ago, I was writing the litany for Ecumenical Women’s opening worship for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In the first draft of the refrain, I wrote, “Shower the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.” Bringing it to Kathleen Stone, the chaplain at the Church Center for the United Nations, I, a white, privileged, upper-middle class (by American standards), North American woman, expressed my timidity about using the word “justice” so liberally in the refrain. “What is justice, anyway?” I thought to myself, “and how do I feel about a God who openly distributes justice upon God’s enemies? What does it mean for God to have enemies?” 

 As I expressed these perusings to Kath, she paused before commenting. When she spoke, it was reminiscent of what my Exegesis professor at Union Theological Seminary would later say about Ezekiel 37:1-14. For those people who have witnessed the ravaging of their homes, who have experienced the debilitating scourge of poverty upon their bodies and communities, and whose flesh has been torn and wounded—indeed, for those who have seen the “dry bones” of Ezekiel—the word “justice” is never too strong a word to use. In these situations, when humanity is hampered by our inability to distribute justice, it is God who must distribute justice. The women who would be reciting my litany have seen these dry bones, and they have come to the CSW to right the injustices of this valley. With these women in mind, Kath and I changed the refrain to “Thunder the earth with your justice, O God, and invest life into the bodies of your people.”

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Ecumenical Women is excited to have events planned for the Commission on the Status of Women, which will take place 24 February through 7 March 2008. We hope that governments and NGOs around the world will come together and make real progress on our theme: Financing for Gender Equality.

Just as in previous years, we are planning to hold daily worship services in the chapel at the Church Center for the UN. The schedule for these worship services can be found here.

We will also host two side events:

  • Ecumenical Women’s Challenge to Financing for Development
  • Gender Architecture in our Religions: Walls and Windows

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