10 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2020 | Sojourners

10 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2020

For the past four years, Sojourners has created an International Women’s Day roundup of women faith leaders who are bringing us hope and inspiring us to action. This year’s group includes pastors and environmentalists, writers and theologians, nurses and poets. Collectively, they envision and work toward a wide and bold church community — a community that cares for creation and for those who are suffering, that centers those who the church has historically marginalized, and that holds both political and faith leaders accountable. Below, pray alongside these leaders and learn why their work is so important this election year.

1. Candice Marie Benbow

Candice Marie Benbow is a writer and public theologian whose work focuses on women's healing and wholeness. Her essays can be found at various outlets including ESSENCE, Glamour, Vice, and MadameNoire. She can also be found at candicebenbow.com.

Twitter and Instagram: @candicebenbow

Why is the work you do so important right now?

Unfortunately, we’re seeing allyship taking up all the space to speak on behalf of marginalized people. But black millennial women are able to speak to the particularities of our lived experiences. Also, it's important that young black women are not just seen as authoritative voices on race and gender, but as spiritual thought and faith leaders. God called us, too.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

Even with the most diverse group of Democratic presidential candidates we’ve ever seen, issues concerning girls and women are still being dismissed or wholly ignored. As women continue to speak into this moment, we remind people that the issues concerning girls and women are global issues that require the attention and commitment of everyone.

A prayer for this election year:

God, be with us as we carefully select the best equipped to lead. Help us remember that, even in our political engagement, we are called to honor you and your desire that we treat each other with care and respect. May we never forget that truth and accountability are holy. We pray this in your name and in the name of all that is divine. Amen.

2. Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros is a Tejana, Chicana, and Mujerista writer and poet from San Antonio, Texas. Her work appears in On Being, Sojourners, Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century Anthology, and Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity. She is the 2019 recipient of the Rubem Alves Award in Theopoetics.

Twitter: @CisnerosCafe

Why is the work you do so important right now?

The work of the spirit is always vital for women to thrive. Writing, for me, is the work of the spirit; it is ancestral work, which is intergenerational healing work. Peac-ing together our des-madre is critical, and I believe that writing is wound care. What new life are we creating from between hope and trauma? What are we building in that space?

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

Women’s voices are sounding off in all areas of the world, in all matters of injustice, and it is emotionally and spiritually taxing. Our voices are important because we are the healers. Con el favor de Dios, our hands and our voices are what will heal this world in the face of injustice. We are the caretakers of our planet.

A prayer for this election year:

Blessed Mother, Holy Spirit, God, please give us the strength to endure. Give us ancestral wisdom as we cultivate peace on earth. Lead us where we have not yet embarked to reimagine what glory awaits us all. Bless the life of the earth as we step forward in light, love, resistance, and thanksgiving. Amen.

3. Mari Copeny

Mari Copeny, known worldwide as Little Miss Flint, is a 12-year-old environmental activist who has raised over $500,000 for her community. She founded Wednesdays For Water to draw attention to the water issues across the U.S. She has created her own water filters that she is donating to those in need of clean water all around the country.

Twitter: @LittleMissFlint

Why is the work you do so important right now?

The work that I do is important now because so many do not realize that Flint is still in crisis mode, and that there are millions of Americans unknowingly living with toxic water. Water is a human right.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

If women and girls don’t step up and use their voices, then their interests, wants, and needs may be ignored and forgotten. We need leaders who will focus on women’s issues.

A prayer for this election year:

Please let all of the candidates remain honest about their intentions — that they actually do all the things they promise to do, and that nobody cheats. I pray that we end up with leaders who support and uplift us.

4. Shannon Dingle

Shannon Dingle is a disabled woman, humanization advocate, sex abuse and trafficking survivor, recent widow at age 37, single mom of six kids, and writer with her first book Living Brave coming out with HarperOne in 2021. Her husband’s motto was “be a good human,” and she strives to do that every day.

Twitter: @ShannonDingle

Why is the work you do so important right now?

When we talk about sex trafficking, we don’t talk as if any trafficking survivors are in the room. Leaders talk about ministering to disabled people but not ministering with us. I do what I do to say, “Hi. I’m here. I’m one of the people impacted by the projects you debate while dehumanizing people like me as the other.”

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

Too many decisions, especially related to women’s health, are being made in rooms full of men. While that’s unjust for all women, I firmly believe black women are the conscience of our nation right now. Women’s voices matter, but it’s imperative that we understand that white women (myself included) need to pass the mic more so we can learn.

A prayer for this election year:

Oh, God, hope seems so far away. Waking up to news of another case of abuse, another abuse of power, another power-obsessed person harming those without the same privileges feels like evil wins each day before it even starts. Teach us how to lament for now while trusting there’s more to come than just this day, this month, this year, this president.

5. Karen Gonzalez

Karen Gonzalez, a native of Guatemala, is a speaker, writer, and immigrant advocate, who lives in Baltimore, Md. Her first book is The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong. 

Twitter and Instagram: @_karenjgonzalez

Why is the work you do so important right now? 

The work of immigration advocacy is always important. Always. This is a work of affirming the image of God in immigrants and their belonging in this country. At a time when the current president and his government are targeting immigrants, we stand with our neighbors and speak up with them.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

I also believe that women’s voices are always important. All ballot initiatives affect us or our families, so we should have a voice in decision-making at every level of government. In particular, those of us who suffer a layered oppression due not just to our sex but race, ethnicity, disability, and many other intersecting identities need a voice to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

A prayer for this election year:

Gracious God, help all of us to care enough for our neighbors to vote for leaders who will strengthen our communities, pursue justice, and represent the values taught to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Show us how to rise above hateful rhetoric and commit to doing good for and with each other. Amen.

6. Emmy Kegler

Emmy Kegler serves as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis. Her first book One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins, recounts her experience of scripture as a queer woman. She lives in Saint Paul, Minn., with her wife Michelle.

Twitter: @emmykegler

Why is the work you do so important right now?

The church in America continues to perpetrate spiritual and physical violence against queer and trans people. Standing at the intersection of queerness and Christian faith — and speaking with clarity and conviction for full affirmation and celebration — is key to reducing the continued religious trauma that institutional Christianity seeks to wield. That word of liberation is transformative not only for the LGBTQ+ community but for all communities imprisoned by the bonds of cissexism.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

Because women are still systematically treated as unimportant. Women make up 50.8 percent of the American population, but only 6.6 percent of CEOs, 11 percent of head pastors, and 23 percent of Congress. We remain the primary caregivers for children and the elderly, the majority of the Christian faithful, and the overwhelming majority of those who suffer from domestic abuse, sexual assault, and intimate partner murder.

A prayer for this election year:

Make us your people again, O God. Break our stone-cold hearts, so that we may witness to the stories of those whom we have broken by our apathy, our ignorance, and our vitriol. Transform the lives of those who claim your Son as Lord, that we might truly recognize him as he promised to be shown: in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the imprisoned.

7. Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee

Elizabeth Chun Hye (Liz) LEE is privileged to serve as the Executive for Economic and Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Lead at United Methodist Women, a powerful lay women’s organization 800,000 strong who are advocating for climate justice and just energy for all.

Why is the work you do so important right now?

Most of the energy we use to stay cool, travel to church, and charge our phones comes from fossil fuels. Pollution from fossil fuels is the greatest threat to children’s health and cause of the climate crisis. Fortunately, cleaner energy sources like wind and solar already exist. If we take seriously God’s call to care for all creation, we must advocate at the local, state, and federal level for a renewable energy system centered on equity and justice.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

We need to let our elected officials know that climate change is a women’s issue. Globally, 80 percent of those displaced by climate change are women. We have a particular responsibility to call upon and vote for officials who will take bold measures to advance climate justice and reduce our domestic emissions.

A prayer for this election year:

Creator of Life, you called us to be caretakers of creation. We repent for harming our children’s health and being complicit in the climate crisis by polluting the earth through our energy use. We are grateful that cleaner energy exists that can reduce harm. Shake us out of apathy. Grant us, our faith communities, and our elected officials, vision and boldness to change our behaviors and adopt policies that will advance climate justice and just energy for all. In the name of our healer Jesus Christ. Amen.

8. Greisa Martinez Rosas

Greisa is a fearless defender of her undocumented community and advocate for the rights of women. Originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, Greisa migrated to the U.S. with her parents at a young age and grew up in Texas. She co-founded Texas A&M University’s Council for Minority Student Affairs, the first undocumented youth-led organization in the university’s history. Greisa is the living embodiment of the United We Dream spirit — transforming personal adversity into personal power and hope that has inspired thousands into action.

Twitter: @Grei_sa

Why is the work you do so important right now?

We’re living in a time when white supremacists are in the highest levels of government, crafting policies to exclude immigrants and people of color and to make their lives harder. I do this work because I want to see a world where people are free to stay and free to move without judgment, or violence, or fear. It’s imperative that there are people fighting back, to show folks they are not alone, and they can fight back too!

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

It is important for women to see themselves represented in leadership, especially this election. As a queer undocumented woman of color in leadership, my commitment is to build up and create space for other women of color, immigrants, and queer people. It’s important to me that I am not closing the door behind me, but rather bringing as many other people with me into this fight.

A prayer for this election year:

Let us extend our prayers to the immigrants showing their faces in the face of injustice. Even when everything is telling them to run and hide, our people are showing up.

Pray that we may find moral clarity within us. Pray to take their example and ask, what are we, each of us, doing to be part of giving birth to something new? In Congress, in our states, in our localities to stop ICE and CBP, to defeat hate, and to make all of us safer, more protected, and freer to thrive.

9. Dee Parsons

Dee Parsons grew up in Salem, Mass. She practiced public health and home nursing, including two years on the Navajo Reservation. After witnessing a church mishandle a serious sex abuse situation, she started The Wartburg Watch blog to see if others had similar experiences. She was shocked at the number of responses that she received almost immediately.

Twitter: @wartwatch

Why is the work you do so important right now?

A decade ago, there were few places that people could go to tell their stories of abuse and find not only support and understanding but someone who would believe their story. I am one of those storytellers. Churches needed to be educated that abusers were alive and well in the Protestant church. The church is slowly waking up, and I look at myself as an alarm clock.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

Sadly, in many Protestant churches, women’s voices are silenced because of the belief that only men can lead a church. This effectively silences the input of 55 percent of church attendees. In this election year, candidates must address issues such as the need to have broader statutes of limitations for reporting sexual abuse. Local governments need to address issues such as the large number of rape kits, which have gone untested. Women are bringing these issues to light. 

A prayer for this election year:

Dear God of Peace, you call us to be peacemakers, yet we live in a nation that seems hopelessly divided. Instead of seeing one another as brothers and sisters, we categorize each other as opponents or allies. Help us to find a way to move beyond our fears and divisions and learn to hear one another.

May we seek to elect those who will understand and care for the disenfranchised amongst us: the abused, the trafficked, the addicted, the impoverished, the immigrant, the disabled, and those who have lost all hope.

10. Tracy Howe Wispelwey

Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey is a songwriter, music producer, and the founder of Restoration Village Arts, a network of cultural workers building a just and beautiful world within today’s specific and intersecting movements of liberation. She is also the Minister for Congregational and Community Engagement for the United Church of Christ National Setting. She is 40 years old, descended from Filipino, English, Jewish, and French peoples, living on Tohono O’odham land in what is now called Tucson, Ariz.

Twitter: @TracyHoweMusic

Why is the work you do so important right now?

Cultural work is critical to building any kind of sustaining justice. It engages symbols, public narrative, and theology. While it can take years of organizing and action to generate public will toward a policy outcome or systemic change, cultural work involves a hoped for transformation that involves generations beyond my own lifetime.  

Art, religion, and cultural work at their best help us to all cultivate our own humanity and demonstrate living relationships with one another and with creation and with generations.

Why are women’s voices so important right now, especially during an election year?

In this political moment, we see the machinations of patriarchy and racism attempting to subjugate womxn’s bodies, and to disenfranchise and criminalize the poor and most vulnerable. We must foreground womxn’s experiences, trust their wisdom, and follow their lead as we fight for any remnant of imperfect democracy.

A prayer for this election year:

Life-Breathing Spirit, fill us with courage and strength to confront and shut down the violence in our midst, the wisdom and rest to build community, the resilience to sustain our path, and the inspiration and resources to create beauty on the way to a just world. Amen.

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