10 Women of Faith Leading the Charge Ahead | Sojourners

10 Women of Faith Leading the Charge Ahead

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In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked some of our favorite women leaders questions about their personal hopes, faiths, fights for justice, and how their womanhood surrounds and informs those parts of them. Here is some of what they had to say:

Rev. Jennifer Bailey is the Founding Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network, a new interfaith community equipping faith leaders to challenge structural inequality in their communities. She is a Sojourners online contributor.


Rev. Jennifer Bailey

On progress:
Last week, I had the opportunity to circle up around a dinner table with eight strangers as part of the #100Days100Dinners campaign. Over the course of the first 100 Days of the new presidential administration, my organization, Faith Matters Network, in partnership with the Dinner Party and Hollaback! have been gathering people to have meaningful conversations across lines of political and ideological difference. At the dinner table we shared stories about who we were and how we came to understand our ideas of citizenship and an amazing thing happened — we didn't break into partisan bickering. We saw each other and listened deeply. These are the building blocks of relationships that feel crucial if we are to move forward together as a nation that recognizes the past and present pain we inflict upon one another while also boldly imagining something different.

On hopes for the future:
My hope is communities will be able to lean into a deepening sense of moral courage to take a stand and speak out when we see our neighbors being ostracized, attacked, or made to feel other just because of who they are. As Christians, we are not called to be bystanders, but to take an active role in accompanying those who need care.

Marie Dennis is leading the Catholic Church toward just peace as co-president of Pax Christi International.

On womanhood and justice:
I am a woman. That shapes and colors everything I do. I have committed my life to the pursuit of social justice, peace, and respect for the integrity of creation. That also shapes and colors everything I do. Both have to do with my essential identity and are inextricably interconnected.

On progress:
During this year we were able to initiate an incredibly hopeful conversation about nonviolence in the Catholic Church worldwide. One tangible result is Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) message on nonviolence, which was written in response to a proposal from the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Pax Christi International in collaboration with a number of other Catholic organizations. It is also very hopeful that the conversation continues and is increasingly vigorous.

Rev. Marcia Dinkins is the Executive Director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. Dinkins is also a leader in the Free Bresha campaign, which is seeking justice for Bresha Meadows, one of the many young females of color pushed into the abuse to prison pipeline.

On womanhood and justice:
My womanhood feels connected [to my passion for justice] because the women in the Bible speak to various parts of my life. We see women who are not your common woman — women who had to undergo circumstances that would debilitate them. These women had a voice. Some experienced denigration, the thing-a-fication of the woman's body, and mistreatment. Yet God gave us Justice. The word says that God gave us beauty for ashes. The woman in me is connected to the Justice in God.

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist and author of the book Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan. She is a Sojourners online contributor.


Saadia Faruqi

On womanhood and Justice:
Much of my work is connected to my gender because as a Muslim woman wearing the hijab, I find it inevitable that I end up battling stereotypes. To be able to go out into the field of social justice and activism, and to share not only my own story but also the stories of all misrepresented Muslim woman, is extremely empowering and fulfilling. You could say that's the reason for all my writing, my cultural sensitivity training, and my community work: to change perceptions of people about Muslim women and how much they can achieve.

On progress:
Recently I spoke at a church adult contemporary issues class as a speaker in their Muslim neighbor series. I was very heartened by the attendance and their feedback. Instead of their usual 10 or 20 participants, this class was attended by more than 50 people, and chairs were lined up outside the door to hear me speak. During a time of negative political rhetoric, the interest my Christian brothers and sisters felt in supporting me and hearing my message felt full of loving hope.

Rev. Wil Gafney is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of the forthcoming book Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne



Rev. Wil Gafney


I am called to my work as a black woman. I live out my priestly and scholarly vocation in this black woman flesh. As a womanist my theology is grounded in black women's experience — if it doesn't work for us, it doesn't work. And as a womanist, my circle of concern includes the whole of my communities, that includes the world.

Rev. Neichelle R. Guidry is the creator of shepreaches, a virtual community and professional development organization that aspires to uplift African-American millennial women in ministry through theological reflection, fellowship, and liturgical curation.


Rev. Neichelle R. Guidry

On womanhood and justice:
My work and ministry happen because I am a woman; a black woman. My ministry to women is borne out of the fact that none of us are free until all of us are free. I want all of us to be free from the threats and lived realities of poverty, violence, homophobia, and transphobia, mass incarceration, and all forms of addiction. Moreover, I believe that when women are liberated, entire communities and peoples have new opportunities for collective liberation.

On hopes for the future:
I hope people will speak out against the injustice and intolerance that is taking place. I hope we move past social media, and inundate our sermons, scholarship, and public discourse with creative methods for resistance and calls to love. I hope we don't forget that giants do fall, and that all it takes is one stone to slay them.

Alison Harington is director of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., and is a leader in the sanctuary movement.


Alison Harington

On progress:
In November of last year, I gathered at Standing Rock with more than 400 clergy who had been mobilized by local Episcopal priest John Floberg to be in solidarity with the water protectors. Recognizing that early church doctrine gave ideological justification for the Dakota Access Pipeline, we gathered in all of our religious garb and accouterments around the sacred fire at Oceti Sakowin, and held up a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, repudiated this doctrine, and handed it over to elders in the camp in order that it might be burned. It is my hope that actions such as this will encourage us to recognize the ways in which our faith has been used as a weapon of colonization and dehumanization; and it is my hope that these swords might be beat into plowshares.

On hopes for the future:
I am hoping that we will realize that our faith calls us into a position of non-compliance with the current administration and that our resistance is an act of supreme faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is also my hope that bold and imaginative work might be born out of this resistance. The work of sanctuary must grow. No longer can we just say to those being persecuted, “You are safe within the walls of our church.” But instead we must work outside of these walls so that safety can be found everywhere, in every home, on every block. As those indicted on charges during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s recognized, “the earth itself is to become a sanctuary.”

Zakiya Jackson advocates for racial justice and education reform. She works with theExpectations Project and Collected Young Minds, a space for young writers to showcase their thoughts and skills.


Zakiya Jackson

On womanhood and justice work:
As a black woman in the United States, I have the ability, blessing, and burden of understanding oppression in a way that can resonate with many people's lived experiences. The insights, wisdom, and brilliance of women of color (Think of Black Madonna and Mujerista Theology for example) are critical to understanding the root issues and producing the solutions of change.

On progress:
All the forms of protest that are rising up are encouraging. It seems like folks who aren't typically in the margins are finally getting angry. This is actually hopeful — to see people's agitation rising to the point of action and movement. Sometimes social justice is too trendy — liberation isn't born out of following a cute movement. Liberation requires sacrifice, pain, and endurance.

On hopes for the future:
I hope white people will sacrifice in new ways — that they will sit with discomfort and act under the direction of people of color who center the oppressed in their work. I hope people of color will release themselves from all the obligation we sometimes feel toward whiteness and instead allow ourselves to heal from erasure and move toward beloved community from a more whole place.

Julie Rodgers is a writer, speaker, and advocate for LGBTQ people in Christian communities.


Julie Rodgers

On faith and activism:
If the church began to embrace LGBTQ people the way Jesus urged us to embrace every neighbor, we wouldn't see so many people rejected from their churches, cut off from their families, often wondering if the world would be better off without them. We would see more Christians who celebrate what a gift it is to have friends and family members who experience love and community in a slightly different way.

On womanhood and justice:
When I think of leaders in the LGBTQ community — particularly the LGBTQ Christian community — a whole lot of men come to mind. Some of these men are extraordinary leaders and I'm so thankful they exist! But the movement suffers when there aren't more people of color, trans people, and women serving in leadership roles. It’s vital for young people to have role models to look up to when they try to imagine their future stories, and I hope to communicate, by my existence, that young lesbians belong in the church and they have gifts to offer their communities.

Emily Wirzba lobbies to achieve bipartisan recognition of climate change in Congress as the Sustainable Energy and Policy Associate for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.


Emily Wirzba

On progress:
I trained an interfaith delegation of clergy and religious leaders to meet with their Republican legislator’s chief of staff to discuss climate change. After the meeting, the member of Congress was moved to support legislation that acknowledges the realities of climate change and commits Congress to taking action. Constituent advocacy works! I hope that people will engage in respectful but truthful dialogue with elected officials and recognize their ability to enact structural change.

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