2018’s 10 Christian Women to Watch

Commentary
By Jenna Barnett 3-08-2018

Every International Women’s Day, we compile a roundup of Christian women who are making and shaping history right now.

From advocating for immigration reform, to battling racism and abuse in the church and through the church, women are leading the way. Below, the women we are honoring this year share with us their hopes, heroes, and blessings for 2018.

Sister Simone Campbell 

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Sister Simone Campbell

Sister Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK in Washington, D.C., where she lobbies on issues of economic justice, immigration reform, and health care. She has led five cross-country “Nuns on the Bus” trips, focused on economic justice, comprehensive immigration reform, and voter turnout.
@sr_simone

Who has inspired you?
Margaret Slachta is the foundress of my religious community the Sisters of Social Service and the first woman in the Hungarian Parliament. Her vision in the 1920s was that Sisters should embody a devotion to the Holy Spirit by working not just in direct service (charity), but should also work in legislation in order to create a more just world. She said that if our loving God would welcome those who wiped away tears from the suffering, she was certain that this loving God would also welcome those who did not allow the tears to fall.

A blessing for 2018:
O Spirit of justice and joy, enliven our beings that we might come together as one people. Stir our hearts and refresh our minds that we might embody your call to the common good. O divine Spirit, breathe in us the fire of your love so that our hearts are big enough to leave no one out of our care. O Holy Spirit, dazzle us with your vision that we might know the way forward in challenging times.

Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley 

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Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley

Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley is lead organizer of Congregate C’Ville, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. When thousands of white nationalists and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Va., last August, Brittany organized a nonviolent counter-protest of clergy people.
@brittanydare

Who has inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by the work of Lillian Smith, who was a southern white queer writer, educator and activist in the mid-20th century. Smith gave me a glimpse of what it looked like to resist as a white queer woman in the American South. Since so many of the white leaders we celebrate in America are problematic, I believe it’s important for white folks to recognize and follow our ancestors who did the work we are trying to do now.

What makes your work important right now?
The world is surely on fire and yet many white Christians are stuck in toxic rhythms of passive religiosity, appropriateness, comfort, and empire. At many points throughout our Christian history, we’ve dangled well behind the arc of morality and justice. We must awake from our slumber and do the work of justice before it’s too little, too late. Congregate is attempting to organize and prepare people of faith to do the work of justice.

Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman

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Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman

Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman is an AME minister and Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology in southern California. She speaks widely on religion and sexuality, religious pluralism, churches and social media, mental health, and sexual and domestic violence. Her memoir Bipolar Faith shares her lifelong dance with trauma and depression, and how she discovers a new and liberating vision of God.
@monicaacoleman

What gives you endurance?
I am encouraged by how much things have changed since I started this work. The #MeToo movement and #ChurchToo hashtags are two small examples of how people are more willing to talk about sexual violence, thus breaking silences in places of authority more and more. I’m also encouraged by the number of young people who dare to live out loud with mental health challenges. I’ve seen change in the last 20 years and that reminds me that change can and does happen.

Why is your work important right now?
Many people inherit their daily challenges by virtue of geography, war, race, class, gender, and sexual identity (to name a few). Now is a particularly good time to hold this consciousness together with the ways that these forces impact us individually. I try to break the stigma around mental health challenges in faith community, and remind us how complex individual and community trauma and illness can be. Mental health challenges can be linked to violence against others (which is statistically rare), and now is an important time to mobilize faith communities around education and care for all in our midst.

Kaitlin Curtice

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Kaitlin Curtice

Kaitlin Curtice is a Potawatomi Christian speaker and worship leader who writes at the intersection of culture and spirituality. Her book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, is a collection of 50 essays and prayers from her life that focus on the idea of glory.
@KaitlinCurtice

What gives you endurance?
The key, for me, to maintaining endurance and hope is to stay tethered to the world around me. We can get so tired from watching news feeds, from digging into the really difficult but beautiful work of justice and peacemaking. So often, when I am tired, I go outside. I rest from what’s in front of me and I go to the woods and remember that I am small, that I belong to a world that tells the stories of God and people over and over again.

Why is your work important right now?
We need to hear from more indigenous voices, especially within the church. And we need to hear from indigenous women who can lead us into what it means for the church to lament, to educate itself, to work through the decolonizing process, to continue the work of creating a good relationship between First Nations people and Christianity. And I believe it’s long overdue.

Ashley Easter

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Ashley Easter

Ashley Easter is a Christian feminist and abuse-victim advocate who educates churches on abuse, introducing them to safe practices and resources for their faith communities. She is also the founder of the Courage Conference, a judgement-free place for survivors of abuse (and those who love them) to gather and hear inspiring stories from other survivors about moving forward in boldness and healing.
@ashleymeaster

What makes your work important right now?
At least one in three women and one in six men will experience abuse in their lifetimes. This abuse isn’t just a secular problem; it has deeply infiltrated the church, too. For years this abuse epidemic has hidden in the shadows of shame, fear, and isolation, festering, and damaging lives.

It is past time that we expose this problem to the light. The time is now to call out abuse and injustice and to challenge the systems that seek to silence the wounded. And I feel compelled to provide healing resources to survivors and those still trapped in abuse.

A blessing for 2018:
I believe that we are living in the Justice Generation — a generation who will not rest until we come to the rescue of the most vulnerable. I pray we will run and not grow weary. I pray we will have the wisdom to know how to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. And it is my deepest prayer that we will rise up in courage.

Nicole M. Garcia

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Nicole M. Garcia, photo by LoriJ Photography

Nicole M. Garcia is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith, currently serving as a pastoral intern at a church in Littleton, Colorado. Nicole has a master’s degree in Counseling and has a private mental health counseling practice where she works primarily with individuals who are questioning who they are as a gendered or non-gendered being. Nicole is scheduled to earn a Master of Divinity degree on May 20, 2018 from Luther Seminary.
@nicoleg152

What gives you endurance?
I work with people who reach out beyond their personal needs and use their privilege to stand with people who live on the margins. The congregation where I work in is filled with good Lutherans who are the people one would expect to find in a Lutheran church — mostly white and, uh, life-experienced. They have used their privilege to extend an invitation to a transgender Latina to preach and teach in their congregation — that takes courage. They give me hope, endurance and a pulpit to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Why is your work important right now?
Frankly, I am a transgender woman of color who has not been brutally murdered — too many have been. I have the privilege of education, which means I have letters behind my name that give me some credibility. I’m an example of what happens when a transgender person is loved and supported by family, friends, and a congregation. I’m a fierce disciple of Christ compelled by my love of Christ to use such gifts of articulation and eloquence to show everyone that, even though I am a human being and therefore an unworthy sinner, God loves me because God is merciful.

Nikole Lim

Nikole Lim is a speaker, educator, and consultant on leveraging dignity through the restorative art of storytelling. As the Cofounder and International Director of Freely In Hope in Kenya, Nikole equips survivors and advocates to lead in ending the cycle of sexual violence — believing that they will be the ones to bring us all into liberation.
@nikole_lim

What makes your work important right now?
It's imperative to remind the church of the importance of valuing, uplifting, and honoring the oppressed, as Jesus did. The oppressed are rising up to restore, rebuild, and renew places devastated by violence as prophesied in Isaiah 61. I believe that the most oppressed are actually the most powerful leaders among us. I've dedicated my vocation to uplifting the leadership of survivors of sexual violence. Seeing this prophetic movement that is restoring, rebuilding, and renewing places devastated by violence is changing the narrative from oppression to awe-inspiring liberation.

A blessing for 2018:
Women-mothers are made of fire. We hold the potential to both burn and balm, harm and heal, inearth and illuminate, exhaust and embrace. It is this same fire that can mold fear into double-edged weapons with the intention to protect against the violence of darkness. This darkness will choose to harm you, like others have, attempting to destroy your light. But it will fail.

Daughters, your fire holds the potential to either burn or balm the cracks between your broken heart, to harm or heal the darkened skin across your arms, to inearth or illuminate hopeful visions of your future self, to exhaust or embrace the woman you ar e becoming.

May we women realize that we are fire. We must remember, more often, to feel its warmth.

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce 

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Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce is the Dean of Howard University School of Divinity — the first woman to serve in this role in the Divinity School’s 150-year history. She is also an activist, author, and a public intellectual whose areas of expertise include African-American Religious History, Womanist Theology, African-American Literature, and Race and Religion.
@YNPierce

Who has inspired you?
The late Dr. Arenia Mallory is among the great cloud of witnesses who informs my faith and work. As an African-American educator, civil rights activist, and churchwoman, she embodied a life of service to higher education and to her Pentecostal faith community. Like Dr. Mallory, as an administrator in higher education, I see my work as a vocation and a “calling.” Dr. Mallory reminds me that the work that black women do, whether in politics, religion, or education, can leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.

A blessing for 2018:
African-American theologian and mystic Howard Thurman wrote: “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” May the work of justice make us all come alive so that in everything we do, we are loving ourselves, loving our neighbors, and honoring the God who so fearfully and wonderfully made us.

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra

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Rev. Alexia Salvatierra

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is the author with Dr. Peter Heltzel of Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World (Intervarsity Press) and the founder of the Faith-Rooted Organizing UnNetwork. She is a Lutheran pastor with more than 35 years of experience in community ministry, including church-based service and community development programs, congregational and community organizing, and legislative advocacy. She is using this experience in her leadership with Matthew 25 SoCal and the New Sanctuary Movement.

What gives you endurance?
After Jesus asked if the disciples were going to leave, Peter said – “Where would we go?” I accepted Christ at age 16, taking the chance that the Way of the Cross might be real – that following Jesus could turn sacrificial love into powerful goodness and good power. The experiment worked; I have found the gospel to be true – even through all the challenges of life. Like loving your children — even when you are furious with them, you find yourself saying “yes” to the deepest truth of the heart regardless. Prayer for me is like breathing. I have a few spiritual strategies; I do “biking meditation,” I dance any chance I get, listen to story-telling music, and spend timeless time with people I love.

A blessing for 2018:
As I learned from Rene August of South Africa, the difference between a sprint and a marathon is how we breathe. May the church learn to breathe for a marathon — and may we find the unity in the love of Christ necessary in order to breathe and push (as Pablo Alvarado says) in the right rhythm for the kingdom to be born among us.

Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames

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Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames

Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames is the Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University. She has a Doctorate of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary in Leadership Excellence which explored how best to equip young clergywomen of color to thrive in ministry.
@TsThames

Why is your work important right now?
What I do is imperative right now because it is beyond denominationalism and institutions. I am co-creating beloved communities that are using its gifts and resources to respond to the needs of the world. The university setting provides me the opportunity to be in ministry and service with brilliant people who are asking hard questions and doing the work to connect their heads and hearts. In a deeply divided society and world, building “community not consensus” is desperately needed in order “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

A blessing for 2018:
Go out into the world with your chin up and your heart wide open.
Go out into the world and be an agent of God’s love.
Go. Amen.

Jenna Barnett is the Women and Girls Campaign Coordinator for Sojourners.

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