8 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2023 | Sojourners

8 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2023

For the past seven years, Sojourners has celebrated Women’s History Month by highlighting women whose work who has inspired us with their visions for a more just world — and church. The women in this year’s list include authors and reporters; activists and advocates; professors and pastors, but they’re all united by their commitment to tell radical, inclusive stories and their belief that shaping the church and world starts in one’s own community. These women teach, speak, podcast, and organize on behalf of many causes and communities, including reproductive health rights; multi-faith, multiracial democracy; garment workers; and Black liberation. We offer gratitude for their public leadership and passionate witness.

We asked each leader to share why their work is so important, describe their vision of justice, and offer a prayer or blessings for 2023. We hope you’ll be blessed by their prayers and encouraged by their work.

Beth Allison Barr

Beth Allison Barr is the James Vardaman professor of history at Baylor University. She is a medieval historian, specializing in women’s history and church history, and the author of the bestselling The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth.

Why is the work you do so important right now? Current events have made the fruit of Christian patriarchy so clear — from the Southern Baptist Convention sex abuse scandal and subsequent disfellowshipping of churches with female pastors to the continued sexual objectification of women by megachurch pastors to even The Gospel Coalition endorsing a sexual ethic of male power over female bodies. As I argued in my book The Making of Biblical Womanhood, historical ignorance helped pave the way for evangelicals to embrace these dangerous ideas about women. I further contend that a lack of understanding about the broader cultural impact of these evangelical beliefs contributes to the continuation of oppressive structures even outside of the church. My work thus shows how historical amnesia comes at great cost for not only evangelical women but also for human dignity.

A blessing for 2023:
May we see women the way God has always seen women.
May we listen to women’s voices instead of silencing their speech.
May we recognize that women, too, are image bearers of God.
May we remember the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.
May we know the strength of God who empowers us to do more than we have ever imagined.
May we be known for sharing the love of God, even toward those who resist us.

Rev. Jennifer Butler

Rev. Jennifer Butler is the founder in residence of Faith in Public Life, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. In 2005, she founded Faith in Public Life to amplify progressive faith voices and forge multi-faith, multiracial, and ideologically diverse faith coalitions to work for justice and the common good. She chaired President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was named one of the “22 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2022” by Center for American Progress. She is the author of Who Stole my Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny (2020), which makes a biblical case for multi-faith, multiracial democracy in the face of rising white Christian nationalism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world. Her book Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized (2006) was among the first to document the formation of a global religious nationalist effort. Stay updated on her work at RevJenButler.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @RevJenButler or on Facebook at @RevJenniferButler.

Why is the work you do so important right now? Religious nationalism is resurging around the globe, hijacking faith to legitimize autocratic rule and undermine human rights. In the U.S., white Christian nationalism and QAnon — legitimized by a number of elected leaders — have captured the hearts and minds of many Americans. I’m working to equip faith leaders to reclaim our sacred texts that have been hijacked by ethnonationalists, so that we can make a visionary case for democracy — the system of government that embraces the scriptural vision of dignity for all. Together, our voices can help lead people away from ideologies that exploit fear and insecurity to exclude people based on race, class, gender, orientation, or creed.

A prayer for 2023: Stand in a pose that gives you strength as you pray: “God who made all in your likeness and who liberates those whose dignity is denied, we invite your cloud of witnesses to walk with us now; we invite the strength of your unlikely champions whose compassion and courage defeated tyranny. We say their names. We imagine their trepidation in facing their Goliath. We picture the loving vision that compelled them forward. And by your grace may we find joy and confidence as we walk in your unfailing love.”

Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk

Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk is currently a member of the board of trustees of Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina. She was part of the 1962 Freedom Rides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the first Black woman to be ordained in the United Church of Christ. She is former executive of the Community Renewal Society of Chicago and has served the UCC in leadership positions, including as the director of its Office for Church in Society. She has worked internationally as moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Program to Combat Racism and is the founding director of the Center for African American Theological Studies (CAATS). For 60 years Rev. Delk has served as an educator, preacher, organizer, and a prophetic voice leading the fight for human and civil rights for people of color, children, and the poor throughout five continents.

Why is the work you’re doing important right now? I am Elder Mother Yvonne Virginia Delk. In my 84th year as a pastor, activist, storyteller, mentor, and spirit guide, I am retelling the United Church of Christ’s “origin story” through the publication of my first book, Afro-Christian Convention: The Fifth Stream of the United Church of Christ. Based on the lived history and research of my team of contributors, our denomination has voted to affirm its Afro-Christian origins, shifting us from a European-originated denomination to an African-originated denomination. Amid America’s current period of regressive Afro-phobia, white supremacy, and attacks on how we interrogate the original sin of racism, I am telling the story of faith, courage, resistance, strategic foresight, and resilience that flow from the well of our African ancestors and African spirituality. Not only does this work meet our historical moment, but I am using it to provide ongoing witness for younger generations who are embracing theological imagination and moral agency toward the beloved community of justice, love, liberation.

A prayer for 2023: Lead on, O God of freedom and justice. O God of liberation and truth, we invoke your Spirit. We follow you with fear and sometimes tears, but we come forth rejoicing. Encircle us with your liberating mercy and grace. You are the God who calls worlds into being and refuses to bow before the gods of Empire. You are the Author, Perfector, and Defender of life. You are the God who does not leave us lost, even when we wander. You are the God who invites us to choose life against the snares of death surrounding us. You are the God who says that truth crushed to earth shall rise again. O God of our ancestors, we are Your people. Empower us with conviction and courage. Journeying with You, O God, is indeed the way home for us. Welcome us with singing and dancing, so that we may run and not grow weary, walk and not faint in our struggle for liberation. Amen.

Céire Kealty

Céire Kealty is a Ph.D. candidate in Theology at Villanova University, studying theological ethics and Christian spirituality in relation to the global garment industry. Her academic and public work explores the humanitarian, environmental, and existential problems and insights imbued in our clothing. For more on Céire’s work, follow her educational InstagramPatron Saint of Threads.

Why is the work you do so important right now? Clothing, and the garment industry at large, are implicated in problems deserving faithful attention (but are often hidden from view), from garment worker exploitation to environmental harms like waste colonialism. As momentum builds in advocacy and policy spaces to address these ills, its crucial that churches, as communities of wearers, join in this work. So, I write to demonstrate the need for faithful engagement with clothes, while bridging the gap between ancient and contemporary revelations — whether that's reconciling faithful calls to “clothe the naked” with humanitarian problems of clothing donations or considering the spiritual insights of a Chilean desert filled with textile waste. I want to encourage believers to connect with their neighbors and God’s creation through their clothes and seek “the good” of every human hand and earthen soil involved in our clothes’ creation through joyful, solidaristic action.

A prayer for 2023: May we be awakened to our true needs and those of our neighbors, near and far, that are muffled by corporate calls to consume without ceasing. May we turn from fleeting fineries that fail to sustain us. May we find respite in the arms of the beloved community instead. May the nourishment of kinship propel us forward, as we face challenges of baffling proportions. May we not waver amidst these mammoths, as we know You are with us and for us, O God.

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion and received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is the author or editor of 21 books, most recently, Spirit Life, Invisible and Intersectional Theology. Kim is a series editor for the Palgrave Macmillan Series, Asian Christianity in the Diaspora, and has served on the American Academy of Religion’s board of directors. Kim writes for Baptist News Global, Sojourners, and Faith and Leadership and has published in TIME, The Huffington Post, Christian Century, US Catholic Magazine and The Nation. She is the host of Madang podcast which is sponsored by The Christian Century and is an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister. To read more of her work you can also follow her on Substack: Loving Life.

Why is the work you do so important right now? As a public theologian, I teach, write, speak, preach, and host Madang podcast. All of these different aspects of my vocation are important to me as it is an avenue to share and uplift marginalized, silenced, and invisible voices. I grew up in a family and culture that taught that being silent is a virtue. But silence isn’t helpful when systems of oppression work against you to subjugate and marginalize people and groups. I hope that all my various actions provide a platform and space to amplify silenced people/s voices and concerns, and work toward building a kin-dom of God that welcomes and embraces all people.

A prayer for 2023
Creator God, thank you so much for creating each one of us uniquely and special. Help us to celebrate our diversities and embrace those who are so different from us.
Grant us your wisdom to choose and live wisely.
Grant us your peace so we can be peacemakers.
Grant us your love so we may love our enemies.
Gracious God, aid us to live with gratitude for all the many blessings that you have bestowed upon us. Support us to use our gifts faithfully to further your kin-dom here on earth.
Thank you for your grace, mercy, and love for us. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is author, activist, public theologian, and senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, where she is producing the Freedom Rising Conference this April 28-30. She is the author of Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World.

Why is the work you do so important right now? It seems to me our nation is in a time of existential foment. Who do we want to be and what will we do to make it so, is an important question of identity and vision. In my work at Middle Church in New York, our incredibly diverse congregation is on a journey together in which we rehearse the world about which we dream. My preaching, teaching, writing, coaching, and visioning help set a path for us, in these swirling times, to model for each other what Beloved Community looks like. My work is urgent, and I love it.

A prayer for 2023: Though oftentimes painful, may these times of expanding and contracting help give birth to stronger communities filled with more patience and fierce love, and to the world we want. Amen.

Elaina Ramsey

Elaina Ramsey is the executive director of Faith Choice Ohio, which elevates the moral power of faith communities to advance reproductive health, rights, and justice. Elaina is currently pursuing ordination with the United Church of Christ and writing a book on evangelical/exvangelical support for abortion. In another season of life, she previously worked as a Sojourners assistant editor and as the first director of the Sojourners Women & Girls Campaign.

Why is the work you do so important right now? Across the South and Midwest, abortion care is completely banned or severely restricted due to an unholy alliance between the church and state. This remains not only a serious public health crisis but also a spiritual crisis that requires deep pastoral care. My faith calls me to provide compassionate and practical support to abortion seekers and to equip clergy and congregations to boldly advocate for abortion access. To provide healing and to witness against reproductive oppression, coercion, and forced birth in the name of God. It’s hard and grueling work, but more sacred than ever.

A prayer for 2023: God of compassion and conviction, open our hearts and disturb our spirits. Help us repent of the ways we weaponize faith to silence, shame, and stigmatize others. Teach us to honor all bodies as divine sites of joy and liberation — and not of condemnation. Give us strength and wisdom, O God, for such a time as this that we may do right by you, your people, and your creation. Amen.

Olga Segura

Olga Marina Segura is a freelance writer, reporter, and author of Birth of A Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church. She is the founder of Bronx Frontlines, a weekly newsletter exploring Dominican identity and displacement.

Why is the work you do so important right now? My work, and the work of many Black women, is so important right now because Black women are the ones who continue to tell the most authentic histories and stories about faith life in the United States and the rest of the Americas. Black women, especially queer and trans, continue to be at the frontlines of all anti-racist efforts in and outside church spaces. I am grounded in the history of the Black women who came before and after me, and I will continue to use my voice and writing for anti-racist liberation work.

A blessing for 2023: I hope that in 2023, as fascism rises, we can see more people fighting for the rights of our most marginalized, especially trans women and men.

Editor's note: To see who we've included in past years, check out the links below.