equality

VIDEO: Lifting Up Women's Voices

For far too long, women have been treated as second-class citizens—even in the church. In “Breaking the Habits of Machismo” (Sojourners, January 2014), Michelle A. Gonzalez explains why we need a new theology that fully recognizes women as made in the image of God.

For 42 years, Sojourners has been lifting up women’s voices. Watch this video to learn more about our work to promote women as equal members of society. Join us in the continued fight to advocate for the rightful role of women in the church and the world.

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Breaking the Habits of Machismo

FOR CENTURIES Christians have pondered what it means to be created in the image of God. Throughout my own academic career, I’ve been haunted by the mystery of Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (CEB).

What does this passage reveal about us, and consequently, what does it reveal about God? The second half of the passage is equally contentious and challenging. Does “male and female God created them” imply that men and women reflect the image of God equally?

While Genesis 2 to 3, with its narrative of sin and betrayal, is captivating, there is something about the simplicity, mystery, and implications of Genesis 1:27 that resonates even today. I would argue that Genesis 1:27 is the foundation of an egalitarian anthropology where male and female are at the center of theological reflection, where they reflect the image of God without hierarchy or preference. The existence of distinctive genders in humanity does not imply any sort of sexuality within God. Instead, the metaphor retains the unknowability and mystery of God. It reminds us that there are similarities and great differences between the created and Creator. The metaphor “image of God” both reveals and conceals something about the nature of God—and the nature of humanity.

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Subverting the Myth

I MET PASTORS Harvey, Alton, Charles, and Joel in Houston’s 5th Ward, a black neighborhood that in 1979 earned the title of “the most vicious quarter of Texas.” I was drawn there by a sermon I’d preached on Psalm 23 called “An experiment in crossing borders.” In it I asked my congregation, “What border is God leading you to cross? And who is waiting for you on the other side?”

Little did I know the profound impact that sermon would have on me.

Nearly five years later, I remember when these men stopped being “pastors at black churches on the other side of the 5th Ward border” and became “my people,” deeply connected as members of the body of Christ.

It was a moment of profound truth-telling, when I realized I was controlled more by the values of Western “racialized” culture than I was by the liberating gospel of Jesus and the alternative community to which I had given my life. It became clear to me that I’d affirmed myself and my identity through the lies of racial privilege, and done so at the expense of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Michael Emerson, a sociologist from Rice University, provides us helpful language to understand how race works. Rather than analyzing racism (concretized for most of us through powerful images of slavery, hooded white supremacists, separate drinking fountains, and individual acts of hate), he invites us to analyze how our society is racialized.

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U.N. Women's Ad Series Shows Sexism Through Google Searches

Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai/UN Women
Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai/UN Women

Gender inequality is an international issue. Striving to empower women and call attention to the sexism of popular opinions worldwide, U.N. Women released a series of ads using text from Google real searches. The ads show women's face with their mouths obscured by the text of the searches, visually silencing their voices.

From unwomen.com:

 “When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team. The idea developed places the text of the Google searches over the mouths of women portraits, as if to silence their voices. 

“The ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. They are a wake up call, and we hope that the message will travel far,” adds Kareem Shuhaibar, copy writer.

Waiting for Another MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, mdgn / Shutterstock.com
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, mdgn / Shutterstock.com

Are we waiting for another Dr. King? As I collect my thoughts to write these words, I’m mindful that I don’t honestly know what discrimination is. I have never (consciously) experienced discrimination because of my race, the color of my skin, or where I come from. I have never had to say, like Solomon Northup, “I don’t want to hear any more noise.” In the film, 12 Years a Slave, Solomon refers to the cry of those being beaten and separated from their children. I speak here with a profound sense of respect and fear. Who am I, or maybe even you who read, to speak about a tragedy and a pain that we have never experienced? I only speak out of a sense of duty and a calling from God.

Dr. King wrote, “So many of our forebears used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice … but so many died without having the dream fulfilled.” (A Knock at Midnight, p.194)

To this day, millions of African Americans in our country still dream about getting out of the bosom of slavery. Slavery today is masked behind the social, financial, political, and even religious systems that deny the dignity and full integration into these systems to people of color. Solomon Northup cries out in the film saying, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” The struggle of African Americans is a struggle to live. So far, they have only survived.

'12 Years a Slave' — Could It Happen Again?

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

I watched 12 Years a Slave today. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s autobiography by that name. Northrup was a free black man living in Saratoga, N.Y. He was lured away from his home to Washington, D. C., on the promise of lucrative work and was kidnapped, transported to Louisiana, and sold into slavery. He was rescued 12 years later.

Some of the questions and issues that the movie raises are: What right do people have to own others? Do money and might make right? Unjust laws — such as slave laws — exist. It just goes to show that something can be legal, yet morally wrong. Still, laws come and go. We must not confuse laws with rights, which are universal and enduring truths that do not change. What is true and right and good is always so. So, too, that which is evil is always evil. Even if unjust laws are overturned and abolished, evil can still return in other guises.  

I asked myself as I watched the movie, “Could it happen again?” Some of us may think, “Surely, something like this could never happen in our day.” And yet, people are abducted and sold into various forms of slavery here and abroad on a daily basis. Granted — people are not publicly bought and sold on the slave block in America today because of skin color; however, people are enslaved based on race and class divisions.

From the Archives: November 1994

I GREW UP in rural Mississippi, a black girl who lived “out in the booneys,” fairly isolated from peers outside school. My God-fearing parents brought me up in an African Methodist Episcopal church that stood just beyond the edge of the woods. At the right age, I waded into a muddy watering hole, only recently vacated by the cows who drank there, and got dunked by the preacher and welcomed into the church and the kingdom of God.

That was my baptism, but I wouldn’t call it a conversion experience. I felt very innocent then, and would until I left home for college in Massachusetts. There I got my first taste of diversity. Most of my classmates didn’t believe as I did. Most of my African-American friends felt as if my faith was some kind of relic from our slave heritage, a white-supremacist trick that I had bought into.

Up until then I hadn’t had any inclination to become political, and life hadn’t given me any reason to be angry. I still haven’t learned these traits well, even though it was in the educated Northeast, not the backwoods of Dixie, that I personally experienced the pain of racial hatred, sexism, and religious bigotry for the first time. ... I’m sure my generation will continue to struggle with meaning, identity, and purpose until they come to realize that, from an eternal perspective, the only equal opportunity that matters is our equal access to God’s grace.

Jennifer Parker was an assistant editor with Urban Family magazine when this article appeared.

Image: Eye, Remus Moise / Shutterstock.com

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Equal Protection — for All

THIS SUMMER, two Supreme Court outcomes dramatically affected the reality of the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” In the first, a key component of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 was struck down, jeopardizing equal justice under the law especially for black, Latino, and low-income people whose voting rights have historically been assaulted and have continued to be suppressed as recently as the 2012 election. Efforts to increase barriers to voting for people of color, especially those with lower incomes, are already underway in several states. The Supreme Court’s decision was morally shameful.

The decision revealed how politically partisan this bench has become. The conservative justices have aligned themselves with the extreme right-wing politics that has taken over today’s Republican Party—one that has deliberately encouraged and practiced voter suppression against minorities, low-income people, the young, and the elderly.

America has made great progress on racial justice because of the tireless and courageous efforts of many. But the illusory idea of a “post-racial” America is exposed as a lie by this nation’s criminal justice system, the many recent attempts at racially based voter suppression, and now this decision by the Supreme Court.

That same week, the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and discriminatory against same-sex couples. The religious community is clearly divided on the issues surrounding marriage equality and what the Bible says about homosexuality. But I believe, along with a growing number of people in the faith community, that equal protection under the law is essential. While some Christians are conflicted about the theological issues involved, they also don’t want churches to be the ones standing in the way of civil rights.

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Stories Worth Telling

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

IN HER JEWISH school in Montreal, Ronit Avni learned the tragic history of her people. Her Canadian mother and Israeli father had met in the ’60s when her mother was living in Israel and working as a folk singer, often performing for Israeli troops. Her older sister was born in Tel Aviv, but the family settled back in Montreal in the mid-’70s before Ronit was born.

Not strictly religious but committed to the values of Judaism, Ronit couldn’t help but ask probing questions as she listened to the stories of the birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Am I hearing the whole story? How do Palestinian perspectives differ from what my educators and community leaders are teaching? How can we transform this situation from a zero-sum equation to one that respects the dignity and freedom of all?

Years later, having graduated with honors from Vassar College with a degree in political science after studying theater at a conservatory in Montreal, Ronit trained human rights advocates worldwide to produce videos as tools for public education and grassroots mobilizing.

By the time I met Ronit a few years ago, she had narrowed her worldwide focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where her heart was most deeply drawn. She is the founder and executive director of Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli efforts to end the occupation and conflict without weapons of violence.

During the last several years, my engagement in the Holy Land has been significantly shaped by Ronit. Her film Encounter Point, about Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, land, or liberty to the conflict yet choose forgiveness and reconciliation rather than revenge, gave me hope that peace can emerge from pain.

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Soaking in the Word of God

AS THE SEAONS after Pentecost unfolds, we might think that summer calls for a kind of “church lite” in which we shouldn’t expect much to happen. With the dramatic commemorations behind us, the scriptures seem miscellaneous. But this season has its own purpose of soaking in the Word. Just let go of dependence on drama.

Our month’s reading opens in 2 Kings 5 with the healing of Naaman, the distinguished Aramean general, told with a dry humor that Jesus appreciated, since he specifically mentions it (Luke 4:27) in his teaching about faith found outside the bounds of Israel. At first Naaman’s dignity is offended by Elisha not bothering even to meet him in person. His pride receives a further blow in the ludicrous banality of the prescription that Elisha’s assistant passes on: “Go, and wash in the Jordan seven times” (verse 10). Naaman’s fuming about the short shrift he got, and the humiliation of being prescribed a business of splashing in a local stream, are quite comic. Paddling in the Jordan indeed—a ditch in comparison to the storied rivers of Damascus! Smiling, we recognize the storyteller’s shrewd knowledge of psychology. The tale has a good ending. Finally getting off his high horse, Naaman allows his aide to persuade him to try the simple bathing routine. Over time his skin is healed and rejuvenated.

The church behaves like that shrewd aide when it invites us to trust in the power of hearing the scriptures again and again, however overfamiliar some of them seem, and others obscure.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ July 7 ]
We Can Get the Accuser Fired
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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