Women

Four Questions for Sister Jean Lait, CSF

Sister Jean Lait prepares pies for a Thanksgiving meal. / Photo courtesy of CSF

Bio: Sister Jean Lait, CSF, is an Anglican Franciscan sister based in San Francisco who protests drones and their effects on children.

Website: communitystfrancis.org

1. Why did you decide to stand up against drones?
During WWII, I experienced the bombing of Coventry in England. As a child of 9 years, I slept under the stairs, anxiously waiting for the bombs to drop. Toward the end of the war, flying bombs known as “doodlebugs” were used. These were very similar to drones and were sent from Germany. They were aimed anywhere. These were bombs where you heard a whistle and then it was silent before the bang.

Thinking back on the fear and anxiety I experienced, the whole idea of drone warfare is just immoral to me. No child should ever be that frightened. No child should have to live in a war zone. That kind of trauma affects you, one way or another. You either use that experience for good or otherwise.

2. What do you and your community do to protest drones?
My order is committed to peace and justice. At one time, my community and I would be out there marching in the streets and protesting. But as one gets older, there are other ways of speaking out against injustice. I’m in my 80s, so the best thing I can do is just be myself and share my story in hopes that it brings awareness to the horrors of drones.

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And Now, the Rest of the Story

From destitution and fear to security, Charlene (Photo courtesy of Sean Sheridan, World Relief)

A FEW YEARS ago in this column, I told the story of Charlene, a woman I had just met in a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charlene’s civilian husband had been murdered by rebel fighters in Congo’s brutal civil war. She and her eight children then fled for their lives, ultimately finding shelter in the hovel of mud and sticks where I met them (September-October 2010).

Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been forced by destitution to hike into the forest for firewood to trade for food for her children. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been brutalized by fighters who hid in the forests and used rape as a weapon of war. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been impregnated by her rapist. Because of the stigma of rape in that culture, the beautiful two-week-old baby she’d named David was destined to a life of marginalization and despair.

Charlene was the first woman I met in Congo. She explained to me that even when the women went to the forest in groups, armed rebels would overpower and rape them. If husbands went into the forest to protect their wives, the rebels would kill the husbands, and then rape the wives. The women took the risk—and paid the price.

For me, Charlene gave human shape to Congo’s horrific story of colonial exploitation, tribal conflict, and foreign greed. In the four years after we met, hers was the first story I told whenever I spoke about Congo. It was her pain that motivated me to keep speaking, writing, and advocating for Congo.

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Sacred Medicine

TWO OF MY greatest teachers were Latin American men, both ordained as Catholic priests. One, Archbishop Oscar Romero, was assassinated in 1980. I never met him, being a 20-year-old American who’d never set foot in El Salvador or anywhere else in Latin America. But Romero made me, a lapsed Catholic, wonder why his views—our views, if Christian social teaching means anything at all—would be viewed with murderous hostility by the Salvadoran elite. After all, it was all right there in the Book. Wasn’t it?

The truth was, I didn’t know. Was it worth looking at books about these matters? That’s what we believed in medical school: Look it up! So Romero led me to the second of these teachers who, I’m happy to say, is alive and well and living (mostly) in Lima, Peru. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a diminutive and humble Dominican priest and a great friend of Romero’s, taught me through his books, from The Power of the Poor in History toWe Drink from our Own Wells, and later through his friendship and his almost mystical (to me, in any case) optimism.

Over the course of my 20s, the slender, frayed thread of my own faith, which I had believed cut, slowly came back into view. There was a filament a bit stronger than imagined, made visible in part by my Haitian hosts and patients and friends, and in part by Catholic social activists working against poverty in settings as different as tough neighborhoods in Boston, the farms of North Carolina, and the slums of Lima.

Some were nuns or priests, some were engaged laity, from many professions. Most were people living in and struggling against their own and others’ poverty. Their activism taught me a lot about a space in the Catholic Church I’d not seen clearly before, and about the promise of long-term engagement in the monumental struggle against poverty and discrimination in all its forms. That includes gender inequality, no stranger to the institution. Most of the most inspiring activists were women.

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The Sounds of Silencing—And Speaking Out

Photo illustration by Ken Davis

When furloughed Peace Corps worker Angela Kissel showed up to support Sojourners’ Faithful Filibuster on Capitol Hill in September, she was surprised to be handed a Bible and invited to read from the podium some of the more than 2,000 biblical verses related to poverty and justice. —The Editors

READING SCRIPTURE outside the Capitol may not seem like a momentous occasion, but for me it was divine. You see, the day before, a well-intentioned pastor told me my place in the church was limited to specific roles because I’m a female. He told me it was against scripture for any female to preach, that roles for leadership are clearly only for men, the “father” figures of the church.

In response, I listed every female prophet and leader. I went through the patriarchal lens in which parts of the Bible are written due to culture and general misogynistic norms of the time. I noted the hypocrisy of highlighting some scriptures while blatantly overlooking others when it doesn’t fit the current agenda. And lastly, I walked through Jesus’ ministry and discussed how he went against cultural norms to illustrate the equality of women to the extent of choosing a woman to tell the world the full story of the gospel.

After an exhausting 65 minutes, we agreed to disagree. We prayed and ended the conversation. I walked away drained and slightly defeated. I wondered why God had put something on my heart and empowered me to speak up, when God knew I’d lose the battle. I also started to question myself and wondered if I should just stop fighting.

But then, not even 24 hours later, God used something so much bigger than me to affirm not only that this passion came from God, but also that shutting up and letting agendas get in front of the Creator was not an option.

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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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Marginalization of Women Leads to Increasing Rate of AIDS/HIV

Photo: Michaeljung/Shutterstock
Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day Photo: Michaeljung/Shutterstock

During the past 30 years, the AIDS pandemic has provided an unfortunate opportunity to follow God’s call to care for the widow and orphan. Husbands succumb to illness, leaving behind wives and children who also carry the disease. Mothers die, leaving behind children without care, and too often is the case that those children — who could have avoided in utero transmission of HIV with proper medical care — also die. Entire families are lost.

This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This day is not simply about wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the fight against AIDS. Instead, it is an opportunity to address the tough issues presented by HIV, such as how those disproportionately affected by the disease mirror society’s most marginalized populations — the poor and women — and how faith-based communities can best serve those populations. 

Nineteen Percent? A Problem That May Already Have a Proven Solution

Auremar/Shutterstock
Some conference organizers embrace the voices of women. Auremar/Shutterstock

A recent post by Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper, Only 19 Percent Are Women, brought to light how most major evangelical conferences are still reluctant to feature qualified women as plenary speakers. In a quick survey of 34 such conferences, women gave only 19 percent of the main addresses. To Harper and Wallis, the paucity of females on these influential platforms is a serious problem.=

But I also know that some organizers actually do embrace that God originally charged women and men to lead together. And they believe that Christ’s work on the cross has destroyed the curse that’s led to systemic patriarchy — however benevolent — that has kept far too many women from being restored to their rightful place as coheirs of God’s kingdom. In their local settings, they gratefully serve together with female leaders. However, when it comes to pulling together a platform for their group’s conference, they choose not to include females for fear of backlash or boycott from the more conservative speakers and invitees.

Only 19 Percent Are Women

Photo: Blend Images / Shutterstock

Last week, a controversy erupted over Twitter when it came to light that a prominent evangelical conference with 110 speakers only had four women on stage.

Journalist Jonathan Merritt, did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women.

This is a problem.

As a white male evangelical and a black female evangelical who spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, events, and college campuses, we know from experience this is a problem.

Conference spaces have become one of the primary discipleship spaces for evangelicals. These are the spaces where evangelicals go to learn all that it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Church of England paves the way for women bishops

The Right Rev. Justin Welby. Photo: RNS courtesy Durham Cathedral

The Church of England’s governing body has approved new proposals that would allow women bishops to be ordained by this time next year.

Meeting in London on Wednesday, the church’s General Synod passed a motion by 378-8, with 25 abstentions, that paves the way for the endorsement of women bishops. Bishops also approved a declaration that sets out guidance for parishes that reject female consecrations.

The package would end nearly two decades of bitter and damaging conflict, and the vote is a victory of sorts for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was appointed last year just as the General Synod came within six votes of allowing women bishops.

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