“Let Justice Roll On Like a River!” The Christian Feminism Today 2014 Gathering


The annual Gathering of Christian Feminism Today in St. Louis, Missouri, was amazing beyond my expectations! For three days we celebrated the 40-year history of this organization’s work for justice and equality. For three days we celebrated the Female Divine in story, song, scholarly presentations, and group conversations. It was clear how vital She is to living the words of our theme scripture: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV)

Anne Eggebroten, one of the founding members of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT), wrote this vivid account of the Gathering, published on the EEWC-CFT website.

 Yes, We Gathered at the River: EEWC-CFT in St. Louis 

by Anne Eggebroten
How do you mark the passing of 40 years?  How do you celebrate a mission that began so long ago and outlived so many predictions of its demise? 

With laughter, of course.  And wonder.  And a strong sense of God’s gracious presence.

Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC), now more popularly known as EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, celebrated its 40th anniversary on June 26-29 at the Sheraton Westport Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.

I’ll start with wonder over the changes between then and now: In 1974 that archaic phrase “God the Father” was good enough for us.  Our founding mothers, Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, routinely referred to the Creator as “he” and “him” in All We’re Meant to Be. We bravely asserted that Bible-believing Christians could also be feminists—against all the messages of church and culture. Popular culture derided feminists as lesbians—and I for one tried to defend our new organization against accusations of harboring what we then called “homosexuals.”

At our gathering in 2014, language was transformed, biblical feminism was taken for granted, and support for LGBTQ folk was celebrated. The Creator/Redeemer/Comforter was most often called “Christ-Sophia,” “Godde,” “Ruach,” or “She.” Our speakers held degrees in international feminist theology or feminist theory—or they had written the books used by younger ones to earn their degrees. Two women shared news of their legal marriage in a county courthouse a few days earlier—and we all applauded with joy.

Laughter joined wonder at every turn in St. Louis. If a “Most Hilarious Speaker” prize had been awarded, Susan Campbell and Letha Dawson Scanzoni would have tied for it.  Susan regaled us with tales of her early life in small-town fundamentalism in Missouri.  To read them, see her memoir, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl. She also described accepting an invitation to defend her book at a conference of her childhood denomination, expecting to be dis-fellowshipped, but finding acceptance and reconciliation. In a sober moment Susan recalled her brother’s assessment: “Fundamentalism is like a sword that broke off in us.”  After 25 years as a columnist and feature writer for the Hartford Courant, she now co-writes Hot Dogma: The Belief Blog with former AP religion writer Tom Breen.

Letha’s humor began with her reaction in 1963 to an article titled “Women’s Place in the Church” in Eternity magazine.  She decided to write a letter to the editor, but the letter became an article and then a decision to invite a complete stranger (Nancy Hardesty) to write a book with her on women’s issues in the church, home, and society. That book led to the founding of EEWC-CFT.  After a few hilarious quotes from anti-feminist books—The Total Woman, Fascinating Womanhood, and others—Letha brought down the house by holding up her 1975 centerfold in The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine.As it turned out, Letha and Nancy’s book, All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation, was named by Christianity Today in 2006 as one of the “top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals.”

The Troubadours of Divine Bliss added to the comic-tragic depiction of the good old gospel days with a Saturday evening performance of their folk-bluegrass-gospel songs introduced by personal histories. Aim Me and Renee grew up together in a Pentecostal church in Kentucky led by their fathers.  Now they have released six albums and sing all over North America and Europe. Visit their website.

“Let Justice Roll On like a River!” was the recurrent theme at this year’s gathering near the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, echoing the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” 5:24 (NIV).

The river is indeed rolling on: a passel of young biblical feminists showed up and dazzled us with their feminist theory and passion for change.  McKenzie Brown, Ashley Cason, and Jacinda Thomas did student presentations with impressive feminist theory and historical research.

In addition, the first Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Jennifer Newman, double majoring in politics and in philosophy at George Fox University with a minor in women’s studies.

Professors Kendra Weddle Irons of Texas Wesleyan University and Melanie Springer Mock of George Fox University did the outreach that led to these young feminists connecting with EEWC-CFT.  Thank you!

Kendra and Melanie dealt shock and awe by presenting their research on oppressive teachings in fundamentalism today and the ongoing need for healing of binary oppositions based on fear.  To deconstruct these erroneous teachings on “women’s role,” they’re working on a book together.  In addition to their many publications, check out their joint blog, Ain’t I a Woman.

Another plenary speaker, Dr. Sharon Groves, works for the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the US, the Human Rights Campaign.  She shared her personal story.  Raised in a nonreligious family, she came to have a longing for God and faith; she also had a passion for justice.  Realizing that religion is behind much opposition to gay rights, she quit her tenured academic job to develop the Religion and Faith Program for the HRC. She now has conversations with Southern Baptists and others about pastoral responsibility: “What do you do if a person shows up at your church who is gender-nonconforming?” Of her work, she says, “There’s no more powerful place than right here, right now.” Her advice?  Avoid arguments that boil down to “My Leviticus is bigger than your Leviticus.” Her reason to keep going?  People like the youth pastor who told a gay young man, “Better if you got a gun and shot yourself than if you corrupt others.”

For the first time in our nearly parallel histories, Dr. Mary E. Hunt of Women-Church and WATER (the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) gave a plenary speech at EEWC-CFT.  Her talk partially filled the intellectual gap left by the first-ever absence of her friend Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, another of our founding members, from an EEWC conference (for health reasons). Mary gave us an overview of 1) the “feminist-ization” of religion, 2) backlash, and 3) next strategies.  As a Roman Catholic theologian, she is not too impressed with Pope Francis: “He hasn’t changed one thing structurally.” She’s also not too focused on women’s ordination.  “Women are entering ministry in record numbers in mainline denominations,” she notes, “but those denominations are shrinking.”  Women have low pay and low stature; they do “mop up tasks as churches decline and decay.” Fight “kyriarchy,” Mary urged us, by saying “we—not they” with Catholic and Protestant women, with Jewish and Muslim women, with women in cultures around the world.  “Together we’re a genius.”

God’s gracious gifts were evident not only in the presence of “the young ‘uns” but in the many other new-to-EEWC women.  Old timers had 25-30 new names and faces to learn; the stories and talents of these women and men gave an exciting energy to the weekend.  Thank you to Marg Herder, who made contacts at other conferences; to Letha and others, who brought friends; and to God working through search engines, which brought many to www.eewc.com.

Here’s a sampling of the newcomers:

Susan Cottrell, who wrote “Mom, I’m Gay”–Loving Your LGBTQ Child without Sacrificing Your Faith.  She introduced us to her healing ministry with LGBTQ kids, with their parents, and with churches—called to embrace all who are marginalized or oppressed.  Her husband Robert also joined us. Visit FreedHearts Ministries on the web.

Deb Vaughn, who gave a workshop on current grieving therapies. Visit her blog.

Peg Conway, whose workshop was on bringing theology to the experience of childbirth to empower women; see her website.

Paula Trimble-Familetti, who wrote Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers: Questioning Teachings about Biblical Women and presented a workshop giving voice to these women; read her blog.

Esther Emery from rural Idaho on finding our most authentic voice; she too gave a workshop and blogs at Church in the Canyon and writes for A Deeper Story.

Criselda Marquez, blogger and photographer. Visit her blog.

Besides an abundance of bloggers, EEWC-CFT has so many ordained women—another big change since 1974. Four of our women pastors brought their talents to the Sunday morning worship service: the Reverends Jan Clark (North Carolina, Baptist), Leslie Harrison (New Jersey, African Methodist Episcopal), Shawna R. B. Atteberry (Illinois, Episcopal), and Jann Aldredge-Clanton (Texas, Baptist).  There was also music performed by Vickie Bragg of Oklahoma, The Troubadours of Divine Bliss, and Marg Herder.  See Marg’s blog on the EEWC-CFT website.

God’s gracious presence shone in the hymns with inclusive-language lyrics by Aldredge-Clanton, which we sang on Sunday morning, in other plenary singing, and in her workshop.  Jan Clark led the singing with Janice Pope on the piano.  I bought the CDs and can testify that these songs sure transform Los Angeles traffic jams.  Imagine hearing “Come unto me, you weary ones, and I will give you rest…” to the tune of “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Read more about Jann Aldredge-Clanton’s inclusive language hymns here.

Back to the laughter:  Reta Halteman Finger’s workshop on violence against women in the Bible produced howls of laughter, as those of us in adjoining workshops can attest. It turns out that Reta had divided her group into clusters assigned to examine a list of passages with either violence or patriarchal attitudes.  When Jacinda Thomas, Margaret Arighi, and Barbara Branum tackled Sirach 25:13 through 26:18, they found descriptions of “an evil wife” and “a good wife,” culminating in what really counts: “shapely legs.”  Ah, the jewels in God’s Holy Word.  Formerly a professor at Messiah College, Reta now writes books and teaches part time at Eastern Mennonite University and Theological Seminary; her Reta’s Reflections blog of Bible studies from a Christian feminist perspective is on the EEWC-CFT website.

More wonder:  EEWC-CFT doing yoga first thing in the morning instead of more traditional devotions?  Led by Lisa DeWeese, this time was very peaceful and meditative—I tried it (my first yoga ever). Visit Lisa’s website, Mama Lisa Yoga.

Over the past 40 years, there have been many predictions that EEWC would not survive.  Usually the problem was financial, but our 1986 decision to support civil rights for gay people also caused some problems that seemed to point to collapse.

God’s grace and sustenance are the only reasons we are still carrying on and celebrating 40 years.  Once again, however, our budget is in the red.  Some of us have less income and are not as able to give as in the past.  Please help out by making an online donation or a monthly pledge.

Join our important work of educating and community building.  Stay in touch and reach others by blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and going to the website for news and commentary.

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/Conferences/2014#anne Reposted with permission. Photos by Criselda Marquez, Anne Eggebroten, Marg Herder, and Abigail Pope.






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“Our Strong and Tender God We Praise” Video

Rev. Larry E. Schultz conducts the Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in singing “Our Strong and Tender God We Praise” to a tune he composed, with pictures from various artists.

This hymn draws from the imagery in Psalm 138: 2-3, 7: “I give thanks for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.”

Scripture gives a multiplicity of divine names and images to suggest this steadfast love and faithfulness of God. Here are a few:

Mother: The Bible uses the word picture of God as a loving Mother who not only gives birth to Her children, but also comforts and nurtures them toward their full potential (Isaiah 66:13).

Father: The Bible uses the metaphor of God as a tender Father, loving and caring for his children (Psalm 103:13).

Friend: The Bible gives the picture of Jesus as a Friend to everyone (Matthew 11:19).

Divine Midwife: The Bible gives the picture of Divine Midwife to reveal God’s tender care beginning at birth (Psalm 22:9-10).

The Bible includes female, as well as male and gender-neutral, images of the Divine. But most worship services use exclusively male language and imagery for Deity. This exclusivity lays the foundation for male domination and female devaluation. Including biblical female names and images of the Divine affirms the equal value of everyone and the biblical truth that all are created in the divine image (Genesis 1:27).

This hymn, “Our Strong and Tender God We Praise,” refers to God with female pronouns. Most people still think of God as male and refer to God as “He.” Because of centuries of association of “God” with male pronouns and imagery, this word generally evokes male images. I refer to God as “She” and “Her” not because I believe that God is literally a woman, but in order to balance male with female.

Also, I balance the word “God” with female pronouns to include people of all gender identities in the divine image. Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (http://www.virginiamollenkott.com/), author of The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female and Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach and co-author of Transgender Journeys, states: “When we use the male term ‘God’ along with the female pronoun ‘She,’ we are also including the people among us who are transgender: who feel they are both female and male inwardly, or who were born intersexual, or who have crossed over from one gender to the other in order to match their inner understanding of their gender identity. . . . since Genesis proclaims both female and male to be made in the image of God, inevitably that image is inclusive of both female and male. Transgender people are often attacked, abused, and even murdered in our society; so including them as sacred beings along with women and men is important to our Christian witness.” (Christian Feminism Today, “Why I Believe Inclusive Language Is Still Important,” Responses: http://www.eewc.com/inclusive-language-still-importan)

This video comes with the prayer that it will inspire us to love all people as sacred beings and to join with God in spreading Her steadfast love, justice, and peace in our world.

Our strong and tender God we praise;
She dwells within our souls,
to strengthen us throughout our days,
and make us fully whole.
And when we pass through troubled lands,
no foe can bring alarm.
God stretches out Her mighty hands,
and shelters us from harm.
God speaks to us with gentle voice;
She hears us when we call.
Her comfort makes our hearts rejoice;
She is our all in all.
God’s steadfast love and faithful care
renew our hearts each day.
She gives us bold new dreams to dare,
forever with us stays.
Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton   Music  © Larry E. Schultz  BLACK POINT CHURCH
from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006). Recording © Jann Aldredge-Clanton & Larry E. Schultz, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians CD (Eakin Press, 2007). For permissions, contact: www.jannaldredgeclanton.comfor additional inclusive music for all ages, see: http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/music.php
Performed by: Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (http://www.pullen.org/). Conductor: Rev. Larry E. Schultz
Visual Artists:

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber: “SOPHIA” © Angela Yarber. Used with permission. http://angelayarber.wordpress.com/artist/

Alice Heimsoth: two photos inside Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco (http://www.herchurch.org/); http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/gallery/258290http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/Other/herchurch-Easter-2012/22366832_Whhj3j#%21i=1792348850&k=DT4MQbt

Shannon Kincaid: “Oprah & Child” © Shannon Kincaid. Used with permission.  (http://www.shannonkincaid.com/)

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina



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The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female, by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott


Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s The Divine Feminine and All We’re Meant to Be, by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, are the two books that have had the most profound influence on my pastoral vocation that includes writing feminist theology and worship resources. The Divine Feminine opened my mind and imagination to female divine imagery in the Bible and to the importance of this imagery to an ethic of equality and justice in human relationships. I have referred often to this book in my writing on expanding images of the Divine.

The Divine Feminine provides concise, accessible, convincing biblical support for including female names and imagery for the Divine in worship. Mollenkott makes clear that this female divine language and imagery are vital to social justice and peace: “Whereas many religious leaders lament their inability to do more to alleviate world hunger, the nuclear threat, and other economic and racial inequities, their own language is something they could control almost immediately. By recognizing the female presence in their grammatical choices, and by utilizing biblical references to God as female, they could demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to human justice, peace, and love. Mollenkott not only sounds this challenge to religious leaders but also discusses plenty of biblical female references to use: Dame Wisdom, Woman giving birth, nursing Mother, Midwife, Shekinah, Female Pelican, Mother Bear, Female Homemaker, Female Beloved, Ezer, Bakerwoman, Mother Eagle, Mother Hen, Dame Wisdom, God-in-Naomi. The Divine Feminine concludes with helpful suggestions for implementing gender inclusive language in worship and with a challenge to use the “full range of biblical imagery for God.”

It is exciting to see this outstanding book, first published in 1984 (Crossroad), now republished by Wipf & Stock with a beautiful new cover. Even though the contents are the same as in the earlier edition, this book is still timely and greatly needed. In 1984 Mollenkott wrote: “It seems natural to assume that Christian people, eager to transmit the Good News that the Creator loves each human being equally and unconditionally, would be right in the vanguard of those who utilize inclusive language. Yet a visit to almost any church on Sunday morning indicates that alas, it is not happening that way.” Thirty years later in 2014, it still is not happening. The language of litanies and hymns and visual images in the majority of churches reveal worship of a male God. Biblical female divine names and imagery are still sadly missing, and all people and all creation suffer from this injustice. This book is needed now as much as it was in 1984. Mollenkott was also ahead of her time in writing about environmental concerns and encouraging use of biblical images from the natural world to support caring for creation. She shows the intersection of social justice issues and the importance of gender inclusive language as a foundation to social justice and peace.

I highly recommend The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female to individuals and groups, laypeople and clergy. This book is ideal for use in churches, workshops, conferences, retreats, academic classes, and personal exploration. I am delighted that it is back in print in this beautiful new edition.

Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today, published this outstanding review by JoMae Spoelhof:

Blind Spots and New Vision: Virginia Mollenkott’s The Divine Feminine

Reviewed by JoMae Spoelhof

Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s book, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female, has recently been reissued, and I am eager to recommend it. It beautifully illuminates the feminine images of God as portrayed in the Bible. First published in 1984, it remains a valuable tool for glimpsing a view of the Godhead that tends to be glossed over and invisible in traditional Christianity. As Mollenkott writes, “For those who accept trinitarianism, it will be striking that all three persons of the divine triad [the Creator God; the eternal Christ; and the Holy Spirit] are depicted in feminine as well as masculine images”(p. 4).

The author guides the reader through familiar scripture passages, pointing out an underlying presence of God’s feminine face.  For people like me, raised in a deeply embedded patriarchal/hierarchal mindset, Virginia Mollenkott is a godsend.  She addresses the power of such patriarchal teaching, power to keep one from being able to see the feminine in God. She helped me grope through layers of my own blind spots to recognize that our Creator does not recoil from language referring to God’s womb or labor pains or countless other examples of identification as female, as I once believed. Our God loves us as Mother as well as Father.  And Mollenkott doesn’t just tell us this, she shows us, carefully referencing each passage that points to this truth.

Her book discusses numerous instances in the Bible where God is spoken of in feminine terms. She cites many references to God as giving birth, nursing an infant, and carrying out other maternal activities. Referring to Acts 17:28 (where Paul explains to the Athenians that God is not far from anyone for “it is in God that we live and move and exist” as God’s offspring), Mollenkott points out that “although the apostle does not specifically name the womb, at no other time in human experience do we exist within another person” than our time in our mother’s womb (p. 16).  Another motif the author examines is God as midwife, actively involved in delivering new life (chapter 6). And the whole of chapter 7 is devoted to teaching about the Shekinah, a grammatically feminine term referring to God’s glorious presence, as manifest in the tabernacle (and temple later on), and as the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day that guided the Israelites out of slavery.

Along with showing Christ’s affirming and empowering interactions with women, the book is full of both familiar and less familiar images unpacked to reveal fresh meaning, including Lady Wisdom, God as female  homemaker, the bakerwoman God, and analogies from nature (mother eagle, mother bear protecting her cubs, mother pelican).  Mother Hen, for example, so familiar to Christians from Jesus’ desire to protect Jerusalem’s children “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34), is especially underscored. Through the highlighting of several Old Testament passages such as “I take shelter in the shadow of your wings” (Ps 57:1), we are reminded that Jesus’ words would have been very familiar to his Jewish listeners. Ruth and Boaz lived with that familiar image as well, and I was delighted to read of Ruth’s wonderful response to Boaz’s blessing, in which Boaz had praised Ruth for caring for her mother-in-law Naomi. “May the Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).   Mollenkott writes, “Later, Ruth takes Boaz up on that blessing, urging him to “spread your wing [Kānāp, the same word used in 2:12] over your maidservant, for you are a redeemer” (p. 94).

New to me was the prevalence of early church leaders who addressed and referred to both Creator God and Jesus Christ as Mother, embracing rather than avoiding feminine images and metaphors for God.  I’d heard some of this, but the names and quotes documented in this book surprised me, as did how long this practice  went on— beyond the early centuries of Christianity and well into the Middle Ages.  However, while these leaders spoke of God as both mother and father, they still considered female qualities to be inferior to the male. Writes Mollenkott, “But if we can teach ourselves to value the roles traditionally associated with the female on a truly equal level with those associated with the male, the result will be the enrichment of all humanity. Inclusive God-Language is a step in the direction of that enrichment” (p. 13, italics added). She then challenges religious leaders to recognize “the female presence in their grammatical choices” and to utilize “biblical references to God as female.” She sees this as a way for these leaders to “demonstrate the sincerity of their commitment to human justice, peace, and love, and therefore to psychological and social health” (pp. 13-14).

Virginia Mollenkott later explains how we see what we expect to see in Scripture.

“All of us approach any written text with certain expectations and those expectations govern what we are able to see in what we are reading.  Perhaps it is helpful to think in terms of an interpretative grid, a grid that gives clear focus on some things and blocks us from seeing others. A patriarchal interpretative grid has simply made it impossible for most people through the ages to be able to perceive the many images of God as female which are the subject of this study.”  (pp. 64-65)

She further reminds us that for those whose expectations have been blocked by language teaching the exclusive maleness of God, many layers of misinformation will need to be peeled away. Looking back, I can see how true this has been in my own life. When I first read The Divine Feminine several years ago, it addressed questions I barely knew to ask. It began to open a new understanding and to bring some clarity to my questions about God and gender. But moving beyond deeply instilled patriarchal teachings took a long time.  After living with these new ideas and letting them percolate, while gradually increasing my comfort level with loving God as both Mother and Father, I picked the book up again some years later. By then I was ready to take in more details, better understand my yearnings, and thereby gain the confidence to speak out. Each time I read, its message met me in a new place on my journey; and at each reading, more layers of patriarchal “blindness” fell away so that I could notice truths I hadn’t been ready to absorb before.  It takes a long time for old layers of thinking to fade away and a new reality to feel normal.

Now, having read it a third time to prepare this review, even more has fallen into place. If you are grappling with lifelong patriarchal teachings about God and Christianity, pick up this gentle book!  It is packed with information that will help. It will enrich your life.  It has truly enriched mine. Through these pages, I see that my precious God and Savior not only is reflected in my father, but is also a God who “looks” like my mother —and me!  Both male and female are created in God’s image, an image that is both masculine and feminine. I’m so glad this book is available again to enlighten the lives of a new generation.

JoMae Spoelhof

JoMae Spoelhof lives in Rochester, New York, with her husband of 55 years, John Spoelhof.  There they raised five children and cared for several more as foster parents.  Reading and writing have long been her mainstay for sorting out life’s questions— whether exploring her faith or raising a family.  In another piece on this blog, JoMae relates more of her journey toward embracing female images of the Divine: http://jannaldredgeclanton.com/blog/?p=1382. More of her work on gender equality can be found here.

Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/BookReviews/the-divine-feminine Reposted with permission.




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Indigenous Women and the UN Millennium Development Goals: Challenges and Lessons

One of the most moving sessions I attended at the UN Commission on the Status of Women highlighted the perspectives of indigenous women on the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In a packed room, indigenous women from around the world and others spoke about the importance of including indigenous women in working toward these goals.

Sadly, indigenous women have not played a prominent role in the process of implementing these UN goals. Many people at this UN session commented that indigenous women have not been consulted: “We have been absent from the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Thus there is almost a complete lack of implementation of goals from the Beijing conference.” The indigenous women focused especially on the UN goal of ensuring environmental sustainability: “The environment has been destroyed. Mother Earth is crying out. Our land has been grabbed, and women and children displaced. The exploitation of natural resources hurts indigenous women and everyone. There is a network of indigenous youth who are studying what’s happening with our water and other natural resources. This intergenerational approach to our advocacy is very important.”

Another emphasis of this UN session I attended was the vulnerability of indigenous women and girls to violence partly because of the economic injustice that indigenous people suffer with high rates of unemployment and low-paying jobs. Here are some of the comments: “We must eliminate violence against indigenous women and girls. We can’t have sustainable goals if we continue to have violence against indigenous females. We’ve got to stop trafficking of indigenous girls and women. Human rights include indigenous women and all indigenous people collectively. We need a collective human rights approach. We demand an end to violence—emotional, spiritual, and physical violence. We defend our indigenous cultures and critique our cultures. We realize that our rights as women are also violated by our cultures.”

This UN session was sponsored by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office and MADRE. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is an international, progressive institution committed to the analysis of social processes and developments worldwide and collaborating with organizations around the globe on democratic and social participation, empowerment of disadvantaged groups, alternatives for economic and social development, conflict prevention, and peaceful conflict resolution. MADRE is an international women’s human rights organization that works in partnership with community-based women’s organizations worldwide to address issues of health and reproductive rights, economic development, education and other human rights; MADRE’s mission is to advance women’s human rights by meeting urgent needs in communities and building lasting solutions to the crises women face.

At this UN session I also learned about International Indigenous Women’s Forum, one of MADRE’s partners. This global network of indigenous women from Asia, Africa, and the Americas promotes the rights of indigenous women and the collective rights of indigenous peoples. International Indigenous Women’s Forum works to increase the role of indigenous women in international decision-making processes and to ensure that the perspectives of indigenous women are included in human rights discussions. This network facilitates indigenous women’s participation at regional meetings and UN conferences, advocates for indigenous women’s work, and builds alliances between the indigenous women’s movement and the global women’s movement. One woman commented on the great need for these connections because “many indigenous women are isolated, far removed from one another.”

A Nicaraguan indigenous woman voiced a common theme: “The challenge of indigenous women is to speak aloud, to share our culture and values, to contribute to the wealth of intercultural dialogue and research. We need to be global human beings, to be citizens of the world, to develop common strategies, and to share relationships.”

This UN session celebrated the World Conference of Indigenous Women, held in Lima, Peru, October 28-30, 2013. This conference included indigenous women from seven sociocultural regions of the world, as well as UN agencies and supporters. The declaration that resulted from this conference includes these statements:

We, indigenous women, assert our right to self-determination, which encompasses the direct, full, and effective participation of indigenous peoples; including the vital role of Indigenous women in all matters related to our human rights, political status, and wellbeing. We endorse the principle: “Nothing about us, without us,” and further declare “Everything about us, with us.

We, indigenous women, affirm our responsibility to protect the Earth, our Mother. Indigenous women experience the same pain and impacts from the physical abuse and excessive exploitation of the natural world, of which we are an integral part. We will defend our lands, waters, territories and resources, which are the source of our survival, with our lives.

Protection of Mother Earth is a historic, sacred and continuing responsibility of the world’s indigenous peoples, as the ancestral guardians of the Earth’s lands, waters, oceans, ice, mountains and forests. These have sustained our distinct cultures, spirituality, traditional economies, social structures, institutions, and political relations from immemorial times. Indigenous women play a primary role in safeguarding and sustaining Mother Earth and her cycles.

Today, at this time of compounded crises of climate change and impending irreversible loss of biological diversity, we, indigenous women, underscore the duty of states to protect the territories of indigenous peoples, as critical areas for the social, cultural and ecological recovery and resilience of humankind and the natural world.

For indigenous peoples, our lands and territories comprise not only the geographical and physical areas of our lands, waters, oceans, ice, mountains and forests, but also the profound cultural, social and spiritual relationships, values and responsibilities, that connect us to our ancestral homelands.

Indigenous peoples’ sovereign jurisdiction over our lands, territories and resources is the foundation of our rights to self-determination, self-governance and free, prior and informed consent. State violations and failure to uphold these rights are a primary source of conflicts and overlapping claims by extractive industries, forest concessions, energy programs, and other harmful projects arising from a failed and exploitative model of economic growth and development.

Indigenous women call upon states to recognize and respect our rights to lands, territories and resources as enshrined in indigenous customary law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other international human rights instruments. This includes our right to freely pursue our own economic, social, and cultural development.

There is an urgent need to implement the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous women are active human rights defenders of all individual and collective human rights of our peoples. We often bear the burden of social and environmental harms arising from the consistent denial and violation of our human rights and the lack of implementation and accountability of states.

Indigenous women and girls experience multiple forms of discrimination, lack of access to education and health care, high rates of poverty, maternal and child mortality. We are subject to all forms of violence, such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, including in the contexts of trafficking, armed conflict, environmental violence and extractive industries.

As indigenous women, we recognize the importance of sexual and reproductive health and education for all ages. This includes our associated rights to culturally appropriate health and education services in our communities, and the right to exercise, maintain and control our own health knowledge and practices.

We call for zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination, and all forms of violence against indigenous women and girls, which are among the worst and most pervasive forms of human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples.

We affirm that indigenous women have knowledge, wisdom, and practical experience, which has sustained human societies over generations. We, as mothers, life givers, culture bearers, and economic providers, nurture the linkages across generations and are the active sources of continuity and positive change.


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UN Commission on the Status of Women: “The Essentials: Food, Water, Women and Justice”

One of the most emotionally intense sessions I attended at the UN Commission on the Status of Women was entitled “The Essentials: Food, Water, Women and Justice.” Panelists and respondents expressed anger and frustration over all the suffering women and others still experience from hunger, poverty, injustice, and environmental devastation. Though some participants in this session felt uncomfortable with the anger voiced, others validated this emotion. One woman responded, “We as women need to honor our passion and emotion, and not apologize for our anger because it shows the strength of our convictions.” Another woman said that she has reframed the saying “hold it together.” Clasping hands with the women on either side of her, she said, “When I say ‘hold it together,’ I don’t mean hold back or repress feelings; to me “hold it together” means to join hand in hand with one another to work for change.” Others agreed that our anger needs to be channeled to make change happen right now. As one person said, “Life needs what women know and feel.”

This session focused on work toward these 2 UN Millennium Development Goals: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to ensure environmental sustainability. Participants explored transformed paradigms as well as pragmatic solutions and applications, including local growing, permaculture, safe seeds, and reframing agriculture as ecosystem, as recommended in the recent UN Commission on Trade and Development report “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late.” International perspectives came from panelists Dr. Pam Rajput, Rev. Marta Benavides, Jim Sniffen, and Nina Simons.

Dr. Pam Rajput

Dr. Pam Rajput, Chairperson of India’s High Level Commission on the Status of Women, is a pioneering women’s rights activist and an academic who has been engaged in gender equality initiatives since the 1970s both in India and internationally. She is Head of the Department of Political Science and founder and Director of the Centre for Women’s Studies and Development at Panjab University. She helped organize and was the first Speaker of the first ever women’s parliament that brought together over 500 women leaders from every part of India to work toward “an equalitarian and egalitarian society.”

In her presentation at the UN session I attended, Dr. Rajput talked about creating the women’s parliament in India so that women’s voices will be heard. This women’s parliament paved the way for a manifesto as a feminist response to the sexist, patronizing question often asked, “What do women want?” Highlights of the manifesto are that women want zero tolerance for perpetrators of domestic abuse, increased representation of women in government leadership, gender sensitization for boys as a compulsory part of school curriculum, increased percentage of women police personnel, 24/7 access to clean water for all people, economic justice, increased incentives and support for girls to be educated in all fields, well-funded and long-term public education programs to transform the culture of patriarchy and gender-based discrimination. As I listened to Dr. Rajput talk about what women in India want, I remembered what I’d heard Dr. Abeer Hassoun say at the UN session on religion and culture about women’s problems being universal. I sat there thinking that I wanted the same things that the women in India listed that they want, and that I’d heard other US women and women from other countries say they want these same things. We want girls and women to experience full equality and sacred value. We want peace and human rights for all people. We want women’s rights which are human rights. Dr. Rajput pointed out that 97 million people lack the basic human essentials of adequate water and food. She challenged all of us to view the whole world as a village of people who care for one another instead of using one another for profit. “It’s not a matter of profit, “she said. “Your sisters are my sisters.”

Marta Benavides

At this UN session Rev. Marta Benavides presented insights on global food justice, peace, and sustainability. An ordained American Baptist minister, theologian, permaculturist, educator, and artist, Rev. Benavides is one of the surviving activists from the original group of human rights and peace advocates in El Salvador who began their work during the 1970s in the rising climate of repression. A leader of an ecumenical revolution focused on bringing peace to her country, she has been drawing people from many sectors—politics, the arts, law enforcement, agriculture and food security, environment, religion, and labor—together to defend human rights and develop a culture of peace. She has dedicated her life to rebuilding communities devastated by war and has brought renewal, both figurative and literal, to formerly scorched earth. She has participated in various UN initiatives including the Commission for Social Development,  Commission for Sustainable Development, Education for Sustainability, Decade for a Culture of Peace, and Decade of Non-Violence. Rev. Benavides founded the International Institute for Cooperation Amongst Peoples, which promotes the values and practices of a culture of peace. She travels widely conducting workshops on sustainable agriculture, human rights, and the prevention of community and family violence.

At this UN session on the essentials, I heard Rev. Benavides express frustration and anger that all her social justice activism and that of so many others hasn’t made more of a difference, that women and many others still suffer greatly from the lack of essential food and water and other basic human rights. With passion she said: “I’m fed up with talk! I want action! I’m tired of being fed up! The rich have taken land away from people.” In an earlier interview, Rev. Benavides also expressed her urgent desire for change: “We are at a point in history where we must decide to stop destroying that which guarantees life on the planet if we are to continue living as humanity. The various crises that we and all nations have faced in the last few years—crises which continue to challenge each nation and the whole world—point to a need for drastic change. The financial and economic crises have forced us to look with critical eyes at the conditions and quality of life of people everywhere. We also need to look at the challenges to sustainability and peace presented by the production and consumption patterns of the nations that waste and exploit the majority of the world’s resources. The energy crisis continues to press us for the need to have solar power and other non-fossil fuel types of energy. We are facing very dangerous times. As global citizens, we need to read the signs of the times and decide to govern ourselves, to govern our governments and industries that continue to pillage nature and people.”

Jim Sniffen

Another panelist at the UN session was Jim Sniffen, Program Officer in the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Program. He has served as a spokesman for several major international environmental conferences on subjects ranging from marine pollution to biodiversity conservation to ozone depletion.

Mr. Sniffen spoke on the UN Environment Program’s Think, Eat, Save Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption. He explained this campaign that specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers, and the hospitality industry: “Simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted each year and help shape a sustainable future. The Think, Eat, Save Initiative aims to accelerate action and provide a global vision and information-sharing portal for diverse initiatives currently underway around the world. Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages—harvesting, processing and distribution—while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain. The global food system also has profound implications for the environment: more than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests, and 10 per cent of grasslands are undergoing degradation; globally 9 per cent of the freshwater resources are withdrawn, 70 per cent of this by irrigated agriculture; agriculture and land use changes like deforestation contribute to more than 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers can help reduce food waste and environmental impact of this waste by avoiding buying more food than needed; buying fruits and vegetables that may be thrown out because their size, shape, or color are deemed not ‘right’; freezing food; requesting smaller portions at restaurants; eating leftovers; composting food; donating spare food to local food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters. Retailers can work with their suppliers to reduce waste, offer discounts for near-expiration items, redesign product displays with less excess, standardize labeling, and increase food donations. Restaurants can limit menu choices and introduce flexible portioning.”

Nina Simons

Nina Simons was another panelist at this UN session on the essentials and their connection to gender justice. She is the co-founder of Bioneers, a gathering of social and scientific innovators who focus on furthering a cooperative global culture while fostering sustainability and collaboration, and she has been one of the leaders of Bioneers for 23 years. She is co-editor of Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart and co-founder of Cultivating Women’s Leadership trainings. In her work she focuses on the interconnectedness of gender equality, food security, water issues, sustainability, and social justice.

At the UN session Nina Simons commented on the need for the “feminine” principle in the world. She called for a transformation of the stereotypical binary “masculine” and “feminine” division, calling for a more human style of leadership that includes those traits that have been traditionally labeled and disparaged as “feminine,” traits like collaboration, compassion, emotional sensitivity, and peacemaking. “It’s not just about women, but about the feminine principle,” she said. “It’s not just enough to have more skirts in the board room, but to change the legacy of patriarchy. There is a gross imbalance between the masculine and feminine principles.” Ms. Simons quoted Gandhi’s saying that he wanted to “be more womanly,” and encouraged women to claim leadership: “Women too often give away power because of our conditioning. What if we invested all our energy in what we really want, instead of working to fight off negativity that comes from gender injustice. What if we invested our energy to work for a world where there is adequate food and clean water for all. What if we worked for a world where we don’t have to compromise our emotions.” A young woman responded: “Yes, there is a great imbalance between the masculine and feminine. We need a paradigm shift. We need to change from the patriarchal paradigm.” An indigenous grandmother responded: “We need to bring back values of reverence and gratitude, and to send positive energy for food and water and for the flourishing of all human beings and all living beings.”

This UN session ended on the hopeful note that change is happening from the bottom up; change is happening in First Nations communities, in local communities, in faith communities.


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