“Our God Is a Mother and a Father” Video

Sophia Wisdom works in the world for gender and racial equality. She guides us to lay a foundation for gender and racial equality through inclusive names and images of Deity in our worship. Wisdom guides us to use multicultural divine images that include female and male and more.

Human beings of all genders and races are created in the image of the Divine (Genesis 1:26-27). When we include female and male and more in our naming of God, e.g. “She” and “He,” “Mother and Father,” “Sister and Brother,” and “Friend,” and when we include various races in our imaging of God, then all people can truly believe we are in the divine image and all people are given equal value in the divine image.

Among the many biblical images of the Divine are Mother, Father, and Friend.  The Bible names and images 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); and as a Mother whose relationship with her children is so strong that nothing can ever break it (Isaiah 49:15). The picture of God as a tender Father, loving and caring for his children (Psalm 103:13), is just one of the many divine images in the Bible. God is also a Friend to everyone (John 15:12-15). The biblical divine image of Friend is inclusive in gender and race, and suggests mutual, reciprocal relationship.

Rev. Larry E. Schultz conducts the Chancel Choir and Children’s Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in “Our God Is a Mother and a Father” to a familiar hymn tune, with pictures from various artists.

Our God is a Mother and a Father too,
and God is a Friend who will always see us through.
Our God is a Sister who loves you and me,
and God is a Brother who sets us free.
 
Come, sisters and brothers, come and dance with glee;
together we grow into all we’re meant to be.
By joining with God both He and She,
we open a world more than we can see.
 
REFRAIN:
 
God’s image all are we,
but our loving God is more you see,
for God, who made both you and me,
is as great as great can be.
 

Words © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, 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 Jann Aldredge-Clanton; for additional inclusive music for all ages.

Performed by: Chancel Choir and Children’s Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. Conductor Rev. Larry E. Schultz

Visual Artists:

David Clanton: photo of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Choir and Congregation and photos of children in performances of Imagine God! A Children’s Musical Exploring and Expressing Images of God

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber: “Gaia (Mother Earth)” © Angela Yarber. Used with permission.

Hartwig Kopp-Delaney: “His Hand”  © Hartwig Kopp-Delaney

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

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She Lives! Equity for Women in the Church at the Alliance of Baptists Gathering

She Lives! Sophia Wisdom is working in the world through Equity for Women in the Church! Several weeks ago Equity for Women in the Church held two meetings at the annual Alliance of Baptists Gathering in Atlanta. These were not just informative business meetings where leaders spoke; they were sacred circles where stories were told and every voice was heard.

Clergywomen told stories of pain from rejection of their call, of overcoming formidable obstacles, and of Grace along the journey. One clergywoman, through tears, told of internal and external challenges she is facing in trying to fulfill her call. We paused to lift her in prayer. Another told of supporting and encouraging her students as they expanded their vision of what a pastoral call for women can be. One young woman expressed how the stories shared in circle that day had opened her heart to the option of pastoring a multicultural church. She later wrote: “What a beautiful, honest, and inspiring group! As I begin searching for other ways to minister, I will be keeping my eyes and heart open to nonwhite churches. That had never occurred to me as a viable option. That’s why we need community–to call us to a bigger vision.”

These stories reconfirmed the importance of our mission: Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. The stories told in these sacred circles renewed our commitment to this transforming work and increased our faith in the fulfillment of our mission.

with Rev. Dr. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar and Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross

Among those in one of our circle meetings was Rev. Dr. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at United Theological College in Bangalore, India. After the meeting, she came to our Equity table in the exhibit hall to continue sharing stories and resources with Rev. Sheila-Sholes Ross, co-chair of Equity for Women in the Church, and with me. Dr. Anderson-Rajkumar is in the US as a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Columbia Theological Seminary for the 2014-2015 academic year. An ordained Lutheran minister, Rev. Anderson-Rajkumar has for many years been preaching, teaching, and advocating against the oppression of women and for gender equality in religion and all aspects of society. As we shared experiences, we discovered much in common as clergywomen in patriarchal cultures. Whether in India or the US, clergywomen continue to struggle to find opportunities to use our pastoral gifts, education, and call. And women in India, the US, and around the world continue to suffer abuse and inequality because of patriarchal religious teachings. We also shared our passion to change church and society and our belief in the power of Divine Wisdom working within and among us to bring this change.

with Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, giving Equity report at the Alliance Gathering

Also at the Alliance of Baptists Gathering, Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross and I, co-chairs of Equity for Women in the Church, gave a report to the whole assembly.

I began with a brief history:

Birthed in 2011 as a community in the Alliance of Baptists, Equity for Women in the Church held a strategy meeting at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in October of 2013. Clergy, denominational, and seminary leaders across the country from various races, genders, and 10 denominations participated in this conference. The consensus of participants was to form an ecumenical, multicultural 501(c)(3) organization that would include the original Alliance community. In the spring of 2014 a Board of Directors formed and developed Bylaws. In June of 2014 the organization became incorporated, and in December received tax exempt status.

Rev. Sholes-Ross, currently pastor of First Baptist Church, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, described our current projects:

1.    Calling in the Key of She

The purpose of this project is to impact girls and boys at an early age by educating them, exposing them to female clergy, and allowing them to explore various aspects of ministry available to all persons. The project includes three main components: (1) develops a curriculum that is age-appropriate and addresses various theological models of female/male clergy, presents female characters in the Bible in a positive light, highlights historical female clergy and contemporary female and male clergy leaders, explores diverse images of God including female and gender-neutral images; (2) involves participants in ministry experiences; (3) shows participants female/male clergy in practice.

2.   Retiring Pastors Initiative

This project enlists senior/solo pastors who may retire in the next 3-5 years to prepare their congregations to consider women pastoral candidates. A survey will identify pastors who are willing to use specific strategies to break down barriers that may hinder a congregation from considering and calling the best candidate irrespective of gender. Retiring pastor participants will receive resources such as books, videos, consultation, and online support.

3.  The Lydia Project

This project will provide financial support to clergywomen who create new and renewed multicultural, welcoming and affirming Christian communities who practice inclusivity in language, gender, and race. Equity will partner with seminaries/theological schools in selecting clergywomen to support.

Rev. Sholes-Ross invited those gathered at the Alliance of Baptists to support Equity for Women in the Church by becoming founding partners of this unique, visionary organization.

We also invite you to become a founding partner: Equity Membership Form

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UN Commission on the Status of Women: Addressing the Pandemic of Violence Against Women and Girls

This year at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, I was struck by the number of sessions that focused on the pandemic of violence against women and girls. I grieved that this violence continues, often fueled by religion. The emphasis was on religion not only as a cause of this violence, but also as the solution. Religion can be a roadblock or a resource.

One of the sessions I attended was titled “Sacred and Safe: Building Capacity of Faith Communities to Address Gender-Based Violence.” One panelist cited a survey that found that 74% of clergy underestimate the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Violence affects one in three women worldwide, despite being recognized as a gross human rights violation and a barrier to global development.

 

Another panelist cited factors that contribute to this prevalence of violence against women:

• fundamentalist religious teachings;
• gender inequality;
• challenges to human rights.
 
She named ways that faith communities matter in addressing violence against women:
 
• hold a unique position to help as a safe place to disclose and ask for assistance;
• offer spiritual support;
• foster the process of recovery as survivors reach out, seeking answers;
• provide advocacy and resource referral, and work toward systemic change.
 

I would add that faith communities can deconstruct misinterpretations of sacred texts that contribute to the inequality of women and violence against them, and they can teach interpretations of sacred texts and images of the Divine that support the full equality and sacred worth of women.

One speaker at this session commended President Jimmy Carter for challenging faith communities to take action to eliminate gender-based violence by teaching theology that supports the equality of women in every sphere of life. In his book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, Carter writes: “The world’s discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive, and ignored violation of basic human rights. The most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.” Carter sees the misinterpretation of sacred texts by major religions, including Christianity, as the foundational cause of violence against women and girls. Carter, an active Baptist layperson and Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, calls out these misinterpretations in his Christian tradition. Good for him! He demonstrates how selected passages in the Bible have been distorted to support the inequality of women, leading to violence against them. Also, Carter cites many passages in the Gospels that illustrate Jesus’ equal treatment of women, and gives examples in the writings of Paul that support the full equality of women.

This UN session also highlighted the outstanding work of FaithTrust Institute toward the elimination of gender-based violence. Founded in 1977 by Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. The Institute provides faith communities the tools and knowledge needed for addressing the religious and cultural issues related to abuse. FaithTrust Institute provides religion-specific intervention and prevention training, consulting, and educational materials for faith-based and secular organizations in the following areas:

• domestic and sexual violence;
• healthy teen relationships, preventing teen dating violence;
• child abuse, children and youth exposed to domestic violence;
• healthy boundaries for clergy and spiritual teachers, responding to clergy
misconduct;
• trafficking of persons.

Marie Fortune’s book Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited calls religious leaders to awareness not only of the pervasive problems but also of the potential of faith communities to eradicate gender-based violence.

Our ethical values of justice, love, and equality lead us to affirm the dignity and worth of every human being and the right of each person to live free of violence. Our faith compels us to work to end violence against women and girls in our religious communities and in society at large. Our faith empowers us to create a world where all people are free of violence and all are free to become all we are meant to be in the divine image.

 

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UN Commission on the Status of Women: Diverse People Addressing Intersecting Justice Concerns

photo by Chad Clanton

photo by Chad Clanton

My week at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW) reconfirmed for me the ways in which equality for women intersects with all other justice concerns. Presentations focused on topics ranging from economic justice to racial justice to ecology to education to peacemaking to health to justice for LGBTQ persons to eliminating gender-based violence to gender equality in the media to global communities—all connected to the status of women.

Also, I was impressed by the diversity of the more than 10,000 people who participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women:  people of many races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, religions, cultures, and ages.

photo by Chad Clanton

photo by Chad Clanton

 

photo by Chad Clanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was an emphasis on including adolescent girls in shaping the agenda for improving the status of girls and women around the world. In many cities only 5% of girls say they feel safe, and in many countries 80% of girls and women experience some form of abuse. Among the recommendations for the empowerment of girls are these:

• training programs to help girls develop their own agency;

• recognizing that girls can be agents of change;

• bringing the voices of girls and their rights to community leaders.

In one of the large meeting halls where I attended sessions, the Girl Declaration hanging on the wall caught my attention.  Through a series of groundbreaking consultations, 508 girls living in poverty­—together with 25 of the world’s leading development organizations— created the Girl Declaration. Girls were left out of the original Millennium Development Goals. The Girl Declaration has been written to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The Girl Declaration Goals are these:

Education: For girls to grow up with the skills and knowledge they need to take part in economic, social, and cultural life;

Health: For girls to have access to safe, age-appropriate information and services, plus the confidence to make healthy choices growing up;

Safety: For girls to be free from violence and exploitation, using laws and strong child-protection systems;

Economic Security: For girls to know how to earn a safe and productive income, with the help of technical and practical skills, before they become women;

Voice & Rights: For girls to have equal access to services, opportunities, legal rights and personal freedoms.

This year’s UN CSW marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Considered the most comprehensive plan for advancing women’s rights around the world, the 1995 Beijing Declaration was adopted by 189 governments. But now 20 years later, the commitments made are only partially fulfilled. The Platform for Action envisioned gender equality in all dimensions of life, and no country has yet finished this agenda. Women earn less than men and are more likely to work in poor-quality jobs. A third suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Gaps in reproductive rights and health care leave 800 women dying in childbirth each day.

Dr. Vetty Agala, Dr. Olukunni Tjeruh, Dr. Adeloiyi Obelelora from Nigeria (photo by Chad Clanton)

UN Women launched a global Beijing+20 campaign titled “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It” to generate momentum and urgency for global actions on women’s rights and gender equality. Evidence increasingly shows that empowering women empowers humanity. Economies grow faster, and families are healthier and better-educated.  Empowering women leads to a more stable and equitable world. Equal rights for women are essential to peace.

One session I attended at the UN CSW focused on ways that political will, public will, and personal will are all important to bring about these much-needed actions for gender equality. Speakers gave historical examples such as the elimination of foot binding in China when a small group of women mobilized public will and then political will to stop this unjust practice. When public and political will combine, change is possible. One speaker at this session inspired us with the recent example of the power of personal will also to bring change: Malala Yousafzai started a worldwide movement that changed public will for all girls to have equal educational opportunities.

Injustices are socially constructed, and justice solutions can also be socially constructed when we exercise our personal will to mobilize public will and political action.

 

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“Transforming Church and Society Through Sophia Wisdom,” Presentation at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Ann Smith, Victoria Sirota, Jann

Giving a presentation with Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Ann Smith at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine was one of the exciting experiences I had during the week I spent in New York City at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW). This presentation, “Transforming Church and Society Through Sophia Wisdom, ” a parallel event of the UN CSW, drew people from the UN conference and from the church. The Reverend Victoria Sirota, Canon Pastor & Vicar of the Congregation of Saint Saviour at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, hosted this event.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Ann Smith, and I talked about ways that reclaiming Sophia Wisdom and other biblical female images of God will empower our work together for peace, justice, and sustainability. Including multicultural female divine images in our worship affirms the sacred value of females throughout the world who continue to suffer from violence and abuse. The earth, traditionally referred to as feminine, likewise suffers from exploitation and abuse. Worship services that include female images can make a powerful contribution to a more just world. In our presentation we highlighted ways that multicultural female divine names and images in worship form a foundation for gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality, economic justice, care of creation, nonviolence, interfaith collaboration, expanding spiritual experience, and changing hierarchies to circles

Grace Ji-Sun Kim drew from her book The Grace of Sophia, which deals with Wisdom Christology as understood from a global religious perspective. She talked about the Korean concept of “han,” that indescribable pain from injustices suffered, and how Sophia liberates us from suffering, patriarchy, and other sources of oppression. Grace also engaged participants with stories from her book Contemplations from the Heart.

Ann Smith discussed the new leadership emerging that embodies Sophia and Circle Principles, transforming the human-made ecological and social crises, co-creating God’s dream for Mother Earth. She read her poem “God Is Not a Single Parent” from her book Women’s Uncommon Prayers, also published in She Lives!

I drew from my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, which features inspiring stories of clergy and laypeople, including Grace and Ann, who are bringing transformation through restoring the power of Divine Wisdom and other biblical female images of Deity.

Victoria Sirota accompanied the group as we sang hymns from She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World: “Celebrate the Works of Wisdom,” “Wisdom, Sophia, Joins in Our Labor,” and “We Invite All to Join Our Circle Wide.” I led the group in a litany “Creating a Path Toward Liberation,” by Christina Cavener, also published in She Lives!

Instead of a traditional Q&A after the presentation, we formed a large circle and invited everyone to voice a reflection, idea, or blessing. We used Circle Principles from Circle Connections and the Millionth Circle.

Several days later at the Episcopal Church Center Chapel, Ann Smith led another sacred circle, “She Lives in Circles, ” also a parallel event of the UN CSW.

She Lives in Circles

Circles empower every voice to be heard and full participation as co-creators of a peaceful and just world.     
Circle Principles used everywhere and all the time bring us into harmony with all creation. 

Honor and Celebrate Sacred Space.

Speak from the Heart and one at a time.

Listen from the Heart without judgment.

Respect for all Creation.

Call for Silence when needed.

Share Leadership, Information, Resources.

Come to Consensus when possible.

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