The Women’s Pilgrim Team Visit held on Monday, February 28, 2022 focused on women of faith in North America with the theme, “Stony the Road: Women’s Voices of Faith, Courage, Resistance & Resilience” using Numbers 27:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 15:58 as scripture references.
The main speaker, Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, Associate General Minister for Global Engagement and Operations and Co-Executive for Global Ministry of the United Church of Christ, began by explaining that the participants were people of the church gathered, not just about the challenges for women, but to call the church into action to go beyond “the silence of the chosen, the silence of the ordained.” She described the gathering as an invitation to call on the church to pay attention to matters of justice – starting with where we live and calling for the church’s accountability so we can bring awareness and change to the world around us.
Discussing what it means to talk about race, gender and seeds of oppression in this age, she explained that racism is a pandemic living among us and has been for many years and that it is rampant and supported by the church and by politics even in the highest seats of government where ongoing arguments about the rights of women’s bodies are dominated by White men and the emphasis is not on the many who live in deep poverty (individual household income falling below 50% of the poverty line with a person living on $6,244 per year per person). She also discussed the fact that the United States has many women who continue to live on the margins and with them are their children and the list of challenges continues to grow as women are left behind with 38.1% of people living in poverty and of that 24.1 million are women. The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risk for women because its unprecedented unemployment has disproportionately affected women and systemic poverty in communities of color are tied to these indicators.
Outlining the history of Black women’s healthcare, Dr. Thompson explained that it centers on the fact that many don’t have the resources to afford healthcare or quality health insurance so they do not have the ability to access a doctor or go to a hospital, particularly for gynecological needs. She explained that it is hard to have conversations about healthcare without talking about the history of oppression and the slave trade, later noting that the extreme rate of poverty did not start yesterday because someone did not go to school or did not have money for a house as these are generational cycles of poverty.
Dr. Thompson spoke about the domestic violence and rape that are also very present in communities of color. There is a shroud of violence that has been perpetuated in our homes while there is a lack of narrative in the church when the leadership in our homes is not questioned, said Dr. Thompson.
“If there is silence, then people are not going to talk about it and if they are not going to talk about it, then they are not going to attend to it,” said Dr. Thompson. “So that becomes cyclical, and becomes evidenced then in other things because, as we know particularly during these days of pandemic there has been a significant increase in domestic violence and particularly violence against women.”
Noting there is also silence around the disappearance of Native American women and the murder of transgender women, Dr. Thompson said she wanted to “put some things on the table for us to be mindful of and for us to probably look a little deeper into and wrestle with in terms of what it means for us in the church to be a part of systems that uphold violence and lack of care for community.”
Noting that the church is present in the halls and streets of Washington DC making sure our voices are heard and impact legislation, Dr. Thompson observed “at the same time we are silent about the ways in which some of this is actually perpetuating in our communities.” This led to the realization that churches need a “me too” moment of its own as she said, “Every once in a while we see glimpses of people who have left in silence. People who have been abusive in communities, they leave and there is silence. There is nothing that is being said. Women who are impregnated by pastors and there’s silence. Where are we in calling for reform in our churches around what we see and around abuse that we know is present?” She concluded, “We can no longer afford to be silent.”
When asked how the church can have a “me too” moment, Dr. Thompson said that it needs to be a grassroots movement with education and awareness. Women are silenced on these issues because they must talk through men who continue to be the gatekeepers so there is no recourse. She put forth the need to dismantle the patriarchal constructs in the church because it supports this kind of behavior. However, when women are in positions of positive leadership they must be open and create space making a biblical reference to Esther who was in a place that allowed her to save her people.
Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq., NCC Associate General Secretary, Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace, then noted that there are legal issues and silence around non-disclosure agreements that are obligated because not signing will ruin the church or ruin the pastor, so that women are faced with either not speaking and protecting the perpetrator or speaking and being punished.
Dr. Alexander also spoke about the advocacy work in DC where there is the “need to compromise” but compromising comes on the backs of those who have already suffered – those who are dispensable, or who are not at the table, or who are not the loudest. This means advocacy depends on the generosity of the strongest and only a few organizations lobby for such a large percentage of the population that includes the poor, children, and women who are all tossed aside.
The World Council of Churches has also published an article on part one of the Women’s Pilgrimage, North America Women’s Pilgrim Team Visit: “If one among us is not well, we are all not well.” Read the article