A Woman’s Right to Life

by Rev. Pamela Pirtle, Director of Leadership Development & Accountability, GCSRW

It was the year 1851, in Akron, Ohio when Sojourner Truth gave her now-famous speech at the Women’s Rights Convention.  Sojourner emphasized the phrase “Ain’t I a Woman?” four times as an expression for equal rights for African American women.  She spoke of the equality that was due to all women regardless of the color of their skin.  It has been 169 years since that day when she spoke up for African American women to be given the same rights as their non-Black counterparts.  Though we have made many milestones during the course of 169 years, we are still seeking equal rights for Black women in comparison to others.

Breonna Taylor was a daughter, a big sister, a niece, a dear friend, and someone who cared for those who were vulnerable due to illness.  She loved her work as an emergency room medical technician and hoped to continue her education in healthcare.  Her friends and family describe her as someone who enjoyed putting a smile on the faces of others.  She seemed to have a happy disposition and a smile that would light a room.

But on the morning of March 13, 2020, her light was snuffed out.  While she lay sleeping in her bed, law enforcement officials entered her apartment under a “no-knock warrant” in an effort to capture another individual who did not live there.  The details of this incident are still under review.  However, what is troubling is how this information did not reach mainstream media attention for almost two months after her violent death.  Where is the outrage?  Where is the accountability?  Was Breonna’s life of any less value because she is a Black woman?  We must ask why this case, and so many others, have been disconnected from the broader narrative of police brutality against Blacks.  Unfortunately, Black women have too often been the invisible victims of police violence.  For this very reason, activists have used the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the countless Black women who have lost their lives due to police brutality.

Some have argued that in many ways, women are not equal to men, or that women are in some way lacking virtue.  Unfortunately, being both Black and female can be a double negative that makes suffering in silence a daily part of life.  Breonna’s story was handled by media and others like an unfortunate casualty rather than the violent murder that has been expressed for the senseless deaths of Black men.

As Christians, we are reminded of ourselves in Genesis 1:27 that everyone is made in the image of God and therefore, should be treated humanely and with respect.  If being created in God’s image means that we are, an image of God the Creator, a representation of who God is, then how can we devalue one group of persons over another?  If we believe we are made in God’s image, then our view of God and our relationship with our Creator are also intertwined.  Therefore, we must believe in the sacredness of all human life, regardless of gender, race, or any other demographic that has been used to divide us.

We must recognize that every human being has been created in God’s image.  Everyone then becomes one of God’s image-bearers.  This knowing should guide how we conduct ourselves toward others at all times, remembering the least of these.  Every woman has a right to live and prosper.  “We affirm with scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God.  We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another[i]…” Therefore, let us work to create a more just society where the lives of all persons are held as sacred.

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Contemplative Moment and Reflection

What phrase resonates with me?  Why should I care about this?  What can I do about it?

Prayer

Gracious God, thank you for your loving-kindness that extends to all humanity.  Help us to live by your principles of freedom and justice.  Oh God, in these turbulent times, help us to remove the barriers that separate us from one another.  Make us one to walk in holy peace together.  Amen.


[i] Book of Discipline Part V, Social Principles, Paragraph 161.F.

No Justice, No Peace!

by Rev. Pamela Pirtle, Director of Leadership Development & Accountability, GCSRW

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”                                                                                                                              -Ephesians 5:11

If kneeling is an act of reverence for that which one holds sacred, in honor and is committed in devotion to, what happened on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis?  How does someone kneel on the back of another man’s neck, hear his cries for release from trauma, calling for his mother, and yet continue in this act of worship?  This scene showed what the officer held as sacred in his heart by kneeling on that man’s neck, was a worship of hatred so deep, so dark, many of us cannot comprehend it.

Therefore, maybe when Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem it wasn’t a sign of disrespect after all, but rather a sign of his respect, holding this country and Black lives as honorable and sacred.   Yet, he was villainized and made to feel like less than an American citizen because of the color of his skin.  His freedom of speech was violated; essentially taking his breath away.  But this officer in Minneapolis knelt on a man’s neck, crushing his breath as if he were less than human.  In doing so the officer and his colleagues declared themselves superior and victorious venerating racism and deep hatred.

The video of George Floyd’s murder has shaken this country because it is a reminder of the rampant culture of hatred that has been a part of this country’s dark history to enforce white supremacy for more than 400 years.  This is based on a set of beliefs that every soul is not equal, nor deserving of life itself.  But, if we’re all made in the image of God, then every life matters to God.

This devotion is simply a call to action for every person who professes to be a Christian and believes in the God in whom all are created, the giver of life, the one who gives us the breath that George Floyd was losing by the minute when he yelled, “I can’t breathe!”  The Bible reminds us that as people of faith, we are not only called to represent Christ in the earth by gathering in worship centers where we kneel collectively in honor of God.  We are called to use the breath God gave us to speak out against the evils of hatred that have permeated our society.

If we are going to live like Jesus we have to speak out against the oppression of all persons and critique their mistreatment.  Jesus showed this example countless times when he refused to be silent about the inequities that persisted in his day.  The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated:

“We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness…by showing a real sympathy that springs from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer…The Christian is called to sympathy and action.”

Let us pray:  God grant that we will be participants in doing good, in taking the high way, in standing together in unity seeking your justice, your peace, your highest good for all humankind.  Amen.

Black lives Matter graphic

The Way of Integrity: Kindness, Respect, and Consideration

Every day we are inundated with information regarding COVID 19.  It helps us understand the virus, prevent the spread of the virus, and accept responsibility to care for ourselves and others.  Despite constant medical warnings, I am amazed at the number of people who continue to refuse to wear a mask. They rationalize that “it is not good for my immune system,” “I don’t think it helps anything,” and “it is uncomfortable to wear one, especially when I am talking or exercising.”  These reactions fail to consider that wearing a mask is about protecting OTHERS, especially those who are more vulnerable, from YOU, in the event you have the virus and are not showing symptoms.

This virus, just like all natural disasters, is a call to move beyond our self-centered impulses into deeper caring for our neighbors.

Within my Chicago neighborhood, signs are in many windows and sidewalk chalk art is everywhere.  I love being reminded of the importance of messages such as these:

BE KIND

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER

CONSIDER OTHERS

Teresa Welborn chalk image

Reading and seeing the messages invites me to become more intentional in practicing this behavior. It is why I’m excited to talk about “The Way of Integrity” a resource from GCSRW. This resource is designed as a four-part study, grounded in scripture and inviting each person to enter into deep reflection around the ways we interact with one another every day. Modeled in part on the Emory Integrity Project at Emory University, the resource was developed as a result of concerns shared by many across The UMC regarding belittling, demeaning, and degrading verbal expressions within our faith communities toward one another. We can do better.

Integrity, that deep honoring of one another, is too often missing. And when this happens, it reveals that people are thinking primarily of themselves. Consideration for the other is not part of the interaction. Kindness, respect, and deep honoring are absent.

I invite you to ponder this question:

How important is it to you that people respect one another?

“The Way of Integrity” is designed to be adaptable in any ministry setting including sermons, youth groups, Sunday school and small group classes, campus ministry, camping ministry, and many others. Suggestions for use in each of these ministries are included in the materials for participants and facilitators.  The first lesson centers around our values and what is important to each of us. Scripture which includes the Golden Rule provides a place for reflection. When have you paused to consider the words, “do unto others as you would have them do to you?” Can people know your values simply by the way you live life? The Way of Integrity invites you into deep questioning. It encourages you to be open to self-growth by leaving behind old ways of thinking that separate you from others.

Are you willing to consider ways you can be kinder, more considerate, and respectful to others? It is helpful to observe where you have resistance to this question.

We need community more than ever and this includes people who may look and think differently from one another.

Every day we wake up with the option of being better than before. Even the smallest change will have a rippling effect on everything it touches. How exciting to think you will be the one to set the ripple in motion!

You can download The Way of Integrity on our websites at gcsrw.org or umsexualethics.org

Or you may email me at bwilliams@gcsrw.org and request a copy be mailed to you.

We look forward to hearing the ways you choose to use this resource.

Thursdays in Black Devotion- May 28th, 2020

by Sarah Cissy Namukose, East Africa Episcopal Area, Intern, GCSRW

“May your heart heal.  May the past no longer block your view of the present.  May you breathe again, rest again, laugh again, live again.  May it be so.”  -Dr. Thema Bryant, Thriving in the Wake of Trauma

A woman, the mother of creation, elegant in complexion, adorned with the beauty of heart, spirit, and soul, is wounded and hurt. Violence and anguish is her daily ritual: beaten in her home, violated. She is ill-treated by strangers, dehumanized, rejected, and abandoned by her own people. She is homeless and languishing in poverty. She is denied a quality education, faced with joblessness and inequality, as patriarchy diminishes her to nothingness.

A noble woman—full of wisdom, lover of all, cares for all, and embraces all—who can find. She is everywhere on the streets, lying in shackles, putting on black, in agony, in travail on the streets, crying, looking for the one her heart loves. Woman, woman, woman; mother of all creation; she is abandoned. Who can love her? Who can welcome her in? Who can wipe away her tears? She is hungry; she is thirsty; she longs for a hug, a kiss, a job to work, a shelter to lay her head. She tears her clothes and roams the streets. She cries out loud, “Who can help me? Who can rescue me? Who can save me?” Ah, but she is subjected to inhumane treatment, is silenced, and condemned.

A woman, a mother under lockdown in her home due to COVID-19, battered and bruised in violence by her husband: whipped and reduced to bone and skin, cursing the day she was conceived in the mother’s womb; left to loud cries of suffering day in and day out. Who can rescue her? Who can intervene? Who can give her aid? She is abandoned to suffering with her children.

Love cries out. I hear the cry of our Lord and Savior Jesus in the agony of the cross, heavily exhausted and languishing while carrying the cares and burdens of all humanity: a burden too heavy to carry. He was thirsty and hungry, yet he was committed and determined to carry this burden all the way. Abandoned by his Father, harassed by many, yet Jesus still carries the burdens of all even at the expense of their sins.

Jesus, the excellent mother figure, in agony and anguish of heart, spirit, and body, laments, seeking the ones he loves, humankind. Jesus is like a mother in the labor ward, very much in pain and agonized by the sins of humanity. Jesus is determined not to give up for a stillborn baby but ready to suffer, in order to redeem, to restore, and to revivify humankind to her rightful place of dominion, abundance, and communion with the Father. Jesus cries out: where is the one my heart loves? Jesus feels abandoned by his Father, yes, rejected, mocked, and insulted by the Roman leaders. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave birth to the church and made a new covenant by water and blood.

Prayer:

Gracious God,

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all you have created.

Hear the cries of every woman: she is hungry; she is thirsty; she is homeless; she is helpless; she is beaten; deformed; rejected, and abandoned by her people. Ill-treated, dehumanized by patriarchy, and roams the streets in rags. God, lover of all you have made, you do not show favoritism; redeem your creation, redeem her beauty, redeem her glory. Vindicate and save her by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Lift her up from the mud of self-pity, violence, and agony to a place of honor, satisfaction, prosperity, and abundance, where her beauty, glory, and wisdom can flourish, valued, and appreciated by all. Bless the fruits of her womb all the days of her life.  Let me be an instrument of your grace and love toward everyone, especially those who have needlessly suffered at the hands of another.  Enable me to do my part to share in the burden of others for your glory, honor, power, and praise, are yours now and forever. Amen.


If you need help, please contact RAINN, a resource for persons who are confronting sexual violence: https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

Thursdays in Black Devotion- May 7, 2020

“This campaign is simple but profound.  Wear Black on Thursdays.  Wear a pin to declare you are a part of this global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.  Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.  Encourage others to join you.  We note, oftentimes, black has been used with negative racial connotations.  In this campaign, Black is used as a color of resistance and resilience.” —The World Council of Churches 

SoniaGechtoff_RedIcon

Sonia Gechtoff, Red Icon, 1962, Oil on Canvas

A Prayer for Thursdays in Black*

Creating God, Mother of us all, we are your beloved, formed in your image and nurtured in the depth of your dark womb.  You breathed life into our flesh and sent us to do your work in the world, to care for each other and for all of creation as we would care for you:  our life and our breath. 

Wherever we are in your world there are survivors, victims, bystanders, and perpetrators of gender-based violence.

This violence is destroying your sacred creation, and as long as violence exists among your people, anywhere, we will not be whole.  Until your creation is healed, we will wear black in solidarity with people around the world to honor the courage and resilience of the victims and survivors of gender-based violence, while committing to work toward an end to such violence.

May the color black remind us of the unimaginable deep love you have for us and the cavernous well of tears shed by communities broken by violence.

And may the color black remind us of the hope for transformation that you have planted within the dark belly of the earth.  A hope that grows stronger every time a cycle of violence is broken and nurtured by each action against violence and rape. 

Creating God, as long as we have breath, may we work with perseverance toward restoring peace and dignity to your creation.  Amen.              

 

*Adapted from Thursdays in Black, World Council of Churches