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

Women Arise for Better Lives

by Rev. Neelley Hicks

Women throughout the world have never had an opportunity like the one we have today: a chance to amplify voices that help make justice, dignity and wellbeing reality – even in parts of the world most left behind by the digital divide and gender gap in IT. The Women Arise Network – an initiative of Harper Hill Global – was born from this opportunity which uses communication strategies and technologies to reduce human suffering and improve lives. We are grateful to have benefited from Tennessee COSROW who supported our 2018 leadership conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Neelley Hicks 2

Neelley Hicks

The Women Arise Network is located currently in DR Congo, Uganda, and Nigeria, but the model we use could be effective most anywhere.

Influencing Behaviors

We don’t just report on the problems of the day. We craft messages to influence behaviors so we can prevent disease, grow peace within the individual and community, and increase dignity for those rejected by society. There are 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that give our work societal focus so that people of difference (faith traditions, tribes, ethnicities, socio-economic, etc.) can come together to address problems experienced by all.

Here’s an example. The East Congo Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church wanted to help women arise from the stigma they suffer as a consequence of sexual violence. Working together with Judith Osongo Yanga (Director of Communications), we developed a communications campaign beginning with world-renowned humanitarian Firdaus Kharas. Whether shown in conferences, over social media or television, “A Plea to My Father” has helped women like Judith’s protege Bibiche begin to understand that she is not alone, what happened was not her fault, and she can never be defined solely by that one event. This is just one example of communications that can produce a positive outcome.

Let's Be Good Men

The video is now translated in 11 different languages and has reached over 10 million viewers in the region by television alone, and many more through local viewings.  UMW President of the Northern Nigeria Annual Conference Doris Adamu uses the animation as a centerpiece and works with women of other faith traditions for this one united cause.

Using Technology for Social Change

Today’s technologies allow us to reach people who do not have access to radio, television, or the Internet. A simple text message can pass through these barriers. When a message carries vital information, is crafted in local languages and sent from trusted sources, it can even save lives.

Many of us receive text reminders for doctor appointments. We use that methodology, but for the Women Arise movement, turned messages into ones that assist pastors in preaching about respect and dignity for women. The messages were sent on behalf of Bishop Gabriel Unda, and when preached, reaches both oppressed and oppressor, building awareness of issues otherwise left unspoken.

Not everyone in the world can attend formal school, due to financial and geographic barriers, so we developed the “Virtual Classroom” for Network participants to carry education to the people. Fitting in two backpacks, the technologies and content can be shown outdoors or inside; to small groups or large; to young and old together.

Virtual-Classroom-510x382

Not everything we do is high tech. Fabric can tell stories and with the Women Arise icon, “Esther” we are doing that! Illustrated by Congolese artist Radjabu, Esther will be soon printed on fabric and crafted into items that tell the story of one woman arising, speaking truth to power and saving lives.

Esther

Power of the Human Network

Just having the right message means nothing without the trusted human network to pass messages and media through. The United Methodist Church’s organizational structure allows us to connect with socially-minded women around the world about common humanitarian issues. Wherever we are, we can ask other women to join us in channeling voices towards solutions that change lives right where we live.

We are getting ready for our next leadership training of the Women Arise Network. There are currently 10 members in the network from three different countries who use radio, television, social media and workshops to improve lives right where they live. If you would like to help us equip, train, and mobilize women for social good through communications, you can donate at harperhill.global/donate.


N. Neelley Hicks is committed to making the world a better place by using her gift of communications with her passion for empowering women.

She founded Harper Hill Global (a 501c3 not-for-profit) to train (primarily) women to use communications (storytelling, broadcast & technology) in addressing the most pressing social issues of our day. “Women Arise” is a result of this focus, which is a network of women who address stigma against victims of sexual violence within their own communities in Uganda, Northern Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Disease-prevention is another result by which women use their human networks to develop & send text messages, create & broadcast song, or version and broadcast animation – all with the goal of teaching prevention in communities where education may be lacking.

As a Deacon, Neelley provides leadership at Glencliff United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, who is currently building transitional housing (microhomes) for people who are homeless and recently discharged from Nashville hospitals.

Previously, Neelley was the Director of ICT4D Church Initiatives for United Methodist Communications and Vice President/Director of Interactive Media at Godwin Group Advertising.

Neelley has spoken at the United Nations in Geneva and New York through the InfoPoverty World Conference. She is a dynamic, engaging speaker who has spoken to groups in a variety of settings on multiple continents.

She has a Masters in Divinity from Vanderbilt University and a BS in Business from Belhaven University. She and her husband, Robby, have a combined family of three children, their spouses, and four grandchildren.

Visit harperhill.global for more information.

DCA 1: Monitoring Report (Saturday, February 23)

Gender is everywhere, but we seldom notice it. When my young daughter brought a paper home from Sunday school, she and I looked at it together, as we often did. I wanted to hear more about what she was learning. But the picture caught my eye for another reason. It was a cartoon-like drawing of a bunch of children in Biblical times, all of whom looked like boys to me. I asked my daughter if she saw herself in that picture; that is, did she see any girls in the scene? She rolled her eyes, took a closer look at the picture, and said firmly, “There are girls there. Don’t worry mom; everyone looked the same back then.” Maybe she was right. The kids depicted were wearing long robe-like garments and sandals, and all had curly hair showing around the edges of their head coverings. But I was not so sure, and as the mom of a girl child, I wanted to be sure my daughter “saw” herself in the Biblical story.

Looking out across the plenary of the upcoming General Conference, it will be tempting to say the same thing – don’t worry, there are women out there. And there are, but only 306 out of 862 delegates, a disappointing 36% in a denomination made up of just over 57% women. It is a bit more complicated since half of the delegates are clergy and among clergy in the U.S., only 28% are women. By that measure, clergywomen are well represented, since women make up 29% of the clergy delegates. Laywomen are not as well represented, with women making up only 43% of the lay delegates. That means that even if all of the women participate in the General Conference discussion equivalent to their proportion of the delegates, they will still not represent the many women’s voices in the larger church.

That gender imbalance is unevenly distributed across the church. That is, 43% of the delegates from the US Jurisdictions are women, but the Philippines include only 30%, Europe sent only 28%, and from Africa, there are only 24% women delegates. Most shocking is this fact: there are five Annual Conference delegations that include no women at all. While each Annual Conference elects its own delegates, and each one has to decide how best to represent its membership, it is simply unacceptable to send single-gender delegations. Of course, there were also Annual Conferences that elected women to half or more of their seats, but in the end, there were far fewer of them (35.6%) producing the overall imbalance of 36% women.

It is too late to change the makeup of the delegations, but it is not too late to make sure gender balance is achieved in other ways while we are here. We can make sure that women are recognized to speak by the presiding bishop, that they are invited and encouraged to speak by others in their delegations, that women’s speeches are not interrupted or cut short, as compared to those by men. We can make sure women are not discounted as angry, or whining, or mean, or any of the myriad ways women in leadership are described as problematic.

Gender is hard NOT to notice these days, but clearly, we have not done enough in The United Methodist Church. Let’s make this General Conference as gender aware as possible, despite the challenges posed by the imbalance in the delegates. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women will be monitoring for gender inclusion, and we hope to report that you’re doing a great job.

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Urges United Methodist Support for Amendment One

CHICAGO— The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) urges United Methodists to support Constitutional amendment one that will be brought forth for a revote in all annual conferences in 2018 and 2019.

The proposed Constitutional amendment affirms that both men and women are made in the image of God and commits The United Methodist Church to confront gender discrimination. If ratified by 2/3 of all voting members of annual conferences, the amendment will become Paragraph 6 in The United Methodist Constitution.

“The mission of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is to equip the church in addressing gender justice issues and to help the church to recognize children and adults, women and men, lay and clergy, as full and equal members of God’s family,” stated Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Annual Conference, President of GCSRW’s board of directors. “This added paragraph specifically addresses confronting and eliminating discrimination and the dehumanization of women and girls, and this commitment is foundational to the mission and scope of GCSRW’s work.”

“The lessons of the first vote show us that the worldwide Church was only 100 votes away from affirming the value of women and girls in our United Methodist Constitution,” said Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of GCSRW. “Every vote at every annual conference around the world counts! This is a time for action. Call, email, write letters, post on Facebook, and talk to friends. Spread the word. This is the time to act!”

On May 10, 2018, The Rev. Gary. W. Graves, Secretary of the General Conference, announced that there was an error in the proposed Constitutional amendment. A sentence that had been removed by the General Conference was included in the text provided to annual conferences for voting that occurred in 2017 and early 2018.

The amendment approved by the General Conference should have read: “As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well-being.”

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The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women advocates for the full participation of women in the total life of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW helps the church recognize every person – clergy and lay, women and men, adults and children – as full and equal parts of God’s human family. They believe that a fully engaged and empowered membership is vital to The United Methodist Church’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”