A Very Bright Light

bright light

“Why is the church the vessel that we choose for this work?”
I don’t know why I ask questions like this over lunch.

Nonetheless, my teammate had already stated the answer. (Now, I am paraphrasing and expanding here.) We need our faith and faith community so that we can safely care for all. The burden is not too heavy when we are given a divine burden-carrier for a savior. So, with the church as the vessel, we delved into the discussion of Human Rights inherent to each of us but honored less often for women and girls.

“Someone once told me, ‘When you are doing good work, it is a very bright light, and bright light attracts a lot of shadows.’” – Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the 58th Commission on the Status of Women

Thanks to ELCA World Hunger, and arm in arm with other bodies of the ELCA and the LWF, this young adult delegation had come to the United Nations CSW to be a part of the bright light that the U.N. Millennium Development Goals had challenged the world to create. We have accepted a shared truth with many who are gathered: gender equality is a development issue.

“At some point, we had to go beyond asking the gatekeepers to consider violence against women a violation of Human Rights… We had to tell them: Women’s Rights Are Human Rights!” – Charlotte Bunch, Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University.

Furthermore, we came to represent the stories of many women who will never have the opportunity to come to this place to represent themselves. Their life circumstances, even their deaths, have placed a sense of urgency on our hearts. Many who represented a faith community or faith-based NGO began a dance of words around the issues of Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights (SRHR) or other issues that can quickly become “complicated”… but for some of us, we have hit the end of our period of asking.

“You, from the church, you need to speak up. If the church fails to talk about rape, prostitution, and reproductive health, we fail. This is Jesus’ pulpit and how he preached.” – Leymah Gbowee

I left Leymah’s side event early in order to be present for a panel discussion titled “An Inter-Generational Dialoge on Faith, Culture, HIV, and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights” where some of the ELCA’s partners in work would speak. Dr. Mtisunge Kachingwe, a young woman from Malawi who lost her mother to HIV- related causes, stated that the approach some faith communities take with HIV prevention and SRHR causes silence and stigma. You can read more about what she shared at the panel here:

Before she was finished, she made this plea: “We urge the faith community to promote understanding… and dissuade stigma. Preach on compassion and inclusion. Value dignity and respect.”

She is right.  My concern is that the language of many who speak in faith does not sound inclusive. I am thankful to take communion from an open table where all are invited. Here, justice, love, and grace aren’t just things “deserved” or “sought” but things required.

“Make love and light as contagious as the dark.” – NGO CSW Forum panelist.

Our call is to light, and that means chasing the shadows of violence, inequality, and inaccessibility so that we may be surrounded wholly with the light of inclusion and compassion.  This way…

“We begin owning Human Rights as a way of life; seeing Human Rights as the banks of the River in which life flows freely.” – Shulamith Koenig- Founding president of People’s Movement to Human Rights Learning

–          jen


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