Editor’s note: This blog summarizes a keynote address given by the author for a September 26, 2020, virtual event of the Metro Chicago Synodical Women’s Organization. You can watch the 19-minute keynote address online.
Thanks to a recent virtual synodical gathering, I’ve been thinking about women using our voices. A timely topic, given the expressions of outrage over systemic racism in our society and the opportunity to express our desires in upcoming elections.
Why do I use my voice? It is part of what I am called to do as a Christian. If you look to the commitments we make at our affirmation of baptism, it’s clear. We commit to continue in the covenant God made with us in holy baptism by
Proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, and
striving for justice and peace in all the earth. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 236)
I must use my voice to live out my baptismal calling. You must use your voice too. And we don’t have to do it the same way. Some of us are loud and brash when using our voices. Others of us are quiet and persistent. However we do it, we are called to proclaim the good news and to strive for justice and peace. You’ll find similar expressions in the Purpose Statement of Women of the ELCA, something to which you and I have committed.
We have role models
Sometimes it’s reassuring to look to other women using their voices, role models for us when our response to the baptismal call is tentative. Mary, Jesus’ mother, used her voice to sing God’s praises and describe God’s commonwealth, where the proud are brought down and the lowly are lifted up, where the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.
The prophet Anna, at 84, used her voice to praise God when she encountered the baby Jesus during his presentation at the Temple. As Luke records the encounter, Anna began “speaking about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
The Canaanite woman asked Jesus to help her demon-tormented daughter using her voice to seek help for her daughter. The Samaritan woman at the well who encountered Jesus in the noonday heat used her voice as the first evangelist, telling others about Jesus and what he had said and done.
Women who found their voices
Our history is filled with women who found their voices, many through trial and error, women like Hildegard of Bingen, Katherina von Bora Luther, Anne Hutchinson, Ann Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Victoria Woodhull, Sojourner Truth, Jeannette Rankin, Jane Addams. Some spoke out for universal suffrage, care of those living in poverty, peace not war, while others spoke out against racism, sexism, and all manner of inequity.
There are lots of contemporary women and girls who serve as role models for us, too. Greta Thunberg found her voice and uses it to bring worldwide attention to climate change. Malala Yousafzai, a recent Oxford University graduate and Nobel Peace Prize winner, found her voice bringing global attention to educating girls.
Leymah Gbowee, our Lutheran sister, used her voice to bring an end to civil war in Liberia. She also used her voice to organize other Christian and Muslim women, to encourage and amplify their voices to bring about peace.
I can’t help but mention Ruth Bader Ginsburg, attorney, legal scholar, and U.S. Supreme Court justice, who died recently. For decades, Justice Ginsburg used her voice to speak for equality.
You and I are unlikely to become Nobel Peace Prize winners or garner a worldwide platform in the ways that Greta and Malala and Leymah and Ruth have done. But that’s no excuse for not finding and using our voices.
Use your voice
Why do we need to find and use our voices? First and foremost, as Christian women, we find and use our voices because it is one way in which we live out our baptismal promises. It’s not optional. It’s what we do as Christians. As author Kathy Khang has said, “our voice is meant to be and bring good news.”
What happens when you don’t find and use your voice? You don’t join in the conversation. You are not part of the solution. What is uniquely you–your thoughts and feelings–is not contributed to the greater good.
- Find, claim, and use your voice. Don’t imitate others. Be authentically you.
- Develop courage to speak. Practice in settings where the risk of failure is low; then grow, over time, into other settings.
- Look to other women for support. Likewise, support other women. Stand up for each other.
In using our voices now, our global sisters are encouraged to use their voices, and we empower the next generation to use their voices.
Love cannot be silent
You’ve probably seen a T-shirt or a meme with these words: When hate is loud, love cannot be silent. There’s a lot of hate in our world today. Hate that is gender-based. Hate that is racially based. Hate that is politically based. Hate that is even based in religion. And all that hate is loud, incredibly loud.
When hate is loud, love cannot be silent. You and I cannot be silent. We are called to be and bring good news. You and I and our voices have been called for such a time as this.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA. Feature photo, from left, clockwise: Leymah Gbowee at the Tenth Triennial Gathering; Katie Luther (Lucas Cranach the elder, public domain); Victoria Hoodhull (Bradley & Rulofson, public domain); and Harriet Tubman (Horatio Seymour Squyer, public domain).