Spotlight on gender justice at Us annual conference
[Us] Gender justice was the theme of the annual conference of Us (formerly USPG), held at High Leigh Conference Centre on 20–22 July.
Speaking passionately about the plight of women in Pakistan, the writer [and educational trainer in the Church of Pakistan (United)] Sheba Sultan said: ‘The gospel does not stop women, culture does.
‘The concept of subordination is ingrained in our minds, upheld by our culture and strengthened every day by our practices.
‘We need a change in our scriptural interpretation and preaching. We need to make heard the good news that men and women are created equal and that authority belongs to Christ.’
Canon Delene Mark, CEO of Hope Africa – which is the social development department arm of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa – spoke on how the church can ensure the gospel is good news for women.
She said: ‘Justice must prevail for both men and women. We need to join together to stop these atrocities of women. The gospel is good news for women. How? Only through us.’
Another highlight of the conference was a discussion between the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont and Pittington, Durham, and author of The Essential History of Christianity, and Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament bible scholar from Brazil.
They offered a particular focus on how the church can use – and misuse – the Bible and theology to perpetuate gender injustice.
Dr Threlfall-Holmes commented: ‘There is a lot of academic research, which the church is often very uncomfortable about receiving, which shows absolutely conclusively that there is a very strong correlation between places where there is a stronger theology of women’s subordination to men and places where there is a higher incidence of gender-based violence.’
Dr Ueti offered: ‘There are lots of theologies in the Bible – there is not just one. And not a developing theology in the Bible, in terms of a linear thing. No, it’s conflictive theologies within the Bible.… We are actually reading some ideological approach.
‘There are some words that have been deliberately forgotten to be translated… We have to be very curious about the language that has been used… [for example] when we see the word “man” instead of “humanity”.’
A further highlight was a Bible study presented by the Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the Delhi Brotherhood Society, who focused on the Rape of Tamar, likening the atrocity inflicted upon Tamar to the plight of India’s Dalit people.
Ms Anjum Anwar MBE, the exChange and Dialogue Development Officer for Blackburn Cathedral, took part in workshops looking at research she undertook on behalf of Us looking at interreligious living around the world. Anjum commented: ‘We first need to feel very safe and comfortable with our own values and beliefs before we are able to extend a hand of friendship to those who have different values and beliefs.’
Us Chief Executive Janette O’Neill said: ‘Our annual conference drew in all the delegates into the different contexts that were presented from around the world, and challenged us to think what we can and should do, both individually and corporately. Our challenge is to break through the constraints of culture and embrace a practice of faith that honours the dignity of each and every human being.’
Hear all the talks at www.weareUs.org.uk/conference
Read Sheba Sultan’s reflection “The status of women in Pakistan”.
The former foremost missionary society U.S.P.G. – now named simply ‘Us’ – has held its very first Conference dedicated to the cause of Justice For Women in the Church and society.
In the wake of the Mother Church of England’s recent break-through on the ordaining of Women as Bishops in that Church, this movement on the part of the former USPG Missionary Society to promote the full acceptance of the place of Women in society comes not too soon. The evidence of the female Speakers at the Conference – especially testimony given by Sheba Sultan of the United Church of Pakistan gave evidence of the fact that there is still a long way to go for Women to be recognised as equal citizens and partners in that country, where the subordination and ill-treatment of Women is still the norm.
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes pointed out the correlation between the subordination of Women and the position of local Churches, where such a theory is taught as being biblical – where the modern concept of women’s equality with men is considered too radical a concept to be entertained. Now that the Church of England is moving towards the equality of Women as Leaders (Bishops) in the Anglican Communion, maybe other, more conservative Churches in the Communion might be encouraged to follow suit.
However, with regard to the provision still being made in the Church of England for Women Bishops to be ignored by Church members who will not recognise their status as bishops, there is still a credibility gap between the ideal and its practical outworking.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand