During this past week’s news cycle, in the midst of feelings of despair and anger, I have listened hard for the courageous voices, the compassionate voices, the strong voices–and as always seems to be true, many of those voices have belonged to women.
So grateful for the voice of Mary Alice Birdwhistell, who traveled this week to Brownsville, Texas, and spoke at a prayer vigil for the many children who have been separated from their families. Mary Alice is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. She has found her voice as a preacher, and as an advocate, and this week she used her voice one more time: “Jesus said let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these, and yet our government has been operating at the expense, the abuse, and the trauma of little children? I say no, not by my watch. . . . We must listen to their wailing cries, cries that transcend any language. To all this as people of faith we can be silent no longer. We must cry out no, not on our watch.”
I am always grateful for the wise and compelling words of Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, who just yesterday spoke out against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “travel ban.” Amanda wrote, “We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s refusal to repudiate policy rooted in animus against Muslims. In giving such broad deference to President Trump, the Court neglects its duty to uphold our First Amendment principles of religious liberty. Safeguarding religious liberty requires the government to remain neutral with regard to religion, neither favoring one religion over another nor preferring religion or irreligion. More than ever, preserving American religious freedom requires the active involvement of all citizens to denounce religious bigotry in all its forms.”
Jewel London has long been my friend–and I am thankful that everywhere she travels, everywhere she ministers, she calls us to remember. This week Jewel is in England–at Oxford University. And as she always does, she sees the connection between history and current day justice, and she uses her voice. She uses her voice in the pulpit. She uses her voice on Social Media. She uses her voice to help all of us remember and to work harder for justice. On Tuesday, she posted a photo on Facebook with these words: “The Codrington Library at All Soul’s College was endowed by Christopher Codrington, a Barbadian-born British soldier, slave owner, colonial governor, and Fellow of the college who amassed his fortune through his sugar plantation in the West Indies. Upon his death, he left books worth £6,000 and £10,000 in currency (approx. $1,586,000 in today’s terms) to All Soul’s. Like so many of the buildings from this period, the library is rooted in the slave trade.”
For women who have found and are using their voices, for their courageous calls to the work of justice, for their advocacy for those who have no voice, for their challenge to us to remember our past and to do better with our future, thanks be to God.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.