Exploring Ecumenical Advocacy: Conversations for Change
I was struck during the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women about the importance of sharing our stories. It is through our stories that we are able to build relationships, and it is through relationships that we can come to recognize the image of God in one another.
In spite of the importance of being open to the narratives of those who may be different than ourselves, I have seen examples of a remarkable disinterest in extending the courtesy of listening. I saw that particularly in the event titled, “Protecting Femininity and Human Dignity in Women’s Empowerment.” The panelists seemed to portray those who disagreed with their views on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) as evil. By essentially demonizing the opposing voice, they closed down the conversation. This was in stark contrast to the other events I had attended over the course of in the two weeks. At other events, we talked about “unity in diversity,” openness, willingness to hear the narratives of different voices, collaboration, and negotiation. There is no negotiation without listening; there is only dissent.
I believe the apostle Paul was referring to the arguing of people who fail to listen to one another when he wrote, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening” in 2 Timothy 2:14. Arguing without listening is only trying to voice your beliefs louder than any opposing view. It is not a position of negotiation, and it leads to stagnation and lack of forward movement. It ruins the hopes of those who pray desperately for a world where their voices are heard, and their needs are known.
Unfortunately, the hosts of the particular event resembled in their actions that they have a stated desire to stop forward progress in gender equality, so one may be led to believe that their refusal to listen is a tactic to stop negotiations, an effective weapon to protect their isolated and limited view of God’s creation.
But what happens when we limit the expansiveness of God? What happens when we try to box God’s grace in so that it is only for those who are like us and for those who agree with us? When we limit God, we create an idol: a false image of God we make of our own desires to control others. It is important, as we move forward and continue to work toward gender equality, we remember the expansive grace that God demonstrates to us. It is only through God’s grace that we effect positive change; God’s grace is the source of the strength and the power of faith-based organizations. Only by listening to conflicting narratives do we find the path forward. Through the grace of God, we are able to hear opposing views and find the image of God in all of God’s creation.
Jennifer Allen (Diocese of Kansas) is a postulant for Holy Orders and a second-year seminarian at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. She is currently working on a project to identify ways to connect spiritually with those who have left the church; a project which is funded by the Seminary Consultation on Ministry. As part of that project, she will be spending several weeks at a domestic violence shelter in Kenya this summer. This will be her sixth visit to Kenya to work with women’s empowerment. She attended UNCSW in 2016 and 2017, representing the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Before entering seminary, she worked as a nurse in medication adherence and women’s and children’s healthcare. She looks forward to being the Episcopal provincial representative for the Anglican Communion’s delegation to UNCSW 63.