Addressing the subject of “just community”, presenters spoke of the learning from past initiatives and the current challenges facing gender justice.
A summary of “pilgrim team visits” to various countries in conflict suggested that systematic exclusion of women from positions of leadership is widespread, often in churches as well as secular structures. Men at war employ sexual violence as a weapon. Discrimination is everywhere. Nevertheless, encounters with groups appealing for collaboration across traditional boundaries found that these efforts frequently are led by Christian women.
Representative Orthodox women theologians met in Albania in October 2019 to reflect on their particular gifts in the spirit and practice of unity. A collection of their articles is included in the WCC publication Orthodox Reflections on the Way to Karlsruhe.
Race as well as gender is widely viewed through a religious lens so that women, children, the Indigenous, immigrants, refugees and other minorities come to be opposed according to cultural standards too often endorsed by churches. Media of every type tend to reinforce stereotypes regarding women and minority populations. Men dominate news operations around the world. Online “trolling” takes aim at women who step out of subordinate roles. Major ecumenical organizations, including the WCC, have called for more active engagement with the media to challenge gender perceptions.
And while global planning was able to be “conducted over Zoom technology in a time and space of COVID-19,” it was recognized that the necessary public health response to the pandemic often intensified issues of domestic violence, poverty and adequate care for families.
Lively and passionate debate in small groups and in plenary validated all the challenges to a just and inclusive community. Many speakers added that to speak of “just community” must recognize gender minorities. One speaker remarked, “It is not just a matter of women and men anymore.”
Rapporteurs listening to the sharing will be preparing a report to reflect the concerns expressed; the biblical precedent for endorsing the rights and responsibilities of women and minorities; the state of violence and resistance; and an affirmation of mutual respect among all people. Participants hope to make concrete recommendations to help churches feel the pain of sexism and racism, and inspire them to act against them.