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Sharing Our Stories

Lindsay Armstrong, Elizabeth Johnson, and Katie Cannon offer powerful and revealing stories about their own experiences in response to my essay. Consistent themes that emerge in all four of our essays include gaining consciousness, remembering the past and people working together collaboratively, intentionally, and consistently to create the space for authentic communities of shared partnership to emerge.

Lindsay Armstrong calls churches to move beyond tokenism by including just one woman’s voice on decision-making bodies made up primarily of men. She articulates well the importance of home-work balance that is so critical for the whole family system and gives good counsel about cultivating supportive relationships where both partners should feel like they are taking on at least 60% of household duties. Most important, she encourages women to stay “in white hot relationship with the God” and to have confidence “that we are called and equipped, we just do it.”

Elizabeth Johnson reflects on the tremendous importance for women in ministry to have good mentors and models for our work. There were only two women on the faculty of her seminary in the 1970s and she remembers the way “we clung to them for dear life.” Many men—Dean Thompson, Doug Oldenburg, and J. Randolph Taylor, among them—also helped to create the space for her to emerge as a leader. Her comments concerning the “historical amnesia” regarding the treatment of women and assumptions among many younger women that all the old battles are in the past should not be overlooked. We will not be able to find our way forward without a memory of past injustices and the contributions women have made to Christian community from the very beginning of the church.

Katie Cannon’s image of Sankofa from Ghana, the bird looking backward with the egg of the future in her beak while moving forward, will remain with me. She writes about Sankofa as an image of empowerment for women of color to speak prophetically, work synergistically, effect change for those pushed to the margins of society, and inspire women to develop new visions for what God’s is saying to us today. Her prophetic writing reminds us to consider how we use what power we have in our own contexts to create shared partnership. I am still pondering what image from my own cultural context might offer a similar form of empowerment for women and men.

There is just one final issue that I would like to address. I fear that some readers may be tempted to dismiss the importance of the collective witness lifted up in all four of these articles as merely anecdotal. However, let me look backward to a key text for Reformed theological tradition to ground our collective witness in a much longer narrative and to enable us to move forward with the wisdom that can be gleaned from all these stories. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion begins with a statement on the nature of the connection between knowledge of God and knowledge of self: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of God are “mutually bound together.”1 The stories of many, many women told here reveal injustices women continue to face and at the same time inspire our imagination for God’s hopes and dreams for the new.

  1. John Calvin,Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). Accessed online: http://www.reformed.org/books/institutes/books/book1/bk1ch01.html