“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV)
The Bible in the Public Square has helped me find my voice as a public theologian and emboldened me to lift my voice in public dialogue. Recently, I joined a LinkedIn network of Women Clergy and Leaders who engage in on-line discussion about topics raised by group members. The growing group is currently comprised of 865 members. Most members are White American women from major U.S. metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis- St. Paul to name a few). There is also a smattering of international women and women of color from as far away as Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, India and Australia. The core group of women is senior pastors and other clergy from Mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ). There are also women from other vocations (educators, counselors, entrepreneurs) and denominations (Roman Catholic, AME, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical). Any group member can begin a discussion to which other group members are free to respond to respectfully. After observing a few of the on-line discussions, I took the plunge to contribute to one that I found particularly provocative.
One of our group members, Connie Giordano, posted the following quote from a podcast she has started for the internet radio program of her organization, Walking in Truth Ministry:
“You are in a battle. The Anointed of War has a word for you today. That word is – ‘Do not fear.’ The Lord your God is with you.”
An exchange ensued between Connie and two group members responding to her post. The first respondent, Lorie Adoff, wrote:
“Please do not include me in your ‘war.’ We need peace, not war.”
To which Connie responded:
“You cannot have peace unless you have Jesus! As long as you are in this world, you will be in a war. Only in Jesus is there peace.”
A second respondent, Patricia Ludwig, wrote:
“I agree with Lorie—I would prefer the word challenge…the word WAR and BATTLE are words that remind me of anger and hostility and rage…why can we not, as women, use words that move us toward peace and reconciliation and actions that bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, to quote a man of peace?”
Though unstated, each group member’s remarks reflect her Christian context. Connie is a white American minister ordained by the Fellowship of Ministers and Churches of Christ For The Nations Institute, an interdenominational three-year Bible Institute based in Dallas, TX and affiliated with Oral Roberts University a charismatic Christian organization founded by evangelist and faith-healer Oral Roberts. In her public profile, Connie identifies herself as “Full-time Bible Teacher and Evangelist – called by God to teach His Word to His people over the Internet and around the world. My GREATEST PASSION is to see a BIBLE REVIVAL hit this world.”
Lorie, the first respondent, serves as Spiritual Director of Hospice Care for a men’s prison “train[ing], and support[ing] inmate volunteers who companion dying inmates. I also support & counsel inmates in the hospital with life limiting illness.” She studied at University of Detroit Mercy, Michigan’s largest Catholic University.
Patricia, the second respondent is a retired clergy member from the Buffalo New York area who served UCC and Baptist congregations. She received her M.Div. from Bethany Theological Seminary, a Church of the Brethren institution located in Richmond, IN.
Joining the discussion, I contributed the following post:
As an African American womanist theologian, I believe the scriptures and life experience give us a rich, complex and nuanced understanding of war and peace, battle and victory. We do need peace. But the reality of life in the world today is that we are in a battle, a struggle, a conflict. I’m thinking of women in my urban congregation who are struggling to maintain sanity, find or keep employment and cover living expenses on less than a living wage, struggling with sub-standard housing, negligent landlords, decaying and violent neighborhoods, mass incarceration of black men that has decimated marriages, families and communities, struggling with abusive relationships and overcoming the psychic trauma of being violated by a father, uncle or other “trusted” family member as a child, struggling to raise their own children and find meaning and purpose in their lives, struggling to overcome in a culture that tells them they’re ugly, lazy, promiscuous, worthless.
And these experiences of African American women in the urban “struggle class” don’t even scratch the surface of the global struggles of women confronted with culturally-mandated genital mutilation, patriarchal systems that do not acknowledge their personhood apart from their relationship to a man, those manipulated into the violence and degradation of the sex industry with promises of education and a better future- those infected with AIDS by husbands toiling far away in diamond and coal mines, cocoa and oil fields, sleeping with other partners and bringing the disease home, those struggling with hunger, displacement by war (and its ritual rape), walking miles every day to find clean water.
Just saying “we need peace” does not adequately acknowledge the pain, suffering and trauma of women at home and around the world who are daily living the reality of war.
War? Battle? Anger? Hostility? Rage? YES!!! — This is what these women (and men and children) who are struggling through these tortured realities are experiencing. These traumas and responses have to be ACKNOWLEDGED in order for the Gospel message of Christ to have any relevance or credibility.
I believe that God in Christ did acknowledge and participate in the struggle of life through the incarnation. Rather than insulating Himself from the ragged realities of the battle of life through class, economic or racial advantage, God came to us in Christ as a helpless child born into a poor family from a subjugated, despised people living under a harsh military regime that – through Herod – imposed a massive act of genocide (WAR) against children to kill Jesus before he was two years old — driving his family from their homeland as refugees in Egypt.
I believe Jesus acknowledged the realities of war and struggle in life, AND the power He provides to overcome and find peace through Him. In His aggressive actions in the Temple, driving out the money changers with whips, He showed His anger, hostility and rage against the greed and injustice that barred people from God’s house- a house of prayer for ALL people. (Mt 21:12-13)
The actions that “move us toward peace and reconciliation… [to] bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven”, do not glide across frictionless conflict-free tracks. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,and the violent take it by force.” (Mt 11:12) — acknowledging that, like John, our witness of Christ and our stand for justice and mercy will often be met with resistance, even violent resistance — such as that now experienced by persecuted believers in places like Sudan, China, N Korea, N Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran.
In some of His final words before meeting His violent, unjust death Jesus presented a portrait of peace that penetrates conflict: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33) 
Though there was no response to my post from Connie, Lorie or Patricia, two more group members subsequently joined the discussion. Modise J. Tebogo, a Minister of Religion at Church of the Nazarene in South Africa “liked” my comment. She received her training at Nazarene Theological College in South Africa, “a tertiary level institution of higher education of the Church of the Nazarene… [whose mission] is to prepare men and women, laity and clergy, in the African context for ministry and leadership in the local, district, and global church. NTC promotes a Christian lifestyle and is distinctively Wesleyan-holiness in orientation.”
Karen Wellman, Assistant Curate at Church of England in Reading, England, posted the following comment:
Context is all. In a week when a homemade bomb in Boston killed three and wounded so many more I was forcefully reminded of the troubles which I lived through in the 70s and 80s. The bombs and shootings killed men, women and children in the name of religion.
Men and women of courage brokered a peace treaty that has held and peace and reconcilliation are now at the fore in Northern Ireland.
That war had its origins in the 17th century and my church has scars from that war as well (holes in the walls from musket fire) and only today I was at a ministers meeting where a protestant minister boasted about seeing off the old guard – good faithful Christians from a more catholic heritage. Whilst I absolutely respect my fellow Christians use of battle imagery, it is not helpful to all of us.
I was encouraged to see that my comment broadened the discussion internationally and racially to include a woman of color from South Africa and an Anglican from Northern Ireland, putting context on the table as a factor to be consciously considered and brought into public dialogue. I’m learning from this public forum experience that remarkable diversity exists even in a group as specific as Women Clergy and Leaders. I believe our perspectives contribute to a richer, fuller understanding of how Christ is at work in the world today.
 Connie Giordiano. “No Reason to Fear.” http://www.spreaker.com/user/5652386/no_reason_to_fear Accessed 04/17/2013
 Connie Giordiano. Ibid.
 Patricia Ludwig. Ibid.
 za.linkedin.com/pub/tebogo-j-modise/47/102/894/ Accessed 04/29/2013
 uk.linkedin.com/pub/karen-wellman/50/aa3/464/ Accessed 04/29/2013