ELCA young adults commit to working for gender justice

4/1/2014 10:55:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Passionate about social justice, especially the rights of women and gender equality in the world today, a group representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) attended the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women held in New York City. One critical understanding they came away with is that without social and economic change, gender inequality continues to grow.
            "Poverty and hunger continue to plague our world," said Christine Mangale, a member of the group who gave an "intervention" March 20 at the main United Nations deliberations. The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meets annually for two weeks in March to evaluate progress on gender equality.
            Although "the Millennium Development Goals have made progress in lessening the number of persons who live in extreme poverty or hunger, more work remains," Mangale said.
            ‚Äč"We recognize challenges in access to quality education, employment, health and decision-making. Women are denied equal opportunity with men to participate in decisions that affect their lives. We ask governments to remove barriers to women's educational success and promote equitable sharing of authority, including economic and political power, and remove legal and other obstacles, including discriminatory lending and land tenure," she said.
            Mangale is program coordinator of the Lutheran Office for World Community, an advocacy office in New York City that represents the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation. She delivered the intervention on behalf of Ecumenical Women, a coalition of Christian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The ELCA group participated in two days of pre-orientation activities with Ecumenical Women and the U.N. NGO Consultation.
            The ELCA group attended the commission with women from around the world as part of The Lutheran World Federation's 24-member delegation.
            "Part of the delegation was comprised of young adults, ELCA members under the age of 35. This cohort model was inspired by the example of The Lutheran World Federation, which sends youth delegates to a variety of high-level United Nations proceedings, such as on climate change," said Mikka McCracken, a program director in ELCA World Hunger and a member of The Lutheran World Federation council. "This is a cohort of younger adult professionals who are living out their call to be part of the church," she said.

            The Federation is a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
            The ELCA young adult cohort represented four ELCA ministries and networks: ELCA World Hunger, ELCA Young Adult Ministries, Justice for Women and the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission's alumni network.
            "These networks, like the ELCA World Hunger network, are committed to networking with the social justice leaders of today and tomorrow. It is important to strengthen the existing justice-focused networks of this church, while also walking alongside those who are simply waiting for an invitation to get involved," said McCracken.

'Too much and not enough'
            For Molly Kestner, spending five days at the commission weas both "too much and not enough." Presented with a vast range of topics about women and listening to speaker after speaker, Kestner found that beginning the day with worship and gathering with other members of the delegation every night to discuss was helpful.
            "We worked through a few of our senses -- seeing, hearing and feeling/thinking," she said. "I saw the United Nations. I heard a clear call from member nations and NGOs for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women's rights. I feel that as Lutherans, we can (offer) a place of faithful hope and healing for those experiencing oppression due to gender issues." Kestner is a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps serving as an assistant in the Justice for Women program at the ELCA churchwide organization.
A 'he' for 'she'
            The ELCA cohort also included men. Ulysses W. Burley III, an ELCA member and clinical research associate at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that among the commission's more than "5,000 feminists, womanists, mothers, daughters and sisters from all over the world gathered in solidarity to uplift critical issues regarding women and girls' rights, there was me -- a he for she."
            "Men not only have a role but we have a responsibility to defend the rights of women and girls if we consider ourselves partners with she in the pilgrimage of gender justice," said Burley.        "It's our mandate to recognize our male privilege and utilize it in the arenas that women are not present, to ensure they have a seat at the table. It's the only way to dismantle the pillars of gender injustice, inequality and inequality in board rooms, court rooms, operation rooms and church pulpits. No structure of marginalizing power has ever been overcome without active support from a dissenting member of that very same power struggle," he said.
            Having men participate in the cohort was a core commitment, said Rozella White, program director for ELCA Young Adult Ministry. "Men will be instrumental in helping to eradicate forms of violence against women and also help advocate and be active allies in this," she said.

Moving forward
            According to White, the long-range vision is "to build a method of mentoring and raise new leaders." The ELCA young adults who attended the commission "are tasked with identifying folks from their networks who could then participate in the next round. They will commit to a year of learning, sharing and spreading awareness about gender justice, which also speaks to the larger church about young adult engagement."
            "I am very proud that the ELCA has made the empowerment and equality of international women through education and training opportunities a priority through Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," said Tammy Jackson, program director for ELCA International Leadership Development who also attended the commission.
            Through the campaign, ELCA members will strive to equip more than 200 additional women leaders from Lutheran global companion churches through increased scholarships and educational opportunities, and they will support a comprehensive approach in nearly 60 countries and expand support to communities in at least 10 countries, including the United States, to solve challenges that perpetuate hunger and poverty.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4  million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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