¡Hola! I have been invited to join the Global Anabaptism column. It is a privilege to write about the things I observe as a young woman in Nicaragua.
The first thing I would like to share is the religious violence women face in the conservative Anabaptist contexts of Latin America. The wounds of violence affect our relationship with God. It was not until my young adulthood that I was truly reconciled to Jesus. Let me tell you a little bit of my story.
At age 17, I entered the theological institute of my church (an evangelical Mennonite church in Nicaragua) because I was having a crisis of faith. I was a freshman in a university, and my professors’ sarcastic comments had already made a dent in me.
Did Jesus really exist? Could he have been resurrected? Or was it just a series of myths?
Knowing I was a Christian, the professors tried to correct my “mistakes.” I had gotten involved in the university’s biblical circles and desperately wanted to find answers and get away from my “bad thoughts.” I enrolled in the theological institute because I thought that there I could ask the questions I was afraid to ask my pastor or my peers.
The Bible institute was a school for young people who wanted to become pastors and for pastors studying theology for the first time. In the first class I was one of three women among about 15 men. All the teachers were men. That seemed normal to me.
The day came when a teacher asked us to share any doubts. I thought God had heard my prayers! Trembling, I raised my hand and asked one of the questions that overwhelmed me in those days, because I was studying Greek philosophy: “Is the Trinity real, or just an idea we plagiarized from the Greeks?”
Angrily, the teacher replied that I should go study the Christian creed and be baptized again. The male students laughed, validating the teacher’s rebuke.
I could tell that the Bible institute was not the best place to clarify my doubts. It was acceptable for men to have debates about faith, but when a young woman dared to ask a hard question, it was offensive and defiant.
In my church, like many others in Latin America, women are intercessors, “wives of shepherds” or prophet-esses. Never disciples, evangelists, pastors. Our opinions will never have the same value as a man’s. Why? Because Eve failed, and by her we are cast out of paradise. That was the sermon I heard growing up. I wonder if this theology came from churches in the north.
Many of the Latin American Anabaptist conferences were founded by missionaries from the north. But we cannot blame just the missionaries for disrespecting women. The macho culture here in Central America did not help.
A year ago, several colleagues and I talked about the violence women in Central America suffer. The facilitator, Silvia Regina, a Brazilian theologian based in Costa Rica, told us the violence women experience comes from the words we hear in evangelical faith communities. We hear sermons that begin with misogynistic readings where women are to blame for the misfortunes of Adam’s descendants and that end with “Paul says so.”
In Latin America, women every day are abused by their partners, husbands, friends, pastors and strangers. Men feel entitled to have an opinion about your body and, in the worst cases, kill women. Femicide — killing a woman because of her gender — is a common word in Latin America. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, at least 4,091 women were victims of femicide in 26 Latin American countries in 2021 alone.
Sexist religious violence — from which the Anabaptist churches in Latin America are not exempt — means our role is to pray or take care of the children but not make theological reflections or (worse!) question the theology that is taught.
There are moments in women’s lives when we realize we will never be the leader, only the servant. Our only role is behind the scenes, and people expect us to be happy about this.
We need to shine a light on the darkness that hangs over women and girls who have been spiritually abused, and sometimes physically and sexually violated, in faith communities — a sin that is covered up.
At age 18, I decided to leave the theological institute. I had entered because I wanted to turn off my doubts. Today, at 36 years old, I realize the doubts will always be there. Not every question will have an answer. I also realized that, although men thought I had nothing to say, God is listening to me. God has something to tell us from the mouths of women. Are we listening?
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