HARRISBURG, Pa. — Anabaptist women discussed the dynamics of gender and theological identities in a variety of workshops at the Mennonite World Conference assembly.
Marlene Epp said the Anabaptist peace position sometimes leaves women out altogether, in the workshop, “Global Mennonite Women Building Peace,” held July 24.
Historically, the peace position meant not bearing arms. But because women weren’t conscripted, the definition didn’t really extend to them, said Epp, a professor of history, peace and conflict studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont.
“So I think the peace position for Anabaptist Mennonites is an opportunity, but can also be a dilemma for women,” she said.
She invited three women from around the world to describe the peacemaking they do in their contexts.
Carol Penner, a theologian and pastor from Edmonton, Alta., said she learned in college peace meant not fighting in the army. But after college, she witnessed domestic violence. Family members and friends were sexually assaulted, sometimes by family members.
“This is real violence too,” she thought. “How come my professors were not talking about this violence?”
She started writing and speaking about, “What does it mean for women to be peacemakers in the face of this violence?”
“The church should be a place where women can say our prayers out loud, where we can go to be healed, where we can feel safe, this is what it means to be a peace church,” she said.
Edna Younas talked about trying to make peace in India, in a context of many languages and religions.
“Even in the church there are large differences, of course,” she said. “In spite of all the differences, we women have tried to live in peace with each other and maintain good relationships.”
She described an effort she made to make peace, in a village where she taught primary school. Villagers had a cultural custom to ask for money during a holiday she felt compromised her faith. She declined to give money to anyone, causing tension.
But when a young child in the community got sick she gave him money.
“The boy lived, and the villagers and I had a new peace,” she said.
Spaces for peacebuilding
Angelica Rincón described two hopeful stories of women making peace in her work with Justapaz in Bogota, Colombia.
She said the internal conflict in Colombia has victimized around 3.5 million women. One impoverished region, Choco, is home to a significant Mennonite Brethren population. MB women have come together to create spaces for victims.
“These spaces mean that men and women from the churches can participate and talk about the violence the conflict has generated,” she said.
In Bogota, Rincón said, an ecumenical group of women meet to advocate in their contexts. They are promoting a political pact for peace supported by human rights defenders, soldiers, ex-combatants, conflict victims, academics and also women of faith.
Sidonie Swana, from Congo, was denied a visa for the U.S. but Epp read a statement from her.
Swana described the causes and impact of psychological, emotional, domestic and other physical violence women experience in Congo.
Women began taking seminars and workshops by the Association of Mennonite Women Theologians in Congo, going into remote, sometimes dangerous areas to lead workshops on violence against women.
Addie Banks, pastor at King of Glory Tabernacle in the Bronx, described her decision to push for ordination after years of ministry in a workshop, “Radical Anabaptist Women,” on July 25.
She was inspired by a Mennonite Church USA Executive Board delegation to Congo in 2007. Though not ordained, she was introduced as a pastor.
They were excited to see a woman pastor. Mennonite women couldn’t be ordained in Congo. Everywhere she went people wanted her to preach.
“When I came home I was so deeply moved by that experience,” she said.
This was true especially because, at a commissioning before she left for the delegation, a friend told her the women in Congo would never be the same after they met her.
“There’s going to be something that’s going to happen by your going there that is going to make a significant change,” her friend said.
“I thought it was a bit much, to tell you the truth,” Banks said.
But when she returned, “I realized that thing she was talking about was the ordination of women.”
She was the first African-American woman ordained by Lancaster Conference in 2011.
Congo ordained its first women in 2012, one of whom was Swana, also scheduled but unable to speak at this workshop.
Attendees shared their own experiences with silencing and hope in the church. One, Nancy Myers, said she visited women ministers in Congo in 2013.
“I asked them each one what was their inspiration, where did their call come from,” she said.
One woman said: “When Addie Banks was here, I realized that if Addie Banks was ordained, I could be ordained too.”
Sandra Perez Cruz told the history of Radical Anabaptist Women, a group that encourages women to be ordained. Ruth Yoder Wenger, pastor of North Bronx Mennonite Church, read stories of first silencing, then hope, of Anabaptist women in the church. With each silencing story, a blanket was piled on Sylvia Shirk, pastor of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship. With each story of hope a blanket was removed.