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Presbyterian pastor advances the cause of reproductive justice

The Rev. Angela Tyler-Williams preaches during Wednesday’s Chapel service

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Angela Tyler-Williams

LOUISVILLE — At SACReD, the Spiritual Alliance of Communities for Reproductive Dignity, which the Rev. Angela Tyler-Williams serves as co-director for movement building, religious leaders, organizers, academics and congregations work together to advance the cause of reproductive justice.

Using selected verses in Hebrews 11 and 12, Tyler-Williams sought to do just that Wednesday during Chapel worship service for the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard and Samantha Davis organized the service.

At SACReD, “we talk about weaving together your faith story and your reproductive story,” Tyler-Williams said. Everybody has both, she noted, although for some it might not be readily apparent. One person’s faith story might be “rebelling against Christian hegemony.” Some people’s reproductive story might be that despite never giving birth, “you came from somewhere, and you’re making reproductive decisions throughout your lifetime.”

Tyler-Williams invited the 55 or so people in attendance online to think about their own cloud of witnesses so they might set aside “every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” She recalled serving about 10 years ago as a Young Adult Volunteer in the Philippines and living with a host family that had survived Typhoon Yolanda. “I learned what it is to be in a frontline community. It was an opportunity for me to deconstruct everything I know.” This was the time Tyler-Williams came out to herself as bisexual, in the years before attending Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “I did not fear God; God was with me in the silence,” she said. “My big question was the church. Was there going to be a place for me in the denomination?”

She worked a second YAV year on homelessness, affordable housing and education at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. People on the streets — Tyler-Williams mentioned “Kelly” specifically — told her how they protected their bodies from violence and assault, “something those of us in houses don’t need to think about very much. I now carry Kelly in my cloud of witnesses.”

At Austin Seminary, she learned from the Rev. Dr. Gregory Cuéllar “to follow places God was already on the move with migrants and immigrants” and heard about reproductive justice as framed by the 12 Black women who wrote about the idea in 1994. Those women joined Tyler-Williams’ cloud of witnesses.

“This framework of reproductive justice comes through a Black feminist theory lens,” she said. “We have to look to those on the margins first,” the way Matthew 25 does. “We have to center Black women, fems, trans and non-binary folks and disabled folks. When we do, that’s when we make the world better for all of us.”

Then Tyler-Williams asked, “Are you seeing connections to your own story? To the work of the denomination? In the ways we are fighting for safe and sustainable communities to raise our children?” She named ministry areas where that work has been centered, including the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, General Assembly efforts to end cash bail and the Office of Public Witness.

“We are in a challenging time in this country,” Tyler-Williams said, “but faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.”

“We have to imagine bigger and co-create with God the gospel vision for here and for now,” she said, working to dismantle what’s evil and build up and help create “a world of life and flourishing and wholeness and liberation.”

“We can learn by looking back at this cloud of witnesses,” she said. “We can lay aside every weight so we can run with perseverance the race that’s before us.”

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