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Presbyterian Women grows its Justice & Peace Book Discussion Group

PW is looking for even more people to join the productive online discussions

by Kathleen Keefer | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Among the titles members of Presbyterian Women are discussing as part of the 2023 Justice & Peace Book Discussion Group being held online.

The Synod of Lakes and Prairies has had a Native American Book Discussion Group for several years.  It has been very successful under the leadership of Marilyn Stone, from Milwaukee Presbytery.  Presbyterian Women in this synod has developed a strong relationship with the Presbyterian Women in the Dakota Presbytery — the non-geographic Native American presbytery.  Through this group, women strive to understand how to best walk alongside our Native siblings.

After the murder of George Floyd, Marilyn and I discussed the possibility of having a discussion around the issues of race and white supremacy.  We chose to use “Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Committee Antiracism Study Guide,” the churchwide antiracism policy approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to lead discussion. We team taught from this guide over several months and it was very successful, both in the numbers of people who attended and in the depth of conversations.  The participants talked about how valuable this experience was for them as Christian women and they expressed the desire to learn more.

While serving as the synod representative on the Board of Directors for Presbyterian Women, I suggested that the synod begin a Justice & Peace Book Discussion Group that would not interfere with the Native American Book Discussion Group already in process.  Thus, the first year of the Justice & Peace National Book Discussion Group was born.

The books chosen for this first year, 2020-2021, were those found on the Presbyterian Women Justice & Peace Resource Guide and included: “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving, “A Good Provider Is the One Who Leaves” by Jason DeParle, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson; “Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future” by Mary Robinson, “The White Devil’s Daughters: The Fight Against Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown” by Julia Flynn Siler and “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein.

There were many comments during the discussions for each book, including “Wow, I never knew that!” and “That is just horrible” and the most important comment, “How can we do better?”

Kathleen Keefer

After I was installed as the vice moderator of Presbyterian Women for the 2021-2024 triennium, I wanted to continue the study but on the national level.  The Justice & Peace committee of Presbyterian Women’s Board of Directors agreed to continue the National Book Discussion Group and the next iteration of the group was born. Presbyterian Women are always eager to learn, listen to others and be a part of an open dialogue focused on issues facing our country and the world.  The Justice & Peace Committee chooses the books we read each year and a majority are found in the Resource Guide.

I and Kathy Reeves, moderator for Presbyterian Women, with input from the Board of Directors  chose “Living in a World Free of Violence Against Women and Children” as a focus for this triennium.  Three of the six books chosen for 2023 are focused on violence against women, the effects and what is needed to end it.

Some books are difficult to read and sometimes painful, emotionally and spiritually! Online discussions are challenging and passionate, but we have learned to listen to each other and respect each other’s differing points of view.   We always come away with a desire to do more, to be better humans and to love each other just as we are and how God shows love for us. We learn to become advocates for causes we didn’t know enough about and supporters of people we don’t know!

Study Guides were provided for the 2021-2022 year. They were helpful as they guided the readers to focus on the important issues found in the book. The study guide questions were then used to guide our discussion as we broke into small groups for more in depth discussions.

This current year, study guides were not available for the most part, so questions were developed prior to the online discussion and sent to those who registered for the group. Again, these questions were used to focus the discussion. However, participants are always encouraged to bring up other issues from the reading and share these with others.

We invite everyone to participate in our discussion groups, not just women but men also. The more we learn about the issues we face every day, the better able we will be to change.  It is important that we do this in community as we support each other through the learning process.

We can do better!  We must do better!

For more information on how to join the Justice and Peace Book Discussion Group of Presbyterian Women, go here.

Kathleen Keefer is vice-moderator of Presbyterian Women.

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