The PC(USA)’s Young Adult Advocacy Conference features a workshop on gender justice

The Rev. Denise Anderson, who leads Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, takes young adults through differing biblical viewpoints on what’s just among genders

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Denise Anderson, director of Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, was in high demand during the Young Adult Advocacy Conference. Here she leads a pairing workshop. (Photo by Nell Herring)

LOUISVILLE — In a workshop on advocating for gender justice offered during “Jesus & Justice,” last weekend’s Young Adult Advocacy Conference, the Rev. Denise Anderson turned to the biblical account to demonstrate how long and how difficult — even confusing — the struggle has been.

“We have some things to wrestle with here,” said Anderson, director of Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016). She compared some of what biblical writers have had to say about women, including Gen. 1:27 versus Gen. 3:16 and Gal. 3:27-28 as against 1 Timothy 2:12-14.

“Why does one thing sound good and the other doesn’t?” Anderson asked young adults gathered for her workshop held Saturday at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. “I think we need a broader ethic around gender justice than just cherry-picking scriptures we like.”

Our “prime directive” is to love God and love our neighbor, Anderson pointed out. “If we take Jesus’ message to its logical conclusion, it leads to a radical inclusivity that challenges power structures as they exist. The constructions we create help us determine who can be commodified and who can’t. When these texts came to us, women were considered property.”

Anderson pointed out examples of more-than-capable leadership among women in biblical times, including Deborah; Mary, the mother of Jesus and herself a prophetess; and leaders of the early church whom Paul singled out for personal greetings.

There are also biblical figures outside the gender binary, most notably the Ethiopian eunuch, who is heard by Philip here and then baptized here.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “holds itself accountable to its commitments to actively work against sexism and for gender justice” through the work of such groups as the Advocacy Committee for Women and Gender Justice, Anderson noted. That committee “serves as a prophetic gender justice advocacy and monitoring body to and for the PC(USA),” Anderson said, and has, like mid councils and other organizations, the authority to develop overtures for consideration by the General Assembly.

Then Anderson briefly took the young adults in attendance through a framework designed to help groups organize for change.

Organizing for change includes these steps:

  • Gathering around interests. This involves creating relationships, identifying common self-interests, and conducting power analyses, she said, including answering the question, “who has the power and who needs it?”
  • Identifying potential wins. “Be clear about the space in which you want to effect change,” such as on campus, in the community or the state, Anderson said. Then “identify who and what you can influence and start with small wins to build capacity.”
  • PUSH, both in terms of continued advocacy and the acronym “Pray Until Something Happens.” It’s also important for groups to monitor and provide accountability and to train successors, she said.

Anderson pointed out that on Maundy Thursday, Jesus adds to the prime directive,  commanding that his disciples “love each other as I have loved you.” Advocates also can’t neglect their obligation to pray without ceasing, she said.

“Those of us who care about justice, sometimes we forget to pray. Pray!” Anderson urged. “We might not be right about some things.”

“It’s not lost on me,” she said, “that the disciples prayed for boldness.”

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