Women leaders of faith, committed to social justice and transformation are increasingly the prophetic voices whose work and witness are changing the face of religious leadership today. Women leaders, like Sister Simone Campbell, for example, are challenging our economic and health policies, calling for an approach that protects the vulnerable and recognizes the inherent value of every human being. They're leading nonprofits, serving congregations and lobbying policymakers. They're making a more profound impact on society than ever before.
Women's leadership is making inroads and having an impact, not just because they stand with and for the most vulnerable in our society -- women faith leaders have always been at the forefront of that kind of activism. What distinguishes today's 21st century women-led multi-faith movement for justice is the deliberate attention being paid to creating a new leadership model that is more culturally diverse and inclusive, and inspired by an ethic of care of self, community and the earth.
I first got wind of this new leadership model in 2010 when I attended a gathering of some of the top women faith leaders from across the country in Abiquiú, New Mexico. Our goal was to discern the core values women share across the lines of racial, religious, class and other differences that have too long divided us and from there begin to strategize about how our mutual points of connection might galvanize us to take collective action for love and justice in the world.
Four days of storytelling and sharing yielded the following nine values for our faith-based social change work:
1. HUMAN DIGNITY: Human beings in all their diversity and multiplicity are naturally valuable and deserve, by mere virtue of the fact that they live and breathe, to be treated with honor and respect and to receive equal protection and treatment within the public and private sphere.
2. VULNERABILITY: The capacity to engage openly with one another as imperfect, sometimes broken, but always beloved beings is a resource in social justice-based action and transformation. Our fragility and the capacity to be vulnerable binds human beings to one another and expands our ability to understand ourselves as interconnected and interdependent.
3. RIGHT RELATIONSHIP: We are our sister's/ brother's keeper, and together we are all caretakers for creation. Being in right relation with all life requires recognizing a covenantal obligation between individuals and the collective to create opportunities and systems that ensure the possibility for the full flourishing of all.
4. SACRED SAFETY: Everyone deserves to be at home in their bodies and free from violence, degradation and humiliation within their families, institutions and in the wider world. Both the actual attainment of this state and the struggle to achieve it are hallowed and holy activities.
5. COMPASSION: Human beings are meant to have an open and broken heart for each other and for all life. This means the suffering of individuals, communities and indeed for the entire planet is not something we can turn our backs on. Rather we are obliged to move toward those who suffer and generate through our movement toward one another ways to alleviate that suffering.
6. PLURALISM: Our being is defined by difference even as we share a common need for love, justice, companionship and peace. We must go beyond tolerance -- bare acceptance of one another -- and embrace pluralism as an expansive and inclusive orientation that ignites our capacity to create systems and structures grounded in multiple expressions of human being in the world.
7. HOSPITALITY: Human beings are meant to share the bounty of the earth with each other and to create a sense of home and place for all. When we extend ourselves in hospitality toward one another, we begin to embody a spirit of expansive generosity toward all life and strive to create systems and structures that support that spirit.
8. EMBODIMENT: Our bodies are sacred spaces that contain the stories of all that is simultaneously beautiful and tragic within the human condition, and those stories are critical resources and reservoirs of knowledge for activism. When we value ourselves and others as embodied beings, we actively create opportunities for individuals and communities to tell the stories of love and justice, of courage and struggle, of pain and possibility that define them.
9. WONDER, BEAUTY, JOY, CELEBRATION AND BLISS: Inherent creativity fuels the core of all being. That positively creative core is where our ability resides to sing, dance, play and dream the expansive dream of truly abundant and whole life.
Collectively we should support leaders working to cultivate, embody and impart these values; to learn from the successes and the struggles that so many of us share yet too often face alone. Women leaders of faith are leading this approach and providing all faith leaders a path forward to the future for all of us.