Rise to the Challenge of Justice: Celebrating The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Peters

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca “Toddie” Peters will be receiving Auburn’s 2018 Walter Wink Scholar Activist Award
at the American Academy of Religion on Monday, November 19th in Denver, CO.
RSVP to join us.

When a flyer promised ‘the eradication of sexism from every level of the church’ Dr. Peters was ready to sign up. Her first position out of college, advertised on that flyer, was an internship at the Presbyterian Church headquarters. In an interview with Auburn Voices, Dr. Peters points to what, for many, feels like an unlikely source for her life as a feminist, ethicist and activist – the church. Peters is a preacher’s kid (a “PK”). Her father’s social justice work was the lens through which she learned the language of faith.

It was so amazing to think I could go do this work in the church. I went to Louisville and started in what was then called the Justice for Women office. That was really where I began to learn, in much deeper and broader ways, about feminism, feminist theology, feminist theory and the plight of women around the world”

That position led to ecumenical work with the World Council of Churches that put Peters in contact with women around the world who, at a conference in Jamaica, opened her eyes to the global structural challenges to economic justice.

The event was really a metanoia (transformative) experience. There were probably 25 or 30 of us young women all in our 20s from all across the world and there were very strong critiques about structural adjustment policies, the debt crisis and the IMF and the World Bank. I remember going into that meeting having no understanding of international global political economy and being simply overwhelmed by my peer group who knew so much more about the problems of the world that, in my privileged position in the U.S. as a white middle-class college educated woman, I simply didn’t have to know about because they weren’t pressing in my life the way that they were in the lives of these women.”

After spending the next years working within the Presbyterian denomination on issues of women and global inequality, Dr. Peters attended Union Theological Seminary where she immersed herself in liberation theology and the social gospel while continuing her examination of globalization and how globalized economies might build structures that are oriented towards justice. Peters received her Ph.D. under the guidance of the legendary feminist theologian Dr. Beverly Harrison. Her work at Union, which resulted in the book “In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization,” was the beginning of her life as a scholar-activist. As Peters explains, “I came to the academy as an activist, because working in the trenches I didn’t have time to do the intellectual work I needed to do.”

Dr. Peter’s is currently a Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University where she continues to embody the Scholar-Activist ethos. Her latest step in the process that started with her first internship just out of college is a book titled: TRUST WOMEN: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice.

In the book, Peters insists we must reframe the abortion debate.

We’ve misidentified the problem. We have a cultural narrative that abortion is the problem. Well abortion is the solution that women bring to a prior problem. If you start with abortion is the problem you are far too late.

I am totally with the pro-life people when they say we don’t want women to have abortions who don’t want to have an abortion. If there are women who are having abortions because they feel pressured to have abortions or they don’t have the financial resources, or if there are problems that can be solved that would help women who want to continue their pregnancies then we should be passing public policies and reshaping our communities and our resources to support women to make the decisions that they want to make.

That’s the whole point of reproductive justice is that women should be able to not have the children that they don’t want to have, to have the children that they want to have, and raise the children that they do have in a healthy and safe environment. So what we’re talking about is pregnancy and childbearing and parenting. And those are the moral issues that we need to be talking about.”

It is a particularly difficult time for reproductive justice in America and around the world, but Dr. Peter’s cannot despair—because her faith doesn’t let her.

“I feel we have to dig into the Gospel, dig into the prophetic witness of the Hebrew Bible and understand that we are called–each of us, every day to rise to the challenge of justice. Some days, some years we make more progress than others, but we’re never off the hook because that’s what it means to be a Christian.”


Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is Senior Vice President at Auburn Seminary and Editor of Voices 

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