Women’s History 2018

By The Reverend Dr. Katharine R. Henderson

This particular celebration of Women’s History Month 2018 feels more consequential and portentous than ever before. We have come to a tipping point where the world is focused on the possibility and potential of women’s leadership both in the form of actual women leaders and the inbreaking of the Divine feminine to challenge supremacist worldviews, structures, processes and understandings of power. I am sorry that my Mother, who was born in the year of women’s suffrage (limited though it was!) did not live to see this day.

This moment is different because there has been a concentrated dose of truth-telling, a saturation point where women from a cross sector of spaces – entertainment, business, religion, the arts, and education – have been emboldened to tell their stories. The ubiquity of gendered sexual violence, in graphic detail and various forms, has been shocking even to those of us who have experienced it first hand. Truth is a heavy burden to bear but secrets are a far greater price to pay.

There is a sense among women, and the men who wish to embody a new way of being, that together we can build a new future of human dignity for all people; for women and for others who are marginalized – some in multiple ways and because of identities of all kinds. For those who have eyes to see this new world emerging, there is much work to do around pay equity, presence, and the welcome of the gifts women bring whether in film, in the legislature or the pulpit. As Arundhati Roy would say, “A new world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

Over the last several weeks I have had the privilege of interviewing and moderating several discussions among women about this #MeToo/Times Up/Never Again moment. The first was with current and former Lives of Commitment honorees, including women from religious, corporate and non-profit spheres. The second was a conversation with Vivian Silver, a resonant voice in the leaderful movement, Women Wage Peace, advancing women who are working to achieve what male leaders have failed to accomplish: a lasting and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

We spoke about the world of human dignity that we dream of – or,as I might put it, a “Divine-ly ordered world of justice and peace.” We spoke about the differences women will make and the cost – change is still really hard. We spoke about the need for moral courage and how cultivating hope is a conscious spiritual discipline that we must engage in every day.

We agreed that part of our hope lies in young leaders, like Emma Gonzáles, who has emerged as a spokesperson around the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And we agreed that young people cannot do this alone but need the ballast and wisdom of those of us who have been seasoned by our lived experience and years of fighting for change.

As Auburn turns 200 this year, I take heart that we are learning about the women in Auburn’s history who became religious educators in the last century. Women, who pushed the boundaries of decorum and propriety in their day as fierce advocates for change; women who joined Harriet Tubman in the work of the Underground Railroad, for example. As I live into a new decade of life and season of leadership, I am experiencing a new fierceness awakening within me. Our time is now; we have been made “for such a time as this.”

The Rev. Dr. Katharine R. Henderson is President of Auburn Seminary.

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