Leading nun says nonviolence must be restored to the core of faith

By staff writers
July 14, 2008

Women of faith have a special calling to restore religion’s principles of nonviolence in a conflicted world, Sister Joan Chittister has told more than 2,000 women at a gathering in the USA.

The remarks came in a keynote address to the seventh triennial Gathering of Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Sister Joan's address on women, religion and war challenged the audience to reclaim religion from those who would misuse it “to justify a world at war.”

Chittister co-chairs the Global Peace Initiative of Women, New York. She has written 35 books with such topics as peace, justice, human rights, women, contemporary religious life and spirituality. She holds a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.

The gathering theme, “Come to the Waters,” focused on the celebration of Baptism through Bible study, speakers, workshops, community service and worship. The event took place last week at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

“This presentation is designed to pursue the relationship between women and war and to ask what role, if any, women have to play in peacemaking in a world that calls itself religious but functions as if it were not,” Chittister said.

United Nations research shows the percentage of civilians killed during war has increased to the point where more than 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq have been civilians, she added. “Most of those civilians on whom war falls most mercilessly, most defenselessly, are women and children.”

“Women have a place to fill and a stake to claim and a role to play in the world’s pursuit of peace,” Sr Joan commented. “It is women who have borne the sons their fathers sent to war. It is women who have buried the men on whom their lives depended. It is women who have been left alone, babies in their arms, babies in their bellies to deal with the madness that comes from the madness of war.”

She continued: “It is women who are forced into sexual slavery and exploitation for the sake of the warriors,” Chittister said. The International Organization for Migration estimates more than 2 million women are “trapped in war zones and sold across borders annually.”

While war has a different and disproportionate effect on women than on men, women are not involved in decision processes leading to war or peace negotiations following war, Chittister said.

“The issues of women and the children they’re left to support in the midst of war, as a result of war, are never redressed by peace treaties, never considered by male mediators, never factored into the costs of war, never considered in the determination to go to war.”

Religion is often considered a factor in going to war. “Religion itself is meant to be only a means to sanctity not an end in itself,” the nun declared. When religion is viewed only as a human institution of rituals and denominations, it is easily manipulated to serve the purposes of dictators.

“Clearly it is time for women—the other half of the human race, the other face of God—to save both their religions and their nations. Women, the life-bearers, must now give to the world the spiritual life the world lacks,” Chittister said.

“It is time for women to take responsibility for making real the religions they believe in. It is time for women to be an organized, international voice for peace, a religious critic of national policies that threaten the life of the world.”

“It is time for women to reach across the borders that men will not breach to take the hands of the other—not to bind them but to bond them. It is time for women’s analyses of world situations and women’s solutions to conflict to be heard.”

“It is time for religious women to refuse to be either victims or executioners not only to make safe the world but to make real the religions we revere so that life before death can come, as God wants, for us all,” she said.

“What does that have to do with you and me and the challenge of the baptized to follow the nonviolent Jesus?” Chittister asked. “The answer is crucial now when we need to develop the kind of religion that makes us love one another; when we need to foil the dictators who use religion as a prop to keep themselves in power; when we clearly need to release women—the boldest and most unmanageable of revolutionaries.”

Audio from Sister Joan Chittister's address to the Women of
the ELCA gathering is avialable on the web at:

With grateful acknowledgments to the ECLA News Service.

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