When my issue of Christianity Today arrived in my mailbox last week, I was intrigued by the cover story, which highlights “50 Women to Watch.” The fifty Christian leaders selected are women whom CT’s editors believe are “most shaping the church and culture.”
Among the fifty women selected is my friend, World Relief colleague, and Welcoming the Stranger co-author Jenny Yang (née Hwang), who has also been an integral part of the G92 movement since its inception. Jenny is a tireless advocate: she spends much of her time in Washington, D.C., representing World Relief’s positions on immigration and refugee policy issues before Members of Congress and the Administration. Jenny is one of the most kind and personable people I know—I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t genuinely like her—but she’s also fearless, especially when advocating for the vulnerable. She once pulled President George W. Bush aside and talked to him for several minutes about bureaucratic challenges facing refugees fleeing persecution on account of their ethnicity and their Christian faith in Burma; the Secretary of State issued waivers resolving many of the problems shortly thereafter. Jenny’s recognition is well-deserved.
I also noted a number of other notable advocates for immigrants on CT’s list. Lynne Hybels has, perhaps better than anyone I know, committed to be a good steward of the influence God has given her. As the co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne’s name is well-known among American evangelicals, and people take note of what she says. Rather than merely talk about herself or her church, though, Lynne has intentionally dedicated herself to advocacy: to, “speak[ing] up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (or, at least, whose voices are not being heard), as we are commanded in Proverbs 31:8. Lynne has been a strong voice for immigration reform policies and, in particular, for immigrant victims of domestic violence; she interviewed Jenny and me on the topic at The Justice Conference a couple years ago (and she’ll be back for The Justice Conference 2013 in March, as well). Lynne has also been among the most prominent evangelical voices in boldly calling for a more nuanced, distinctly Christian view of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. She has also done much to draw attention to and raise resources for those suffering in the midst of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has claimed more lives than the Holocaust but which seldom makes our news reports in the West. Lynne was instrumental, mostly behind the scenes, in nudging Willow Creek to more carefully address the issue of immigration, which in turn has influenced many other evangelical churches to consider the issue.
Several other women I admire were also included on CT’s list. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, has been a strong spokesperson on behalf of the many immigrants within her denomination. Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College, has been a strong supporter of our G92 movement to engage Christian college students to respond to issues of immigration from a distinctly biblical perspective; she’s also a signatory to the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, as is popular evangelical author (and another “woman to watch”) Margaret Feinberg.
Of course, as I read through the list, I also began to think about who was missing. Patty Prasada-Rao, who is the board chair for the Christian Community Development Association, came to mind, as did Kit Danley, who began and has led Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona for more than three decades. Ruth Padilla-Deborst, who is the daughter of prominent Latin American evangelical theologian René Padilla, spoke at the Lausanne Movement’s 2010 Congress in Capetown and has become a leading theologian in her own right. Heather Larson, who leads Compassion and Justice Ministries at Willow Creek, and Laurie Beshore, who serves in a similar role at Mariners Church in Orange County, California and recently authored a compelling book called Love Without Walls, would also be strong candidates for the list.
A number of women helping the evangelical church to think through the relationship between faith and politics also came to mind. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and adjunct professor at Biola University, has worked with organizations such as World Vision and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to help develop and implement a distinctly evangelical theology for public policy advocacy and community organizing. Amy Black, who chairs the Department of Political Science at Wheaton College, has done much to challenge evangelicals to civility in our political engagement, reminding us that we must represent Christ in the political means we employ as well as in the policy ends that we pursue. Lisa Sharon Harper, who worked with InterVarsity and then led New York Faith & Justice before recently becoming the Director of Mobilization at Sojourners, has appeared frequently in the media, pushing Christians to recognize that loving our neighbor must go beyond individual relationships and address structural injustices. Lisa was also the keynote speaker at last week’s G92 event in Portland, Oregon.
Finally—though it may not have been particularly couth to include herself in the Christianity Today article that she authored herself—Sarah Pulliam Bailey is clearly a rising evangelical star in the field of journalism, having secured interviews with everyone from Barack Obama, Michele Bachmann, and Marco Rubio to Beth Moore, Rick Warren, James Dobson, and Tim Tebow. She has recently left Christianity Today for a new position with Odyssey Networks, which is a loss from CT. (Though I have no idea what she personally thinks about immigration issues, because Sarah has very high journalistic integrity and has never revealed any personal biases she may have in our interactions, she has covered the topic for CT effectively in the past).
Though not all evangelicals agree on which particular roles women should be allowed to hold within a church context, it is absolutely clear from Scripture that God calls and uses women—individuals like Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Abigail, Esther, Mary, Elizabeth, Lydia, Tabitha, and Priscilla, just to name a few—to accomplish his purposes. As various evangelical leaders have joined together to challenge our churches toward a more biblical view of immigration issues, I am so grateful for the many women who have followed God’s call to care for the vulnerable.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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