[Us] Gender justice was the theme of the annual conference of Us (formerly USPG), held at High Leigh Conference Centre on 20–22 July.
Speaking passionately about the plight of women in Pakistan, the writer [and educational trainer in the Church of Pakistan (United)] Sheba Sultan said: ‘The gospel does not stop women, culture does.
‘The concept of subordination is ingrained in our minds, upheld by our culture and strengthened every day by our practices.
‘We need a change in our scriptural interpretation and preaching. We need to make heard the good news that men and women are created equal and that authority belongs to Christ.’
Canon Delene Mark, CEO of Hope Africa – which is the social development department arm of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa – spoke on how the church can ensure the gospel is good news for women.
She said: ‘Justice must prevail for both men and women. We need to join together to stop these atrocities of women. The gospel is good news for women. How? Only through us.’
Another highlight of the conference was a discussion between the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont and Pittington, Durham, and author of The Essential History of Christianity, and Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament bible scholar from Brazil.
They offered a particular focus on how the church can use – and misuse – the Bible and theology to perpetuate gender injustice.
Dr Threlfall-Holmes commented: ‘There is a lot of academic research, which the church is often very uncomfortable about receiving, which shows absolutely conclusively that there is a very strong correlation between places where there is a stronger theology of women’s subordination to men and places where there is a higher incidence of gender-based violence.’
Dr Ueti offered: ‘There are lots of theologies in the Bible – there is not just one. And not a developing theology in the Bible, in terms of a linear thing. No, it’s conflictive theologies within the Bible.… We are actually reading some ideological approach.
‘There are some words that have been deliberately forgotten to be translated… We have to be very curious about the language that has been used… [for example] when we see the word “man” instead of “humanity”.’
A further highlight was a Bible study presented by the Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the Delhi Brotherhood Society, who focused on the Rape of Tamar, likening the atrocity inflicted upon Tamar to the plight of India’s Dalit people.
Ms Anjum Anwar MBE, the exChange and Dialogue Development Officer for Blackburn Cathedral, took part in workshops looking at research she undertook on behalf of Us looking at interreligious living around the world. Anjum commented: ‘We first need to feel very safe and comfortable with our own values and beliefs before we are able to extend a hand of friendship to those who have different values and beliefs.'
Us Chief Executive Janette O’Neill said: ‘Our annual conference drew in all the delegates into the different contexts that were presented from around the world, and challenged us to think what we can and should do, both individually and corporately. Our challenge is to break through the constraints of culture and embrace a practice of faith that honours the dignity of each and every human being.’
Hear all the talks at www.weareUs.org.uk/conference
Read Sheba Sultan’s reflection “The status of women in Pakistan”.