By Nora O. Lozano
La versión en español está disponible aquí.
Two weeks ago I once more had the privilege of leading the Latina Leadership Institute Training in Texas. This year was particularly special because we launched the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Institute’s work. As part of these celebrations, the LLI board invited me to share the leadership journey of the Institute.
I reflected on the beginnings, the 10 different classes, the 10 great preachers who have challenged us on diverse leadership issues, the talented faculty, and the remarkable leadership journey of the presenters who have helped us grow throughout the years. In addition, I spoke about the LLI partners — first and foremost God, and then our friends and donors. It was a blessing to remember and ponder the ways that God has blessed this ministry.
As I started my presentation, I considered two questions that I am often asked by the students: Do you think that things are going to change? This first question refers to changes in the current patriarchal system, as well as the role and view of women in church and society, particularly Latinas.
In response, I always share with the students that I do believe in change. I have seen major changes in my lifetime: the fall of the Berlin wall (1989); the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991); and the end of apartheid in South Africa (1994). As I was growing up, who would have thought that these political/social situations were going to change? But they did!
I continued by sharing that perhaps I/we will never effect such major worldwide changes, but that all change is important. We can be agents of transformation in our own small or large circles of influence. For me, if one woman is transformed in these trainings, and later she becomes an agent of change in her own family, church and community, these trainings are worth my time, gifts and energy.
The second question is: Why do you do this? Well, my previous answer partially responds to it, but the bottom line is that I do it because I have the hope that women’s situation will advance.
Hope is a major element in Christianity. Sometimes the word hope is not mentioned specifically in the Bible, but the notion is always there. The Scriptures are permeated with meanings, experiences, and narratives that convey hope. Seung Ai Yang states, “Hope is looking forward with confidence to a future good” (“Hope,” The New Interpreter Dictionary of the Bible). M.W. Elliot affirms that, “Hope is closely associated with God” (nature and work). Thus, God is “the theological ground of human hope” (“Hope,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology).
God as the ground of human hope is more easily found when a person has a positive/healthy concept of God — perhaps God as a liberator, protector or provider of abundant life. On the other hand, a problem arises when the concept of God is distorted due to human power struggles that are manifested through gender, class or race issues. Instead of being the foundation for human hope, this distorted notion of God becomes a source of oppression, insecurity, fear and self-doubt. These are the issues that permeate the lives of many women and other minorities.
I have heard story after story, not only from Latinas, but from women all over the world regarding how they sense that unfortunately God seems to be against them. How is this possible?
Based on inaccurate biblical interpretations, these women are led to believe that God created them inferior, and that God blames them and punishes them for the Fall of humankind. This punishment then is actualized by limiting, controlling, submitting, and silencing them. In practical ways, this means that women cannot be leaders in church and/or society. This view of God does not provide hope for women, but oppression.
This situation is not unique to women. The reformer Martin Luther, following an image of a judgmental and critical God, used to agonizingly dread God. Likewise, minority men may feel oppressed when God is represented mainly as an old, white man. When the image of God is used in oppressive ways, hope seems to fade away.
However, thank God, hope does not fade away completely. In God’s grace, many of these people are able to hold on to a sense of hope that “provides a bubble-like safe place in which to exist for the time being” (M.W. Elliot). This sense of hope often is fueled by a theological/hermeneutical suspicion that keeps questioning and challenging what they were taught. Maybe they are not able to express it yet, nor name it, but the suspicion is there, and it propels them to search.
Thankfully, Martin Luther found a God of grace and compassion.
In the case of women, sometimes this search turns to be a blessed one as they discover through readings, classes, trainings, or conversations an inclusive view of God — a God that is indeed for them, and not against them. This God is the one who invites them to be all that they can be. This God welcomes them to use their gifts in all areas of secular or ministerial leadership.
As they search, they also find Jesus, God’s most complete revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3), who affirms that the Reign of God and its implications are present here and now. He demonstrated with his actions, priorities, and commitments, that women are valuable and equal in God’s eyes and work. While this Reign currently exists in a tension of the now and the yet to come, what we have today due to Christ’s life and work is a new order of things that challenges patriarchy and other oppressive structures. This Jesus becomes also a source of hope for women.
I am so grateful that the Institute has become an instrument in this sacred, hopeful, Spirit-led process, where women are able to un-learn and re-learn who God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and themselves are.
After my presentation, we had open microphones for faculty and students to share the impact of the LLI in their lives. I was amazed to hear stories of transformation and empowerment that attested to a divine work of hope as important theological notions were reframed.
I am always grateful for testimonies like these. I know they are powerful because I was there one day, with the same struggles, lack of knowledge, and an excruciating thirst to find something better. In God’s grace and guided by the Holy Spirit, I found an inclusive God who is indeed the ground of human hope. What was I supposed to do with such a gift? Treasure it, live it, enjoy it and share it.
“Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8)