As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Note: This post includes two reports from women of faith who attended the Women’s March in D.C. on January 21, 2017.
by Jeanine Kopaska Broek
Shortly after the election, my friend sent me a note: “Would you be willing to go with me to the Women’s March in D.C.?” After a moment of logistical processing and some quick messaging to a friend to line up free lodging, I turned to my husband and said, “For the sake of the relationship, I would like to say yes.” It was settled. Brandy, our friend Julie, and I would attend the March on Washington.
Brandy had come to me the day after the election, sat on my couch and cried. My friend unloaded her fears about the hatred she thought was unleashed in this election, fears for her family’s safety and fears of losing their insurance. She and I share a lot of life conversations together. This is the kind of missional living my husband and I do as we give people access to our lives while we minister in our neighborhood parish called The Table. After five years of relationship-building with Brandy, I knew she trusted me. We share many similar convictions, and after these years, I have been granted the opportunity to share how my faith, different from hers, has shaped my convictions.
In the days leading up to the March, I sensed regret in my decision to make the trip. These feelings caused me to ask, “Why am I going?” I had decided to go for the sake of this relationship, but there also was a deeper tug for me. I harkened back, way back, to being a 14-year-old talking with my state legislator about my pro-life convictions. That energizing experience, followed by years of grassroots organizing, shaped me for advocacy. Instead of becoming the pro-life lobbyist I dreamed of when I wrote my career paper in my sophomore year of high school, I have become an urban farmer and missionary, sharing conversations on life and faith while I farm. Attending the Women’s March on Washington was one way for me to resurrect that deeply rooted conviction to be a vigilant, active citizen.
I was going to the March to honor this trusting relationship with my friend and because I knew that God shaped me for advocacy. But it wasn’t until I sat down to make the sign I would carry that I had to clarify my voice in the midst of the March’s platform and my Christianity. After examining the popular messages floating about on the Internet, I chose to write “Truth is powerful, and it will prevail.”
What truth, then, was I marching for?
I marched for an opportunity to speak truth. I believe that to be a person of influence requires investing time to understand perspectives that are not your own. Spending a few days with Brandy and Julie allowed for hours of conversation. These were challenging conversations, the kind where you feel your chest inflate with anxiety and remind yourself to calm down. My willingness to engage communicates that I care, even when I don’t agree. Often I am made aware of things that were unseen to me before. Often I am sharpened in my thinking as I am forced to evaluate, dissect, and articulate the truth I profess to believe.
I marched for dignity for all human beings. I marched for life on a cosmic scale. I marched because I believe that Jesus spent his life standing with, feeding, healing, and washing the feet of fellow human beings who didn’t view life as he did. Even more, I think he modeled being in a very uncomfortable place for the entirety of humanity. God, in his great wisdom, used women and men from all tribes to fulfill his promise to the world he created and sustains. He used David and Rahab and even unclean birds, the ravens, to feed his servant Elijah. He used and continues to use unsuspecting means to speak the truth.
These unsuspecting means of conveying truth eventually helped me more fully understand why I was in this March. It was not exactly a comfortable place. It was not comfortable to hear speakers raging on for five hours, rallying the crowd with messages that did not hit home for me. It was not comfortable to stand in a sea of purple and white “Keep Abortion Legal” signs. It was not comfortable for me to hear the blanket, crowd-rousing statement, “Surely not a woman here has not used Planned Parenthood.” I thought, “Well, nope, I don’t belong here.” I must have been the 1 in 500,000 who hadn’t. I wrestled and continue to wrestle with a conviction that a Christian woman would not have been welcomed to the stage along with her Jewish, Muslim, Mexican, African American, and American Indian sisters. At some point I realized that although I am a woman, this March with this platform wasn’t exactly for me. I was somehow in, but not of, this group. I was marching shoulder to shoulder with women and men for whom this gathering was intended. I was standing in solidarity for those living with a pain that I do not know.
There I stood. I stood in that one spot for five hours. I stood there listening and wrestling. I stood in a mass of people. I had no idea how big the gathering had become because I was in my one little spot. I realized that it can be hard to discern much about life beyond my own, from the one little spot in life I occupy.
I was fatigued from being in that spot that day. I was cold. I had to go to the bathroom but there was no way out of the crowd. I was checking the clock as my discomfort grew. One hour until we march! I was getting anxious to move, to march. Twenty-five minutes to go. Finally, it was 1 p.m., and we should have marched at any minute. Yet another speaker came to the stage and another 30 minutes passed. One hour. One-and-one-half hours. The crowd was agitated. The chanting started, “March! March! March!” The speakers continued on. The crowd continued to interrupt with their chanting. I was standing at the epicenter of the crowd near the stage. People were starting to push as if they could manage to turn the tide of people that had swelled the streets of Washington.
It was at those moments of greatest agitation, with all of my being wanting to move, that I awoke to that unsuspecting truth. I too wanted something to change in order to get out of that uncomfortable spot. I realized that what I felt in those moments was what needed to be felt and remembered that day. “Solidarity in weakness,” as Henri Nouwen put it, is what Jesus modeled for Christians. Those feelings of desperately wanting change—hope realized—is what many marginalized people long for so deeply. But they have to wait while the whole mass gets oriented to move. And even then, it takes a very long time for movement to reach the center. And so I said to the people around me in that moment and to the people I talked with back at home, that experiencing the discomfort along with the yearning for movement, was exactly what the March was about.
It might be easy to think that marching the streets of Washington, raising voices with chants and songs, was what this gathering was all about. Standing in solidarity with the weak, being available for deepening relationships, and feeling the pain of a broken world point me toward Jesus. Truth can be painful. Truth also sets us free.
by Abigail Schutte
I’m a student. I was born, baptized, and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. It’s a denomination I love. I have been shaped by its theological framework that every square inch of creation coming under the lordship of Christ. This has encouraged me to understand that my vocation is part of God’s plan of redemption, as I desire to work in institutions that help the most vulnerable in society.
On January 21, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington. Not everyone I love and respect was happy to hear about my decision to march that Saturday, but they understood that my decision to march flows from my understanding of who I am as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Christian citizenship has been a concept I’ve wrestled with throughout my time at Calvin College. I embrace my role as an agent of renewal, but what does that look like in my political community? How can I be used by God in his restoration of what sin has tainted, when I know sin has tainted the very institutions that have authority over me? In “Citizenship Is Our Common Calling,” Stephanie Summers of the Center for Public Justice writes in a way that helps me understand my Christian citizenship.
We must recognize that we share the political communities we are developing alongside those with whom we have deep disagreements regarding our understanding of what it is to be human, the responsibilities of government, and the purpose of our political communities. However, we must do the hard work of remaining committed to the development of political communities that extend justice to all.
This also means that God invites us as citizens to examine our political communities with a critical, but hopeful vision. We must work together to animate, scrutinize, advance, and, when needed, correct through reform our political communities.
My calling as a Christian citizen compels me to align my political community with God’s greater purpose. In all I do, as imperfectly as it often manifests itself, I attempt to be an agent of renewal and follow the ways of Jesus. I believe participating in the Women’s March was one such way to display Christian citizenship.
I am aware that this display of democracy and citizenship was not a perfect one. There were groups who stand for the most vulnerable, the unborn, that were excluded from formally participating in the March, a decision that I was deeply saddened about. But I also want to be clear that I, a person who grieves over the reality of abortion, was welcomed to participate in this march for women’s rights. I was welcomed to weep alongside other participants for the circumstances that often lead women to feel like abortion is their only option. I marched to raise awareness of sexual assault, for women of all colors and socioeconomic statuses to have equal access to birth control and women’s healthcare, for women who live in deep poverty, and for women who feel like society has told them successful women don’t have children. All of these issues deeply affect the lives of unborn children. We can debate about rules, regulations, and criminalization of abortion, but rarely do we look to the causes that often surround woman as they consider abortion I was saddened to hear my pro-life friends demonize the March. It was very much about addressing the realities that many believe would lead to a decline in abortions. As Christians we are called to engage every square inch of this world because every square inch belongs to Jesus Christ. We are called to engage lovingly with those we disagree with. We are called to engage boldly with movements that bring about justice. We are called to engage critically with our world.
When my friends and my family asked why I marched, I was able to tell them I marched because I don’t believe our current political community is extending justice to all. I marched because I am hopeful that God can work through our government to provide some element of shalom here on earth. I marched to draw attention to the current corruptions of that shalom where women are abused and assaulted, where women encounter barriers to the healthcare they need, where women are talked about and valued based on physical appearance when we know that God looks directly to the heart. That’s why I marched.
About the Authors
Jeanine Kopaska Broek holds a Master's in Urban Public Health from the City University of New York. She is the cofounder and codirector of The Table Urban Farm and Community Church with her husband Craig Broek, an ordained pastor in the CRC. She lives in Denver, Col.
Abigail Schutte is a senior at Calvin College studying Political Science, Sociology, and Urban Studies.