This post was originally published on the Berkley Forum, as part of a series on Gender, Religion and COVID-19.
As a female pastor and community faith leader, I found myself called to show up in this season in ways and spaces that I had not felt so strong of a call in times past—namely because I am female, Black, and a faith leader. The COVID-19 pandemic became quite the global classroom, magnifying and placing front and center numerous issues around gender, faith, and ethics. It has raised even more questions concerning how we might contend with the complexities of this intersectionality. Three standout moments called and pulled me forward:
First, it was George Floyd calling out to his deceased mother that called me forward. I am a mother. I am a mother of a murdered son. I know that pain of sudden violent death, that too many mothers—Black mothers, in particular—feel. This killing and others (the murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and Breonna Taylor, for example) added additional “layers” to an already challenged pandemic space; layered grief.
Second, it was a gut-wrenching reality when reports started coming out that domestic violence was on the rise following the initial shutdown. I have friends who serve with the Department of Children and Family Services, and I recall the moment when they shared with me that the calls for abuse have gone up, but no plan was in place. The abused, shut-in with their abusers. It appeared that no one saw it coming.
Third, came the longer-than-expected closing of the church, as a non-essential space; the one alternative so many people look to when the world seems too scary. Our doors were forced to close, while liquor stores remained open. Many of us wondered, what was the message in this?
In addition to reflecting on the ways I was personally called to this moment, I also witnessed and experienced in this past year—in meetings, protests, critical conversations, Zoom town halls, virtual round tables, and the plethora of live-streaming platforms—the increased ways in which women of varying faith traditions who were not simply occupying space given, but making space. They were taking up space for their voices to be heard, not silenced, and representing the voices of vulnerable people groups. I see women taking leadership in organizing work, showing up to be community healers, running for elected office and winning.
For example, in Los Angeles, the landslide victory of Holly Mitchell to the County Board of Supervisors. The organizing work of Dr. Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter, leading huge and ongoing protests and pushing for legislative action, across Los Angeles. Recently, Rev. Hyepin Im of Faith and Community Empowerment, leading local responses to the slaying of the six Korean women in Georgia. No on can deny the incredible work of Stacy Abrams, who led and mobilized Georgia voters in incredible ways this past election cycle for president and Senate. Another woman of faith, action, and politics. All of these women are women of faith, impacted by the inequities yet resolute to build a more equitable country.
If we are going to set as a priority to “build
back better” (I intentionally struck out the word “back,” as the word back suggests at some previous time we were a more equitable society), we need to encourage these models of activism and even groom more women and girls to answer the call of the moment.
Read the full “Gender, Religion and COVID-19” series at Berkley Forum.
Rev. Najuma Smith is Assistant Director of Community and Public Engagement with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.