It’s a bit of a joke in our family that if you have a decision to make and ask my father for advice, his first response will be, “Have you prayed and fasted about it?” The decision to attend the march was no different for me. From the time it was first announced, I felt a draw to attend and began praying about doing just that. I had decided I would attend the small march being planned in Chattanooga. It would be easy to get there, blend in, no one would really even need to know I had been there. I am almost ashamed to admit that I wanted to attend quietly because I knew the backlash and disapproval that would follow. That’s not how it turned out, and I’m glad.
Several people have asked me questions about the march, specifically about the reasons behind it and my choice to participate. After some time of reflection following the march, I decided to put thoughts to paper. Hopefully, the following will answer some questions, or even better, spark some discussion.
What was the purpose?
The march attempted to follow the principles of Kingian nonviolence to raise a united voice for the sake of the dignity and justice of all people. This was a march for social justice at all levels and in all areas. For more on King Philosophy, please visit the King Center website.
There were nine “Unity Principles” presented by the march. First is the idea that “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” If you would like to have a discussion to unpack that statement, I would be glad to have that conversation with you. The other principles included were: ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice. You can go to the website for the full statement on each issue: https://www.womensmarch.com
There were points and issues I did not fully agree with. There were event sponsors I typically would not align myself with. You know what? I show up to church every Sunday as a member of a denomination I do not fully agree with to worship with fallen people who I do not always see eye to eye with. That’s life. Eat the fish and spit out the bones. (And yes, I have written letters and marched myself into offices to address the issues I have within our denomination. If there was a women’s march around the international offices, I would sign up. They probably sent me to Kenya hoping to get rid of me.)
Why a “Women’s” march?
One of the first things I learned in seminary was that if you want to create change in a community, you must empower the women. You do not empower women to the exclusion of men, but because in most cases, men already hold a great deal of power. So this was a women’s march, not to exclude men, but so that women’s voices would be heard. It was incredibly encouraging to see so many men and boys participating in the march because we need everyone.
Some have been arguing that women’s voices are already heard; women’s rights were established decades ago. While this might be true on paper, it is not yet true in practice. Need an example? There are currently only 20 women in senate, which is the most ever. That is only 20% representation when women make up 50.8% of the population. Equal in theory, not practice. If you would like more examples, personal ones even, I’d be glad to offer them.
What about Trump?
Yes, most, if not all, of the people involved were anti-Trump. If you know me at all, you know I am not a Trump supporter*. I campaigned against him at the primary level and during the general election. However, now that he has won the election, I respect the authority of that position and pray for him by name, just as I did for Obama and Bush and as I will do for whoever comes after him. Part of loving and respecting a person is holding them accountable for their words and actions. That does not mean I or anyone else is a “sore loser” or a “whiny millennial.”
*As a side note, being anti-Trump does not automatically make one pro-Hillary. You do not know who I voted for.
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
I marched because:
- Sexual violence must never be normalized. In the USA, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime.
- Racial reconciliation is a necessary task of the church. Black lives do matter.
- I belong to a community with a very high concentration of immigrants and my immigrant friends have sweet babies who deserve to grow up in a safe environment.
- Scripture explicitly instructs us to welcome the stranger, aka the refugee.
- I love my Muslim friends and will stand with them in the face of danger.
- People in the LGBTQIA community are created in the image of God and are deserving of our love and care.
- God gave us charge over the creation and we don’t always do a very good job taking care of it.
Reproductive rights was a major topic. Planned Parenthood was a sponsor. There were issues with pro-life organizations being denied partnership. All of that makes Christians cringe. I get it. I really do.
Abortion is and should be an important issue for Christians. However, it should never be the only issue. If your pro-life focus ends at birth, you are not pro-life so much as you are simply anti-abortion. If we don’t care for the born, what does it matter how we treat the unborn? If we do not support and stand up for the dignity of the people standing in front of us, what is the point of fighting for the dignity of life still developing in the womb? Christians have this habit of acting as though abortion is the only social justice issue. It is important, I’m not denying that at all, but we can stand in solidarity on some issues while having a discussion on others. That discussion happens a lot easier when we are walking hand in hand.
The march itself was peaceful and joyful, if not a bit humid. There were an estimated 63,000 marchers in Atlanta. Every age group, race, religion was represented, and pretty much any cause you could think of. I walked alongside grandmas and preschoolers. I saw traditional families and LGBTQIA families. Clergy were marching next to women in hijabs. Black, brown, white, Asian, Indian, we were all there.
People were happy and helpful. As we walked past police barricades, marchers stopped to high five the officers and cheer for them. Even the snipers on top of the capital building got a cheer and lots of waves. There were people along the streets and on top of buildings cheering on the march as we passed. Even on public transit, there was a sense of camaraderie.
Honestly, marching was the easy part. As soon as I got back in my car and pulled out my phone, that happy bubble burst. I am so sorry that many of the images on television and other media have been so negative, because that was not my experience at all. I have been so saddened by the hateful rhetoric from both sides. But let me be clear: We as followers of Christ cannot hold nonbelievers to the same biblical standard to which we hold each other. Nonbelievers may curse at us when we disagree. Nonbelievers may mock us for our beliefs. Nonbelievers may wish to exclude us. Regardless, we are to be known by our love, by turning the other cheek, not by Facebook rants and belittling that with which we disagree. I am truly sorry if you have been hurt or offended by what you have seen of the march, but let’s talk about it and pray together.
There are those who have used the atrocities facing women around the world as a reason women in America should not engage in events like the march. One of the first things a good counselor will tell you is that you cannot compare your pain or trauma to anyone else. I have seen firsthand the effects of female genital mutilation, child slavery, women treated as non-citizens, etc. Those situations are serious and require our attention, but they do not lessen the pain or fear of American women who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence or have been denied opportunities or had their voices silenced. It is equivalent to saying, “You broke your foot? Well, she broke her leg, so the pain of your broken foot doesn’t matter.” It’s not true. It still hurts even if someone else’s hurt is “worse.” What’s more, God grieves over all of it, big or small.
My dear sisters, if you chose not to participate, that’s fine. I understand and respect your choice. I do not think less of you for your decision and I hope you do not think less of me for mine. There have been a lot of Facebook posts proclaiming the women’s march does not speak for all women. That is true. I attended the march to let my voice be heard, not to speak for you. If you do not wish to have your voice heard in this way, that is fine, but please, please, let your voice be heard for positive change somewhere.
As a final note, there were over 3 million people across the USA who attended marches. Imagine the impact we could have if that many Christian men, women, and children would stand up against all forms of injustice. If we would march through our streets not proclaiming what is wrong with our nation, but proclaiming Peace! Mercy! Love! Justice! I would be the first to sign up for that march, but until then I will continue infiltrating the ranks of the secular with the message of Christ.
You might still think I made a bad choice, and that’s okay. But for me, this has become my prayer: when I choose wrongly, let me err on the side of justice and mercy.
Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13