Regina Shands Stoltzfus currently teaches at Goshen (Indiana) College in the Peace, Justice Conflict Studies (PJCS) and Bible, Religion and Philosophy (BRP) departments. Her courses include Race, Class and Ethnic Relations; Personal Violence and Healing; Spiritual Path of the Peacemaker; and Transforming Conflict and Violence. Regina is co-founder of the Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression program (formerly Damascus Road Anti-Racism Program). She has worked in peace education with Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Central Committee, and Mennonite Mission Network. She holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Ashland Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Chicago Theological Seminary.
The recent webinar hosted by Mennonite Church USA as an introduction to “Laboring Toward Wholeness: A Training on Dismantling Patriarchy” was a wonderful time of reunion for those of us who had indeed labored over this curriculum together. It was a delight to see each other (virtually), to catch up, reminisce and talk about the work we had produced.
Before working on this anti-patriarchy curriculum, I served on the Women in Leadership (WIL) Steering Committee, a consciously multiracial and multigenerational group. From the beginning, the WIL project and the steering committee has been committed to collaborative processes rooted in justice and equity. This kind of commitment, in the very DNA of the WIL project, guides both process and product. The anti-patriarchy curriculum is an example of this, but it is not the only one. The energy that built the curriculum, over the course of several years, was fed by other activities – meetings, webinars, theology conferences and more. This group of women tends to matters of the church, from the perspective that women — their voices and experiences — matter, and people of all genders work together better when we pay attention to what has been lost because of systemic oppressions, like sexism and racism.
The time of planning, writing and editing was a powerful experience for me, because I was working with such a passionate group of women. While we were addressing a difficult, painful reality, it was a joy to put into words our understanding of the beauty of God’s diversity and the potential that diversity has for living out God’s vision for creation. This, however, does not mean that the work was easy. Our different life experiences and perspectives meant there were moments of struggle — at times, deep struggle.
Yet our commitment to each other and the work meant that we worked hard to speak and hear each other’s truths, as well as our own.
Our current societal context illustrates the difficulty some people have in understanding patriarchy as an oppressive system. I remember a comment made after the press release announcing the curriculum: “If they [the writers, I presume] are so unhappy, why don’t they find another church?” Yet, hierarchies of humanity that prescribe strict rules about who is allowed to do what have ordered lives and structured institutions in ways that normalize and support systems of oppression that harm people’s bodies, minds and spirits.
“Laboring Toward Wholeness” is not an agenda to place women at the top of the hierarchy, and it is not meant to disparage, demean or destroy men. In the introduction, we offer this definition of patriarchy, adapted from the Indigenous People’s Solidarity Movement Ottawa: “Patriarchy is a social structure in which men hold power and domination over all others.” We don’t believe this is God’s intent, and we hope that the curriculum is used to help all of us live fully into God’s vision for justice and equality for all of God’s creation. While there is much to lament about our history and current context, I see what the beautiful resilience and resistance of so many have given our world. And I continue to believe that we have been gifted with the ability to build new systems and new structures. I believe the Holy One calls us to this work.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.