Women of faith are given far less credit than they are due. This past week, St. Paul’s United Methodist church celebrated the 23 years of service that Rev. Marianne Niesen has shared with Helena, she will retire June 30th. She is the first female pastor to serve St. Paul’s. Rev. Niesen began her career as a Franciscan Nun. Through her ministry, she discerned a call to preach and teach, both of which she could not fulfill in the church of her birth. Her Franciscan sisters supported her financially by sending her to graduate school and then Rev. Niesen bravely stepped into a new tradition who embraced her God given gifts. This brave step of faith would send her outside her own tradition and give us an example of the faithful leaps women are called to take more often than men.
Women leaders have given me spiritual direction over and over. I would not be a pastor without faithful women guiding me back to religion as an institution capable of cultivating spiritual and God given gifts in people. According to a 2014 Pew research study American women are more likely than men to say that religion is “very important” (60% vs. 47%). American women are more likely to pray(64% vs. 47%) and to attend a religious service(40% vs. 32%). Clearly women understand the need for spiritual guidance and support needed by our churches and communities of faith, and they seem to understand it better than men.
The past two religion articles I have written both highlighted the depth to which I am concerned about the entrenchment formed by deepening ideologies in our nation. Each day we see this division continue to play out in our national media. We saw it develop rifts in our own Montana legislative session again this year. The statistic I continue to highlight comes from another Pew Research Center study comparing political views from 1994 and 2014. Twenty-three years ago, Democratic and Republican officials were more similar in their voting. In 1994, 16% of Democrats and 17% of Republicans viewed their opponents unfavorably. Those numbers more than doubled 20 years later to 38 and 43 percent, respectively. More concerning is that the research added a new category in 2014 to reveal that 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans now view their opponents as a “threat to the national well-being.”
I firmly believe our faith communities are going to play a vital role in demonstrating and developing ways to fill in our entrenchment and redeem us from divisiveness. It is only in religious community that we are asked to set aside our differences so we can come together and learn from God. In my own tradition, Jesus invites us to learn the way in which we will live in grace with one another.
In the Christian scriptures, within the Gospel of John is the story of the Samaritan woman. This woman who had been cast aside by so many men, is the first person outside Jesus’ own faith that he calls to be a disciple. Not only that, but he calls her to go and speak with a people that the Jews of Jesus day were not supposed to agree with on anything, the Samaritans. Samaritans and Jews disagreed on even which temple God was actually located in, but Jesus calls her anyway because he knows the truth. The truth is that nothing can separate us from what God calls us to be, and from the Christian tradition it is clear God calls us to be a people that love our neighbor and love God, the rest of Christianity is just a footnote to this the greatest commandment.
Women will play a vital role in the redemptive work of healing our society. They are the ones most well versed in overcoming boundaries and barriers. Women understand the need to step beyond the faith of our birth into new understandings in the service of God. They understand the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
We need to give women of faith the credit they deserve. Women are the ones holding our communities of faith together and I pray we listen to women as we follow God in the redemptive work needed in our nation. If we listen, God might be able to “…bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
 Data taken from the 2014 study found here: http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/
Specific statistics highlighted were found in a 2016 article found here: http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/