In the past few months, the big news in the Christian world has been the clash between the Vatican and the American nuns over the issue of social justice. In April, the Vatican reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, for deviating from some aspects of Catholic doctrine. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the United States’ 57,000 nuns, decided they could not accept the Vatican’s verdict, and sent their president and executive director to Rome on June 12 to open a dialogue with Vatican officials. In the meanwhile, several nuns decided to organize a Nuns On The Bus tour around the nation to emphasize their commitment economic justice and to persuade Congress to consider the poor and the struggling middle class when deciding on budget issues. The American nuns are just the latest examples of Christian women who have made great contributions to the great Christian tradition of fighting for social justice for the poor and marginalized in society.
Nuns On The Bus traveled through 9 states on June and July to support the poor and struggling families and to criticize the proposed budget cuts to social programs that Republicans in Congress support. The Nuns on the Bus journey was sponsored by NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and the NETWORK Education Program. In their webiste, the nuns stated their goals:
Every hour of each day, Catholic Sisters stand in solidarity with all who live in poverty, and we confront injustice and systems that cause suffering.
We cannot stand by silently when the U.S. Congress considers further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families.
As part of our campaign for budget fairness we are taking a bus trip. Our bus will travel to places in many states where Sisters actively serve people in need. For they are our best witnesses to the suffering our federal government must not ignore.
We ask all who visit this website to join us in prayer and to support our work to defeat government actions that would add to the suffering of already struggling families.
In their website are details on how the proposed Republican budget would harm the poor:
As Catholic Sisters, we must speak out against the current House Republican budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). We do so because it harms people who are already suffering.
The Ryan Budget would:
Raise taxes on 18 million hardworking low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations.
Push the families of 2 million children into poverty.
Kick 8 million people off food stamps and 30 million off health care.
The American Catholic nuns are keeping in the Christian tradition of fighting for the poor and those without a voice in society. They are specifically following spirit of the Papal Encyclicals, like Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio, and Laborem Exercens. As Populorum Progressio stated over 50 years ago:
The introduction of industry is a necessity for economic growth and human progress; it is also a sign of development and contributes to it. By persistent work and use of his intelligence man gradually wrests nature’s secrets from her and finds a better application for her riches. As his self-mastery increases, he develops a taste for research and discovery, an ability to take a calculated risk, boldness in enterprises, generosity in what he does and a sense of responsibility.
But it is unfortunate that on these new conditions of society a system has been constructed which considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation. This unchecked liberalism leads to dictatorship rightly denounced by Pius XI as producing “the international imperialism of money”. One cannot condemn such abuses too strongly by solemnly recalling once again that the economy is at the service of man.
Christian women have always been involved in the fight for economic justice. St. Clare, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Pauli Murray, Corrie Ten Boom, Sojourner Truth and countless Christian women have reached out to help the poor and the marginalized in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 25:31-46:
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Here are other Christian women’s groups involved in social justice ministry.
The United Methodist Women has approximately 800,000 members and they aim to support spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice. They have raised up to $20 million each year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world. You can visit their facebook page here
A youtube video of United Methodist Women at Occupy Wall Street
A youtube video of a United Methodist Women rally for justice
Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA) is the women’s organization of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Numbering around 300,000 members, the Presbyterian Women are committed to prayer and Bible study, mission work of the church worldwide, working for justice and peace, and building an inclusive, caring community of women that strengthens the PC(USA) and witnesses to the promise of God’s kingdom. You can visit their facebook page here. A subgroup of the Presbyterian Women is the The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns
Youtube videos of the history of the Presbyterian Women
Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America work to combat commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking and support families with special needs. They also advocate for racial and cultural equity through anti-racism training and cross-cultural programs. Their facebook page is here.
A youtube video of the Women of the ELCA working at a food pantry
A youtube video of the Women of the ELCA quilting ministry
The Episcopal Women’s Caucus was formed on October 30, 1971, as a justice organization dedicated to Gospel values of equality and liberation and committed to the incarnation of God’s unconditional love. Their facebook page is here.
Youtube videos of Nuns on the Bus