Women, Power & Peace
by Sister Joan Chittister
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Photo by Jennifer
following is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by
Sister Joan Chittister at the 3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference, organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
Elizabeth Lesser introduces her)The secret to that is after Elizabeth
introduces you anybody will accept you. It’s a gorgeous introduction,
but it does need some correction.
You don’t mind if I take a minute, do you? I remember hearing
another introduction about little Alice Taft. She was in the second
grade and had learned the fine art of self-introduction.
So on the day appointed for her debut, they say she got out in
the aisle next to her seat, put her little thumbs on the seams
of her skirt and said, “My name is Alice Bowers Taft. My great
grand daddy was president of the United States. My grand daddy
was a U.S. senator. My daddy is ambassador to Ireland. And I am
a Brownie in the Girl Scouts.” Now, what you see, kids, is what
you get, just one more Brownie in the Girl Scouts. Wanting women,
woman wanting to be with women like you who own who we are, who
can honor our own insights and proclaim our own truths with both
pride and confidence.
And so in the course of thinking about women like you, every
time I sat down to begin to work on this presentation I found myself
really grappling with two other stories. The first story is about
three men who were sent out to measure the height of the flagpole.
The first one stretched as far as he could to the top, but he couldn’t
reach it. So the second one went and got a chair. He stood on it
and stretched as far as he could, but he still couldn’t reach it.
So the third one got up on the chair, stood on his tiptoes, had
the second guy stand on his shoulders and stretch, but they still
couldn’t reach the top of that flagpole. Just then a woman came
along. She saw the situation. She thought for a minute. And then
she went over to the flagpole. She took the flag out of its standard
and laid it on the ground. Then she took a tape measure out of
the sewing kit in her purse. She measured the pole from one end
to the other. She wrote the measurements down on the little scrap
of paper. She took it over to the guy, gave it to him, and walked
When she was finally out of earshot one guy looked at the other
guy and say, “Now, ain’t that just like a woman. You ask them for
the height and they give you the width.”
Point ... women see things differently, do things differently
and are affected by things differently than men.
Or to put it in another context, once upon a time, a Samurai
warrior appeared at the temple of an old Buddhist nun wanting to
know the difference between heaven and hell. You wouldn’t know
the difference if I told you, the old nun said to him. And he scowled
and hissed at her. Anyway, you are too weak a man to practice it
the old nun went on. And the Samurai growled and stamped his feet.
You are clearly only the shadow of a man the nun finished and she
looked away. The Samurai swung his sword out whirled it whistling
around and brought it slashing down an inch from her neck. She
looked up at him, calmly, and she said that, sir, is the gate of
hell. The Samurai stood back, thunder struck by the insight. He
dropped his sword in front of her. He folded his hands over his
heart and he stepped back and bowed to her, deep, deeper, deeply
all the way to the waist. And the old nun said quietly and that,
sir, is the gate of heaven.
Point ... women see things differently. Women do things differently.
Women deal with things differently than men.
In this period of global history—in fact, in this period of United
States history, in which religion has become more of a factor in
politics, foreign policy, and international relations than it has
been for over 500 years, it’s important—it’s necessary when you
talk about women, power, and peace, to look at women, religion,
and war, the counter point and disc heads of those topics. I have
prepared these remarks then with three others in mind. The first
is Jonathan Swift who says we have just enough religion to make
us hate, but clearly not enough religion to make us love one another.
The second is an insight that every dictator uses religion as a
prop to keep himself in power. And the third is a comment in the
Irish struggle for freedom that says women are the most boldest
and unmanageable of revolutionaries. In a world where religion
is being misused to justify a world at war, and women are being
made the invisible victims of a globe in turmoil and nations in
spasm, on this important day when violence turned into vengeance
rather than into insight and vision, let alone virtue, this reflection
is a relationship between women and war and it means to ask what
role, if any, women have to play in peace making in a world that
calls itself religious, but functions as if it were not. The questions,
then, are clear ones. What does religion have to do with war? And
what does war do to women and what, if anything, do women have
to do with peace?
Women around the world are as a class other than a few tokens
here and there excluded from the public arena and the process of
peace making. How is religion affecting that?
And finally, what does that have to do with you and me now here
wherever we are spiritually. There’s another old story, that bears
remembering now, if the answers to any of those questions make
any sense. This story tells us of a disciple who said to the holy
one, answer for me the greatest spiritual question of them all.
Is there life after death? And the holy one said my dear friend;
the greatest spiritual question after all is not is there life
after death. The greatest spiritual question of them all is, is
there life before death? That question has new meaning now for
women and religions whose world is on the brink of war, forever
faced with the changing nature of war with its new barbaric talent
for its new disregard for the so-called medieval distinctions between
competence and no competence. Because that is exactly what war
has to do with women.
At the turn of the 20th century, civilian casualties accounted
for five percent of the war dead. In World War II the total number
of civilians killed had climbed to 15 percent of total wartime
casualties. In World War II civilians were 65 percent of the victims
of war. By the early 1990s civilians were over 75 percent of the
war dead. And now today here in our world over 90 percent of those
killed in war are civilians. And who knows it better than we do.
In Iraq for every dead U.S. soldier 14 other deaths, 93 percent
of the total casualties U.S. and Iraqi are civilian.
And why are we surprised? We’ve seen it all coming. 1 million
Armenians killed in 1950, 5 million Jews, and another 4 million
gypsies, Pols, and gays between ‘39 and ’45 on German territory.
3 million Bengalis in Pakistan in 1971, 3 million Ibo tribes in
1969 in Nigeria, 3 million Cambodians between ‘75 and ’79, and
then after that Vietnam, Kosovo and now Iraq, and Afghanistan,
and Sudan. It has been the century of total war, an age of genocide,
of civilian slaughter. 60 million in the 20th century alone. But
what is forgotten today, what is unnoted, unmarked, unmemorialized,
overlooked and unwarned is that most of these dead—most of these
civilians on whom war falls most mercilessly, most defenselessly,
are women and children. A generation that has mechanized war made
civilians its equipment producers, its food producers, its weapons
producers, organized entire societies around the waging of war,
its scientists, its business community, and even its universities
this generation, our generation has managed Quincy Wright says
in his epic war Study of War by that very act to make noncompetence
legitimate targets. Our generation has blurred forever the traditional
line between civilians and soldiers. We’ve made the whole world
pray, only some of them armed and most of them helpless, most of
them powerless women.
In modern conflict Kofi Anan said, quote: “Women and girls, neither
its irritators nor its perpetrators, suffer its impact disproportionately.
They are specifically targeted to humiliate the men of the society,
to break down their resistance and to achieve ethnic cleansing.
Steps must be taken”, he declared, “to end this culture of impunity.”
Clearly the questions of war and peace, of life and death now have
new meaning. For governments surely. For religions. And for all
spirits without doubt. But for women most of all life, not death,
has always been the fundamental spiritual question of every great
spiritual tradition. Oh, yes, quote, “Let us live happily without
hate amongst those who do hate.”
Today I put before you death and life. Choose life. Who is better
in religion the prophet teaches in the Koran than those who surrender
their purpose to God while doing good to human kind. In fighting
there is no wisdom. It is only fools that fight the Hindu Poncatantra
tells us. And Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers. But if it’s
true all religions seek the God of life, it’s also true life giving,
not death dealing, has always been the particular province of women.
It is women that born the sons who are sent to war, its women who
have buried the men on who their very lives are dependent. It is
women who have been left alone. Babies in their arms. Babies in
their bellies. To deal with a madness that comes from the madness
Indeed women have a place to fill and a stake to claim and a
role to play in the world’s pursuit of peace. It is women who are
trafficked to satisfy the warriors, from 250 to 500,000 women were
raped by mirage gangs of soldiers in Ruanda alone in 1994 alone.
It is women that are forced into sexual slavery and exploitation
for the sake of the warriors. The International Organization for
Migration estimates over 200 million women are trapped in war zones
this morning and are sold across borders annually. In 1995 in Cambodia
31 percent of the so-called sex workers were girls between the
ages of 12 and 17. It’s women who endure domestic violence at home
from their frustrated and violence driven warrior husbands and
it’s women who bare and feed and raise the children, raping warriors
But those issues never get negotiated. Those issues never come
to the compensation tables. Those issues, the issues of women and
children they are left to support in the midst of war as a result
of war are never redressed by peace treaties, never dealt with
my male mediators, never factored into the costs of war, never
considered in the determination to go to war, never even counted
Indeed women have a place to fill and a stake to claim and a
role to play in the world’s pursuit of peace. Indeed women have
a right to participate in the decisions that lead to the waging
of war, to judge the strategies—They have a right to judge the
strategies that are becoming the instruments of war and to suggest—no,
to demand the feminine alternatives of listening and seeing and
caring and relating and reaching out and feeling for the other
that lead the world away from war.
It’s time for women to take as much responsibility for maintaining
the life of the world as they do for burying the life of the world.
Otherwise we raise one world to destroy the other. Otherwise we
make a mockery of the very spiritual responsibility we say we hold
to bring life to birth in us, within us, around us. But if giving
life, preserving life, and valuing life is of spiritual responsibility,
what does religion have to do with war?
The important thing to remember is that religion itself is meant
to be only a means to sanctity, not an end in itself. Religion
is at best a finger pointing at the moon. Religion itself, then,
consumed more by the national than the universal, more by the cultural
than the cosmic. More by religiosity than real religion can become
both an instrument and purveyor of war. When we stop, you and I,
religious robes and rules—and call those things religion, call
those things, our things, absolutes. We stop far short of the divine.
We miss the move entirely. When we stop at the level of denominations,
throw up dogmatic draw bridges, fill the moats between us and other
people with theological acid, our planet of peoples made plural
by our creating God, we failed a creator who having made this manifest,
is nevertheless always, always one. Then we make our religions
God and our God puny. Then we make our religions dangerous. Real
religious people know that creation and all of its diversity is
the face of God’s presence in the world. And so all of creation,
all God’s creatures must be reverenced tenderly. Violence on the
other, violence on the scale, now and here and by us—by us meaning
by the United States of America—by us meaning this globe—over 200
wars in the 20th century alone, and these wars of ours responsible
for 60 million or 60 percent of the 100 million more deaths since
the year 1700 defy all the definitions of religion we’ve ever had.
And over 90 percent of those ungodly deaths, remember, are now
civilian innocents whose number of wounded are not even counted,
let alone compensated. Months after the war in Iraq had begun a
high ranking American official was being interviewed by TV commentators,
in New York City. Sir, one of the reporters said, could you tell
us—you told us—you know, how many American war dead we have in
Iraq. Could you tell us how many Iraqi war dead there are? And
one of the highest men in our government looked straight into that
television camera and said That is a number in which I have absolutely
no interest whatsoever. Ask yourself, then, what if the feminine
is missing in this government’s attitude towards how you impose
a democracy on people who don’t want it.
Seven percent of our bombs in Iraq our own government certifies
were defined as precision bombs. And only two to four percent of
those so-called precision bombings the military certifies were
accurate. And even the so-called accurate ones in urban settings
destroyed property and people for miles around. Wipe out of your
head the fallacious picture of a bomb dropping through the smoke
stack in the middle of a city.
Surely that kind of indiscriminant killing of defenseless slaughter—
call it collateral damage to justify your carnage if you can, is
clearly a sin against the sacrament of life. We stand, you see—we
religious people, this religious nation, on the brink of human
extinction boasting that we seek the God of life. And so we have
millions of dead, trillions of dollars used for human destruction
rather then human development. Millions of urban refugees roaming
the world today, over 13 million of them internally displaced,
hundreds of thousands more of them on the roads and all of them
in camps we so gently call refugee camps by we nice people. Where
women are unprotected and war maddened military gorillas and even
international aid workers the UN itself admit pray on the girls
that were left behind. All of them—all of them—all of them give
the lie to the claim that we are religious people, whatever our
president proclaims himself to be, he is definitely not pro-life.
The point is clear. Violence has simply run its course. War is
now total, which means that war as we define it and dream it and
doggedly go on making up moral reasons, God help us—moral reasons
to approve of it is now obsolete. It not only threatens the planet,
it exhausts the resources of the very countries that declare it.
And so in the end don’t be misled for a minute. We will all lose
this war, even if we win it.
War is much more than military conflict now. It is social annihilation.
It is the displacement of the innocent, the destruction of the
beautiful, the defilement of the holy and the disfigurement of
the souls of the young, wounds from which the human spirit never
wholly recovers unless and until religion rediscovers spirituality.
Religion history shows us as often used in the service of the secular
and determined by voices of the secular society around it that
are predominantly, if not always male. Spirituality on the other
hand is about enlightenment, the ability to see beyond all the
things we make God to find God. We make religion God, and so we
fail to see Godliness in religions other than our own, though goodness
and holiness are clear and constant everywhere. We make national
honor God and we fail to see the presence of God in other cultures
and traditions and people. We make human color and gender the color
and gender of God. And we fail to see God in the one who comes
in different shades and other forms than ours, though all of our
scriptures are clear about equality and all those theologies are
We separate spirit and matter as if they were two different things,
though we know now that matter is simply fields of molecular force
made dense by the same energy that is the basis of everything.
We are one, then, with the entire Universe, with this and with
this. We’re not separate from it. We’re all simply in it together,
swimming together in the energy that is God. All of us. Afghans
and Iraqis, Americans and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis, Christians
and Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews. We are each of us
just simply one more tiny sliver of humanity seeking to become
more human, trying to become more Godly.
But nor, then, can we ever be by degrading these others. Enlightenment
takes us all beyond our parochialism, to the only present presence
of God under the entire universe. It disdains gender. It ignores
color. It releases gifts and it listens to voices not its own precisely
because they are not its own. To be enlightened is to be in touch
with the God within us and around us and all these others, more
than it is to be engulfed by any denominational construct however
good it may be. God has many faces and speaks in every tongue.
The real religious knows that God is radiant light, blazing fire,
a sexual spirit, colorless wind. God is the magnet of our souls,
the breath of our hearts, the very stuff of our lives. God is no
one’s figure meant, no ones flag, and no one’s gender. And those
who certify their God under any of those credentials make a new
idol in the desert. To be religious people, to be spiritual we
must think beyond our religions to the reasons for which all religions
exist, to engender the life of God in us and around us both here
and in the here after, here after, of course, but here as well.
Religion is at base a cosmic call to cosmic consciousness. We
must be conscious of the fact that we can no longer take war for
granted. We took slavery for granted once. Ask the black in this
room today. But we have grown beyond that now, God willing. We
take war for granted now. We say it’s natural and then we tell
ourselves that life is like that. But it’s not. Years of aggression
studies show us that people do control their anger even under provocation.
Years of anthropology show us that there have been cultures that
did not practice war.
The Minoans who populated Crete for 1500 years went without a
war. The Vikings slaughtered, yes, but in Sweden they haven’t fought
a year in 200 years. Years of game experiments show us that people
quickly become fixated on strategies that is sure gain for everyone
rather than risk everything for anyone, and that, even when the
group gains, would be smaller than the possible profits for anyone
who might conceivably defeat the rest of them.
In other words, people regularly choose smaller personal gains
in order to profit the whole group and themselves as well. We know,
in other words, yes, that interdependence. France relies on German
tourists, for instance, which makes war a lot less likely for war
between the two of them than ever before in history. War, we must
understand, we must preach from the housetops, we must never allow
anybody else to change our mind about it. War is not inevitable.
War is planned. War is a choice.
This, then, is indeed your moment and historic moment. You and
I are living at a time when by calling for a summit of religious
and spiritual leaders, both men and women spiritual leaders, the
united nations, this international organization, has recognized
the untapped potential, both of religion and of women spiritual
leaders as well to be a necessary force in the peace making process
of a world in chaos. Mark it down. The texture, the composition,
and the character of the political and peace making world changed
in your lifetime, or as George Clemmons put it once, war is too
important to matter to be left to generals.
This is a most religious moment. Why? Because religion is fast
becoming the most dangerous thing the world has to offer.
Now our newspapers speak of jihads and Armageddon and new Crusades
and biblical land grants and blame God for all of them. Religion
has become, in other words, religion’s worst enemy. Catholics and
Protestants Buddhists and Christians, Christians and Muslims, Muslims
and Hindus—religious radicals everywhere threaten the life for
which each of them ironically say they stand. Clearly it is time
for women, the other half of the human race, the other face of
God, to save both their religions and their nations. Women, the
life bearers, must now give to the world the spiritual life this
Holy one, the disciples ask what’s the difference between knowledge
and enlightenment and the holy one replied when you have knowledge
you light a torch to find a way. When you have enlightenment, you
become a torch to show the way. It’s time for women to take their
place in bringing spiritual light, to show the world the way in
a world that is adoring at the shrine of the god of death at their
expense, at the cost of their children, at the destruction of the
globe. It’s time for women to be where they can say no, no, no
to war in honor of drama, to extinction for the sake of Buddhism.
To death on behalf of Allah, Yahweh, to massacres in the name of
Allah, to Crusading in the name of Christ.
It is time for women to speak a public voice against the wars
that men had designed to protect them. Without ever putting women
themselves at the tables where a few decide to wage them or governments
refuse to negotiate them.
To do that women must bring to the public arena values that have
been long missing there. The first value is the awareness that
our political policies can never be really affected if they’re
not based on sound, spiritual principles rather than on absolutist
The second missing value is the awareness that the spiritual
can never be real if it ignores the political aspects of life.
And the third value that must finally be recognized is that women
have another agenda, a different agenda, that it must be brought
to political systems in a world gone mad with arrogance, with patriarchal
power. To each of those values each facet of the tradition that
has formed the west and now threatens the world brings a light
to show the way.
The stuff we are reminded of the relationship between the political
and the spiritual. Once upon a time the Sufi master tells us waters
raged over the river up to the level of the branches of the trees
and at the most frail end of the lowest branch a scorpion clung
quivering to the one leaf above the water. The Sufi knelt down
in the dust, stretched himself out on a slender branch and extended
his hand to the scorpion as a bridge. Each time he reached for
the leaf, however, the scorpion bristled and sprang to sting. Are
you crazy a passerby shouted? Don’t you know every time you touch
that scorpion, you will be stung? And the Sufi shouted back perhaps,
dear friend. But just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting,
should I lose my nature to save?
It would have been a very political thing for the Sufi to crush
the scorpion. So he never had the fear of being stung by that scorpion
again. But it was spiritual for the Sufi to save the scorpion for
both of their sakes.
Clearly we are in that situation now everywhere we turn. We come
across borders as nations to talk of peace, loaded down with disdains
of the past. We come heavy with a fear of the future. We come more
interested too often to the injustices of yesterday and 30 for
the peace of the children of tomorrow. But if we truly seek peace,
we cannot get locked into the past. Not even today.
We must give our hearts to constructing the future, to speak
of peace. We cannot be shrunken in spirit by the miseries of our
ancestors. We must be enlarged in spirit because we have learned
too much from their suffering to continue the old entanglements
that destroyed them. Indeed we learn from the Sufi that new life
depends on us being our best and most feminine selves, ourselves
most open to the other. The second question we must deal with if
we are to hear the voices of women in a war torn world is whether
or not the spiritual can ever be real if it ignores the political.
In the second story the Talmud shows us the relationship between
spirituality and politics. The Talmud tells us why we’re here and
what it requires of all of us both spiritually and politically.
The Talmud teaches that the miracle of the Red Sea was not that
the waters parted. The miracle of the Red Sea, the Talmud says,
is when the waters parted, the first Jew walked through. One Jew,
one solitary Jew had the faith to be led beyond the political pressures
of the moment to begin the new beginning.
When we see a path through the water bed beginning to clear before
us, we must run one at a time to link arms with those in the land
on the other side who are also braving the waves in the hope that
together we can meet halfway and all of us come safely through
together. But we must remember that it is the one that goes through
the waters first who gives the rest of us courage. It’s the one
who braves the water bed first who gives the rest of us hope. It’s
the one who believes in miracles who becomes a miracle to the rest
To be holy we must each whatever deluge we have in our own lives
or together, whatever title wave of distress we are drowning in
right now, we must be the first to take that step into the sea.
We cannot allow fear or hate, vengeance or victimage to make that
first step impossible. We must with Jesus say when full of fear
and facing the frightening other, Peter, put away your sword and
on a cross forgive them.
Finally, we must refuse to ignore the question what do women
have to do with war.
And we must cry out the answer to the ends of the globe women
have everything to do with war. Everything. Everything. Everything.
Women as a class excluded from the war making system on every major
determining level go to war in the worst possible way. They go
unprepared, unarmed, and unasked whether they want to be defended,
defenselessly or not. Women are booty of war, their bodies have
become the instrument of war, their children have become the father
of war. Their homes have become the rubble of war. Their daily
struggles to live have become one of the horrors of war and their
futures have been left shattered in the shambles of war. They die,
too, from bombs and bullets. They die in large cities and small
villages today for lack of food and then they die left behind for
lack of water or they die for years after that from drinking water
destroyed by war and left filthy with human feces. They die in
tent cities without medicines, without clothing, without sons and
husbands and hope and they die seeing their daughters do the same.
So much for the commitment of men to the protection of women. So
much for the notion that men spare women the suffering of war.
Oh, yes. When all the warriors have finally left their battlefields,
it is the women who are left abandoned there, either to rise or
die alone in the ashes of war and the cemeteries of anguish. If
truth were ever told war falls hardest, longest, cruelest on the
backs of women. Indeed, women must have a role not only in the
reconstruction of society’s already ravaged by war, but more than
that, they must take a voice until they are given a voice in the
development of peaceful alternatives to war as well.
But is it possible and can it be done—will our spiritual traditions
support such a thing? The fact is in another of our common stories
we have a model of why we’re here this week, why we’re talking
about this subject this week.
We have to remember in a special way today the story of Moses
mother and Pharaoh’s daughter. The baby Moses doomed to die because
his presence a threat to control of the time. He was taken by his
mother to where the daughter of the king would see the baby and
take pity on him. There and then, then and there, two women together
connived the baby’s survival. One Arab and one Jew saved the impoverished,
the outcast, and because of them a whole people was saved. Moses
mother sent her child into the house of the enemy because she knew
what the men did not know. No mother was an enemy to a child.
Pharaoh’s daughter took into her own life the mothers and sisters
of the very ones her father said must die. Pharaoh’s daughter defied
the king and made a mockery of his laws. Moses mother put her hope
not in the military revolution, but in the open heartedness of
women and peaceful co-existence. Presence of women in the Moses
story, the empowering cooperation of Moses mother and the Pharaoh’s
daughter was an antidote to extremism then, was the beginning of
community then, was the seed of another newer, more nurturing world
that was needed then and it’s even more needed now. The lives of
our children, protection of millions, the hopes of all human kind
wait again now for women, from opposite cultures, opposite traditions,
to step over the lines of political hatred to save them. We cannot
afford many more male military mistakes. The United Nations is
very clear about the needs of women being ignored here and the
need for women in the political arena and the peace making process.
It’s put this way; he says the future of the world depends on women.
So noted by the now unconceivable God awful living conditions
of women everywhere, thanks to the women’s movement everywhere,
the UN has taken leadership to promote governments of the world,
to civilize their attitudes towards women.
We can judge the level of the civilization in the culture only
by the way it treats its women. With those realities in mind, the
United Nations is calling first for an international truth and
reconciliation commission on violence against women in armed conflict.
If you want to be a woman peacemaker, you must pursue that passionately.
Two, they want sanctions against the trafficking of women and
girls and criminalize it everywhere. We must demand that passionately.
They want protection officers deployed at the highest levels to
shield secure and sustain displaced populations, all of them largely
women. And you must insist on that passionately.
They want HIV and aids programs to address the disease burden
now being carried almost entirely by women whose very bodies have
been made a weapon of war. We must demand that passionately.
They want gender-training programs to guide government officials
in dealing with women victims and we must press for that passionately.
They want gender based conflict resolution processes that seek
peace through understanding rather than force and we must seek
They want gender equality, not tokenism in all the peace processes
so that the agendas of both men and women, women and men will be
integrated into peace building programs. We must prod and prod
and prod them to do this passionately.
And finally they want resolution 1325 implemented in every country
in the world. Consider yourself blessed if you’ve even heard of
it. In October 2000 the first UN Security Council resolution on
women and peace and security, resolution 1325 passed unanimously.
It’s a watershed resolution. It makes women and gender specific
exclusive of all peacekeeping operations, and all reconstruction
plans in war torn societies. Have we as this government installed
that in the so-called new government in Iraq?
Resolution 1325 finally gives political legitimacy to the long
history of women’s peace activities, global peace initiative of
women, countless, countless others, all of which have been ignored
for years. It’s time for women indeed, indeed it’s time for women—you
and I must take responsibility for making real the religions this
country says it believes in. It’s time for women to be an organized
international voice for peace, a religious critic of national policies
that threaten the life of the world, a sign of peace on a local
level everywhere. It’s time for women to reach across the borders
that men will not breach, to take the hands of the other, not to
bind them, but to bond them.
It’s time for women’s analysis of world situations and women’s
solutions to conflict be heard.
The global peace initiative of women is asking, therefore, that
people and women like this, that women like you, prod, press, provoke
so that in the name of Ramen, Buddha, Yahweh, Jesus, and the Prophet,
that the United Nations institutionalize what they alone have had
the courage to create, a universal call to the women’s spiritual
and religious leaders of the world to monitor, create, and publicly
critique new initiatives for peace— the kind of peace making that
armies, politicians, and even religion itself has not given us
up to this time. A philosopher wrote the saints of our time that
those that refuse to be either its executioners or its victims.
It’s time for women to refuse to be either victims or executioners.
Not only to make safe the world, but to make real the religions
the religions teach so that before death can come, as God wants,
life will come for us all. The question for us all, then, today
isn’t why isn’t it happening and what does that have to do. The
question is that the answer is you. The answer is crucial now.
When we need to develop the kind of religion that finally makes
us love one another. When we need to foil the dictators who are
using religion as a prop to keep themselves in power. When we clearly
need to release women, the boldest and most unmanageable of all
revolutionaries. Then perhaps we, too, this country, too, this
government, too, the Samurais of this time, too, will finally come
to see things differently, do things differently, deal with things
differently than we, too, will come to know the real difference
between heaven and hell.
keynote speech was delivered by Sister Joan Chittister at the
3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is a theologian, social psychologist,
and noted national and international lecturer whose keynote addresses
and conferences focus on justice, peace, human rights, and women’s
equality in church and society. A Benedictine Sister of Erie,
Chittister is founder and executive director of Benetvision:
A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality;
and past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
and the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses. She is
the author of more than 20 books, including Heart of Flesh:
A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men; The Story of
Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life; Illuminated
Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light; and Scarred
by Struggle, Transformed by Hope. She is also a regular columnist
for the National Catholic Reporter, and an active member
of the International Peace Council. Chittister attended the Fourth
U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the Parliament
of the World’s Religions in South Africa in 1999.