The Truly Global Sisterhood of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual

In the early nineties, I stood in a refugee center in the former Yugoslavia, a country destroyed by the bitter hatred that fueled the Balkan War. I listened, heartsick, to stories of mass rapes of hundreds of Bosnian women by Serbian soldiers. Like the world, I was stunned and horrified by what had happened in Bosnia. 

A decade later I sat in a village church in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Congolese mothers and young girls—one after the next—described the day they were brutally raped and left for dead by rebel soldiers. Realizing it was cheaper to rape a woman than waste a bullet, Congo’s fighters perfected the art of sexual violence. They used it more viciously and at a greater scale than at any other time and place in history—and they’re still using it.

More recently, I sat in the office of an NGO in Dohuk, Iraq, listening in a paralysis of shock to a young mother who had just been rescued from ISIS. In slow, flat tones she told of the horrors of eighteen months as a sex slave. When she could stand it no longer, she tried to escape; as punishment, her captors killed her three young children. Horror upon horror. 

Mothers. Sisters. Aunts. Daughters. Friends. Grandmothers and little girls.

 Bleeding in body and soul. 

Their suffering captured me. In 2016, as a founding member of One Million Thumbprints, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for women in the warzones.

Recognizing that women throughout the world are disproportionately impacted by all the great global tragedies, I’ve long believed that women need to be disproportionately engaged on the solution side. We need to live—really and truly and daily—as part of a great global sisterhood. Those in a position to do so need to extend mercy, fight systemic injustice, work to change cultural attitudes, pray, raise funds for transforming initiatives. And, of course, we need to speak up against the perverted preaching and patriarchy that too often fuels abuses. 

I’ve often said that women are the greatest untapped resource in the world. We have so much good to give! So much change to bring! So much power in our hands! 

But all too often, we are an untapped resource. For too many women of my generation—and maybe yours—nobody told us we had all that power in our hands. Nobody told us we were destined to be change-bringers. Nobody told us we were filled with goodness just waiting to be given. 

Nobody called us to rise to a worthy challenge. 

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Maybe I’m wrong, but I think #SilenceIsNotSpiritual might be that worthy challenge for many of us. It might be the call we need to join the global sisterhood. And I don’t just mean “global” in the sense of “on the other side of the globe.” I mean the kind of global that starts wherever we are, wherever we experience violation of our body or soul, wherever we see a sister experience the violation of her body or soul.   

In a sense, I’ve been quite involved in that global sisterhood. I’ve spent lots of time on airplanes heading for places where women were suffering.

But in recent years, I’ve been convicted about something. I’ve been chastised by the Spirit, jabbed by a sense of holy dis-ease, convinced of something amiss in my life. 

It’s this: I’ve bypassed the part of global that’s closer to home. 

For years I got on planes because I could and I knew that many women couldn’t. I had the money, time and freedom to engage internationally, so I felt a responsibility to do so. I’m glad I did that and I’ll continue to as I’m able. But it was incomplete. It left something unsettled rattling around in my mind and soul. 

In the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual statement, that unsettled thing settled into place when I read these words:

At the intersection of racial and gender violence women of color bear the disproportionate burden. 43.7 percent of African American/black women, 37.1 percent of Hispanic/Latina women, and 19.6 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Native American women are most likely of all women to experience violence in their lifetime (84 percent) and on some reservations they are murdered at 10x the national average. Finally, when disability, gender identification and social stigma is considered, rates of violence increase dramatically for all people.

As a wealthy white woman, I have paid attention to global manifestations of violence against women that wealthy white women—and some women of color—can pay attention to. I’ve not paid attention to the manifestations of violence against women that many women of color are forced to pay attention to day in and day out. #SilenceIsNotSpiritual has helped me to see that, and to see that I have much to learn. 

The power of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual is that it is not just a white woman’s statement or a white woman’s movement. I am deeply grateful to Lisa Sharon Harper and Freedom Road and to the many women of color who poured their wisdom, their expertise and their holy anger into this initiative. 

December 21 was a day of prayer and fasting for me. For the last five months, I have joined Bread for the World’s monthly day of prayer and fasting for the hungry and vulnerable in our country and the world. You can read why I fast and pray on the 21st of each month here.

But on December 21 my prayer had an added focus. I prayed specifically for women of color in the cities and rural towns and reservations of the US, whose souls and bodies are bleeding right now, whose pain seems overwhelming, whose healing seems impossible. For too long I have ignored their voices, I have ignored them in my advocacy, and I have ignored them in my prayers. I sat in the quiet of yesterday’s prayer grieved and chastised by that realization. 

In the days to come, my prayer will also include all those who sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual statement. May the Spirit show each of us the few or many words of the statement that we need to claim in a particular way—for conviction, for motivation, for affirmation, for healing. May the work that only God can do be done in you and me as we embrace the truths of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual.     

Lynne Hybels