by Deacon Marsha Roscoe

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10b

Baptism is my earliest memory of glimpsing the abundant life we receive in Jesus.

Instead of infant baptism, I grew up in a faith tradition that practiced baptism by full immersion. Baptism was delayed until it was felt the ‘believer’ was ready. This denomination also leaned heavily on traditional, male-dominated roles; female leadership was almost non-existent. The strong (non-Lutheran) emphasis on working my way into a right relationship with God made receiving this holy sacrament feel light years away. The body of Christ was right in front of me and yet I was still painfully disconnected from the whole. Eventually, after nervously and publicly professing my faith and repenting of my sins, I was welcomed into the Spirit-filled community of believers. Decades later, I can still feel the sun’s warmth bursting through the stained-glass windows to greet the water falling from my face. The abundant love experienced that day through the gifts of the Spirit is something I will forever cherish. Today, while my Lutheran-Christian beliefs on baptism and ordained female leadership do not align with my denominational upbringing, I continue to be thankful for the deep blessing of that baptismal experience where Jesus did what God does best: sees us, loves us, and names us as God’s own.

Jesus, whose fingerprints connect all of humanity … here is where it begins. The interconnectedness of creation that claims us as God’s own is our starting point. When, as the body of Christ, we talk about exploring faith, sexism, and justice, we begin with these very promises. In a world full of competing—often screaming—messages and alternative scripts for what it means to follow Jesus, we remember that everything begins with God. We orient our hearts and minds to God’s promises, narratives, and holy truths.

We are all made in the image of God and commissioned to bear God’s image in the world (Genesis 1 & 2). This means that every one of us carries more than just God’s stamp of approval; we are made from God’s love with God’s love for God’s love. As Richard Rohr proclaims, “Love is the deepest calling of the Christian life.”

We simply cannot love, as Jesus loves, on our own. We practice Jesus’ love together. Exploring faith, sexism, and justice is an act of deep love that calls us to reflect on the ways we are (and are not) embodying the loving God in us and honoring the loving God in others. For us to better resist the -isms (sexism, ageism, elitism, racism, just to name a few), we must first acknowledge their reality in the church and strive toward the abundant life God intends for all people.

As the Lower Susquehanna Synod, may we begin by acknowledging:

  1. God is God and we are not.
  2. The sins of sexism and patriarchy do, in fact, exist right here in our local faith communities. In the seven years I have served on Bishop Dunlop’s staff, I have heard countless stories and cried over harmful experiences that have fractured the body of Christ in this place.

In 2019, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) publicly acknowledged the harmful sins of patriarchy and sexism and adopted a social statement on women and justice. This social statement is designed to help people hear God’s promise of abundant life and call for justice, see the complex harm caused by sexism, and pursue gender justice through personal and collective actions. [Wondering what a social statement is? Designed to guide the life of this church, social statements are teaching documents that aid in communal and individual formation. They grow out of extensive deliberation followed by adoption by the two-thirds vote of a churchwide assembly.]

Adopting this social statement on women and justice was a serious first step in addressing related concerns within the ELCA. As a next step, the new study guide Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action supports congregations and ministries in affirming that all Christians are equal members of the body of Christ. This material challenges us to notice and resist the sins of patriarchy and sexism that affect so many, particularly women and girls, whatever their age or racial or gender identity. With eighty pages of flexible resources customizable for in-person gatherings, online discussions, or interactive online groups, this guide can be used by high school-aged students, individuals, congregations, and faith leaders desiring to foster equity.

As Lutheran-Christians of the Lower Susquehanna Synod who feed others as we have been fed by Christ, I invite you to prayerfully explore this new resource. May it empower you to think more deeply about the sins of patriarchy and sexism and compel you to work towards the abundant life in Christ that God intends. As the Holy Spirit continues to be present among us, may we encounter God’s movement and hopes for justice for neighbors and ourselves.

Deacon Marsha Roscoe, founder of Breathing in Christ, has committed most of her working life helping others fall in love with Jesus over and over again. An ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran in America (ELCA) and currently serving as an assistant to the bishop in Lower Susquehanna Synod, she has taught and ministered in areas of spiritual formation and missional outreach for nearly two decades. She and her husband, Jason, and their daughter Gina, live in Hershey, Pennsylvania.