Heed the Witness: The Work of Evangelism
Edited by T Lai
“The women’s story seemed like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11)
The gospel writers wrote that the women who tended to the tomb, the very women who found the stone rolled away, the women who were first to receive the news, “He is not here, He has risen,” suffered dismissal and possibly derision from those who did not believe.
Thus began the pattern of evangelism; the persistent witness of dismissed and discounted people advocating for a truth whose evidence was their own lived experience. These women– Mary, the mother of Jesus, Johanna, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them at the tomb–are the most important disciples in the Bible. If they had not been believed, the State authorities would have moved quickly to relegate the resurrection to an obscure rumor. While the names of the 12 disciples are mentioned and are the center of church history these women–whose names are sparingly mentioned– are the irrefutable witnesses of the pathos, passion, and power of the resurrection. Let us be clear, Jesus provided the work of salvation, but these women provided the witness of liberation.
Meghan Tschanz wrote, “Dear Church, seeking justice is evangelism.” The power of the women whose witness created Easter lies in the fact that it required its listeners to be changed by the very practice of listening. It challenged the disciples and the world’s assumptions about power, privilege, and status. Anyone who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead became the enemy of the state and established political and religious dogma. The witness was not, “It will make your life better. The witness was, “If Jesus indeed was raised from the dead, it makes all of our lives different.” This is the news that takes courage to proclaim.
The resurrection witness was compassion and empathy inextricably linked to transformative justice. There is a continuous legacy, a through-line in history, of this radical, fierce, and unending love.
It was the actions of Rosa Parks that began the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. is oft given the credit for marching; but, it was a group of persistent women like Rev. Prathia Hall and Dorothy Height, who are largely responsible for the undeniable message of crisis and courage. It was a group of "butch" lesbians and Trans people, many of whom were people of color, who stood up for themselves at Stonewall that began the movement to LGBTQIA+ inclusion which has defined the last 52 years. Though Colin Kaepernick is given acclaim for not kneeling it was not until three Black women said, “Black Lives Matter,” and persisted through the vitriol of dismissal did we begin to consider policy changes for policing. Arguably, it can be said that it is the clarion call of Greta Thunberg that is urging a generation to do something about climate change. It is the deaths of the women in Atlanta and the mostly women-led coalitions that are finally forcing the US to begin to see and hear the experience and pain of the self-identified AAPI community.
Do we recognize that the inflection points of racial reckoning in the US are due to the persistent witness of women?
These women– Rosa Parks, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Greta Thunberg, and the many women leading the AAPI efforts now– are the progeny of the women who changed the world because they refused to be disbelieved. It is their witness and their impact that should give us hope and the pattern of what it means to be a Christian witness. Alas, the church has continued to see witnessing as a valiant effort by a heroic male who attempts to conquer others and convince them of their truth while erasing the legitimacy of those with whom they disagree.
Evangelism as a crusade and quest to eradicate impurity is not only cruel and ugly but costly. Those targeted by that form of evangelism have increasingly rejected these efforts and have seen them as representative of an antiquated vision of oppression and suppression. They have discounted the personal stories of those who practice vitriolic evangelism because their stories seem to be self-serving. The church is flaying bout and hastening its death because it will not relinquish this form of evangelism. Evangelism has become a millstone around the neck of modern Christianity.
At the inception point of evangelism, turning from the empty tomb to the Good News, the pattern of evangelism begun by those courageous women was not one that started with the imposition of inquisitions and wars nor one that involved the scathing repudiation of the non-disbelievers. The women declared Jesus’ mission, which began to be fulfilled in a synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18), would be continued by those who believed and acted in the continuing work of the Spirit.
Let us continue the work of our sisters by proclaiming the unending love of our God!