ELCA NEWS SERVICE
October 7, 2011
Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lutheran African peace activist
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a Lutheran Liberian peace activist, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The announcement came Oct. 7 from Oslo, Norway. Gbowee, a member of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, is responsible for organizing a non-violent women's movement that brought an end to a 14-year civil war in Liberia.
Gbowee was awarded a scholarship from the International Leadership Development Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 2006-2007 to support her study in peace building at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
The ELCA and the Lutheran Church in Liberia are members of The Lutheran World Federation -- a global communion of 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Christians worldwide.
The Liberian women's movement led to the ousting of ex-President Charles Taylor and to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia -- the first African nation with a female president. President Sirleaf also has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The war in Liberia began in 1989, but "the women's movement, our protest, didn't begin until 2003," Gbowee said in a Sept. 19 interview at the ELCA churchwide organization.
The starting point of the women's movement was war fatigue, said Gbowee, a mother of six children. She grew tried of watching children die from hunger and "waking up every morning and not knowing whether a tomorrow was possible. You can't plan for the future." Along with thousands of other women from across Liberia, Gbowee wanted to dream of a better community.
She decided it was time to stop the war and called together women of all faiths -- Christian, Muslim, indigenous and others -- from across Liberia to "step out," recognizing that Liberian women can play a critical role in peace building.
"You always see your savior in someone else other than yourself," Gbowee said. "So for us women, having never been socialized to believe that we have powers to interfere in the politics of our country, were waiting for the bold men. (But) every time the bold men rose up, they rose up with guns and other things," she said, realizing that women needed to bring the much-desired peace "for ourselves."
But Gbowee does not take full credit for initiating and organizing the women's peace movement. "There were other women who came before us, emboldening us to take a stand," she said. "And we didn't just start from nothing."
Using the experiences of the women before them, Gbowee used prayer, picketing and silence to further their mission. Despite insults and other behaviors that came their way, Gbowee said, "We kept quiet because we had a sense of purpose and sense of direction." The women also put together statements of peace for African governments, engaged the media and initiated personal, one-to-one conversations with power brokers "to see how we could get the peace that Liberia was searching for," she said.
Gbowee's story is chronicled in the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." She has just completed her memoir, "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War" -- a book that examines "the power of women and the power of faith in getting you (out) from the darkest place in your life," she said.
"Leymah Gbowee's life and leadership are a witness to the power of women to resist forces of violence and domination by creating a movement for reconciliation and peace," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. "In Liberia, I experienced her passionate commitment to rebuilding a nation torn by civil war not by seeking vengeance, but through her faith to encourage dialogue and inclusiveness at all levels of society."
"The ELCA has been blessed by her prophetic voice. Leymah was the keynote speaker at (this) summer's Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering, advocated with ELCA members at the United Nations and in Washington D.C., and inspired participants in ELCA Global Mission events with her vision of God's peace for the world. She embodies a Christian faith that will not keep silent in the face of poverty and oppression," Hanson said.
"She sees the strength that comes when both women and men of different faiths join together in building a more just and peaceful world. When others may say there is no hope in the face of forces that divide and exploit, Leymah Gbowee gives a resounding 'yes' to the way of nonviolence and justice for all," he said. "This is a great day for women, for Liberia, for the world and for the ELCA, so blessed by Leymah Gbowee's courageous leadership and strong partnership."
Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director for Women of the ELCA, said Gbowee's call "to be a peacemaker came when she was president of the women's group at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Monrovia. Today that call has taken her to a Nobel Peace Prize." Women of the ELCA is the women's organization of the ELCA.
"Women of the ELCA has been privileged to walk with Leymah in this journey, first publishing her story in our magazine in 2004. She inspired so many at our Triennial Gathering this past July as a featured speaker. Her call there to move out of our comfort zone, rise up and reclaim our space will continue to inspire Lutheran women for years to come. We are so pleased for our Liberian sister," said Post Bushkofsky.
"The Nobel Peace Prize honors our sister, Leymah Gbowee, and all the courageous Liberian women who put their faith into action and their lives on the line in the prayerful, non-violent protest that helped end Liberia's brutal civil war," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, ELCA executive for Global Mission.
"These women showed the power of ordinary people who choose to stand together and say 'no' to violence and 'yes' to peace. The ELCA walked with Leymah and the Lutheran Church in Liberia, as they worked for peace in the darkest days of the Liberian civil war and for reconciliation in the years of reconstruction that have followed," he said. "It is a special joy to learn today that the Nobel Committee has recognized Leymah's amazing leadership of the women's movement that helped change the course of Liberian history and continues to build peace in West Africa."
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Read Women of the ELCA's congratulations to Gbowee here. For more information about the Lutheran Church in Liberia, click here.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@elca.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com