The Jackson Free Press (Mississippi) featured an interview with Joan Chittister, “Where I Am, You May
Not Harm,” in a recent issue. This is an excerpt from the interview conducted by Ronni Mott.
In an interview you did with Krista Tippett (Host of American Public Media’s “On Being”) many years
ago, you said, “Feminism is holy.” Can you expand a little bit on that.
Well, of course. What is feminism? It is the desire to create a society where all people function fully,
equally and justly, together and as a people alone. Now, feminism is just the willingness to spend your
life to achieve those issues, for women and well as for men, so that we are all coming to the fullness of
both our spiritual and physical reality.
When people say, “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and a feminist,” I say, “I don’t see how you
can be a Christian and not be a feminist.”
Everything that Jesus wanted, Jesus wanted for all of us. He doesn’t say, “I want full development for
men, for women I have another task.” Do you see what I’m saying? The minute you put it in those
words, you see the idiocy of it. This is a purely cultural imprecision, or restriction, of half the human
race for the sake of the other half. It’s that simple.
You work with many groups throughout the world. One of them is the Global Peace Initiative for
Women. I have to poke at my women friends who say things like, “If women ran the world, we would
have no more wars.” Obviously, that’s not true; there are plenty of women throughout history who
have started wars. So tell me, what is the Global Peace Initiative for Women?
In the first place, we have to realize that women have been kept out of leadership for so long that
getting into those positions kind of required, at least unconsciously, that they looked capable and
qualified to be “the same kind of leader” as men.
We may need exactly the opposite kind of leadership. And that is what does fall within what we have
traditionally said were “women’s” strengths. Whether it is gender-based or not, it’s irrelevant. We have
identified women as the relation-makers in the world. The reason you go to war is because you can’t
I always say, if women are just like men and you (don’t) put them on committees, what’s your problem?
They won’t destroy it. And if women are unlike men and you don’t have them on committees, you will
lose half the agendas of the world. And that’s what we’re doing when we make war: We make a man’s
war against men, and women die in the middle of it.
The Global Peace Initiative of Women is an attempt to bring together spiritual leaders from every single
major religious tradition, basically women spiritual leaders, to go into areas of conflict and bring people
together around the table and say, “There is no great religion on the planet that would justify what is
going on here.”
So, as a woman of faith, as a monastic, how do you see your role and the role of other people of faith
in the world?
It’s a simple one: To see injustice and say so, to find the truth and proclaim it, to allow no stone to be
unturned when it is a stone that will be cast at anyone else. It’s just that simple. There is nothing
institutional, organizational, political about it. It says: “Where I am, you may not harm these people. You
may not deride them; you may not reject them; you may not sneer at them; and you certainly cannot
blame them for their own existence."
I’ve devoted my life, consciously, to issues of injustice as a voice for their good, so that I, myself, do
not forget that they are standing there crying.
Where I Am You May Not Harm