March 21: Arise, Women of This Day!

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
   who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
   who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’ 
Amos 4:1

In a rather unfortunate phrase, the prophet Amos implicates the women of Samaria who benefit from their husbands’ oppressive practices against the poor, calling them “cows.”

Perhaps Amos is trying to get the attention of the Samaritan men by insulting their wives. But a better approach for Amos would have been to rally the women of Samaria into a movement for social change! It’s unclear how well that would have worked, since ancient Middle Eastern culture was quite patriarchal; men called all the shots, religiously and politically.

Yet women have always been at the forefront of major social movements. I like to remind United Methodists that it was Methodist women who led the charge for Prohibition at the start of the 20th century. They were reacting against the way that the Industrial Revolution had crushed the spirits and souls of working men — too many men drank their paychecks away on Friday evening on cheap liquor, leaving them nothing to support their families at home. 

The original inspiration for Mother’s Day came from a woman who wanted to make an anti-war statement, Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, designed the day for mothers to unite in opposition to the carnage and wanton violence of the Civil War. 

She proposed an international gathering of women to protest war in the following proclamation:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

 "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.

 "We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with Our own.
It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have of ten forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.

 Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

 Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

 Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions.
The great and general interests of peace.

Howe’s dream of a anti-war Mother’s Day has slowly died away, even after a Methodist laywoman revived the tradition in the early 20th century. Sadly, the holiday has become merely a time to honor and remember our mothers, instead of a steadfast call to peace.

In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington, perhaps Howe’s vision yet remains alive.

Prayer: God, continue to raise up women to pursue Amos’ vision of a just and peaceful world. Make me a part of that movement. And let the call to “Disarm, Disarm!” resonate throughout the earth. Amen.

Justice Challenge: The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington are urging people to participate in 10 Actions in 100 Days. Their current Action is to engage in a book, article, or film study together with your “huddle” or community group. Check out their list of suggested reading and viewing, choose one, and read or view it!