The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


October 7, 2011

Lutheran peacemaker Leymah Gbowee wins Nobel Peace Prize

Leymah Gbowee, a Lutheran from Liberia, was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 7. The prize was jointly presented to three women: Gbowee; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa's first elected female president; and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Gbowee, a peacemaker, activist and mother of six, led an interreligious group of thousands of women to defy warlords, government officials and male relatives to carry their country out of a long, bloody civil war to peace and democracy in 2003. She is a member of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Her home congregation, St. Peter Lutheran in Monrovia, was the site of a July 30, 1990, massacre of 600 people.

Over the years, Gbowee's name has cropped up repeatedly in articles and interviews in The Lutheran. In 2000, she was a social worker and trauma counselor, rehabilitating child soldiers for peace, economic self-sufficiency and, if they were willing, church participation. In 2003, she gathered Liberia's women to protest the fighting and bloodshed because "the future of our children is threatened." With the support of an international leadership scholarship from the ELCA, Gbowee studied peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., from 2006-2007. A review of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a documentary about her work, appeared in The Lutheran's January 2009 issue.

And in July, Gbowee spoke to the 2,000 participants who attended the 2011 Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering. "I had had enough of [Liberia's] war," Gbowee told the women. "That space, Liberia had to be reclaimed." She described how thousands of Christian and Muslim women came together and were instrumental in ending the war.

Gbowee is never content to leave enough alone. That's a good thing. Over the years, she's expanded her concern to envelop not only Liberia but the entire West African region, the U.S. and other countries. And in July, the Women of the ELCA were no exception. "What are you reclaiming today?" Gbowee asked the women. "What have you allowed your community ... the Lutheran tradition [or] your comfort zone to take away from you?" Saying it's not enough to send out school kits, health kits, prayer shawls and encouraging words, she added, "It's time to rise up [and] reclaim the space God has given us."

Gbowee is the second Lutheran woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1982, Alva Myrdal, a member of the Church of Sweden, was the first Lutheran woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Other Lutheran Nobel Peace Prize winners are Albert Schweitzer (1952), Dag Hammarskjöld (1961) and Norman Borlaug (1970).

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