Category: Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight: Sau Nam, MA ’20

My country, Myanmar, is a beautiful land, but it is also known for injustice, government corruption, a decade-long civil war, and the current military coup. The unjust political structure is reflected in churches that are under the leadership of the Kachin Baptist Convention (K.B.C). Although the Kachin religion changed from ‘nat’ worship (spirit worship in the animist tradition) to Christianity over a hundred years ago, in many respects, the social dynamics are the same as in the pre-Christian era. Kachin women are still seen as subordinate to men. Moreover, the patriarchal Kachin social structure has been empowered and justified by the male-oriented texts of the Bible. In this patriarchal structure, I cannot see the attribute of God fully- it is difficult to see God as a loving and just God. Finally, I discovered the worth of being a woman by reading the Bible with new eyes and gained an alternative view of God during the feminist theology class when I studied at the Myanmar Institute of Theology.  

The ordination of women is also an issue in my context. Kachin religious leaders say that they should not allow women to be ordained because if they do, sooner or later they will also have to allow the ordination of LGBTI individuals. This demonstrates that the liberation of women and others who are oppressed is, in many ways, related. In order to have liberation for all, there is no option except demanding justice for all and criticizing unjust and unhealthy social-political and religious structures, which has become my passion and mission.  

Unsurprisingly, as a Baptist woman minister and a lecturer of feminist theology at Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS), I have encountered a lot of challenges in my life and ministry. Despite various barriers in the Kachin society, I have been working together with several local NGOs on projects related to women empowerment and gender studies. I also worked with the women’s department, Kachin Baptist Convention, and International Ministries—American Baptist for promoting women leadership. My key message was that women are created in God’s image and God wants them to be mothers, leaders, and even ordained ministers and that Jesus affirmed women and stood up for the poor and the oppressed.  

To effectively carry out ministry focusing on gender-grounded inequality, discrimination, and violence, I decided to come to the U.S to enhance my theological education in the areas of feminist theology and other interdisciplinary fields such as liberation theology, moral theology, and biblical hermeneutics. As the Central Baptist Theological Seminary is one of the American Baptist schools, it has a long history with my former school, Myanmar Institute of Theology, and it promotes women leadership roles, I decided wholeheartedly to come to Central.  

Central has become a safe and supportive environment for me to study and to express my view. Among many memories, I would like to share about my first as well as most challenging class, Biblical Interpretation class, at Central. I have learned a lot from Dr. David May and Dr. Heidi L. Baxter. Dr. May is not only a leading New Testament scholar but also a great teacher who leads classes in creative, fun, and interesting ways. In addition, Dr. Baxter’s role is also significant. She is more than an associate professor in this class. She is like a mini library and counselor and always helps us with helpful thoughts and resources. What I have learned from this class is that for constructing theology, we need to practice the exegesis first. Without correct or inclusive interpretation, we cannot theologize sound theology. The exegetical methods that I have learned from the Biblical Interpretation class, and insights from Theological Foundations, and Christian Ethics classes with Dr. Gregory L. Hunt, Dr. Tarris Rosell, Dr. John A. Jones IV, and Prof. Kate Hanch give me the confidence to deliver liberating and inclusive messages in my community. The advanced theological education that I have learned from Central has also helped me think about deliberative and constrictive theology in my further studies.  

I finished my MA (Theological Studies) program from Central in May 2020 and continued my Ph.D. studies in fall 2020 at DU/Iliff Joint Doctoral Program in the Study of Religion. I am taking courses in my second year now. My area is theology, and I am interested in liberation theology, feminist theology, practical theology, postcolonial and decolonial studies, and Asian/Asian-American studies. My research interest is feminist ecclesiology. I would like to reimagine an inclusive leadership church structure that decenters male-biased canon, doctrine, and practices of the church through feminist and postcolonial hermeneutics of Christian theology.  

Whenever I think of transforming the church, challenges are mounted before me. In my community, some preachers’ sermons empower a certain group of people and marginalize other groups. Preachers cannot pay attention to the spiritual well-being of the whole community. The message of God’s inclusive love is not found in male preachers’ sermons and their androcentric language and example. Sexism is taught, reinforced, and practiced/modeled from the pulpit. Preaching a sexist message is damaging to the self-confidence and spirituality of women. Today, I still struggle to find an inclusive and welcoming church. I have been treated unequally by my church leaders and pastors here and in my country for many years, and I am not the only one, so an inclusive church that preaches an inclusive message is an urgent need at present time, especially for the powerless and marginalized people.  

Because of the criticism and opposition that my fellow women ministers and I have experienced from male colleagues and our community here in the States and from Myanmar, I felt stressed and hopeless. It is almost impossible to advocate for equality in the church and to be given equal power and respect in ministry. The current Myanmar political turmoil makes me feel total hopelessness and disconnected from God. I often ask myself, “Is it possible to uproot the dictatorship that is found in my convention and my country?”  

My professor from Iliff School of Theology, Dr. Miguel De La Torre’s rationalization of embracing hopelessness gives me encouragement and insights to continue my studies and ministry. He encourages us to do social justice work for humanity as responsible persons by embracing hopelessness without much expectation.iii However, I cannot surrender my hope in the liberation struggles of church and society, and liberation theologies amidst hopeless situations. Although I am embracing hopelessness based on the present reality, I am hopeful for a just and inclusive church and society in the future as hope can be viewed as a process and it can be fulfilled in the process of struggles through collective efforts.   

While the military coup is happening in my country, the Pro Kachin Women Leadership Group looks back at our convention and search for justice in ministry. To become a just and shared ministry, we are advocating for the needed ordination of women in our convention. Currently, I am leading this group and we have drawn our yearly plans that could lead to movements for transformation. My colleagues are Kachin female professors from different theological seminaries in Myanmar, women leaders from the church and local NGOs, and a few male supporters. To establish a just and hopeful community for everyone within and outside of our societies, we need each other, and I personally need continuous support of Central, so I am working closely with a network of Central alums.