The Ruby Woo pilgrimage: Hear the pulpits roar

(RNS) — The Ruby Woo pilgrims have completed their journey.

The group of  evangelical Christian woman — all wearing a bold shade of lipstick known as "Ruby Woo" — on Thursday (Nov. 16) ended a four-day journey that took them to landmarks in women's and African-American history. Here, in four snapshots, writer Lisa Sharon Harper explains how she got the idea for the pilgrimage and what she and her fellow travelers discovered along the way.

#RubyWooPilgrimage is rolling to Capitol Hill!!! Our first Hill meeting today will be with @repmaxinewaters!!!

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The year is 1979 ...

The year of the Iran hostage crisis, Jimmy Carter’s run for a second term, inordinately long gas lines, my parent’s separation and the year I first hear the song “I Am Woman,” by Helen Reddy. I am 10.

Sitting in the passenger seat of our new station wagon, after Daddy has left and with Mom needing strength, I hear those words barrel out of her mouth — full voice, perfect pitch: “I am woman. Hear me roar!”

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She hadn’t gone to college before marrying my dad. Now she has three young children and is a student at the University of Pennsylvania's  prestigious nursing school. She had never owned her own home, but that year she buys a beautiful one. She is only 31.

Helen Reddy’s song joins a strong supportive community of family and friends to offer strength to my mother and to women like her, in fragile and formative years of my life and in the life of our nation.

The year is 1989 ...

The year the Christian Coalition becomes a thing and pro-life and pro-choice rallies yell back and forth across my college campus.

I wrap up rehearsal for the upcoming meeting of our conservative evangelical campus ministry, for which I had led worship for the previous two years. A new staff worker, a man, had joined the team over the summer. He asks if we can talk, and taking me aside, explains: A man is here now — one who can lead worship. So, now it’s time for you to learn to follow — because you’re a woman.

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My roar is muzzled that night.

I stand in the background, tears running down my face as I sing backup to his lead … as I do for the rest of the school year.

The day is Nov. 9, 2016 ...

Women and men file in and sit around the table in an impromptu staff meeting of a Washington, D.C.-based faith and justice organization. The grief and tension are palpable in the office.

We need to process the ascension to the presidency of a man who had encouraged his crowd to beat up a black woman, who had bragged that he grabbed women’s “pussies” and who had been elected the night before to the highest office in our nation.

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At one point, one woman shares that she is confused. She feels betrayed. All her life, the evangelical arm of the church told women like her to be chaste, modest, demure and sexually pure. But those same pastors and Bible study leaders and deacons were likely the ones who voted for a man who bragged about violating women’s bodies?

Wailing fills the room.

The day is May 5, 2017 ...

​African-American evangelical speaker and author Deidra​ ​Riggs ​tweets a ​question​ ​to​ ​her followers:​ ​“What​ ​women​ ​leaders​ ​you’re​ ​for?”​ ​By the end of the day 35 extremely diverse top evangelical women leaders were brought​ together in a Twitter cloud. Speaker and writer ​Kathy​ ​Khang shares with the group that she is​ ​searching​ ​for​ ​the​ ​perfect​ ​lipstick​ ​as part of a branding package for her next book.

“Has anyone heard of Ruby Woo?” Kathy asks.

Check it out!! These are the original tweets that God used to lay path for the #RubyWooPilgrimage! We launch TODAY!!!

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The cloud erupts with rave reviews about Ruby Woo, the name MAC cosmetics gave to the shade.

Some wear the deep red lip color every time they preach, while others wear the color to make them feel stronger. And the magic of Ruby Woo, it’s reported, is that it looks awe-mazing on any skin tone.

By the end of the day, these ethnically, politically and geographically diverse women leaders, who hail from a religious tradition that typically dissuades women from leadership, find themselves dreaming of ways they can come together for deeper conversation and fun.

One week later, my own tube of Ruby Woo lipstick comes in the mail. I tweet the picture, along with all the other women now posting pictures of themselves rocking Ruby Woo.

And I get an idea.

#fierce #rubywoopilgrimage ???#squadgoals

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What if this incredible group of women went on a pilgrimage together?

What if we boarded one bus for three whole days? What if we traveled through the intersectional story of all women’s struggles for empowerment in the U.S., while rocking our Ruby Woo?

I put the idea out to the Twitter cloud. And the #RubyWooPilgrimage was born.

Having received permission from MAC to use the name Ruby Woo in the title of our pilgrimage and having received backing from several awesome sponsoring organizations — including World Relief and the Justice Conference, CBE International, Christian Community Development Association, the Wesleyan Church and Wesley Seminary in Indiana, as well as Compassion International — the #RubyWooPilgrimage rolled across the Northeast and down into the South, from Nov. 12-16.

We were transformed by what we encountered together: The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., revealed a profoundly intersectional, nuanced and honest story of multi-issue alliances, racial strife, profound betrayal and equally profound commitment of allied leaders over the course of the rest of their lives.

Even though I’m pretty sure there weren’t any #Latinas you gotta celebrate

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The Rev. Ruby Sales met us at the National Black Theatre and engaged our group of evangelical women in an honest and raw conversation that touched on the colonization, genocide and enslavement of African peoples, and what it will take to heal people deemed white from the dehumanization of their souls, caused by the deification of whiteness.

And we walked on the ground where Lucretia Mott worshipped, blocks away from the land where Angelina Grimke preached despite the mob. Mott organized the actual first American women’s empowerment meeting, which took place 10 years before the famed meeting in Seneca Falls and was led and funded by both white and black women leaders.

And we wept with Myrna, an immigrant leader in the New Sanctuary movement who walked us through every step of her own story from deportation to her treacherous journey to return to her 6-year-old daughter. And we cheered the Rev. Grace Mae and three other women working to empower trafficked, oppressed and skipped-over women in Asian-American communities.

Thank you Rev. Dr. Ruby Sales! #foreverchanged #rubywoopilgrimage

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We walked the century-old floors of the Tenement Museum and considered the pressing question: When did Irish, German and other white immigrants become white?

And we walked the land where Harriet Tubman became Moses. And we were inspired.

And we moved through the labyrinth of artifacts and pictures lining the walls and filling the halls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I greeted my own ancestor, James Forten, Revolutionary War hero and funder of the abolitionist movement.

Meditative and prayerful @ #rubywoopilgrimage

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Then I rounded the corner and peered through the glass labeled Women of the Abolitionist Movement. There she was — Charlotte Forten — my third cousin four times removed. She wasn’t there (or I didn’t find her) the first time I visited the museum. Now her picture hangs next to Harriet Tubman’s.

I felt a roar rise from the deepest part of my being. I am woman, black, Christian, evangelical.

Today, I stood with allies across racial classifications and ethnic heritage as we heard from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. We are #reclaimingourtime!

We are woman.

#goingdeeper #rubywoopilgrimage

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The leashes of hard patriarchy have been rattled, removed and tossed to hell.

We are committed to the kin-dom of God, the reign of God, the protection of the image of God in all — including the women.

Stand by. You are about to hear pulpits roar.

(Lisa Sharon Harper is an activist, author and the founder and president of the Freedom Road consulting group. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service. A version of this commentary was originally published on


  1. I find it ironic that someone dedicated to telling the stories of “skipped-over” minorities could go to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and relegate Jews to “other white immigrants.” The tenement housing the museum was built in 1863. By that time, *ethnic German* immigration, as opposed to Jewish immigration from Central and Eastern Europe, was in New York City centered north of Houston Street, in what is now known as the East Village or Alphabet City, until their community was devastated by the General Slocum disaster. That 1904 boat trip fire, taken by a German church group, killed over 1,000 people and was the worst loss of life in NYC until 9/11/2001. In any event, Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants were at the time centered further downtown in the tenements around the museum. The church building from the General Slocum group is now a synagogue.

  2. I am curious what the Reverend Ruby Sales thinks “it will take to heal people deemed white from the dehumanization of their souls, caused by the deification of whiteness.” Please, someone, tell me.

  3. Good question – I found an On Being interview with her. She starts by saying Trump’s election was a response to the pain of being a white person in America – the white person who has lost their economic security or who sees their small white community shrinking. Now to quotes for a synopsis

    ” there’s a spiritual crisis in white America. It’s a crisis of meaning, and I don’t hear — we talk a lot about black theologies, but I want a liberating white theology. I want a theology that speaks to Appalachia. Iwant a theology that begins to deepen people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them rather than call upon the part of themselves that’s not relational. Because there’s nothing wrong with being European American. That’s not the problem. It’s how you actualize that history and how you actualize that reality. It’s almost like white people don’t believe that; other white people are worthy of being redeemed.”

    and :”So most people begin their conversation with “I hate this” — but they never talk about what it is they love. And so I think that we have to begin to have a conversation that incorporates a vision of love with a vision of outrage.” “This whole business of demonization, I’ve been deeply concerned about it because it does not locate the good in people. It gives up on people. And you see that most especially in the right and the left. I have been very concerned about the demonization that comes out of right wing communities and also the demonization that I’ve heard on the left. And it comes from the same source of displaced whiteness.

    So I think that there is, at the heart of this business, of finding something good in people and not giving up on anyone and not writing anyone’s obituary until they no longer have breath in their bodies is very problematic today. And I have had deep problems with the anger, the vitriolic rage that has come out of the right and the left. And I neve thought I would say this, and the only safe landing space seems to be in the middle ” She also talks about her sense of black folks religion as opposed to the black church in developing a public theology, one of agape..

    “So I think it — we’ve got to stop speaking about humanity as if it’s monolithic. We’ve got to wrap our consciousness around a world where people bring to the world vastly different histories and experiences, but at the same time, a world where we experience grief and love in some of the same ways. So how do we develop theologies that weave together the “I” with the “We” and the “We” with the “I?”

  4. Sorry Arbustin, but that don’t mean nary a nothing around here.

    You definitely know your NYC Tenement Museum history, but you and I both know that this “Ruby Woo” event ain’t quite interested in your history. Your story, while interesting, doesn’t really fit the official Woo intersectional feminist narrative, therefore it’s no good. So consider yourself “relegated.”

    P.S. …and Maxine Waters don’t like you too much either!!

  5. I can’t speak on Maxine Waters, but to go to the Tenement Museum and make such an omission, while perhaps not purposefully exclusionary, is just glaring. It’s like if they went up the block to Katz’s Deli and said, ‘wow, I wonder what kind of food this is.’

  6. Thanks! This helps me start understanding Rev. Sales’s remark. But it does not help me much in understanding such basic things as what she means by “people deemed white” or “dehumanization of their souls” or “the deification of whiteness.” Alas, I still have naught but an inkling what Rev. Sales thinks.

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