New book presents Reformation women as faithful—and human

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Author Sukeshinie Goonatilleke received her first copy of Sisters in Arms while visiting Signs Publishing in November.

According to debut author Sukeshinie Goonatilleke, the eight Reformation women whose stories she has re-told in Sisters in Arms were women of courage, women of faith and women who stood for freedom of religion and conscience. Mrs Goonatilleke introduced these women to a small crowd of family, friends and her church community at the Adventist Book Centre in Melbourne on Sunday, December 6.

“Women played an amazing role in the Reformation,” she said, “and that’s why I wanted to tell their stories.” Mrs Goonatilleke’s interest in the stories of these women was sparked while researching and writing for the online series Lineage Journey, the first season of which re-told stories from the history of the Reformation, although admittedly mostly the stories of men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli.

“[These women] were wives, mothers, daughters and sisters,” she said. “And yet once they were captured by Jesus, once they understood the cross and the beauty of salvation, it changed them. And suddenly they bent all their energies to holding onto that faith.”

Published by Signs Publishing, Sisters in Arms presents these eight women through stories of key experiences in their lives amid the Reformation in Germany, France and England, mostly in the 16th century. Professor of History at Southern Adventist University, Dr Lisa Clark Diller acted as historical consultant for the project and was enthusiastic about telling these stories. “These women were not only heroes, but flesh-and-blood humans who had fears and excitement and doubts and temptations,” she commenteed. “The historical details are clear and help with our education, but it is the humanity of these women that stands out. Their loves, fears and faith help the reader to both understand the past and have sympathy for it.”

While influential in their own times, Mrs Goonatilleke also sees these women as having a message for us today in an increasingly polarised society where Christian perspectives are not always welcome. “We live in a time where there’s a militant atheism, a militant postmodernism that doesn’t always give us permission to have a biblical worldview,” she says. “You might not be tortured or burned for your faith now, but you might be ‘crucified’ on Twitter. . . . But these women were unapologetically for the Bible—and they did it at great personal cost. Freedom of conscience is such a relevant social issue for us to talk about.”

Planned around COVID restrictions and Melbourne weather, the launch of Sisters in Arms was livestreamed with local viewers invited to drop by for a book signing across the afternoon, after a prayer of dedication led by Johnny Wong, a longtime leader of Melbourne’s Gateway Adventist Centre community, where Mrs Goonatilleke has served as a Bible worker and her family continues to be active.

Sukeshinie Goonatilleke signing copies of Sisters in Arms outside the Adventist Book Centre in Melbourne on December 6.

Sisters in Arms is available from Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand, or online.