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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rethinking Women's Issues

This past Sunday was Mother's Day (you did remember didn't you?), and our pastor tailored his message accordingly. But it was a Mother's Day message unlike any I have ever heard - Manny talked about how women worldwide suffer unjustly.

Consider this: one in three women (nearly one billion) are beaten, forced into sex, or abused in their lifetime. Rape is still one of the most unreported of all crimes. Annually, some 700,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders - mostly females for sexual exploitation. They are usually orphans, refugees, widows, minorities, the poor.

Manny also reminded us that the early church made a point of identifying with people just like this - they were known for rescuing infant girls who had been "set out with the trash" to die of exposure (the Romans had a preference for boys). One of the fundamental impulses of the gospel is the proclamation of justice for the poor and oppressed - wrongs made right, the strong standing up for the weak.

This is what Christ did for us. This is what the church is called to do for others. And frankly, most of us don't give a rat's ass for people like this. We care mostly about ourselves. We care about technical justice, token justice. We conveniently isolate ourselves from neighbors who live on the wrong side of the tracks.

So how does this connect with women's issues? The answer might surprise you. As I listened to Manny speak, it struck me that just about everyone today defines "justice" for women as equality - a woman should be able to do everything a man can do, in church, in society, even in golf. I'm not really against this - I'd actually like to see the church focusing more on what women CAN do, rather than just talking about what they CAN'T do. At the same time, the assumption implicit in all of this is that as long as we treat women as equals, then we are just and fair. We have fulfilled our obligation.

Yet the statistics demonstrate just the opposite. There is a reason why so many women are taken advantage of in our world - there is a fundamental inequality between male and female. On the one hand, women are physically weaker, they are more vulnerable, they are the ones who get pregnant. At the same time, the men who should be protecting them have failed to do so. We stand aside and allow these injustices to occur, either because we don't care, or because we foolishly allow our attention to be diverted to other things.

This is not just a "third world" problem. We in America - yes, even in the church - are addicted to pornography. How many women are being taken advantage of by the porn industry? How many women are being taken advantage of in legalized prostitution? How many women feel the pressure to have sex with their boyfriend in order to keep the relationship? What kind of lies do we sell when we tell women that it's no big deal, as long as its regulated, clean, consensual?

We have told so many lies that we begin to believe them ourselves. We tell women that the only way they measure up is if they look like the models in the magazines. We tell them that the best way to get into a relationship is to "try before you buy" (after all, I care about you - I just want to make sure we are truly compatible, for your sake as well as mine). What kind of pressure do we put on women by telling them that abortion is their right, that it's no big deal?

What do we communicate when we tell them that worth comes from access to a position (CEO, pastor, etc), and then we magnanimously grant them access and say, "See how fair we are?" all the while expecting them to carry a load that bends the back of men. I am not saying that women can't or shouldn't have access to positions. But we are taking advantage of them if we only value them when they can do the same things a man can do, as well as a man can.

What I'm getting at in all this is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that the real issue is simply a matter of "What can a woman do in the church?" Can she be ordained? Can she teach? I just have this nagging feeling that the real issue is far bigger, far more countercultural.

The real issue here is not where 21st century egalitarianism is better than 18th century subordinationism. Women were oppressed and taken advantage of in both those cultures. The real issue is what would it look like for the church to stand up for woman in a way that seeks real justice, that allows them to be women, without fear.

What would it look like for the church to reach out to prostitutes and say, "Any time you want out, we are here. Call us. We will find a way to help you make it work. Whether or not you become a Christian."? What would it look like for men in the church to start saying, "We value you so much that we refuse to use porn, to fantasize about you as a sexual object."? What would it look like for the church to say we will provide free rent and day care to help you with your unplanned pregnancy? What would it look like for a thirty dollar whore to walk into a church and be treated as if she was your little sister, beautiful and innocent?

Yet that's precisely how God deals with us (go read Ezekiel 16). Somehow, I think we all need to back away from our positions for a moment and pause to consider the bigger picture. What would it look like for the church to get serious about the real injustices women face in this world of ours? What would it look like to rethink the whole women's issues?

I'd be interested in feedback on this (particularly from you women who feel like the church has wronged you).


At 6:00 PM, May 18, 2006, Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

"We tell women that the only way they measure up is if they look like the models in the magazines."
I would add to this that we also turn around immediately after this and call them sluts. That's why I feel quite sorry for Britney Spears and the like- they are told to dress a certain way, they do, and then we call them trashy sluts. Damned if you do damned if you don't.

Another sad aspect is how much women are actually perpetuating this on themselves now. I encourage you to read this article called "Girl's gone Raunch"

At 7:17 AM, May 19, 2006, Blogger Krissy said...

This is a side tangent to your main point, but is a personal favorite among my soapbox topics, so i will go ahead and throw it out there.

There is a lot of debate in femisist/gender psychology over whether behavioral differences in men and women are innate or socially informed. Most feminists want to prove that our gender roles/behaviors/personality traits are mostly formed by societal influences because if it is genetic than anyone outside the typical box of certain gender behavior is considered malformed and because it also leads to a debate of gender ability (ie women being less able then men).

With all of this there are some that think to treat women rightly is the make them equal with men, as you say. But the catch there is that as a society we raise women in a way that makes them have more "feminine" behavioral traits. Speaking in broad generalities, we are less aggressive, more other people oriented, more likely to understand and cater to group dynamics, less likely to lead, and also less likely to have people want to follow us (this is my summary of some behavioral experiments that have been done over the years). So the problem with the whole make them equal thing is that we raise them with more submisive traits and then throw them into a world that values behaviors they were never encouraged to have.

But where all of this has led my thinking is that maybe instead of just trying to let women have thier share of power (and make them fighter harder to earn and maintain it) what if we value typically feminine qualities on par with the masculine? So that instead of seeing them as weak and needy we can see them as having a different and valuable take on life.

Anyway, that is one of my favorite trains of thought.

But to your point, i would love to see the church value women instead of see them as a threat, either as a sexual "temptation" or as grabbers of power. Womens issues in the church tends so much to be just that, and issue, and it frustrates me when i see Christians loving thier issues more than they love people.

At 9:01 AM, May 19, 2006, Blogger Ryan Kellermeyer said...

'What would it look like for the church to reach out to prostitutes and say, "Any time you want out, we are here. Call us. We will find a way to help you make it work. Whether or not you become a Christian."? '

This is brilliant.

At 5:50 AM, May 22, 2006, Anonymous Eduardo said...

Great post. It made me think a lot.

However, I would like you to "see life differently" on one issue, and that is porn. Obviously pornography is sinful and a great evil; but I am beginning to think that the whole stuff about "treating women as objects" and such is leading us nowhere as a Church. At least from aesthetics, the objectification of women is up for discussion. However, I think that a much better approach to pornography is to compare it with idolatry. And for the women doing it, there is no worse degradation that being considered an idol. Every Christian should know that; and most rock stars experienced it.




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