When writing about abortion, I said that those who speak out against it should also speak out against the ways women are abused in our culture. That’s what I want to write about today.
There’s no way I can cover all of this in one post; and what I write here should not be seen as comprehensive. But I hope I can at least get some discussion going about gender-related violence, and then perhaps we can find some ways to lessen it (and hopefully one day get rid of it altogether).
The statistics are horrifying: one in three women (and one in six men) has been a victim of sexual assault at some point in life. One in four women (and one in seven men) have been the victims of domestic violence. One in three teen suicides is related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Whatever the causes of these things, we can’t pretend that this kind of violence isn’t a part of our culture – it’s everywhere!
While the Bible isn’t usually the first place people look for guidance on such issues, Scripture has some powerful things to say about gender-related violence. Most Christians have heard that “God hates divorce” (Mal 2:16). What many don’t realize is that when the full verse is read, it also speaks out against domestic violence:
“Look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and the covering of one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless” (Mal 2:15-16, emphasis mine).
Divorce and domestic violence are mentioned together here because both are oppressive to women; and this was especially the case in biblical times.
Thus we see Jesus speaking up on behalf of women when He says that men who divorce their wives and marry others commit adultery (Mark 10:10-12). When we consider that adultery (in biblical times) was primarily seen as an offense against a man (stealing his “property”), this is truly ground-breaking!
But this isn’t all. Jesus not only spoke out against the oppression of women; He also actively worked to empower them. When a “sinful” woman came to anoint Him with expensive oil, He protected her from the men who were accosting her (Luke 7:36-50).
When a woman complained that her sister wasn’t helping her enough in the kitchen, Jesus said that being educated was more important than doing the duties of a housewife (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus included several women in His band of traveling disciples (Luke 8:1-3), and spoke openly with a Samaritan woman who had been married several times, without once condemning her (John 4:1-42).
And when He rose from the dead, Jesus first appeared to a couple of women before making contact with His male disciples (Matt 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12).
All of these things were incredibly revolutionary for their time; and much of this free spirit carried on into apostolic times, when the Spirit empowered both men and women to prophesy (Acts 2:17-18), and Paul wrote that “there is no longer male and female” in Christ (Gal 3:28).
Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long. Many of the early church fathers were openly misogynistic, a trend that continued for much of the church’s history.
And while the apostolic church seems to have had an egalitarian approach to leadership, this was quickly replaced by a ruthless patriarchy. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Quakers in the early 17th century that women would once again share in the leadership of the church!
The church’s treatment of people who are gender atypical, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, is even more shameful.
With very few exceptions, the church has historically seen homosexual activity as not just sinful, but especially sinful, belonging to a small class of “sins against nature.” (Whether or not same-sex erotic relationships are always sinful is another discussion for another time).
Under the guise of purity, LGBT people have consistently been pushed to the margins of Christian society, and often tortured or executed.
Only within the last 50 years have we seen anything resembling Christian acceptance of LGBT people; and even today it’s not uncommon for someone to call for violence against gay or transgender people in the name of Christ!
When we look to the example of Jesus, it’s clear that we can do better. But we must be intentional about these things! It’s not enough to say “I never raped a woman,” or “I never beat my wife,” or “I never harassed someone because of their gender identity.”
We may not have actively participated in gender-related violence, but if we are honest, most of us have at one time or another done things which contribute to a sexist and violent culture.
It all starts at the level of speech, which is why Jesus tells us that “You will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt 12:36).
Words matter. Every time we call an effeminate man a “sissy,” a coward a “pussy,” or an annoying woman a “bitch,” we are contributing to a culture of misogyny.
I am willing to admit I have been guilty of this; but we need to stop! When we talk this way, we teach others that being feminine is a shameful thing. And as we have seen, the end result of this is violence against women and LGBT people.
Let us take stock, then, of all the ways in which we have contributed to a culture of violence; let us repent, and let us be about the business of working for peace and equality.
I have written about abortion, war, capital punishment, police brutality, racism, sexism, and persecution of LGBT people. Without a doubt, there are many more topics that could be included under the “pro-life” banner. But if we as a church can come together on these, it will go a long way toward restoring the shalom that God intended for this world.
(This ends the “Consistently Pro-life” Series. Next Post: It Already Happened 10 Years From Now: My Thoughts on Predestination, Free-will, and the Nature of Eternity.)