If you asked a non-Christian about what springs to mind when they think of the Church and gender, I fear that the debate over women in leadership would be frequently mentioned.
But there are other things I wish we were known for speaking up about; things that would allow us to demonstrate the love and acceptance of Jesus.
At Momentum last year, I was working with Soul Action on their new campaign: Country Sixteen. Tearfund currently works in 15 countries fighting sexual violence, and we want the UK to become the 16th country.
Although sexual violence isn’t as extreme in the UK as some other countries, the fact remains that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point, and more than two women are killed every week by a current or former partner.
With the UN Sustainable Development Goals including as goal number five to: “Achieve gender equality for women and girls”, more and more people are talking about gender equality and sexual violence.
Wouldn’t it be great it the Church was considered as vocal regarding sexual violence as it apparently is regarding women in leadership? Admittedly, the most divisive things in religion seem to be targeted in reporting, meaning the good is often forgotten, but this only means that we need to be so vocal that we can’t be ignored.
God’s original intentions seem clear. In Genesis 1:27, God creates both men and women in His own image. In verse 28, He blesses both men and women and gives them both commands regarding how to live on the earth; He intended for men and women to work together, equally.
So this relationship of inequality and superiority in which sex and violence get mixed up was not the original plan; it was not what God wanted. For a God who is described as love (1 John 4:8), the immense suffering of women globally is surely an abomination. In Proverbs 14:31 it is written: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,” oppression of those made in God’s image, which includes women, hurts God.
A seminar last year at Momentum with David Westlake took a rare look at a passage in 2 Samuel 13: the rape of Tamar. If you read the passage, you will see that all of the men behave badly: Amnon and Jonadab use their power to do evil, while Absalom and David have power but don’t use it to do good. David in particular, as King, had the opportunity to use a bad situation to change the culture of the time for the better.
Tamar, conversely, rationally attempts to prevent Amnon’s bad decisions, and following the rape, initially subverts the cultural script by speaking up. We need to make sure that we don’t also fail to use our voices, accepting the culture around us for what it is. Every time we pray as Jesus taught us, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come to earth, but do we actually put this into action? Working to bring the Kingdom here implies aiming for God’s original intentions; respecting each other as made in His image.
We have a responsibility to use our collective voice to speak out on behalf of the voiceless, as women often sadly are, particularly when they fall victim to sexual violence. As Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:40).
Brothers and sisters, men and women; we’re all made in God’s image. Fighting for those made in His image means fighting for Him.
There are some brilliant Christian organisations working to fight sexual violence.This summer, if you’re out and about at the Christian festivals, please go and find out more about what campaigns such as Soul Action are doing to end sexual violence against women.