we can’t just stand by: international women’s day 2009

kathyescobar equality, incarnational, injustice, women in ministry 26 Comments

international-womens-day-rose

most people around me know that one of the things i am most passionate about is equality for women–across the board, in the church, in our communities, in the world.  the injustice that continues to prevail against women in many shapes and forms is not something that i think we can just stand by and ignore.  because it’s so prevalent, engrained deeply into cultures & systems, i think sometimes it feels overwhelming; and as individuals sitting in our houses on a saturday morning it doesn’t seem like we can do much about it.  after all, it’s been this way for a long, long time.  and even though many men and women know it’s “wrong” we somehow don’t know what we can do about it.   sunday march 8th is international women’s day.   a lot of people around the world are writing, organizing, speaking, mobilizing and doing everything they can to raise awareness of women’s issues across the globe.  julie clawson organized a synchroblog/synchrosermon, and as the posts come in over the next few days, i’ll try to add a list at the end of this post so you can check them out.

this past thursday i went to see the movie a powerful noise followed by a live satellite discussion.  it chronicled what three women–from vietnam, mali, and bosnia–are doing to change the course of history for women in their communities by refusing to stand by while they are discriminated against, abused, starved, ignored, used.  i left stirred.  and of course challenged.  and inspired.  and also really, really sad that so many women–beautiful, powerful, created-in-God’s-image, nurturers of life and peace and hope–are marginalized and voiceless in more ways than one while so many Christians are wasting time haggling over the interpretation of 1 timothy 2 and the size of their new building.      i believe God’s heart is the redemption of all people, and that he uses us–ordinary people with the kingdom of God threaded into the fabric of our hearts–to help set others free & work toward making what is wrong, right. and like all-things-connected-to-Jesus, it will require risk, sacrifice, and an incredible trust that small things can make a big difference.  it’s our responsibility to not stand by while our sisters-in-spirit are being harmed.

today & tomorrow many will be writing about different women in the Bible. i can’t wait to read all of their perspectives. i  decided to focus on a probably-very-overlooked woman in the old testament, one without a name.  one with a story that will make you cringe.  and one that represents the millions of women across the globe with no voice,  no value, no current hope because she’s really nothing more than property.  she is found in judges 19 and 20.  warning: it’s disturbing.  she is the concubine of a levite.  she leaves him, goes back home, and he comes back to get her.  her father keeps stalling, but eventually she leaves with him and they go to the town of gibeah.  there, they are staying at a man’s house & some wicked men come and demand the owner to send the man out so they can have sex with him.  here’s what happens:

The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”  But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.  He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. - judges 19: 23-29

all kinds of crazy things happen afterwards, wars & fighting and a lot of people dying.   but that’s not the part i want to focus on in this moment. she is the one i care about.  this was a human being.  someone’s daughter. sold into slavery.  born to be used by a man.  thrown to the wolves by their host (who threw out his virgin daughter at the same time). raped and destroyed while her owner sat inside, knowing exactly what was happening.  and this isn’t just some weird part of history, way-back-when.  this is happening while we speak:  parents selling their daughters into slavery so they can eat, women systematically raped as strategy of war, girls married off to men who use them for nothing more than slaves.

it is so easy for me in this moment to become overwhelmed, to say “there’s absolutely nothing i can do to make a difference”, to crawl into a cave and scream out to God “how can you stand by while this is happening to your daughters?” but i think in these moments the bigger story for each of us is “what can we do?”what small, tangible things can we do to make a difference, to fight for the nameless, voiceless, beautiful-daughters-of-God, who need someone to care? here a few thoughts that come to mind:

our freedom affects their freedom.  we have more choice, more possibility than almost any other country in the world.  when we allow ourselves to live in bondage here in church systems that limit and de-value and silence women’s voices, we are stifling their possibility, too.  these voiceless women need us to use our voices on their behalf, to advocate, to believe, to dream. if we are stuck here, how can we ever expect that they would get unstuck?

whoever has a voice needs to use it. in the movie, it was so beautiful to see these women rock the boat on others behalf.  they advocated for women’s education, health, and economic freedom.  the women they were journeying with didn’t have the strength, but they did.  and they felt a responsibility on others behalf to make “a powerful noise” instead of idly standing by.  i have no idea what it would have looked like for the concubine if she had an advocate in that moment, someone who was willing to stand between her and her abusers and say “no.”   yeah, they might have died.  but maybe not?  we’ll never know, but i feel pretty clear that she deserved one. we can all be advocates in some shape or form.

education & economic freedom changes the course of history.  without education & economic freedom, it is impossible for women to ever be set free from the bondage of the injustice systems they live in. this is the case in the US as much as it is in other countries.  single mommies who make $7 an hour cannot feed their families and will never be able to get a leg up.  if they can get their education, they can make $21 an hour and that changes everything. in third world countries, an education or training in a specific skill means food & shelter & hope for their kids instead of starvation.   on the panel in a powerful noise the director of care said that economics also shifts things for men.  men see women as bringing value to their family and they are more likely to respect them for their work.  i know, that makes my stomach turn a bit, too, but it is a reality; i wonder for the concubine if she also had a side business that made some good money if he would be as likely to toss her out to street?  we can help women get an education, here and abroad.  we can buy their products.  there are so many organizations that help make that happen & a little bit goes a long way to changing the course of a woman’s destiny.

brothers, we need you. i know so many amazing men who advocate for women in powerful ways.  but as a whole, we have a long way to go.  the strongest women’s rights advocates continue to be women. if that shifted and we learned how to work together to battle injustice and provide voice to the voiceless, we’d be a much powerful force.   imagine what it would look like if the levite said “no, you can’t have her, it’s wrong. (and now that i think about it, it’s wrong that i own her, too.)”   that’s what should have happened.  needs to happen today.  this is why i am such a loudmouth about equality in the church–if men don’t start refusing to cultivate systems that dishonor their daughters, sisters, wives & mothers–how can we ever offer hope for freedom & equality to these women around the world?  the kingdom starts with us, now, right where we live, and we need each other desperately. Jesus gave tangible examples of advocating for women.  and he says to “be like him.”

as always, this barely scratches the surface or gives the passage and the concubine justice.  but i hope this focus on women around the world, in the Bible, in our neighborhoods and families, will remind us we can do something.  we can:

  • listen to what God might be asking us to consider
  • step out in faith to what God is stirring us to do & fight off the voices that say we’re stupid to try
  • use our voice on another woman’s behalf
  • send money and love and help to organizations & individuals who directly support self-sufficiency for women here & around the world.
  • say “no” and step in between a woman about to be harmed
  • cultivate & call out another woman’s beauty, dignity, or leadership
  • fan into flame another woman’s dream & help her make it happen
  • do whatever we can—no matter how small or big–to contribute to another woman’s freedom. 

the only thing we can’t do is just stand by.

here’s my prayer:

God, lover of justice & defender of the weak, our hearts break for what was stripped from your daughter.  and for what keeps being stolen from your beautiful creations.  dear girl, we are so sorry you were so senselessly used, that in the moment you needed it most you had no defender.   it was wrong.  it is wrong.   your story has not gone unnoticed.   we hold it tenderly and weep on your behalf and for all the other women who have been and continue to be used & abused & tossed aside.  God, we don’t understand why, but we want to understand what. what you are trying to show us, what you want us to consider, what you want us to do. we need your hope, your help, your guidance, to know how to stand for what you stand for.  to sacrifice our comfort, our safety, on behalf of others.  to use our voice for the voiceless.  to offer dignity and hope where there is none.   to refuse to just stand by.  amen.

* * * * *

other synchroblog posts (more coming as they are posted):

<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 10]–>