5 nonviolent ways we can help win the war against women

Love and Warlast week was a big week for me; after sending our oldest son back to college the week before, we took our daughter to start her freshman year in college in new york city, got our twins started in middle school, and sent our #3 off to florida for a football team adventure.  to top if it off, i officiated a dear & beautiful friend’s wedding and that’s not counting regular refuge nuttiness.  i’m tired but grateful. i miss my daughter terribly already, but i am excited for all that is ahead of her. she definitely makes me want to advocate even more strongly on behalf of change for women in this broken, weird world.

in the midst the whirlwind, i read the disturbing reports of senator akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape.”  honestly, i had to compartmentalize because i didn’t have the emotional margin to even give it a glance.

now the dust has settled and the feelings have swept in.  mainly, i’m disgusted.  not so much just about his comments; his are just one of many totally lame things that people in power actually believe.

the reason i’m most bummed is how these moments point to us as christians;  we have been such terrible examples of a better way.  seriously, we are known for our sexism, inequality, judgment, and exclusiveness instead of for our love.

Jesus is supposed to be about setting people free, not locking them up. loving people in their fullness, not slighting half of creation.

and we are supposed to be liberators, not oppressors.

we are called to be advocates, incarnations of God’s love & hope instead of examples of how-not-to-act.

we who follow Jesus should be the ones on the front-lines battling on behalf of women in the world and instead we are too often the ones metaphorically shooting them down & putting them in POW camps.

i don’t like the language of war or talking about fighting on our own strength.  but i do think we are supposed to follow Jesus’ lead and be people of justice and mercy–kind & clear & willing to pay a cost for what’s right.

here are some non-violent ways we can begin to win the war on women. these are not for men but for all of us:

1. empower a woman in any way you can.  promote her.  educate her.  ordain her.  ask her.  listen to her.  invite her.  encourage her.  use any influence you have on another women’s behalf.  i think of what mother teresa says–if you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.  in the same vein, if you can’t empower 100 women, just empower one.   once empowered, women have exponential influence to change the course of their families, organizations, communities, the world.

2.  tangibly support a community agency that advocates for women.  while we are spending time picking apart Bible passages on whether a woman can teach or lead, these agencies are actively and passionately advocating for women–helping them get restraining orders against their abusive partners, assisting them in finding housing, providing counseling and support to empower them to claim their dignity, offering all kinds of other support for education and change.  their needs are great.  these soldiers on the front lines always need resources & volunteers & professional services & basic practical help for women.

3.  embody respect, dignity, and value of women.  i love what brennan manning says–if you want to know what a person believes, watch what they do.  men need to tangibly value women and women need to tangibly value women.  and others need to see this so they can be inspired, too.  this means not using, stereotyping, sexualizing, ignoring, dismissing, and disrespecting them, but with humility and love treating them for what they are–God’s valued and treasured creation. this is part of being salt & light.

4.  actively participate in shifting power structures.  in the workplace, in the church, in families, the best thing we can do on behalf of women is work to have them fully included in places of influence.  our government & corporations & structures-of-almost-every-place-of-power are clearly not reflective of the demographics of this world.  we each can play a part in changing that by actively inviting women to the table, voting them in, educating and equipping them, and sharing leadership with them.

5.  stop supporting churches (or organizations) that do not offer full equality for women.  yes, i have to say it.  the church is supposed to be the free-est place in town, one that empowers & heals & unleashes. we are called to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, not perpetuate the imbalanced ways of the world.  i firmly believe in gandhi’s admonition–when we are silent, we stand on the side of the oppressor. i’m not trying to convince those who firmly believe in male headship; i’m talking to those who believe in equality & are tired of the ways women are second-class citizens in the church yet still give time & money & energy supporting systems that perpetuate this because it feels like there aren’t other options.  i know it’s scary & hard & often a big loss, but with enough “we’re-done-with-this”, new kinds will form over time that are inclusive and honor women’s full dignity and value properly. we’ve got to start voting with our feet.

i have no doubt that we can participate in shifting the tide of history & these deep oppressive grooves of patriarchy.  we can actively & earnestly pave a better way for our daughters & sons.  we can be empowered by the spirit of God to create something better without becoming ugly-and-mean-right-back.    

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

50 Comments

  • Love this. Esp the last point. I would also add to read “Half the Sky” By Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. It is the best book, balanced and healing, on what works on Women’s movements in all the world and what organizations do not, what to expect and what to advocate for, it has many tragic stories but the book is laced with hope. BEST book on Women empowerment for MEN AND WOMEN by renowned journalists. I have done so many book studies on and the response is huge. It is worth the time and tears:)
    Thanks for caring enough to speak out.

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    • i need to read this book, i can’t believe i still haven’t, but i took a break from nonfiction a few years ago and haven’t seemed to get back to much these days and i know i’ve missed some awesome stuff. thanks for sharing.

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  • I so appreciate your list and the proactive way you encourage us and help us bounce back from the heavy sigh and then anger of last week. … thanks, Kathy; every single point is spot-on!!

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  • So interesting. I realized that I have shifted to become a part of almost each of the steps you mention above. I am working to empower women leaders…I have stopped attending my church as they do not support the full equality of women…I give toward micro industries being started by women in third world countries…(which gives me such joy!) and am actively working toward shifting power structures through my dissertation. I appreciate the challenge to support and invest in a community agency… Thanks Kathy for practically articulating next steps.

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  • Thank you for these wise and convicting words, Kathy. As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, I mourn the truth of your last point and have refrained from financially supporting the Church for some time. The difficulty is that there are people within the church, such as the nuns, who are doing such incredible work on behalf of those marginalized and oppressed. The nuns themselves, I believe, are even in that group themselves.

    For those in the same boat, would you suggest investing in groups that DO support and advocate for equality, even if they are under the larger umbrella of a patriarchy-ridden organization? I understand that the Catholic Church being universal, this may not parallel other Christian denominations, but any suggestions would be helpful!

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    • Yes. There are groups within the Catholic church who are actively seeking equality and parity. Finding ways to support them seems to me to be right in line with what Kathy is advocating here. You may have to research those groups a bit – and even if you can’t give them money, you can pray for them, maybe even volunteer time and effort. There are groups of nuns who are doing incredible work. And even a priest here or there, too. I’m not in the Catholic church, just connected to the work of one tiny branch that welcomes women more fully. Not all the way there, but making progress.

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    • yeah, i really agree with what diana said–i think we need to always consider each unique circumstance and i think the catholic church is unique as opposed to evangelical-y churches where women are scattered here and there in less-than positions if at all. these nuns are organized as a strong force and need our support; they are doing incredible work. i never want to paint such broad brushstrokes that it precludes all of the unique situations we are faced with. thanks for reading & takign time to share.

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  • Kathy,
    I so appreciate your heart, motivation, and the sentiment behind this post. But, I must admit that it was the title of this post that caught my attention and the fact that you used the phrase “war on women.”

    I think, as believers, we need to be careful to not use inflammatory language and I would argue that there is not a “war on women.” There are women who have been made to feel inferior, invisible, oppressed perhaps, even disenfranchised at times.

    However, there are also many Christians in general, who have been made to feel the same way–whether male or female. Senator Akin is an anomaly and has been chastized on all sides. One instance, or even a few, does not create a “war.”

    My hope is to uphold the Word and Jesus’ examples, which neither favor women nor ignore them. In Christ we are all one. Equality, is not a Biblical virtue. Oneness in Christ is, however.

    My desire is to see the church emphasize oneness in all things–in unity, vision, purpose, mission…and not to continue to use the labels and theology that divides us.

    Thank you for your ministry and all that you do.

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    • Um, Nicole, there is a war on women as MOST in the GOP believe about abortion and birth control as Akin, including Paul Ryan. Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill in Congress to redefine rape. Look at all the states across the USA who have GOP governors and legislatures and how they have tightened rights for pro-choice advocates.

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      • Thank you Adele. Akin is NOT an anomaly. The only reason he got in trouble is that he verbalized what much of the GOP believes (and has legislated). As you mentioned, Ryan has tried to redefine rape. Mike Huckabee has stated that God will “vindicate” Akin. State legislatures across the country are trying to force rape victims to carry and deliver their rapists babies. This is absolutely war.

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        • I believe that abortion is a sin. I also believe that rape is a sin. I do not, however, believe that to erase one sin we should commit another. An unborn child, in my opinion, is innocent and does not deserve death because another sinned.

          I apologize if I sound melodramatic, but of all of the millions of babies who have been aborted, because of rape or not, I wonder if they reserve the right to use the word “war” instead.

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        • thanks for taking time to share kat, i do not think he is an anomaly, either, he just is the one that said it out loud and is getting blasted for it.

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      • I am passionately Pro-life, does that mean I am engaging in a “war on women?” I am also pro-birth control, so where do I fall? Am I an ally or an enemy?

        My point is this, language is important, as we all know. And when we mis-use, over-use, and under-use certain terms we rape them of their meaning. A political movement, a Christian mission, a call, a rise, a collective voice is one thing…

        But, I will not lie and tell my daughter, who lives in the freest country on earth in the history of the world, where women experience more liberty and choice than anyone past, that there is a “war on women.”

        Let’s save that language for the women in the Sudan, or the Congo, or Afghanistan, or a thousand other places on earth where women are literally dying.

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        • The language of “war on women” rhetoric is simply political and smart men and women all over this country recognize it as such.

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        • i agree with you, nicole, that language is very important, and some of our conversations are indeed first world problems but i am talking about a very core belief about women that permeates everything, that we are less than. i do not care about dividing lines, but i do deeply care about the stripping of dignity and value of women.

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        • nicole, in this conversation especially, can we please not redefine the word “rape”?

          if you don’t want to use war language, that is perfectly fine. others feel threatened and believe that the stake ARE high enough to claim that a battle is raging, and their perspective is just as valid. pleading unity sounds noble, but when women feel like their voices aren’t being heard, respected, or well-represented, a theology of pipe down/play nice feels like another silencing tactic, made worse by its moralistic/christian spin.

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          • Suzannah,
            I did not redefine the word rape. I used it figuratively and in its proper definition, which does not only mean forced sex, but also to plunder or seize. I think when we mis-use words like “war” we are essentially raping them of their true meaning. We rob them of their significance.

            Ask any woman who really has been in war, perhaps from the Congo, and see if she would call what is happening here in America “war.”

            I am also not discrediting anyone’s feelings. In fact, I did no such thing. I don’t agree that there is “war on women”, but I would never tell someone that their feelings are invalid. My mom taught me that one.

            I don’t think we need to pipe down, as you think I suggested, but rather I think the things we get so loud and vocal about are less important. If the message of oneness and unity in Christ were being preached (and practiced) then, I believe, even the “war on women” would fall to the wayside, replaced by freedom in Christ for *all*.

            with the greatest respect, Suzannah…

          • this conversation makes me extremely uncomfortable. people speak of the rape of the land, yes, but that language is still about exploitation and violence. no one is raping language (or raped by taxes, etc). using the word rape in such a figurative way diminishes the actual bodily and emotional harm done to people who are victims of sexual violence, a focal point in this discussion of a “war on women.”

            because something is less important *to you* does not make it less important, and violent oppression abroad does not negate injustice at home. rape is a particularly brutal weapon of war, and the issues are related closely for many who advocate for women.

          • thank you suzannah. i have been out all day and just now getting to a few of these comments but i really am glad that you brought this up. i can’t take anything that somehow waters down the realities of rape. this conversation also reminds me how almost always when people speak out against the church or the system, there’s a “you are breaking unity” response and a tendency to minimize. i get that different people see it differently but the dismissing of pain, of saying ‘oh, it’s not that bad, what are you whining about”, the minimization of so many realities always makes me a little nutty. thank you for engaging and sharing. i really appreciate it.

          • thanks, nicole, for taking to share your perspective. i respect that we all see things differently and have the right to share our voices however we need to. i do not think real change has ever come from silence and just rolling with the status quo. and the status quo is not favorable toward women.

      • thanks for reading and taking time to share, adele. that was quite an interchange on kimberly’s fb wall 🙂 as i said in this post, i’m not crazy about the language of war but the reality is that women are in one, have been forever and the reason the fighting is heightening is that we are standing against it in a more strong way. i didn’t touch on it in this post because it wasn’t the topic, but i am passionate about equality for all, not just women,but for all; and for me & my family & many others i know, #5 also includes lgbt.

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    • Akin is an anomaly, so much so that when he actually speaks his mind, it creates an all out firestorm. He is totally unacceptable to either side! I think it illustrates that most Americans are ready for any culture war to officially come to an end.

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      • thanks, matt, yeah, that is what is so nutty, really, just how we are always ready for the next firestorm. it honestly is why i so rarely engage in so many of these conversations because they are all so charged. at the same time, i think his comments do reflect something deeper that we need to consider.

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    • thanks nicole, for taking time to share this. i, too, love a spirit of oneness but i would use great caution in assuming that means not speaking out against injustice. that is what often happens–any sign of calling out other believers becomes “divisive”. i also understand that many christians feel they are marginalized and oppressed right now and they have their right to their opinion. whoever has the most power has the greatest responsibility and i believe that those in power–in churches, in politics, in all kinds of places–have greatly misused their power to serve themselves, to stay comfortable, to stay protected, to stay in control.

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  • Thank you, Kathy! This is so where I am with my church-and have been for quite some time-but haven’t had the courage to stand up and do the right thing. You’ve spoken so clearly for so many women!

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    • thanks, vicki, it is is scary to stand up and do what God is stirring up in us to do. there’s a lot of risk involved but i sort of think that’s what faith is about, risk. just know you are so not alone, even though it can feel like it sometimes.

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  • Ahhh…this post helps me breathe a sigh of peace over the angst I am tempted to fall prey to. These five ways present a way of being and doing on more issues than just the women and equality issue. Thank you !

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  • Kathy, what a great post and also what a hard post for me to read! I have been really struggling with that last one. Do I stay and hope to inspire change from within, or do I vote with my feet?

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    • thanks, liz. yes, it is hard and i don’t want to try to toss out any simplified answers, but i am going to hold that what stops organizations from changing is that the pain has not gotten great enough. there’s no real incentive to change when things are still working. and they still work when we still go and give money. it is a lonely road to leave, and often very hard to find other places that are inclusive but in the end, we can often find a sense of peace and integrity and God seems to do a lot of healing and setting people more free in that process. it’s not an easy one, though, and i really respect that.

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  • We left the last Institutional Church we attended over just this issue. After we left, we saw that it was not an isolated issue, but at the heart of many issues in that dysfunctional “Christian family”.

    Yes, we should not support those churches with even our presence. Rather, we must leave and make a point to tell them why we are leaving. Then, and only then, will we discover how unloving these groups actually are. This thing about women being “less than” is not about being Biblical. It’s all about power and control, and it looks n-o-t-h-i-n-g like Jesus.

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    • i always like to make sure i’m not too terribly wordy (my first few years of blogging, boy oh boy did i write long ones!) but i did originally have a few sentences about telling leaders why we left. it takes more than a few sentences so i took it out but i do think if we can, if we are strong enough in that season of our life and can be honest, that we should be as clear about it as possible so that they know why. thanks, sam.

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  • The war on women will never be won, because there is no war on women. Only a heart filled with the hatred of men could believe otherwise.

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  • Great post!! I’m preaching this Sunday on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman and will use your words from #3 – just perfect! This is how Jesus treated this woman and how we must all treat others. We’ve also had to do #5. Painful but necessary. The worst was other women saying “What’s the problem – why are you taking it personally?” Ummm – cause ‘personally’ I’m a woman! I can smile today but…

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    • thanks, kathy, so glad you took time to share. what church are you at? i totally agree with you on that being one of the hardest things to swallow–when other women who don’t have the same feelings wonder what our problem is…

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  • Thank you for this kathy. I’ve experienced the way being put down takes the wind out of a woman’s sails. And I’ve experienced the way being empowered fills those sails again. It’s amazing.

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  • I agree with what you said here, yet I don’t see how the mainstream movement of ‘christianity’ will accept women as full equals. The patriarchy continues to embrace power and oppression. Ordain women? As in fully ordain them? Not many religious organizations will do such a thing.

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    • yeah, unfortunately i agree with you. of course my hope and dream is full inclusion but yeah, the grooves are so deep that it’s not going to come easy, if ever. but something’s always better than nothing…thanks for sharing!

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