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


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.

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

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • each of us have been sent a piece of the woman who was fragmented in body! each of us cannot ignore the reality of what life is like for billions of women world wide. Thanks Kathy.

  • Kathy – thanks for posting this. I found the movie, A Powerful Noise very inspiring. I am still processing. I admire the courage and perseverence of these 3 womens – the millions they represent. The stats on how 50+% of the world population is marginalized because of gender is staggering.

    The world is in crisis and we can’t afford to continue to be excluded. It will take all of us to move this world into the next century.

    Having heard Phyllis Tickle speak yesterday and Christina Baldwin last week – I now have language for what I have been feeling and experiencing. We are in the midst of The Great Emergence. This is not just a Christian phenomenon, but is economic, political, environmental – our whole world. Things have shifted.

    This is an opportunity to shift things for women, children, economic polices that have supported having poverty, classism, and more…

    My prayer is:

    Lord, give me eyes to see how others have been marginalized and ears to hear the voices of those who cry out and the courage and wisdom to do the thing I can do…help me to respond to your prompting…to help without expectation of reward or recognition.

  • I was gonna read this then I realised – Hey, a woman wrote this! 🙂

    Hiya Kathy! *ducking for cover*

  • Wow. That particular passage has always been one that hurt. And the one where the angels go to rescue Lot and he offers his virgin daughters to the mob. Hmm… and I’ve always had a bone to pick with David for his lack of action on behalf of his daughter, Tamar. There’s quite a list.

    As to what God is trying to tell us…. I’ve asked that question. Is it just to show that women have always been treated like crap? Maybe. But if so, is that by God’s design, as some teach? My heart says, “no.” But I am not sure what to make of Number 5, then. I have to say that it disturbs me that God would write that into the law…. maybe I’ve been in “God’s Ghetto” too long.

  • Thanks Kathy!
    I’m hoping that this world will be better for my daughters and trying to teach them to not believe those old stories about women and their worth.
    I don’t know what difference I can make, but I know things can’t go on like they have.

  • i am so behind on blog comments, but i thank everyone for reading and i look forward to really reading through this great group of links from around the world.

    ellen – yes, a piece of her is us. we can never forget that.

    elaine – we are so in the midst of something big and i love the reminder that it’s not just with church. i am so glad you told me about a powerful noise. i went with craig & sara & amber & mike and it was really moving. the discussion was so powerful, too, with the connections between health and poverty and economic freedom. your prayer is beautiful.

    pops – you always make me smile 🙂

    katherine – oh i am with you, girl. the ones you mentioned along with this story are the first three stories that came to mind. no way to reconcile that & i don’t know exactly what God is trying to say through them, either, except for maybe to highlight the magnitude of what humanity can do to another sister or brother, the dignity that can be stripped, the absolute backwardness to his ways that can become acceptable in a society that is selfish and power-hungry. and then you bring up numbers 5, God’s commands. it is rough. and confusing. and then i have to come back to not understanding all the ins and outs of it all or even trying to make logical sense of it because it’s impossible to do but somehow clinging to the bigger story. Christ’s love. redemption. healing. restoration. heart for us. Love. otherwise, i think i’d want to throw in the towel. thanks as always for your beautiful honesty.

  • Kathy,
    Thank you for letting me re-print your post sans prior permission! =P It was truly inspiring. And I already have a comment from a fellow [male] pastor here in NYC that it was so thought-provoking, he would like to dialogue. [And he’s a complementarian.] So, thank you!
    It would be great to meet in person and talk about the ministries we’re involved in. I wish I could visit your church! Lord-willing, one of these days.
    In the meantime, blessings!
    Take care and see you online.
    =) Jasmine

  • jim – i believe you are making a difference. in the way you are raising your daughters, your marriage, the women that you are helping to support and empower in all kinds of wild ways. thanks for your heart! and see you next week 🙂

    jasmine – okay that is fun. keep me posted, would love to hear how that conversation goes. i can’t tell you how happy that makes me, that a door to a conversation could be opened…and yes, one of these days i hope our paths cross face to face. lots of stories to be told…peace to you in the trenches.

  • Thanks, Kathy. Not many think the honesty is all that pretty. 🙂

    Hmm… I look at the way Jesus treated women and see fairness, equality, compassion… Love. Where I seem to keep getting hung up is that the God in Numbers, the God of Moses, was the same Father Jesus was a reflection of… and they don’t seem to match. I have difficulty reconciling the two. I know that is nothing new. But it is a serious issue for me on a personal level because it goes to the heart of God’s character – and my ability to trust Him.

    Now, in the churches I have been in, that would have been a show stopper. I would have been called a heretic or back-slidden or worse. And the point is, I am not saying that I don’t believe in God or that I have rejected Jesus. I just have questions that need answers. Maybe these questions are more intensely important to me because of the trust issues stemming from abuse. But right now? Jesus, I think I can trust. The God who gave instructions that were recorded in Numbers 5? Not so much…

    And at this point, I am not sure what the next step is. Except to keep moving… and not give up.

  • Kathy, thank you for writing this post. Thank you for calling attention to the hurts and abuses of women through such a disturbing story. We need disturbing stories to shake us from our apathy sometimes. We need to cry on behalf of women around the world who suffer so that we do not become complacent to the deep abuses that happen daily to our sisters around the world. Thank you for this.


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