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Pull that String

10 Comments 01 February 2011

In reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide I have begun to contemplate what really is at the bottom of this oppression and abuse of women around the world.  And for that matter, the inequity that women suffer in this country.  The statistics are overwhelming and truly I could not begin to give you an adequate picture of all that has and still is transpiring.  I think that this quote, from the book helps sum it up well.

“The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing.  It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.  More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.  In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery.  In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism.  We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”

Those numbers, those facts, are almost impossible to wrap my head around.  I am the mother of two girls.  And the results of those numbers are not only found in the developing world.  The wealth of the West has enabled these traffickers to bring these sex slaves to the United States where they are daily sold to the johns of America.  This is our problem, it is not the problem of the developing world alone.  But what can be done?

I want to explore some of the perspectives of what can be done and I am certain that I can not cover this ground in one post.  So, for today, I want to begin to look at the perspective of the community of faith, specifically, the evangelical church.  Regardless of where you fall out, regardless of whether you profess any kind of faith at all, I believe the call of Jesus to love the orphan and the widow, the less fortunate, the least of these can be agreed upon by most people.  There is a sense, even in those who don’t believe in a higher power, that we are all apart of humanity and have some sense of responsibility to care for others.  This line of thinking, in my faith, is the result of human beings being made in the image of God.  We as humans reflect his nature in general, but in specific ways by caring for other human beings as God himself would care for them.

Unfortunately, the institutional, Bible believing, evangelical Christian church in America has lost its voice on multiple levels because of its failure to do just that, care for others.  Now, while I do not intend to address every facet of the perspective that I am referring to, I do want to raise some questions…you know I love questions.

As I begin this quest, I want to put these words before you, they are from N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  In his chapter on justice, Wright writes these words, which I find unbelievably compelling:

“…there are those who declare that nothing can be done until the Lord (Jesus) returns and everything is put to rights.  The forces of evil are too entrenched, and nothing save a great apocalyptic moment of divine power can address them or change the deep structures of the way things are.  This kind of dualism breeds very effectively within societies where, though injustice can be seen and named, it is politically inconvenient to do anything about it.  We will get on, such a view says, with the real business of the gospel, which is that of saving souls for the future world.  We will even do mopping-up operations, Band-Aid activities, to look after the people at the bottom of the pile.  But we won’t do anything about the structures that put them there and keep them there.”

Those in the community of faith can tend to see the most cruel injustices of the world from this perspective.  They may not be opposed to education and poverty reduction, but their bottom line is saving souls.   The dualism that Wright speaks of is rooted in a view that says only the spiritual (saving souls) is of value, not the material (working to change the actual injustices suffered by real human beings) and certainly not the political if it steps off course with our conservative politics.

If you pull that string, where does it lead?

This question has given me much to think about and I don’t necessarily believe I have found my way through the twisted and quagmired mess that is American thinking on such an issue, but I want to talk about it.

How does this play out in the action of the church?  I will say that I have seen, in my twenty-four years of being a part of said community, more effort given to the political causes of this country than the least of these in this country. If you pull that string, you will find that the Christian community has become little more than a mouthpiece for fiscally conservative candidates who play on their moral sympathies.  Some would even say it has become a political sub-group to be manipulated and motivated to give to the causes of one particular (now two particular) parties.

  • While I know that saying this will provoke frustration from some of my readers, even anger, what say you?
  • What would it look like if every dollar given to the politics of the United States of America had been spent on caring for the least of these?
  • How little government spending would there be if the church actually cared for the widow and the orphan?
  • I am not advocating that those of faith abandon the forum of politics or public policy, to the contrary, I am asking the question of the church, have we lost our way?

Stumping for ‘pro-life’ candidates seems the logical thing to do if you believe in the dignity and honor of every single human life.  However, isn’t that a very easy and neat topic to choose?  Why doesn’t that same belief extend to those who are trafficked as sex slaves or to those who are dying every single minute because they can’t deliver the babies that they actually have chosen to keep?

I recognize that these questions are provocative, however, they must be asked.  The faith community must crawl out of the bed of conservative politicians.  In my opinion, conservative persons of faith have all but whored themselves out and become the sex slave of the political candidates that best represent our political agendas.

On a second point, Kristof and WuDunn repeatedly bring the bottom line of how women are treated around the world is rooted in the paradigm that women are ‘less than’ men, that their lives are expendable.  They write,

“In much of the world, women die because they aren’t thought to matter.  There’s a strong correlation between countries where women are marginalized and countries with high maternal mortality.”

So, if that is the case, are those of faith, specifically in the United States, contributing to this “marginalization” of women in our own churches here in America?   It has been my experience, and the experience of a multitude of other women, that the church has not only allowed such perspectives to dominate, but the predominantly male leadership has used its spiritual power to perpetuate and teach such doctrine.

I recognize that I am treading on sacred ground when I bring this marginalization to the forefront.  I also readily acknowledge that those men and women who are settled in the status quo, regardless of whether or not it is based in truth, will be angered.  But let me be clear, I am not writing a doctrinal thesis nor do I have the emotional energy to write specifics of the experiences that I mention.

If you have never, as a woman, experienced the abuse of power by male leadership in the church, in your culture or in your marriage, then kudos to you my friend.  This is not an indictment on all men, all churches and all leadership, but the truth remains that  there are some churches that could be equated with a Muslim state, one in which a woman’s word counts only a fourth of that of a man.  My question is not, is it pervasive, but, does it exist at all?   And if the answer is yes, then we must address it.  If we profess to love this Jesus, why does the church not value women the way that Jesus valued women?

Those in the faith community must broaden their perspectives, and that includes me.  We must consider our dualistic views.  Responding to the injustice in this world must go beyond addressing the spiritual and begin to consider how to care for ‘the least of these’ in this material world.

This piece, aired on ABC News with Diane Sawyer, is one example of those who are addressing both the spiritual and the material where these injustices are the norm.  Why aren’t there a million stories like this one?

What do you think?  Are you a part of the marginalized community that I mentioned?  What has been your experience?

Pull the strings attached to your own views and truly consider where they lead you and leave the world.

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10 Comments so far

  1. Kitty says:

    Amen, sister. Thanks for those words, and the challenge that is within them. What a wonderful reminder to me to not turn a blind eye to inequality WHEREVER it may rear its ugly head.

    • Jorja says:

      kitty, i know it is an issue that will never be eradicated, but i do believe that we can do so much more and the questions should be asked. it is indeed a challenge to all of us.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Jorja, Thanks for this. First, I would like to say that I am hopeful b/c I have found a Baptist church here in Frankfort, KY (our capitol) that is doing a great job caring for the sick, poor and marginalized. We have a medical and dental clinic and pharmacy that is run by volunteers and serves people in our community who don’t have other health care options. We also have a clothes closet that is like a department store and are a part of a local food pantry that is making plans to organize in a way where people get to ‘shop’ and choose the foods they need and want. We partner with the local health dept. and many other non profits and churches of all types to do these things. We manage to do this in spite of many differing political views within our own congregation. We also have a center for creative arts that offers free music practice and lessons to children. Now, all of that said, I am aware, thanks to you, that we can do more addressing issues that oppress women specifically. I celebrate that we are evangelical, but we ordain women as lay people and ministers and strive to use inclusive language, etc. Many churches do this, but sadly, not many Baptist ones in the south. Still there is so much more we could do to raise awareness about sex trafficking, slavery, etc. I will definitely be thinking and praying about how I can and should be a catalyst for this. Thanks a bunch.

    • Jorja says:

      cynthia, how incredible to be a part of a fellowship that takes such things so seriously. i do know that i am limited by my own experience. i know there are churches, of varying denominations, that are very committed to caring for the ‘least of these.’ i also know i really can not address such issues in their entirety in a blog post, however, i do believe that it is not a ‘church’ issue, but a heart issue for each and every one of us and our politics, our culture and our faith influence our choices. these are hard questions to ask myself. thanks for sharing your experience, it creates hope that these things can be done.

  3. Judy Helfand says:

    You have raised powerful questions. I suppose you know you posted this on what is called National Freedom Day. I also learned that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a distinction for the month of January created in a 2010 proclamation signed by President Obama! Most of this I was reminded of by the local paper in Costa Mesa, CA. I read it because I manage a website for my HOA in Newport Beach. You can read the article here: Vigil raises awareness on modern slavery – Daily Pilot
    Amendments, special days, dedicated months…think about how long it took for women in our country to get the right to vote. 144 years. We officially abolished slavery in 1865, and yet as you can read in the above article it continues.

    If still today members of certain faiths can profess that only their believers will earn eternal happiness, then how can we expect these same people to look beyond their coffers to right injustices? We can pull the string, maybe religious leaders need to unravel the knots in their gold necklaces to see where real humanity and morality takes them.

    There is so much more I would like to say…but my day is calling.


    • Jorja says:

      judy, i had heard about national freedom day, but did not realize it was today. i will check out your link! and yes, i do realize how long it took for women in this country to be able to vote. i have been reading quite a bit about women and culture here in the states. your statement about religious leaders is indicting. as always, i am so happy to hear your thoughts and be spurred on by your questions and statements. love you dear friend.

  4. kate says:

    good. good. good.
    keep thinking, writing and asking good questions!

    love you friend.

    • Jorja says:

      kate, i so appreciate your insight and your feedback. and i just love you, that’s all. when can i come to portland?

      • kate says:

        come on!!! bring caroline… i think it would be great for her to see a place like this. 😉

        • Jorja says:

          kate, i would love to bring her. she just prefers the beach right now…ha! something about being 16! i keep telling a friend of mine that we should come see you…looks like you have a fun trip planned for april. you girls will have a ball! love you

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things to make you wonder~

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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