Ever since I referenced the C S Cowles book "A Woman's Place" in my last post, the memories surrounding this book have been stirring within. (Cowles was encouraged by The Book Committee of the Church of the Nazarene to write this book as a biblical defence for women in ministry). As this book was a catalyst for me, helping me understand and grasp my own true freedom in Christ, I feel a bit reluctant returning it to the bookshelf without explaining its significance to my journey.
It was about 13 years ago, while going through donation boxes for our church library, that I first laid eyes on it. By the middle of the introduction I was already captured by the content. I was not prepared for the information and knowledge that would eventually become one of the primary motivations leading me to become an agent of change on this issue. This is just a sampling of what I read:
In General: "Women have constituted the most discriminated-against majority in every civilization, culture, race, nation, and religion. They have been relegated to second-class status and treated as subhuman species. They have been treated as property to be bought, sold, or cast aside when they no longer served men's purposes."
In Australia: "An extreme but not atypical example of the oppression and brutalization of women in primitive cultures is reported by Robert Hughes in his definitive history of Australia. [Cowles then describes the gruesome details of how aboriginal courtship would play out in 1802, taken from Hughes book.] As overdrawn as this portrait might seem, courtship by violence and rape was not uncommon. Aboriginal women had no rights at all and could choose nothing."
In Africa: In reference to Africa he writes, "Husbands are the undisputed monarchs of their households. A man can have as many wives as he can afford while the woman has no choice in the matter. In some tribes husbands do not even sleep with their wives except for purposes of procreation."
In Philosophy: "Greek philosophers not only bequeathed to the world the settled conviction that women were inferior to men but taught that it was an indisputable fact of natural law....Aristotle taught that men are made for commanding and women for obeying and that this inequality is permanent. The difference between man and woman is like that of the soul and body: the man is to his wife like a soul is to a body, commanding and guiding its members with intelligence and wisdom".
In Judaism: "Nowhere do we witness the dehumanizing and demeaning effects of religious and social patriarchalism more clearly than in the Judaism of Jesus' day.....The Mishnah [Jewish tradition of the elders] provided that a wife could be acquired 'by money, or by writ, or by intercourse.' Marriage contracts were drawn up with wives considered as the acquisition of their husbands, as if they were Gentile slaves."
In Educational Contexts: "Our generation can scarcely comprehend that one of the most basic of human rights, the opportunity to seek a college or university education, is a freedom only recently granted to women. The first institution of higher education in the United States--or in history for that matter--to accept female students was Oberline College in Ohio, and that not until the 1830's. Hillsboro College is proud of its record as the first in Michigan to open its doors to women, yet that wasn't until 1865. Both were distinctly Christian colleges founded as a consequence of the great spiritual awakenings in the mid 1800's. Such historic and prestigious universities as Harvard and Yale did not follow suit until around the turn of the 20th century. The University of North Carolina grudgingly opened its doors to women only after they gained the right to vote in 1920."
Upon finishing the second chapter, "Women in History, Less than Human", something deep within me was shaken to the core. I was shocked at the way women had been viewed and treated by men in times past. How could this be? And how could the church have played a role in so many of these injustices?
The anguish, sadness, pain, and grief I felt for so many women before my time, women whom I had never known, gripped my heart. I wept and I cried until there were no tears left to cry.
Somewhere within the mess of my brokenness, I lifted up my eyes and prayed with a fervency and compassion that was peculiar for me. A new passion and determination had been awakened that had not been there before. My soul was as desperate for the wounded and abused as the evangelist's soul is for the lost. The essence of my prayer was this: "God, if you will help me, I promise to do all I can to bring change to this issue. Here I am, Lord. Send me, and use me, to bring hope to the hurting and healing to the wounded."
I knew then, as I know now, that a "bandaid solution" would not be sufficient for the discrimination that continues to preside over how the role of women is often defined. A fundamental shift in our thinking is required to help us biblically redefine God's original intended purposes in creating women. Church leaders need to grasp, once and for all, how the traditional ideology of patriarchalism continues to contribute to the restrictive climate still felt by many women in the pew, along with how the "traditional" mindset continues to fuel the rampant occurrences of domestic abuse in our midst.
Here is at least one reliable link that reports the issue of domestic abuse within a Canadian, Evangelical Church context:
Churches Failing to Respond to Spousal Abuse
(Note: In looking at statistics, it's extremely important to factor in the number of women who never come forward and admit domestic abuse. Issues of shame and intimidation will find many women carrying the secret of their abuse to their graves.)
This book by Jeff Crippen A Cry For Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church is also helpful in identifying what an abusive relationship, within the church, might look like.
As I look back to that holy moment in time, a moment etched in my memory as though it was yesterday, I know it was precisely there that the call and the commission to be a voice for the abused and broken was conceived. This would become a defining moment for me!! It would be years before I understood exactly how my own story would tie into the stories of many other brave women. It would take even more years before my prayer of promise would find the wings of courage to give birth to words of hope. Yet the One who makes everything beautiful in His time has used the often agonizing years of waiting to prepare this wounded soul for taking baby steps of obedience towards His purposes and His plan.
The prayer that continues to define my journey towards hope and change is perhaps best heard in the words of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Transitioning from the wreckage of abuse to the freedom of forgiveness will require honesty, courage, and an incredibly sponge-like capacity to CHOOSE to live in the light of God's healing love. Do we REALLY want to be free? Then the journey towards our freedom must begin at the Cross.
(...to be continued).