For the past few days, reports, opinion pages and social media have been alight with talk about the behaviour of Bishop Charles Ellis III towards Ariana Grande at the funeral of Aretha Franklin. Sadly, tomorrow will undoubtedly bring the behaviour of another man towards another woman into the news.
There are different theological understandings of the roles of women and men. Debates about gender can become fraught among Christians, and the Bible is used by all sides to endorse the favoured stance. Whatever our biblical view regarding gender roles hopefully there is collective agreement among Bible-believing Christians concerning the treatment of women.
Jesus and women
Many passages of scripture speak of respect and honour for one another. Jesus himself said: “…do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12), and the Apostle Paul speaks of valuing others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Jesus challenged cultural norms that had developed regarding women; he speaks with the Samaritan woman, defends the adulterous woman, encourages Mary and Martha to listen to his teaching, honours the woman who pours perfume on his feet and heals the woman who has bled for 12 years. In other words, Jesus respected women.
I like to think I respect women too. Looking through the list of most influential people throughout my life women rank with men at least equally, if not higher. I’ll be honest I have on many occasions turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to issues of gender equity. I have switched off when I hear of women complaining about the attitudes and behaviours of men. I didn’t want to hear it, it didn’t affect me, I am not prejudice or chauvinistic so the complaints were surely not against me and it is therefore not my issue or my fight.
I know statistics show women are less likely to have jobs in positions of influence. I know that women are wolf-whistled at and have the pressures of choosing what to wear and how to present themselves just to be taken seriously; things that just do not register with me as a white, middle-class male.
Women’s voices being silenced
A couple of years ago I was studying Baptist history and focused upon the role of women. What I expected was a story of women who were not always accepted as pastors and teachers but who nonetheless participated in the advancement of the Christian faith. What I began to discover were issues of disrespect and of voices being silenced, of barriers being erected and women blocked from fulfilling God’s call upon their lives. I learned that this was not consigned to history and today women in our churches are frequently silenced, ignored, disrespected, harassed, taken advantage of, and facing a discriminatory bias that is, at best, unconscious and at worst deliberate.
In 2017 a single tweet, by an American actress Alyssa Milano, encouraged victims of sexual harassment to speak out and the #MeToo Movement was born. Various high-profile celebrities spoke out and others became the focus of inquiries about sexual misconduct. Stopping and taking some time to listen to women in my life, I realised that the victims and survivors of sexual harassment responding to #MeToo weren’t simply far away but all around me. Some chose to speak (or tweet) out, many remain silent.
Mark 8:22-25 tells the story of a man who Jesus heals by touching his eyes and enabling him to see clearly. With the first touch the man could see a little, with Jesus’ second touch the man could see clearly. I feel like this man in regards to needing to see clearly the treatment of women by men; norms in our society and our churches too often make women objects rather than children of God. The negative experiences and pressures upon women can be daily and are often heightened within church environments. Issues are worse when problems are denied.
Having had my eyes opened I realise how little I know and, that if I am to be part of making a positive change, I need to make time to listen, reflect and learn. So, I contacted a few organisations who run conferences and events for women and asked if they did anything to education and support men regarding issues of gender equity.
Many told me they would like to do something but didn’t have capacity, which led me to organise my own event. Just Voices is a women’s conference with a difference… it is for men. It is for me and for men like me. Those who recognise we live in a fallen world, that there is inequality, that women are not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Just Voices is for men who want to engage, to be part of creating positive, Christ-like change where women are equal and of value.
To book tickets to the conference go to justvoices2018